Paul Robeson:  Portraits of the Artist

Paul Robeson:
Portraits of the Artist

Paul Robeson:  Portraits of the Artist (Criterion DVD)

DVD Collector's Set

4 Discs

SRP: $99.95

Criterion Store price:$79.96

Collector's Set Info

  • Spine #369

All-American athlete, scholar, renowned baritone, stage actor, and social activist, Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was a towering figure and a trailblazer many times over. He was perhaps most groundbreaking, however, in the medium of film. The son of an escaped slave, Robeson managed to become a top-billed movie star during the time of Jim Crow America, headlining everything from fellow pioneer Oscar Micheaux’s silent drama Body and Soul to British studio showcases to socially engaged documentaries, all the while striving to project positive images of black characters. Increasingly politically minded, Robeson eventually left movies behind, using his international celebrity to speak for those denied their civil liberties around the world and ultimately becoming a victim of ideological persecution himself. But his film legacy lives on and continues to speak eloquently of the long and difficult journey of a courageous and outspoken African-American.

Collector’s Set Includes

Body and Soul box cover

Body and Soul

Oscar Micheaux 1925

Body and Soul, directed by the legendary African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, is a direct critique of the power of the cloth, casting Paul Robeson in dual roles as a jackleg preacher and a well-meaning inventor.

Borderline box cover


Kenneth Macpherson 1930

Borderline, the sole feature of British film theorist Kenneth Macpherson, boldly blends Eisensteinian montage and domestic melodrama, and features Paul Robeson and his wife, Eslanda, as lovers caught up in a tangled web of interracial affairs.

The Emperor Jones box cover

The Emperor Jones

Dudley Murphy 1933

Of all Paul Robeson’s starring film performances, by far his most iconic was his breakthrough in the big-screen adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, in which he plays Brutus Jones, a Pullman porter who powers his way to the rule of a Caribbean island.

Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist box cover

Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist

Saul J. Turell 1979

Saul J. Turell’s Academy Award-winning documentary short Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist, narrated by Sidney Poitier, traces his career through his activism and his socially charged performances of his signature song, “Ol’ Man River.”

Sanders of the River box cover

Sanders of the River

Zoltán Korda 1935

Paul Robeson moved his family to London in 1928, headlining six British films in twelve years. Robeson’s first British production, Zoltán Korda’s Sanders of the River, however, ended up an embarrassment, its story of an African tribal leader transformed into a celebration of the British Empire.

Jericho box cover


Thornton Freeland 1937

Jericho features Paul Robeson, in what turned out to be his most satisfying film role, as a World War I officer who escapes his fate as a black man by fleeing to Africa and creating a new world for himself.

The Proud Valley box cover

The Proud Valley

Pen Tennyson 1940

As David Goliath, in the popular British drama The Proud Valley, Paul Robeson is the quintessential everyman, an American sailor who joins rank-and-file Welsh miners organizing against the powers that be.

Native Land box cover

Native Land

Leo Hurwitz and Paul Strand 1942

With Paul Robeson’s narration and songs, Paul Strand and Leo Hurwitz’s beautifully shot and edited political semidocumentary exposes violations of Americans’ civil liberties and is a call to action for exploited workers around the country.

Disc Features

  • All new, digital transfers created from the best surviving elements
  • Audio commentaries by historians Jeffrey C. Stewart (The Emperor Jones) and Pearl Bowser (Body and Soul)
  • Musical scores by Wycliffe Gordon (Body and Soul) and Courtney Pine (Borderline)
  • 1958 Pacifica Radio interview with Paul Robeson (Courtesy of Pacifica Radio Archives)
  • Four new video programs featuring interviews with actors Ruby Dee and James Earl Jones, filmmaker William Greaves, cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, film historians Ian Christie and Stephen Bourne, and Paul Robeson Jr., and including film clips from Song of Freedom (1936), King Solomon’s Mines (1937), and Big Fella (1938)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: A book featuring an excerpt from Paul Robeson’s Here I Stand, new essays by Clement Alexander Price, Hilton Als, Charles Burnett, Ian Christie, Deborah Willis, and Charles Musser, a reprinted article by Harlem Renaissance writer Geraldyn Dismond, and a note from Pete Seeger

    New covers by Rodrigo Corral

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