With Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Danny Aiello, Richard Pryor, and a cast of many more, including Arsenio Hall, the period locarion is the 1920’s. Oooooh, the period and costume recreation were wonderful. They are even more gorgeous for the women, at least (nothing is quite as great for masculine sartorial style of that era, or any other for that matter, than Boardwalk Empire), that what you see currently on Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey. I wish I could have been the period consultant for that film.
But I didn’t know Harlem yet, in 1988-89 – was only on the verge of going to know, knowing I needed to know, was going to know. But I thought this education would be Spanish Harlem. I'd no idea this would lead to classic African American intellectual and artistic Harlem of those days, which, despite so many dislocations and bad deals, has continued in many of those those incredible brownstones of Sugar Hill. In the film they were decorated in the lavish and lush mode of the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age, as the Modern blew up Harlem and everywhere around it. I’ve spent a lot of time in those houses by now, and I understand the layouts. Now their interiors are as filled with light and air as can be managed, while back then those layers of heavy drapery hung and swagged in those huge bay windows, on the walls and the arches between rooms, along the staircases. Velvets, gold cording, red and black, done up with African accented Jazz Age art deco objets d'art, and wall paper.
Gorgeous architecture works in whatever period dressing you give it. I’d never watched this movie before though it was very popular when it came out. I tend to steer clear of violent movies – but this was a comedy-drama, and sometimes -- intentionally and successfully so -- just so silly, so it was good-natured rather than about hurting people for sake of giving the audience sensationalist thrills. And in the end, it is a caper flick, in which your real manhood is proven to be located in your brain, not in your substitute penis gun.
This was not a movie intended to make its audience meditate on the past, rather to enjoy the careen -- though clearly the history consultant and the costumers and set decorators did -- to purely entertain. Yet, it turned out, due to place and company in which I watched it, Harlem Nights provided me a chronological marker about so much of how my life changed at 1989, in permanent ways, and how much I've learned and experienced since then. Which is maybe what birthdays are about sometimes.