There was a movie on TV tonight: “Their Eyes were Watching God”. Halle Berry is in it and Oprah Winfrey produced it. The description of the movie in the newspaper was a young Florida woman’s quest for self-fulfillment in the 1920’s. The digital TV guide described it as the odyssey of a free spirit through stormy romances. After I noticed this show in the program guide, I search for information about the book and the writer online, and checked a couple reviews of the movie online. I watched the first half of the show before tuning out.
It wasn’t a very good show. I have been trying to decode what the show was saying about fulfillment and free spirits.
Winfrey gets points for bringing the 1937 novel by Zora Neale Hurston to television, but she interpreted it as an allegory of female liberation and empowerment, and presented life as a Romantic duality. Halle Berry, playing Janie, had a couple of scenes floating on her back in natural pool, wearing a a diaphonous dress, gazing at the sun. In these scenes, she was authentic, true to herself, communing with God. In the first such scene, Janie is an adolescent. Her protective grandmother has just confronted her for kissing a young man and is warning her not to become a wild woman like her mother. She obeys and married an old farmer (who rolls into bed too tired to have sex with her, spurning her precious offering). I missed how that marriage ended, but she has a second marriage to a storekeeper and politician and resents having to “act” the part of his wife. She sasses him, he belts her, then he gets sick and dies. She condescendingly tells him off on his death bed. After her dies, she lets her hair down, drifts in the pond in the sunshine, wearing her black widow’s dress, and in another scene rolls in the grass in a meadow. Such deep symbols, such deep emotions, so meaningful.
She has a few good friends – powerful sisters. Her life, where she wasn’t in control or drifting in the pool, was pretty tedious. Hell was the fact that her first and second husband did not appreciate her inner beauty, did not love her the way she knew she deserved to loved.
With the storm making the roads slippery, I spent the day at home reading Francis Wheen’s “Idiot Proof” which looks at loopy mass culture trends. One chapter discusses the mass hysteria surrounding the late Lady Diana Spencer. In this chapter Wheen refers to several columns and essays about Diana as feminist icon, and the cult of feminist victimhood. Wheen mentions Oprah Winfrey at several points in as a leading exponent and exploiter of a vulgar culture of feelings, consumerism, and stupidity.
Oprah Winfrey produces movies like Barbara Streisand did and like Steisand, she goes for emotional extravagance. I could see the bones of a story under her production, but she killed the story trying to wring meaning – or the emotional jolt that counterfeits meaning – out of it.
“Self-fulfillment” was a give-away. Psycho-babble for being a drama queeen demanding the intense and meaningful love that (according to popular culture) women are entitled to, defying convention for love. Janie’s was a free spirit, a woman ahead of her time. After her husband dies, she falls for a rogue. Sex with him was liberating experience, mystical union, romantic goal. Although he gambles her money away, being with him is worth it. Was he a flatterer or a rogue? Her love redeemed him. Or whatever.
I switched to the last episode of the first season of Deadwood and the second season premiere of Deadwood on Movie Central.
Side note. Claire recognized writer as – Zora Neale Hurston, an anthropologist, a student of Franz Boaz who went to Florida to conduct ethnographical field research did not complete her dissertation rather than as a folklorist, playwright and writer of fiction. I didn’t recognize the name. I’ll assume she’s a good writer who was gradually forgotten.