Now translated in English via Politique des Acteurs
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.
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
and this excerpt from John Gielgud: Matinee Idol to Movie Star Book by Jonathan Croall:
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.
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´)
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.
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.
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.
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:
and a trailer:
and some interesting images:
Those of you interested in pursuing this further might want to look at this very interesting piece by Jaylan Salah,
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.
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.
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.)
In Conversation With…Professor John Mercer on: Rock Hudson; the work of Mark Rappaport and François Reichenbach, currently available to see on the Henri platform of the Cinémathèque Françaisse; as well as on fragments of queer visual histories.
I had been so excited by what I thought was a discovery of two films by François Reichenbach — Last Spring and Nus masculins, both from 1954, — on the Henri platform of the Cinémathèque Française that I wanted to talk to someone about them. Along with the Reichenbach, Henri was also showing Mark Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) so I thought John Mercer, with his work on Rock Hudson and his knowledge of histories of queer visual representation would be ideally placed to discuss the significance of all of these works, which if you listen to the above, will see that did indeed turn out to be the case, and for which I express my thanks.
Rappaport is of course now a famous filmmaker and celebrated as a pioneering video essayist. J. Hoberman wrote of Mike Rapapport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, quite briefly but beautifully I think, in an article for The Village Voice which you can see below:
I knew of Reichenbach as an award-winning documentarian, and I had seen L’Amérique insolite (1961), so I knew that his work had very considerably queer overtones. But I had never seen these two films and I was bowled over by them, seeing them as part of a matrix of confluences of queer mid-century visual imagery that connected Cocteau, Genet and Anger with Reichenbach and in turn connected Reichenbach with later filmmakers such as Derek Jarman and Isaac Julien. It turns out that Last Spring was not as little know as I initially thought, with Julianne Pidduck having written this below in the updated version of Richard Dyer’s Now You See It: Studies in Lesbian and Gay Film, crediting Thomas Waugh with ‘discovering’ Last Spring at the Kinsey Institute:
and Waugh himself writing on the film in his Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from their Beginnings to Stonewall:
I made two trailers to help publicise the Cinémathèque screenings of the films, which I include here because I hope they evoke their flavour; and which will at least allow you to look at some of the imagery contained in them. You can see them below:
Nus masculins( 1954):
and Late Spring (1954):
I also made an ad for the podcast at the very top with John Mercer, which will also hopefully evoke some of the flavour of Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies:
Both Rappaport’s work and particularly Reichenbach’s deserve to be better known,
I was watching The Old Guard on Netflix last night — junky but enjoyable and surprisingly ethical — thinking things like: ‘Charleze Theron’s career has become what Demi Moore dreamt for herself but failed to get in the 1990”s; ‘Isn’t Mathias Schonaert’s good? Why isn’t he getting top roles any more?; ‘amazing that the old guard is handing power over to a young black woman (an excellent Kiki Layne)’;’ the make-up of the group is such a seamlessly dramatised ethnic mix, unlike The Avengers’ …and so on when I was floored by the scene below:
What makes it potent and unusual is that it occurs almost exactly halfway through the film (1 hour into a 2h5m minute film: subtract the credits, and it’s practically on the dot); that it takes place amongst subsidiary characters that are given a very considerable moment. I would add that it’s in a mainstream film streaming to 72 million people and likely to join the ranks of one of Netflix’s most popular movies of all time, though that is perhaps more common than the film being directed by a woman of colour, Gina Prince-Bythewood.
I don’t find it particularly well acted, and the dialogue rings a little bit false. It’s not a patch on the Frobisher sequence in Cloud Atlas …and yet…. it moved me so. To have those sentiments expressed in a public setting, showcased in the very structure of the film the way the film does, expressed with sincerity, even if the editing gives it a witty but slightly deflationary ending…..sigh.
Moreover, as Andrew Grimes Griffin observes, ‘One of the more interesting things about it is that the declaration is made while they are surrounded by homophobic, armed men. They are supposedly prisoners and supposedly in a vulnerable position, and yet there is not only the speech, but the kiss.’ It’s almost like it makes you cry for yourself. What it wold have meant to see this forty years ago. It felt an illustration of the visual equivalent of Noel Coward’s old joke about the potency of cheap music.
And, of course, as Kieran Galpin writes.
This is not all there is to the show and it goes beyond Joe and Nicky’s story: ‘there has also been a lot of speculation around a second queer relationship woven into the story’s narrative.
Andy (Charlize Theron) and Quynh (Veronica Ngo) have very little screen time together and yet all signs pointed to something more profound than friendship. “Just you and me,” Quynh whispers while chained to the wall, ushering a reply of “until the end” from Andy.’
Theron and Ngo’s brilliant performances definitely hint at a romantic relationship, and though it is never explicitly confirmed, queer Twitter seems to be unified in the belief that they are immortal lovers.
“Andy and Quynh are a power couple and no one can tell me otherwise,” writes one user, while another candidly captions a video clip of the pair, saying: “The Old Guard says give the gays immortality.”
So much to appreciate and so much to look forward to.
A discussion of Chahine’s autobiographical film, the first of what would be called the Alexandria Trilogy — Alexandria, Why?/ Iskandariyya….leh? (1979), An Egyptian Story/ Haddouta Misriyya, 1982), Alexandria, Again and Forever/ Iskandariyya, kaman wa kaman, 1989 — and would then expand to include a fourth film, Alexandria….New York, 2004.
I made a trailer for the film and the podcast that should give you a flavour of what it’s about if you haven’t already seen it:
Our special guest star is Dr. Andrew Moor from Manchester Metropolitan University who specialises in, amongst other things, LGBTQ cinema and whose enthusiasm for Chahine films at last year’s Ritrovato festival in Bologna is what introduced many of us to these great works.
Richard Dyer would use Alexandria, Why? to illustrate a lecture on ‘A History of Gay Cinema in Ten Films, and it could just as profitably be deployed in relation to Queer cinema. The podcast discusses the very interesting ways the film depicts all kinds of intersectionality in a bildungsroman about a young man who wants a career in the arts just as British Occupying Forces are forced to contend with the Germans arriving in El Alemein. We discuss the way the film mixes genres (the musical, the melodrama, the social problem film). It’s a rare director that elicits commentary in relation to a mix including Ken Loach, Shakespeare, Vincente Minnelli and Shakespeare. The film is also an important contribution to a discussion of colonialism from the perspective of the colonised.
There´s a very interesting review of the film by Jesse Cataldo here:
Richard Layne was thrilled to discover 70s British heart-throb Gerry Sundquist as one of the stars of the film and quickly dug up one of his works, as you can see above. Richard also provided more information for those who want to follow up on that aspect here below:
Clip from “The Bill” from 1992, first acting work in 8 years following his drug problems, he died the following year. Gerry is the dodgy guy with the ponytail
Here are some clips referenced in the podcast that you might find interesting:
a tiny excerpt that is from a film that Chahine himself made as a student:
The very moving search fro the British Soldier:
….and the witty conclusion with the arrival in New York:
…and here is the glorious opening scene , which introduces all of the film’s main themes: Hitler promising to get to Alexandria cut to Esther Williams in Bathing Beauty, unruly occupying forces and anti-colonial struggles, the reality of occupation next to the fantasy of Georges Guétary singing ‘I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise’ in Minnelli’s An American in Paris, anachronistically deployed here as the film starts in 1942 and the film would not be released until 1951; a young lad and his mates living their youth in a beautiful port city under difficult circumstances, a city made up of diverse peoples, represented inclusively and dramatised with feeling and depth. It’s a beautiful film.
The podcast barely scratches its surface but will we hope enhance viewer’s appreciation and interestingly links it with is oeuvre to this point
A teen musical à la Tennesse Williams with Shakespearean overtones and a blood wedding that would put both García Lorca and Game of Thrones to shame. Richard Layne and I discuss all of this in the context of both Chahine’s career, it was his first film after the Trilogy of Defeat (The Land, The Choice, The Sparrow) –and the political context of the time, with the Civil War in Lebanon, one that was to last fifteen years, starting in 1975, the year before this Algerian-Lebanese-Egyptian co-production was produced.
The film is structured around the Old Testament Story, with a Cain and Abel structuring device also accompanied by a Romeo and Juliet story, in this case, and in keeping with the film’s Marxist analysis, a love made impossible by a class divide. It also borrows from the André Gide short story of the same name which explores the impossibility of having one law that fits all.
The film is a very hybrid generically, but it IS a musical. In The Arab National Project in Yousssef Chahine’s Cinema, Malek Khouri writes,
The first musical number takes place at school where the two young dreamers Rafida and Ibrahim express their friendship and love for each other. The second song accompanies Ali’s release from prison and introduces us to his character through flashbacks of his lost time in prison and his consequent disillusionment with his political dreams and hopes. The third follows the fight between Ibrahim and his father Tulba, as Ibrahim and his father Tulb, Ibrahim and Tafida join other youths in proclaiming ‘The streets are ours,’ reflecting the solidarity and determination of youth in the fight for social change and freedom. The final song is inItially heard when Ibrahim is bit by a scorpion, and is heard once again as a mantra towards the end of the film as the bloody chaos explodes at the Madbouli household’ (p. 108)
The music is glorious, as you can see below in the footage of Sadat’s funeral, that leads to a full-blown musical number, with dancing.
The film’s first musical number is this lovely one about the ending of school.
This is continued by a song that refers both to Egypt after Nasser but also to the love story between our two young protagonists.
A song that. is reprised in the incredible finale for the film, which is as lurid and violent as anything in Titus Andronicus:
…and as always, Chahine puts his hopes in youth and the future:
I made this trailer for the podcast that gives a flavour of the film as a whole:
After our podcast of Un jour, Le Nile, Richard Layne discovered the 1972 recut and partly remade version of the film on You Tube, now called People of the Nile, and we decided to see it, explore its differences from the 1968 version and the director’s cut and see how that might have affected its narrative, its politics and the way that it represents sexuality. What is a filmmaker against the combined diplomatic and internal exigencies of the USSR and Egypt?
The re-cut version can be seen below, in bad quality, and without sub-titles….
but nonetheless enable us, Richard in particular. to offer the completely geektastick commentary that comes out of the discussion in the podcast at the very top of this post.
We have included clips that are referenced in the podcast below:
the differences in the filming of the section in the dam but with new Egyptian characters added in and this and this time switching things around so that it is Barack who jumps in after the Russian character. The new characters are the senior Russian engineer’s wife and daughter, and her Doctor boyfriend. Also note the more traditional transition into a flashback at the end.
We see Anatole and Barack but it is Barack who helps along the Russian character (above) and takes him to the doctor (below).
…and we see another scene not in the earlier version of them eating figs, which now explains the fig-giving scene in the previous version where they touch hands. At the end of the fig scene, the daughter’s other boyfriend (the guy posing as a worker from the first film) appears.
Instead of the Russian engineer meeting his Egyptian colleague in his crowded flat (plus rabbit), they have dinner together with their wives as equals. Also they are joined by the Doctor from the earlier clips – everyone knows each other in this version!
Barrak petitions management for Nikolai to stay. Previously the senior Russian didn’t understand Barrak, and didn’t get involved. Here, he speaks to him and this may be what leads Barrak to visit Nikolai. Note in this version of the film, Egyptian and Russian characters seem to be speaking Arabic throughout. The fig scene is intact, but the sequence cuts away earlier before the crowd joins them.
A major Richard Layne discovery, as the still they use on the Bologna website is from the second version, not the director’s cut !!
Richard Layne and José Arroyo
Adapted from Tracy Letts’ 1996 play of the same name, 2006’s Bug, directed by William Friedkin, sees two lonely people with traumatic histories connect and share a descent into madness. It’s a bit of an experiment, its theatrical roots obvious, some questions left unsatisfyingly unanswered, and it’s not until the final act that it takes off. But it’s interesting, features strong performances from Michael Shannon (who also played the role on stage) and Ashley Judd, and is essential viewing for anyone interested in Friedkin, Shannon, Judd or Letts.
A dense and rich political film with extraordinary mise-en-scène that begins with an open letter to the Egyptian people and ends with Nasser informing Egypt of the loss of the Six Day War with Israel and announcing his resignation as the people take to the streets. The Sparrow is perhaps the least pleasurable of his films to watch but very rewarding indeed. The more we talked about it and the more we read, the richer the film becomes. The podcast can be listened to below:
I made an ad announcing the podcast earlier in the week. I want to keep it here for the obvious homoeroticism it displays:
but one which rhymes on another level this clip below:
In the podcast we discuss this extraordinary scene with the women guerillas and the extraordinary editing that ends the sequence:
We also discuss at length the boy’s attempts to get to the holy shrine, the picaresque hero always cheated, lied to; weak, powerless, and yet determined to go on to his destination. He symbolises the little sparrow in the film, Egypt’s youth, and the future
We discuss the use of zooms in the film, and as you can see below, the edit on the rythm of the zoom itself, whilst also exemplifying Chahine’s way of often placing a figure in a crowd.
One detects a more Sirkian turn in the mise-en-scène, frames within frames, the screen broken up into different partitions compositionally but also bringing in different degrees of depth into play, all of this within the conveyance and critique of a nostalgia for English Colonialism.
We discuss this dream sequence that echoes an earlier critique of the male gaze as a violation.
An finally, the extraordinary last sequence with Nasser handing resigning over the loss of the Six Day War.
Nasser’s resignation rhymes with the Open Letter from Youssef Chahine to his audience that reads as follows:
On the streets of Cairo, Algiers, Tunis, and Baghdad and all Arab capitals young people stope me and ask, “tell us, Youssef, what really happened in June 1967? How did we end up with such a defeat, and why? We thought that we were ready to fight.” All these sincere and courageous people, these sparrows that I love, did not hesitate to flock into the streets in June 1967 to express their readiness to take on the new challenge….To all these people, today we try, through The Sparrow, to illuminate a few of the national and international elements why they, without their knowledge, became victims to”.
People may also want to take a closer look at this image capture for a closer look at mise-en-scène (the use of space, mirrors, the filming from inside, and many other stylistic characteristics we’ve been discussing in the podcasts to now) but also for the way they illuminate thematic issues:
Aside from the books mentioned in the podcast, readers may also find the following interesting, courtesy of Richard Layne: