By the late 1960s, James Baldwin was a public intellectual, a best-selling novelist and essayist renowned not only in the United States, but in Europe and beyond. Although he had returned to the States during the Civil Rights era, he had lived in Paris from the late 1940s and through the 50s, and he was back there by the late 1960s, “to escape being murdered”, as he puts it in Terence Dixon’s film Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris. These three short documentaries, made between 1968 and 1973, in Paris, Istanbul and London, offer sharp, vivid glimpses of Baldwin in private and in public, sometimes in repose and relaxed but more often holding forth, embroiled in the thorny discourse of racial politics, identity and self expression.
JAMES BALDWIN: FROM ANOTHER PLACE
(Sedat Pakay, 1973, 12 min)
Set in Istanbul, this lovely, intimate vignette opens with a surprisingly candid scene of Baldwin leisurely awakening in his bedroom. Sedat Pakay, a Turkish filmmaker who studied with Walker Evans, is known for his photographic portraits of famous artists and writers, Baldwin among them. Here in Istanbul, Baldwin seems relatively relaxed, walking among crowds in a public park or on the city’s streets. The film offers us a self-reflective James Baldwin, one who fearlessly examines his most private thoughts and feelings.
Preserved by the Yale Film Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation.
MEETING THE MAN: JAMES BALDWIN IN PARIS
(Terence Dixon, 1971, 26 min)
“I can’t drive a truck. I can’t lead a movement. But I can fuck up your mind!”
Shot in Paris, a city in which Baldwin lived for nine years after leaving New York — a decision he has described “as a matter of life and death.” The early sequences find Baldwin uncooperative, even hostile to the British director and cameraman, clearly resenting their controlling role. He brings them to the Bastille, whose significance he explains: “They tore down this prison… I am trying to tear a prison down too.”
Picture and audio restoration by Mark Rance, Watchmaker Films, London.
(Horace Ové, 1968, 46 min)
Called “the Godfather of Black British filmmaking,” documentarian Horace Ové films Baldwin at the top of his game, in good spirits, joining his friend, comedian/activist Dick Gregory, at the West Indian Student Centre in London. Baldwin gives a riveting speech, speaks movingly of the historical antecedents of his life and that of other Black Americans, and fields robust questions about Black identity from the predominantly Caribbean Black audience.
Restoration courtesy of the British Film Institute. Film descriptions, Film Forum
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