- Actors: Lynn Whitfield, Ruben Blades, Craig T. Nelson, Jr. Louis Gossett, David Dukes
- Directors: Brian Gibson
- Format: AC-3, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled
- Language: English
- Subtitles: French, Spanish
- Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
- Region: All Regions
- Number of discs: 1
- Canadian Home Video Rating : Ages 14 and over
- Studio: HBO
- Release Date: Jan. 17 2012
- Run Time: 131 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- ASIN: B005ERX22C
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #43,455 in Movies & TV Shows (See Top 100 in Movies & TV Shows)
The Josephine Baker Story [Blu-ray]
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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.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.)
The gorgeous Whitfield is sparkling as Josephine, who's always driven to rise above her skin color, and, during different periods of her life, either manipulated or manipulative, selfish or generous, and insensitive or loving. And HBO doesn't shrink from depicting Baker's most notorious and exotic routine, the Jungle Banana Dance, in which she performs naked except for a girdle of bananas around her loins. We're talking full-frontal, topless, nudity here (which scores high in my book, Male Pig that I am).
Perhaps the best feature of the movie is its emphasis on Baker's relationship, from 1926 to 1936, with the Sicilian Pepito Abatino (Ruben Blades), who styled himself a "count" and served as Josephine's lover and manager. If the script is to be believed, it was his persistent effort and canniness that transformed Josephine from a simple cabaret dancer to world class star by pushing her to diversify her talent. In any case, the majority of the Web bios of Baker that I've read don't give Abatino the credit he's apparently due, much less even mention him at all.
David Dukes is excellent as jazz bandleader Jo Boullion, Josephine's fourth husband, who separated from her in 1957 after ten years of marriage, ostensibly due to her extravagant lifestyle and penchant for adopting every homeless child that she stumbled across.
Despite its occasional unevenness, THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY is both excellent entertainment and an instructive piece about a scintillating entertainer virtually forgotten by large chunks of the American public.
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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