Tag Archives: Netflix

The Youssef Chahine Podcast: No. 6 – The Earth aka The Land (Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 1969)

 

 

 

 

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:

CHAHINE-PODCAST-6A….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.

 

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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:

 

José Arroyo

 

The Youssef Chahine Podcast, No. 1: The Blazing Sunaka Struggle in the Valley/ Sira` Fi al-Wadi (Youssef Chahine, Egypt, 1954)

 

 

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,

The Blazing Sun

José Arroyo

A quick note on Circus of Books

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A straight couple take over a gay book shop/sex shop as a business. They become the biggest distributors of gay porn in the country — Blueboy, Honcho, Mandate.They start distributing Matt Sterling films and hosting Jeff Stryker sign-ins. The shop becomes a community hub. They´re at the center of the 80s obscenity wars and get charged by the FBI. They´re also there offering support during the pandemic. And with all of that, the mother still has trouble accepting her gay son. Circus of Books is social history, very moving …. but …it certainly gives one a lot to think about. It´s on Netflix.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 193 – The Irishman

A three-and-a-half-hour epic in his signature genre, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman looks back on the life of a gangster, hitman, enforcer, and WWII veteran, who loses everything. There’s a familiar tone to much of the film, Scorsese getting the gang back together – Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel are wonderful to see, but perhaps the most enjoyable performance comes from Joe Pesci, his Russ a calm, knowing presence, a characterisation that feels like a deliberate defiance of the volatility we remember so vividly from Tommy in Goodfellas. The film weaves a tapestry of power structures throughout 20th century New York, incorporating the mob, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and politicians, all tied together by the wild, paranoid, braggadocious figure of Jimmy Hoffa, played by a brilliant Al Pacino in his first ever collaboration with Scorsese.

Scorsese’s use of digital technology to take years off his cast is a matter of debate between us. José thinks that the use of younger actors would have been beneficial, comparing it to De Niro’s portrayal of Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather Part II; Mike arguing that the technology convinces, facilitates a smooth telling of the story, where, had different actors been used, he might have felt like he was waiting for the ‘real story’ to begin, and doesn’t hamper the facial performances as it might have – though he agrees wholeheartedly that, in his mid-70s, Robert De Niro simply can’t convincingly kick a baker as a man thirty or forty years his junior should be able to.

José asks whether Frank feels enough guilt about having to kill Jimmy, by this point a man who’s been his friend for years. We agree that we think his emotional state is too opaque, though Mike suggests that he’s also tamping down his feelings for the sake of getting on with a task he can’t avoid. The feeling of loss and guilt that this event leads to, though, enormously affects the final half hour of the film, and for Mike it’s a beautifully moving coda to a film that, while hugely enjoyable, often felt free of a clear destination – something José disagrees with, never wondering where it was going.

We also consider Scorsese’s recent remarks on Marvel, suggesting that his perspective is a surprisingly ahistorical one, and that had he been making films in the 1950s he’d have had identical complaints about Westerns, for instance – the dominant genre of the time. But José takes time to agree with his aesthetic and artistic complaints, arguing that Marvel’s films lack ambition, and Mike suggests that his issue really comes down to a level of dominance that is marginalising films of lower budgets and greater ambition. We also discuss the fact that Scorsese has made The Irishman for Netflix, hardly the home of a lover of the cinema, as their model is Internet-based and doesn’t allow for wide theatrical releases, Mike suggesting this represents a conflict between Scorsese’s words and actions; though José argues that, as limited as it is, the film has been given a theatrical release, and one would be stupid to turn down money if it gets one’s film made, no matter the source.

But to bring it back to The Irishman, we had a terrific time and the film throughout is layered with great jokes, considered compositions, and brilliantly written, performed and directed set-piece scenes in which conversation is king, stakes are high, and power is in play. If you get a chance to see it during its brief theatrical window, do so.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

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

 

Tacos on Netflix

I was too tired to sleep and too tired to do anything yesterday so I watched ´Tacos’ on Netflix, wonderful, and made more so by the appearance of Lady Tacos de Canasta, my new heroine, who explained the role of the Mutje, two-spirit people in her culture, rather like the Berdache in North America, whilst making her tacos ´de canasta´and then selling them on her bike in full drag, looking, as she says, ´tan guapa/ so pretty´y ´con esa vocerrona aguerdientosa /loud and deep whisky voice´. All these types of shows are inevitably Ministry of Tourism, but I think this one is also more than that. For one thing, I love the relish with which the various people speak of the tacos, and also I love that voice-over, epic, grandiloquent, noble but about poor people´s pleasures…….and as you can see from the Lady Tacos de Canasta episode, very inclusive. Lady Tacos de Canasta appears in the third episode (see clip above). She´s fabulous and her story is very poetically told. Actually I like the way the whole series connects the taco to working people, and regions and nations, poetically. I don´t know if the series got better or if I simply got used to the rhythms of the language and expressions. But ti´s a show that will have you salivating, offer a social geography of food, and mixes it all up with a bit of poetry. I recommend.

José Arroyo

A Conversation with Kieron Corless

 

A wide-ranging conversation with Kieron Corless, Deputy Editor of Sight and Sound on the magazine itself and issues that arise from it: What is film criticism? What is good criticism? What is the changing function of criticism? How has the digital turn affected not only what cinema is and how we see it but also what film criticism is and how it is now done? How has the eco system or matrix in which  audio-visual work is produced, distributed and exhibited changed over the years, with galleries and museums displaying moving image work on one end; and perhaps Netflix on the other.

We talk about cinephilia and film culture at home and abroad; and  further discuss the importance of advocacy, particularly in relation to international films that often  get seen only in small film festivals. We agree that the online environment has immeasurably improved criticism and helped create a different way of appreciating and writing about cinema, pushing film criticism in new directions, not least the increasing importance of the video essay. It’s an exciting time.

Because I was so gobby in the podcast, I’v also added some excerpts from a workshop Kieron led at Warwick. The short one below is on Sight and Sound itself.

The longer one below is on writing film criticism in general and writing for Sight and Sound in particular. Kieron’s talk ranges from how to pitch, the writing of a draft, right up to the  submission and editing stages. Top tips from Kieron, rather choppily edited by myself. But bound to be useful and certainly interesting.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 123 – Roma

Much to Mike’s disdain – he throws tantrums about Netflix films – we settled in with a KFC to discuss Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, a semi-autobiographical film about the live-in housekeeper to an upper middle class Mexican family. Carefully composed and inflected with a neorealist aesthetic, it’s been making countless year-end lists and is being touted as potentially Netflix’s first Best Picture nominee at the Academy Awards, so Mike wasn’t allowed to say no.

The film is remarkable for depicting modern-day indigenous Mexicans, people to whose existence many outside the Americas might not have ever given any thought. Yalitza Aparicio, Roma’s star, is a non-professional actor of Mixtec and Triqui origin, and simply her appearance is interesting, let alone the film’s use of Mixtec language (Mike gets this name wrong at first but don’t hold it against him) and its development of the indigenous population as lower class workers. We consider the use of black-and-white imagery – José questioning what it brings to the film – and the ways in which the sound design and long panning shots attempt to place the viewer within the film’s environments. Mike explains a prejudice he holds against “personal” films, and José considers Roma‘s place alongside Cuarón’s previous work, and the melodrama of the birth scene.

Mediático, a film and media blog focused on Latin American, Latinx and Iberian media, took an immediate and deep interest in Roma and marshalled eight academics to each write a short essay on the film, and we refer to some of the points raised throughout the podcast. The dossier is well worth reading, will enrich your experience of the film, and can be found here: http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/mediatico/2018/12/24/introduction-to-the-special-dossier-on-roma-alfonso-cuaron/

(The links to the essays are on the right hand side of the webpage.)

In addition, the dossier refers on several occasions to Richard Brody’s review of the film in The New Yorker, in which he is critical of the lack of a voice given to the main character and finds the film asks more questions of the world it depicts than it answers. We refer to this, too, and you can read it here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/theres-a-voice-missing-in-alfonso-cuarons-roma

As for us? We find areas of interest, things to both agree and disagree with, in all the articles we read. José was deeply riveted by Roma despite a reservation or two and continues to see Cuarón as a great director. Mike was less interested, admitting that had he been watching the film alone, he would likely have turned it off before the halfway point; an issue with watching things at home that isn’t as pressing at the cinema (he wouldn’t have walked out of a screening). But that’s a tantrum for another day.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

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

Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards (Michael Roberts, Netflix, 2017)

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Those of you who love celebrities and fashion will enjoy this documentary on the world’s most famous shoe designer. An eccentric of Hungarian descent who grew up on the Canary Islands, modelled himself on Cecil Beaton and constantly dreams of Sicily, Manolo Blahnik, wearing beautifully tailored suits and with scarves and socks carefully colour co-ordinated, is very much himself and a joy to behold. His career is legendary and touches on everyone who’s anyone in fashion: Diana Vreeland encouraged him to focus on shoes; Anna Wintour took solace in his company and his shoe-shop before either of them were famous; Paloma Picasso hung out with him in Paris; a thin André Leon Talley became pals with him in London in the 70s; he was the first man to grace the cover of Vogue in 1974, shot by David Bailey and with Anjelica Huston by his side. All of these people alongside Rihanna, Rupert Everett, Penelope Tree, Sofia Coppola and many others come to sing his praises. The film itself charts his career from an unknown emigré in Paris to becoming a fixture in fashion in the 1980s and household name in America in the 90s thanks to Sex and the City. It’s an enjoyable film to watch and, as expected, a delight to the eye.

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Gracing the cover of Vogue with Anjelica Huston for David Bailey in 1974

There is only one moment however that seems to break out of the luvviness of the fashion world and hint at something deeper. John Galliano appears at Blahnik’s shop in the middle of a shoot. They clearly adore each other, lavish each other with compliments and then begin an homage to legendary Spanish flamenco diva Lola Flores. As they look into each other’s eyes and sing ‘Pena, penita, pena’, that classic and classically excessive song of hurt, both equally adoring  but each trying to out-trill the other for the cameras, two lost boys are revealed; homeless, exiled, lonely and finding a connection in a shared appreciation of a culture they’ve largely lost but perhaps the more meaningful for that: it’s camp, silly, touching. I wish the film had gone deeper. Manolo Blahnik claims that there is nothing deeper to find, that shallowness is all there is when it comes to him. That’s what the film offers. But Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards,  in flashes of moments like those with Galliano,  hints  that it’s not quite so; that there’s a much more interesting story to tell, although it could very well be it’s not one Blahnik wants told.

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A shared love of Lola: surrounded by glamour but singing ‘Pena, penita, pena’

 

Jose Arroyo

 

Jessica Jones (created by Melissa Rosenberg, Netflix, 2015-)

jessica jones

The best of the comic-book-connected series that I saw last week was Jessica Jones on Netflix. It initially reminded me of Sarah Paretsky’s V.I. Warchowski novels: a solitary female detective scouring the nights of the city to solve crime, often of a corporate nature, sometimes drinking herself to oblivion, interested in men and sexually active but in a series of failed relations and with a neighbour in the building that appears regularly to comment on the action, provide a change of tone, and not help. Warchowski used to get beaten up a lot in the novels too if I remember correctly.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.03.06Jessica Jones is smart. and sexual; she’s not afraid to ask for what she wants. She can take it, she says. Jessica’s drinking way more than what’s good for her, trying to forget something terrible that’s happened which is clearly indicated as some kind of rape though what we’re shown is a mental violation —  to the point of physical possession and erasure of will — and  with jarring but indistinct sexual overtones. So here we have a woman, just like men in the best noir’s, trying to survive in a dangerous world, drinking to forget someone who’s bruised her beyond repair, doing her best to earn a living, and screwing with whatever looks tasty and doesn’t cause too much trouble: It saves on the drink. The opening line in the series, spoken in voice-over, is a great one: ‘New York may be a city that never sleeps but it sure does sleep around. Not that I’m complaining. Cheaters are good for business. A big part of the job is looking for the worst in people.’

The voice-over, the tone, and the graphics all place us firmly in a noir world, one which interestingly seems like of an inverse negative of the up-to-now more successful DC series like Supergirl and The Flash;  Arrow also, for though the latter is visually coded in noir, it’s a noir that looks to light and sunshine.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.03.09Jessica seems less mentally strong than Warchowski. In fact she’s been the victim of a man’s mindfuck — he took over her mind and made her do ‘things’– and then the episode reveals, discretely, some superpowers which we don’t yet know the extent of. It has a great noir look too, at least as imaginative at that of Daredevil and is more interstingly polysexual and multiracial than the series on ‘The Man Without Fear’. The object of desire here is who will be revealed to be Luke Cage, a hunky black bartender, made to seem lusciously desirable, who we are shown to have slept with a black woman before Jessica. The series is treading carefully on the politics of representation.

This seems a more complex series than Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow or even Daredevil; it’s less camp than Gotham, and a lot more enticing than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The plot revolves around rescuing a young athlete from the same series of events that seem to have only recently crushed her and has a wonderful twist at the end.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.03.38Krysten Ritter has an intriguing look of crumpled intelligence. Her face seems poised in a state of smirky disappointment and can look very beautiful and also quite down-at-heel. Carrie Anne Moss appears as a two-timing lesbian corporate lawyer who sometimes throws crumbs of work Jessica’s way. The first episode moved really well,  with the editing evoking a sense of a dangerous past impinging on the present, something that could be a memory but could also be a presence and in either way dangerous. It’s very sexy too, with the sex being a context for an exchange of tough-talking dares that reveal as much as they hide. I look  forward to the following episodes.

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José Arroyo