6.6/10
3,268
16 user 16 critic

Bessie (2015)

TV-MA | | Biography, Drama, Music | TV Movie 16 May 2015
Trailer
1:31 | Trailer

Watch Now

From $5.99 (SD) on Amazon Video

The story of legendary blues performer Bessie Smith, who rose to fame during the 1920s and '30s.

Director:

Writers:

(screenplay), (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
Reviews
Popularity
3,572 ( 730)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 22 wins & 46 nominations. See more awards »

Videos

Photos

Edit

Cast

Credited cast:
...
...
Carl Van Vechten
...
John Hammond
...
Jack Gee
...
...
Viola
...
Lucille
...
Richard
...
William 'Pa' Rainey
...
Clarence
...
Langston Hughes
...
Detroit Theater Manager
...
Chorus Girl #1
...
Swarm Boy #2
...
Frank Walker
Edit

Storyline

The story of legendary blues performer Bessie Smith, who rose to fame during the 1920s and '30s.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Queen brings Bessie back to life.

Genres:

Biography | Drama | Music

Certificate:

TV-MA | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
Edit

Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

16 May 2015 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

В блюзе только Бесси  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show more on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See  »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

Charles S. Dutton, who plays Pa Rainey, made his Broadway debut in 1984 in August Wlson's play "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." See more »

Quotes

Bessie Smith: I ain't playing second to nobody!
See more »


Soundtracks

Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer
Written by Wesley Wilson (uncredited)
Remixed and Produced by Adam Blackstone and Queen Latifah
Additional Orchestration and Scoring by Stephen Tirpak (as Steve Tirpak)
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Missed opportunity
23 July 2015 | by See all my reviews

Long-overdue and obviously made with good intentions, this TV biopic of legendary 1920s Blues queen suffers from usual script trouble: how to condense someone's life in a two-hour story without making it all like a cartoon. The project was already planned for decades, I remember media talking about possibility of this movie even in early 1970s, right after "Lady sings the Blues" and back than Roberta Flack (who was white-hot at the time) was considered for the main role. Not that Bessie was ever forgotten - "Columbia records" kept her complete works on the market, Janis Joplin paid for her gravestone, there were theater plays and books about her life, notably by Chris Albertson who became world's greatest authority on the subject (and was curiously ignored in making of this movie). It took four decades to finally have this biopic made and contrary to my great expectations, I am saddened that it all resulted with such a predictable stereotypical fantasy.

Ingredients are right: cast is spectacular and gives its best shot. Not just Queen Latifah in the main role and Mo'Nique (as Ma Rainey) but countless actors playing the circle of lovers, husbands, boyfriends and relatives are impressive, particularly Khandi Alexander (as vicious cousin) who steals the scene every time she comes up on the screen. Clothing, scenery, visually everything works just fine and for a while you might even enjoy the thrill of re- created world of 1920s specially as actors are so sizzling and determined, there is a very fascinating insight into a long-gone segregated, brutal world of woman who escaped crushing poverty and became breadwinner for everybody around her. BUT (and there is a big but) even though ingredients are right and yes, it actually happen just as shown in the movie (it can be checked in her biography, yes she did spit out and was rejected on her first recording audition, yes she faced the Ku Klux Clan, yes Ma Rainey sang ""Black Bottom Blues", yes she traveled in her own train caravan) after a while script rushes so much that everything becomes one big blur of short episodes piled on top of each other to the point that it really seems like cartoon version of Bessie's life, short nuggets and photo shots. Concerts. Click. Racists. Click. Dominating boyfriend-turned-husband-turned-manager. Click. Bootlegged booze. Click. Fights. Click. Pale white boys interested to make money out of her. Click. She's bisexual. Click.

No doubt movie is fascinating for young audience who are finally introduced to artist and those who have never heard of this feisty lady and her contemporaries might be impressed to find out that almost a century ago there were proud black women fighting like lionesses for their own place in the world. Not everybody was a maid, washerwoman or prostitute - Bessie, Rainey, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Bogan and Sippie Wallace (to name just a few) were heroines of their time and even though they represented "sin" it was still better option than to scrub the stairs in Baltimore. So on one side it works as reminder about important chapter in American history and kudos to good intentions, it might intrigue kids to search for original recordings.

Where the film fails is to dig just a little deeper under the surface and explain reasons for Bessie's behavior - we all understand she was this brilliant artist but what we see in the movie is woman who drinks, fights, cusses and basically intimidates everyone around. It is a testament to Queen Latifah's acting that she suggests vulnerability hidden deep inside under all that bravado and there were few short scenes (mostly when she is alone with herself, coming home after the concerts) that glimpse in direction where this movie did not dare to go and which would work much better had the creators or script writers decided to explore her inner world instead of giving us point-by-point well-known snapshots. Curiously, film decidedly ends on a upbeat note, going so far to even present Bessie's triumph in Carnegie Hall (which never happened) and completely ignoring circumstances around her death. I have been living with her music for decades now so naturally after initial excitement about the movie I feel saddened that this big chance is missed now and since it took 78 years from her death for her story to finally reach the movie screen, I doubt that in my life I will see another attempt.


17 of 20 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 16 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Watch the Latest Episode of "The IMDb Show"

This week on "The IMDb Show," La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz shares some "secret" information about his new spy-thriller series, "Counterpart." Plus, Kevin Smith lets us in on his favorite Sundance movies of all time.

Watch the show