More than simply weaving together Baldwin’s thoughts in an incisive, poetic way, what makes Peck’s film truly remarkable is how it repeatedly connects the writer’s thoughts not just to the present but to all of American history and its visual culture.
March 31, 2017
A densely-layered work, weaving through multiple layers of history and personal experience, and the cinéaste makes ample use of fascinating archival footage showing Baldwin’s incendiary interventions in American television in the 1960s and 1970s. For me, however, the most stimulating aspect of the film centered on Baldwin’s recollections of being a young black boy voraciously watching classical Hollywood cinema in the 1930s…
Nothing breaks the spell cast by James Baldwin in Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro. One of the things that makes Peck’s documentary so intense as a portrait of Baldwin, the engaged black writer, is that there are no talking heads, no one else making judgments or telling anecdotes about him or what he did. This is his public self, yet somehow deeply personal.
"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced." "This is not the land of the free; it is only very unwillingly and sporadically the home of the brave." "We carry our history with us. We are our history."
This is not my country, this is not my culture. And yet, so much of America has changed the world, has become who I am. It is true that America was never an absolute monarchy (like my country was). And that it started as an unequal republic. The growing pains of this country, seen from the other side of the ocean, somehow also inspire. Baldwin's deep words go through the lives and deaths of three other great men.
This reminded me of Deleuze : "what is an idea in cinema ? It is an idea you can translate, apply only with the tools of cinema". Therefore here we have no idea, nothing that wasn't already in the texts of Baldwin. Yes, James Baldwin was a great great man and we surely miss him. No, there was no necessity for this film.
Engaging w/ a movie can sometimes be an analog for engaging w/ yr conscience. There are few more worthy reasons to make a documentary (or an essay film, which is more properly what this is). Peck's film is built out of and around two Baldwins: one of them is inarguably one of the finest writers of the 20th century; the other is a public intellectual of implacable style, wielding immense gravitas.
There's usually the irony that those who need to see a 'dangerous' cinema, are the ones least likely to see it. A dangerous cinema tells you things you didn't want to know or admit. Mostly we have comfort cinema because people perceive their lives to be difficult, and don't want to deal with those nagging questions in the back of their mind. We want superheros and good vs evil. Narcotize me before I start to think.
A great and meaningful documentary featuring the ideas and words of a brilliant mind, James Baldwin. I've read some people write that this is too didactic or aesthetically inferior, I disagree. Even if that were to be true, sometimes it is better to spell something out crudely and expository rather than elaborately pontificate on nothing at all. This is an essential film and a fine introduction for Baldwin newcomers.
Digital. Again the confusion between portrait and portrayed.That Baldwin was a superior thinker and simultaneously a speaker of the same category - something that makes him closer to Gore Vidal and that should send people to his books and essays - does not invalidate the fact that cinematographically this film is an ugly reiteration of usual documentary modes, beginning with editing and, again, the way music is used.
There’s a lot to chew on here. The enlightening “I Am Not Your Negro” will provide you with a different perspective; it will give you a lesson about a very specific dark side of the American history, warning you at the same time that this is still happening today.