Searching for Black Queer Domesticity at Chez Baldwin
Magdalena J. Zaborowska
This essay argues for the importance of James Baldwin’s last house, located in St. Paul-de-Vence in the south of France, to his late works written during the productive period of 1971–87: No Name in the Street (1972), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), The Devil Finds Work (1976), Just Above My Head (1979), The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), and the unpublished play The Welcome Table (1987). That period ushered in a new Baldwin, more complex and mature as an author, who became disillusioned while growing older as a black queer American who had no choice but to live abroad to get his work done and to feel safe. Having established his most enduring household at “Chez Baldwin,” as the property was known locally, the writer engaged in literary genre experimentation and challenged normative binaries of race, gender, and sexuality with his conceptions of spatially contingent national identity. The late Baldwin created unprecedented models of black queer domesticity and humanism that, having been excluded from U.S. cultural narratives until recently, offer novel ways to reconceptualize what it means to be an American intellectual in the twenty-first-century world.
This chapter explores the 'separate entities' that are Terence Rattigan's play and screenplay, by distinguishing the strength of the theatre Separate Tables, and by trying to locate the distinction and peculiarity of the film, which earned two Oscars in 1959. It shows how some interesting problems of censorship and homosexuality arose in Rattigan's time. The theatrical Separate Tables is a double-hander consisting of 'Table by the Window' and 'Table Number Seven'. 'Table Number Seven' is a play which represents a significant shift in Rattigan's dramaturgy. All Rattigan's success as writer in Separate Tables, the shift in the tectonic plates of British theatre after the Look Back in Anger watershed of 1956 swiftly cast him to the sidelines. The well-spring of Separate Tables is isolation from one's fellow human beings, and there are few plays that manage so effectively to convey the debilitating effects of loneliness.
A number of factors have contributed to the relative neglect of the 1950s as a decade in British cinema history. A major reason for this neglect of the 1950s is that there has been no authoritative, dedicated history of the period of the Rachael Low type. The 1950s is a particularly fascinating decade for the film archivist. Technically speaking there was a lot going on: the end of the nitrate era, the development of wide-screen and novelty formats, the increasing use of colour, advances in sound recording technology, lighter more portable 16mm camera equipment and the coming of television. This chapter focuses on the holdings of the British Film Institute's National Film and TV Archive (NFTVA). The NFTVA has specialised on restoring Technicolor, including some classics of the 1950s: Gone to Earth, The Importance of Being Earnest, Oh, Rosalinda! and The Tales of Hoffman.
This chapter explores, within a context of culture and power, the complex relations between memory and desire. It links 1980s Hollywood representations of America's war in Vietnam with George Bush's campaign, in late 1990 and early 1991 to win support for US involvement in what became the Gulf War. The chapter argues that Hollywood produced a particular 'regime of truth' about America's war in Vietnam and that this body of 'knowledge' was 'articulated' by George Bush as an enabling 'memory' in the build up to the Gulf War. When, in the build up to the Gulf War, Bush had asked Americans to remember the Vietnam War, the memories recalled by many Americans would have been of a war they had lived cinematically; a war of bravery and betrayal. Hollywood's Vietnam had provided the materials to rehearse, elaborate, interpret and retell an increasingly dominant memory of America's war in Vietnam.
Author's time in the film world spanned the crucial decade of change, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. A film critic would be expected to have years of experience, an education in the cinema, a knowledge far beyond the author had in those early days of ignorant enthusiasm. There was real excitement and pleasure over the best films, the surprises, the breakthroughs, the arrival of films from abroad, new trends, new expectations. With flagging attendances, cinemas closed all over the country; small towns no longer had them, so film going became more deliberate, more metropolitan, a treat. Film watching was no longer a communal experience, but something more intimate, whatever the original large subject. The American cinema continued to send us its daily diet, which, for all the developments in life and film-making, seemed more familiar than any other and still gave the screens a high percentage of their protein.
The Sixth Sense, an American film of 1999 from an Indian director, M. Night Shyamalan, with an all-American star, seems a very long way from British cinema of the 1950s. In The Sixth Sense there is an unashamed example of the sensitive relationship between males, adult and child, that figures as so strong a motif in British post-war cinema. This chapter focuses on Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol, Anthony Pélissier's The Rocking Horse Winner, Philip Leacock's The Spanish Gardener, Anthony Asquith's The Winslow Boy and The Browning Version, and Philip Leacock's The Kidnappers. The ancient sport of falconry and the primal experience of gardening feel like lessons in growth in that they contribute to a changing character, but in Billy Elliot ballet functions simply as entertainment for a toe-tapping audience.
This book offers a startling re-evaluation of what has until now been seen as the most critically lacklustre period of the British film history. It includes fresh assessment of maverick directors; Pat Jackson, Robert Hamer and Joseph Losey, and even of a maverick critic Raymond Durgnat. The book features personal insights from those inidividually implicated in 1950s cinema; Corin Redgrave on Michael Redgrave, Isabel Quigly on film reviewing, and Bryony Dixon of the BFI on archiving and preservation. A classic image from 1950s British cinema would be Jack Hawkins in The Cruel Sea, the epitome of quiet English integrity. Raymond Durgnat's A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence, which deals extensively with British films of the 1950s, was written in the mid-1960s and was published in 1970. In a 1947 article called 'Angles of Approach' Lindsay Anderson delivered a fierce attack on contemporary British film culture, outlining a model for a devoted politics of creation, well in line with what we would later understand as auteurism and art cinema aesthetics . The war films of the 1950s together constitute the assented-to record of the emotions and moral judgments called upon to set in order those disorderly events. The book also talks about the Festival of Britain, White Corridors, and four Hamer's post-Ealing films: The Spider and the Fly, The Long Memory, Father Brown and The Scapegoat. A number of factors have contributed to the relative neglect of the 1950s as a decade in British cinema history.
Far from being cinematically backward, 1950s British film had dashes of imagination that outdid more famous or prestigious examples from the cinematic canon. In his contribution to this book, Dave Rolinson, particularly in his recovery of the neglected The Horse's Mouth, aptly draws attention to a sharper edge to 1950s British film comedy than is always acknowledged. British film of this period is not often credited with that kind of audacity or comic cheek. The comedy is often characterised as postcard or parochial, with the likeable but limited registers of, say, Henry Cornelius's Genevieve or Basil Dearden's The Smallest Show on Earth being typical of the range. Again a classic image from 1950s British cinema would be Jack Hawkins in The Cruel Sea, the epitome of quiet English integrity.
Paramount's historical Western, The Pony Express, was one of a cycle of popular frontier epics released in the late silent era. This chapter discusses how American producers (especially Paramount) cultivated this cycle with a view toward exploiting its public relations utility. Writing a sequel to the cinematic document offered Henry James Forman an opportunity to educate viewers about the historical foundations of national growth as a means to garner civic commitment. Debuting The Pony Express during the Diamond Jubilee would help the studio build fruitful associations between cinematic text and historical pageantry, offering patrons a suitable commemorative document as well as evidence of their commitment to Americanism. The connections between The Pony Express and the Jubilee were made most concrete when, under the auspices of Wells Fargo, the film was named 'the official Diamond Jubilee picture' after a preview by the Jubilee committee.
This chapter considers a cultural and theoretical development in the discussion of memory crisis, especially as it bears upon the notional 'amnesia' that has been associated with digital technology in, and as part of, the culture of postmodernism. It examines Pleasantville, a film that reframes the relationship between colourisation and cultural remembrance in a period where 'digital cinema' had become a sophisticated media genre. Dramatising the incursions of a colour present into a black and white past, Pleasantville creates a narrative based on the cultural apotheosis, 'not everything is as simple as black and white'. In the case of Pleasantville, this transcoding centres upon a liberal discourse focused on the rejuvenation of the 1960s. Discursively, the film intervenes in political debates about the status of the 1960s, reclaiming the decade as a positive metaphor against the more reactionary 'memories' of the period advanced in films like Forrest Gump.