I made a little ad to encourage people to see the François Reichenbach films currently on Henri, for free until July 15th:
François Reichenbach should be a well known as Kenneth Anger. He’s not. So I made an ad for one of his films that is currently playing for free on the Henri Platform of the Cinémathèque Françaiseto bring it some attention. It’s on until July 15th
Spike Lee’s latest joint sees four US Army veterans, the Bloods, return to their former battlefields in Vietnam in search of two things: the body of their fallen comrade and leader, Stormin’ Norman, and a cache of gold bars, intended during the war to pay the Lahu people for their help fighting the Viet Cong, but taken and buried by the Bloods for themselves. Set in the modern day, exploring the history of black oppression and racism in the USA, and released on Netflix among a backdrop of Black Lives Matter protests around the world, Da 5 Bloods could hardly be more relevant. But is it successful?
No, argues José. Spike Lee is in full-on propagandist, pamphleteer mode here, delivering lessons about racism and class, warfare and imperialism, black martyrs and heroes, but inartfully and clunkily. Although his direct address is striking and powerful, the Rambo-esque action adventure story to which it’s married lacks imagination and intelligence, and really functions only as a frame from which to hang the film’s essays. Its representation of the Vietnamese is at best crude and even arrogant, a scene with a man selling oranges and chickens particularly egregious, and its characters are thinly drawn, their relationships and development unsatisfying. Mike argues for one or two things he likes, particularly the way in which Stormin’ Norman is integrated into the story and the flashbacks to the war are put together, but ultimately cannot but agree with José’s disappointment.
Da 5 Bloods is an overpraised film that promises more than it delivers. But someone has finally managed to make a Vietnam film without using “Fortunate Son”, so there’s that.
A real find, the director´s cut of a celebrated film maudit, currently made available on the Henri platform through the great generosity of the Cinémathèque Française until the 15th of July. A celebration of the Soviet-Egyptian collaboration that resulted in the building of the Aswan Dam, this film is also a critique of the dispossession and displacement it led to, a feminist critique of the loss of identity that accompanies following a husband to a new country, it can also very much be read as an inter-racial queer romance in the midst of the wrenching transformations brought on by Modernity. An extraordinary film that works on many levels, has an epic narrative sweep to accompany its 70mm Cinemascope specs, but that always brings the personal to the political and does so poetically through word, image and sound. A masterpiece of the cinema. Ou discussion of it can be listened to below:
Some of the clips discussed in the podcast can be seen below:
Two men meet
Two men part:
A glance and a cut:
A cut on feminism
Slippers and the recognition of a loss:
A comic visit
A cut on modernity:
The Ritrovato Catalogue Entry:
Theinterview with Youssef Chahine on the film cited by Richard.
And many thanks to Pastaga for alerting us to the existence of the film
Poster for 1972 version:
A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s The Land, also known as The Earth, with José Arroyo and Richard Layne. The film was released in 1970 and is based on Marxist Egyptian author Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi’ novel The Egyptian Land, first published in 1954. It was part of a wave of cultural works named Iltizam, referring to a serious, committed approach to fiction, of which we can see Chahine’ film as a cinematic equivalent. We find The Land to be so far the best in the series of works currently being shown on Netflix and which we are watching in chronological order.
The film makes connections between anti-colonial and class struggles. It dramatises how it is the strength of collective resistance that determines the outcome of major social upheavals. We discuss the beauty of its images, such as the opening image, rough hands tending cotton flowers, which is then rhymed with the closing image: a freeze frame of bloodied hands scratching the land so as to try to hold onto it. Each character in The Land is not only a fully rounded three-dimensional character but is also symbolised as an extension of social class and cultural dynamic reflecting the complexity of the village’s life.
We discuss the story of how a rich man wanting a road to his mansion destroys the life of a village, and how its elders and leaders — Abu Swailam (Mahmoud El-Meliguy), the hero; Sheikh Hassouna, the religious leader;Sheik Yusuf, greedy village merchant; and Muhammad Effendi (Hamdy Ahmed), the local school teacher — are unable to resist what is clearly going to destroy them all, either because they are corrupted, or because individually they don’t have the power to. We also discuss the role of women in the film: Wasifa (Nadwa Ibrahim), Abu Swailam’s daughter and Khadra (Tewfik El Dekn), the landless orphan. The film has a powerful depiction of the intersection between class emancipation and national liberation and was nominated for Golden Palm at Cannes.
There are fascinating scenes: the fight over irrigation which ends when they must come together to rescue a cow; women fighting over shit; the allusions to a previous revolution and ongoing struggles. The film is set in the 30s but has resonances with Egypt’s contemporaneous battles with Israel over land. It is also a fascinating film on gender, with calling a man a woman being the worst insult and yet the women themselves depicted in the film as strong of feeling and of action. What The Land achieves is a firm demonstration of how cinema can allude to dynamic interrelationships between the personal and the social. The film simultaneously provides a perspective on how social dynamics affect and are affected by individual and collective commitments and political struggle.
I’ve been having fun making gif ads:
….and also trailers:
We’ve begun to be better informed and, alongside Malek Khouri’s The Arab National Project in Youssef Chahine’s Cinema, mentioned in previous posts, I also recommend Ibrahim Fawal’s book below, which has proved invaluable for, amongst other things, its account of the development of the film industry in Egypt.
I enclose the entry for the film from Ritrovato’s 2019 catalogue:
These are some extraordinary clips from the film that made it neither to the trailer or the gif ad but that are referred to in the podcast:
and to underline the richness of Chahine’s imagery I have extracted these images which are also discussed In the podcast:
An extraordinary political melodrama about liberation struggles in colonial settings, produced by its female star and released at the same time as Mehboob Kahn’s Mother India, with which it would ideally be programmed. It would also make a fantastic double bill with Gillo Pontecorvo The Battle of Algiers (1966), which also features the character of Jamila. When we began this podcast I was a bit anxious that we weren’t knowledgeable enough on Chahine’s oeuvre to say anything worth listening to. But as I’ve began reading the literature on Chahine, I realise that what we know and can bring to the table is a knowledge of film history and film aesthetics. None of the books on Chahine I’ve read, for example, mention the influence of Gone With the Wind on this film — extraordinarily interesting in the light of current discussions of the film — and we are beginning to dig out patterning: the melodramatic mode, the politics that underpin, the extraordinary long takes often shot in and for depth, the filming from the inside out, the mobile camera, the ease with which affect is generated, the cinephilia through which one sees and where one detects the influence of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc (1928), Sirk’s mise-en-scène, American post-war musicals; the homoeroticism more evident in some film than others but always a running thread; the filming of individuals with crowds, which are often depicted as community but also shown to turn against the individual. This is a film based on a true story and filmed in the heat of the moment where the fate of the heroine was not yet settled. It’s an extraordinary film that once more raises questions regarding the relations between political cinema and film form. We highly recommend it.
The podcast can be listened to below:
The film can be seen below
Some of you may find useful the 2019 Ritrovato Catalogue on Jamila, The Algerian, with its plot summary and credit listings:
and I made a fun gif to publicise this podcast:
Peter Hourigan, who alerted so many of us to the existence of Chahine fims on Netflix through the Ritrovato Page, has done a a lovely appreciation of the film (and of this very podcast) in Film Alert 101 here:
A slow, careful drama, Vitalina Varela – named for the non-professional actor at the centre, who plays a version of herself – tells a story of grief, anger, and discovery. Vitalina, abandoned by her husband in the 1980s, travels to Portugal from Cape Verde to confront him, but finds that he has passed away just days ago. She is left to explore the house he has left empty and the life he led without her for some forty years, and the film gives ample time to the feelings and questions that arise within her.
We discuss the economic situation depicted – this is a slum in Lisbon, built into the ground, feeling a world away from the vibrant, wealthy capital nearby – and Varela’s visual power, her performance one of presence as much as acting, as she moves slowly through the town like a ghost. Leonardo Simões’ cinematography is extraordinarily beautiful, thoughtfully composed and intricately lit, and Mike remarks upon how the edges of the 4:3 frame blend into the blackness of a widescreen television, giving a feeling of an expanse of darkness. We ultimately disagree on how much we liked it: José was engrossed throughout, Mike found the tempo a trial – but stories like Vitalina Varela’s are necessary to tell, rare to see, and worth experiencing.
A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s Saladin which offers some context on the cinematic representation of Saladin in relation to Richard the Lion Heart, some historical information in its relation to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s efforts to maintain a United Arab Republic, and Chahine’s attempts to narrate those aspirations through the story of Saladin. We admire the film’s use of the CinemaScope frame, its staging in depth, its use of colour, and editing; and bemoan the way some of the action is directed. A huge popular success in its day. An Arab answer to the epics then so popular in Hollywood, not least in offering an Arab point-of-view on the Crusades; and a cultural mainstay through its regular rotation on television: this was also reputedly Nasser’s favourite film.
As time goes on, Richard and I are becoming better informed, partly just through watching more of Chahine’s work, but also through the arrival of different types of information that we will post on here as and when we get it. This week’s arrivals are a wonderful book on Chanine’s work by Malek Khouri, The Arab National Project in Youssef Chahine’s Cinema (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2010).
According to Khouri, ‘When Chahine embarked on the making of Saladin (1963) the atmosphere in Egypt and the Arab world was still experienced (sic) the negative effects of the failure of the attempt to create a United Arabl Republic (AUR). The disbanding of the Union in the aftermath of a secessionist military coup d’état in Syria in 1961) was a major blow to the Nasser revolution and its pan-Arab project. Whilt the move in Damascus exposed frustrations with repressive Egyptian administrative and political praactices in Syria with the miliatry and economic elite, the secession, nevertheless, did not reflect the deep-rooted pro-Arab unity sentiments in Syria. Jst two years later a counter coup took place in Damascus, restoring pro-union supporters to power. TheUnited Arab Republic, however, did not re-emerge after the change of leadership in Damascus, and Egypt alone remained in the union until its name was changed in 1971 after the death of Nasser’ (p.42).
Khouri sees Chahine’s film as ‘the most pivotal of the 1960’s) and one ‘clearly informed by this critical moment in contemporary Arab history with all its preoccupations, hopes, and anxieties over the prospect of national unity’ (p.44).
According to Chahine himself, ‘in Saladin, I was not hesitant in telling Christians that they were wrong in coming over to occupy our land. I, myself a Christian, have lived in the heart of Muslim culture where 90 per cent of the people whom I loved were Muslims…From the time of Andalusia to (today’s) Alexandria, the idea of diversity within a predominantly Muslim culture has been much more integrated than it has ever been within mostly Christina societies. There are not just words…This is exactly how I feel (cited in Khouri, p.45). The podcast can be listened to below:
I have included some clips we refer to in the podcast. Here the murder of the pilgrims which Khouri praises for its use of colour and for its focus, ‘on the symbolic rathe than on literal interpretation and presentation).
The film has marvellous cutting and a very inventive use of CinemaScope. Khouri notes how ‘Theatrical and print advertisements touted its Cinemascope technology (a first in Arab Cinema), its star power (an ensemble featuring many popular Egyptian actors), and its massive number of extras.
You can further admire the use of widescreen and staging in depth in the clip below, though I posted it mainly for its unusual portrait of female warriors (though admittedly Virginia is also the villain of the piece)
The film has brilliant use of a dramatic, theatrical, split screen:
The film provides further proof of the sensuality evident in Chahine, such as in the clip below where a dancing girl is paid to gather information.
and the homoeroticism is also evident:
According to Khouri, ‘The film positions Saladin as a man of moral integrity, in radical contrast to the way he has traditionally been imagined in western cinema’ (p.45). Richard, however, argues that this is not quite the case, pointing to De Mille’s The Crusades (1935) and providing the original New York Times review of the film which argues that, ‘A gallant victor, Saladin abandoned his plan to add Berengaria to his harem, sent her back to Richard and threw the Holy City open to Moslems and Christians alike.It is Saladin, in fact, who emerges as the real hero of the photoplay.’ This view is ratified by a recent review of the same film in The Guardian.
Richard also pointed me to a youtube clip from the Doctor Who version – Saladin played in blackface but sympathetic in opposition to Richard the Lionheart (we discuss Saladin’s ‘whitefacing’ of westerners in the podcast); and a trailer for the 1954 version of King Richard and the Crusaders, which looks hilarious. But again it seems to be a sympathetic portrayal of Saladin and the villains are Richard’s underlings.
The other arrival this week that enhanced my understanding of Saladin was Twflik Hakem’s book of interviews with Chahine, Youseff Chahine, Le révolutionnaire tranquille (Paris: Capricci, 2018). There, Hakem claims Chaine convinced President Nasser that Saladin could be no other than himself and charmed him into putting his army and his administration at Chahine’s disposal so he could make the film (Tu as pu faire croire au président Nasser que Saladin ça ne puvait être autre que lui et il a mis à ta dispoition son armée et son administration pour que tupuisses mettre en chantier une superproduction et réaliser ton rêve hollywoodien’ (loc 256 of 1750 on Kindle).
We learn from Hakem that Nasser adored the film and Chahine tells him, ‘yes, he wanted a copy on hand (by his bed). Whenever a visitor came to see him, he had the film projected. He would usually fall asleep because he’d seen it hundreds of times but would wake up at the end and say ‘good he?’ All of that is true but the first truth is that the film is not at all to the glory of Nasser, it’s nreally not. (Oui, il avait une copie du film sous le lit. Chaque visiteur qui venait le voir, il lui faisait projeter dans sa salle de projection. Lui dormait, parce qu’l avait vu cent foies et il se révellait juste avant la fin pour dire au visiteur: v”Alors? C’est bien hein? Tout cela est vrai mais la véritér première est que le film n’est pas du tout à la gloire de Nasser, mais vraiment pas.’
The Ritrovato Catalogue’s entry on the film is below:
According to Khouri, Saladin was extremely popular, ‘in a contemporary assessment of the overwhelming popular uccess of the film, a local newspaper described how Saladin played to full houses in almost every large theatre in Cairo and Alexandria for weeks in order to allow pople to watch it along with their entire families: ‘This is a film which makes us all feel proud…and it is a miracle indeed that it was made in the first place (p.49)! The film continues to resonate across the Arab world. Over twenty-six years after the film was released, according to Khouri, one local critic wrote, ‘I asked a friend of mine, a woodworker, did you see the film Saladin last night and he said, If this film was shown a hundred times in a hundred days I would still sit and watch it.
In the UK however, Time Out, wrote a very dismissive three-line review.
When I was growing up, everything I heard or read about THE BOYS IN THE BAND was terrible. Recently, after the Broadway revival, it was meant to be ´period´and wonderful. I´d never seen the film until now and found it a difficult and unpleasant watch, an experience I’ve written about here. When I had the opportunity to talk to Gary Needham about CRUISING, I also took the opportunity to ask him about THE BOYS IN THE BAND. Gary’s work on queer cultures is by now extensive and wide-ranging:
His is the voice of reason; thoughtful and considered on the initial reception of the film, its relation to the play and its subsequent afterlife. I come across as quite brattish. It makes for a lively conversation, one that references a range of films, from Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959) to My Hustler (Andy Warhol/Chuck Wein, 1965) to The Queen (Frank Simon, 1968) to Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993). We discuss the film’s uses of camp, Friedkin’s interest in sub-cultures, the stageyness or not of the mise-en-scène, the possible classist dimension of the film, and Tom Waugh’s argument on the duality of sound and image in My Hustler in relation to the hustler and the queen with the hustler afforded the image and the queen given power over the sound. The discussion can be listened to here:
If you’re interested in further exploring The Boys in the Band, I highly recommend Matt Bell’s The Boys in the Band: Flashpoints of Cinema, History, and Queer Politics as a wonderful addition to Gary’s insights and as a possible corrective to my contributions:
Matt Bell has also written a very interesting piece on the 2018 Broadway revival (and its various contexts) for The Huffington Post called ‘Taking Pride in The Boys in the Band‘ that can be accessed here.
As with the podcast on Cruising, Gary has kindly made available a range of resources:
An entire issue of After Dark, featuring an interview with Leonard Frey where the actor discusses the filming of Boys in the Band, and the strong possibility that it might result in a better film than play: After Dark (Boys in the Band)
An interview with Mart Crowley on the 25th anniversary of the play’s premiere: An_emotional_state_Mart_Crowle
An interview with Mart Crowley that discusses various productions in the context of the recent revival of the play on Broadway: And_the_Band_plays_on
A discussion from 1973 on reasons to see the touring production in San Diego: Boys_still_good_theatre
An appraisal of the film’s DVD release by Peter Burton: Playing_up…
An image of the New York Cast Album, which featured dialogue from the play:
A 1969 review of the LA touring production praising ‘the authenticity of the dialogue’: Reflections_on_’Boys’
A 1979 interview with Robert La Tourneaux for Gay News: Robert_la_tourneaux
An ad for the San Francisco production with an invitation to the cast paty: YEQWMD727018207
Various reviews and ads for other touring productions:
Images from the film (and the play — you can see Natalie Wood in the centre below):
…and perhaps the greatest find is this episode of Emerald City, where the great Arthur Bell — whose columns in The Village Voice in the early 80s were so important to me personally — interviews Robert La Tourneaux on the 10th anniversary of the release of the film. Bell talks about how he didn’t like the film then or now but how he still acknowledged the ‘piercing moments of truth’. La Tourneaux is frank about hustling and equally frank about how appearing in the film affected his career giving concrete examples of how his mere appearance in the film was reason for people like Bob Evans to not even see him for roles much less interview or audition, and this from the horse’s mouth. A fascinating show, with the ads in between the interview being at least as fascinating as the interview itself. It can be seen here:
I can think of no one who knows more about Cruising (William Friedkin, USA, 1980) than Gary Needham. He’s already written extensively on Warhol, Queer TV, Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) and many aspects of Queer Histories from various historical perspectives, and has recently published, ‘CRUISING IS A PICTURE WE SINCERELY WISH WE DID NOT HAVE TO SHOW’ United Artists, ratings, blind bidding and the controversy of William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) in his own co-edited collection.
The discussion in the podcast ranges from the film’s production history to New York S&M clubs to Disco Music to Queer Representation and Queer Politics, to ‘New’ American Cinema of the period to the film as a text characterised by incoherence, doubt and ambiguity. The kind of commentary a 40th anniversary re-issue of this still alluring film deserves.
Aside from his scholarly work, one of the reasons I so wanted to talk to Gary about the film was the series of brilliant images related to the film that he had been publishing on Twitter. Gary has kindly provided some of them. Here is a series of images documenting the protests the film sparked during the filming itself and after its release:
Here are a series of images from gay people defending the film:
Here are a series of images referred to in the podcast:
And Gary has also kindly provided two pdf’s of contemporaneous coverage of the film: ‘Cruising, Blueprint for Carnage’: QKPZCB716161002
and an article from Gay News: Cruising, The Lure – The Novel of Death: REVMIB524278205
Lastly, Kevin Heffernan has kindly directed me to a long three hour forty-five minute podcast on Cruising by Mike White and The Projection Booth Podcast: for those of you who can’t get enough of the film.
Our third podcast on Youssef Chahine films, this one on Cairo Station, a combination of Dickensian melodrama, Marxist analysis, neorealist aspirations, film noir techniques, and with a contemporary relevance in its Incel-on-a-rampage theme. A brilliant work, probably the best we’ve seen so far (though those with a penchant for romance might prefer The Blazing Sun or Dark Waters). The podcast can be listened to here:
In the past few podcasts we´ve been noting how wrong wikipedia is in its description of the films so far, and how it is evident from so many of the reviews that many reviewers haven´t seen the films well enough to describe them accurately.Richard even refers us to the BFI.An exception to this pattern is this brief description of the film in the Ritrovato catalogue.
These are excerpts from the film that are described or referred to in the podcast: we. talk about the sensuality in the film and how shocking that must have been in its time
We talk about the conflict between modernity and tradition in relation to this excerpt featuring Mike and His Skyrockets, who have their own website but who interestingly don´t mention their appearance in this film. There is even an update from Mike himself.And it turns out that one of the Skyrockets, Asaad Kelada became a director in Hollywood with extensive creditsin television.
We talk about the film noir elements in a film that has often been described as neorealist and of the extraordinary conceptualisation of shots and use of depth of field, which can be seen in this excerpt-
Likewise the images below are illustrations of some of the aspects discussed in the podcast, the compositions, the themes of sexual obsession, labour organising, the compositions, the way the frame is peopled, etc.:
Lastly, a description of Chahine and his career from the Ritrovato catalogue:
and lastly Mark Cousins also makes for very interesting reading on Cairo Station in his The Story of Film book
A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s Dark Waters, currently on Netflix. José and Richard discuss how the film introduces the viewer to another culture which might seem sexist and authoritarian to modern sensibilities and that in spite of that is moving, compelling and beautiful.
The podcast ranges over the sensuality depicted, the detection of elements of Shakespeare’s Othello and Hamlet in some scenes, how the frame is alive with community and yet how one detects a patterning in the depiction of that community that connotes a queer culture in that that community which provides comfort and support can also turn on the individual, turn into a mob, and rampage onto murder.
There’s a dramatisation of class in the film with lots of parallelisms between aunt and niece and also what turns out, in typical melodramatic form, two brothers raised on opposite sides of a considerable class divide. One begins to detect patternings in Chahine’s films, the extraordinary compositions, the visual poetry, the excitement of the narrative, the visual beauty of the production, a Hollywood-style story telling with a grand romantic finale that takes advantage of the teaming of Sharif and Faten Hamama, glamorous stars that were then a real life couple. There are long takes that often involve difficult orchestrations of movements of large numbers of people. This and The Blazing Sun are also melodramas where, like in noir, it is the man who’s wounded and suffers for love, often due to his own misapprehensions. In spite of certain macho attitudes now alien to us, the film remains engaging, exciting and revealing.
You can see some of the points made above illustrated in the images below:
The podcast may be listened to below:
Those of you who speak French may want to listen to this charming interview between these ‘two legends of Arab cinema’ where Sharif talks about how he had two strokes of incredible luck in his career, one to be discovered by Chahine whilst he was drinking tea and launched into a career as a film star with The Blazing Sun, and then to be cast by David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia, ‘we were young and beauiful then, now we look like an image of the apocalypse,’ says Sharif. ‘I saw first saw him in the Cinema,’ says Chaine and didn’t take me long to cruise him. How could someone be so beautiful. Then, as he said, I saw him again in a tearoom, Chahine tells a funny story about how they went to the premiere of Lawrence of Arabia together, Sharif shaking because he didn’t know how he was going to be received and then it went well and Chahine was left at the premiere in London dressed in a tux and without a cent. They joke that after that they didn’t see each other for forty years. They went to the same school where they were taught to be ‘gentlemen’ and the interviewer talks of how Shariff represents the greatness, splendor and charm of the Arab world in the West.’ For his part the charmingly self-deprecating Sharif talks about all the mistakes he made, and how Chahine deplored his choices. He also talks interestingly that the only women he knew and lived with and truly loved were his mother and the delicious presence that is FAten Hamama.
The entry on Dark Waters from the 2019 Ritrovato catalogue may be seen below:
José Arroyo and Richard Layne discovered the work of Youssef Chahine at a retrospective of his work at Bologna last year, are thrilled that so many previously difficult-to-see films of his are now available on Netflix, and hope that these podcasts encourage people to watch and discuss the films. This is the first in a series. We hope to cover as many of them as possible, and in chronological order. We hope you join us on this journey
In Film Alert 101,Peter Hourigan alerts readers to the Chahine treasure trove on Netflix but writes of Blazing Sun: ´BLAZING SUN (aka Struggle in the Valley 1954, 116 min) An example of his early work, when he was trapped in commercial Egyptian film production. This is a hoary melodrama – but enormously entertaining, and with brilliant b & w photography. There is also an absolutely ravishingly beautiful young man called Michel Chelhoub in the lead. Later, he was to find fame in the west as Omar Shariff´.
We agree on the film being enormously entertaining and on the extraordinary photography but I also happen to think it´s a great melodrama and a great film, the struggles of the poor against the wickedness of the rich, about love, life, community, the material aspects of life that reproduce it, all bound with questions of morality and justice. It´s very moving, extraordinarily beautiful to look at — Chahine is a visual poet — and the moments of awkwardness that often accompany cinemas of poverty seem to me to only add to its power.
A great opportunity to see these films and we hope the podcast will convince you to take a look,
EICTV, the International School of Film and Television in Cuba, is making freely available and sub-titled in English some of the work produced at the school. I recommend this beautiful documentary by Juliana Gómez Castañeda. Teresa lives in a small village in an unnamed island off Santiago in Cuba. Her daughter´s away and she´s taking care of her grandaughter, Maria, who she doesn´t see as often as she´d like because she goes to boarding school away from the island. Teresa´s got a dog — Diana — she goes fishing with, on a raft, which she paddles with her sandals. She often comes home with nothing; she mourns her mother, her daughter´s away and she´s anxious about her grand-daughter, she drinks rum, dances and sings her pain with her friends; she goes to Church. A film that gives you a glimpse of a life, leads you to love the central character, and helps you understand structures of feeling that are not your own, with some indelible images, beautifully filmed to capture all the vagaries of light. I loved it and recommend.
The film can be seen here
and here is what Francis Ford Coppola had to say about it:
When I was growing up, everything I heard or read about The Boys in the Band was terrible. Recently, after the Broadway revival, it was meant to be ´period´and wonderful. I´d never seen the film until now and found it a difficult and unpleasant watch, with some of the worst-directed acting I can remember seeing. If I´d been invited to this party, I´d have told the host to f**ck off, left within five minutes, and there would have been no play. The most interesting aspect for me was the décor (Fire Island greetings, Marlene in Concert posters), pausing the film to eye up the bookshelves (Berlin Stories, etc), the line dancing scene in the rooftop, and the wonderful pop music of the period that the characters put on (Tammy and Marvin, lots of Burt Bacharach).
Talking about it with friends (worth naming since so many of their views are drawn on and collectively summarised below: Andy Medhurst, Matthew Hays, Andrew Griffin, Matthew Motyka, David Greven, Lawrence Napper, Bryan Johnson, Andrew Moor), there were lots. of mixed feelings. Most loved the first half, where we´re introduced to each of the characters and New York seems alive with cruising, and sex and secret and hidden knowledges. They can cite by heart reams of dialogue which remain acidly witty. The camp elements of the period are still recognisable as such and still work, though I wonder if younger people will catch the extent to which all of these characters are talking through a particularly intimate and shared knowledge of the careers of Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Marlene and Maria Montez. For other generations shared reference points would be Liza and Diana Ross, or Madonna, or Britney or Rihanna and Beyoncé. The film evokes that, brings it to life, vividly. It´s like a secret code made from knowledge of the stars.
Friends have made various comparisons. David Greven for example talks about how the film is like Rope in that it´s about the agony of and violent reaction against the closet. And one can certainly see that. Other friends such as Matthew Hays have made comparisons to Albee and Waiting for Godot and Abigail´s Party. And again those comparisons are understandable but to my mind only superficially so. I think even existential theatre has some utopian dimension that drives it, there´s no emphasis on the fun of company, even of the repartee (most of it is meant to hurt), of the joys of sex, or the pleasures in overcoming oppression or even of the pleasures in being marginal. It´s relentlessly grim, and thus I find it untrue.
I´ve seen a marvellous production of Virginia Woolf with Imelda Staunton recently and it was alive with pain and hopes and a kind of deep love within the hurt that is nowhere evident in this. I´ve also been seeing a lot of Pinter, and this certainly doesn´t have all the significant ’empty spaces’ within the dialogue that he does. So he might have been inspired by Pinter but it doesn´t feel Pinteresque.
The interesting thing to me is that queer cultures continue to connect on the tangents of this work but perhaps only because that´s all the work gives you, the odd line, the camp, an imagined sense of a history of how things used to be etc. But they are tangents. All the characters are to me one dimensional stereotypes…and yet they echo something we recognise, which is what makes it interesting, but the moments where it echoes are not necessarily the best bits.
My suspicion is that the play IS better than the film. I´ve never seen the play but…even the SCREENPLAY feels better than the film. I hated almost all of the performances and I think it is the director rather than the actors that are to blame. That Emory, the queeny camp one, is meant to be an interior decorator beggars belief. We´re TOLD that but nothing in the way he dresses, acts or behaves would connote that. I can´t imagine him talking to an ageing wealthy matron about colours in a way that would lead to his hiring. So Friedkin´s direction is in some ways wonderful (in the way it moves, its use of space, the highlighting of moments) but terrible in that it shows so little understanding of the psychology of the characters represented.
I think there´s something interesting about this and Killing of Sister George, generally badly reviewed upon first release, flops, films that gays and lesbians felt they had to see because of a dearth of representation but that annoyed or appalled those same people that flocked to them (at least from the accounts we have) and that are now being re-appropriated in a somewhat ironic way by new audiences.
An afterthought but perhaps interesting. I thought the screenplay´s treatment of ‘Cowboy’ the hustler was appalling in that it took for granted or supported all the insults the rest of the group threw at him, normalised them in classist terms, and I actually thought the film was better than the screenplay in this instance, the camera lingered on him, made him tender and beautiful in a way not allowed by the dialogue, and gave him a symbolic curtain.
It´s a cruel and dishonest film, one that I think would have made me even more scared than I already was had I seen it as a teenager. It´s still a type of attitude from a type of world I like to stay away from, though that in itself might account for my response in contrast to that of others. And yet, by virtue of being ‘first’ or at least early, it´s become a kind of landmark. That is not necessarily a good thing.
I´ve been told that Matt Bell´s book on the film is wonderful and I might yet read it, though at this moment I have no plans of ever re-watching what to my mind is an unpleasant and untruthful film, albeit one with a great deal of gay input (the actors, Crowley obviously, the agonised closet queen that was Dominick Dunne etc.)
I posted a version of the above on facebook and it lead to a great discussion which in turn informed the post. I hope to hear from at least some of you and continue the process.
I wish I´d had graphic novels like this one to read when I was a tween. You Brought Me the Ocean is a sensitive and poetic coming out story of kids that are out of place, in a desert yearning for the ocean, and that really gets to the emotional complexities of the denial, hope, fears and imaginings that kids go through coming to terms with their sexuality. This one features more understanding adults than has been my experience. It also is a lot more nuanced rendering than I´m accustomed to.
Jake has been lifelong best friends with Maria. They understand each other perfectly except she thinks they´re a couple and that he´s just being super-respectful and considerate, whereas he loves her but only as his bestest friend. They´re finishing High School and applying to university. She wants to stay just were they live in New Mexico, which she finds beautiful and perfect and he´s got a powerful but not quite understandable yearning to go to Miami and be near the ocean. The ocean calls out to him in a way he dreams of but doesn´t understand. They haven´t discussed any of it but are so sure of their friendship they´re confident they will resolve it and end up at the same university.
There are many things Jake doesn´t know about himself. A kid he´s known since middle-school, Kenny, begins to help him understand at least some of them. Kenny is motherless and taking care of a disabled father. He´s out, is often abused for it at school, burdened by responsibilities at home and in the swim team. Jake finds himself drawn to Kenny in ways that at first he doesn´t understand and that quickly bring to the fore much he´s been suppressing. The issue is made live and urgent when Maria catches them kissing in the pool.
How this gets resolved would on its own make for a gripping graphic novel, particularly when so beautifully drawn by Julie Maroh, probably most famous for Blue is the Warmest Colour. But there´s more: Jake discovers he´s got odd powers over water, that he´s the result of a genetic experiment, and that there´s some kind of connection to Aquaman. I can´t wait for further installments.
One element that is worth commenting on is the racial representation in the novel. Maria is clearly Latin, Kenny is of Chinese descent and Jake is black. Everything is acknowledged but not much is made of it and it took me a while to register it. The book takes it for granted, makes it seem natural and the norm, as it rarely ever is. Another element is that each of the kids is rendered unique, desiring and desirable in a way that also seems rare in the culture we live in, particularly with regard to East-Asian characters.
It´s a beautiful book, nuanced and very touching. I highly recommend it.
A film dear to Mike’s heart since childhood, and a large blot on Steven Spielberg’s career despite its financial success, Hook imagines a world in which Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie’s flying boy who never grows up… grows up and forgets how to fly. When the adult Peter, a workaholic corporate lawyer unaware of his origins, travels to London with his family, his children are kidnapped, forcing him to return to Neverland, confronting his past, his attitude, and his erstwhile adversary, Captain Hook.
Hook is a chunky, colourful family film with flaws all over the place. Its action is unexciting, its plot composed of several disparate strands and themes that never cohere elegantly. José takes issue with Dustin Hoffman’s accent and John Williams’ score, finding the former pointless and unsuccessful, the latter prescriptive and overbearing. But Mike defends them, finding charm in them, and appreciating as an adult what never stuck in his mind as a child, in particular the central emotional conceit: that for all the costs of growing up, the refusal of the Lost Boys to do so, and the fact that all adults in Neverland are pirates, Peter’s happy thought – the crucial feeling that allows him to fly again – is of becoming a father and holding his newborn son. And José finds beauty in the lighting and staging of the film’s London townhouse scenes that he never appreciated upon its first release.
A messy film, but with pleasures. And anyway, it turns out that if you saw it five hundred times as a preteen then no criticism anybody can make can matter.
In the early phase of his career, Burt Lancaster is not only there to be looked at and seen, as all actors are, particularly stars; nor is he just — albeit significantly – characterised by ‘to-be-looked-at-ness,’ something that is seen to be the exclusive and particular lot of women in cinema; and nor is this ‘to-be-looked-at-ness,’ always deflected by action and violence, as is often argued by theorists like Steve Neale. Burt is dressed and undress for the audience’s pleasure. That is true of other stars of the era, one thinks of Rock Hudson, for example, although Burt seems to enjoy it more than Rock. The reason for making this particular video was simply to show how often Burt is propositioned by women, and how that is acknowledged and deflected; how that often sees the characters he plays acknowledge it as an objectifying ploy…one which places him in a position where he has his price and can be bought well….like patriarchal notions of ‘woman’ from the period. He is desirable; can almost always be had on his terms; and can sometimes be bought on others. It’s part of a locus of meanings and actions associated with his star persona at this period that contribute to his representing a particular type of man but one that evokes a certain kind of masculinity in crisis in the post-war period.
Burt Lancaster, at peak handsomeness and in glorious Technicolor. There’s a bathtub scene whose only function is to display his body. The torture scene later on in the film has other functions, but it’s primary one is still to display that body. He’s already doing his Fairbanks-Flynn homage —soon to become a signature of his and catnip to comedians and impersonators – where he puts his hands on his hips, pushes his blond head-backward, juts his gleaming teeth forward and emits that joy-sparking laugh of his. There’s boys’ own action and light-hearted fun but it’s all a bit clunky, inconsequential and Orientalist.
It was well reviewed upon first release, with Time making a pun of its filmic lineage: ‘Ten Tall Men, a tall adventure tale of the French Foreign Legion, treats its old formula so lightheartedly that it becomes the beau jest of the genre.’ Newsweek’s review gets more at why it’s a bit harder to stomach today: ‘Lancaster’s persistent ingenuity in topping the natives might bring the film some hard feeling in the Sahara; elsewhere there is fun to be had.’ 
According to Kate Buford, ‘Lancaster would remember Rope of Sand (William Dieterle, 1949) as the worst film of his career.’  But he must have been forgetting Ten Tall Men; and he had no one to blame but himself. It was produced by Norma Productions, his own production company. That it was relatively well reviewed and made money must have aided the forgetting.
Of all Burt Lancaster films released theatrically to 1985, there were only two I could not get on physical media, Ten Tall Men (Willis Goldbeck, 1951) and Vengeance Valley (Richard Thorpe, 1951), though the latter at least is available to stream on Prime. Watching the film, one understands why, though I must admit, I still enjoyed it more than I should. Handsome Burt laughing with pals doing physical action goes a long way with me. There is a version on youtube, which was too blurro-vision past a certain size for me to watch so I am indebted to Sheldon Hall for the loan of his copy.
 Ed Andreychuk, Burt Lancaster: A Filmography and Biography London: McFarland and Company, 2000, p. 58
 Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster: An American Life, Loc 1802 of 10551 on Kindle.
I turned everything else off last night to concentrate on Mario Moncelli´s The Girl With the Pistol on TPTV, which has been unavailable in English for yonks. According to Sheldon Hall, it’s never been shown on UK TV until now; and according to Richard Layne, there’s ‘no sign of a home video release either looking at BBFC and a database of pre-cert releases’. The logo at the beginning of the film with ‘the “Paramount Communications” wording dates this to between 1989 and 1995. So presumably a US TV or DVD version’.
I actually liked the sound dubbing, which kept most of the Italian and just translated enough dialogue to enable one to follow the plot. Monica Vitti is the girl who´s been left dishonoured in Sicily and sets out to England to find and kill the man she loved. It´s very funny, great bits of comedy featuring an enormous ponytail at a pub, highlighting the cultural differences between medieval Sicily and Carnaby Street London, and skewering all the macho pretensions. In London, she meets Stanley Baker and Corin Redgrave and by the end, Annunziata becomes an independent woman and gets a different kind of revenge. Monicelli´s film makes everything about Britain in that period seem glamorous and aspirational, and even the extended scene in a gay pub does not descend to cheap laughs or easy condemnation. I love Monicelli. I´d never seen Vitti in a comedy, and she´s a revelation: earthy, beautiful, almost musical in her delivery and her actions, always believable and yet extraordinarily glamorous. It made me want to see all of Monicelli and all of the famous comedies Vitti’s known for in Italy.
Richard Layne informs me that, ‘There’s a nice copy on youtube in the original aspect ratio – TPTV showed it cropped to 4:3. This has the Italian soundtrack although from the bits I’ve looked at the British characters speak a mixture of English and Italian. English subtitles are available.’ That version can be seen below: