Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Why Aren’t We Talking About the Sexual Assault in 'Beyond the Lights'? Why Aren’t We Talking About the Sexual Assault in 'Beyond the Lights'? Page to Screen Possibilities for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Americanah' (Lupita Nyong'o, David Oyelowo Starring) Page to Screen Possibilities for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Americanah' (Lupita Nyong'o, David Oyelowo Starring) David Oyelowo Joins Lupita Nyong’o in 'Americanah' Film Adaptation David Oyelowo Joins Lupita Nyong’o in 'Americanah' Film Adaptation Leaked Sony Emails Reveal Interest in Destiny's Child Biopic + Immersive Kanye West Feature Film Experience Leaked Sony Emails Reveal Interest in Destiny's Child Biopic + Immersive Kanye West Feature Film Experience Weekend B.O. Dec. 12-14 (So How’s That Boycott Working for Ya?) Weekend B.O. Dec. 12-14 (So How’s That Boycott Working for Ya?) FX Orders Comedy Pilot on Atlanta Hip-Hop Scene From & Starring Donald Glover FX Orders Comedy Pilot on Atlanta Hip-Hop Scene From & Starring Donald Glover Chadwick Boseman, David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Rosario Dawson, Others Share Kisses in NY Times Shorts Chadwick Boseman, David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Rosario Dawson, Others Share Kisses in NY Times Shorts What Sony Pictures Chief Amy Pascal Should Do if She Sincerely Wants to Make Amends What Sony Pictures Chief Amy Pascal Should Do if She Sincerely Wants to Make Amends Here's the Character John Boyega Plays in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Here's the Character John Boyega Plays in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Watch Zendaya, Kadeem Hardison, Tammy Townsend in Trailer for 'K.C. Undercover' Watch Zendaya, Kadeem Hardison, Tammy Townsend in Trailer for 'K.C. Undercover' Ava DuVernay Earns Her Way Into the History Books - First Black Woman Director to Be Nominated for a Golden Globe Award Ava DuVernay Earns Her Way Into the History Books - First Black Woman Director to Be Nominated for a Golden Globe Award Beyond The Lights, Beyond The Urban Narrative: When Marketing Gets In The Way of Story Beyond The Lights, Beyond The Urban Narrative: When Marketing Gets In The Way of Story Woody Allen Says He Won’t Hire a Black Actor Unless the Role Calls for One... Whatever That Means Woody Allen Says He Won’t Hire a Black Actor Unless the Role Calls for One... Whatever That Means Will You Join The Boycott 'Exodus' Movement? (Or You Don't Care) Will You Join The Boycott 'Exodus' Movement? (Or You Don't Care) Co-Screenwriter of 'Noah' Explains Why There Are No Black People Or POC In The Film Co-Screenwriter of 'Noah' Explains Why There Are No Black People Or POC In The Film Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Will Smith Explains Why Willow Smith Dropped Out Of 'Annie' Remake Will Smith Explains Why Willow Smith Dropped Out Of 'Annie' Remake Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

'Scott Joplin' The Movie (How Not To Make A Film About A Black Composer)

Shadow and Act By Sergio | Shadow and Act November 10, 2012 at 4:01PM

With all our recent articles of late regarding films about black classical composers such as Julius Eastman (HERE) and George Bridgetower (HERE), it immediately got me thinking about that Scott Joplin film starring Bille Dee Williams with Margaret Avery, Clifton Davis and Art Carney.
8
Scott Joplin

With all our recent articles of late regarding films about black classical composers such as Julius Eastman (HERE) and George Bridgetower (HERE), it immediately got me thinking about that Scott Joplin film starring Bille Dee Williams with Margaret Avery, Clifton Davis and Art Carney.

Never heard of it? That’s understandable. It sort of came and went without leaving any sort of impact at all.

It was originally made as a TV movie by Universal and Motown for NBC, back in 1977 and it actually did get a small theatrical release, though I can’t recall if it was before or after the film was broadcast.  I don’t remember seeing it playing in any theaters that I can recall.  It was probably in a small number of theaters in a few cities. But however, what I do remember vividly still is getting extremely pissed off when I saw the NBC broadcast.

But I’ll get to that in a minute...

First I must tell you that I am without any  hesitation an unabashed lover of Joplin’s music. He was, without question, one of the greatest American composers ever. Most people like to think of Joplin’s music as old fashioned, quaint, hummable little tunes. But his music is actually more rhythmically complex, technically advanced and imaginatively nuanced than people realize.

Very few pianists are able to pull off, or have come to grief playing his music, though many have tried. Though the best I think is Dick Hyman who recorded all of Joplin’s music for a 5 LP RCA set, which was never re-issued entirely on CD, which I have. He also played and arranged the music for the Joplin film, which is the best thing it’s got going for it.

But like I said, I’ll get to that in a minute...

And Joplin was a forward thinking composer as well. One of very few black composers of his period, along with Harry Lawrence Freeman, who was writing serious full operas too. His first opera, A Guest of Honor, which dealt with racism (pretty bold for that time), the score for which was long thought to have been one of the works Joplin destroyed himself, shortly before his death. 

Turns out it was confiscated in lieu of unpaid bills that Joplin owed for a touring production of Honor. It hasn’t been found since then, but perhaps there is always a chance of the score lying in some dust covered library underground basement shelf, or in someone’s attic waiting to be found.

His second opera Treemonshia  did survive and has been recorded twice and been performed by opera companies in the U.S. and Europe

.

But the film is another thing altogether. Joplin’s life was full of drama, brief  moments of triumph and at the end, sorrow and disappointment. It would make a really terrific and poignant film. However Williams’  film isn’t it.

It’s so woefully inaccurate that the only similarities between the real life of Joplin and this film, is the fact there’s a black guy by the name of Scott Joplin and that’s about it.

If you’re going to make a film about a real person and make everything up, then what’s the point? Relationships that barely or never existed are created, while real ones are ignored. Fictitious characters and false incidents are created, while more interesting real ones are dropped for the sake of moving the story along in a misguided effort to make the story more "dramatic" when Joplin’s real story is dramatic and fascinating enough.

Take a look at this scene from the film of a piano playing competition in a brothel. Such competitions happened and reflected Joplin’s roughneck bawdy life.  He did after all die from syphilis, totally insane as a result of the disease, a common occurrence back then and even before. But in this scene, it doesn’t work at all.  It’s over the top and rings false. Some Hollywood screenwriter's and director's distorted imagination of what they were like.

And since the film was a  1970’s TV movie, there's a chintzy look to it, reflecting its limited budget and rushed 18-day production schedule. It’s all obviously studio backlot stuff.

What’s even worse is that, never in the film do we ever get any sense or understanding of who Joplin was. By the end, all we know was that he was a composer of catchy little tunes who died young. The End.

The film is available for viewing on Amazon download and on the Universal Vault DVD-on-demand specialty label, but I wouldn’t bother. A shame since there was so much about Joplin to explore and is so deserving of a more accurate and honest  film.

But here’s Hyman playing Joplin’s work Original Rags (HERE) which in its brief 4 minutes says more about the man than the entire movie does.


Shadow & ActNewsletter