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April 05, 1991 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1991-04-05

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Page 8-The Michigan Daily- Friday, April 5,1991
Townsend doo-wops and fails

The Five
dir. Robert Townsend
by Gregg Flaxman
It cannot be denied that the Five
Heartbeats, Robert Townsend's lat-
est film, brims with that ac-
tor/writer/director's ebullience and
enthusiasm. If the first scene were
indicative of the entire movie,
Townsend might have successfully
translated his inspiration - the
story of a proto-Motown group's
ascendancy to fame - to the screen.
Scheduled to appear as the last
act of a local music talent hunt, the
Five Heartbeats are reduced to two.
Dresser (Harry J. Lennix) and Choir
Boy (Tico Wells) impatiently wait
in the wings for the scattered others
- Eddie (Michale Wright) playing
cards, J.T. (Leon) up to his usual
promiscuity and Duck (Robert
Townsend) getting J.T.'s attention
- to materialize. The Five Heart-

beats converge on the club in dra-
matic fashion and sing in a raw, un-
polished, yet electrified fervor.
Though the group fails to win
the contest, they do catch the eye of
Jimmy Potter (Chuch Patterson),
talent scout and manager extraordi-
naire. Their progress is slow and
jerky, but under the watchful eyes
of Jimmy, his wife Eleanor
(Dianhann Carroll) and Sarge
(Harold Nicholas), their break-
through seems inevitable.
It is not only a rapid succession
of events, but a tendency to wash
over details or totally lose sight of
itself that most characterizes The
Five Heartbeats. The film spans
from 1965 to what is presumably
the present, a period far too exten-
sive to adequately explore the
tribulations and elations of the
group - not to mention the fact
that in over two decades, no member
of the band visibly ages.
Townsend and co-writer Keenen
Ivory Wayans have their audience
invest themselves in the film, only

to jolt them with enormous
temporal leaps - as if the penchant
to press the fast-forward button
were too much. One minute, Dresser,
the group's alto, is considering his
girlfriend's pregnancy, his own
relative poverty and the possibility
of abortion; the next minute, all
five Heartbeats are cruising in
convertibles. The lapses serve not so
much to disorient as to disengage.
If anything is gleaned from
Townsend's film, it's that in the
gamut of influences and the multi-
plicity of stories, The Five Heart-
beats was destined to come off as a
hodge-podge of sort:. Certain scenes
retain the seriousness that's at the
core of a film about a hip, black
group struggling in a world of
white taste and simultaneously
struggling with themselves. Other
scenes revert to the parodic urges
that made Townsend's first effort,
Hollywood Shuffle, a cult film.
But where Hollywood Shuffle, a
send-up comedy, could encapsulate
so much diversity in a non-linear
structure, The Five Heartbeats de-
mands a tightness and fluidity that
is beyond Townsend's limited expe-
rience. Always earnest, the film
doesn't suffer so much from the
conventions that Townsend draws
in - the cocaine, the back-stabbing
- as from the stylistic incongruity
that plagues it. When Duck strug-
gles with a new song and his sister
picks up the discarded scraps, only
to begin belting out a song, you
might think you've beamed into a
Vincent Minelli musical.

The Five Heartbeats don't get a thumbs up, but they aren't given the finger, either.

We set the standard in recycling.
Uses Recycled Materials!

The scene feels right at the time,
but in the context of a film in which
Big Red (Hawthorne James), a
record company president, dangles a
band's lead singer out a six-story
window; in the context of a film in
which the choreography rehaul is
established in black and white stills
that might have captured the likes
of Alvin Ailey; in the context of a
film in which drugs ravage the lead
singer - the scene never quite fits.
Yet, for all its flaws, The Five
Heartbeats never bores or fails to

deliver focused, vivacious perfor-
mances. Even in the midst of the
most sketchily-written scenes and
in the tangle of the most derivative
dialogue, the actors maintain a sur-
prising strength. Wright, whose
taut and redeemed Eddie represents
the most cutting and potent charac-
ter in the film, is a real find. And

Leon (despite his lack of a surname),
also rises above the film's cut-and-
paste feel. The Five Heartbeats is
better watched in the confines of a,
learning experience than as a cohe-
sive, dramatic effort.

shown at Showcase.



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Tue. Apr. 9
Apr. 11-14
Fri. Apr. 12

Contemporary Directions
H. Robert Reynolds, director
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Campus Orchestra
Cindy Egolf-Sham Rao, conductor
Matthew Savery, assistant conductor
Brahms: Symphony no. 2 in D-Major
Mendelssohn: Fingal's Cave, op. 26
Liszt: Les Preludes
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Maeterlinck: Pelleas and Melisande,
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Tickets: $9 and $5 (students) (764-0450)
Trueblood Theatre, Frieze Building
8 p.m. (Thu.-Sa.), 2 p.m. (Su.)
Symphony Band and
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Schoenberg: Theme and Variations, op. 43a
Prokofiev: Athletic Festival March
Stravinsky: Concerto for Piano and Wind
Respighi: Hunting-Tower Ballad
Hill Auditorium, 8 p.m.
U-M Women's Glee Club
Earl Coleman, director
Hardyk: I Never Saw Another Butterfly
Folksongs, Michigan songs, and selections
from The Wiz
Tickets: $5 and $3 (students)
Rackham Lecture Hall, 8 p.m.

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