Baldwin fans will of course recognize the series’ title as a nod to The Devil Finds Work, his book-length 1976 meditation on American cinema and the myriad ways it shapes and embodies national attitudes on race. In tribute to that book, the Film Society will screen Ingmar Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel, for which he expressed great admiration in his 1960 essay on Bergman, as well as Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, the subject of some of Baldwin’s most withering commentary.
The Film Society’s retrospective arrives at a moment when Baldwin, who died in 1987, suddenly seems an all but ubiquitous presence in American cultural life. Readers can judge for themselves the extent to which current events in the U.S. confirm the enduring relevance of Baldwin’s critiques, but it’s clear the publication earlier this summer of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me has prompted a renewed interest in his work. (A blurb from Toni Morrison on the jacket of Between the World and Me names Coates as Baldwin’s intellectual heir.) The Library of America itself, for instance, has recently seen a dramatic spike in sales of its edition of Baldwin’s Collected Essays.
The complete screening schedule for The Film Society of Lincoln Center series "The Devil Finds Work: James Baldwin on Film" is available at filmlinc.com. The Library of America publishes James Baldwin: Later Novels on September 29, 2015.