Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Fire Next Time

Excerpts from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Pages 26-27
"Every effort made by the child's elders to prepare him for a fate from which they cannot protect him causes him secretly, in terror, to begin to await, without knowing that he is doing so, his mysterious and inexorable punishment. He must be "good" not only in order to please his parents and not only to avoid being punished by them; behind their authority stands another, nameless and impersonal, infinitely harder to please, and bottomlessly cruel. And this filters into the child's consciousness through his parents' tone of voice as he is being exhorted, punished, or loved; in the sudden, uncontrollable note of fear heard in his mother's or his father's voice when he has strayed beyond some particular boundary. He does not know what the boundary is, and he can get no explanation of it, which is frightening enough, but the fear he hears in the voices of his elders is more frightening still. The fear that I heard in my father's voice, for example, when he realized that I really believed I could do anything a white boy could do, and had every intention of proving it, was not at all like the fear I heard when one of us was ill or had fallen down the stairs or strayed too far from the house. It was another fear, a fear that the child, in challenging the white world's assumptions, was putting himself in the path of destruction. A child cannot, thank Heaven, know how vast and how merciless is the nature of power, with what unbelievable cruelty people treat each other."

Pages 51-52
"But time has passed, and in that time the Christian world has revealed itself as morally bankrupt and politically unstable. The Tunisians were quite right in 1956 - and it was a very significant moment in Western (and African) history - when they countered the French justification for remaining in North Africa with the question "Are the French ready for self-government?" Again, the terms "civilized" and "Christian" begin to have a very strange ring, particularly in the ears of those who have been judged to be neither civilized nor Christian, when a Christian nation surrenders to a foul and violent orgy, as Germany did during the Third Reich. For the crime of their ancestry, millions of people in the middle of the twentieth century, and in the heart of Europe - God's citadel - were sent to a death so calculated, so hideous, and so prolonged that no age before this enlightened one had been able to imagine it, much less achieve and record it."

Pages 91-92
"Behind what we think of as the Russian menace lies what we do not wish to face, and what white Americans do not face when they regard a Negro: reality - the fact that life is tragic. Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death - ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us."

Pages 93-94
"What it comes to is that if we, who can scarcely be considered a white nation, persist in thinking of ourselves as one, we condemn ourselves, with the truly white nations, to sterility and decay, whereas if we could accept ourselves as we are, we might bring new life to the Western achievements, and transform them. The price of this transformation is the unconditional freedom of the Negro; it is not too much to say that he, who has been so long rejected, must now be embraced, and at no matter what psychic or social risk. He is the key figure in his country, and the American future is precisely as bright or as dark as his. And the Negro recognizes this, in a negative way. Hence the question: Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?"

Didn't know that Baldwin was friends with Malcolm. Very cool.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Visitor

Been using this space for notes on books I read, might do it a bit for films I watch too. And so:

Got a stack of DVDs from the library that I still hadn't gotten to yet. Saw that a friend's feature had gotten into SXSW, and felt happy for him. Felt inspired too and thought, I need to get off my ass and do something film-related, need to get this ball going.

So I put on The Visitor (2008). Heard about it when it first came out, had always wanted to see it. Ending up feeling underwhelmed by it but also surprised.

The Good:
- Hiam Abbass! Didn't realize she was in it. She is one of my favourite actors, a pure icon of contemporary Arab cinema. Just read that she's directed some films herself as well - nice! I wish though that she got more dynamic roles than just of the suffering mother. Her turn in Amreeka I think was terrific, as she got to play a feisty aunt. 
- Didn't realize this film would be addressing undocumented immigrants, and the BS that happens all too often for someone getting picked up by the NYPD then getting thrown into detention. The film doesn't have a happy, wrapped-up-with-a-bow ending, which I liked. I was surprised the story went there.
- Liked the pairing of an Arab guy with a West African woman. Colourism is rife in Muslim communities. Cute couple. 

The Bad:
- The acting. I thought the main guy was very stiff. And just too awkward. We get it, you're old and lonely and awkward. Everyone was awkward in this film, except the character Tarek (yeahhh Haaz Sleiman).
- Definitely white saviour trope in this film. As well as old white guy getting down with it; ie learning to play the djembe and joining the drum circle.
- Director's notes on the DVD also noted this, with writer/director Tom McCarthy really wanting to focus on the story from the old white dude's perspective. Yawn. That's basically, like so many films out there.
- So much of the acting felt so stilted and again - awkward - and some of the editing too, I just feel like it wasn't great directing.

I did really like McCarthy's first film, which happens to be The Station Agent, which I by chance re-watched some months ago. Terrific little film.

Updated: his other film is Spotlight. YEAH. Now that is a really good film!