One of the most engaging, invigorating and rewarding perks of living in New York City is being able to enjoy and absorb the rich and diverse cultural offerings provided by the Film Society of Lincoln Center season after season.
For those who appreciate the wisdom and wit of the late and spotlighting novelist, playwright, activist and critic James Baldwin, “The Devil Finds Work: James Baldwin on Film” is going to be a rare treat.
Cinephiles rejoice, this program is a generous and unique offering. This series will include rare film footage of interviews, debates, documentaries and 16mm and 35mm screenings of “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “The Defiant Ones,” “Native Son,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” among other gems, as well as a new digital restoration of “The Price of the Ticket.”
Digging deep, this series is a reverent attempt to assemble and reflect on Baldwin’s early and lasting fascination with American cinema, as powerfully displayed in his 1976 book-length essay “The Devil Finds Works,” which explores the seductive and distorted power of American cinema and the complex racial politics that inform such cultural production.
Baldwin passed away in 1987, but his insight was so keen that his legacy continues to grow. One curious observation is his “intriguing” identification with Bette Davis, to piercing analyses, as a critic, of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “The Exorcist,” to an extended discussion of “The Defiant Ones.” Baldwin lays bare our subconscious investments and confirms that “cinema is the language of our dreams.”
“Cinema is the language of our dreams” is a new Baldwin quote and one that will support the other elements of the series, which will feature his numerous appearances on television; film documents of his sojourns in Paris, Istanbul, San Francisco and London; film adaptations of novels that preoccupied Baldwin, covering themes of racial and class differences; and a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s “Sawdust and Tinsel” (aka “The Naked Night”), which Baldwin singled out for praise. Documentaries in which he played a significant part or of which he was the subject, such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Harlem, Take This Hammer” (screening in an extended director’s cut), will also be featured.
There is a final delicious morsel to close on, which is never-before-seen raw footage from Baldwin’s 1987 funeral service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine—portions of which were seen in “The Price of the Ticket”—with stirring eulogies from Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka.
This program is one example of what makes the Film Society such a gem in our city. It’s their pleasure “to present many of these rare prints and is keen to situate this major writer as an astute film critic wholly unafraid to rend the veil and excavate the deep and often troubling nature of the national fascination with celluloid.”
There are many people to thank for bringing “The Devil Finds Work: James Baldwin on Film” (Sept. 11 to 14) to our city. It’s programmed by Rich Blint and Jake Perlin and co-presented with Columbia University School of the Arts Office of Community Outreach and Education.
Tickets for are now available. Single screening tickets are $14; $11 for students and seniors; and $9 for Film Society members. See more and save with the All Access Pass or three-film discount package. Visit filmlinc.org for more information and follow @filmlinc on Twitter.