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November 04, 1984 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1984-11-04

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ARTS
The Michigan Daily Sunday, November 4, 1984 Page 5

Caesar reigns in Soldier's Story

'A Soldier's Story' deals with the murder of a black sergeant in an all-black army barracks during World War II.
Soler's Story misses

Daily associate arts editor, Byron
Bull, was able to catch up with actor
Adolph Caesar for a very brief phone
interview. Caesar portrays Sgt. Waters
in the recently released film, A
Soldier's Story. His character is the
heart of the drama, a manical, self-
tormented drill sergeant whose vicious,
tyranical treatment of his troops leads
to cold blooded murder.
D: Even though Howard Rollins has
the lead role, it's your Sgt. Waters who
is actually the focus of the movie, the
one whose death and reasons for it are
the object of Rollins's Captain Daven-
port's investigation. Do you see Sgt.
Waters in this sense as a tragic charac-
ter?
C: I do. I see him very much as the
classic definition of a tragic figure
because his demise is brought about by
a noble trait, his attempt to elevate his
people, and eradicate the
negative/stereotypical image of the
black man. He wanted to improve the
fighting ability of the black soldier, and
thereby create a better image, and
more respect. But it's his dogmatic
determination to achieve that objective
that causes him to be misunderstood,
and leads to his being bumped off.
D: What did you draw on to create the
character?
C: Well, I spent five years in the
navy, so I'm well acquainted with the
military mentality.
D: Did you encounter much racism
there yourself?
C: No, not as much as Water's would
in his time, but I can say that I've had a
few experiences of my own that in ef-
fect helped me to gain a better insight
into the character.
D: How closely did you work with
writer Charles Fuller?
C: Well, when we first received Mr.
Fuller's play it required few changes,
and he did sit in on rehearsals. It's very
seldom that an actor and a writer
communicate.
D: What did Norman Jewison, who
directed the film, bring to the project?
C: He brought his wisdom and
maturity, he stayed as close to the
essence of the story and didn't interfere
such that you could see the directors
hand in it. There was very little attempt
made to Hollywoodize it. He also had
the infinite wisdom to permit the actors
the freedom to find their roles. Overall
it was quite a co-operative venture.
D: Whose idea was it to change the
ending of the story from the play's

tragic ending where all of the men in
the company go off to Europe and are
killed, to the film's, where they are
shown simply marching happily off into
battle, on a highly patriotic note.
C: That was an agreement between
Mr. Jewison and Mr. Fuller, because
they wanted to enforce the theme that
these men looked forward to fighting as
a release of their pent up tensions, and
also because they wanted a forties
genre style ending. And after all the co-
operation we'd received from the army,
we didn't want to make that kind of a
negative statement...
D: Do you find theatre more
challenging than film?
C: Well, there's no immediate

UNION
Ground Floor

:mark in screen

*By Byron Bull
A Soldier's Story is a fairly straight-
forward film adaptation of Charles
Fuller's acclaimed 1982 stagework, "A
Soldier's Play," about the murder of a
4 black sergeant in an all-black army
barracks during World War Two. While
it's refreshing to see a large ensemble
.,of black actors working together on
film (and much of the cast is excellent)
veteran director Norman Jewison' s
tepid direction never gives the film the
momentum and power to be very affec-
ting.
The story takes place in the racially
segregated army of the forties, is set in
the deep south, and though it talks a lot
f ,,about racism, is really primarily a
murder mystery.
The lead character, Captain Daven-
port (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.) sent down
from Washington to investigate the
case, essentially fills the role of any
detective in a mystery as the anchor
which all of the suspects are tied to, and
the lens that the author uses to fix on,
and magnify, each of them. Davenport
himself really has little to do with the
focus of the film, and for all his screen
time is never explored in much depth.
The men of the barracks that Daven-
port interogates represent a wide spec-
trum of young blacks of varying
degrees of education and intelligence,
and come from all corners of the coun-
try. They share many of the same
frustrations, and despite their
desparate personalities, are drawn
together into a certain brotherly
comradery. They are continually houn-
ded and haranged by their relentless
drill sergeant, a self-loathing, bitter
man whose inability to find acceptance
in white society has driven him to an
obsessive desire to purge his troops of
any distinctly black traits and to
homogenize them into a new breed of
black that white society will accept.
Almost every man in the company has
suffered abuse at the hands of Waters,
and each, though the murder has been
attributed to the local KKK, harbors
enough personal resentment to make
them suspects.
Fuller's script, adapted from his
original for the stage, examines each of
the men in the barracks with a
fascinating wealth of insight and detail,
down to their regional dialects and
mannerisms. The structure of the
narrative, though, with heavy use of
flashbacks, is so encumbered by
technique that often it overshadows the
story itself, and drains it of much of its
inherent power.

The character of Davenport, who at
the films outset seems to be the prin-
cipal interest, is an element that Fuller
doesn't quite know what to do with. He
spends a lot of time with hime at the
outset, showing him running up against
opposition from the white commanders
of the company, who'd just as soon
write the whole incident off. He also ahs
to cope with the men in the barracks
who see this polished, Howard Univer-
sity-trained lawyer in a reverent light,
and can't believe that he'd conceive of
another black man being the murderer.
Once the interogations gets under way,
Fuller pulls away from Davenport, and
focuses on Waters, going back only out
of necessity when he has to move the
story forward. By the films first ten
minutes, he's become just an author's
device.
It's no surprise that director Norman
Jewison was drawn to the material, as
it bares certain surface similarities to
his 1967 In The Heat Of The Night, in
which Sidney Poitier played a black
detective investigating a murder in the
south. Jewison certainly put his heart in
the project, going so far as to even pass
up a salary to keep the film's budget
down. But despite his respect for the
material, he miscalculates on bringing
it to the screen.The final film is often
diffuse, inconsistent in tone and topic,
and never makes the full evolution from
play into film. It seems stuck halfway,
like a mediocre television adaptation.
The film is quite sterile, textureless,
and unstyled that it's virtually un-
cinematic for the most part. Jewison
puts his actors in front of barren,
starkly lit sets that feel as if no one ever
inhabited them, and shoots them
delivering their dialogues with a mostly
static flatness. Some scenes, namely
those with the men in the barracks,
seem poorly rehearsed, as each extra
delivers his one or two lines on cue with
an unnatural stiffness.
The few attempts to lend the
proceedings a cinematic vantage point

response from the audience when you
shoot a film, but in the theater you have
to maintain an energy in the perfor-
mance that runs from start to finish. In
film, you have to learn infinital patien-
ce, and how to maintain an energy level
even when you're shooting out of
sequence.
D: What have you learned from film
that you can take back to the theatre?
C: Subtlety, and because the
camera's blocked off you have to be
very, almost purposeful in your
movements.
D: Did you ever feel restrained by the
technical limitations?
C: As a matter of fact I felt it quite a
challenge.

rersion
are pretty lame. He moves some of the
scenes outside (but these scenes are
just filler anyway) and at the film's
climax, throws in an unnecessary chase
scene that's visual in the crudest of
terms, set during a thunderstorm with
plenty of rain and lightning and Herbie
Hancock's pounding incongruously
modern pop jazz score.
For the most part the action, the
revelations of the films characters, the
sudden, not very surprising twist of
plot, unfold in a straightforward, un-
conventional manner. The ending in
particular is unsatisfying in its
dishonest, tritely optimistic tone.
Jewison does deserve credit for keeping
the film on a lowburn, and for not trying
to overplay the script by propelling it
with cheap "powerhouse" dramatics,
but he still never breathes as much life
into the material as it could sustain.
None of which should dissuade one
from catching this film for the pleasure
of viewing some fine actors who are too
infrequently given this kind of ex-
posure. Howard Rollins, though
already showered with excessive
praise, is quite honestly one of the most
exciting actors to be in films today, and
he's only had two feature roles to date.
Rollins has a vitality, a penetrating
conviction to his every line and move
that only the most absorbed actors can
exude. Just standing still, in his perfec-
tly fitting, pressed tan uniform, his eyes
shielded behind dark stained MacAr-
thur style sunglasses, he has an eye
drawing presence. With his glasses off,
and in action, he's a passionate, vividly
expressive artist who can draw out
every physical nuance possible, and
never seem excessive. Just as his
showpiece (even if his role doesn't do
him justice), A Soldier's Story is worth
one's time. The fact that it's so
modestly mounted and unpatronizing a
film, when the big hype and marketing
monstrosities of the Christmas season
only a month away, is another ap-
pealing fact to consider.

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U of M
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111

TUESDAY LUNCH - FORUM
November 6 - Noon
Topic: "UPDATE ON NICARAGUA/
HUMAN RIGHTS IN ELSALVADOR"
speaker: THE REVEREND DONALD COLEMAN
Co-Director of Guild House, who has recently returned from Central America.

i qfj

/G

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For additional information,
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Sponsored by: THE ECUMENICAL CAMPUS CENTER
THE INTERNATIONAL CENTER CHURCH WOMEN UNITED IN ANN ARBOR
Lunch - $1.00

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AND THE PROTECTION OF YOUR RIGHTS
WHILE A STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY
OF MICHIGAN
ELECT
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(Democrat)
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY OF WASHTENAW COUNTY
As Prosecutor, Sallade will establish a special team to protect you from criminal sexual
assaulty and spouse abuse. The right to dissent and the right to Picket will be safeguarded
VOT::F OR

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It's time for friends of Michigan to lie down and fight.
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