The recent movie is based on James Baldwin’s book, If Beale Street Could Talk published in 1974. There’s no way for a movie to recreate every detail of any book. However, there is an artistry in the movie adaptation that has the potential to weave itself into folds of the watcher’s mind. When it’s done just right, you get timeless classics like The Color Purple, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter, The Green Mile, Forest Gump, Misery, etc. You get the point.
Even with the list of books that have successfully transformed into movies, the task is still enormous! Readers of a the story create the character in their mind based on the essence of the author’s words. Readers create voices for the characters, facial expressions, and more and store them in their hearts and minds. If the movie makers stray too far away from the original content, they risk alienating the fans of the original art.
If they stick too close to the original art they risk coming off as an imitation. The movie maker also has the task of seducing new eyes to view their interpretation of a novel. Essentially, they have to convince those new eyes to trust the images created for them. All of this to say, it’s easy to fuck it up, but if you get the recipe just right mmmmm what a delight it can be.
To the subject at hand, initially I had many failed attempts to see this movie. It opened with a very limited release in which my schedule never seemed to sync with the out of state travel I would have had to do in order to see it. Then the heavens read my heart (and the positive reviews of the movie) and the movie was released to more theaters!
The story is about Tish a timid inexperienced 19-year-old and her childhood best friend turned fiancé 22-year-old sculptor Alfonzo aka Fonny. It follows their evolution as a young black couple full of potential, in a word full of uncertainty. The movie does an excellent job of making the love between these two palpable. From the camera angles, to the scores in the background, and the way they look at each other, it’s all very resonant. At a certain point, you realize how genius the Director, Barry Jenkins is.
He’s not really capturing Tish and Fonny looking at each other, he is turning you into a mirror of what you see. Although, you know Tish and Fonny are looking at each other in some shots, what you see and experience is a view of Tish or Fonny with love in their eye looking directly at you. This technique grips you. It’s actually brilliant. When I realized what was happening I instantly praised the technique.
Throughout entire movie you feel their range of emotions: fear, love, joy, sadness, defeat, hurt. You feel it all because the director has turned you into a mirror, and mirrors reflect what they see. The casting was phenomenal! I remember watching The Hate U Give and being disappointed that some of the hairstyles and casting were off, but I digress. The acting was award worthy.
In Fonny’s eyes I saw my little brother, cousins, nephew, uncles, and father; so much potential in a world often rigged in landmines that they can’t see until it’s too late. In Tish’s eyes I say my sister, cousins, aunts, mother, and myself; bearing the weight of carrying on when your heart has been ripped away from your body, not having the luxury to fall apart, tired, yet still having the audacity to smile and be optimistic.
The set and wardrobe were amazing! The book takes place in Harlem and the movie gave us the iconic brownstones. Costumes were perfect. For those seeking the image of icon black love caressed by the form accentuating clothing of the 70’s, you will not be disappointed.
We talked about storyline, casting, set, the artistic approach to cinematography. Let’s end with a few takeaways/statements:
- James Baldwin penned Beale Street with the unfiltered black experience of the time and even though time has passed, most of it remains relevant to the current African American experience. I attribute this to one thing, truth. I believe the honesty in his words and his ability to translate complex emotions and not cower knowing truth would make a lot of people uncomfortable, is the reason this story remains relevant. Truth does not age or change, it merely shows up. It is always present even when we attempt to disguise or ignore it.
- Regina King is really one of the gifts that God has given us and she doesn’t age.
- The movie has a less abrupt ending than the book, Baldwin expects us to determine our own endings and form our own opinions. We need more of that in our everyday life along with people and projects that allow us to explore who we are.
I highly recommend seeing this film. Barry Jenkins and the cast of If Beale Street Could Talk, thank you for your art!
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