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I Heard It Through the Grapevine

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Pat Hartley & Dick Fontaine · 1982 · 88 minutes
November 12 · Regal Riviera · 11:30 a.m.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine documents James Baldwin’s return to America in 1980, when he revisited several locations of violent struggle during the Civil Rights movement. At each stop—in Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Jackson, St. Augustine, and then up to Newark—he reconnects with old allies in the struggle, people like Sterling Brown, Oretha Castle Haley, and Amiri Baraka.

Grapevine is as much an essay as a documentary, with Baldwin a seemingly eager participant and co-author of the work. Late in his too-short life, Baldwin fully understood his public persona, and he makes iconic use of it throughout the film, posing for staged portraits in front of key landmarks, his pensive, beautiful face wearied with experience.

Baldwin and his old comrades have no time for nostalgia. I Heard It Through the Grapevine gives lie to the comforting notion that suffering and sacrifice lead inevitably to justice and progress. It’s a harsh truth, precisely and artfully rendered.

This restoration of I Heard It Through the Grapevine, overseen by the Harvard Film Archive, premiered at the 2023 Berlinale.

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