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Carissa Green Reads

I read widely from many genres. Perhaps this blog will feature fewer ratings and reviews, but I certainly intend to write about my reading life - it's the subject I most find myself wanting to talk about.

Currently reading

The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor
John Barth
Chicago Poems
Carl Sandburg
Chekhov Four Plays
Anton Chekhov, David Magarshack
The Gay Science: with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs
Walter Kaufmann, Friedrich Nietzsche
A Kierkegaard Anthology
Robert W. Bretall

Notes on Adaptation: If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk - James Baldwin

Yesterday, I went to a movie on "opening night." I literally can't remember the last time I did that. There's a story behind that, but I won't share it now. Now's the time to talk about "If Beale Street Could Talk." 

 

Frankly, I was more than a little bit surprised that this movie opened in my city. I'm not saying my city is a movie desert, but mostly what plays here are: 1. Superhero pictures. 2. Movies where the "plot" is a string of explosions, chase scenes, or people being hacked apart by sharp blades. 3. Animated movies - you know, for the kids.

So when "Beale Street" showed up in our local chain multiplex, I made sure I was there, as chances are it won't last long in our neighborhood. Support them when you get them. 

 

I have read a number of James Baldwin novels, and I really love so many things about them - their lyrical intensity, their social conscience, their anger and passion.

Mostly, I love how Baldwin's novels seem to propel their characters through a string of progressively bad life events. It may seem like happiness is just beyond their grasp, but it never seems to get closer. I don't wish ill on Baldwin's characters - I *RECOGNIZE* the feelings they're going through. I've had different life situations than they, but more often than not, everything except my family is disappointing and difficult. 

 

When the first screen image of the film was a long quote by Baldwin, I relaxed. I knew I was in good hands, and this adaptation would "work." 

 

The characters in "If Beale Street Could Talk" are enveloped in a bubble of love, but that bubble is under constant attack by society and circumstance. The film is an extremely faithful adaptation. Barry Jenkins, through both his screenplay and directorial choices, preserves Baldwin's theme and tones, along with fantastic swaths of dialogue and narration and pretty much all of the plot. And he takes his time doing it, so you can really enjoy the journey. 

Jenkins also uses some visual techniques to remind viewers that his story - and Baldwin's - is not just personal but political, a story of an individual family but illustrating what happens again and again to a particular group. 

 

Of course, with any adaptation, there are omissions and condensation, and this is no exception. But what is there is pure Baldwin - right until the last two scenes. And I get it. Jenkins can't leave the film on the same level of ambiguity and despair that Baldwin leaves the novel. It just wouldn't "play." But is ending is completely plausible and true to the tone of the film and the themes of interest to Baldwin. I think Baldwin himself would have proposed a darker ending. But no matter. 

 

Beautiful. Read the book. Then see the movie. You may be sad, but you will not regret it.

 

-cg