All posts by NotesonFilm1

About NotesonFilm1

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/

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 26: The Ring Seller/ Biya el-Khawatim

A discussion of one of Youssef Chahine’s most enjoyable films, The Ring Seller/ Biya el-Khawatim, originally written for the stage by Assi and Mansour Rahbani. The latter, the husband of The Ring Seller’s star, Fairuz.  We discuss the film in relation to Chahine’s oeuvre, to national and transnational cultures, to the musical genre in relation to theatrical operetta and zarzuela but also in relation to films like Powell/Pressburger’s Oh…. Rosalinda! and Arthur Freed musicals. The podcast can be listened to below.

I have included some of the images discussed in the podcast below:

 

I also enclose this musical number to illustrate the bit of the discussion about the handling of crowds and dancing.

 

Netflix offers this little film (with badly translated titles on the films it is showing) which nonetheless gives a flavour of the oeuvre: ‘This video is a tribute to the work of one of the greatest international directors, whose films have won many awards inside and outside the country .. Youssef Chahine. This is a compilation of some of the immortal scenes from his films, “Al-Masir, An Egyptian Hadota, Alexandria Leh, Alexandria Violin and Violin, Al-Muhajir and Conflict in El-Mina”, All of them are now showing on Netflix.’

This is the other Fairuz / Rahbani brothers film. Unfortunately it’s muted at points, maybe music copyright problems. But seems much more realistic than the Chahine one

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 262 – A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

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You find us in reflective mood, as we reflect upon a reflective Swedish comedy, Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Hopping between vignettes, Andersson’s dispassionate camera sits in corners of rooms, its wide angle lens taking in everything on display from wall to wall, as often absurd and sometimes unsettling action slowly unfolds. The final film in Andersson’s “Living” trilogy (2000-2014), it asks, “what are we doing?”; and, as José points out, in one especially disturbing scene, “what have we done?”

José delights in its sense of humour, the film offering deadpan responses to surreal events; while it’s also up Mike’s street, the film’s studied slowness begins to grate on him, and when it loses him after an initial flourish of spontaneous and unpredictable oddness, it fails to win him back. We discuss its origins, its title inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Hunters in the Snow; its focus on life’s less fortunate, and how we interpret their behaviour; moments of stillness that eschew the opportunity for jokes; and its historical references, to World War II, to the brutality of white, and particularly British, imperial history, and to elements of Swedish history that our primitive knowledge of the country keeps us from properly accessing.

Our instinctive responses disagree, but perhaps mostly because of the difference in how comfortably we matched the film’s mood. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is an undeniably well-made, carefully considered and original work of individual expression and curiosity, and one that inspires boundless questions and interpretations of its own.

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

 

Many thanks to Andrew Griffin for bringing this excellent video essay to our attention:

 

 

Lecture 1: Image, Opening, Rebel Without A Cause

Like most of my colleagues who teach, I’ve had to change my practice due to COVID. I’ve made film/lectures, trying to first master the basics and then explore the form. I’m putting them here for those who might be interested as a way of sharing practice. This was the first one I did and I’ll post the other on subsequent days:

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 261 – The City Without Jews

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1924’s The City Without Jews, an Austrian silent film adapted from Hugo Bettauer’s enormously successful novel of the same name, published two years earlier, imagines a European city undergoing hyperinflation and mass unemployment, blaming the Jews for its problems, and expelling them. Unthinkable! Needless to say, it both drew on and prefigured actual events, but some of the imagery is chillingly evocative of what was yet to occur, including the Chancellor’s proud address from a balcony to the ecstatic crowds below, and the entire depiction of the Jews’ eviction, from being kicked out of their homes to the trains that remove them from the city.

Despite its historical interest, the stories that surround it, including the murder of Bettauer by a Nazi less than a year after its release, and its obvious and depressing relevance 100 years on, The City Without Jews is not a great film, its story and world feeling somewhat poorly thought-out, and its ending rather pat, perhaps the result of the significant changes made in adaptation that led to Bettauer falling out with the director, Hans Karl Bresla1uer. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating and thought-provoking film, and worth watching.

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

 

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 25: Destiny (1997)

The Youssef Chahine Podcast returns for a discussion of Destiny, with its images of book burnings, its themes of love and religious tolerance, its genre-bending mix of historical epic and musical extravaganza, and Chahine’s characteristic artfulness with the techne of filmmaking. This and other Chahine films are currently on Netflix in very good versions  with english sub-titles. .

 

The discussion brings takes on board points made by Laurie A. Fintke and Martin B. Schichtman in ‘Song, Dance and the Politics of Fanaticism: Youssef Chahine’s Destiny’  regarding the absence of Jews,  Jonathan Rosenbaum’s observation on musicals as well as a separate article also from The Chicago Tribune on the film:It’s as if Gene Kelly and Errol Flynn had joined forces for a movie bio of Aristotle.

. The podcast also comments on these clips:

 

the beginning:

Coming Out of Water:

A bath and a dance:

The End:

José Arroyo

Jeff Bridges Swoon in Winter Kills

 

It’s interesting to note how William Richert eroticises Jeff Bridges in Winter Kills

whilst in Fat City, he’s half naked throughout the movie boxing and John Huston/ Conrad Hall avoid eroticising him completely (or did they even think to?

 

 

José Arroyo

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 24: L’autre/ The Other (Youssef Chahine, Egypt/France, 1999)

After a brief gap, José Arroyo and Richard Layne return for the 24th episode of the Youssef Chahine Pocast, an extended discussion of L’autre/ The Other, a film about Orientalism, Imperialism, Terrorism; an examination of class structures with a gender analysis; a film about a land and its people…yet one that also recalls popular melodramatic and glitzy works like Dynasty. Not quite top Chahine but a film that’s nonetheless made us think and that we’ve grown to love. Edward Said starts off the film with a delicious lecture/advice/framing paradigm:

 

The following excerpts are discussed in the podcast and should be of interest:

The discussion with Edward Said:

The fantasy sequence:

The hommage to Duvivier’s Carnet de bal

The sexual violence:

The end:

 

Disco scene:

Hacker Scene:

Connection to Dynasty:

 

Some of you may also be interested in this conversation with Marianne Khoury,  Youssef Chahine’s niece:

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 260 – The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

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The winner of the 1971 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Vittorio De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis tells an aching story of doomed love within a wealthy Jewish community in Fascist Italy. The 1938 racial laws, enforcing the segregation of Italian Jews, have just been introduced, but the titular family’s titular garden offers insulation from the rising tide of fascism – for a while.

Mike finds the film’s love triangle somewhat banal, but is impressed with the subtly observed way in which the central characters allow themselves to remain comfortably ignorant of the increasingly hostile and dangerous Italy beyond their walls; comparisons to frogs in saucepans abound, not to mention the present-day normalisation of absurd corruption and violence in the Greatest Country in the World™. José is more keen on the romance, but still, the film’s sociopolitical side remains our focus. We consider the film’s use of physical space, the ways in which the Jewish characters can navigate it without being suspected by the racist public, but find themselves eager to retreat to safety as the film develops. We note that The Garden of the Finzi-Continis was made 25 years after the end of the Second World War, but 50 years prior to today: it’s now conspicuously an historical artefact that speaks to the time in which it was made, and whose proximity to the horrors it dramatises is necessary to keep in mind. And Mike reflects on his relationship with his Jewishness in this day and age, and how the film demonstrates that whatever divisions we may find among ourselves, to those who hate us, there’s no distinction.

It’s also Bonfire Night – well, the day after, but it’s a Friday evening so the festivities continue – and we celebrate by closing the window and trying to ignore the fireworks going off outside.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 259 – Love Me Tonight

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We’re enraptured by a musical neither of has seen before, 1932’s Love Me Tonight, starring Maurice Chevalier as a charming and roguish Parisian tailor, and Jeanette MacDonald as a princess he falls for. Its soundtrack is peppered with Rodgers and Hart classics, and its stunning audiovisual design is endlessly experimental, expressive and exciting. In amongst our swooning over the film’s many pleasures, we find time to discuss the careers of Chevalier and director Rouben Mamoulian, discuss what makes it a uniquely American form of fairytale, and examine the fascinating censorship and production records made available on Kino Lorber’s special edition Blu-Ray.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 257 – Antz

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The second feature-length computer-animated film ever made, after Pixar’s groundbreaking Toy StoryAntz is an oddball. A public feud between Jeffrey Katzenberg and then-CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, led to Katzenberg founding Dreamworks SKG and subsequently feuding with Pixar’s John Lasseter, who was making the suspiciously similar – and ultimately more successful – A Bug’s Life. Pixar is the historically more successful and well-regarded studio, and the direct comparison between these two films usually sees Antz considered inferior, but Mike’s long been fond of it, and in revisiting it we discuss both how far it shows us animation has come in the last twenty years, and its many qualities, including its rather grown-up tone and references, imaginative and expressive visual design and cinematography, and witty dialogue.

Oh, and we try to work out how children think.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 258 – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

 

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Fourteen years have passed since Sacha Baron Cohen’s first tour of the USA as Borat, his friendly, clueless, and decidedly un-PC Kazakh journalist. Borat gave his unwitting participants, real people who didn’t know that he was a character, space and encouragement to display their bigotry, sexism, racism, and stupidity – now he’s back to do it again, in a world in which bigotry, sexism, racism and stupidity are no longer deemed necessary to hide.

Sexism in particular is this film’s bedrock, the film introducing a daughter, Tutar, who Borat didn’t know about, and when she stows away on her father’s trip, he decides to offer her to Mike Pence as a token of Kazakhstan’s friendship. Women are chattel, and the only objection raised when Borat decides to give the fifteen-year-old Tutar breast implants is that he can’t afford them. Women’s role as playthings for men, and the society that refuses to allow them control over their bodies, shape almost every scene, including a debutante ball, a conversation with a Christian doctor, and of course, THAT scene with Rudy Giuliani.

We also discuss the question of the reality of what we’re seeing and how the film’s camerawork and editing fails to convince us of it, how comedy has changed in the last decade and a half, and how the film unexpectedly gives its unwitting participants the opportunity to be tolerant and welcoming. And we each share memories of our grandmothers.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 256 – Playtime

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Jacques Tati’s masterpiece, 1967’s Playtime, is an extraordinarily ambitious work of visual comedy and social satire. Mike’s been keen to see this for fifteen years or more, knowing of its reputation for detailed visual design and the 70mm cinematography that shows it off, waiting for the right moment. José, when Mike suggests we watch it, thinks he’s seen it many years ago, but soon realises he was probably thinking of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Tati’s rather more charming comedy of fourteen years prior, so it takes him a while to get into Playtime‘s rather more offbeat gear.

And he is ultimately a little cold to the film, though not immune to its appeal and pleasures, while Mike loves it unconditionally. In a somewhat alternate, near-future Paris, the plot, such as it is, follows two characters: Monsieur Hulot, the character Tati played in several films, as he stumbles through a France he finds unfamiliar and devoid of humanity; and Barbara, an American tourist visiting the city. In approximately six fairly distinct vignettes, Tati explores a vision of a consumerist, modern, and alienating Paris, the Eiffel Tower, symbolising the warm, cosy Paris of old, a long way away, merely a distant feature on the horizon or a reflection in a window. It’s an attitude for which José has little sympathy, though Mike suggests that the development of the final scene, a kind of funfair around a traffic jam, can be seen as a synergy of the traditional and modern, and finds it moving.

There’s a huge amount to discuss, including the design and execution of the jokes; the impossible scale of the set, nicknamed ‘Tativille’ and whose astronomical cost would ruin Tati, who was forced to file for bankruptcy; to what other films, if any, it can be compared; the visual design, cinematography, choreography, and colour; the use of nationality, particularly American; and how the film might play differently today compared to upon its initial release – Mike arguing that it may have anticipated changes to the real world that would later materialise, such as the cubicle office, that diminish the otherworldliness we might otherwise feel.

Playtime is a significant work of satire and well worth seeing, particularly given its beautiful restoration in 2014. Don’t miss it for fifteen years. Don’t be Mike.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 255 – The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail

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One a great masterpiece of cinema, the other a cultural icon of its day, we compare and contrast Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner with Nora Ephron’s technologically updated remake, You’ve Got Mail. We discuss how each film treats its conceit of two people who dislike each other unwittingly falling in love over anonymous correspondence, the former film’s couple hating each other less vitriolically, the latter giving us more insight into the details of their messages; the latter making their story the entire focus, the former handling it as the main part of a range of stories that take place amongst its characters.

We consider whether James Stewart’s Alfred and Tom Hanks’s Joe are nice people, and what the films’ endings have to say about them and the women they fall for. José focuses on the films’ approach to class and power, praising The Shop Around the Corner‘s portrayal of working people and decrying You’ve Got Mail for barely even seeming to notice its uncritical acceptance of corporate power. And we consider more besides, including how Lubitsch’s camera makes a static setting evocative and expressive, that Godfather bit, and the similarities and differences in Hanks and Stewart’s often-compared personas.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies254 – L.A. Confidential

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A corrupt police force intersects with the glamour of Hollywood in L.A. Confidential, the tightly-plotted neo-noir that won the Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress in a year dominated by Titanic, and established the status and careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey. Over twenty years since its enormously successful release, does it hold up? We discuss its basis in the real history of L.A. and its sense of place, whether the screenplay deserves its plaudits, how it functions as a noir and more.

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