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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Issues Barry Jenkins will face in adapting Baldin's novel for the screen

A couple of scenes in James Baldwin's 1974 novel (his last?), If Beale Street Could Talk (do others find this title kinda odd, given that the entire novel takes place in Manhattan? - I get the reference, but still), that Director Barry Jenkins (of Moonlight, looked his name up, sorry) will have to consider as he adapts this novel for his next film include: the "summit meeting" between the 2 families, Tish's and Fonny's (sorry, got his name wrong in yesterday's post my bad) to inform all that Tish is pregnant (while Fonny is in prison). What starts off as an OK meeting between two families that seem to bear each other no animosity becomes a violent, profane confrontation between the 2, leading to a complete break (this may touch on the Romeo-Juliet doomed lovers theme that JB introduced, though it's not quite the same as two long-term feuding families and a forbidden love affair - this just pushes the young couple into Tish's family orbit and estranges them from Fonny's). Jenkins will have to make this a central scene, but will have to cut radically; the novel reads much like a play at this point, but it would take far too much screen time to preserve all of the dialogue. The first sex scene between F and T will obviously be in the movie, but (one hopes) without all the talking and w/ no voice-over narration from T. The post-sex scene when the young couple goes to T's family to announce that they plan to get married is sweet and realistic and I'm sure BJ will want to make this a central, character-establishing scene. The big question is: How much of the false-arrest plot will he preserve and how will he handle it? To be honest, it's not Baldwin at his best here. Fonny was arrested on what by all accounts appears to be a case of mistaken ID and of police racism and malfeasance: He is charged w/ raping a woman, and a lot of the facts don't match up: he was far away from the scene at the time, for one thing. What Baldwin never or at least has not yet made clear is why and how the police would nab Fonny as a suspect. This element of the plot would be much stronger if JB had made it ambiguous, provided some explanation for the false arrest, some understanding of why the police would grab the wrong guy - this guy, in particular - and frame him. This may be something BJ will work on in his adaptation - building the tension and the doubt. I would say JB has dropped a major hint as to how Fonny will be exonerated; I won't divulge this now but will see if my hunch proves correct.

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