Greaves and his crew film in the park (they have permits!) a couple of actors performing a trite scene – but they’re also filming themselves filming these things, and filming the director trying to work things out, and filming the crew voicing their concerns about the scene and the director. It’s an exciting concept, hampered by the small problem of being no fun to watch.
I suppose these are professionals, not hippies, but it’s still 1968 and listening to them talk invites dark flashbacks of Lions Love. And the editing of individual scenes is nice but the overall structure seems slack and random – I want to have examples, but Criterion Channel is mad that I’ve got an external monitor attached, so it’s not letting me review.
I didn’t know who James Baldwin (writer/activist) was, nor one of the friends/subjects of his unfinished manuscript, Medgar Evers (killed for working for the NAACP to integrate schools). So I watched this half as history lesson and half as experience, taking in Baldwin’s great language and experiences, the director’s intercutting of film history (Baldwin commented regularly on the movies), and Sam Jackson’s narration in a low, very un-Sam-Jackson voice.
Baldwin’s prose focuses on his memories and observations of these three pivotal men, but also veers into other related questions: his sense of duty to leave his expat life in Paris behind and return to America at the height of the Civil Rights movement; the historical legacy of slavery and the culture of the South; the psychopathology of the white man; and his becoming reconciled with his position as a “witness,” a man of letters in the midst of a historical epoch too often cemented by bloodshed.
Sicinski comments positively on Peck’s filmmaking – M. D’Angelo counters:
The conceit of structuring this film around Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript requires Peck to find images to accompany the words … and he does a thuddingly literal job … Most of this just isn’t a movie — it’s a visual audiobook.
Second of the oscar-nominated documentaries we’ve seen at the Ross this month. We’re almost through the O.J. doc, about to watch Life Animated, and we’ll see if we can get to 13th before True/False.
May 2020 EDIT: Still haven’t seen 13th, but we rewatched this during a heavy month in America.