• FILM

  • SEARCH FOR

Honeydripper

Honeydripper

Directed by John Sayles. Starring Danny Glover, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Yaya DaCosta, Charles S. Dutton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Gary Clark Jr., Mable John, Stacy Keach. (2007, PG-13, 123 min.)

REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Feb. 1, 2008

I think it’s time for me to come clean and admit that I’ve never really liked the blues. I realize that’s probably heresy in Austin – the bluesiest of all predominately white, upwardly mobile college towns – but there you have it. Maybe it’s something about the structure of the music that bothers me: those same 12 bars playing over and over – one, four, five, one, four, five. Or maybe it’s because I don’t understand why blues singers are always repeating the first line of every verse and passing it off as line two. (If your woman leaves you all alone in the first line of a song, shouldn’t she do something different in the second? Call on the phone or pick up a stone or play the trombone?) Whatever the reason, the blues and I never clicked. Until I saw Honeydripper, Sayles’ new drama about life in a destitute African-American cotton-farming town in Jim Crow-era Alabama and the music that gave it its mythology. Glover plays Tyrone “Pinetop” Purvis, an aging piano player with a past whose backwoods roadhouse, the Honeydripper, is on the verge of financial collapse. While the Honeydripper is a home away from home to a small tribe of middle-aged drunks seeking consolation in old dirges, down the road, at Toussaint’s, young folks dance and drink and spend money to the energizing new sounds of rock & roll. The future is electrified, but poor Purvis can barely even keep the lights on, much less fuel an amplifier. Like his club and the world it symbolizes, he is on the verge of extinction and, worse, irrelevance. Honeydripper’s story isn’t anything you haven’t seen a dozen times before, but where Sayles succeeds (where Sayles always succeeds) is in his ability to dramatize the psychological and linguistic details that give identity to a subculture struggling for survival. His film feels like life, a life that is both consumed by age-old injustices and bursting with hope in the restorative power of imagination and art. Like any true bluesman, Purvis has been knocked down by his burdens but not out, and watching him reach deep into himself to find absolution in the face of paralyzing historical circumstance made me realize finally what all that damned musical repetition is for: In a world where the prejudices and disappointments of the past keep coming back to haunt the living, the best way to exorcize a demon is to call him out by name, over and over again, until the words lose their meaning. If that doesn’t work, though, you can always just turn up the guitar and drown the son of a bitch out.

READ MORE
More Honeydripper
John Sayles
John Sayles
The evolution of American music and Southern race relations in "Honeydripper"

Melanie Haupt, Feb. 1, 2008

More John Sayles
Unknown Territory
Unknown Territory
Writer-director John Sayles on why he returned to the border for his latest film, 'Go for Sisters'

Robert Faires, Dec. 6, 2013

Page Two: In the Moment, Part 2
Page Two: In the Moment, Part 2
A fascinating lesson in history

Louis Black, July 29, 2011

More John Sayles
Sayles Talk
Sayles Talk
More on the making of 'Go for Sisters' from John Sayles

Robert Faires, Dec. 7, 2013

SXSW: Pushing the Envelope With People of Letters
SXSW: Pushing the Envelope With People of Letters
The Australian literary event revives two dying arts

Richard Whittaker, March 13, 2013

More John Sayles Films
Go for Sisters
John Sayles' new film, which stars Edward James Olmos and LisaGay Hamilton, is the indie film icon's best work in years.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Dec. 6, 2013

Casa de los Babys
The new film from John Sayles presents a great group of characters and then strands them without a plot.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Oct. 10, 2003

More by Josh Rosenblatt
SXSW Film Review: <i>Bikes vs. Cars</i>
SXSW: Bikes vs. Cars
Swedish doc looks into the war between wheels

March 16, 2015

SXSW Film Review: <i>Sweaty Betty</i>
SXSW: Sweaty Betty
A dog, two single dads, and a 1,000-pound pig

March 15, 2015

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Honeydripper, John Sayles, Danny Glover, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Yaya DaCosta, Charles S. Dutton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Gary Clark Jr., Mable John, Stacy Keach

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)