The Green Pastures

Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jun 18, 2015

Ethnic clichés, both written and acted, and the knowledge of white creators all makes the correct prick up their ears, which is why the smarty pants Entertainment Weekly rag gave it a D mark when it was released on video; there is condescension here–all said to be seen through negro eyes, and the film structures everything as if seen by the Sunday School children, but the implication is that the adults see the same, and that they’re all children together (but is that any different from how many see any sort of believers now? and their condescension rarely has any kindness to it)–and lots of sociology to observe and portrayals to take issue with, but maybe the key issue isn’t whether you’re black or white, enlightened or un, but whether or not you believe–if you do, there’s great beauty here; a student points out that the black heaven has no whites in it!, music at beginning and throughout has interesting ramifications, with loose and free vocal flights within a relatively controlled structure, which is true of an awful lot of black music, and which suggests that commandments and covenants still allow for individual expression, intro of de Lawd is lovely, as waiting angels brighten up and truly worship and truly interact, episodes invariably interesting and often moving, the battle stuff and the God suffering and the man on the cross suddenly appearing at the end is kind of confusing, but the anachronisms (contemporary dress, WW I armaments, Babylon looking like the Cotton Club) is maybe the neatest element, because even if it seems paternalistic to blacks likening the scriptures to their own lives, this approach feels better and somehow more authentic than the respectable bible pic alternative, which stages sacred lives and events as completely stylized (from painting, which may be okay) and completely separated from real existence and lives as they are experienced (compartmentalization bordering on schizophrenia, not from any good art, and decidedly not okay); in connection, what this more resembles is medieval passion plays (guild versions, plus Piers Plowman and Everyman and the Canterbury Tales, etc.), which used anachronisms both to involve the proletariats and to tweak the erring and oppressing classes both religions and political (cf. Hail Mary!); in fact it occurs to me that the passion plays embodied two key principles that have informed much fine religious art (narrative type) up to the present time: simply stated religious principles made, but not betrayed, understandable for the simple folks who most needed them (cf. the parables), and criticisms of the priestly classes that block the way to heaven (not G.P., but The Kid, and Matthew 24-5, and most of Acts and Paul), which might come as a surprise to those atheistic modernists who think that Old and New is the first work to notice the bad behaviour