James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket

87 minutes 1989

This 1989 documentary by Karen Thorsen touches on various aspects of James Baldwin's life and writing. From a literary standpoint, one occasionally regrets the film's efforts to “illustrate” some of its commentaries (including footage from various dramatizations of his work), which tends to shortchange the viewer's imagination. (An ideal Baldwin documentary might have juxtaposed passages from his neglected and fascinating book about film, The Devil Finds Work, with clips from the films he writes about, which would have been more to the point.) Despite the value of many of these commentaries (from former lovers, friends, relatives, and colleagues, such as Ishmael Reed), which testify to the love and lucidity that Baldwin inspired, the material drawn from numerous interviews with the writer himself is the most beautiful: Baldwin was usually his own best explicator, and his passion and power as a speaker are given full rein.

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