TBT: The Feast of All Saints (2001)

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OK, I finally bought the two-DVD set of this TV movie because I’ve been super curious about it. I loved the hell out of Anne Rice’s novel, upon which it’s based, yet I don’t know where I was when the movie aired. The early aughts, man, I had a lot of shit going on. So I’ve watched The Feast of All Saints (2001), set in New Orleans of the 1840s, telling a story of the gens de couleur libres, free people of color, before the Civil War.

It’s a complicated, fascinating time period and culture that really deserves more on-screen exploration. This community came about from rich white landowners setting up second “families” with enslaved black mistresses, and their mixed-race children were usually freed. But the gens de couleur libres had a precarious status in New Orleans, needing protection and indulgence from the white people, still serving at their whims, and still subject to violence. They were only free in name, in contrast to the enslaved black people on the plantations outside of the city. Instead of being put on the auction block, mixed-race young women were offered up by their mothers and aunts at quadroon balls, where white men could select their next mistress. Thus, the cycle continued.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

This TV movie begins with a bloody scene of massacre in 1804 that ended the Haitian Revolution. Then we’re introduced to Cecile Ste. Marie (Gloria Reuben), a Haitian woman who is passed, as a mistress, from one white man to his cousin and heir, Philippe Ferronaire (Peter Gallagher), and they have two children, Marcel (Robert Ri’chard) and Marie (Nicole Lyn). Philippe also has a daughter, Lisette (Rachel Luttrell) with a woman Zazu (Karen Glave), and both daughter and mother are given by him as slaves to Cecile and her children. The film is narrated by an older Marcel, voiced by James Earl Jones, lending some gravity to the story.

This is ostensibly a coming-of-age tale where Marcel learns the truth about his heritage and how the world works. But the real action is driven by the women in the story and the choices they are often forced to make by a racist and sexist system they live in. Cecile is invested in the tradition of plaçage, that has set a white male benefactor for her and her children. She believes Philippe will give Marcel an education in Paris and Marie should gain her own benefactor as well. However, Marie is in love with Marcel’s friend Richard. Another free black girl, Anna Bella, is being groomed by her mother for a plaçage deal with Phillipe’s brother-in-law, but she and Marcel are in love. Lisette is resentful of the different way her father treats his children from different women, and this causes frictions that develop into a key plot point. I found that the romantic entanglements are entwined with the historical conditions in a believable fashion, neither too revisionist nor too bleak.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

One big complaint is that the dialog can be wooden — for example Peter Gallagher is super stagey and is given a whole lot of exposition to expound upon in the first hour. Then again, Anne Rice isn’t the best at writing natural dialog, so this could be taken straight from the book for all I remember, especially since she was an executive producer. However, that the only significant white character is the worst is fine with me, since most of the action takes place between the black characters, and while the writing quality is uneven, their interactions are compelling and mostly well nuanced.

Thankfully, the production values are pretty high, and some money was thrown at this feature by Showtime (where it premiered). There’s about 10 minutes at the beginning set in the 1820s showing a dragoon ball when Cecile was young, featuring gorgeous gowns and dancing. The rest of the film is set in the 1840s, when Marcel is just about to turn 18. Older Cecile and Marie get some very pretty outfits, and Marcel is quite smartly dressed. Hair, hats, and other accessories are generally appropriate to the period — down to parasols being lined. Extras tend to be in basic Victorian / Civil War era, and there is one REAL clunker of an outfit (and character, though let’s blame that on the source material) on Jasmine Guy, but overall, the costumes and sets are overall lovely to look at.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

At a dragoon ball in the 1820s, Cecile (left), is courted. Yeah, there’s some head necklaces, but they’re delicate and appropriate. More interesting is the embroidery and trims on all the gowns in this scene.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

Marcel is something of a dandy with a fine wardrobe.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

Marie is naive, but the designer didn’t go overboard with the visual cues — this is her only white dress.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

Richard’s family discusses politics and literature over dinner with Marcel.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

Jennifer Beals plays Dolly Rose, who runs a whorehouse and knows everyone’s secrets. Her clothes are a little OTT but mostly fitting for the period.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

I have to mention this, however. Looks great, right?

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

But no, you don’t have a back closure (hooks & eyes? zipper?) when you have buttons up the front. That’s dumb.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

Zazu and her daughter Lisette serve at dinner for Cecile and Marie, who is Lisette’s half-sister. Yep, it’s awkward.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

Marie (in pink) comforts Anna Belle (in grey). The neckline on Anna Belle’s dress bugs me; also, this is her only dress until she takes up with a white man.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

The rest of the details are pleasing — pin-tucking, trims, buttons, lace, accessories.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

Historically accurate ironing! This makes me so happy! Also, Lisette is wearing a very 1840s gown style and print.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

Even here, when Lisette is drinking whiskey and plotting Marie’s destruction, she has a dress with beautiful smocking and a plaid headwrap.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

I am a fan of this matchy-matchy plaid ensemble.

The Feast of All Saints (2001)

That pleated bertha is amazing.

 

Have you seen The Feast of All Saints? Are you an Anne Rice fan?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

23 Responses

  1. Karen K.

    I just checked and my library actually has a copy of this, so I’ve requested it. I would watch this just for the pretty costumes — I love the Regency gowns in particular. I’d never heard of this and normally avoid Anne Rice like the plague, so thanks for this!

    Reply
  2. Saraquill

    Hear, hear to more movies like this one!

    A major peeve of mine is “All black Americans are a cultural and historical monolith.” I’ve even been attacked for pointing out me and my family don’t fit the approved mold. By other black women who were history buffs.

    As for the film itself, it sucks that black Americans mainly exist in period pieces where slavery or the 1960s are concerned. On the other hand, this explores a time and place not often looked at, and pisses on the idea that lighter skin equals a cushier life. I’ll keep an eye out for this.

    Reply
    • MoHub

      Part of the problem is that many Americans look on Africa–especially sub-Saharan Africa–as if it’s a country rather than a continent made up of a variety of nations and cultures. Back in the ’60s, when they taught Geography in the schools, we had to learn all the names and differences among the various countries on every continent.

      Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Agreed! It’s refreshing to watch a frock flick about African Americans that isn’t just “slavery sucks” or “Civil Rights now.” Those are important, but dang, there is more to African American history. This is by no means a perfect film but it tells a unique story, has high production values & the vast majority of the film puts white people in the background, which is revolutionary in itself.

      Reply
    • Rori

      The Shaka Zulu mini series is the only media with Sub-saharan Africans that doesn’t feature them revolving in the Slavery periods or the Civil War. While it did features Europeans (as the real Shaka Zulu lived in the early 19th century), It’s more about the dramatic retelling of Shaka Zulu’s conquers and actually shows Africa isn’t a one unified continent (or country like most people believed).

      And you are right! There’s plenty of interesting Sub-saharan Africans stories to tell other than the usual American slavery we see over and over again.But the sad thing is that many people sticks what they had been told instead of diving into African history themselves.

      Reply
  3. Donnalee

    I love the Regency look of some of the dresses. Does this film become vampirey or supernatural a la Anne Rice, or do we find out in later reviews…? It looks like a complex and difficult story.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      No vampire content! The only supernatural bit is a little voodoo but in a realistic, as it might have been practiced way, not bringing actual spirits to life. Rice did a ton of historical research for this novel, & talks about it in a feature on the DVD.

      Reply
      • Donnalee

        Interesting. I had thought she wrote vampires, and pr0n under the other name, and that was it, although if I recall there were mumbles about Christian-something in later days. Good to know she actually researched and presented things of other value–thanks for the reply.

        Reply
        • Carmen Beaudry

          She wrote this, and another called “Cry to Heaven”, which is about Castratii in 18th century Italy. Both are extremely well researched books on subjects not often mentioned.

          Reply
  4. LizaJane

    This makes me wish that someone would do a series based on Barbara Hambly’s “A Free Man of Color” books.

    Reply
  5. Mistress of Disguise

    I’m so happy to see this film getting some love! The story was so interesting (and introduced 16 yr old me to a part of history I was totally oblivious to), and the film was one that made the 1840s actually pretty instead of dour the way most films set in 1840 tend to do.

    Reply
  6. Jammies

    Yay, my library has the movie and I ordered the book through inter-library loan, so I can watch the movie then read the book! Thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

    Btw, just because I am a word nerd, I am going to point out that twice you have “dragoon ball” instead of “quadroon ball”. Now I shall STFU!

    Reply
  7. Susan Pola Staples

    And Vanessa Williams was in the Courage to Love. Set in this period or a bit later.

    Reply
  8. Queenie

    Oooooh it has been a very long time since I stumbled on this on a late night channel by accident, I’m now hoping to track a copy down in the UK :D

    Reply
  9. Michelle

    Love the commentary on this. ;) By the way, Anna Bella was not technically Madam Elsie’s daughter. She was her ward given to her by Anna Bella’s grandfather, who was from Mississippi, hence Anna Bella’s Mississippi accent.

    Also, Dolly Rose’s purple dress was also worn by Wendy Kilbourne who played Constance Flynn Hazard in the North & South miniseries. She wore it in Book II. I also noticed a dress that one of the ladies at Dolly’s bordello wears that is sheer blue & white and off the shoulder is also worn by an extra from North & South as well.

    Reply
  10. Lee Jones

    And you are right! There’s plenty of interesting Sub-saharan Africans stories to tell other than the usual American slavery we see over and over again.

    Why does everyone seemed to have this bugaboo about viewing movies and television about U.S. slavery?

    Reply

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