STORMY WEATHER CINEMA CLASSICS COLLECTION Studio: 20th Century Fox Film Year: 1943 Film Length: 77 minutes Genre: Musical Aspect Ratio:[*] 1.33:1 Colour/B&W: B&W Audio:[*] English 2.0 mono [*]English 2.0 stereo Subtitles: English & Spanish Film Rating: Not Rated Release Date: January 10, 2006. Film Rating: / Starring: Lena Horne (Selina Rogers), Bill Robinson (Bill Williamson), Cab Calloway (Himself), Katherine Dunham (Herself), Fats Waller (Himself), The Nicholas Brothers Directed by: Andrew L. Stone As part of the new Cinema Classics Collection and to celebrate Black History Month, 20th Century Fox has released three classic films to celebrate achievement. They include Island in the Sun, Pinky, and the subject of this review, Stormy Weather. In this all-black film in the ‘40s, amazing artists of the day helped break the black-white race barrier that was ever so present during this era. The dancers and singers involved, such as Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Cooley Wilson, Mae Johnson, Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers, put on memorable performances that the National Film Registry chose this film as a cultural treasure of historical significance in 2001. The film is structured around the performances of the fictional character of Bill Williamson, but based on the real-life dance legend of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson). The film opens with a child delivering a book mailed to Bill. As he opens the book, more children sit around him to see what this book is about. Bill takes them (and us, the audience) down memory lane with the stories each page in the book. In a flashback approach to storytelling, we see his life after the war, his travels to New Orleans, to New York and then Chicago, all of which offer small-stage performances as well as over the top African fantasy numbers. Common for cinema in this era, exaggeration of body and facial moves common in black culture is also added for both comedy and emphasis. So while a few stereotypes crept into this film, apparently a lot of what is seen here is representative of the day. We see the “call-response” music of Fats Waller, a technique that has become important to the history of today's music. We also see the wide bowtie and pants of Cab Calloway when performing The Jumpin’ Jive and Lena Horne performing the unforgettable title song of Stormy Weather. Since the film is largely showing the performances of these people, the story doesn’t become problematic for any audience. That was one of the fears of the day; white audiences may have not have gone to see the film, especially those lliving in the south, if the movie was mostly story. The performances of the artists almost distracts the viewer from whatever paper-thin story is actually written into this film. But the characters in this film do not come across as being lifeless or uninteresting; in fact, they come across as charming and likable and we want to see Bill's fortunes as he takes us through his life as a performer. I think this was a great film and I enjoyed it 100 times better than Island in the Sun. The movie has lots of humour, good singing, and over 20 music performances delivering 78 minutes of foot-tapping numbers. You’ll also see at the end of the film the dance performance by the amazing leg splitting Nicholas Brothers. You may remember them in the final performance of the recently released Fox Studio Classics title Orchestra Wives. You must give Stormy Weather a try. VIDEO QUALITY / The disc has anamorphic menus and the film is 1.33:1. Viewed with my projector set at 5400K, this black and white film is warm and fuzzy…but not fuzzy to the point of being too blurry. I can say that given this film’s age, it has held up very well. Most of the details can be made out but there are others that get blended into the white or black parts of the picture. Pixelization is never apparent nor is edge enhancement. There are still artefacts that mar the picture and there is a little bit of wobbling once as well as a flicker of light intensity (almost as if the bulb that was used to project this image was running out of steam at some points). Of course, these are NOT major issues with this DVD but I’ll report it because I saw it on such a large screen. Those with small screens may not notice this because you’ll be quite pleased with the results. This film has been digitally restored and remastered. It would be nice to see as a special feature just what kind of remastering process was done with these classic films Fox is releasing. AUDIO QUALITY / I wasn’t expecting magic with this soundtrack. Recorded in 1943, the audio is very limited in dynamics and distinction. The volume of all sounds is at the same level and background hiss is higher than other films I’ve been viewing. Not that it’s any fault to this DVD or the remastering process, but it seems in general that the audio got better in terms of definition (in mono) in the later ‘40s. Like all other mono Fox classic releases, there is a fake stereo version available. Don’t listen to it. I just sounds worse. Both audio tracks are encoded with Dolby Digital 2.0. SPECIAL FEATURES / This title comes with an optional commentary by Dr. Todd Boyd, professor of Critical Studies, USC. He’s interesting to listen to and he has a lot to say about the era, the cultural and racial divisions, as well as how Hollywood both portrayed and worked with the difference when creating a film. He’s informative about the talent as well as respectful to their performances because he lets us watch them rather than talking through them. This film is packaged in a very nice deluxe slip-case that was inspired by the theatrical poster and it comes with a complete set of lobby cards too. Nice touch IN THE END… This is a very good entry in the Fox Cinema Classics Collection. While not numbered like the Fox Studio Classics or the Fox Film Noir collections, this appears to be a new line of classic films that may celebrate certain achievements. While this first wave celebrates Black History month, it’s unknown at this time what theme the next releases will have, if they even have a theme. Stormy Weather is a good performance film (remember, there isn’t much story to this one). I recommend viewing it for entertainment and historical purposes. Michael Osadciw January 13, 2006.