Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for February 23rd, 2019

Green Book *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd February, 2019

Green BookIn 1962, the southern United States was not a place that African Americans could move around freely. “Negroes” were banned from many restaurants and hotels, and they faced frequent discrimination and humiliation. To make the life of black travellers a little easier a guide to places that were open to “Coloureds” was published — a sort of paperback Michelin Guide known as the Green Book. So when the phenomenally talented black pianist Don Shirley decided to challenge the colour bar and do a concert tour sweeping through the Mid West and Deep South he wisely took a copy with him, along with a Italian-American driver — a bouncer from the Bronx, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga — who would stand up for him when things got tough, which inevitably they did. The film Green Book is about that tour and the unlikely friendship that developed between the two men. The result is a road movie unlike any other, an often comic but at times searing social critique, beautifully managed by director Peter Farrelly. The personal drama takes place on the cusp of profound political change in America, with John F Kennedy in the White House and his brother Robert as Attorney General, but the red necks who still ruled the roost in the South paid little or no heed to liberal Washington. There was a high degree of moral hypocrisy around; Don Shirley was feted for his music and played in rich men’s mansions but was not allowed to use their lavatories. The irony was that he was super-sophisticated — effete, even — whereas Tony Lip, who could go about unhindered, was a loud-mouthed tough with atrocious eating habits. The contrast between the two characters — brilliantly played by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Modensen — makes the film truly delicious, as they overcome their mutual distaste to bond, as something much closer than employer and driver. Vallelonga’s son, Nick, was involved in the writing, drawing on interviews with and letters from his father,though Shirley’s family questioned the historical veracity of some parts of the story. But if one accepts a little artistic license, this is a gem of a movie, so atmospheric of the period — a dark age that isn’t ancient history but contemporary with my own childhood.

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