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Keeping It Reel: James Baldwin’s Film Script of "Giovanni’s Room"

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Abstract:

As numerous critics have pointed out, James Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room (1956) is preoccupied with questions of origin and identity. Published by an American expatriate living in Paris, the novel is punctuated with references to home and belonging. The eponymous Giovanni has left his wife and village in the South of Italy to find work in Paris while David, the novel’s narrator, has come to Paris ‘to find himself.’
Although Giovanni’s Room has become, in recent years, a celebrated work of homosexual literature, its European setting, absence of black characters and theme of homosexuality have unsettled readers and critics alike. Critics in the late 1950s in particular, such as Leslie Fiedler and Robert Bone struggled to place Baldwin’s novel, perturbed by the descriptions of homosexuality and what Mae Henderson calls the “racial expatriation of his characters.” Although the novel is now frequently taught, it still remains on the margins of African American courses and literary criticism; often seen as anomaly, Giovanni’s Room has remained displaced, homeless.
Despite the novel’s uncertain place in the African American canon, Baldwin frequently referred to Giovanni’s Room as his favourite and most important novel. During the late 1950s Baldwin worked on a dramatization of the Giovanni’s Room after the Actors Studio commissioned a treatment of the novel for the workshop. Baldwin’s favoured Giovanni was Engin Cezzar, a Turkish actor whose correspondence with Baldwin has just been published (in Turkish). As James Campbell notes, “Baldwin continued planning for a stage or film production of Giovann’s Room until, literally, his final days.”
This presentation will look at Baldwin’s repeated efforts to dramatize his second novel for stage and screen and explores how this novel, more than any other, preoccupied the writer until his final days. The presentation will explore the novel’s preoccupation with home, nostalgia and expatriatism and will focus on two related but separate thwarted filmic treatments of the novel. The presentation will also draw on an interview that I gave with Caryl Phillips who was commissioned to write a screenplay of Giovanni’s Room by Merchant Ivory but will focus on Baldwin’s (unpublished) film script of Giovanni’s Room and will look closely at how the script returns to his controversial second work of fiction. The film script, developed in collaboration with the film maker Michael Raeburn, closely follows the main narrative of Baldwin’s novel. Significantly, however, there are several new characters, including “Princess,” a character that Baldwin describes as “a grotesquely made-up transvestite… a ruined Black American dancer.” The presentation will consider Baldwin’s introduction of several African American characters and will discuss why Baldwin remained preoccupied with his second novel. In contrast to the novel, the film script expands its geographical sweep to include San Francisco and offers an intriguing glimpse into Baldwin’s preoccupation with the themes of love, loss and home.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244343_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Field, Douglas. "Keeping It Reel: James Baldwin’s Film Script of "Giovanni’s Room"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244343_index.html>

APA Citation:

Field, D. "Keeping It Reel: James Baldwin’s Film Script of "Giovanni’s Room"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244343_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: As numerous critics have pointed out, James Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room (1956) is preoccupied with questions of origin and identity. Published by an American expatriate living in Paris, the novel is punctuated with references to home and belonging. The eponymous Giovanni has left his wife and village in the South of Italy to find work in Paris while David, the novel’s narrator, has come to Paris ‘to find himself.’
Although Giovanni’s Room has become, in recent years, a celebrated work of homosexual literature, its European setting, absence of black characters and theme of homosexuality have unsettled readers and critics alike. Critics in the late 1950s in particular, such as Leslie Fiedler and Robert Bone struggled to place Baldwin’s novel, perturbed by the descriptions of homosexuality and what Mae Henderson calls the “racial expatriation of his characters.” Although the novel is now frequently taught, it still remains on the margins of African American courses and literary criticism; often seen as anomaly, Giovanni’s Room has remained displaced, homeless.
Despite the novel’s uncertain place in the African American canon, Baldwin frequently referred to Giovanni’s Room as his favourite and most important novel. During the late 1950s Baldwin worked on a dramatization of the Giovanni’s Room after the Actors Studio commissioned a treatment of the novel for the workshop. Baldwin’s favoured Giovanni was Engin Cezzar, a Turkish actor whose correspondence with Baldwin has just been published (in Turkish). As James Campbell notes, “Baldwin continued planning for a stage or film production of Giovann’s Room until, literally, his final days.”
This presentation will look at Baldwin’s repeated efforts to dramatize his second novel for stage and screen and explores how this novel, more than any other, preoccupied the writer until his final days. The presentation will explore the novel’s preoccupation with home, nostalgia and expatriatism and will focus on two related but separate thwarted filmic treatments of the novel. The presentation will also draw on an interview that I gave with Caryl Phillips who was commissioned to write a screenplay of Giovanni’s Room by Merchant Ivory but will focus on Baldwin’s (unpublished) film script of Giovanni’s Room and will look closely at how the script returns to his controversial second work of fiction. The film script, developed in collaboration with the film maker Michael Raeburn, closely follows the main narrative of Baldwin’s novel. Significantly, however, there are several new characters, including “Princess,” a character that Baldwin describes as “a grotesquely made-up transvestite… a ruined Black American dancer.” The presentation will consider Baldwin’s introduction of several African American characters and will discuss why Baldwin remained preoccupied with his second novel. In contrast to the novel, the film script expands its geographical sweep to include San Francisco and offers an intriguing glimpse into Baldwin’s preoccupation with the themes of love, loss and home.


Similar Titles:
Flight, Freedom and Abjection: Fractured Manhood and Tragic Love in James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room

Racial Analogy and the Claustrophobia of Identity in James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room"

Boundless Baldwin, How James Baldwin transcended race, sex, class and circumstance… an exercise in Beneficial Extraction.


 
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