Nine fascinating facts:
1) She was one of the legendary
jazz-age flappers, more scandalous than most because she did it all
starting in 1925 in the liberated climate of Gay Paree, where she could sing and dance virtually
2) When Hitler invaded, she stayed in
France and worked closely with the resistance. I have read accounts
from American intelligence officers who claimed that this was no hype.
Apparently Baker's spying
had genuine value, and she was a major contributor to the allied
3) When she finally had
to leave France, she became famous for her biracial USO shows, which
were legendary in their promotion of brotherhood between black and white
4) After the war she
got rich and famous, and acquired a magnificent chateau.
5) She returned to the USA the first time,
before the war, in order to become the first black woman to head the
6) In her second return to the USA,
she conducted a legendary feud with Walter Winchell. This time it was
after the war, in the anti-Communist hysteria, and the ever hysterical
Winchell accused Baker of being soft on communism. The early
successes and sell-outs on her tour were poisoned by Winchell's
negative reports, so Miss Baker ended up returning to France earlier
than she had intended.
When she returned to France, she and her white husband became famous for
adopting children from many different ethnic backgrounds - their
managed to lose her fortune, but then made a late-in-life comeback, and
celebrated her 50th anniversary on the Paris stage.
9) I'm not sure of the exact number, but
she was married a hell of a lot of times.
The Josephine Baker Story is an easy
watch. I'd say the only great weakness of the film is that it
attempted to cover so much material in such a short time. That is more
than cancelled out by many major positives:
Miss Whitfield does a great job acting
and dancing, and won an Emmy for this role. (Some of her dancing and
all of her singing is doubled).
The music consists of Jazz Age
True to the Baker character, Whitfield
is nearly naked throughout the entire first half of the movie, and
she looks great.
The DVD even has a widescreen version of
the film - pretty amazing for a film made for TV before DVD was
I don't need a lot more than good music,
good photography, and beautiful nudity, but the story is interesting
I found everything Scoop said to be true.
It is way too much life
for one film, but it isn't boring. How could it be?
This was one life that merited a biopic, and I would go to see a six
hour expanded version. I used to say that the hardest thing in the world to do would
be to come while running.
I would now say that making a boring biopic about Josephine Baker would
have been even ... um ... harder.
Josephine lived in a boxcar with a single mother in St. Louis, and was
nearly killed as a child in race riots. She learned that "nobody hates a
cute, funny black kid, and made a living as a minstrel show dancer and
comedienne. When she was offered a chance to work in Paris, she jumped
at it. She found that, not only was black not a bad thing there, but
that it was the flavor of the month. She decided she had found her home.
Her career soared due to an especially racy banana dance, where she
bared her breasts and nearly everything else in a wild jungle-themed
She returned to the US for
a tour, but found that she went from full citizen and star in France to
"nigger" the moment she got off the boat in America
During WWII, she worked for the French resistance until her health
wouldn't allow it, then started a USO tour to improve race relations. On
her next return to the US, she became a racial activist, but got on the
wrong side of the powerful broadcaster and columnist Walter Winchell, who crucified her, calling her a
communist, and getting her American Visa revoked. Back in France, she
proceeded to fill the castle she owned with orphan children, which she
called her "rainbow tribe." Her inability to say no to a child
eventually caused her bankruptcy. She died on the second night of a gala
retrospective of her life.
HBO did their usual
stand-up job on this one. Not only is this a
fascinating story well told in a balanced manner (they showed her
shortcomings as well), but the sound track, which mainly consisted of French ballads with a
little Cole Porter thrown in, was wonderful.
It also has what may be the most beautiful female
nudity I have ever seen on film. Lynn Whitfield shows her breasts and
through the first half of the film, and not only does she have a
body, but the exotic lighting and sets make the exposure very special.
- With their dollars ...
made for HBO
guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of
excellence, about like three and a half stars
from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm
watchability, about like two and a half stars
from the critics. The fives are generally not
worthwhile unless they are really your kind of
material, about like two stars from the critics.
Films under five are generally awful even if you
like that kind of film, equivalent to about one
and a half stars from the critics or less,
depending on just how far below five the rating
guideline: A means the movie is so good it
will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not
good enough to win you over if you hate the
genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an
open mind about this type of film. C means it will only
appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover
appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you
like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if
you love the genre. F means that the film is not only
unappealing across-the-board, but technically
inept as well.
Based on this
description, this film is a C+. Hats off to HBO as usual. It's a
very pleasant musical biopic,
although you just wish they could have either made it a
three-part series or concentrated on a few
things instead of spreading a two hour movie out to her entire life.
She just did too many interesting things to cover in such a
(They barely mentioned her spying, for example)