Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bourgie black love: "Love Jones" film and soundtrack

"Love Jones" (New Line Cinema, 1997) remains my all-time favorite romantic movie, not because I ever coveted a relationship like the one between Nina and Darius, but because it was the first (and I think, still, only) film to portray love among the black, urban, middle class.

When "Love Jones" debuted, I was a 20-something, single professional living in Hyde Park, Chicago--one of the city's black bourgie Meccas. The characters in "Love Jones" looked like the people I knew; the sets and scenery--poetry and jazz joints, the "Wild Hare" reggae club, wide Southside boulevards, regentrifying condos and apartments on the edge of urban blight--looked like the places I frequented. Theodore Witcher, who wrote and directed the film, was even a writer for New City, along with the Chicago Reader one of my favorite local alternative papers. While white, heterosexual GenXers saw their relationships played out all over the big and little screens (For example: The movie "Singles" and the TV show "Friends," both of which I enjoyed.), "Love Jones" was it for my circle of friends, and we ate it up.

Larenz Tate was never finer than when he performed the sexy, aggressive opening poem "A Blues for Nina (Brother to the Night)" Instead of tepid "moon, spoon, June," Tate's Darius wooed Nina with references to Yoruban goddesses Yemeya and Osun. It don't get blacker than that. Let's just say, this poem sparked a lot of fanning and leg-crossing in the mostly-black female audience that I first watched "Love Jones" with.

I hated that Nina's poem for Darius, performed near the end of the movie, was so lame--all mountains and clouds and rainbows. I wanted her to come fierce like Darius did. But despite her meek poem, Nia Long's Nina gets a pass for quoting Sonia Sanchez and for being the ambivalent one in the relationship--a refreshing change from the usual. The movie also featured the wonderful,vampy Lisa Nicole Carson, playing (as ever) the sassy friend. But she's better here than playing second fiddle to Calista Flockhart on "Ally McBeal." Also, look for comedian Bill Bellamy as a hearse-driving hater. "Love Jones" illustrated intraracial relations (love and friendship) between black folks of a certain class perfectly.

Even better than "Love Jones" the movie, was "Love Jones" the soundtrack: Me'shell Ndegeocello, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, Cassandra Wilson, Maxwell, Lauryn Hill--total music to get your swerve on to. Dionne Farris' "Hopeless" was the opening song of the movie and my favorite cut on the soundtrack. (And, dude! I never noticed the video featured Randy Jackson of "American Idol" fame.):

And just for Valentine's Day, I had to throw in the nappy fineness of Maxwell. "Sumthin, Sumthin"--another great track on the "Love Jones" album.

Finally, Trina Broussard KILLED Minnie Riperton's "Inside My Love." I thought only Luther could make a song better than the original.

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