Lady Sings the Blues

October 17, 2014| Papers Haven

Lady Sings the Blues

Krin Gabbard, Jammin at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema
Univ. of Chicago Press 1996 ISBN-13: 978-0226277899
Must answer each question

(1.) Krin Gabbard critiques the presentation of Billie Holiday’s artistry in Lady Sings the Blues, suggesting that her “real gifts” as a singer are undervalued. Specifically, Gabbard argues that “Lady Sings the Blues suggests that her songs were straightforward expressions of her emotional states” and that her presentation as a poor waif does not help to clarify her abilities (97). In the film’s early minutes, Billie is portrayed listening to the records of Bessie Smith and practicing her vocals. This scene is then followed by a depiction of rape at the hands of a drunk cast out of the local sporting house. Examine these particular scenes. On the basis of your observations, do you agree with Gabbard that the film undervalues Holiday’s artistry, even if only by juxtaposing a scene showing her influences with a scene depicting her victimization? Are there other scenes in the film that either value or undervalue Holiday’s artistry?

(2.) Krin Gabbard critiques the presentation on men in Holiday’s life with Billy Dee Williams’ portrayal of Louis McKay. While McKay was in fact her last husband and a consultant to the producers, he was not the only man in her life. Gabbard talks of the essential distortion in the film through the portrayal of McKay. The film portrays Holiday’s relationships with Black men, through McKay, as largely idyllic. In truth, Holiday’s relationships with men were troubled and the amalgamated McKay is presented as a paragon of virtue (95-96). In truth, Holiday also engaged in relationships with women, and recent work by UC Santa Cruz scholar Angela Davis chronicles Holiday’s bisexuality, as well as the bisexuality of her musical influences (Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey). In your view, what is the effect or impact of this distortion of the sexuality and gender relationships of Holiday? What different meanings might have been communicated if the filmmakers had chosen to present the physical and mental abuse that she often suffered from the hands of her lovers, or if the filmmakers had chosen to deal with Holiday’s bisexuality?

(3.) Lady Sings the Blues clearly implicates a white piano player in Artie Shaw’s band with introducing drugs to Holiday. Examine the scene in which she is introduced to drugs while on the road and compare this scene with McKay’s return when he watches in horror as she injects herself. At this point the film clearly juxtaposes the influences of white and black men on Holiday’s life and artistry. What kind of statement do you think the filmmakers were interested in communicating through these scenes?

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