Caryl Phillips on James Baldwin in The Guardian

April 30, 2024

It’s fair to say James Baldwin wasn’t a fan of The Exorcist. “It has absolutely nothing going for it,” he wrote in his 1976 memoir-meets-criticism collection The Devil Finds Work. “Except Satan, who is certainly the star.” William Friedkin’s 1973 horror hit about a possessed schoolgirl might have caused havoc in theatres, but for the African American literary giant it was a garish dud that missed the real target. “For, I have seen the devil, by day and by night, and have seen him in you and in me,” he went on. “He does not levitate beds, or fool around with little girls: we do.”

Baldwin wasn’t an opportunist critic bashing a big commercial hit – he was an ardent cinephile whose obsession with film began as a young child in Harlem when a teacher called Orilla “Bill” Miller took him to see movies. Those early trips began a lifelong love affair. He went to the cinema whenever he could, to see everything from The Maltese Falcon to the 1959 lynching drama I Spit on Your Grave. Baldwin scholar Caryl Phillips said that while literature was his biggest love, “Baldwin discovered the cinema before he discovered books, and he never forgot the impact that these early movies had upon him.”

Read the full article here.

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