The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot, 2019)
O man! The end credits are rolling, while I am still taking notes apart from an awe feeling, and then I can't control my tongue when I read "PRODUCED BY BRAD PITT". "Damn it. He did it again", just like 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013). Joe Talbot met Brad Pitt's production company Plan B in Park City, Utah, after years and years refining the story of his alter ego Jimmie Fails. Following a successful crowd-funding campaign (1,500 contributors) and backed by Pitt,Talbot got help to film and distribute the story of a homeless black man whose grandfather built a mansion in the late 19th century. Last Black Man in San Francisco premiered in the same Park City at Sundance last January and since then the film holds an approval rating of 93% based on 152 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. We foresee that these numbers will grow after London Film Festival. What's the secret?
It is certainly not the genre: it is not a Marvel picture, or a thriller. It has moments of musical as well as comedy, but it talks loud about social issues, so the tone is constantly and melodically changing.
It's deeply rooted in San Francisco culture and yet, even though you may never have been there, you can relate to it. It shows the iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the hills, the cable car, Powell Street, the sea and Mission, which is currently overpopulated by homeless. (In fact, it is quite ironical that from the estate agent's office we can see a sign written MISSION.)
The soundtrack celebrates the golden era of the Bay Area musicians, from the well-known themes to the original score. It connects because there is a very clear intention to romanticize San Francisco. But the score isn't there to simply drive the audience emotionally. It is certainly not artificial. It the characters' scaffolding.
Also, the cinematic experience, popping up references to other movies, of which we don't see, because our eyes are fixed on the blind man (Danny Clover) who's watching the telly. Architecture and trespassers and skaters populate the screen as a background to the most important matter that the film brings. Gentrification. Bingo. I'd possibly bet that gentrification is one of the secrets. Who is not affected by it nowadays?
Because it tells a story of a dreamy playwriter, it's filled with literary references, both direct and indirect. From the Bible to Shakespeare. Jimmie Fails and his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) are like the two gravediggers in Hamlet, walking by a city that is decaying. And here lies the only "negative" aspect I have against the film. There are two scenes in which they appear doing their jobs, one is a fishmonger and the other's a carer, but their profession is not important to the plot. In my opinion, it would work better if they have stuck to their roles as clowns.
If Spike Lee was born in San Francisco a few decades later, his name would be Joe Talbot.
You can watch The Last Man in San Francisco during London Film Festival. Get your tickets here.