My curiosity got the best of me. Folks are quite proud of Zora Neale Hurston down here in Central Florida. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, (just north of Orlando) the first all black town incorporated in the US, and is heralded as a great African American folklorist during the Harlem Rennaisance. Every year in Eatonville, they have a huge festival celebrating Zora's life. It was only proper that I appreciated her contributions to the literary world.
The story is narrated by Janie Starks, a woman with a reputation around town. She's beautiful and elusive, and has been widowed twice in her young life, which inspires the townsfolk, sitting on their front porches, to speculate and envy the woman. Having just returned from the Everglades to her home in Eatonville, she tells her story to her friend Phoebe. Through her eyes, we see the development of Eatonville in the early 1920's...the establishment of the town store, the town's first street lamp, the town's first mayor. We witness the famous flooding of the Lake Okeechobee as a result of a hurricane in 1928. Jamie make not always make the wisest decisions when it comes to men, but we witness her finding love and finding herself.
I found the story compelling in the hands of Hurston. Florida's fascinating black history came to life - history of the area in which I live to which I was clueless. Janie, her husbands, and the townsfolk, were vivid, entertaining characters. The men dominating over their wives, the "porch drama", the love of baseball, life in a farm camp in the Everglades, and the immigrant Bahamian music. But the main attraction above and beyond all is Hurston's writing. It is rich and poetic, and oh so beautiful. This woman had some MAD writing skillz! It nearly put me into a trance, sort of like the intoxicating smell of night jasmine or gardenia.
There is quite a bit of dialect, and it took a little while to get used to listening to it. I'm not sure how easy or difficult it would be to read in print. In the care of the narrator, Ruby Dee (who was also in the movie) it was like watching a movie with my ears. It was breathtaking. This sets some pretty high standards for the movie, but I had to give it a go.
They filmed part of the movie in Orlando and in the Everglades, which caused a stir at the time. In fact, my parents, who had a home in a fish camp in the Everglades back then, had a Seminole Indian friend who had a bit part (the Indian who warned Janie and Teacake about the coming hurricane). Everyone down here was talking about the movie. We even taped it, but I never ended up watching it.
It was a made-for-TV movie (by Oprah), so who knew what we were going to get. On the other hand, the beautiful Halle Berry starred as Jamie, with her almond eyes, high cheekbones and long curly hair. She was the perfect Janie! I found the movie to be generally similar to the plot of the book, but it took much of the emotional, jagged parts of the novel and smoothed it over. Like the translation of book to film in Fingersmith, there is just no way the poetic beauty of the words can translate. This was Zora-Lite.
Besides Halle Berry, there are also cameo parts played by Terrance Howard and Ruby Dee. These are not parts that would ever gain your attention, but it does signify the support of this film by the African-American acting community.
Is the movie worth seeing? Yes, absolutely. But don't expect it to even come close to the masterpiece of the novel.
Book: 5 out of 5 stars