Tuesday audio: James Baldwin and Malcolm X

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I've posted this here before, but the 1961 debate (more audio here, here, and here) between James Baldwin and Malcolm X is worth many replays. It captures both electrically articulate men ahead of their time, and very much of it, in different ways. Baldwin, who eight years later wrote the film script that would become the uncredited basis of Spike Lee's Malcolm X*, answered the other speaker's disdain for nonviolent confrontation this way:

I don't think that a warrior is necessarily a man. And, in fact, it has been proven that football players, and all these people in teams and in armies, are not men. It is very difficult to be a man. And what it involves, for me anyway, is an ability to look at the world, to look at whatever it is, and to say what it is, and to deal with it, to face it, even if it does mean laying down your life, and in a way it always does mean that.

He struck a similar point in a 1986 interview (listen to that audio) with Terry Gross:

In America, in any case, the homosexual question is tied up with the whole American idea of masculinity, the whole infantile idea [that], according to me, [is] absolutely untrue. To be a man is much more various than the American myth has it. It seems to me, in the life I myself have lived, in the life that I've observed, that love is like the lightening--love is where you find it, you know. And your maturity, I think, is signaled by the depth of, or extent to which, you can accept the dangers, and the power, and the beauty of love.

I wonder whether Malcolm--who, the late Benjamin 2X Karim once told me, was a big Coltrane fan--read Baldwin's typically confessional 1962 novel Another Country, in which a suicidal black jazz drummer prostitutes himself to white men rather than turn to his white friend for help. According to Bruce Perry's 1991 biography, Malcolm had similarly sold himself as a street hustler. I wonder if he was as dismissive toward Another Country's frank treatment of homosexuality as Martin Luther King was. (King reportedly barred Baldwin from speaking at the 1963 March on Washington over the issue, though the event was orchestrated by a homosexual man, King's trusted friend Bayard Rustin.)

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In any case, Baldwin called Malcolm "one of the most beautiful, and one of the most gentle, men I met in all my life" (video here). And there was an instinct in both Malcolm and Baldwin for zeroing in on the unmentionable.

From Another Country:

"Have you ever wished you were queer?" Rufus asked, suddenly.

Vivaldo smiled, looking into his glass. "I used to think maybe I was. Hell, I think I even wished I was." He laughed. "But I'm not. So I'm stuck."

Rufus walked to Vivaldo's window. "So you been all up and down that street, too," he said.

"We've all been up the same streets. There aren't a hell of a lot of streets. Only, we've been taught to lie so much about so many things, that we hardly ever know where we are."

Against the endorsements of the U.S. Postal Service and Christopher Hitchens, Baldwin has been largely shunned from the canon--the homophobia of critical dismissals through the '90s is pungent. All the more reason to track down the maligned Another Country, which I'm partway through.

Or, if you're in Minneapolis, check out Sedat Pakay's documentary film James Baldwin: From Another Place at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, which interviews Baldwin at his Istanbul home in 1973. Here's an information link (I missed an earlier screening of The Price of the Ticket). Pakay will speak after the screenings, and brings an exhibit of his Baldwin photographs. The events are free, and take place (according to a notice in the Pulse of the Twin Cities) today (Tuesday) at 1:30 p.m., Wednesday April 26 at 9:00 a.m., and Thursday April 27 at 7:00 p.m., all in Room L3100, 1501 Hennepin Ave. 612.659.6000.

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*You can imagine Baldwin bristling at a scene that was cheered by many blacks at a screening I attended at the late Skyway theater in Minneapolis. When a white student asks what she can do to help the cause for black equality, Malcolm answers: "Nothing." A similar exchange with Baldwin himself, related via anecdote at the ILX board, offered another answer, one Malcolm might have found funny in the last year of his life:

My grandmother once met James Baldwin after a lecture. As she tells it, she innocently asked him, "Mr. Baldwin, what can I do to help your cause?" He replied, "Honey, whatever you do, don't do it for me. Do it for yourself."


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Forest for the Trees director Maren Ade

Recommendations from MSPIFF, the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (read the whole City Pages package, including Rob's interview with Al Franken, plus Dan Corrigan's great portrait, and check out the MNFilmarts and Save the Oak Street sites):

North Korea, A Day in the Life (2004, Netherlands, directed by Pieter Fleury) Absolutely stunning and chilling film made in cooperation with the North Korean government, which is apparently deluded enough to think that its presentation of itself as a model of socialist efficiency will be taken at face value. In fact, we get an unfiltered vision of an entirely regimented society, in which the memory of the Korean War, and America's part in it, is kept fresh in the minds of young children. Shot on 16mm and presented on video.

Forest for the Trees (2003, Germany, directed by Maren Ade)
As singular a work in the cinema of loneliness as Taxi Driver, this absorbing German film (shot and presented on video) concerns a young teacher from the country who arrives in the city alone, and forms an uncertain connection with a more sophisticated female neighbor. The acting safely keeps the proceedings within the realm of things that probably happen every day, everywhere. City Pages review here.

God Wears My Underwear (2004, U.S., directed by Leslie Streit)
It lost me with the reincarnation part, but this is otherwise a fairly absorbing experimental video recreating the odd crossover history between the Nazis and Tibetan monks.


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