Nothing Sacred "Ray" Directed by Taylor Hackford, Reviewes by D. Anthony

Now, I'm no catholic or anything, but I do have a confession to make. Right about now I'm not trying to see any movie, go to any play, hear any poetry reading or slam, wander through any pretentious gallery openings for free wine, check out any bands or hip hop acts, nothing, without asking what the shit means to me when I walk out that door. I'm about what kind of rhythm it leaves me with. Period. My patience and attention span have pretty much worn thin. I'm tired.

11-2 trumped 9-11, and it didn't jump up out of thin blue air. Those star-crossed confederates, those fundamentalists ... those gods of the red states. Those southern crackers on fire. Them and their allies out for the kill. It's all so ... West Coast with an East-Coast flair. Finance capital and such. Obscures the yeoman farmer, the middle-man, the eat-dirt road. A case of the Beverly Hillbillies gone mad. Waco. What a team we make. The two of us.

No, it wasn't supposed to be this way. Revolutions came and went. In government, ideas and sound. They predicted God's death a long time ago. Said it loud and clear. Dionysus. A chorus of voices told us that the devil stuck his fork in Him with art, secular rationalism and industrial profit. Bless their souls. I don't even believe in their hippy Jesus but it doesn't take much to see that he's about to get us all thrown in hell if we aren't there already. Him along with Allah and who ever the fuck it is the Jews think they're waiting for. Someone else's land and self-interest no doubt.

And Georgia, where they won't even let you buy a fucking vibrator for christ's sake. They'd just as soon have your cunt sown up as let you play with it, unless you're having a baby. And you'd better have it too. The price you pay for sin. I'm talking about some outlaw sex. The abolition of desire and shit. No-man's-land. They have it on their flag, wear it on their hats, their arms, slap it on the back of their trucks and shed blood for it ... to this day. \italic{Georgia, Georgia, The whole day through/ Just an old sweet song/ Keeps Georgia on my mind.} Black people and women know what I'm talking about. Some of them. Or at least they used to.

Desire, freedom, space, autonomy, rhythm, love, rage, food, clothes and shelter. I'm talking about a gutbucket. Some low-down basic in your balls longing for shit. So bad it aches. That's the kind of grind Ray could hit you with. He told the church to kiss his ass. "I'm blind motherfucker, this is my shit." He took all that good stuff and put it back where it belonged. Stole it right under their nose, beneath their wide-open eyes. Satisfaction and how to get some. Pain and how to express it. The body and how to move it. Struggle. Labor. Hustle. Lust ... when they'd just as soon cut your dick off as let you put it to some better use.

Now, I don't know if you've ever lived with a junky ... or been one. But a junkie is a dirty dog that bites. A junkie is a say-shit-out-of-line piss when he ain't supposed to cranky ass bitter unreliable behind your back two-faced say sorry all the time potentially violent self-centered motherfucker. That's what a junkie is right there. That's who you cross the street to get away from. On dope? Ask Bird if you can find him. Dead as a duck. A junkie is X-rated even when he can't get it up. Nothing PG-13 about a junkie. It does more than just scratch and grin and mumble and make people sincerely vaguely concerned. \italic{But Ray, what about me, what about the children? }At which point, if the movie has any integrity at all, Ray the junkie is supposed to turn around and say, \italic{Fuck you bitch, stay out of my shit from now on and mind your business, or I'll send your funky loose-tit ass back to the pastor you were with before I met you. }He might have even slapped her or something unseemly for looking in his shaving kit and finding his works. Let's not even mention the tracks and sores for now. This movie sure doesn't. But I mean, break a glass or something Ray ... goddamn. I hear he followed that shit for over a decade but hey, what do I know? I wasn't there.

And I can't speak for you, but I sure ain't never been blind ... at least not in the literal sense. It's pretty hard to say something bad about a guy who couldn't see anything ... even if it is only about a movie someone else made after he died to cash in on a profit ... a cheap shot. A cheap trick. Trust me, I feel like a creep. But I bet working night-clubs and trying to get paid or starve would make you a hell of a lot tougher than what comes across from a 36 year-old neo-vaudevillian comic who went to church every week, sang in the choir and joined the boy scouts when he was a kid. Which is true. A guy who was the star quarterback on his high school football team ... a guy who got all the leads, all the breaks, all the head behind the bleachers ... a guy who played classical piano at Julliard to boot. That's Jamie's bio. It shows. Now don't get me wrong, he does an admirable job as an impersonator. He made his reputation as a flaming queer vamping all over national television for christ's sake. Imagine that. Outlaw sex made safe.

\italic{Stage directions: Actor bows out to Thunderous applause and a shower of gold coins}.

I can't hold it against him. After all, as I sat there waiting for the music to play, he's the one who tried to make sure I wasn't completely bored watching this film. And I sincerely appreciate him for that. He did the best he could given the circumstances. He's easy to look at, he's good at what he does, he's a professional. So is Kerry Washington, who plays his ever-tolerant, sweet as can be naive wife. Both of their careers are secure ... should be rolling in it from here on out ... but that's the point. In the absence of the blues, the only place left to go is sentimentality and outright lies. Kind of like a junkie but with a different agenda. Safety. A cover-up. Fakin' it till you make it. Not the soundtrack that fills in every time Jamie opens his mouth to lip-sync mind you, but the cheesy, formulaic, predictable stuff that takes over when the music (by far the best part of this movie) isn't playing. This film is down on its knees, arms outstretched singing "Mammy." No doubt it will join the canon of late night VH-1nders. But shit, I'd rather give the part to Harvey Keitel and let him do it in blackface. He'll show you a blind nigger junkie alright.

It's not Jamie's fault. Like I said, he didn't have much to work with. The lack of spine in this film can be traced straight back to Hackford and White. I mean, it took them 15 years to make this movie. That's before Nas and Old Dirty hit the scene and even before some of the kids this movie was made for were even born. He even met Ray himself. I'd rather hear the interviews personally. Maybe they'll release them as a box set or something.

So, the foundation is missing. Words are a structure and if you don't have that you better be a committed anarchist. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing mind you. Sometimes words get in the way. But flat dialogue and high melodrama will only take you so far and then you better start dancing and singing again. Fortunately this movie has plenty of that.

And what about the fuckin? Ray dropped 12 kids with five women. There isn't a sign of those snotty noses running around on Christmas in August let alone the urge that made them. Of course, I wasn't there mind you ... so what do I know about his family values and such. Yeah, I understand the art of reading between the lines. Even the bottom ones. Like the money General Electric is afraid to lose by telling the truth about Ray. "We might bring good things to light but we've got a commodity to protect after all ... Ain't nothin' free in this world but Jesus." And even that will cost you these days.

Our journey starts off in Northern Florida, 1948. Somewhere down by Universal Studios in Orlando ... right where it ends. A full circle. You ever been there? Jeb Bush and theme parks is what I'm talking about. The dark ages for sure. They still make niggers and silence go hand in hand for ten dollars a ticket. You can walk around all day with your eyes closed ... the more things change .... Anyway, Jamie, I mean Ray, I mean Jamie (the butterfly effect working its way into the frontal lobe, REM, the beauty and danger of film), is trying to take his black ass up to Seattle for a gig but some redneck bus driver, you know, the rank-and-file, is not about to be any Seeing Eye Dog for a blind nigger and he won't give him any play. So Jamie tells him he lost his sight in the war and receives the double-VIP treatment straight to beer halls, sluts and Quincy Jones. Hmmm. Poetic justice, poetic license, I understand. But why would you need to make some fable with a mythic subject like this. Take it into a never-never land of hallucination. Afraid to look it in the eye. We're all fair game. Ray, the civil rights hero working the Chitlin' Circuit, reading the Bible in braille, cutting a path through Seattle, Los Angeles, Harlem, Atlanta, Dallas and the Newport Jazz Festival. Being a victim of dope fiends, managers and women ... standing up to Jim Crow in Georgia ... coming to self-realization when it all fades to subtitles and black ... 20 million dollars to charitable institutions, a parade at the Georgia State Capital with Julian Bond ... earning his stars and stripes.

The problem is, every time I started to feel all slowly brainless and "Maybe I kind of like this movie," you know, deluded about the whole experience, just when I might have been taken in like a sucker biting the bait, falling for the pray, just when the seat was wrapping its arms around me and stroking my thighs real nice, just when the flashbacks to his brother drowning in a laundry bucket and the sprawling five-year old Ray, who lost his sight nine months after the tragedy cries \italic{Mama, Mama, I need you, help }and she ignores it, keeps on making bread to make him tough ... \italic{promise you won't be no cripple, Ray,} never a victim, eyes full of that gooey puss you don't want to look at but can't help doing it anyway thinking, "What is that shit, Vaseline?" ... some junk at last, nasty, and maybe this starts to bring a tear to your jaded dry consumer eye when ... bam! Here comes the Atlanta Compromise, Georgia raising its head again like clockwork. god is out, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler are in. Now you're fucked kid, even if you are rich. From the frying pan straight into the fire so to speak. They taught him how to be himself all right ... Ahmet bending over the piano: "You've got to find yourself Ray, your own voice, that's why I hired you, here let me sing you a song I wrote. Croak, croak. Play it like that." Ray: "You mean like this, boss?" Ahmet: "Yeah, that's it kid, now you really sound like yourself." Some red, white and blue redux shit. You don't need any more lyrics to understand this pastoral scene. But I'll play it for you anyway: \italic{Oh beautiful, for heroes proved, In liberating strife, Who more than self, our country loved, And mercy more than life, America, America may God thy gold refine, Til all success be nobleness And every gain divined.} I ain't making this shit up. The sacred and the secular resolved. And right along with Ray-gun too in '84. What a happy family. I told you, I feel like a creep.

If that's how you like your movies, you'll have a swell old time at this one. Don't let me discourage you.

Chavisa WoodsTribes