Paul Robeson: Portraits of the Artist (The Criterion Collection)
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Robeson is one of those rare actors, like Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart, whose performances drive his movies as much as the director or the screenplay. Much is made of Robeson's powerful voice and intimidating physique, but just as impressive are his piercing eyes; in every role, a questing intelligence bursts through, looking at the world and cutting through charades and illusions. Criterion packages always have phenomenal extras, but Portraits of the Artist is unusually complex because Robeson's life is as important to his stature as his movies. These excellent features capture the world around Robeson, a world that both raised him up and tore him down. Far from a musty historical document, this is a film package that matters, which will reward and surprise viewers used to conventional notions of Hollywood and America. --Bret Fetzer
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Each disc contains two fims and select special features
"The Emperor Jones" is about a black man who escapes from a chain gang and flees to the West Indies.
"Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist" is a biographial documentary about Robeson narrated by Sidney Poiteir.
"Body and Soul" is about a corrupt preacher.
"Borderline" is about a group of interracial lovers
"Sanders of the River" is about an African tibesman
"Jericho" is about a black World War I soldier who deserts and heads to Africa,
"The Proud Valley" is about a coal miner in Wales
"Native Land" is socialist documentary film about labor unions.
Disc one contains commentary for "The Emperor Jones" by historian Jeffrey C. Stewart, "Our Paul: Remembering Paul Robeson" a retrospective containing interviews various black filmmakers and performers including James Earl Jones, and an interview with Robeson's son, Paul Robeson Jr.
Disc two contains commentary for "Body and Soul" by Micheaux historian Pearl Bowser. Also included are new scores for both films on the disc
Disc three contains "True Pioneer: The British Films of Paul Robeson" a progarm featuring interviews with Robeson Jr. and other persons
Disc four contains "The Story of Native Land," an interview with cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, and a1958 radio interview with Paul Robeson.
Also included is a booklet with various other materials
Here is a set that is more historically important than aesthetically interesting or artistically elegant (with the exception of Borderline). It is nice to see Criterion put out a set (like the Monsters and Madmen collection) that is not director focused. Paul Robeson is such a captivating character that he (usually) rises above the flawed material he is in. It is interesting how music made way into most of his films even when it seemed out of context of the movie. His philosophy of getting early roles for Black work fell way to good roles for African American or nothing at all which is why he stopped acting in the early 40s.
The Emperor Jones (1933): A strong characterization from Robeson (reprising his stage role from Eugene O'Neill's play) as a power hungry and conniving Pullman porter who eventually becomes emperor of a Caribbean island. Dated and a lot of racist language that has been cut out for past edits of the film, but the movie is still interesting to watch. The first two-thirds of the film are so strongly presented by Robeson that his eventual collapse seems unconvincing. Jones is a good early example of an anti-hero. One scene with a lover of Jones refuses the money he gives her after breaking up, but she eventually picks it up reminds me of the similar scene in Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing". Excellent commentary by Jeffrey C. Stewart, Professor of History and Art History at George Mason University and author of Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen, who discusses the context, mise en scenes, actors and comparisons to the stage play. He does not discuss too many biographical details of Robeson though.Read more ›
But that skill hardly ends the list of talents that Paul Robeson used in his life: scholar, All-American football player (at one point denied that honor because of his politics), folklorist, actor, and, most importantly, political activist round out the main features. This Criterion Collection series of four discs concentrates on his film career (and other short biographic and memory pieces) especially the early work where he had to play groveling, simple-minded blacks and did so against type (his ever present black and proud type). I will give a short summary below to show the range of his work, although his real role as Shakespeare's Othello, done on the stage, is by all accounts, his definitive work, as is, to my mind Emperor Jones for his film work.
That said, Paul Robeson, and I were political opponents on the left.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The Emperor Jones, 1933 film
It begins with natives drumming and singing in their language. The dress suggests South Africa. Read more
The discs are excellent. You feel like you are watching the films when they were brand new. Worth every penny.Published on October 19, 2013 by Valmorep
ROBESON ISN'T VERY FAMOUS TO CHINA, HOWEVER, THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE FILMS WILL REMEMBER "JAZZ SINGER", AND BY THE WAY, THAT BLACK SUPERSTAR.Published on January 23, 2013 by HAN XIAO
Modern day `political' celebrities can't hold a candle to Robeson, who always flaunted his politics even when it was most dangerous to do so. Read morePublished on March 13, 2011 by TrueBrit
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