Monday, May 29, 2006

89. Send More Queen Latifah

I, like everybody, love Queen Latifah; it's just that until recently I'd never watched any of her movies--no, wait: I saw Ice Age, and some of Chicago. But it is not necessary to see her movies--or watch her perform her music, or catch her on old Fresh Prince of Bel Air episodes--to love her. She has a generous beauty, with serious eyes that can also actually twinkle. At first glance she may fall into certain categories, those usually reserved for African-American women--and not just recently, but all the way back to the earliest appearances of American Blacks in stories and plays (and movies)--either the Big-Mama matriarch or sassy Jezebel. And I have yet to see her in "serious" roles--although I am on the verge of watching 1996's Set It Off. Again, though, Queen Latifah has a place in pop culture--well, at least the one bopping around in my head--that makes her a lot more than a fun-lovin' hardcase who can, despite her size, pull it off.

Of course, that combination would do fine for some kind of movie career, but I hope it is not enough for her. I watched the remake of Last Holiday, and marveled how she kept my attention in a bad movie that still looked pretty--and not just because of its Austrian locations, but more because of The Queen Herself, solid and clear--and managing a trick: transcending both Mammy and Jezebel, staring them down with those eyes. I was just reading an article by Paul Arthur in the May/June '06 Film Comment about cinema of the body, and he rightfully evoked films--such as Jane Campion's, "intent on restoring physical gravity, an onscreen heft, to the female form, which has long been the object of voyeuristic scrutinty in dominant cinema"--that present unadorned women, bodies that hang from gravity's rack, "all the more shocking." as the old exploitation tagline used to scream, "because it's true!" And I thought of Queen Latifah, made up--over?--and coif'd, dressed like a jet-setter and smiling amid the gourmet delights of a multi-thousand-dollar-a-night resort wrapped in the snowy embrace of the Alps. This was a Black Diamond of the slopes indeed, a BBW for the rest of us--and about as far removed as a girl could be from the meaty assertions--the "carnality of a liberatory gesture"--of Body Cinema, right?

Well, I'll have to agree, "right." Except. As I watched Last Holiday, I began to think of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, Sophia Loren and Shelley Winters, silly things that insisted we pay attention, they had something to tell us. And although it was often about their own pillowy selves--back to voyeurism--it was also about us--or OK, maybe me--and the--this?--moviegoer's persistent gaze. I thought of Body Cinema's arresting solidity, and, despite her cutesy dress-up, Queen Latifah stirred the bellied pot and ran me headlong into Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates--and Monroe and her cohorts, bigger than Hepburn, jaws thrust even further than Crawford's--and hold on: way back there, before the war, sparring with Cary Grant, I suddenly saw another Russell, Rosalind, and knew what Queen Latifah was doing for me: melding and recalling all those big bodies with a belt of His Girl Friday--but girl no more, instead a charismatic New It, peeling off her own "yellow wallpaper"--and not going nuts, but Hollywood.

The more I think about her, the more I want to watch more Queen Latifah movies. And did I mention "more"?

Above: Adrien Brody has the Queen with an audience.

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