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For the Records: “Who Do You Love”

For the Records: "Who Do You Love"

Midway through Who Do You Love, Muddy Waters and his band are in a rural pool hall having a loud good time, when harmonica player Little Walter brushes against a white man in billiard shot stance. Violence erupts, epithets fly, and murder seems imminent until officers arrive (absurdly quickly) and break it up. Will the white cop blame it all on the black musicians? On the contrary, when they tell him they’re in town for a concert, he asks, “Where’s this show?” A fine, even welcome twist on racist hick “justice,” and one of several weighted commentaries one must allow a movie depicting such a racially complex story as that of the early days of Chicago’s Chess Records. But it’s not enough for writers Peter Martin Wortmann and Robert Conte, and director Jerry Zaks, who insist on more healing. At Jackson Hall, the offending white ruffian himself shows up to make amends and reveal a secret—he plays harmonica, too! He wants to show his stuff to Walter, but since he forgot to bring his harp, he borrows Walter’s, covered in poignant negro spittle. The man blows out a respectable solo after only a second’s hesitation.

Only five minutes of screen time, but this sort of well-meaning, lullaby whitewashing infects all of Who Do You Love, and it’s a more serious misstep than its main faults, namely the pervasive middlebrow mediocrity and redundancy. Read Justin Stewart’s review of Who Do You Love.

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