Josephine Baker Story, The (BD)
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
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.