william steig drawing

November 15, 2010
Kartina Richardson

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide… When They Saw Tyler Perry’s Adaptation

For Colored Girls was good.

No it wasn’t good.

Well maybe it was good.

But it wasn’t good enough.

For people unfamiliar with Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play, it might have seemed good. Spectacular even. It’s a rarity. A drama about black women addressing rape, abortion, incest, and domestic abuse, allowing black actresses opportunity to flex their tear ducts.

Many women unfamiliar with the play will adore it. Perry has given screen time to issues that are rarely discussed, reaching a wider and more diverse audience than Shange’s play alone might ever see. A generation of girls will hear what the movie has to say and that is important… but,


It could have been so much more. And that is the problem. Yes it’s a black film about black women, but hoopla over a rarity’s very existence can blind folks to its mediocrity. Perry’s movie is plasticized. Dumbed down. Bullshitted up.

As Lady in green says:

“Somebody almost walked off wid all my stuff”

In this case it was Tyler Perry.

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October 18, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Race in Film: Stormy Weather

**This video was made specially for Roger Ebert’s Far Flung Correspondents. That is why my mug is in it. Now you can see all the facial expressions you could only dream of before… and I apologize now for the state of my hair.**

The first thing you must realize about Stormy Weather before anything else, is that it is not real.

Of course it isn’t real in the sense that it is a narrative film and as such it is fiction, but it is unreal in another way. It is a  romanticization of African American life offering one-dimensional characters without nuance– in “response” to the one dimensional un-nuanced characters in other films.

The movie opens as famous dancer Bill Williamson (Bill Robinson) receives a magazine in his honor “celebrating the magnificent contribution of the colored race to the entertainment of the world during the past twenty five years.” This prompts him to reminisce about his career and courtship of the beautiful singer Selina Rogers (Lena Horne). The plot however, is of little importance. The film is primarily a vehicle for famous black talent in music and dance. These are glamorous blacks in romantic and dramatic leads. Blacks with sex appeal. Blacks with their own storyline.

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October 7, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Tempers: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

In 1977 Richard Dreyfuss was very angry in two fantastic films.

Two movies that with Jaws top the list of his greatest performances: Herbert Ross’ The Goodbye Girl and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Two completely different films with a similarly distressed Dreyfuss as the glue that holds them together in my heart. Like a earth toned mid 70’s ice cream sandwich.

(I did intend for this post to be on both films, but I quickly discovered that Close Encounters needs a space of its own. Don’t fret Marsha Mason fans. The Goodbye Girl will have a turn in the near future).

The first thing you may remember about Close Encounters is the Devil’s Tower mashed potatoes. You may remember this because a pile of potatoes set before you hasn’t escaped unsculpted since. The second thing you may remember about Close Encounters is the melody the whole world sings to communicate with the Aliens. You may remember this because the Kodaly hand signs for the notes have been a stupid thing that you’re smug about remembering: Re, Mi, Do, Do, So

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October 1, 2010
Kartina Richardson

The Social Network

You cannot see Mark Zuckerberg’s eyes. They are black and beady and surrounded by shadow.

This is what I focused on for the better part of two hours.

If David Fincher cast Jesse Eisenberg specifically for his brow bones, it would have been a genius move. His brows are always together. His lips are always pursed… or rather the bottom one is pursed and the top one pouts. This inbetweeness (an indecision of lips) is appropriate as Zuckerberg is always somewhere half way between emotions. He never fully displays any one. Showing emotion means showing your hand. Showing your hand makes you vulnerable, and Mark Zuckerberg hates vulnerability most of all. He is like a combination of Vito Corleone and J.J. Hunsecker. Powerful, dangerous, brilliant and lonely. Throw in a dash of icy Howard Roark arrogance and you’ve got yourself a movie.

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September 15, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Race in Film: Swing Time & Shall We Dance

*This video includes clips and commentary for both “Swing Time” and “Shall We Dance”, so don’t turn it off after the Bojangles number! Also my voice cracks a lot in a weird way… I guess I’m becoming a real man.*

This, more than any previous Race in Film post, gets to the nitty gritty of the whole series, and I am very nervous.

It might be strange to get timid nine posts in, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to what I am comfortable talking and not talking about.

Judy Garland is fair game, but Fred Astaire… Fred Astaire…

He is the man that makes my knees lose themselves.

I am in love with his high waisted pants, his receding hairline, and his feeble chin. He is supremely comforting. Like a Danny Kaye five thousand times more poised. My idolization is so great I suspect I unconsciously chose my first teenage boyfriend because he bore a striking resemblance to the man (but no trace of his panache).

Can you find offense with a film and still love it with all your heart? I think so… but it’s not fun.
There is a tendency, when someone suggests something might be offensive, for people to swarm in and point out all the reasons why it isn’t and could never be, before considering how it could be perceived that way. So, you are immediately alienated.

The need to belong, as uncool an admission as it is, is primal. There is safety in numbers. Good times to be had inside fun rooms. Jokes and laughing. Knowingness. A supreme and rare silence: evidence of comfort not unease. Being in is good. Being out is constant navigation. Talking about race in well loved movies places you firmly “out”.

I don’t even want to talk about it with myself.

You dirty whore. Do you know what you’re doing? Do you even know? You’re betraying Fred. That’s what you’re doing. And after all he’s done for you. Congrats on ruining everything. Have a nice life. I’m out!

Says a voice in my mind.

It’s a wispy voice this voice. It doesn’t carry much weight. But still it’s there flitting around like a vulgar gnat. A testament perhaps to a unhealthy dependency on RKO musicals. Rationally, I understand it’s ridiculous, but anxiety remains. I feel a real hesitancy in saying anything vaguely critical about Astaire. Like a member of my family. I don’t want to hurt his feelings, or disrupt our merry relationship. I’d like to keep Fred completely and totally untarnished. Perfect in every way…

But to do that I’d have to completely ignore his “Bojangles of Harlem” routine in the 1936 film Swing Time directed by George Stevens, and choreographed by Astaire and long time collaborator Hermes Pan.

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September 11, 2010
Kartina Richardson

The Odd Couple

*I have since safely made it to California and back (which explains the lapse in posting)*

As I write this now, I am half way to California. Mid air with a splitting headache. This is a result of a pre-flight boozing binge of necessity.

My lower back aches. The back of my knees are sweaty, and I cannot itch the bottom of my foot. Everything is uncomfortable.

I am an anxious person. I come from a long line of anxious-ers. If you ever journey to Richardsonland, here are some things to remember so as not to disturb the animals:

Check food labels two or three times before consuming.
Spend most of your time knocking on wood.
There’s no such thing as “too many” Carbon Monoxide detectors.
When in doubt, take Benedryl, Robitussin or Sudafed.
When dining out, insist on sitting in a booth (or at least in a seat with your back to the wall).

When you are anxious four things help:

1. Klonopin: Not the greatest choice. You need a prescription and Benzos are addictive (plus they stop working after a while).
2. Fish oil: Nature’s own mood stabilizer.
3. Ruth Gordon & Garson Kanin films: Who isn’t lulled into good times by a witty and well functioning marriage?


4. Jack Lemmon

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August 25, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Breaking The Waves

“Hell no. Absolutely not. Never Again.”

This was my friend’s response when I recently suggested we watch Breaking The Waves.

(It traumatized her)

Yesterday it was cold and rainy and glum. I searched for background movies to put on while I wrote, but my usual George Cukor go tos weren’t doing the trick. I branched out. Shane, Forbidden Games, Love & Anarchy,  Mogambo, and various classic TV shows were turned on and shut off. Nothing worked. I decided to take a twenty minute nap to shake the damp. Twenty minutes turned into two hours and when I awoke, Bess McNeill was on my mind. As though she had been there all along. Sitting in the corner quietly, waiting for me to notice.

You know a film has succeeded when you miss its heroine the way you miss a dear friend. Suddenly their absence is keenly felt. Who knows what tiny thing will bring it to your attention. Maybe the shape of peeled linoleum on the floor, the color of a shoe, or the texture of a brownie. Sometimes there is simply no rhyme or reason. Something in the smell of the air or the arrangement of the furniture or the rhythm of my nap dreams whispered Breaking the Waves. And so I put it on.

The 1996 film is violently tragic, sad, and at times difficult to watch. Set in Scotland in the early 70’s, Emily Watson plays Bess McNeill, a strange childlike woman. Bess falls in love with Jan, a Norwegian oil rig worker and marries him despite the wishes of her church and family. After a few days of wedded bliss and recently devirginized sex, Jan returns to the oil rig. Madly in love, Bess can’t bare his absence and prays for his return. The next day Jan is badly injured in an accident and is flown back to shore. Bess of course believes his injury was the result of her prayer gone awry. Paralyzed and suffering vague mental impairment, Jan urges Bess to sleep around reporting back to him with the sordid details. A slave to god and love, Bess reluctantly agrees.

Lars Von Trier has always explored ideas of vulnerability, sacrifice, and subservience by those on the outside of the community. Examples can be found in nearly all his films, most clearly Dancer in the Dark*, The Idiots, Dogville, and Medea. He has a particularly keen understanding of it. I suspect this has something to do with his own familiarity with That Great Gray Cloud.

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August 17, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Who’s That Knocking at My Door

**In the video I refer to “Il Bidone” when I meant to say “I Vitelloni.” Please excuse me.**

There exist in this sometimes sad world, moments that remind you that you are alive.

You know these moments well. Blood rushes from your toes to your cheeks. Or from your cheeks to your toes. Either way you are made aware of its movement.

A great energy is felt in your jaw and in the ends of each strand of hair. Your fingers curl. Your hands turn into fists or claws. Everything is hot. You shudder violently (the energy must be flung off or you will be eaten alive). This all happens in two seconds. It is stunning.

There is a scene in Martin Scorsese’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door that gives me this delicious sensation every-single-time-I-see-it. For four minutes and thirty seconds I am paralyzed with pleasure. A curious kind of paralysis. A mixture of sexual desire, odd violent inclinations, jealousy and tenderness. If you have ever cuddled a baby animal and wanted to literally crush it with affection, you will know what I mean.

Though Scorsese films populate the favorite movie section of the bro dude’s Facebook page, the man remains a genius. One of the few commercially successful directors whose films always have a true visual dynamism. Maybe you have forgotten. It’s easy to forget the actual artistry of popular directors (Spielberg uses the background TV like nobody’s business), but return to their early works especially and you’ll be reminded.

1967’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door is a movie about young aimless men, very much in the tradition of I Vitelloni. One of these men is J.R. (Harvey Keitel). J.R. wants to marry a girl (Zina Bethune). Sadly this girl has been raped. This causes J.R. much grief. After struggling with intense Catholic guilt, he decides he’s man enough to marry her. Unfortunately she is unimpressed with his attitude and turns him down.

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August 15, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Race in Film: Freaky Friday

As you know, I have always remembered Rosalind Chao in The Joy Luck Club sitting proudly in the rain with the memory of her ancestors (see previous post).

As depressing as the movie was to me as a child, this scene remains inspirational.

I ask the world: Is it so hard to create more strong Asian characters like Rose?

Then I saw Freaky Friday and the world answered “…Yes, it’s totes very hard. Obvi”

I’m referring to the 2003 Lindsay Lohan/Jamie Lee Curtis Freaky Friday (If you’re thinking of the Jodie Foster version, bless your heart).

I’m a fan of the movie actually. Lohan is great.


Do you recall the Chinese restaurant? It’s where the whole switcharoo is set in motion via very ancient Chinese fortune cookie. Do you remember the hostess? Well it’s Rosalind Chao! The actress that played Rose in The Joy Luck Club!

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August 15, 2010
Kartina Richardson

Race in Film: The Joy Luck Club

I know The Joy Luck Club like the back of my hand…Unfortunately.

While I recite lines from The Thin Man Goes Home at the drop of a hat, I carry the script of The Joy Luck Club in my mind’s eye like the scene of a horrible crime.

I cannot shake it. It will not be shook.

It is not the film’s fault. It is a fine film. A moving film. A film about mothers and daughters. Chinese mothers and daughters. Asian mothers and Asian American daughters. About generational and cultural rifts in communication, and the importance of knowing one’s history.

Honoring the lives that have given you life.

Remembering who you are.

This is a story I should have felt some closeness to, but I didn’t. And that bothered me.

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