Posts tagged “james baldwin”

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James Baldwin writes about the 1959 film Porgy and Bess

In this September 1, 1959 essay in Commentary, James Baldwin writes of filmmaker Otto Preminger’s treatment of George Gershwin’s revered opera Porgy and Bess, expertly weaving film criticism and social commentary, addressing the film’s shortcomings and the complexity of racism of the era — much (actually, most) of which still exists…

 

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Grandiose, foolish, and heavy with the stale perfume of self-congratulation, the Hollywood-Goldwyn-Preminger production of Porgy and Bess lumbered into the Warner theater shortly before the death of Billie Holiday. These two facts are not, of course, related in any concrete or visible way. Yet, at the time I was watching Bess refuse Sporting Life’s offer of “happy dust,” Billie was in the hospital. A day or so later, I learned that she was under arrest for possession of heroin and that the police were at her

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Art

The Photography of Carl Van Vechten

The publication of a new biography on Carl Van Vechten has sparked a renewed interest in his work. Critic, author and patron of many a Harlem Renaissance artist, Van Vechten was also an accomplished photographer, whose work was described by a New York Telegraph reporter in 1933 as “breathtaking…each [photo] with life and sparkle, vision and intelligence.”

His access to the artists led to a portfolio of what he called “purely documentary” photographs of a “who’s who” of early-to-mid 20th Century American cultural icons — including some of the era’s finest writers and musicians. Emily Bernard, author of Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance writes that “Van Vechten always saw the act of taking a photograph as […] Continue reading »

Literature

“Sonny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin — “The most famous jazz short story ever written”

In the introduction to The Jazz Fiction Anthology, editors Sascha Feinstein and David Rife cite James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues” as “the most famous jazz short story ever written,” and is pointed to by Baldwin biographer David Leeming as “the prologue to a dominant fictional motif in the overall Baldwin story, the relationship between two brothers that takes much of its energy from the close relationship between James and [brother] David Baldwin.” The story, originally published in Partisan Review in 1957, centers on the narrator’s need to, in Leeming’s words, “save his brother [Sonny] from the precariousness of his life as an artist.” Sonny, in turn, finds his voice by playing bebop in the Village, which results, according to Leeming, […] Continue reading »