Tag Archives: The Color Purple

CHANGING LANES – (AKA ‘ARTISTS’ WHO SUCCESSFULLY SHIFTED CAREER PATHS)

CHANGING LANES – by PAUL LAIGHT

The excellent intellectual comedy BIRDMAN (2014) is about — among many themes — a movie star attempting to gain artistic credibility and shift his career from the commercial side to the more critically acclaimed. Using this as inspiration I decided to take a look at some musicians, actors and a filmmaker who in some way have began at one end of the creative spectrum and successfully careered to another. At the same time as changing creative lanes they surprised the audience, improved their critical kudos or at the very least shifted  perception of their oeuvre. Please do suggest others if I have missed them; which I imagine I have. They’re in no particular order either.

PETER JACKSON – FILMMAKER

Peter Jackson is one of my cinematic heroes. The reason being is he began his career from scratch in New Zealand making the no budget horror film Bad Taste (1987) before subsequently going on to make some of the biggest grossing blockbusters ever committed to celluloid.  My favourite film of his remains the hilarious gorefest Braindead (1992) and therefore his career shift to the haunting Heavenly Creatures (1994) was an incredible leap.  Personally, I liked his bloody horror films better but of course his Tolkien trilogies contain some amazing filmmaking too.

DAN STEVENS – ACTOR

I don’t watch Downton Abbey so had never heard of the handsome actor Dan Stevens.   The first I met him was watching the low budget actioner The Guest (2014) and he is absolutely brilliant. It’s a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot.  Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making.

BEN KINGSLEY – ACTOR

Kingsley stunned me when he appeared in Jonathan Glazer’s excellent debut feature Sexy Beast (2000) as the foul-mouthed cockernee monster Don Logan; sent to wreak havoc on Ray Winstone’s feng shui and chi.   It was an incredible performance which completely shifted perception away from the archetype RSC trained actor of stage and screen.  His portrayal of Gandhi put Kingsley very much on the cultural map whereas the visceral brutality of Logan pissed all over it!

LUCILLE BALL – ACTOR

Lucille Ball was a pioneering actress, comedienne and film studio executive. She was the star of many sitcoms notably I Love Lucy. Early doors though she performed in many small movie roles in the 1930s and 1940s, being dubbed the “Queen of the B-movies”.  In 1951, Ball helped create the television series I Love Lucy with husband Desi Arnaz and during a prolific career Ball was nominated for Emmy thirteen times and won four of the beauties.

CLINT MANSELL – MUSICIAN

Clint was the frontman for Black Country-bassed-hip-hop-funny-as-fuck-politically-incorrect-grebo-groovesters Pop Will Eat Itself!  Along with The Wonderstuff they were one of my favourite bands from the late 80s/90s.  Songs like:  Beaver Patrol, Grebo Guru, Can U Dig It, Wise Up Sucker etc.   smacked the arse of the charts with a flurry of non-sensical lyrics and pilfered samples. Years later Mansell rose from the spunky ashes of PWEI to become a respected film composer. His most memorable score is for the grim, yet awesome Aronofsky helmed Requiem For A Dream (1996) and since then he has consistently written for the same director. His classical piece Lux Æterna has become a ubiquitous soundtrack for many a film trailer!

JEROME FLYNN – ACTOR

To be honest Jerome Flynn has always been a decent TV character actor ever since he starred in Soldier Soldier in the 1990s.   But we also have him to thank for giving producer Simon Cowell some of his early hit records when, along with Robson Greene, he butchered a series of singalonga ‘classics’ including Unchained Melody.   He’s forgiven though for his musical crimes as his cultural slate has been wiped clean via his tough and gritty appearances in the phenomenal  Game Of Thrones plus the excellent Ripper Street. 

MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY – ACTOR

McConaughey has always had star appeal ever since his appearance in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and always stood out as an actor to watch. His career choices, however, in romantic comedies such as: The Wedding Planner (2001), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Failure to Launch (2006), Fool’s Gold (2008) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) made him a shedload of dough but had many thinking he’d thrown away his ability on fluff. But then the “McConaissance” occurred and since 2010 he has eschewed the mortgage-paying unchallenging work and starred in some intense, transformative and often brutal roles including: Killer Joe (2011), The Paperboy (2012), Mud (2012), Magic Mike (2012), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), and stunning HBO series True Detective (2014).

CHARLIZE THERON – ACTOR

When Theron appeared in some decent but unspectacular early roles you would not have been wrong to suspect she was just another model-turned-actress wannabe who had got her break due to her cracking good looks.  However, THAT is definitely NOT the case as her acting prowess was proven in the Oscar-winning role of female serial-killer Aileen Wuornos. Tragic film Monster (2003) flipped career perception on it’s head as she imbued Wuornos with an anger, pain and humanity which never fails to rabbit-punch the emotions.   It was an incredible lane change in Theron’s career and proved she was no blonde bimbo. She was also fantastic as a twisted neurotic suffering from a severe case of arrested development in  Young Adult (2011).

BEN AFFLECK – ACTOR/DIRECTOR

Is Ben Affleck a good actor?  I had this discussion with a friend and we decided he was a solid if unspectacular presence who can be impressive at times with his professionalism in Good Will Hunting (1997),  Changing Lanes (2002), Hollywoodland (2006) and Gone Girl (2014).  However, let’s be straight he has also appeared in some right old garbage such as Daredevil (2003) and the critically panned Gigli (2003). But Affleck’s cultural redemption has occurred as a director in which he has hit three cinema home runs with the excellent Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Town (2010) and the political thriller Argo (2012).   These are three proper movies with the assured directorial touch of the great genre filmmakers such as John Ford or Huston.  In some ways his career mirrors that of Clint Eastwood’s; as in he’s appeared in some great films, some rubbish films and is now becoming a formidable director to boot!

WHOOPI GOLDBERG – COMEDIAN/ACTOR

Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe and would then be cast in Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985). Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered by life but whom amidst the abuse retains a strength to not let life destroy her. All the more amazing given it was Goldberg’s first dramatic film role.  Goldberg would go on to prove both her dramatic and comedic mettle in a number of roles eventually winning an Oscar in the supernatural-thriller-romance-weepie Ghost (1990).

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ANDREA BOCELLI – SINGER

I don’t know much about Opera or classical music to be honest but I do know what I like when I hear it.  Thus, Andrea Bocelli’s pop-opera classic Con te partirò is an obvious favourite ever since I heard it in The Sopranos.  Andrea Bocelli himself had always immersed himself in singing since a boy but had to work his way up from the bottom, sort of.  He was a qualified lawyer and playing piano in the bars when ‘discovered’ by goalkeeper-turned-singer Luciano Pavarotti. The rest they say is history!  Time to say goodbye reader; au revoir!

STAND UPS THAT DELIVERED ON THE SILVER SCREEN

STAND UPS THAT DELIVERED ON THE SILVER SCREEN

Getting on stage and making a room full of strangers laugh spontaneously through a joke, impression, improvisation, song etc. is arguably one of the mightiest challenges facing a performer. But for many successful stand-up comedians the thrill of reducing a room to shakes of laughter is not enough; hence why so many have attempted to transfer their undoubted comic and acting artistry to the silver screen.  Plus there’s more dough involved in making movies. As a massive fan of both cinema and stand-up comedy I thought it interesting to look at some of the best dramatic performances committed to celluloid by stand-up comics.

Eddie Murphy – 48 Hours (1982)

Before Eddie Murphy single-handedly set about making his very own list of the worst movies ever made he took his raw, rap, crack and pop stand-up persona and committed to screen great performances in Trading Places (1983) Beverley Hills Cop (1984) and Walter Hill’s rock hard-boiled 48 Hours (1982). Buddied-up with Nick Nolte’s life-frazzled cop, Murphy was perfectly cast as cool convict Reggie Hammond. Murphy is tough, uncompromising and funny: spitting out classic dialogue such as “I’ve been in prison for three years. My dick gets hard if the wind blows” – with a verve that is sorely missing from virtually all his film output of the last 15 years.


Woody Allen – Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)

Arguably, Allen’s recent movies have not been up to the quality of his earlier “funnier” films but I like them nonetheless as he has consistently produced work rich with great lines, ideas and characters.  In the 1980’s Allen’s films matured and more often than not centred around familial, human and sexual relationships. As well as writing and directing Allen also acted in most of his films using his Jewish, neurotic, angsty persona to comic and dramatic effect. In Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) he delivers another fine performance drawing out pathos, empathy and pain as a documentary filmmaker who is trying to make sense of life and why we are on this planet.  The film is multi-stranded with a wonderful ensemble cast including Alan Alda and Martin Landau on particularly great form.

Whoopi Goldberg – The Color Purple (1985)

Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe where her work and would then be cast in Spielberg’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple (1985). While Goldberg would earn an Oscar for her over-the-top turn in potter’s-wheel-ten-hankie-weepie Ghost (1990), but it is her first ever screen appearance which will stay in the memory. Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered and beaten by life but whom amidst the misery and abuse retains a strength and desire to not let life destroy her. Goldberg brings a tremendous innocence, fortitude and compassion to the part; and considering it is her first ever movie role it is an amazing achievement.

Will Ferrell – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Ferrell cut his comedy fangs in The Groundlings, an LA improv group, and would later take his comic creations onto Saturday Night Live. Hilarious turns as hick racing driver Ricky Bobby in Talledega Nights (2006) and more famously as Ron Burgundy – the king of unreconstructed male chauvinist stupidity – in Anchorman (2004) would cement Ferrell’s success as a movie actor. Famous for stupid haircuts, overcharged yelling and screen-mugging Ferrell toned it down as tax inspector Harold Crick in Marc Forster’s moving dramedy, Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Ferrell’s Crick is a lonely individual, a man of routine and commonplace whose life is turned topside down when he hears his every move being narrated by Emma Thompson’s meta-omnipotent author. As he struggles to find ‘the voice’ Crick begins to question his whole existence and this gives Ferrell the opportunity to live a character with depth and emotion hitherto unseen in his previous screen caricatures.

Jamie Foxx – Ray (2004)

While Chris Rock arguably takes the stand-up comic kudos between these two graduates of influential American sketch show, In Living Color, Foxx’s film career has flourished with a series of fantastic movie performances. But it was playing Ray Charles in Ray (2004) that Foxx left Rock’s movie career, in comparison, eating the proverbial dust sandwich. Of course it won him the Oscar but it was more than just an impression of Charles as Foxx gave this musical genius a flawed humanity and pain that moved both the audience and the Academy.  Foxx threw himself into the role with abandon musically and dramatically, showing Charles’ darker addictive side as well as his magnetism, humour and incredible drive. Unsurprisingly, the same year, Foxx was also nominated for his sterling work in Mann’s urban noir Collateral losing out in that category to the king-of-expositional-voiceover Morgan Freeman.

Robin Williams – One Hour Photo (2002)

A running trope in this list finds many of the acts turning their manic comedic persona on its’ head and internalizing the mania or psychosis with understated performances. Indeed, I have read articles which link certain mental states with the comedic mind and in Robin Williams you could not get a more manic, fevered, out-of-this-world performer. After a slow start cinematic success would arrive eventually and I could have chosen Good Will Hunting (1997) or Good Morning Vietnam (1987) or Dead Poet’s Society (1989)as these were great roles for Williams. But in 2002 he took a couple of darker turns in Nolan’s pre-Batman thriller Insomnia and a lower-budget thriller called One Hour Photo. The latter found Williams playing a solitary Photo Technician who takes an unhealthy interest in one particular family.  Yet Williams’ character is no ordinary psycho but rather a pained individual longing to be part of a family unit. The actor terrifies the audience with his obsessive nature but at the end the performance humanizes the character rather than making him a one-dimensional lunatic he could so easily of been.


Jim Carrey – Man On The Moon (1998)

Carrey is an absolute force of nature as a stage and sketch performer and brought that dynamic physicality, silly voices and zany gurning to great effect in films such as: Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994).  As he gained further success he would stretch his acting muscles with more dramatic and riskier roles.  He was ideally cast as Intergender Wrestling Champion of the world Andy Kaufmann and (best known for his role in U.S. sitcom Taxi) and also doubled-up by playing Kaufmann’s alter-ego Tony Clifton (with Paul Giamatti.)  Kaufmann was arguably the very first anti-comedian; gaining laughs or at the very least trying to get laughs from being deliberately unfunny and antagonistic. Carrey takes on all the incarnations with much skill and humour and rather than be just a very good impression he zones his usual mania, creating a complex character whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The film was criticized by some for taking liberties with Kaufmann’s life and it was a relative failure at the box office, but Carrey deservedly won many awards and nominations for his diverse performance.

Billy Connolly – The Debt Collector (1997) 

Connolly’s performance in Mrs Brown would be the most obvious choice for Scotland’s imperious stand-up comedy legend, however, I’m not a fan of films about the Royal Family and the brutal Debt Collector is more to my taste. The Big Yin is compelling in this grim, gritty thriller inspired by career criminal turned artist/novelist, Jimmy Boyle.  Connolly’s working class and artistic background also resonates in the Nicky Dryden character trying to go straight; only to be pursued relentlessly by Ken Stott’s obsessive cop. Connolly’s raconteurial, larger-than-life stand-up style is in complete contrast to the serious character of Dryden who having escaped the mean streets of snooker halls of Glasgow is now a feted figure on the art scene.  Stott’s vindictive cop cannot abide Dryden’s success and sets about bringing Dryden down. The scenes between Connolly and Stott are the stand-out in this dark, violent tale which is unflinching in tone and certainly darker than anything Connolly has been in before or since.

Richard Pryor – Blue Collar (1980)

Paul Schrader wrote existential urban Western Taxi Driver (1976) but also directed some compelling dramas.  Blue Collar is probably his best film and it is my favourite Richard Pryor performance.  Pryor had reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian shifting his persona from likeable TV friendly gag-man to a snarling, coked-up, angry social satirist. He would roughen out the edges of this act to become the slick, effervescent and honest performer who turned the dramas and stories of his life into comedy gold. Pryor would be a natural comic force on silver screen and formed a fine double act with Gene Wilder. However, Blue Collar is the best film I saw him in as it combines the humour, drama and social commentary that Pryor himself included in his act.  Set in Detroit it highlights the hypocritical machinations of Union practices at a car plant. Pryor provided some humour but his character shows an anger and energy throughout which may or may not have been fuelled by his Olympic coke-taking. Egos clashed among cast (including Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel) and crew and it shows on screen in a fiery examination of the working class man and his lot.

Jerry Lewis – The King Of Comedy (1983)

To be able to steal the acting honours from Robert DeNiro at the height of his golden acting period takes some beating. But that is what old-school-crazed-slapstick-movie-mad-man Jerry Lewis did in Scorcese’s dramedy about obsessives.  DeNiro is funny, embarrassing and tragic as the bottom-runged comedian but Lewis’ performance as hangdog, lonely and jaded chat-show host Jerry Langford stole the show. Langford, a successful TV presenter, remains at the height of his career but lives a seemingly lonely life with just his work for company.  On the surface a decent guy but underneath he’s a jaded workaholic. DeNiro’s Pupkin enthusiastic, aspirational, hero-worshipping comic stalks him and becomes Langford’s own worst nightmare.  There are so many painful scenes of toe-curling embarrassment in this movie notably when deluded Pupkin invites himself to Langford’s country retreat. When Langford is left at the mercy of Sandra Bernhard’s unhinged harpy Lewis’ performance is one of raging deadpan as he simmers with rage until he bursts like a pustule on escape and leaps down the road with tape around his ankles like bicycle clips. A truly under-rated gem of a performance and film.

Eric Bana – Chopper (2000)

Australian actor Bana started off in stand-up and TV sketch shows and was a novice dramatically speaking when cast as violent-criminal-turned-best-selling-novelist Marc Brandon Read. Given his comedic background Bana’s rendition is very funny but ultimately there is a dark drama and bloody violence too in the representations of this powerhouse of the Melbourne underworld.  His creation is a paranoid, angsty, neurotic monster capable of terrific rage one moment then over-powering guilt the next.  It’s a rounded version of a split-personality both interested in robbing drug dealers but also with his own myth, persona and media representation. There’s some terrific dialogue and Aussie banter between Chopper and the various low-lifes he encounters; and some visceral violence, notably when Chopper gets his ears cut off to navigate a route out of jail.  The film holds a mirror up to a twisted society which creates celebrities out of killers and those who act outside of the law and it is to Bana’s credit that he makes this monster funny and likeable despite his actions deserving the contrary.

Mo’Nique – Precious (2009)

I wasn’t aware of Mo’Nique’s background as a stand-up comedian when I first saw this heartwrenching drama, but after witnessing her incredible performance I did some research and found she worked her way up from the open-mic circuit of Baltimore to the lofty heights of Best Supporting Actress.  Her character Mary Lee Johnson is an emotionally-damaged-dysfunctional-car-crash-human-bully who puts her daughter Precious (equally brilliant Gabourey Sidibe) through all manner of abuse and neglect.  As horror after horror befalls the story’s heroine her mother sits on the sofa barking, castigating, demanding; making her life a living hell.  It’s a monstrous creation but one which is not without compassion as shown in one of the final scenes in the film where Mary Lee Johnson, in tears, asks, “Who was gonna love me?” And the strength of the performance is that we almost feel bad for this woman. Almost.

Steve Martin – The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

Steve Martin’s film career is quite similar to Eddie Murphy’s inasmuch as his early films matched the brilliance and energy of his stand-up career only to find him moving later to more sub-par-Hollywood-generic-remakes like Bilko. But you can’t blame a performer wanting to make a living and Martin is one of the great Renaissance Men. He also wrote of one of the greatest books I’ve read about comedy:  Born Standing Up. As an actor he’s always really funny playing downtrodden man-children or idiots happy to send himself up gaining laughs from crazed anger while remaining totally unthreatening; e.g. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). In David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner he played against type with a sinister turn in this cold, twisting thriller.  Martin underplays throughout with intelligence and handles Mamet’s crisp dialogue with aplomb. It’s a fine film and performance utilising his linguistic skills expertly and I have no Clouseau why he didn’t go darker more often.