Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Documentary on James Baldwin, writing and living in Turkey

I went to see a documentary on James Baldwin by Sedat Pekay today. It's called From Another Place, and it's essentially an interview with Baldwin as he hangs around his room, smokes cigarettes, and walks around Istanbul in 1973.

It's kind of hypnotizing. According to Baldwin scholar Magdalena Zaborowska, Baldwin spent quite a bit of time in Turkey in the 1960s and early 1970s. His time in Paris I knew about, but Turkey? What was he doing there? According to Zaborowska (drawing on David Leeming's biography, I think), it was mainly a refuge where he could write.

In his third, best-selling novel, Another Country (1962), Baldwin explored some of the lasting effects of slavery on the national psyche through interracial romantic entanglements. As his intensely social and political life made writing difficult, he finished Another Country in Istanbul, Turkey, visiting actors Engin Cezzar and Gülriz Sururi. Located at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, Istanbul became Baldwin’s writing haven for about eight years. He directed plays there and tried screenwriting with Cezzar. Turkey is not much referenced in his writings, perhaps because he never learned the language or connected with its culture.

Baldwin was actually the subject of three documentaries, and though he tried to make films himself on occasion, they always fell through:
In the fall of 1981, Baldwin and David [Leeming] spent two happy months with Engin and Gülriz in southern Turkey, working on a screenplay. Like several others, this attempt at making movies failed. Baldwin fared better as a cinematic subject: from a powerful short by a Turkish director, Sedat Pakay, James Baldwin: From Another Place (1973), through an English documentary on the trip to the South by Dick Fontaine and Pat Hartley, I Heard it through the Grapevine (1982), to Karen Thorsen’s The Price of the Ticket (1990). In 1982, he took several trips to Atlanta to research a case of children’s murders for an article that later became a book, The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985).

I'm curious to see these other documentaries too.


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