Do YOU know where you’re going to? Do YOU like the things that life is showing you? Well, if you don’t like what’s happening to you right now in lockdown, then you should certainly take some tips from Diana Ross in inspirational garment-designing love-story camp-trash-fest Mahogany, something the BBC used to show in their surprisingly woke Monday-night movie slot in the early 80’s. What bother? Well, Mahogany is, like it’s sensational star, many things at once. It’s a proper black movie, with a black star and director, and a sufficiently of-its-time story about how the protagonist overcomes white prejudice to become a model, a designer, a lover and a WOMAN, all accompanied by the music and singing of Ross herself.What’s not to like?
Ross has landed in movies with a Diamante splash via her Oscar nominated turn in Lady Sings The Blues; this follow-up lost a director (Tony Richardson) and Motown supremo Berry Gordy took over. With a decent John Byrum script to play with, Mahogany charts the rise and rise of Tracy (Ross) who starts out working in a department store, then ends up a fashionista darling, on the covers of magazines, and taken to Rome to work on her latest creations; using her experience making outfits for The Supremes, Ross designed the outfits seen here and they’re not bad at all. There’s a mid-film montage sequence of Tracy finding her mojo during a Rome photo-shoot that absolutely has to be seen to be believed, and included below; these are diva-plus-one antics.
Not convinced? Even when she’s a humble design student, Tracy is quite a diva from the get-go, and kicks off with harassing the local Black Association activists, led by Lando himself, the super-suave Billy Dee Williams. She pours milk into his bullhorn and then cackles from the sideline as Williams and his pal brawl with the police. It’s a shame Williams didn’t get to show half the pizzazz in The Empire Strikes Back that he shows here, with a range of awesome threads and a nice line in political persuasion that uses the n-word to startling effect. You want more? How about twitchy Anthony Perkins as demon photographer Sean, whose rabid style makes Austin Powers look as blandly functional as a photo-booth; his incendiary, provocative chat to the models is quite something to hear. And the uberglam appearance of the great Marisa Mell (Danger Diabolik) lingers in the memory too, as does the sight-seeing trip to Rome featured in the film’s latter stages.
A slick, wonderfully vapid studio confection of the kind that used to be fodder for Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, Mahogany isn’t a good/bad movie, it’s a great/bad movie, with terrific location work, a ridiculous, melodramatic soap-opera story and a wildly cheesy climax to bring the (fashion) house down at the end. Despite a DVD priced by Amazon at over fifty quid, Mahogany seems to be enjoying a fresh lease of life in the digital age, and good luck to it; there’s tonnes here to enjoy, not least the Oscar-nominated theme song mentioned in the opening paragraph, and featured every three minutes in this loopy, relishably silly movie.