Commentary - Precious & Interview with Lee Daniels

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lee Daniels Precious 2010 Awards Season


Lee Daniel's Film Precious is uncomfortable in the raw injustice of this young girl's life and all she must endure. The underlying premise of the film does speak to the prejudice in all of us, but the story is her's and her's alone- Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe). She is a dark-skinned, hugely overweight, 16 year-old, illiterate girl, who is able to dream of having a "light skinned" boyfriend and being totally fabulous, despite her life of being repeatedly raped by her father, and abused physically and mentally, but her jealous mother (Mo'Nique).

Both Gabby and Mo' Nique have turned in Oscar award winning performances, truly.

In the past, I've wanted to support Daniels' work, Philly native and all, but I've always felt put off by his choice of material, too sad and too intense for me. And I was right, this story based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire will move the most hardened heart to tears.

However, there is triumph, there is hope, there are good cinematic touches that are effective in story telling, and also allow you to remember it is a movie, not just a voyeuristic view of this unfortunate girl's life.

Rating: It deserves a Pretty Big Toe, but because it's not the kind of film I find pleasing, I have to give it a Pretty Middle Toe

Lee Daniels was in attendance for a Q & A after the film. Here's some excerpts from his interview with Festival Artistic Director, Harlan Jacobson:
LD: "From Egypt to Cairo to Miro to Switzerland- I'm home! I love you Philadelphia, I'm so happy, so honored, so humbled, to be home showing this film to you all this evening at this Festival. I made this movie with the spirit of Philadelphia in mind; thinking that Philadelphian's black and white would be able to understand this story.

Philadelphian's, I found that when I was at Sundance and Berlin and around the world with it, that it was not just a story about black Philadelphians or Philadelphians, but a universal story, so when you are watching this, know that we put a lot of soul and a lot of heart into it and I made it with you all in mind."

HJ: "So many of your characters, Monster's Ball, The Woodsman, Shadowboxer are characters that really have to fight for themselves, that's a link through many of your films, why do you think that is?"

LD: " Hmm, I think that I am a fighter, I left Philadelphia to go to Hollywood with a dream, and $7 in my pocket. I think that the streets of Philadelphia live in me and in my work. I think that Philadelphian's are tough. I see enough movies with a perfect ending, I can go to the studios to see that, I like to see stuff that make people think".

HJ: "Did you know growing up that you could be a director in Hollywood. Did you dream like that?"

LD: " Yes, my mother taught me to dream. I have a Godfather here who also taught me to dream, he was in dance class and took me to dance class. Yes, I was encouraged to dream."

HJ: "And were they your champions?"

LD: "Yes."

HJ: "When you had to take this dream and get it financed, did you have to fight to convince people that this could be a (sorry couldn't hear this word on my recorder) picture?"

LD: "I believe this film has been blessed with Angels. This was the easiest film ever to get financed. I knew not to go to the studios with it. I'd learned from Monsters Ball that they thought I was crazy; a movie about a fat boy dying and a white man, black woman, impossible to get that financed through the studios. Same thing with Woodsman. So I knew better than to go to a studio and say do you want to do a movie about a 355lb black girl. But I had grown and my reputation had grown, in a such away that these people (Smokewood Entertainment Group, Garry Magness and Sarah Siegel-Magness) just said "what do you want to do Lee?" And I said I want to do this movie and they just gave it to me, so they were my angels.

And then that Sapphire, whose work is unbelievable, [a lot of audience applause and hooting and hollering] it's mind boggling that she gave it to me, she didn't have to give me this book, she didn't want anyone to have this book. She a true auteur and a scholar in the biggest of ways. She thought that if someone made this into a movie, it could "f-up" her book. And she trusted me with it. And I'm honored.

The other angel was that we didn't go to DVD. I thought we were going to go straight to DVD and we didn't. I got accepted to Sundance and I won. (Distributors: Lionsgate) And as I'm winning, Oprah Winfrey is calling me. I'm walking up to the stage to accept my award and my phone rings and it's unknown, and I answer and she says "It's Oprah." Huh? "It's Oprah Winfrey". And I say, "Hi, I can't talk right now cause I'm getting my award now at Sundance. And she says, "Why are you picking up the phone?" But the only person that would pick up a phone is an independent filmmaker, cause and unknown number means you've got money or your famous, so that's why I picked up the phone. And so she called me back and that's another angel. She said she would do anything she could to support the film and that has really been a God send."

HJ: Music is such an incredible part of this film. It's also part of the fantasy life, the life line of Precious. What did you ask from your music guy Mario Grigorov to provide you to really help sell that message that there's a heart beating inside this girl that was going to carry her forward?"

LD: "Right. The music is again, Philadelphia inspired, the sound of Philadelphia. Gamble and Huff plays an import role in the movie. Labelle, vintage Labelle brings us in and takes us out. We brought them together after 25 years. Lenny Kravitz, I talked him into producing and bringing the girls back after all those years to sing a song together called system, about the welfare system."

Audience Q: "Was this Gaby's first experience acting? And does she have any other projects that she intends to do?"

LD: "Yes, that was her first job. 400 girls later. Literally, 400 girls I interviewed and Gaby auditioned for our genius casting director, Billy Hopkins and uh, and so she came in, and I saw the tape and when she came in she started talking like a white girl. She don't talk like Precious. The girls that I had auditioned where girls that were Precious. And I hired her because if I had hired any of those other girls, I would have been exploiting them. They would not have been acting. And yes, Gaby does have another job, she plays a bad girl in high school, beating up other girls."

Audience Q: "I have a question about writing a first time screenplay about a personal story. Do you have any advice?"

LD: "My advice is to reach me on Facebook".
Applause and end.

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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