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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Thoughts on the ending of If Beale Street Could Talk and the forthcoming movie

There will be spoilers here, as I'm thinking about how Barry Jenkins may adapt James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk into a movie, with particular attention to the end of the novel. Now that I've finished reading the novel and have been surprised, in a sense, or maybe let down, by the ending, I think what Jenkins needs to do to give the narrative some structure and tension, that is, a dramatic arc, is to focus more than Baldwin did on the illegal incarceration of Fonny. I think I'd begin with the young couple, Fonny and Tish, as they search for a loft in which they can live and Fonny can work on his sculpture; there's a nice scene in the novel - almost at the end! - in which they rent the loft from a sympathetic landlord. Then they go out to celebrate, have a nice dinner at a restaurant owned by Fonny's friends, and then a confrontation at a grocery store where a young Italian guy starts touching Tish, Fonny comes to her rescue, and a racist cop intervenes and is obviously infuriated and humiliated by Fonny. Thus begin the troubles. I think there's a moment when Tish spits at the cop, and this can be the bridge back to the beginning of the relationship between Tish and Fonny - the screenplay can cut all they way back to their childhood and then bring them up to the present - and then the trouble resumes, as the cop engineers Fonny's arrest on rape charges (Jenkins will have to build this out more than Baldwin does). Then begin the family disputes over the fate of Fonny, and a rather desperate and odd effort to prove his innocence by tracking down the victim all the way to Puerto Rico and trying to get her to w/draw her testimony. The real dilemma: Does Jenkins want to stay true to Baldwin's vision and end w/ Fonny in prison for an indefinite period awaiting trial? With Fonny's father a suicide, frustrated by his inability to raise enough $ for bail? It's such a dark ending, and feels almost slapped on, as if Baldwin just had to finish with this novel so pulled some plot elements together in a rush. Yet that is his vision, and I doubt his executors would approve a version that completely changes the vision. Maybe there's a compromise - with Fonny out of prison but still facing doubt and anxiety about the forthcoming trial? As all of the world knows, there are many racist cops and literally countless frame-ups of young black men - but this story goes even further and imagines a complete racist conspiracy, a cop literally waiting for a crime that he can nail on Fonny, even though there is a ton of exculpatory evidence. Jenkins might do better to tone that down - not make it about a criminally vindictive cop but about a racist and indifferent system. All told, I thought this novel was headed toward a more upbeat conclusion - following on yesterday's post, I'd thought that JB made a point of noting that Fonny was not circumcised and I thought that would be a key bit of exculpatory evidence, boy was I wrong; I suspect Jenkins may ease off on the despair at least a little, making it a story of sad times but with a ray of hope, like the adaptation of Sapphire's Push (movie title: Precious).

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