If Beale Street Could Talk
Support for this podcast and the following message come from scifis new series deadly class from executive producers. The Russo brothers and based on the graphic novel by Rick remainder and west Craik premiers. January sixteenth watch the first episode now at deadly class dot scifi dot com. After winning an Oscar in two thousand seventeen for moonlight director. Barry Jenkins is backed with the field streak could talk this time. He adapt a James Baldwin novel for the screen lane stars as Tisch and Stefan, James place. Fani their two young lovers who find their lives disrupted when Fani is imprisoned for a crime. It's a crime Tisch that's out to prove. He didn't commit. I'm Stephen Thompson. And I'm Linda Holmes and on this episode of pop culture, happy hour, we talk Beale street here with me. And Stephen in the studio is Glen Weldon NPR's arts desk blind. And joining us from the New York Times is our pow Aisha Harris high Asia. Hi, everyone when we talk about Bill street as we said, it's James Baldwin novel this casts defined James KiKi lane. Also, Regina king who just want a Golden Globe for her role as Kiki's mother. It is a sprawling cast. We might say full of super awesome people. Brian Terry Henry is in it. And Glenn, what are your feelings about Beale street in general? What's your bottom line? Remind me Linda when you wrote the review for this NPR. Did you use the word luminous? Because everybody else did some do you? Remember, he wrote if you said, I don't remember. I think that I think what makes people say that is the way Barry Jenkins treats faces and I think that is true going back to moonlight. There are certain words that critics keeping their back pocket and rarely use words like luminous and transporting and soaring lyrical, and they all fit and all of it is done in service to depicting this burning passion between Titian funny at the heart of the movie. It's also in service. However, and this is getting less attention. I think to this and of outrage the sense of injustice, this anger. It's also in service to a sense of family coming together of community depicted, very accurately. Really like, there's a there's a scene where funny and the landlord are trying to determine whether or not a refrigerator will fit into this loft space that they want to get. And so they mime fitting the refrigerator, and then that's just felt like it's this tiny specific moment in the middle of all its. Flourish. It's a bit of business. You do feel the debt to Douglas Sirk melodrama in the use of color and the music, and I we can argue about this, but in the depiction of the racist cop and as a follow up to moonlight. I did feel him going back to certain techniques that were effectively there. So like the sense of having a character stared down the barrel of the lens, which brings you up short. Because it only happens a few times happens a lot more here. And it's I think it's less effective. But yet tremendously moving, and you know, luminous. Yeah. Nation when you come down on bell street. It's funny because the word the first word that comes to my mind is lush just the colors the red of Fanis jacket the yellow of tissues, I think it's her sweater that she's wearing like everything about it. I see the Douglas circuit. But I also see in the mood for love Wong, Kar wise movie from two thousand I was really struck especially by the characters around Titian Fani. I think that their love is great. And I'm glad to see this depiction of black romance in this way. I don't think we've ever seen it quite like this before. But really like all the supporting cast was what really stuck out to me. So Bryant Henry who we've already mentioned who has amazing centerpiece moment in the film where he's only in one actual one sequence actually. And he plays an old friend of Fanis, and he comes back, and he talks about how he did a stint in jail and how it was. He was there. Unjustly its moment. Where berry Jenkins is kind of zooming in on Brian Terry Henry's face, and he's telling the story, and there's like the slight undertone, this underscore of music that just kind of very ominous, and man he's not getting as much attention when it comes to the acting circuit on the award circuit. But like that scene is a you're at the Oscars he's nominated, and that's the scene. Like that moment is what you show like that's the club you show. I'd be happy for him to Judi Dench. And. Yeah. I mean, he has been in so many good things recently. So good in widows. He's so good in Atlanta. He's so good in this. He's amazing and an episode of the HBO anthology series room one. Oh, four if you if you like him track that down, Stephen what are your Beale street thoughts? Well, I do have I do have luminous in my notes. I also have the words sumptuous which is one that I come back to again. And again, this is such a feast for the senses, it's so beautifully shot. The music by nNcholas Patel who also did the music for moonlight works on Adam mckay's movies as well. This score is absolutely gorgeous. And I think really captures the mood of not only this kind of swooning romance that music that's in the trailer that you you're just like, oh, my God this movie looked so romantic, but it also captures the darker undertones. I mean, this is a very bittersweet romance. This is a movie about compromise and sacrifice. And you know when we talk about how race. Is covered in movies. We often see race through the prism of how to people get along. How movie like green book where own white man in a black, man? Learn to become friends, and this is a movie about race that is about the systems that create injustice and the vehicle for telling that story is this romance. But you do leave this movie with a sense of quiet outrage that that is very palpable and very different from how I have felt walking out of other movies that are telling stories about race in ways that that make you angry. There's something muted about it in a way that made me think about it for a lot longer. Yeah. For me what it is. If you think about a found like the hate you give which also came out in two thousand eighteen which I also think was terrific movie. But the angle on the injustice that happens in that film is more about when the person left behind is dealing with their grief and. It's all about the pain of that injury. And although Beale street does deal a lot with the pain of the injury. They're also very careful to build this world that shows you the joy that is lost that he should be able to have that. There's this beautiful love story that cannot you know that he can't have in. She can't have when I should talks about how important it is to portray black romance. I think there's a coming together of the romantic aspect, and the kind of the the injustice aspect that shows you that one of the things that happens when these unjust things come to pass is that, you know, happy lives are not able to happen. It's not just the suffering while you're in prison. It's the blank space that has left by the happiness that you can't have him. I making sense I share now. No, I completely agree with that. And I think that the other aspect of this is just it shows really plainly the ripple effect that this injustice has because we see all the. Family members, we see tissues mother, we and her father and Fanis father trying to do whatever they can possible to help get him out. And anticipate sister who is played by two on a Paris Ernestine. She has a connection to this white lawyer who's played by Finn wit rock. And it is interesting to me the see sort of in. This is very similar to the book where we had this very obvious racist white cop who is the reason funny is in jail. But then he also have these I don't want to call them, quote, unquote, good white people. But that's kind of what they are. There's a really striking scene with FINRA wit rock. Tisch says in voiceover about. How he's tried to like penetrate the upper echelon of the the legal system, but he's kind of a low low on the totem pole, and he just enters this room. And it's he Barry Jenkins films it in this very like kind of darkened sexy. But also, darkened sexy and threatening way. We're just a bunch of rich. Old white guys who like are the ones who are impeding Justice. And so like seeing that balanced out with the racist white cop. I think was just a very interesting way to take it. And I appreciate it. I liked that aspect of it, you I think all three of you answered a something that I've seen various critics grappling with not critiques. Not a full throated critique, but an open question, which is that. Okay. This film is so elaborately wrought it's so elegantly composed. It's a richly constructed aesthetic jewel, and what it's dealing with is the great open wound on the American soul. You know, the legacy of slavery and in an an institutionalized racism, and the what they're asking is if dressing up such ugliness in such a gorgeous gift box risk leaching, some of the urgency some of the the anger that any depiction of such a systemic injustice should inspire. I have my own answer to it. But you've all been saying it's not an either ordeal here. Right. And I think Linda rebutted that. Argument perfectly when she talked about this movie showing the lives that are disrupted, and I think that is an incredibly important part of obviously much much larger picture of of these systems. I mean, I talked before about compromise and sacrifice in Iowa. You mentioned the the ripple effects on the family. I mean, there are members of this family who are basically forced into a life of crime to try to raise the money to combat this injustice where you have wrongs be getting wrongs beginning wrongs, which can reverberate well beyond the this initial injustice, and I think it does a good job of to the point Glenn was making the other reason why I don't I'm not troubled by that it makes sense to give roundedness to people's lives and understand that a black characters life in a movie about injustice that characters entire life is not about that moment of injustice. It's not the person is not defined by being a victim of racism. They they may be and that's why I love the fact that the rest of. It is so tender and could come out of, you know, a a regular romantic film. The there is a sex scene in this film that reminded me more than anything of the sex scene in love and basketball, which is an incredibly kind of gentle realistic to me very realistic picture of what it is actually like when people have sex for the first time much more than in most films. There's a wonderful scene where when tissues explaining to her family that she's pregnant you're primed to believe that that is going to be a a scene where the family gets all upset and the parents are angry, and what you get is this family, that's very supportive of her and very kind of celebrate, Tori. This is going to be a baby. It's a good thing. And it's not it. It builds so much warmth in the family, and there's a really funny scene that involves Fanis sisters and tissues sister that I that I love and I could wash a hundred times in a row. Oh, and my my answer to that question about the the quote unquote conflict between aesthetics and urgency is that just as a feat of adept tation. What Jenkins is doing is capturing the experience of reading James Baldwin's, gorgeous, luminous rose, but urgent but urgency Baldwin isn't Hemingway has no interest in being Hemingway's, no interest in that clarity above all. Just the facts BS. He is an interlocutor. He's between you and the events his writing is beautiful and angry at the same time. You can have gorgeous urgency, and you know, I mean, you know, who says you can only make ugly films about racial injustice. Right. Why why why why why we and people aren't I want to make this clear? They're just sort of questioning is this is this. What does this do to the message? What does this do to driving you out of the theater as Stephen was saying feeling something that you grapple with as opposed to, you know, it's not Spike Lee Aisha? How do you feel like it works as an adaptation of the book? Well, I actually encounter. The buck for the first time in preparation for the movie I wanted to read it and before seeing it, and so it was very fresh in my mind, while I watched the movie for the first time and Jenkins actually Hughes pretty closely to the book, especially a lot of lines in the film are directly taken from the book. And I think he does do a really good job of capturing that especially the intimacy that is in the book the book is actually very graphic in. It's the way Tisch narrates. The the first time that they've had sex in a way that it was like, oh, wow. Like fifty shades has got nothing on what Baldwin has written about how how like what her experiences like with for the first time. And I really think that he was especially that scene of the first time they come together. It just says a really great job of capturing that it just hangs there, and you can feel it, and it's it is just beautifully shot and tender. And loving. And I mean, I I wish I had but like. Yeah. I just I just thought it was beautiful. Yeah. And my big obsession this year when I was at Toronto was looking at the use of color, and film, and it it kind of makes sense what we talk about lush, and sensuous and luminous and all that stuff. But when you see this film, look for the use of color look for the way in the very opening scene. They are walking under a kind of a canopy of bold. Fall leaves it. Matches the color of her sweater, it matches the color of his collar, and it puts them very much at home in the world that they're in. It creates a lot of harmony where their lives are happy. And throughout the film, you c- moments where you know, she is dressed in different ways, depending on where she is. And it's really worth paying attention to that stuff. It's interesting between this and the TV show homecoming I feel like I spent a lot of time in two thousand eighteen on entertainment in which the face of Stefan James is very lovingly photograph. That Hannah has a beautiful beautiful face enemies. And so and he is so terrific in this. And I'm so happy to see I was so happy to see Regina king win, the Golden Globe. But there are people in this movie. You mentioned Brian teary. Henry I felt the same way awards wise about Stefan James between this and homecoming but also about Colman Domingo who plays tissues dad who has. He's a veteran actor he looked at his IMDB page. It is a loan and he's done a lot of stage work, and he he is such an interesting character because it is this mix of this intense fatherly love mixed with with a willingness to do. Absolutely, whatever it takes for, you know, for his kids. And that is that is a really rich portrait that I that. I that. I really just adored. Yeah. I think it's terrific. And we are not the first to say, so but. Beautiful foul, and if you have a chance to seek it out it's kind of been broadening out. I feel like the rollout was a little bit quiet. But it is in more theaters now. So if you look for it, you may be able to find if Beale street could talk it's a beautiful movie, and we do recommend it. And when you see it do tell us what you think about find us on Facebook at Facebook dot com slash P, C J or tweet us at PCH after a quick break. It's going to be time to talk about what's making us. Happy this week. So come right back. This message comes from NPR sponsor sci-fi from executive producers. The Russo brothers. Survival is extra credit in scifis new series deadly class set in the unsanitised counterculture of the nineteen eighties. A disillusioned teen is recruited into kings, dominion, a secret academy for the deadly arts based on the graphic novel by Rick remainder and west Craig deadly class premiers. January sixteenth on scifi watched. The first episode now at deadly class that scifi dot com. Support also comes from NPR sponsor, National Geographic and the new series valley of the boom from executive producer, Arianna Huffington. And starring l'amour and Morris, Bradley Whitford and Steve Zahn valley of the boom tells the story of the birth of the browser of the first social network hashed in a dorm room. And of the epic fails of early streaming valley of the boom premiere Sunday January thirteenth at nine eight central on National Geographic watch the first two episodes now on demand and on the NAT geo TV app luck back to pop culture. Happy hour. It's time for our favorite segment of this week. And every week what's making us happy this week, Steve. And Thompson, what is making you happy this week. I've never gotten to write or speak about one of my very favorite albums of twenty eighteen called now only by a guy who performs under the name mount eerie. Now, one of the reasons that I have never talked or spoken about this particular record is it as one of the most depressing pieces of music, I have ever heard in my life, and I can brand. I thought I'm sorry. I had the devil. You say Glen Weldon pool responses to that statement, imagine the movie Amore, but but sadder and set to music. The story isn't behind. This record is incredibly sad. The singer Phil Elvis them who's been making a kind of self releasing this really beautiful rich sad already music for more than twenty years. His wife jump. You have Castro who was also a musician died in two thousand sixteen and he made a pair of albums about. Her one is called a crow looked at me. And this one is called now only, and I would I would play a little piece of this music. But it is impossible. I think to excerpt it in a way that captures the cumulative experience of it, which is you're hearing these incredibly, vivid and detailed discussions of this woman. He loves and her life and death and the aftermath, and it is crushingly sad and beautiful music, and the coda to this story is that Phil Elvis was recently on the cover of us weekly magazine, which is almost impossible to imagine. If you are familiar with the catalog of. Phil from the musician because he recently and quietly married, the actress, Michelle Williams, and that they and who is obviously experienced her own own loss with he Fletcher, the two of them kind of quietly slipped away and got married, and I got to pick up a recent issue of us weekly and see one of my favorite, sad, sad musicians. And just starring it's an it's a nice, very, bitter sweet and beautiful story. And it is that story is so much richer. If you spend the time with these two records, they put love and romance in this completely different context of that. I have really valued. I love these records so much. The most recent one is now only there on all your favorite streaming services. Thank you very much. Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon. What's making you happy this week musical pillow smothering basically, well known, okay? So last year did a piece for ATC asking why haven't Hollywood movies really grappled with online dating in any kind of way. You have people on TV swiping, right and left all the time. They show the text on the screen, but films are lagging way behind so asked a couple directors and producers, and what they basically said was a it's a numbers game. There just aren't that many romantic dramas comedies being made right now be it's not that cinematic. We haven't cracked how to depicted in interesting refresh way, there's a little film called dating. My mother written and directed by Mike Rama that has cracked it. It streaming on Amazon and other places it's about a young gay Hollywood screenwriter. Wait hear me. I know what you're thinking who goes back home to suburbia to live with a single mom and lick his wounds, the jokes they land the characters are allowed to be real. And rounded the mom's not a cartoon. And that was important to me. But when it comes to depicting online dating in a fresh funny, visually inventive clever way, the movie nails it. So that is dating my mother on Amazon and elsewhere. Thank you very much Glen. Well, then I should Harris. What is making you happy this week? The regina's are making me happy this. Also known as Regina king who leave already talked about in if Beale street could talk and also Regina hall who was wonderful in support the girls, which is another day think everyone should definitely check out. I actually had the pleasure. I was a guest at the New York Film Critics Circle awards and both regina's received awards for their roles in those movies. And it was lovely to see them both there when Regina king went up on stage. She said I love that the regina's are here in everyone in the audience, just like oh. Sweet moment and then Regina hall one. When she went up, she also acknowledged the other Regina, and then also went into a weird, but lovely spiel about how she had a crush on. Steve Martin Martin was also there so it was a delightful night. Anyway, the regina's are making me happy, especially just because these are both actresses who have been their careers are very long their resumes are very impressive. But it's great to see them sort of evolving from where they started in the respective careers. I think, you know, for a while Regina hall was probably best known by a lot of people at least people who rent black for scary movie. And it's great. She is great in that movie. But she could do so much more. And it's great to see her do that. And support the girls and digital Regina king who, you know, she started in two two seven had bit parts in like boys in the hood, and has now really blossomed into like, your go-to, actor filmmaker she directs a lot of stuff on TV. So. I'm just so happy that they're finally getting the recognition, and I want to continue seeing everything that they do. So the genus are making me happy. Yeah. And I believe that support the girl says now made it to Hulu. So if you have Hulu, you can check it out even more easily. Thank you. I should Harris. I am happy this week. It's funny because I'm in the middle of a bunch of things I particularly in the middle of reading a bunch of books. Some to do a thing. I wouldn't normally do until you about a book. I'm in the middle of reading. Because I finished a section of it that I do want to recommend an it's Susan Orleans the library book, and there is a section near the beginning of this book where she very specifically tells the story of the massive fire at the LA central library in the nineteen in the mid nineteen eighties. And she tells the story of this fire with with such specificity. She this is what she does. She does narrative nonfiction. So it's like reading a novel, except it's you know, a true story that she is heavily and carefully researched. And when you talk about a library and the loss of materials and the way they try to save them in the devastation of the fire. I can feel the book now shifting into more of kind of the question of who did it and who was responsible for the fire which people felt from the beginning was was arson, but the description of the fire itself is one of the most it sounds sort of terrible to say I wanted to hear her talk about this fire for. For twenty hours. But it's it is a great great piece of descriptive work. So what is making me happy? This week is making my way through the library book by Susan Orly. And that is what is making me happy this week. And that brings us to the end of our show, you can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at Linda, Holmes. You can find Stephen I dislike Stephen you can find Glenn at g h Weldon. You can find you shed crafting my style, you can find our producer Jessica reedy at Jessica underscore radio. Producer Vincent academic via casino, and our producer. America's and use director might cats at Mike and Katherine of K A T Z I F Mike's band. Hello, come in provides the music. You are bobbing your head to right now. So thanks to all of you for being here. Thank you. And thanks to all of you for listening. If you have a second, and you want to hear more from us, including what is making us happy this weekend every week please sign up for our newsletter. You can do that at NPR dot org slash pop culture newsletter. And we will see you. All right back here next. This week on fresh air, Terry gross, sits down with comedian Kevin Hart to talk about his work and recent Oscars controversy find that interview and other long-form discussions with the biggest names in entertainment journalism in books in the fresh air feet.