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Respect: Aretha Franklin’s remarkable vocal reach

For the time being, she chose love over family.

Respect spells mediocrity on the Hudson.
Respect spells mediocrity on the Hudson.

C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker) regularly awakened his daughter Aretha (Skye Dakota Turner) to wow the partygoers gathered in the spacious living room below with the young girl’s remarkable vocal reach. These so-called “church parties” were attended by some of the biggest names in song, all of whom are singled out here by their first and/or last name — Aunt Ella, Uncle Duke, Dinah Washington, Sam (Cooke) — depending on the accuracy of their doubles. Years later, Dad reminded record producer John Hammond (Tate Donovan) that Aretha (Jennifer Hudson) wasn’t raised in a whorehouse like Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday, that she had a proper upbringing. Considering the lack of Respect paid to the truth, it might have been wise for episodic television director Liesl Tommy, here making her feature debut, to open in adulthood.

What’s rape got to do with it? Everything. It was during one of these late night at-homes that an unidentified man closed Aretha’s bedroom door behind him and impregnated the 12-year-old child. By the time she reached 14, Re, her family nickname, had given birth to two children fathered by Edward Jordan. It was a period in her life the singer remained tight-lipped about, and one first-time screenwriter Tracey Scott Wilson dangled like a carrot before dropping like a hot potato. As a mother, she’s a stranger on the road who stops in to see her children when she plays town. Or worse, carts them around like props to remind the sentimental in the crowd that she is a mother, albeit not a very good one. We never learn why C.L. got custody of Re and her two sisters. No words were exchanged between parents when Barbara (Audra McDonald) came to pick up the children, but dad’s frustration is reflected in the cocktail glass clinking in his hand during daylight hours.

Barbara made an early exit, but not before instilling within her daughter certain standards by which to live. Choose “Yes” over the more common slang variant “Yeah.” And “never fear any man.” This coming from the woman brave enough to call it quits with C.L.. Aretha was dubbed “the black Judy Garland,” but next to her mother, the single greatest female influence on her life was Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige). Washington can be the first to set the record straight — “Church folks are some of the nastiest people out there” — just don’t cross her. She was seated in the front row the night Re kicked off the set with a tribute to her idol; before she could make it to the chorus, the diva overturned her cocktail table and screamed, “Bitch! Don’t you ever sing the Queen’s songs when the Queen is in front of you!” And before we leave the gossip trail: Re didn’t see dime one from touring with Mahalia Jackson. When pressed, the Queen of Gospel assured her that she would receive her reward in heaven.

Re had been wanting to break away from her manager-father for some time, blaming her lack of hits on C.L. ‘s faulty taste in music. He doesn’t tell Re about the meeting he’s arranged in New York with ColumbIa Records exec Jerry Wexler (a delightfully obsequious Marc Maron). He instead waits until a crowded party to publicly break the news and make himself look like the star. And Re takes up with her first husband Ted White (Marlon Wayans) much to the objection of C.L. The Reverend makes it clear that White is not only forbidden to see his daughter, he’s no longer welcome in their home. (C.L. later pulled a gun on White upon discovering that Aretha invited him to dinner.) For the time being, she chose love over family. It was Wexler’s idea to play down the big city slickness of Re’s current crop of recordings. And no more standards. From now on, only songs written expressly for her. White accompanies his wife to a small recording studio in Alabama to work with a bunch of rednecks who possess among them the soul of professionalism and style needed to back Re.

Sponsored
Sponsored

“Re” is also short for “respect,” and in spite of her insistence on originality, the titular tune that put her on the charts was recorded two years earlier by its composer, Otis Redding. According to legend, Re woke her sisters up in the middle of the night to help her compose what would become her signature song. The “Re-Re-Re-Re-Res” were added by her siblings calling her name. The last half of the film, covering her post-ascent years, quickly descended into a greatest hits performance reel alternating with made-for-TV dramatics.

It was during a drunken performance in Columbus that I began to wonder whether it was a case of a sympathetic actress not wanting to strip bare her idol, or the estate of the late superstar looking to control her image from beyond the grave. It was during this brief, boozy downfall that, with the aid of Barbara’s ghost, Re was motivated to record a gospel album. We close with the recording of Amazing Grace. Not that I’m begging for a sequel, but considering the gloss factor that went into this bloated two-and-a-half-hour biopic, 1972 would have made a much better launching point.

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Reminiscence — A waterlogged Miami (“the sunken coast”) provides a sensational special effects backdrop for this otherwise routine noir merger of Altered States and Strange Days. Stock fatalistic narration leads the way: “We don’t haunt the past, the past haunts us.” Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) is a tour guide of the mind, setting subjects in a flotation device and watching as a circular holographic image reminds a bilateral amputee remember what it was like to walk or helps a beautiful woman remember where she misplaced her house keys. The latter act is of such seeming insignificance that her presence can only lead to romance compounded by dark secrets. Nick is instantly smitten by Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a torch-singing spider woman with no venom in her veins and a cookie-cutter wardrobe consisting of Jessica Rabbit gowns — different fabric, same hourglass cut. She’s a recovering addict, while Bannister’s assistant Watts (Thandiwe Newton, in the film’s best performance) is a relapsing drunk. A brief underwater tussle in a submerged movie theatre holds more allure than anything in The Shape of Water, but it isn’t enough to elevate Lisa Joy’s directorial bow much above passable entertainment. 2021. — S.M.

Stillwater — The multiplex air conditioner pooped out halfway through, occasioning an early exit. Part of me was thrilled, but there’s this completist in me who hates not seeing a movie through to the end, particularly when the decision to leave was not my own. I should have thanked the gods of cinema and been done with it: Stillwater doesn’t run deep. One day, Oklahoma Everyman Bill (Matt Damon) is helping to clean up after a tornado, the next he’s in France, working to reverse his daughter Allison’s (Abigail Breslin) murder conviction. (The character is loosely based on Amanda Knox.) Early on in his career, director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) displayed a genius for dramatizing the everydayness of life with a near-neorealist devotion. In McCarthy’s France, what with all the Burger Kings, Subways, and Best Westerns, it’s hard to differentiate between Montclair and Clairemont. And Virginie (Camille Cottin), the woman in the adjoining room who, when asked to keep the noise down, tells Bill she doesn’t speak English, is embarrassingly fluent when it comes time for her to thank him for helping her young daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud), who was locked out of their room. It might have worked had McCarthy focused on the father/daughter relationship rather than having Bill (widowed by suicide) shack up with Virginie. I was more interested in the lies the father told his daughter than I was in waiting for the inevitable Sandra Bullock moment when Bill and his replacement family would indulge in a group dance. An Instagram investigation of the suspected killer held more logic than the happenstance encounter at a soccer game, followed by his kidnapping and incarceration in Virginie’s flat. What follows is a total acquiescence to formula. 2021. — S.M.

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Respect spells mediocrity on the Hudson.
Respect spells mediocrity on the Hudson.

C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker) regularly awakened his daughter Aretha (Skye Dakota Turner) to wow the partygoers gathered in the spacious living room below with the young girl’s remarkable vocal reach. These so-called “church parties” were attended by some of the biggest names in song, all of whom are singled out here by their first and/or last name — Aunt Ella, Uncle Duke, Dinah Washington, Sam (Cooke) — depending on the accuracy of their doubles. Years later, Dad reminded record producer John Hammond (Tate Donovan) that Aretha (Jennifer Hudson) wasn’t raised in a whorehouse like Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday, that she had a proper upbringing. Considering the lack of Respect paid to the truth, it might have been wise for episodic television director Liesl Tommy, here making her feature debut, to open in adulthood.

What’s rape got to do with it? Everything. It was during one of these late night at-homes that an unidentified man closed Aretha’s bedroom door behind him and impregnated the 12-year-old child. By the time she reached 14, Re, her family nickname, had given birth to two children fathered by Edward Jordan. It was a period in her life the singer remained tight-lipped about, and one first-time screenwriter Tracey Scott Wilson dangled like a carrot before dropping like a hot potato. As a mother, she’s a stranger on the road who stops in to see her children when she plays town. Or worse, carts them around like props to remind the sentimental in the crowd that she is a mother, albeit not a very good one. We never learn why C.L. got custody of Re and her two sisters. No words were exchanged between parents when Barbara (Audra McDonald) came to pick up the children, but dad’s frustration is reflected in the cocktail glass clinking in his hand during daylight hours.

Barbara made an early exit, but not before instilling within her daughter certain standards by which to live. Choose “Yes” over the more common slang variant “Yeah.” And “never fear any man.” This coming from the woman brave enough to call it quits with C.L.. Aretha was dubbed “the black Judy Garland,” but next to her mother, the single greatest female influence on her life was Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige). Washington can be the first to set the record straight — “Church folks are some of the nastiest people out there” — just don’t cross her. She was seated in the front row the night Re kicked off the set with a tribute to her idol; before she could make it to the chorus, the diva overturned her cocktail table and screamed, “Bitch! Don’t you ever sing the Queen’s songs when the Queen is in front of you!” And before we leave the gossip trail: Re didn’t see dime one from touring with Mahalia Jackson. When pressed, the Queen of Gospel assured her that she would receive her reward in heaven.

Re had been wanting to break away from her manager-father for some time, blaming her lack of hits on C.L. ‘s faulty taste in music. He doesn’t tell Re about the meeting he’s arranged in New York with ColumbIa Records exec Jerry Wexler (a delightfully obsequious Marc Maron). He instead waits until a crowded party to publicly break the news and make himself look like the star. And Re takes up with her first husband Ted White (Marlon Wayans) much to the objection of C.L. The Reverend makes it clear that White is not only forbidden to see his daughter, he’s no longer welcome in their home. (C.L. later pulled a gun on White upon discovering that Aretha invited him to dinner.) For the time being, she chose love over family. It was Wexler’s idea to play down the big city slickness of Re’s current crop of recordings. And no more standards. From now on, only songs written expressly for her. White accompanies his wife to a small recording studio in Alabama to work with a bunch of rednecks who possess among them the soul of professionalism and style needed to back Re.

Sponsored
Sponsored

“Re” is also short for “respect,” and in spite of her insistence on originality, the titular tune that put her on the charts was recorded two years earlier by its composer, Otis Redding. According to legend, Re woke her sisters up in the middle of the night to help her compose what would become her signature song. The “Re-Re-Re-Re-Res” were added by her siblings calling her name. The last half of the film, covering her post-ascent years, quickly descended into a greatest hits performance reel alternating with made-for-TV dramatics.

It was during a drunken performance in Columbus that I began to wonder whether it was a case of a sympathetic actress not wanting to strip bare her idol, or the estate of the late superstar looking to control her image from beyond the grave. It was during this brief, boozy downfall that, with the aid of Barbara’s ghost, Re was motivated to record a gospel album. We close with the recording of Amazing Grace. Not that I’m begging for a sequel, but considering the gloss factor that went into this bloated two-and-a-half-hour biopic, 1972 would have made a much better launching point.

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Reminiscence — A waterlogged Miami (“the sunken coast”) provides a sensational special effects backdrop for this otherwise routine noir merger of Altered States and Strange Days. Stock fatalistic narration leads the way: “We don’t haunt the past, the past haunts us.” Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) is a tour guide of the mind, setting subjects in a flotation device and watching as a circular holographic image reminds a bilateral amputee remember what it was like to walk or helps a beautiful woman remember where she misplaced her house keys. The latter act is of such seeming insignificance that her presence can only lead to romance compounded by dark secrets. Nick is instantly smitten by Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), a torch-singing spider woman with no venom in her veins and a cookie-cutter wardrobe consisting of Jessica Rabbit gowns — different fabric, same hourglass cut. She’s a recovering addict, while Bannister’s assistant Watts (Thandiwe Newton, in the film’s best performance) is a relapsing drunk. A brief underwater tussle in a submerged movie theatre holds more allure than anything in The Shape of Water, but it isn’t enough to elevate Lisa Joy’s directorial bow much above passable entertainment. 2021. — S.M.

Stillwater — The multiplex air conditioner pooped out halfway through, occasioning an early exit. Part of me was thrilled, but there’s this completist in me who hates not seeing a movie through to the end, particularly when the decision to leave was not my own. I should have thanked the gods of cinema and been done with it: Stillwater doesn’t run deep. One day, Oklahoma Everyman Bill (Matt Damon) is helping to clean up after a tornado, the next he’s in France, working to reverse his daughter Allison’s (Abigail Breslin) murder conviction. (The character is loosely based on Amanda Knox.) Early on in his career, director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) displayed a genius for dramatizing the everydayness of life with a near-neorealist devotion. In McCarthy’s France, what with all the Burger Kings, Subways, and Best Westerns, it’s hard to differentiate between Montclair and Clairemont. And Virginie (Camille Cottin), the woman in the adjoining room who, when asked to keep the noise down, tells Bill she doesn’t speak English, is embarrassingly fluent when it comes time for her to thank him for helping her young daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud), who was locked out of their room. It might have worked had McCarthy focused on the father/daughter relationship rather than having Bill (widowed by suicide) shack up with Virginie. I was more interested in the lies the father told his daughter than I was in waiting for the inevitable Sandra Bullock moment when Bill and his replacement family would indulge in a group dance. An Instagram investigation of the suspected killer held more logic than the happenstance encounter at a soccer game, followed by his kidnapping and incarceration in Virginie’s flat. What follows is a total acquiescence to formula. 2021. — S.M.

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