“I saw six men kicking and punching the mother-in-law. My neighbor said, ‘Are you going to help?’ I said, ‘No, Six should be enough.’” – Les Dawson

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel

“A man only becomes wise when he begins to calculate the approximate depth of his ignorance.” - Gian Carlo Menotti

“If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.” – George Carlin

“All generalizations are false, including this one.” – Mark Twain

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” – Douglas Adams

“Our attitude toward life determines life’s attitude towards us.” – John N. Mitchell

“What you perceive, your observations, feelings, interpretations, are all your truth. Your truth is important. Yet it is not The Truth.” – Linda Ellinor

“The unreal is more powerful than the real, because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because it’s only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on.” – Chuck

“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”― Franz Kafka

Category Archives: The Big Screen

Nostalgia, Memory, and the Films of 2011

 

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.

2011 was probably not a good year for many. With most people suffering under the economic turmoil, the perpetuation of the debt crisis, the tsunami that hit Japan, and all of this on top of personal tribulations probably made 2011 a frustrating year to those that try to keep up with the world around them. As for myself, the year was a bit of an odd duck. So why am I associating nostalgia with 2011? What about the movies of this past year make it worth the energy to remember what happened, especially this long after the Academy awards have been handed out?

I feel the more apt question is “Why were the movies of 2011 either tinged or saturated with nostalgia?” Those who observed the ritualistic process of awards season probably noticed that three of the big movies–The Artist, Midnight in Paris and Hugo–had nostalgia as a major thematic element. Beyond these three, we had many other movies that fondly remembered the past or used memory as a narrative device.  Super 8 yearns for the days of Spielbergian filmmaking of the 1980’s, the films of J. J. Abrams’ youth, while Steven Spielberg’s war epic War Horse was made with an affectionate touch of the films of Spielberg’s childhood days: the epics that he would have seen on the big screen. The First Avenger: Captain America also follows this pattern of using an older style of filmmaking for a superhero movie while looking fondly on the forties. Finally, you have movies like Tree of Life, Beginners, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that used the memory and its anachronistic way of moving through our minds.

So… why? Why all of this remembering and yearning for the past? Sure there is coincidence involved. Something this massive in terms of connection can never be truly planned. But something had to make the filmmakers look back into the past, right? As mentioned before, 2011 was an odd year. The turmoil over many aspects of life is enough for people to look back at what seemed to be simpler times. We want to be back to a time when things made sense.

We want to be like George Méliès in Hugo when he was making movies in his glass house where our dreams are alive and coming true. We want to be like George Valentin in The Artist: on top of the world and larger than life, before sound came into world of film. We want to be a child and watch movies on a gigantic screen and become mesmerized by the worlds created (hell, I still do this), stunned by the beautiful imagery of a sprawling epic (War Horse) or the innocence captured by the director and writer (Super 8), and not have an idea about the world I have to return to. And even if we never have been like either of the two Georges or that child watching movies in the theater we have still had experiences in life where we know we have felt what they have: that we are in control of our dreams. Anything is possible. We are larger than life and on top of the world.

And yet, how often do we skip over facts of the past?  Through the glasses of retrospect, anything can make sense. But often the past was just as complicated as the present. We are like Hugo Cabret in Hugo and Oscar Schell in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, lost in a world where seemingly random events wreck us and leave us wandering in darkness. We want to figure out why people come and go so fast and why bad things happen to the innocent. Because of this, why not look back on what we perceive as happier times? Why not throw out the times in our past that don’t make sense, that feel random and chaotic? We keep yearning for the older times, when we had cool television shows like X-Men: The Animated Series and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and not the crap kids have today; things seemed simpler or somehow greater back then. This is part of the central theme of Midnight in Paris.

Midnight in Paris is about a writer named Gil, played by Owen Wilson, who desires to live in 1920’s Paris. The problem is he lives in 2011 California, and the closest he can get to living his dream is a vacation in Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams). Inez shares none of Gil’s sentiments about the roaring twenties or the city of Paris, and even goes so far as to make fun of Gil for them. One night while walking in Paris alone after having dinner with friends of his fiancée, Gil travels back into the past of 1920’s Paris where he meets F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway among other historical figures of the Lost Generation. Gil starts having an affair with a girl, Adrianna (Marion Cotillard), who lives in the 1920’s. He goes through the process of courting her, finally getting her along on a date. After kissing, they are transported to back to the 1890’s which is Adrianna’s ideal Paris. They get to sit down with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas at the Moulin Rouge upon which Gil asks them what era they think was the best. The three men agree on the Renaissance.

In the movie, Woody Allen exams that everyone wants to live in the past. In doing so, Mr. Allen comes to the conclusion that those that live in the past are doomed to be blind in the present. Likewise, those that have no reverence for the past are doomed, which is the case with Inez, who cheats on Gil, and Inez’s family, who don’t like Gil because he is “too old fashioned.” The only direction to move is forward, into the darkness of the present while having respect for the old. Woody Allen’s fable on the dangers of nostalgia does not end in tragedy, however, as Gil finds happiness in the end of the movie.

And like that, we must find that balance between past and present. We can find happiness and a sense of meaning and clarity in our lives even when nothing makes sense during our lives. As mentioned, the lenses of retrospect allow us to make sense of life, and this is because we are removed emotionally from the experience. This does not mean, however, that we can throw away the bad, morose parts of our life. Like Jack in Tree of Life or George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy looking back in the past can help us realize where we are in life. We can then use that piece of wisdom to move forward and find clarity in life.

So if you have had a bad year, dear reader, don’t try to forget what just happened. Embrace the past and reflect on its complexity. It still may not make complete sense now, but thing will be more clear than what they were. The knowledge you will gain is going to be invaluable to finding meaning.

Babbling About Movies: The Hunger Games

In 2008, Suzanne Collins’ book, The Hunger Games, was published. Since then Collins has written two more books, creating a trilogy, which has sold 23.5 million printed copies. Suzanne Collins has also become the Kindle’s bestselling author with The Hunger Game trilogy as of March 2012. With the popularity of the series and the end of the Harry Potter franchise, a film adaptation of The Hunger Games was inevitable, and the movie was to become the first event film of the year. Stepping into the mall where the movie theater was showed it was an event with small booths from FYE and local news papers having giveaways and selling Hunger Game merchandise, but all the pageantry a good movie does not make.  What does make a good movie is a good script, good acting, good directing, good editing, and so forth. The Hunger Games has a lot going for it.

The movie follows Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who lives in District 12 of the nation of Panem. Panem is a country broken into 13 districts with districts 1 to 12 being labor based and the 13th district being the capital, where the wealthy live. The country holds a competition called the Hunger Games where the first twelve districts must tribute one female and one male between the ages of 12-18 in what is called the Reaping, a raffle of sorts. These teenagers then must fight to the death in an arena. The games serve as a reminder of the failed uprising and are used by the government as a way to instill fear among the 12 districts. Katniss ends up volunteering to compete after her sister is named as the tribute. We then follow Katniss’ journey through the pregame ritual, which is used by the competitors to gain sponsors. Sponsors can turn the tides of the Hunger Games by sending their sponsored tribute items that can help then survive.

The screenplay for The Hunger Games was co-written with Suzanne Collins herself. This means that any changes between the novel and the movie are done with her permission. They do not go into detail through the dialogue, the script itself is smart, show us the important information and allowing the audience to fill in the details. With a smart script comes a smart cast. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss with the right mixture of strength, independence, and vulnerability. Lawrence brings a sense of pathos that can be felt through the screen. Even when a character dies that got less than three lines, we still feel the empathy of Katniss. Josh Hutcherson also does a great job as the male tribute of District 12, Peeta Mellark. Hutcherson bring a quality of subtly that outlines the character’s complexity, caught between his feelings for Katniss and his fear of dying.

The support cast is also good. Woody Harrelson as Haymtich, mentor of the District 12 tributes, plays the role with a more serious tone than most drunkard characters now-a-days. Woody is hiding something with the character, something dark that will probably be revealed in later movies. Donald Sutherland plays a frightening character as President Coriolanus Snow. Sutherland brings a cool and comfortable demeanor to the character, and even when threatened, President Snow barely seems phased till the very end of the movie. Stanley Tucci also stands out as Cesar, a television talk show host and sportscaster for the Hunger Games. You can tell the Tucci is having a lot of fun with the role, if you can even tell that it is Tucci in the role. The rest of the supporting cast is good, but no one really stands out.

In the words of Japanese director Akria Kurosawa, “With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film.” Sadly Gary Ross is a mediocre director. Visually the film relies on the “shaky camera” aesthetic, which Ross uses in an attempt to add a type of documentary feel to the movie. The problem with “shaky cam” is that in order for it to work the director needs to frame the action of a scene with great precision. Gary Ross’s framing is not precise enough, and because of this some things feel lost in translation. This makes the Jennifer Lawrence’s performance seem even more amazing given that some aspects did not register, but that may have been ambiguity on Lawrence’s part. In fact, the movie tends to use the score that was written by James Newton Howard and T-Bone Burnett to help supply the emotional connection.

What makes this kind of a sadder point is that the movie has some really good visuals. The contrast between the Districts and the Capitol are really well done. The use of overexposure, while jarring at first, really captures the worn out feeling of the laborers, while the more traditional lighting really shows the comfort of the wealthy. And the dirtiness of the districts juxtaposed with the sterilized world of the Capitol is provocative, but it feels lost with the seeming lack of focus in the direction. Moments that should have felt haunting and potent felt less so. There are moments that are effectively directed, but they are few and far between.

I have to somewhat disagree with Kurosawa, however. While Gary Ross nearly flat lines The Hunger Games, the movie is more than passable. The acting is not completely hampered by the direction as a surmountable amount of pathos still transfers through. The script is smart and ambiguous in its overall satire, and the visual choices are appealing and well thought out. The odds are in The Hunger Game’s  favor, and I look forward to the next movie. In a more capable director’s hands the movie could have had a chance at being a masterpiece of big budget filmmaking. As it is, The Hunger Games is a good movie and a huge step in the right direction.

NOTE: When doing some research I found out that there were 13 districts and a map was provided. I assumed that the 13th District was the Capitol. It was brought to my attention that I was wrong. There use to be a 13th District, but the Capitol obliterated the district and it is no longer considered operational. I am sorry if I peeved anyone.

Babbling About Movies: The Lorax

The-Lorax-Unless2

When I finished watching Universal’s new animated movie The Lorax, made by Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me) and adapted from Theodor Seuss Geisel’s children’s book by the same name, I could not help but feel something was off. I could not put my finger on it at the time, but something did not feel right. I wanted to like the movie at the end, as I was moved by the image of one friend embracing the other before the credits started to roll. Despite these feelings, I felt there was little I could fault The Lorax for.

To start, the design for the film is very good. The animators and art director captured Dr. Seuss’ look to his creative world. The color palette is excellent as colors just pop off screen. Even when the protagonist, Ted (Zac Efron), leaves the over produced Thneedville for the dark, polluted outer world to talk to the Once-ler (Ed Helms) in order to find out how to find and plant a tree for his love interest Audrey (Taylor Swift), the use of color is vibrant. The original score is good, and the songs written are bright and boisterous, if a bit over-produced and somewhat forgettable. Being over-produced is not always a bad thing. It depends as to how you want to use your songs, and in the case of The Lorax the songs that are done that way work in its favor after a second thought. Ed Helms as the Once-ler and Betty White as Ted’s Grandma are the best voice actors of the cast, but everyone else does decent work, even if Zac Efron sounds too old to be twelve. To figure out why I did not care for the film I had to ask myself “What about The Lorax did I not like, then?”

Come on, Zach, what's not to love?

Although the screen was full of color, the visuals never really stuck for me. A movie being a visual art, the visuals are important to the storytelling of a film and nothing really stood out in The Lorax despite the colorful palette. The music, like I said, is enjoyable but forgettable. It took me five listens to each song to have the songs stick in my head and even then Muppet songs kept popping up in my mind when I tried to recall the tunes. Then you have that the character development was lackluster when it came to the protagonist, his love interest, and just about every character that is not the Once-ler. An example is Ted’s mom, who when first asked about trees is disgusted by the very idea. We never really hear her speak much that would incite development past that. Then Ted gets a seed to a Truffula tree, the mom sees the seed starting to bloom, and she instantly loves trees. Nothing was built up for her to change attitudes so quickly. The other thing that felt underdeveloped is the romance between Ted and Audrey. Basically Ted likes Audrey and Audrey likes trees. Audrey tells Ted that she would probably marry the first man who would bring her a real tree. Not that she will marry him just that she probably will marry him. Thus if Ted fails in finding a real tree he can still win Audrey’s heart, and if he succeeds there is still a chance that it will not happen. Therefore the romance adds NOTHING outside a convoluted attempt to have Ted meet the Once-ler! Because someone who is only one, possibly two, generations removed from trees could not be motivated by his own curiosity to seek out the Once-ler. In fact, it is the Once-ler who is the most developed character which is surprising considering he is in the movie for less than half of the movie’s run time.

"I am the Lorax, now get off my lawn"

Also, I just want to point out that the Lorax is sort of unlikable in this movie. Not only does he not see any hypocrisy in having fun with playing cards (seriously, how many trees do you think were cut down just to make that one deck of cards), but the Lorax sends the Once-ler down a river where there is a giant waterfall down the stream that one would assume he would know about, being the mystical protector of the land. Sure, it was not the Lorax’s intention that such a thing would happen because the waterfall is part of a stream that branches off from the main river, but the facts remain that he still tried to send the Once-ler down the river without any regard for what happens. Character deficiencies aside, the Lorax is not completely hatable. In fact, the first scene in which we see the Lorax is actually moving if a little silly. The same thing can almost be said about the bromance between Lorax and Once-ler; their relationship is slightly moving but is hampered by being, once again, underdeveloped.

Then the flood gates opened and everything hit me. Just because characters and plot points are underdeveloped does not necessarily make a movie bad, just bland, and being bland is not justification for my proclamation of something being off. Then I thought of the character Mayor Aloysius O’ Hare, the antagonist voiced by Rob Riggle, who is a very flat, one note villain who just felt thrown in just to add “tension” to the film. But O’Hara does a lot more than just be in the movie, he also simplifies the theme of the movie. It is this character that opens up a can of worms. In the movie, O’ Hare is a CEO of a corporation that sells fresh air and wants the destruction of trees so that air can stay a finite commodity and therefore can be sold. My question is how he is getting such high quantities of fresh air if there are no more tree left? Also, if he is mayor and a CEO of a large corporation, I can only assume that O’Hare’s company is the largest employer in the city. If trees are grown, I wonder how bad the economy will become. Granted, the time it takes for trees to grow will be enough to help shift the economic focus of the town of Thneedville, and it is not like the town does not have other sources of business, unless motor-vehicles were built by O’Hare Air or imported from another town. The thing is that none of these questions reveal the grey areas in the discussion matter. O’Hare is a villain that twirls his invisible mustache while tying metaphorical puppies to the railroads. Making the giant corporation the bad guy when you promote your movie using giant corporations make it seem like the producers do not really believe in the message, especially one that plays off so black and white.

And thus I figured out why The Lorax did not sit right with me. The movie, for the most part, is bland and forgettable minus a few moments. If it were just the vanilla ice cream equivalent of cinema, I would not have as much of an issue with the movie. I like vanilla ice cream sometimes, as do a lot of other people. Some people love vanilla ice cream; I’m not going to hate them for it. But then you have the shakiness of the message which causes problems. If Illumination Entertainment added some of the complexity the theme has to their tale, maybe I would not have the reaction I have. Instead, I have to say that The Lorax is going to be harmless and possibly enjoyable depending on your mood until you start to digging into the film, and I have to say this because while the Lorax may speak for the trees, I must talk for the movie.

The Script Frenzy Chronicles Week I

Because scale matters.

On March 5, 2012 I signed up for Script Frenzy. Script Frenzy is an event ran by The Office of Letters and Light, which runs National Novel Writing Month. Script Frenzy is where writers are given the challenge to write a 100 page script over the 30 day period of April. The script can be written for Film, Television, Stage, or Comic Book/Graphic Novel, and since I am a movie guy, my script will be for the screen.

Similar to NaNoWriMo, once you sign up with Script Frenzy you can get sponsored to help bring donations to The Office of Letters and Lights and their mission. You get access to forums, and the ability to talk to people with in your region. You also get guides to script writing since writing for film, television, stage, and comics is different from writing a novel. It require you to be detailed enough that the reader knows what is going on yet sparse enough that you don’t choke the artistic freedom of the cast, crew, and director that will breathe life into your word.

To sign up for Script Frenzy go to their website, www.scriptfrenzy.org, and click on the Sign Up link on the upper right-hand corner of the screen page. The sign up process involves creating a usernamer, providing an e-mail, and picking what area you are writing in. You then get a password e-mailed to you to which you can then log in and start with your journey to write your script. Once you are in you can start updating your writing profile, releasing information on your script, post on the forums, and find friends for the support you will need.

And while the event requires that you write with in the month of April and not before or after that month, nothing can stop you from starting you plan your work.

 

Script Frenzy: Week 1

Show, don't tell


Even though I do not want to start writing my screenplay out of fairness, but that is not stopping me from think about what to write. I want to be as prepared as I can be so that once April comes around I can dive right in. At first I planned on re-writing a screenplay I started last summer and only got seven pages in. But then I decided to challenge myself a bit and start anew.

When starting a new script, I thought, it is always best to think of a pitch. In the business, the pitch of a film can break or make your film. Each pitch is different because every film is different, but there tends to be one cardinal rule. That rule is you must keep it short. It used to be that you had to describe your film in fifteen words or less. If you could not do that your film was less likely to get made. While I am sure that some companies still go by this rule, I doubt most adhere to it. One sentence should be enough, and this is something that applies to most medium.

This makes sense for multiple reasons. Writing a movie, television, or comic book script or a play is very different than writing a novel because you are writing for a visual art. A highly collaborative visual art in which many people will be interpreting as the product is getting made. As such, you are writing an outline, and having the ability to use a sentence (or a “log line.” for a more technical term) to tell everything about your story will show the potential producers your talent for by descriptive with minimum detail.

Another reason to use a log line is the fact that someone has to buy your script. In order to sell your script, you have to advertise it. Calling your script “A surrealist character study musical with comedic bit about a group of quirky adolescents taking part in a spelling bee” is going to get someone’s attention faster than “This story is about these quirky kids who take part in this outrageous spelling bee where on kid is a horny boy scout while another spells words with his foot and there is a counselor who is there because of his service hours…” You are going to lose potential buyers quickly if you cannot hook them immediately. This is made even more vital since the producer who is interested will probably be seeing many other potential buys outside of yours.

There are other reason for having a log line ready, such as giving you script focus, a mood to play with, and much more, but there are two other elements to having a pitch ready. One is the “My script is…” in which you use two films to describe your film. An example would be “My film is Up meets The Sixth Sense.” This shows that the story has elements of the two movies and depending on the log line the elements would be very visible. Another thing this does is compares you film to two or more other successful movies. Be careful when comparing movies to your film. Make sure you use movies that are either critically and commercially successful, just commercially successful, or considered classics, otherwise the film may not get picked up. The last thing to have for your pitch is a title. It does not have to be the actual title, but a title none the less. The buy may not ask what you are going to call your movie, but there is a good chance that they will. Having one ready shows that you are prepared for the journey ahead.

***

If you are an aspiring writer, especially if you are interested in writing for the visual and performance arts, Script Frenzy is the challenge that can get you in moving in the right direction. Again, sign up at www.scriptfrenzy.org, get friends involved and start planning.

Renaissance Men of the Cinema

Paul Robeson in Borderline, 1930

Renaissance Men of the Cinema

Welcome to the first installment of “Renaissance Men of the Cinema.” In this article I write about men and women who either pioneered the art of cinema or whose influence and/or personal interests went beyond the celluloid. It is my mission to bring these people to the forefront of the reader’s mind, causing them to seek out the artist’s work and history.

 

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson singing at a public rally.

Paul Robeson may not be a very familiar name. I doubt many will even know who I am talking about. You may recognize Robeson through this:

Ol’ Man River became a song that would forever be associated with Robeson. Over the course of his life he would changed the lyrics of the song to compliment his world views.  These changing views would cause Robeson to advocate for civil rights that would cause him fall into obscurity. So, if Robeson is not really a well known figure in today’s age why am I choosing to write about him? The fact that the cast of Jersey Shore are better known than someone who actually deserves to be recognized and has a great legacy is enough of a reason, but there is more to the story.

It was only a little over a year ago that I heard of Robeson. I was hanging out in the office of my Acting II professor with a couple of my colleagues waiting for class to start. After a bit of conversation one of my fellow classmates point to a picture of a man sitting on a table. “Who is that?” he asked. My professor looked at the picture, smiled, and said “That is Paul Robeson. He was a great actor and singer…” He continued on about how Robeson studied and practiced law as well as being a performer on a world stage. Since then, I wanted to look more into Paul Robeson’s work. When it came time to start this new series, I figured an actor who studied and practiced law while performing on a worldwide level would be a good start. Little did I know how much more to the man there was to discover.

Over the course of his life, Robeson faced much adversity. Born in 1898, Robeson was the youngest of five children of a prominent family in Princeton, New Jersey. After a disagreement between his father, Rev. William Robeson, and the congregation of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in 1900, William Robeson was forced out of his ministry and had to work odd jobs. Three years later, Robeson’s mother, Maria Bustill, died in a house fire. William ended up moving his family into an attic of a friend due to the financial instability. It was not until age 12 that Robeson’s father found stability in a parsonage.

Paul Robeson in his football gear.

Two years later, Robeson attended high school where he acted in the school productions of Othello and Julius Caesar, sang in the choir, and dominated in sports, which incurred prejudice and racial insults from competition. Robeson continued with his education at Rutgers University, becoming the third man of color to attend the school. There he excelled in his academics, joined the debate team and glee club, and played football after passing extra “tests” set by other student trying out. In his junior and senior years, Robeson became Rutgers first All-American for football. Robeson was also voted as the valedictorian by his classmates, and in his speech Robeson called for the equality of all Americans.

After college, he went to study law at Columbia School of Law in New York. In order to help pay his way through school, Robeson continued to play football in the National Football League, where he played for the Akron Pros and later the Milwaukee Badgers. Outside of football season, Robeson performed Off-Broadway where he caught the eye of playwright Eugene O’Neil. Through O’Neil, Robeson performed on Broadway in The Emperor Jones, where he achieved success despite his lack of proper training in acting. The story goes that part of the script called for Robeson, as Brutus Jones, to whistle with his hands in his pockets. After Robeson told O’Neil that he could not whistle, O’Neil suggested that he should improvise by humming or singing. Robeson chose to sing, and the rest became history.

Paul Robeson performing in Othello with Uta Hegan, Broadway

After his success on Broadway, Robeson starred in his first movie entitled Body and Soul in 1924. Body and Soul saw Robeson playing a duel role as an escaped convict posing as a preacher of a small Baptist church and his long-estranged twin brother. A race film directed by Oscar Micheaux, Body and Soul had Robeson play a very dark character in a role that involved a very cleverly shot scene that heavily suggested that a rape occurred. Controversial for have a member of the cloth performing a supposed rape, the censors eventually allowed film to be screened with the scene intact for reason not completely known, though it is believed that it is maybe because of the racial thought at the time that a black man would be more likely to commit a rape. This would be the darkest role Robeson ever played, but it would also gain him even more notoriety, though not like what was to come.

In 1928, Paul Robeson played Joe in the London production of Show Boat. His portrayal of Joe, as well as his version of Ol’ Man River, became the standard of which the role would be judged. It is also a role that would cement Robeson as an icon of his time. After his performance, he continued to perform concerts all over the world.

 A shot of Robeson in the 1936 film adaptation of Show Boat

 One concert became that of legends in 1936.  During the Spanish Civil War, Robeson performed a concert in a small town where a battle was taking place. According to records, the fighting stopped for an entire day after Robeson’s deep baritone voice was put over loud speakers. It is here where the words of Ol’ Man Riverfirst changed, from “I get weary, and sick of trying/ I’m tired of living, and scared of dying” to “But I keep laughing, instead of crying/ We must keep fighting, until we’re dying.”

The Emperor Jones, 1933

In total, Robeson starred in eleven movies. Each movie showed his natural acting ability at a time when system and method acting were not yet taught in America. More so, all of his films post-1930 features his singing voice. Even the film version of The Emperor Jones, which featured almost no singing outside of the one scene previously mentioned, added a back story to the character of Brutus Jones just to allow Robeson more screen time to sing. And as his celebrity status grew, he only became more selective of his roles. Robeson chose only roles that would, in his opinion, bring dignity to his people. The film he claimed to be most proud of, The Proud Valley, featured an integrated cast and a positive view of coal miners and labor workers.During the outbreak of World War II, Paul Robeson was selected to sing Ballad for Americans, which was used to stir up patriotism for the fight over seas. And at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral, Robeson was elected by his fellow actors to read their farewell to the president. It was also around this time that he would play the title role in Shakespeare’s Othello on a Broadway stage. It would later be known as one of the best performances of the character and the longest running production of a Shakespeare play in Broadway history, playing for two years.Robeson started touring Europe at the end of World War II, performing concerts throughout the continent. It was during this time that the lyrics of Ol’ Man Riverchanged once more; adding a new opening that went “There’s an ol’ man named the Mississippi, That’s the ol’  man I don’t want to be,” and “Get a little drunk and you land in jail” changed to “Show a little grit and you land in jail.” Robeson also started talking out at his concerts, advocating for civil rights across the world. This caused an uproar in the town of Peekskill, New York, during the start of tour for his return to America. Not long after this uprising, The United States Government revoked his visas to travel outside the States, fearing his conflicting beliefs of the time could ruin America’s reputation. This caused him to be blacklisted, and as a result Robeson swore to never act again.

Robeson marching for civil rights

For the next ten years Paul Robeson practiced law in the courts, civil liberties, and for cases he felt that injustice was done. At the same time began fighting the Supreme Court on his ban from leaving America. After ten years, he finally won the battle and gained his right to leave the country, but the damage was done. He never performed on the grand scale he had in the past. After two small tours in Europe and Australia, Robeson retired from performing and took residency in Philadelphia where he lived out the rest of his days.Paul Robeson was the true embodiment of a renaissance man. He used his standing as a world icon and his arts to push his beliefs in civil rights while at the same time he practiced law and protected those he felt were wronged. A proven intellectual, Robeson helped shed light on a dignity his people own, and he peacefully faded into the shadows after his fight was won. While his name may not be as well known as it should be, his is a legacy that will always be felt.

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