Eavesdropping at the Movies: 244 – Batman Begins

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Cineworld’s reopening brings socially distanced screenings of past hits while the studios figure out their strategies for new releases, and with the highly anticipated and imminent release of Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi, Tenet, his previous blockbusters are once again showing. José chooses Batman Begins, hoping to understand what he didn’t get when he first saw it in 2005, and why it matters.

To Mike’s generation and demographic, Batman Begins is, if not a great film, an important one, as its muted aesthetic and attempt to render Batman and Gotham as plausible entities, capable of existing in the real world, signalled a significant difference from the outlandishness of both previous and contemporary comic book adaptations, and its tone conveyed a seriousness of purpose – how honestly or successfully is up for debate – that contributed to the idea that superhero films could begin to be taken seriously and even considered as Oscar contenders. And, although his previous three films had all been successful, Batman Begins was the first blockbuster of Nolan’s career, and the financial success and cultural impact of his work would only increase, making him a dominant figure in cinema for people like Mike.

But Nolan’s Batman trilogy has always left José feeling lost – something that might be true of Nolan’s work overall – and he’s keen to work out what he might be missing, whether it’s more than just a generational thing, or whether, indeed, it’s the children who are wrong.

We think through how Nolan reimagines Batman, and how differently Batman Begins feels now that it’s fifteen years old. Mike suggests that the benevolent billionaire figure of Thomas Wayne, Batman’s dad, is no longer believable, if indeed it ever should have been, and José turns a peeve about Nolan’s almost entirely European casting into a working theory about the Britishness of his film, and what that means for its fidelity to the themes and tone of the comic books on which it’s based.

We’ll be following this up with discussions of the two successive Dark Knight films, as well as Interstellar and Inception, in this impromptu Christopher Nolan season. It’s all thanks to finally being back at the cinema, where, as José loudly shouts in the face of everyone who think their big telly is great, all films are best seen – especially Christopher Nolan’s.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 14-B: The Emigrant, Part II

THE EMIGRANT TITLE

We return to Youssef Chahine’s The Emigrant (1994), this time with Richard Layne and I discussing the film — even better and more resonant on second viewing — but also responding to the previous podcast with Martin Stollery and to Martin’s excellent book on the film: Al_Muhajir_LEmigre_The_Emigrant_Youssef. The discussion can be listened to below:

 

Richard has also provided some very interesting links that get discussed in the podcast:

‘here is the 1961 Joseph film, pretty terrible from the looks of it but interesting to skim through to note the similarities

 

‘Here’s a version of Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat screened for Israeli Television’:

 

‘This is a 1972 ITV broadcast which the end credits reveal to be a TV version of the Young Vic production with the same cast as the stage version.  Ian Charleson can be seen in his first screen role as one of the brothers. Better quality version here but it’s missing the first couple of minutes’:

 

 

‘Here is what I believe to be Mohsen Mohiedden’s film as star and director ,  Shabab ala kaf afreet:

 

Lastly, here is a trailer I made for this podcast:

José Arroyo

 

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 15: Adieu Bonaparte (1985)

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Patrice Chereau is Napoleon, out to conquer Egypt. Michel Piccoli is Cafarelli, one of Napoleon’s generals and a man of science. Cafarelli falls in love with Ali (Mohsen Mohieddin) AND his brother, Egyptian patriots who learn to love him but — Ali at least — not that way. It’s an anti-colonial, very queer film, not afraid of placing poetry in the midst of impressive spectacle. The first of Chahine’s France-Egyptian co-productions involving Humbert Balsan. It got bad reviews from both the French and the Egyptian press upon first release and has since become a classic, the only one of Chahine’s films we’ve been able to find released on blu-ray (and as a ‘Heritage’ film in France). The podcast touches on all of these subjects and, when scenes are discussed, clips are provided:

 

The version shown on Kuwaiti television with English sub-titles discussed by Richard at the beginning of the podcast:

 

and what follows are clips from scenes discussed in the podcast:

a: the beauty of the film itself and the uses of Egyptian landmarks.

 

b) the wonderful scene with Patrice Chereau as Napoleon dancing

 

c) the uses of poetry. A film that is not afraid to deploy it narratively nor nor create it visually.

d: Anti-colonial struggles

A lesson in love: power dynamics, desire, sex, affection. Chahine dramatises it with many colours and in various dimensions.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 243 – Killer Joe

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Our exploration of William Friedkin ends almost where it began, with his second collaboration with Tracy Letts, who, following the adaptation of his second play, Bug, adapts for the screen his first, Killer Joe. A key film in Matthew McConaughey’s career, one of the first in what would become known as the McConaissance, Killer Joe sees his seductive, charming romcom persona repurposed to threatening, chilling effect in the ugly world of trailer parks and contract killing.

We discuss THAT scene with the chicken leg, and compare and contrast it to THAT scene with the crucifix in The Exorcist, asking what might be outrageous about one but not the other. We ask what we’re missing in Letts’ screenplay that others see, and José argues that Friedkin has throughout his career been drawn to second-rate source material – material that here is unquestionably elevated by the cast, who are almost all excellent and believable, in particular Gina Gershon, of whom demanding things are asked, and Juno Temple, who carries with her an otherworldliness that lightens what is a very dark part in a very dark story.

And we take the opportunity to think over the set of Friedkin films that we’ve now seen, including his biggest hits, and consider what we’ve learned, what his achievements and strengths are, where he fails or what he lacks, and where he stands amongst his contemporaries and peers.

José has previous written twice on Killer Joe, once on his blog, and once on The Conversation.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 242 – The Exorcist

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No exploration of William Friedkin would be complete without The Exorcist, 1973’s iconic horror about a little girl possessed by a demon, and so watch it we do.

We watch the theatrical cut, which Mike’s excited to see, since the only one he’s seen before is “The Version You’ve Never Seen”, the extended cut released in 2000, and he finds this version superior, with better pacing and fewer distractions. José has always had a significant problem with the crucifix scene, and we go into why, and he argues that the film exhibits a desire to shock above all else that is typical of Friedkin. Mike argues for the sympathy we feel for Father Karras and his centrality – Max von Sydow’s Father Merrin is in theory the eponymous exorcist, but is that actually the case? And we think over much more besides, including the thrill of the special effects, the disparity between how Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is used and its subsequent iconic synonimity with the film, whether the film should be clearer about the boundaries of its demon’s abilities, and ultimately, the fact that it’s so famous – or is that infamous? – that even Mike’s mum still references the projectile vomit bit.

José’s video note on the connection between The Exorcist and No News From God:

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

In Conversation with Martin Stollery on The Emigrant — The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 14a

Martin Stollery is the author of a monograph on Youssef Chahine’s The Emigrant (see below), the most sustained analysis of any one Youssef Chahine film I’ve been able to find in English. The film is available to see on Netflix and seems more pertinent and resonant than ever. In the podcast above Martin and I discuss the film itself; how it allegorises; the meaning and uses of water in Chahine’s films; the famous court case that is part of the context of the film’s release; and the tension between the film’s relationship to Biblical epics as well as Youssef Chahine’s more personal style of filmmaking. An illuminating discussion of texts, contexts and modes of analysis that ends with a renewed appreciation of Chahine’s achievements as a director.

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In conversation, Martin mentioned that his work on Chahine was sparked by a series of Arab films programmed by Channel Four in the late 80s/ early 90s. I asked Sheldon Hall to check up on this for me, and he generously provided a pdf of all the films screened from 88-91, which you Chahine-films-1988-91. Sheldon notes that ‘For the record, the Arab ‘season’ seems to have been only three films: ALYAM ALYAM, CAIRO CENTRAL STATION (sic) and REED DOLLS. CCS was repeated in the Cinema of Three Continents series on 05/08/1990. ALEXANDRIA ENCORE was shown in the same series on 17/11/1991. The TVT review is by David Quinlan, the RT one by Derek Winnert. First showing of CCS was 08/02/1988′.

Martin has very generously uploaded his book so it can be freely accessed on Academia.edu here:  martin stollery – Academia.edu . For those of you who might not have access to the site, you can access a copy of it here:Al_Muhajir_LEmigre_The_Emigrant_YoussefAl_Muhajir_LEmigre_The_Emigrant_Youssef.

The Youssef Chahine Podcast has never been so lucky before: you can now see the film on Netflix, listen to the discussion above, and then follow up the author’s discussion by reading the book on the film.

Martin has also very generously provided this link to Chahine’s editor:  ABDEL-SALAM, RACHIDA – Edited By. 

….and

The French legal scholar Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron has published a nice piece on the trial: Bernard-Maugiron N. “Legal Pluralism and the Closure of the Legal Field: the al-Muhajir Case”. In B. Dupret, M. Berger et L. al-Zwaini (eds.), Legal Pluralism in the Arab World, Kluwer Law International, La Haye-Londres-Boston, 1999, 173-189.
The French version can be accessed here: LEmigrYoussefChahine

 

Below is the shot mentioned by Martin in the podcast from Cairo as Told by Chahine  – about fourteen minutes into the film – ‘quotidian spirituality and the sensuality of cinema combined in an inclusive, utopian image of what Chahine wants Egyptian culture to be’.

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This is the longest trailer Martin’s been able to find for the Marianne Khoury film:

I include the gif I made to advertise this podcast

martin

….as well as the trailer, merely because I had fun making them and they do give a flavour of the film:

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 241 – Jade

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As likeable as it is incoherent, Jade oozes style and steaminess. David Caruso’s assistant district attorney, searching for the killer of a businessman, finds himself delving into a world of kink, prostitution and power, in which Linda Fiorentino, his former lover, is embroiled.

William Friedkin’s attraction to the taboo is at home in the world of the erotic thriller, but as enjoyable as Jade is, it’s a film you watch with one eye on its substantial problems. It’s a film in which everything is done for effect, and damn the consequences – especially the final twist, which turns the film’s sexual liberation and power dynamics on their head, for no good reason. Still, it’s a film we were both happy to watch twice, and as superficial as it may be, that surface is highly polished and glossy.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

A note on the new Penguin edition translation of Georges Simenon´s Maigret is Afraid

miagret is afraid

New translations of the Maigret books that are wonderful reminders of what a great writer Simenon is. The one on Maigret is Afraid is translated by Ros Schwartz The book is short and quickly read; paragraphs are often a sentence; and yet what emerges is a vivid portrait of complex society and a complex depiction of people, their lives, their relations, their thought of themselves and others, how others see them. There are sketches that are all the more vivid for being but sketches: class tensions at boiling point in a post war provincial village; the schoolteacher all too eager to join in every leftist cause; how the smell of a room unfurls and alters through memory; a young immigrant barely twenty and with a will to live almost extinguish by an already long history of various kinds of abuses, including sexual; the meaning of the things people don´t tell each other. Simenon´s sketches leave lines for the reader to read between. It´s all structured as a mystery, one that barely gets resolved before Maigret moves onto the next one. But what remains, vividly and in textured form, is a rich evocation of people and place at a particular time.

The Youssef Chahine Podcast with José Arroyo and Richard Layne, No. 13: Alexandria Again and Forever (Egypt, 1990)

Alexandria Now and Forever.poster

A discussion of Alexandria Again and Forever, the third film in what was initially called Youssef Chahine’s Alexandria Trilogy — including Alexandria… Why ? (1979) and An Egyptian Story (1982)) and later to expand into a quartet and include Alexandria….New York (2004) — focussing on the uses of Shakespeare, the influence of the American musical on Chahine, John Gielgud’s visit to perform Hamlet in Cairo, queer desire, the peplum film, Alexander, Anthony and Cleopatra, Art and Activism, the 1978 cinema artists’ strike in Egypt.

The scenes  we refer to include this onset filming of a Hamlet soliloquy below:

 

the MGM musical à la Egyptian at the Berlin Film Festival below:

…which makes an interesting contrast with the Donald O’Connor solo visible below:

Listeners might find interesting this article by Margaret Litvin on

Hamlet's Arab Journey: Shakespeare's Prince and Nasser's Ghost.

and this excerpt from John Gielgud: Matinee Idol to Movie Star Book by Jonathan Croall:

gielgud

Lastly, this is the scene from the strike that ends the film and becomes a musical number, bringing once more into play the personal and political, the fictional and the historical…from a fictionalised personal narrative and onto history:

 

Here is the article on Chahine, affectionately called The Professor, that made Richard aware that his nickname was Joe and that we had recorded this not so favourable discussion, a first, on the anniversary of his death.

 

…and finally, onHamlet’s hats.

 

José Arroyo

John Mercer and José Arroyo on Evan Purchell’s ‘Ask Any Buddy’

 

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A discussion of Evan Purchell’s great new film, Ask Any Buddy, just shown recently at Boston´s Wicked Queer Film Festival. The film is a compilation of clips from 126 gay porn films from the early 70s to the mid 80s that construct a narrative of different ways of life and structures of feeling of post-Stonewall/ pre-AIDS North American gay male cultures. It richly depict a cultural history of gay male life in relation to places and spaces as well as desires, ideas of self, relationships, romance and liberation. It’s terrific. The discussion revolves not only around the film itself but a discussion of history and culture sparked by the film´s images and narrative.

 

Evan Purchell has also started a new podcast, incredibly knowledgeable and yet fun and accessible that goes through each of the films, very detailed in its account of the people involved, the making of the individual film as well as the ways each circulated. It´s also a kind of queer cultural history taking porn as a springboard to history and discourse, really smart and lovely to hear (I love how one of the commentators refers to a hard-core sex scene as ‘adorable´)

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 240 – To Live and Die in L.A.

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

To Live and Die in L.A., William Friedkin’s 1985 neo-noir, is kinky, colourful, offbeat and as much a Los Angeles film as The French Connection is a New York one. A young and androgynous Willem Dafoe plays a notorious counterfeiter pursued by two Secret Service agents, one by the book, the other corrupted. We discuss the film’s style and tone, its subject matter and setting in L.A.’s liminal, casually confrontational criminal underworld, its sensuous cinematography, and how it reflects and contrasts with The French Connection, particularly in the context of the films’ morally cloudy protagonists.

José has a soft spot for To Live and Die in L.A. despite acknowledging several problematic facets to it; Mike can’t say he loves it, finding little satisfying to bite on other than the extraordinarily expressive imagery and Dafoe’s captivating presence. Still, it’s a bold, evocative work of very, very Eighties noir, and deviant enough to keep you on your toes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Street Food: Latin America

street food 1

 

Street Food on Netflix continuous its mix of exotic travelogue, characterising cultures through mouth-watering street-food, with  the program often sketching a history and sociology as context, and hanging it all on inspiring stories of underdogs who overcome, usually, but not exclusively women (there´s a lovely episode with a Japanese-Peruvian who calls himself a loser). This season is on Latin American street food. The first episode starts in Argentina with a young woman who takes over her father´s food stall but only makes a success of it when she pairs up with the woman of her life. Her family ends up accepting it all and so do the people in the market where they work. It´s pretty comfort viewing, sprinkled with lovely music, and I liked all of it very much.

street food 2

José Arroyo

Connections: The Exorcist (1973) and Sin noticias de Dios (2001)

What’s your idea of heaven? No News from God makes The Exorcist’s idea of it come true. I think my idea of heaven might also be singing samba to an adoring public in a Paris nightclub looking like Victoria Abril does here.

The Youssef Chahine Pocast with José Arroyo and Richard Layne, No. 12: An Egyptian Story (Youssef Chahine, 1982)

Egyptian Story with Text

A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s An Egyptian Story, the second part of his Alexandria Trilogy, and one which is self-reflexive on his career thus far, highlighting Son of the Nile (1951) Cairo Station (1958), Jamila, The Algerian (1958), Saladin The Victorious (1963), Un jour le nil/ People and the Nile (1964/1968), The Sparrow (1973) and other of his films. We trace recurring patterns: the type of mise-en-scène, the use of Shakespeare, the references to American musicals, the deployment of a repertory company of actors, a homosexual element, a social critique matched by an auto-critique — it’s a film in which Chahine puts himself on trial — and a more inventive, imaginative and personal dramatisation that interestingly deploys expressionist and surrealist devices. The podcast can be listened to below.

 

 

I enclose clips of some of the scenes discussed in the podcast: Below the marvellous scene with the mother which illustrates how Chahine critiques patriarchal power whilst also demonstrating how women collaborate in a cycle of rape, which they not only experience themselves but commit their daughters to, and which the film critiques on one level and extends sympathy to on another. Brilliant and complex.

Glamorous newsreel footage in combination with a dramatisation of Chahine’s first tie at Cannes to show Son of the Nile

A dramatisation of how Chahine sold his producer on the idea of Cairo Station:

 

The filming of Cairo Station, interesting to see in relation to the same scene in the film itself:

Showing Jamila, The Algerian at the Moscow Film Festival, meeting Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française, being fêted with Magda, and already alluding to the USSR/Egyptian collaboration that would become Un jour le nil

The editing of Saladin interrupted by the death of Chahine’s father.

A moment of auto-critique in An Egyptian Story

The second time Chahine shows Nasser’s resignation in his films, this tie interspersed with footage from The Sparrow:

An example of some expressionist devices and a Surrealist attitude that we see in An Egyptian Story.

Finally a gif:

the-egyptian

….

and a trailer:

 

and some interesting images:

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Those of you interested in pursuing this further might want to look at this very interesting piece by Jaylan Salah,

The Male Gaze in Arab Cinema: Youssef Chahine between Voyeuristic Pleasure and Male Exhibitionism

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 239 – Sorcerer

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

William Friedkin remakes Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, telling four strangers’ tale of their two-hundred-mile journey through the South American jungle, transporting dangerously explosive cargo for a US oil company. Though a flop upon its release, we find some nice things to say about Sorcerer.

It’s impressively narrated, largely wordlessly, although we wouldn’t have minded some character development, and Friedkin’s preference for spectacle over depth is on display: as with The French Connection, the end leaves us asking, “is that all it’s about?” The treatment of South America and its people is lazy if not worse, the central characters ending up in this hell as a form of cosmic punishment for their sins. But there’s a keen sense of pace to Sorcerer, despite how long it takes for the journey to even begin, some memorable images, and one outstanding, stunning set-piece. Its present-day reappraisal is understandable, and despite its problems, it’s worth a look.

Neil Jackson informs us that, ‘It’s worth mentioning also that when the film was released internationally, it was completely re-cut (without Friedkin’s involvement) using alternative scenes and shots in some cases, and reducing the running time by about thirty minutes. It also alters the implication of Scheider’s fate in the denouement. The entire opening section introducing the characters is removed altogether, and only appears in brief flashback! It’s a completely different (and wholly inferior ) film. That’s the version we got in the UK, and it was re-titled ‘The Wages of Fear’. Fascinating. And Neil also brought to our attention this fascinating comparison between the US and German version, which was also the one shown in the UK as The Wages of Fear.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

 

In Conversation with Kacey de Groot on ‘Disclosure’ (Sam Felder, USA, 2020)

 

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Disclosure, not the Demi Moore/ Michael Douglas hit from 1994 but the documentary on the history of representation of trans people currently on Netflix, is a fascinating film that incites conversation. I wanted to talk to Kacey de Groot on it because, as a trans woman and trans activist, she’s in a position to teach us a lot about the issues the film raises. The conversation ranges from the film itself, to other representations in films and television (A Fantastic Woman, Pose, Transparent) to an account of areas of personal experience the film incited on to broader areas relating to the politics of representation. I’m a teacher and listening is part of learning and land learning and teaching are inextricably bound in inexhaustible ways.  The podcast can be listened to here.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 238 – The French Connection

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

A classic of Hollywood crime, The French Connection paints a bleak picture of life and justice in America, as Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle demonstrates that no matter how low the drug dealers he pursues, he can sink lower. We ask what its depiction of New York’s underbelly and the accuracy of Doyle’s hunches despite his revolting behaviour says about the filmmakers, and consider Pauline Kael’s assertion that the film is “what we once feared mass entertainment might become”. Underneath the iconic style and unforgettable chase, is there anything meaningful to The French Connection?

(You can see Mike’s film, which for some reason he doesn’t mind comparing to The French Connection, below.)

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.