Spanish Canadian working in the UK. Former film journalist. Lecturer in Film Studies. Podcast with Michael Glass on cinema at https://eavesdroppingatthemovies.com/ and also a series of conversations with artists and intellectuals on their work at https://josearroyoinconversationwith.com/
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We continue our little exploration of Middle-Eastern Films that connect to the work of Chahine. This discussion is on Maroun Bagdadi’s Beirut, oh Beirut, currently playing on Netflix. We discuss the beauty of the film. Richard connects it to late sixties Godard in style. I found it more moving and sad than what I remember of that period of Godard’s work. We discuss the film in relation to Chahine’s The Sparrowand to Al-Karnak. The film has a particular nostalgic feel, the depiction of buildings, landscapes, places and spaces for feeling that are soon to be destroyed, perhaps forever, and the way of live and set of dilemmas that this film documents just before they explode and are obliterated, so this poetic drama can also be read as a historical document, now imbued with sadness for what humans do to places once much loved.
The podcast can be listened to here:
The shot mentioned in the podcast that José was particularly impressed with was turned into a little ad for the podcast and can be seen here:
José also did a composite of all the nostalgia-evoking landscape shots of the city, and that can be seen here:
Listeners might also be interested in seeing this video Richard mentions in the podcast, which references the film through its title, “Beirut Oh Beirut”. It looks like the person filming livestreamed himself travelling around the damaged area of Beirut after the most recent explosion
In the podcast, Richard mentions how Netflix has dumped big collections of world cinema with no fanfare and no context, which on the one hand is great because its available to a wide audience, but on the other hand isn’t because nobody knows it’s there.
This shows the Lebanese films currently on Netflix (or at least, the ones where the production country is set correctly). (You can only find this stuff easily using an external site!)
The fourth entry in Legendary’s MonsterVerse, the first crossover in the series, sees a journey to the center of the Earth and Hong Kong made the playground of its titular colossi. In this cinematic universe seeking to challenge Marvel et al., Mike finds visual splendour and an ambition to reach for something a little more meaningful than your usual blockbusters. Indeed, the character of Godzilla, in particular, is well-known to derive from Japan’s horrific experience as history’s first and only target of nuclear warfare, and Mike argues that the MonsterVerse seeks to continue to use its creatures as giant metaphors that punch and breathe fire, unleashed by humanity’s insatiable consumption and arrogant claim on the natural world. José isn’t that impressed with this reading, but finds things to enjoy, particularly the beautiful imagery – though, he argues, while it demonstrates incredible skill and craft on the part of the artists who created it, art is precisely what it lacks. But luckily, although we butt heads over Godzilla vs. Kong, Birmingham remains intact.
I was so tired last night I couldn’t summon up concentration for anything more complex than How to Murder A Millionaire. It was as bad as it looked — a series of sketches, coarsely filmed, and knitted into a story of a woman who thinks only of shopping and suspects her retired husband (Alex Rocco) has lost interest and is trying to kill her in order to save on alimony when he marries a much younger woman. There are no depths. But it has Joan Rivers AND Morgan Fairchild in their prime. Morgan is Joan’s slimy ‘best’ friend who is really after her husband. It’s very funny, strives to feminism, slightly racist whilst trying not to be, and ends with the schmaltzometer going off the scales. There’s a wonderful bit of business where Rivers is being waxed and screams at each strip whilst being careful to give a very pained thank you to the waxer. Rivers is hilariously funny AND surprisingly affecting. Even the worst films have a few great minutes, say Buñuel. This is proof of that.
At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, riots erupted when thousands of anti-Vietnam War protestors clashed with police. Seeking to crush the energetic counterculture, the US government put on trial a group of eight defendants, some political organisers, some cultural radicals, some with hardly any influence, a pacifist, and a Black Panther, hoping to convict them for conspiracy to incite the riots. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is a good fit for this story, the disparate group of defendants arguing amongst themselves sharply, and many scenes flowing beautifully towards their own internal climaxes; the same cannot be said of his direction, the film lacking much visual flair and instinct for expressive imagery.
We revisit our common theme of British actors playing Americans, José finding more fault with it here than Mike does – we can, at least, agree that Sacha Baron Cohen’s accent is atrocious, his Abbie Hoffman a weak point. Mike expounds upon how much he hates himself for how much he likes Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, comfort food for the American left, which he sees echoes of here.
We find flaw upon flaw with The Trial of the Chicago 7, but despite every one of them, it’s an immensely watchable film with a terrific ensemble cast and entertaining dialogue. With an awareness of its limitations and economy with the truth, we recommend it.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.
Anthony Hopkins is magnificent as The Father‘s title character, an old man losing his grip on reality to dementia, in debut director Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own stage play. We discuss the techniques the film uses to situate the audience within the mind of a dementia sufferer, and whether they lose their potency as the film develops. The Father‘s origins on stage are obvious in its sparse setting and focus on dialogue, and we suggest that the raw power of seeing the performances live, an immediacy, is lost here – though the cast, particularly Hopkins and Olivia Colman, are impressive nonetheless. Mike argues that the film somehow lacks enough plot to even fill its 97-minute duration, and would have worked better as a short film – José suggests that it ends up in cliché.
Still, for a while at least, it’s an extraordinarily effective dramatisation of what it might feel like to suffer from dementia, convinced of your own mental acuity while contradicted by everyone and everything around you. The Father doesn’t offer a pleasant experience, but it is a valuable one.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.
Adam Carver is a Midlands-based producer, performer and cultural activist. He is the 2020 Jerwood Bursary Recipient, was Festival Director for SHOUT from 2016-2020 and is producer for Ginny Lemon’s Palaver. I saw the great Fantabulosa! show they did at the Birmingham Museum and Gallery just before lockdown, a thrilling queer positive performance piece for children and family audiences. He has also worked as an independent producer for most of the local institutions: Dance X-Change, The Hippodrome, Canterbury Junction etc.
I wanted to talk to Adam to find out how lockdown had affected him personally as a performer but also get his views on how the pandemic has affected queer arts in the Midlands, the infrastructure for live performance in Birmingham and his own transgressive transformation into Fatt Butcher, a sublime and edgy excursion into drag that brings in Disco, Comedy, and Bingo whilst also being a political intervention against shame.
The raison-d’être of the discussion is me just wanting to have a better understanding of what’s been happening in the Midlands, and few are better placed to be as informative as Adam. But this is is also an attempt to circulate some of these issues (why did people get so upset about the Birmingham REP being turned into a Nightingale Court? How are funding structures not designed to include young queer artists? Are queer artists under-represented in the city’s cultural institutions? How does a performer make a living when all performance venues are shut? How has Adam’s own practice been affected by the Pandemic? How might the Midlands be considered Geographically Queer?). Lastly, I’ve been agog with admiration at the development of Adam’s alter ego, a new persona as Fatt Butcher, and I wanted to find out more about how that had come to be and how the persona had developed.
The discussion can be listened to here:
I hope you find it as interesting and informative as I have. If you do, please circulate. We need to hear more from artists and producers about what’s been happening here in Birmingham and the Midlands and how to improve what to many has been a perilous situation.
Richard returns! We discuss the famous Al-Karnak (Karnak Café) directed byAli Badr Kahn in 1975. A political film, a critique of the previous regime, based on a novella by Naguib Mahfouz, and a ‘model of de-Nasserfication’. The film is pulpy, melodramatic, sensationalist, a box-office smash. A very interesting work to discuss in relation to Chahine’s The Sparrow (1972), which deals with similar subject matter but in a a very different way. Ali Badr Kahn and Mahfouz had previously collaborated with Chahine as well so the film is an interesting focal point to a whole series of issues that intersect with Chahine’s work.
A gentle drama about Korean immigrants making a life for themselves in 1980s Arkansas, Minari‘s tone is consistently light, despite some of the upsetting events that occur. Mike argues that it reflects a child’s perspective of life, protected by their parents from the worst of life, or simply not understanding the darkness in what they experience – writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based the film on his own upbringing on a farm in Arkansas. José identifies strongly with the story, commenting on the similarities and differences with his youth as a Spanish immigrant to Canada. Minari is a good-natured film with no room for cynicism, and, for José, a joyous experience to watch.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.
Peter Kim George has a wonderful piece on the film that amongst many other riches also touches on the issue of casting, which is becoming a recurring concern of mine. He writes, ‘
Another issue is that Steven Yeun is miscast as Jacob. He is miscast for the same reason he was so superbly cast in Okja and Burning — Yeun’s bodily mannerisms and speech are American through and through. By mannerisms, I mean those dimensions of culture and nationality that trickle into the most basic, lived instincts of how one sits in a chair or expresses hesitation. In Okja and Burning, it imbues a hybrid otherness to his character, which works so well in Bong’s and Lee’s films, respectively. Chung notes in an interview that he had originally imagined the role of Jacob for someone from Korea.
Still, it is difficult to write that Yeun is miscast in Minari, for several reasons. One, a mostly non-Korean viewership (still a remarkable feat in itself for a non-English language film) is unlikely to notice that Yeun quite obviously does not fit the mold of a man who comes of age in 1960s and 70s South Korea, so why bring it up? Add to which how prominently Yeun features in the film’s marketing and press — a Korean actor may have been a better fit, but certainly would not have given Minari its visibility. ‘
I’m joined by Dr. Fiona Cox also known as Kitty Mazinsky, celebrated songbird of international renown, for a wide-ranging discussion of Francis Lee’s fascinating follow-up to God’s Own Country. We talk about landscape, the film’s focus on hands and work, the love scene, the beautiful shot where Kate Winslet as Mary Anning is framed as a painting, the film’s dramatisation of class and patriarchal relations, the place of the museum, and the significance of the ending. The podcast can be listened to here:
In 2017, Justice League, DC’s answer to Marvel’s continuing Avengers crossovers, flopped. Director Zack Snyder had left the film several months before release, his role taken over by MCU regular Joss Whedon, and significant changes were made in an attempt to lighten the tone of what had so far been a rather bleak series. Immediately, talk erupted of a director’s cut – the so-called Snyder Cut – that would represent Snyder’s true vision, uncompromised by studio executives’ fears and directives. Initially no more than a meme responding to that film’s quality, it was given oxygen by Zack Snyder’s insistence that it did actually exist, and it now reaches us via online streaming in the age of Covid-19. There’s perhaps no other set of circumstances in which it would have been made real – on top of the original budget, the creation of this director’s cut cost some additional $70m – but what an opportunity to compare and contrast two versions of the same film.
At four hours in length, this is a version of Justice League that would never have seen a theatrical release, but the time it affords its characters to develop is welcome, and a huge improvement over the sketchy treatment some of them received in the original film – particularly Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher, who arguably becomes the central character in the Snyder Cut. We discuss and disagree on the decision to change the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 to 1.33:1, which José loves but Mike considers a mistake, and look over a few key scenes and shots to explore the differences between Snyder’s and Whedon’s aesthetics.
And we discuss that new ending, additional scenes which help the Snyder Cut conceive of the overall story as epic, mythological fantasy, and more.
It’s a surprise to us both that we enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Justice League as much as we did, but there you have it. The four hours flew by and if this leads to the studio’s renewed interest in completing Snyder’s planned series, we’re up for it.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.
We return to chat some more about Chadi Abdel Salam’s great and beautiful Al-Momia/ The Night of Counting The Years at a most propitious time, since the day after our chat the mummified bodies of the kings were moved, with great ceremony, and for the first time, from where they were taken to rest at the end of the film to a new museum designed especially for them in Cairo. Central Cairo was lit up for the event (pictures by Hussein).
The conversation ranges from Chadi Abdel Salam’s career to his work as a designer for Chahine to the significance of various events and images depicted in the film. It’s a film widely considered one of the greatest in Egyptian history and many consider it the greatest film on Egyptian identity ever made. We discuss why this might be so. You can listen below:
Below is a wonderful episode of Cinematology with an excellent reading from Mohamed Abou Soliman of Al-Momia/ The Night of Counting the Years, which I am placing here because Hussein has kindly provided sub-titles so that non-Arab speakers may also have access to it.
Smart wise-cracking pre-code, with the always vivacious Joan Blondell and Ina Clair giving an expert performance in a role that should have made her a star. I here just want to register the opening title cards for future reference:
Hussein returns for a fourth episode to offer us a fascinating Egyptian perspective on the last epoch of Youssef Chahine’s career, beginning with Cairo as Seen By Chahine(1991) and talking us through The Emigrant (94), Destiny (1997),The Other (99). We also touch on The Choice (1970), Silence, on tourne! (2001) and other of his works, though they do remain peripheral to this particular discussion. Hussein offers us a historical and cultural perspective on these later works and also tells us about their reception in Egypt. At the end of the podcast, Hussein presents us with an extended discussion on what he sees as recurring concerns in the cinema of Youssef Chahine: The first can be characterised as labour but is inclusive of Labour unions, the worker, the ‘ordinary person’, the downtrodden; another recurring concern, appearing sometimes as a main subject, sometimes as a throwaway is The Algerian War; lastly, a third major strand is the concern with travel, displacement, immigration, liminality: an exploration that takes on different shape within different films. We are very grateful to Hussein for fleshing out so many of these ideas for us, articulating them so clearly, and giving us many more things to think about when considering Chahine’s ouevre.
The discussion on The Emigrant with Martin Stollery referred to in the podcast can be found here
Also, Hussein provides us with the following links referred to in the podcast:
Many thanks to Michael Temple for the brilliant and stimulating Eduardo Coutinho day yesterday at Birbeck. I hope if and when we return to normal, we continue to do events like this digitally. I wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise and it was a real privilege to see the Coutinho films and hear Lucia Nagib, Victor Guinmarães, and Cecilia Sayad talk about Cabra marcada para morrer/ Man Marked for Death. It wasn’t just how the discussion expanded and enhanced my understanding of the film, not only as a political documentary but in its inventiveness with form and also, as the film unfolds, its transformation from a sociological documentary to a self-reflexive essay film. I also loved all the asides in the chat function, where subsequent films on the same family could be found, what other films to see, different kinds of contexts and links, Coutinho being a bridge between the CPC and Cinema Novo, etc. The second talk by Fabio Andrade, drawing on the Coutinho archive, was also brilliant. And I was able to listen and participate whilst trying out a new version of the ginger/ pear cake for that evening’s dinner. I was sad to have to miss the final session of the day and I will be very sad if these events don’t continue digitally or at least with a digital component. Many thanks to all involved.
Frances McDormand and a cast of non-professional, real-life nomads unite to explore the life of the modern American itinerant in Nomadland. We consider the line between fiction and reality, the non-professionals who appear bringing their real experiences and stories with them, and discuss what drives a person to their way of life. Like director Chloé Zhao’s previous feature, The Rider, Nomadland is a textural, contemplative film, and perhaps one that grows in stature upon reflection – while José loved every moment, Mike was bored by the tempo, but finds much to praise nonetheless. A film worth taking the time to sink into.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.
Beautifully written, erudite; a book that feels very personal yet reaches out to history, sociology, evolving queer cultures and the changing role of gays bars within them. I think I’ve only been to a couple of the ones described but it doesn’t matter; it all connected to my experience and enhanced my understanding. Also, it’s a real joy to read such good writing.I loved the combination of depth/ breath of knowledge plus the beauty of expression. It has lines one wants to remember about things that matter and touch on one’ s understanding.
Here he is observing the crowds at Blackpool: ‘There, I glimpsed an Anglo national identity articulated on the esplanade and in karaoke bars — a dignity in mess, resilience, a binge-drinking stiff upper lip, the art of salting the chip on your shoulder. What I hadn’t anticipated was how this identity could also e so gay (p.251) I highly recommend.
At the request of our listeners, we are expanding the podcast onto other instances of Egyptian cinema. We saw Shadi Abdel Salam’s Al-mummia/ The Night of Counting The Years in the wonderful version restored with the help of Martin Scorsese and the Cineteca di Bologna in 2009. It’s a truly great film: poetic, allegorical, about the past and the nation; people robbed, robbing others, robbing themselves, stealing their own past and rescuing it so that it might live in the present. But not without a cost: in one night a young man brings life to the past so it may have a future but in the process loses his father, his brother, his tribe and his home; and that past he’s rescued is heading for the metropolis where he does not yet have a stake. He’s saved it for others of a larger tribe to which he also belongs. But he has himself lost it, at least momentarily. A very beautiful film that I’m sure will reward further viewing. Much of this podcast is a combination of appreciation and queries about what we don’t yet understand.
The New York Times Review we discuss in the podcast:
..and some other images from the film:
The date for the vilm is variously given as 1969 and 1970. Preponderance has led us to opt for 1969.
Kirk Douglas in Young Man with A Horn with Hoagy Carmichael and Doris Day. I did notice that my previous choices were all in moments when Henry Fonda or the others were anguished or troubled or in pain, as if that was somehow the necessary factor to ‘queer’ them. So this time I took moments of pleasure and blissed them. It must be said however, that Kirk’s thin lips and macho stance made this much more difficult than some of the others