If Paul Robeson (1898-1976) is remembered at all these days, it's most likely as the booming baritone on the definitive version of "Ol' Man River." But Robeson, as this serious, nearly two-hour 1999 documentary makes pla... more »in, was a great deal more than that. A world-renowned singer and actor, athlete, orator, activist, socialist, and patriot, he was most likely the most famous black man in the world in the mid-20th century. Robeson's conscience was indefatigable; he wasn't always right, but he never backed down from his enemies, principally imperialism and "conservative capitalism." He paid a heavy price, from ostracism to outright persecution, for maintaining his principles. Here I Stand details all of it, with the usual interviews and film clips highlighted by a great deal of footage (performances, interviews, speeches) of Robeson himself. This fascinating story of a great man's life and work also includes a discography, filmography, and complete chronology. --Sam Graham« less
"Actor, singer, athlete, lawyer and activist are just a few of the titles bestowed on one of the greatest artistic geniuses of the 20th century. Regaled by many and reviled by some Paul Robeson, the son of a slave, stands out as an artist who intergrated his art as a form of activism against the injustices perpetrated on those who are powereless. Here I Stand is a cinematic chronicle of Paul Robeson's life as seen through the eyes of himself, his colleagues, children, film critics and historians. The chronicle of his life begins in New Jersey where is is raised by his father a minister in the Presbyterian Church and later the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. From him, young Paul is taught to be fearless and strive for excellence in whatever he does. Those values laid the foundation of what he was to become. When he leaves New Jersey and goes to New York for law school, Paul finds himself hitting the glass ceiling of a white law firm and eventually is encouraged by his wife to seek an acting career. It is in singing and acting that Paul finds his true calling. One of the great strengths of this video is its analysis of his acting career on stage and in the movies. Paul failed in the movies not because of lack of talent but because of the refusal of the industry to give him roles that weren't stereotypical of Black people. His singing increases his popularity abroad and soon he becomes politicized to the problems of the disinfranchised. It is from this experience that the activist Paul Robeson emerges. All through the film we see his growth as an activist and his firm refusal to back down. Even more thrilling is his defiance against government authority determined to keep him in his place but like old man river, he keeps rolling along. He keeps going inspite of his passport taken away, the constant hounding by the FBI, his concert career broken for close to ten years and the deterioration of his health. Through it all, he maintains his dignity and refuses to bow. He is an inspiration as to what Black men and women should be. There are critical assessments of him concerning his marriage and refusal to denounce Stalin but even those merely tell us he was a man of his times flawed like any other. Yet he remains for us a giant of his time."
Fascinating and Compelling
Beth Johnston | 08/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This documentary is probably one of the best biopics I've seen in a long time--it's incredibly moving, it told a compelling story I wanted to keep listening to, and it devoted enough time and attention to its subject so that by the end you really felt you knew something about the man.The reviewer on this page did an excellent job of summarizing the content of the documentary, though I disagree with her about the Robeson films shown. That section of the movie dragged for me. It's true that in role after role, Robeson was forced to play characters unworthy of him, allowed only the narrow, stereotyped range that moviegoers expected to see African-Americans portray, and undermined by directors and editors even when he attempts to give his work a deeper significance and a more challenging political message. But the filmmakers seemed determined to show extended footage of each and every one of these movies, and it's painful to watch such a talented man being objectified in film after film. I finally had to fast-forward. In the ample footage of Robeson performing on his own, on the other hand, whether singing, speaking to crowds, or describing his life in television appearances, Robeson isn't forced to compromise with someone else's vision. Here, he can say what he really thinks. I was astonished at how unrelentingly outspoken Robeson was at such an early date--at least from the Second World War if not earlier. In fact, when Robeson returns from an extended trip abroad in the early 1960s, he's greeted at the airport by a gaggle of interviewers, one of whom wants to know whether he'll be particating in the Civil Rights Movement. Given everything we've seen thus far, it's an astonishing question and I was torn between outrage and laughter, but Robeson just gives the guy a mildly condescending stare and says, "I consider myself to have been doing so my entire life." Likewise, a segment that shows how, over the years, Robeson transformed the song 'Ol' Man River' from a testament to racism to an ode to struggle and endurance is powerful. I was also entranced by Robeson's television appearances. In these, you can see something that doesn't come through in his singing speaking, or acting: that he was a natural storyteller, with a gift for timing and humor, and an actual physical involvement in each anecdote that seems to reflect his youthful training as an athlete.All in all, I found this movie one of the most informative I've seen, one that educated without sacrificing its ability to entertain and entrance. Much of the credit must go to Robeson himself, committed both to teaching America about the truth of its behavior toward its most disadvantaged citizens, and to the extraordinary quality of his artistic work, which has a beauty and power that remains to this day."
An Excellent Introduction to the Man
Fred McGhee | Austin, TX | 12/10/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This "American Masters" volume directed by St. Clair Bourne is an excellent centennial introduction to the life and times of Paul Robeson, one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century. The video's content has already been discussed by other reviewers and I have nothing to add on that score, other than to recommend three other fine books that people interested in finding out more might enjoy.First is Martin Bauml Duberman's biography of Robeson, published in 1989. This is the best single source.Second is Philip Foner's excellent "Paul Robeson Speaks" which contains a collection of Robeson's writings and speeches, as well as an excellent chronology. Particularly noteworthy is the transcript of Robeson's testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committtee.Third is Robeson's own book "Here I Stand," a small but very valuable volume with enduring insights about America and the world.O.K., there's also a fourth. Paul Robeson Jr. has written an excellent new book about his father that is worth checking out.You should be able to find these books (Foner's book may be out of print) on Amazon."
ramjac | usa / uk | 08/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"this dvd shows how robeson was caught up in international politics and paid with his life. he was years ahead of his time, a one man civil rights movement careering into the mccarthyite era, a dangerous place to be, but he did not shirk: " i have made my choice, i have no alternative." his mission?" all men are brothers because of thier music." still misunderstood by the american conciousness, this dvd goes some way to explaining robeson's political manoevers and also demonstrates the huge american support he had during his opposition to the prevailing policies of the day, many of which are now discredited and redundant. what a hero."
Captures all of the major issues
Andre M. | Mt. Pleasant, SC United States | 01/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The content of this film has already been discussed, but fans will be pleased that most of the major issues dealing with Robeson, his career, and the controversy are all handled well in the allotted time. It also does not shy from some of the less flattering aspects of his career (such as his actual knowledge of Stalin's crimes, but his refusal to openly speak on this because he felt his bigger enemies were at home), but this is handled well and you come away with a good idea of what the man was about in his outspokenness on issues of oppressed people. Only monor complaint is the lack of special features on this DVD, but overall, it's worth the money."