Short Film Review: Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris
Baldwin's words sting, even in the face of incompetence.
If someone were screening Lost in La Mancha and American Movie as a part of documentaries about movies that failed then ending with the film under review would make it a perfect night.
Terence Dixon certainly chose a worthy and difficult subject when he decided to shoot a film based on the towering author's life in Paris. His intention, as he desperately, even hilariously, explains was to get inside Baldwin's mind during those years. Dixon's subject senses what's wrong with this approach and hits the nail on the head when he calls his would-be director out for treating him like an exotic victim.
Dixon, in all his ignorance, wants to wax some intellectual poetry on the author's early years, but Baldwin has clearly moved on. Significantly. So much so that he says that those days do not matter at all in the light of what he stands for in the present. In all fairness, exploring an artist's origin has mostly always been a good idea, but Dixon fails to realize that Baldwin was not just an artist, not the kind whose writing can be traced romantically to his poverty, anyway. He was also one of the most outspoken chroniclers of what meant to be Black in the world just then.
It is when the two reach some kind of a truce and start an interview after a chat session with others in an art gallery, one realizes how much out of depth Dixon is. There is not a single question that he asks that is not irrelevant to Baldwin and his work. At one point the author is asked why is there so much of a gap between his books. This is the kind of sophomoric question that suits a student, maybe, not a man who has taken up the mantle to make a film on an important figure of the time. Baldwin has to pointedly, and I'm sure, painfully, remind the director that he is operating currently between two deaths. He is obviously referring to the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, two figures that Baldwin was very close to.
The reason it would be best for someone to screen this half-hour film at the end of the above-mentioned film night is that thanks to the subject it tries to unsuccessfully capture, it still gives hope. Each word out of James Baldwin's mouth stings as only truth can.
As he says, "You do not know anything about me. But I know, and can tell, a lot about you".
Watched on Mubi.com