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The Devil Finds Work

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  856 ratings  ·  96 reviews
James Baldwin At The Movies...  Provocative, timeless, brilliant.

Bette Davis's eyes, Joan Crawford's bitchy elegance, Stepin Fetchit's stereotype, Sidney Poitier's superhuman black man...  These are the movie stars and the qualities that influenced James Baldwin...  and now become part of his incisive look at racism in American movies.

Baldwin challenges the underlying ass
Paperback, 144 pages
Published June 13th 2000 by Delta (first published January 1st 1976)
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4.27  · 
Rating details
 ·  856 ratings  ·  96 reviews

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Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
A collection of critical essays on cinema, The Devil Finds Work interrogates the racist ideology of landmark American films from the interwar and postwar eras. Baldwin interweaves cultural criticism and autobiography as he moves from reflecting upon the messages coded in the films of his youth to critiquing popular movies of the mid-1970s. The fact that he contextualizes cinema within the context of everyday life frames the two realms as interdependent; it subsequently problematizes a model of c ...more
B. P. Rinehart
" I found a leak in my building, and:
my soul has got to move.
I say:
my soul has got to move,
my soul has got to move.
" - Epigraph for chapter three.

Being a black cinephile, I am always interested in reading other black cinephiles. James Baldwin just happens to be one such man. He has included some film criticism in all of his books of essays. This book is different because it is primarily about films that he has seen over his lifetime. If you have watched the excellent documentary (and the go-to
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Η συλλογή αποτελείται από προσωπικές αναλύσεις ταινιών, γνωστών κι αγαπημένων ως επί το πλείστον, υπό το πρίσμα της φυλετικής πολιτικής της Αμερικής και της εκτίμησής της από τον συγγραφέα. Ο Baldwin προσφέρει ένα παράθυρο όχι μόνο στον υπόρρητο ρατσισμό των αμερικανικών ταινιών αλλά ακόμη καταδεικνύει τις αυταπάτες και την εξαπάτηση εκ μέρους των κινηματογραφικών έργων, όντας συγχρόνως υπέρμαχος της άποψης "The language of the cameras is the language of our dreams".

Από το Guess Who's Coming to
Jun 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Devil Finds Work is impeccably organized: it gets better and better. Everything crescendos: the biting sarcasm, the incisive commentary, the clarity of the summaries, etc. What starts off as a good read (to put it as both a slight and a compliment to Baldwin, sub-par based on the standard to which I hold him) begins to pull harder, to engross more, to elicit more investment. The act is, in a way, four separate images coalescing into focus, and the image that results in his measured act of un ...more
Sep 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Baldwin dissects films to discover their subterranean socio-political agendas and and weaves in some fascinating personal history to boot. He perhaps reads a little too much into his interpretations, but is essentially correct about everything. A tough book for me, though, because I love Hollywood hokum and don't always want to think about how faithfully it serves reactionary interests by smothering reality with schmaltz and pablum.
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Baldwin is always fantastic.
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: baldwin2019
Baldwin on movies, but really (as ever) Baldwin on racism and America. Amazing stuff.
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I marked this book as read in July and it never went to my challenge. I am having old lady issues with this technology. Anywho, This book is a nonfiction book that contains Mr. Baldwins thoughts on Hollywood movies, the stars who played in them, the politics and social struggles at that time. His school teacher took him to the cinema when he was young and the books gives you an intimate look into young Baldwin but more so how the mature Baldwin felt about the entertainment at the time. It's trul ...more
Samarth Bhaskar
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've been reading some of James Baldwin's fiction and nonfiction in recent years. I've had a hard time consuming it critically. His influence on current cultural writers I admire, his contributions to critical theory, even his difficult prose; these all contribute to fan-boy level admiration from me. I don't think Baldwin would've taken kindly to this. Baldwin was a radical. Radicals are skeptical of mainstream success. Whether he would've liked it or not, Baldwin is achieving new heights of mai ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Will be sitting with these essays for a long time. “The question of identity is a question involving the most profound panic - a terror as primary as the nightmare of the mortal fall. An identity is questioned only when it is menaced...Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose...through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that give ...more
Aug 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, essays
so many fantastic moments here: the readings of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Exorcist, and Lady Sings the Blues; the description of Baldwin's experience in Hollywood working on an adaptation of The Autobiography of Malcolm X; analysis of the structural limitations placed on black performers/performance; Baldwin's complicated identifications with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. so many.
Oct 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Baldwin's great and this is a wonderful book of his essays. What's really important to me is his essay on Boris Vian's noir novel "I Spit on Your Graves,' which I published some years ago (and still in print!)

Part-film criticism, part memoir, part essay on black representation. This was my first time reading James Baldwin and given my interest in classic movies I definitely picked a great one to start with.
Fraser Kinnear
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: race
This is purportedly a book of film crit. It covers 'Birth of a Nation', 'I Shall Spit On Your Graves', 'The Defiant Ones', 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner', and 'Lawrence of Arabia', and the 'Exorcist' and some others. I have only seen Lawrence, but the observations that Baldwin makes are so much grander than those films that I felt this didn't matter much.

Some illuminating arguments Baldwin makes:
* "But a victim may or may not have a color, just as he may or may not have virtue: a difficult, not
Dylan Perry
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Novel, short story, play, poetry, essays, I don’t care. If James Baldwin wrote it, I’ll read it and be awed by his ferocity and elegance with language. The Devil Finds Work was a fine example of this, and I look forward to digging into more. 4/5
Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea
After watching the new documentary about James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro, I ran home to skim my stacks for anything by him. I found The Devil Finds Work and immediately started reading it. Pieces of this book were included in the documentary script and it was exciting to see the passages in their entirety. Baldwin's writing voice and style are addictive: his tone, gravity, pace, wit, and cutting critical edge snared me. I couldn't put him down. I will say that some of the films he references ...more
Vasja Volin
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Closer to 4.5 - a great work, incredibly written, but it's harder to understand without knowing the movies. Still, fantastic.
Koome Elijah
Dec 16, 2017 rated it liked it
So-so. More of an anthology of film reviews blended with personal anecdotes. Not the best I have read from Baldwin.
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I only wish I had watched all these movies so I could even more savor these words. The man is the God of prose.
Jack Herbert Christal Gattanella
more like 4.5 out of 5 actually but I'm bumping it to 5 officially because its Baldwin.

in brief: his is worth getting and consuming if nothing else for the all too short section on "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Holy shit he takes that movie down and shows why it doesnt work (and finds deeper meanings in that as well as other films)


This book is wonderfully and acutely wise to how cinema worked for a good long chunk of the 20th century. It may not be as complete or forgiving a view one may
Mark Palermo
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In which James Baldwin reviews Lawrence of Arabia, The Exorcist, The Birth of a Nation, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, The Defiant Ones, Lady Sings the Blues, and Fury, and likes none of them. Well, he does enjoy You Only Live Once, but doesn't write on it at length.

But this isn't really a book about film art so much as using cinema as a jumping off point to discuss the oppression of the soul by the middle class establishment in the 20th century. Every line is good, but
Jill Schepmann
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"To encounter oneself is to encounter the other: and this is love. If I know that my soul trembles, I know that yours does, too: and, if I can respect this, both of us can live. Neither of us, truly, can live without the other: a statement which would not sound so banal if one were not endlessly compelled to repeat it, and, further, believe it, and act on that belief."
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Look: I am on record as believing Baldwin to be the most consequential of American writers, for-- among many other things-- his steely and morally-upright assessment of her history and her character. This book-- essentially one long essay-- is an interrogation of that history that takes many left turns into then-contemporary politics as well as Baldwin's autobiography, but uses as its primary touchstones then-contemporary works of cinema. It is as great as you'd imagine, with the caveat that it ...more
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ostensibly an essay about film, this book is an autobiographical meditation on perception and race and religion in America during the middle of the 20th century, blowing up the fallacy that we all share an experience when inside that darkened sanctum of a movie theater. Baldwin at his cutting best, full of pain and pathos and humor and rage.
Paul Clarkson
Jul 13, 2018 rated it liked it
I have given this a 3 star, but that may not be as a result of my not being thrilled and inspired by James Baldwin's body of work, because I am. Some of this book went completely over my head and in part that is due to my limited brain! I will read again for this reason as more may filter through on a second reading. The book acts as a vehicle for his critique of books occasionally, but mainly film, primarily with a focus from a racial perspective (mainly North American but also Colonial), but a ...more
Well, look, what do I have to say to get you reading Baldwin, huh? He's an amazing thinker and an amazing writer. Insight woven into beautiful prose.

This book was an especially toothsome treat for me since he turns his sharp and witty attention to film. Of course it's all still broadly applicable, and still hits hard even now 40 years after he wrote it. (The eternal challenge to us, now: can we ever build up society so that we arrive at some point where Baldwin's work will no longer hit so hard
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, nonfiction
A fantastic exploration of Blackness in film and experiencing film as Black - this is an excellent piece of cultural criticism as well as a distillation of critical Black thinking in the 1970s. As with all film criticism, it helps to be familiar with the films discussed (especially as Baldwin, more than most, assumes a familiarity with the films and spends little time describing them for the reader); but even a cursory knowledge of the genres at work is enough for these essays. On a completely p ...more
Stephanie Burke
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I always enjoy reading James Baldwin. His quick wit, his smart observations of people and his perspective of a black, gay man in a harsh America always challenges my perspective. Even though he published this essay in 1975, it feels so relevant now. His perspective on films, especially "The Defiant Ones" and "Lady Sings the Blues" were very interesting.
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
A witty and effervescent collection of essays, meditating on film and white privilege during the 1940s-1970s. From a deeply unsettling critique of race and white privilege found in the film In this our Life starring Bette Davis; Guess Who's Coming to Dinner- a classic case of Hollywood liberalism disguised as progress for Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy; to the horrors of The Exorcist of which for a moment is seen as an awareness of the other; then a fretful return to the bou ...more
Ryan Fohl
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Baldwin is clearly a master. I was born six years after this was written. I do not know most of the movies or actors mentioned, but I will read this again. Part memoir mixed with social criticism. I had some trouble understanding the final metaphor. That essay seems kind of disconnected. Baldwin was so ahead of his time. I’m glad time is catching up to him.

What I learned: Hemingway gets called out for his support of the Spanish revolution but his silence during the Cuban.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. He was the eldest of nine children; his stepfather was a mini
“Dickens has not seen it all. The wretched of the earth do not decide to become extinct, they resolve, on the contrary, to multiply: life is their only weapon against life, life is all that they have. This is why the dispossessed and starving will never be convinced (though some may be coerced) by the population-control programs of the civilized. I have watched the dispossessed and starving laboring in the fields which others own, with their transistor radios at their ear, all day long: so they learn, for example, along with equally weighty matters, that the pope, one of the heads of the civilized world, forbids to the civilized that abortion which is being, literally, forced on them, the wretched. The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their ‘vital interests’ are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the ‘sanctity’ of human life, or the ‘conscience’ of the civilized world. There is a ‘sanctity’ involved with bringing a child into this world: it is better than bombing one out of it. Dreadful indeed it is to see a starving child, but the answer to that is not to prevent the child’s arrival but to restructure the world so that the child can live in it: so that the ‘vital interest’ of the world becomes nothing less than the life of the child. However—I could not have said any of this then, nor is so absurd a notion about to engulf the world now. But we were all starving children, after all, and none of our fathers, even at their most embittered and enraged, had ever suggested that we ‘die out.’ It was not we who were supposed to die out: this was, of all notions, the most forbidden, and we learned this from the cradle. Every trial, every beating, every drop of blood, every tear, were meant to be used by us for a day that was coming—for a day that was certainly coming, absolutely certainly, certainly coming: not for us, perhaps, but for our children. The children of the despised and rejected are menaced from the moment they stir in the womb, and are therefore sacred in a way that the children of the saved are not. And the children know it, which is how they manage to raise their children, and why they will not be persuaded—by their children’s murderers, after all—to cease having children.” 14 likes
“She was so incredibly beautiful—she seemed to be wearing the sunlight, rearranging it around her from time to time, with a movement of one hand, with a movement of her head, and with her smile—that, when she paid the man and started out of the store, I started out behind her.” 3 likes
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