The Color Purple (1985)

(On Cable TV, February 2017) I gather that, at the time, seeing Steven Spielberg tackle a serious socially-conscious non-genre period drama such as The Color Purple project was a bit of a novelty. Of course, in retrospect it clearly shows the beginning of an important facet of Spielberg’s filmography all the way to Schindler’s List, Amistad and Lincoln. Has it held up in light of those latter examples? Yes and no. As hard as it can be to criticize a film denouncing injustice, there are times where The Color Purple gets, well, a bit too purple. Repeated scenes of abuse get tiresome, the film moves at languid pace (the victory lap epilogue alone feels as if it takes fifteen minutes) and as similar pictures has never gone out of fashion, I’m not sure the film feels as fresh today as it might have been back then. On the other hand, it is skillfully shot, expansively detailed and it features two terrific debut performances by none other than Oprah Whitney (in a non-too-complimentary role) and Whoopi Goldberg as the main much-abused protagonist. Danny Glover is also remarkable as a repellent antagonist. As for the rest, The Color Purple is about as far from Spielberg’s earlier work as it could be, even though it is thematically consistent with some of his later films—as an attempt to shatter perceptions about what we could do, it seems to have worked splendidly. As for the rest, the film does have a timeless nature—the depiction of the early twentieth century still looks credible, and had the film come out today, chances are that it would have done just as well in the Oscars sweepstake. Obviously best seen by people with an interest in period drama, The Color Purple may not be an easy watch, but it eventually proves its worth.

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