James Baldwin: From Another Place begins in the bedroom, which has more than one significance. I was going to write about this being a bedroom documentary, or an interview documentary. Within its twelve minute running time, he eventually goes out, but it feels like he’s stuck in that hotel room in Istanbul, where he took up residence in 1973. Later on in this short documentary, he talks about his feeling of disengagement. This is ironic, of course, because the short is engaging even if he’s not ‘present’.
Another Place at least, subconsciously, shows that Baldwin is trying to engage. He is, after all, in Istanbul, a place I have thoughts about as someone who always wanted to visit the edge of Europe. He’s a conspicuous face in the crowd, gathering amongst other locals in a town square. The short mixes these visuals with his narration where he discusses a few topics. He discusses how Americans treat him. And he talks about his writer’s block, the kind that poets and other kinds of writers endure.
Some of the exterior scenes in the short are relatively silent as it observes its titular subject. In those scenes, he’s absorbing, perhaps a different act from engaging. James Baldwin: From Another Place, a great act of observation, reminds me of similar artists exiling themselves to different locales for inspiration. People just did it differently then. Baldwin’s self-exile to Istanbul because of post-King racism isn’t the same as POC writers having no choice but to try to create under the boot of the West.
But eventually, Another Place transports Baldwin back to his hotel and his desk. It edits out the act of the director asking him a question and fast forwards to Baldwin’s answer. He tells the camera that his love life is nobody’s business, but he addresses it eventually. The short has him talking succinctly about the men and women he loved, and the few people who loved him back. He also observes that people’s business is important to people, which can mean a few things depending on who’s watching.
The ‘nobody’s business interview scene in From Another Place is its longest one. I can imagine people who watched this contemporaneously or through recent retrospectives to have interesting reactions to it. He switches the conversation from romantic love to familial love. He reflects on the latter’s severed ties but it’s equally insightful to say that those ties are fragmented in recent generations. This may be why more people are open to love and to contemplate its contemporary complexities.
You can watch James Baldwin: From Another Place two ways. First is through OVID. The second – for Torontonians, you can watch it at TIFF during the 18th.