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The Josephine Baker Story [Blu-ray]

Lynn Whitfield , Rubén Blades , Brian Gibson    R (Restricted)   Blu-ray
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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You know how it goes. You hear about what a sensation someone like Josephine Baker was in her prime (in her case, the 1920s and '30s), how she pushed boundaries in such delicate areas as race and sex, how she both thrilled and scandalized Paris with her exotic dancing and personal behavior. You have all these loose strands of legend and random fact, your curiosity is running high, and then you hear that a feature film is being made about the very subject. You watch, and then wonder: what was the big deal about Josephine Baker? The problem with this 1991 TV movie is the same as with a number of HBO films from the 1980s and early '90s: it isn't particularly well written, the production looks rushed, and the entire point is obscured in a whirl of biographical material that doesn't sufficiently develop into insightful, organic unity. What The Josephine Baker Story does do, however, is provide a reference point from which to begin an appreciation of Baker's life. A poor, African American girl from St. Louis, Baker found fame and wealth in Europe as a dancer whose partially nude, unbridled performances invoked wit, sexual liberation, and passion--without, somehow, seeming vulgar or obscene. As Baker, Lynn Whitfield gets into the uninhibited spirit of things, free with her body and enthusiastic about re-creating many of her character's performances (yes, the famed Banana Dance is a highlight). The film superficially suggests that Baker was celebrated as an expressive artist, a healthy force of nature rather than a lewd exhibitionist, but it doesn't go far enough down that road to tell us why she matters. Somewhat better is the script's contrasting emphasis on Baker's celebrity overseas and her second-class status as a black woman in America. In the end, the film's real accomplishment is underscoring how racism truly determines the course of an individual's life, and the way Baker understood that both from the vantage point of a refugee and a victim. --Tom Keogh

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Probably wouldn't have worked with kiwi fruit June 1 2003
THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY is a fast-forward, 2-hour plus life synopsis of the celebrated black entertainer from 1917, when she was eleven and running from murderous racial violence in St. Louis, to her death in 1975 in Paris. Lynn Whitfield stars in this HBO production.
The film manages to catch the key points of her life: early vaudeville gigs in the U.S. as a very young girl, notoriety as an exotic dancer in 1920's Paris, rise to major world stardom in the late 20's/early 30's, disastrous return to the U.S. entertainment circuit in the late 30's, French Resistance war hero, a near-fatality from peritonitis, entertainer of U.S. troops in North Africa, post-war civil rights champion back in the U.S., loving mother of a dozen, adopted, multi-racial children on her French estate, financial destitution in the late 60's, and resurrection in the 70's with the help of Prince and Princess Rainier of Monaco.
Since TJBS covers so many decades and events in such short a time, much is lost: the marriage to her first and third husbands (Willie Wells and Jean Lion respectively), her brief film career, her stint as a Red Cross nurse after the Nazi occupation of Belgium, her many legal imbroglios, her late-life relationship with American artist Robert Brady, and her presence in the 1963 Washington D.C. civil rights march led by Martin Luther King. Sometimes the viewer feels shortchanged, as when the scene shifts from late 30's New York to wartime France to 1942 North Africa in the blink of an eye. (Don't go to the kitchen for that pastrami sandwich and beer - you may miss something.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartwrenching erotic saga Sept. 30 1999
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
I found "The Josephine Baker Story" to be a very good video biography of the famous yet infamous Josephine Baker. This film brought this erotic icon to the suface for all to see and love. Lynn Whitfield gave a five star performance, and her vivid portrayal of the star indulges ones curiousity about Ms. Baker, this movie is definitely a keeper if I ever did see one.
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Format:VHS Tape
I must say that I have an entirely new respect for Ms. Baker. Although I have to admit that I still don't (critically or objectively) understand the appeal of her as a singer or performer beyond the mere fact that she was a novelty to the over indulged european masses, she is certainly portrayed as an extrordinary human being.
The most important idea this film expresses is how racism can become the central influence affecting and directing the lives of its' victims. In Ms. Baker's case it drove her to both phenomenal fame and wealth. It also prevented her from ever really being happy in her personal life because minorities both then and now are unrelentingly confronted by racism regardless of their fame or wealth. Golf's latest young tiger is a prime example of how nothing can erase the perceived stain of colored skin.
Ms. Baker was so consumed by her endeavor to overcome racism and the poverty of children (amongst other things) that she bankrupt herself in the attempt.
Very well acted by Ms. Whitfield and Reuben Blades in particular. Although looking at Ms. Whitfield is far superior to looking upon Ms. Baker.
The film definitely makes its point but it is sometimes not the most entertainingly engaging of films.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must see Oct. 31 1999
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
ms.baker broke ground and was an incredible entertainer.it's a shame that she had to make a living overseas but the film shows the ignorance and racist vibes that she had to encounter.lynn whitfield not only does a great job in the lead but she looks good as well.this is history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Josephine Baker’s Triumphs Sept. 7 2013
By marriedutopianstriver TOP 500 REVIEWER
“The Josephine Baker Story” is an evocative movie about Josephine Baker’s professional and personal journeys in both the United States and Europe. The film provides substantial information on why she moved to France. Scenes from “The Josephine Baker Story” also resplendently show the psychological and spiritual tribulations that Baker endured in America during her ascent to fame and fortune. There are also dramatic and touching scenes that provide evidence on how Count Abatino helped Baker to soar in life (as well as loving her more than life itself). Heartwarming events in Josephine Baker’s life, such as her adopted children symbolizing a “rainbow coalition” are also meticulously captured in the movie. Obviously, the children are now grown and most likely doing well. However, I am surprised that the media has not yet covered how many of them are doing as part of their “Where Are They Now” feature. “The Josephine Baker Story” is best for those who enjoy victory-themed movies involving overcoming great obstacles and turning them into vehicles for personal growth. The following actors and actresses are included in “The Josephine Baker Story”: Lynn Whitfield, Ruben Blades, Louis Gossett Jr., Craig Nelson, David Dukes, Kene Holiday, Vivian Bonnell, and Vivienne Eytle,
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