I talk to Théo Stöcklin to discuss the violence depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). We debate the necessity and morality of such graphical violence which brought significant media attention at the time. We also discuss the other kinds of violence, including the systemic and psychological violence of the Ludovico experiment as well as the film’s misogynist gaze.
A true story of love, ambition, passion, betrayal, and retribution, House of Gucci is entertaining, interesting, and beautifully played… so why isn’t it good enough? We discuss its lack of seriousness of purpose, its failure to express itself with visual flair and use the camera to show us things we really need to see, and how it would have benefitted from giving Lady Gaga’s Patrizia the unambiguous spotlight, rather than making her part of an ensemble. House of Gucci is a film that we have no problem recommending, but given everything it could have been, to come away feeling like it’s a trifle is disappointing.
Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Inseparables in 1954, the same year as The Mandarins. Her friendship with Zaza (Elizabeth Lacoin) is something she’s already tried to write about in various unpublished short stories, as a section of The Mandarins deleted before publication, and which would become a cornerstone of the de Beauvoir legend when incorporated into her first autobiography, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958). De Beauvoir was not satisfied with The Inseparables and decided not to publish it; yet she thought it of enough value not to destroy it either. I’m glad it’s now seen the light publicly. It’s really a very queer story (one I wish someone like Céline Sciamma would film). This roman-à-clef is narrated in the first person by Sylvie (de Beauvoir) who falls in love with Andrée (Zaza), who values the friendship but is rather unaware of the intensity of Sylvie’s love much less reciprocates it. Andrée in turn falls in love with Pascal (the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty as a young man) whom she hope will save her but who is too scrupulous about being truthful to promise to marry her (and thus rescue her from her family). It’s a novel full of intensity of feeling and a complex delineation of social restrictions (Andrée’s family are Catholic activists), some due to class (even though they are best friends, they address each other through the formal vous) or family, which is the real villain of this story: once the older daughter turns twenty-six, the mother informs her –with love and under the guise of it being for the good of all – that she must marry the first suitable candidate or it’s off to the convent. The morays are those of another time; indeed of a hundred years ago. Who now would devote so much time to the significance of the loss of faith; the arguments well-brought up girls of a certain family needed to make in order to get a university education; the significance of being set to run errands in the big department stores or indeed how not wearing a hat might be excused only by the quality of clothes worn. Sylvie’s longing, her love, her adoration, her worship, her clear-headedness and analysis are clearly and complexly evoked. That Zaza died before turning 21 in the throes of a love which her family’s control and her boyfriend’s thought prevented her from living fully – whilst De Beauvoir looked on in the sidelines hoping but unable to hep, is clearly why de Beauvoir so often returned to the story, why it’s such a key narrative in her own telling of her life and of her thought. Why isn’t de Beauvoir more taken up by queer theorists/scholars?
In this podcast Leann Rivera and I discussJacques Demy’s 1970 fairytale classic ‘Peau d’Âne’ / Donkey Skin by delving closely into the genre of the fairytale and its shift from its traditional and subjective roots due to the standardising of Walt Disney. We investigate how the French filmmaker illustrates (through style and narrative) an innovative approach which contemporary live-action fairytales should appreciate to observe. Furthermore highlighting how Demy, and his childhood reverence for these fantastical tales and keen eye to convey visual pleasure for all ages, sexualities and backgrounds, manages to encapsulate both the genre’s beauty and ugliness all in one to appreciate but to also analyse, uncovering its secrets and layers to be learnt from and understood.
Voir, the series of video essays produced by David Fincher, is now on Netflix. The first one, on Jaws, directed by David Prior and written and narrated by Sasha Stone, looks big-budget and is unlike most video essays you might be familiar with: it has a lot of filmed fictionalised accounts of the writer’s childhood. It is also clichéd — ‘(Spielberg’s)whole creative team was firing on all cylinders’ — self-indulgently autobiographical — who aside from her family cares about Sasha’s coming of age at and out of the movies ?– and banal in the extreme. There are other video essays to follow by the likes of Tony Zhou, whom i admire, so I hope the series improves. It is not a good start.
Forty-seven years after he first went to Cannes expecting to win something, Chahine was finally awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. It was handed to him by a luminous Isabelle Adjani, who praised him for his humanity, tolerance, courage and clemency. That plus his intelligence, tact and his politics shine through in the shorts we discuss in this podcast:
A discussion of Ousmane Sembène’s Mandabi. José had never seen it before and found it a revelation. Richard’s now seen it twice, once at the cinema in a beautiful restoration that’s now been put out by Criterion. The film is currently screening on MUBI and we highly recommend it. We talk issues of representation, gender, colonialism, how structures seem designed to oppress a sector of the population which nonetheless constitutes ‘the people’. We also talk film aesthetics and what it was about the film that Youssef Chahine might have found so appealing.
As Rakesh Sengupta writes (on Twitter): ‘In March 1979, Ousmane Sembène (b. Jan 1, 1923) was the first non-Indian chairman of the jury at the 7th International Film Festival (IFFI). His interview in TOI from that visit is so insightful for thinking about cinema, literature and the ‘third world’.
I’ve relished reading Miguel Bosé’s El hijo del Capitán Trueno. Bosé has been a music superstar in the Spanish-speaking world for over four decades. Elsewhere, he’s probably best known for starring in Almodóvar’s High Heels. But he’s worth getting to know better. His father, the most famous and glamorous bullfighter of his day, left Ava Gardner to chase his mother, Lucia Bosé, whose extraordinary beauty brought luminosity to the cinema of Antonioni, Bardem, Fellini, and so many other greats. Picasso and Visconti were his godparents. His first sexual experience with a man was Helmut Berger. Dalí was handmaiden to his teenage affair with Amanda Lear. He has anecdotes about all the greats from all over Europe and elsewhere. He’s worth reading too. It’s perceptive book, well-evoking the smells, textures, structures and feels of different ways of life; rural Spain, a Madrid awakening from its 50s provincialism but still in the yoke of Fascism; the social-cultural see-saws of the Transition to Democracy; even early 70s London. It’s a well-written book, precise and poetic. He devotes four pages of description to the ‘matanza,’ that time of year – and accompanying processes – when the pig is slaughtered, chorizos are made, other parts of the pig are preserved etc; and his memories evoked and jived with mine, probably the only thing that jet-setting son of international stars and I have in common. I hope the book gets an English translation.
A film of surprising delights – certainly for Mike, who hates anything that looks like it could appear on ITV – Mothering Sunday tells the story of one key 1924 day in the life of a young maid. It’s a film filled with grief and lust, beautifully shot and featuring the best of British acting, Colin Firth and Olivia Colman’s performances subtly modulated and multifaceted. It’s imperfect, failing to engage with race as it perhaps should, and a framing device feels rather unnecessary – but it’s a moving and sensitive film.
Encounter at the Station (Taiwan, 1965) is the last of the 5 Hsin Chi films programmed by the Anthology Film Archives in New York and available for all to see for free until November 30. It is a melodrama in the truest sense, music plus drama, with songs narrating or underlining the action at almost every moment. And what action! The film takes on every melodramatic trope possible and when you think it can’t get any more extreme it surprises you by going even further still. A young high school student falls in love with a boy at the station. On her deathbed her mother reveals to her that she is really adopted and to beware of the stepfather. And for good reason, as soon as the mother dies, he sells the young girl to a nightclub to pay for the mother’s funeral. Her love surprises her at the club and buys her out. But it’s no good, her secret’s revealed and she will be forever a B-girl. People have to give up their children, some go blind, some go mad. It’s never boring. We discuss all of this and more in the podcast below:
The Anthology Film Archive introduces the retrospective as follows:
5 FILMS BY HSIN CHI (Nov 17-30, 2021)
Last December, Anthology presented an online series – “Taiwan B-Movies” – in collaboration with the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI) and the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York. That series showcased several films restored by the TFAI as part of their ambitious and vitally important efforts to preserve Taiwanese Cinema, including those that fall under the category of Taiyu Pian: Taiwanese-language films produced between 195581, in which the characters speak only Taiwanese (i.e., Taiwanese Minnan or Hokkien) despite their various backgrounds in the story. During the heyday of this vibrant local film industry, over 1,000 films were produced, but less than 200 have survived. Since 2014, TFAI has endeavored to restore some of these Taiwanese-language gems. As a follow-up to “Taiwan B-Movies”, and in order to continue to celebrate the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute’s preservation efforts, we present another online series devoted to the Taiyu Pian filmmaker HSIN Chi (aka XIN Qi). Born in the Wanhua District of Taipei in 1924, HSIN moved to Japan at the start of the 1940s, where he developed an early interest in theater and cinema. When he returned to Taiwan, he was active in the theater, but in 1956 embarked on a career in filmmaking. During the next two decades he would direct or produce upwards of 90 films – including more than 50 Taiwanese Hokkien-language films – in nearly every imaginable genre: from romances and screwball comedies to crime films, thrillers, and wuxia, not to mention Taiwanese opera and even softcore pornography. Tragically, only eight of these films survive, but several continue to enjoy a cult following in Taiwan to this day. Following the decline of Taiyu Pian cinema in Taiwan in the late 1960s, HSIN turned to making Mandarin-language films, including in Hong Kong, before transitioning into a long and productive career in the television industry. He retired from filmmaking in the 1990s and turned his attention to film preservation and archiving. In 2000, HSIN was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Horse Awards. His work remains little known here in the U.S., however – a situation we hope to remedy with this online film series. This online film series has been organized in collaboration with the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI), and is presented with generous support from the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York. For more information about HSIN Chi, including special video introductions and newly translated articles, click here: http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/hsin_chi
We have now podcast on all the films screened. The podcasts can be listened to here:
In Egypt, The Will (aka Determination) is often voted the greatest Egyptian film of all time, one of the greatest ever anywhere, and a precursor to Italian neo-realism. Youssef Chahine recommended it and provided the impetus for our viewing. In this podcast, we discuss how much we liked it (the representation of a whole way of life with its structures of feeling, the melodrama, the resonances it still has to contemporary life); the limits of its comparison to neo-realism; its influence on Chahine, particularly evident in Daddy Amin; and how and why its claims to being one of the greatest films of all time nonetheless elude us.
I stopped reading a while ago and only started this because a student is using it for a project. Žižek is still ‘translating’ everything into Lacanian language. Hegel and Marx still seem to be the fount. He always states the unthinkable anti-thesis and brings out the synthesis from his hat as some form of a post-drum-roll surprise in a circus of binaries, i.e. what irritated is still there. However, I found this very funny, engaging, and truly insightful about so many things: the Paris race riots, the analysis of the cartoons of the Prophet in Denmark, Palestine, the charity of billionaires. It’s the work of someone fully engaged: he brings in movies, TV, Elton John along with all the philosophers you’d expect. It’s not everyone who could be so illuminating about complex issue whilst being so entertaining to read. Perhaps, my reading of his work previously was overly combative, expecting him to show me how he might be ‘right’. But if one lets go of this and merely reads to think, the work seems more valuable and more fun. This time, even his use of films to illustrate points without mentioning sights or sounds failed to annoy. Plus it’s short.
Reading Le chat and instantly reminded of what a great writer Simenon is. In a few pages, he immerses us in the dynamics of a couple who find comfort in hating each other. She’s killed his cat; he retaliates with her parrot. She has the parrot stuffed as a colourful and constant reminder of his crime. They’re separated by class, in a world they no longer recognise as their own, constantly comparing their relationship to a previous, happier marriage, and on the cusp of their own extinction – which each fervently wish for the other whilst not quite knowing what they’d do with themselves subsequently. Simenon taps into all the senses: the taste of particular dishes and wines, the difference between sex standing up or a roll in the hay, how people smell each other, the pleasure and agony of different sounds; the corner in which sights can remain hidden; what people say, what people mean and how people understand. Simenon evokes the pleasures of a trip to the country; the geography of a Paris that feels like a village, a different one depending on what period of their lives the protagonists are remembering. There are masterful fluid shifts in narrator and the narrative is structured quasi circularly, beginning the story after the incident with which the novel ends. I found it brilliant and interestingly different from the Granier Deferre film where Gabin and Signoret are so great.
Very good theatrical autobiography. The class element, the importance of speech, the home-made clothes, the lack of food, the Shirley Temple wannabee shaking her curls and knickers at dirty old men in Working Men’s clubs; the dampness and cold of the war and immediate post-war period are all vividly evoked. The memoir ends when she finally becomes a name with The Killing of Sister George in 1965 — a long haul –so one also gets a vivid depiction of theatrical life in the 50s; repertory, walk on parts in Stratford, troupes in sea-side towns, Butlins, live television. I was glad to spend a day in her company.
Halfway through The Normal Heart I thought ‘why is it being revived’ and ‘why here’? The COVID parallel is too blunt and doesn’t hold up. The American politics are distinct. The play is one of ideas, often crude, and activism. But it all comes alive in the second half. It succeeds in capturing the structure of feeling of the moment, the panic, the fear, the suffering, the lack of knowledge, the argument of whether not to have sex or to have as much as possible in order to build up immunity; how it all seemed so unfair and so incomprehensible. How activism and alliances found a way, but too late for far too many. It put me in that moment and reminded me of all those I loved and lost then and it got me in the end, and the audience too: the actors were rewarded with an enthusiastic standing ovation and I with an answer to my initial questions