Intrepid investigative journalist Richard Layne returns to the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival to report on the films and the glamour of Silent Cinema in Bo’Ness, a model of what place and event can do together: a site of scholarship, restoration, fandom and even the commission of aspects of production, bringing together a cultural intersection of the local and the international. An unmissable event that I unfortunately had to miss but, luckily for us, Richard was there and leaves no stone unturned.
Ritrovato returns, in situ, live….and it was great to be back. Bologna itself, the food, the weather…all were heaven. But the reason we go to Bologna at this time of of the year is the films, the quality of the prints, the restorations, the way they are programmed and projected, and the conversations that take place around the screenings. In this episode, offered as vodcast and podcast, we discuss the new booking system and the different strands of the programme: 100 Years Ago, Peter Lorre, Sophia Loren, Hugo Fregonese, Weimar Musicals , some of the restorations (El, Ludwig, La Maman et la Putain, Shoeshine, Nosferatu etc) and — in less detail — Yugoslavian Cinema and Cinema Libero. We couldn’t do it all. We wish we could have. The wonderful Pamela Hutchinson heroically resurfaced from her COVID sickbed to lend us her intelligence, knowledge and good humour and to helps us make sense of a cinephile experience that can easily overwhelm. This is the first of four podcast on Ritrovato. We will return with more extended discussions on Hugo Fregonese, Sophia Loren, Peter Lorre and an extended discussion of Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives.
We continue with our discussion of the MARTIN SCORSESE’S WORLD CINEMA strand on MUBI, this time focusing on Kim Ki-young’s THE HOUSEMAID (South Korea, 1960). MUBI’s take is that it influenced Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE – clearly evident – and that it ‘changed the course of South Korean cinema forever. An immense success when released in 1960, this striking masterpiece is a blend of sexual obsession and class struggle, horror and social critique’. In the podcast, we agree with most of what MUBI says about it but question the claim that it’s a masterpiece,’ finding the film deeply misogynistic in ways that go even beyond the patriarchal norms of its time and culture. The very handsome version being screened by MUBI is the 2008 restoration by the Korean Film Archive and is a real pleasure to see, making visible the film’s very real inventiveness with light, composition and movement.
We discuss Chahine’s last film, Le Chaos, and are delighted by what we see; a political melodrama that offers all the pleasures of the genre — one feels for these people who long for love and freedom but who aren’t allowed to achieve their wants through repressive social and state mechanisms. The villain is a torturer and rapist. Chahine’s achievement is that he makes him understandable, whilst offering a Marxist critique of a corrupt culture through a film that always sides with the powerless. The mise-en-scène is masterful; the film is brilliant. Thanks very much to the kind friend who made it possible for us to see it. We have 15 more Chahine films we have not been able to source; so if any of you know where we can buy/source/see them, we would appreciate it. In the podcast we also discuss how the film can be seen as an amalgamation of recurring Chahine thematics as well as recurring visual motifs and we try to connect this film to the rest of his oeuvre. It’s one to see.
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 beautiful film, a continuation of a cycle of autobiographical films (The Boys From Fengkuei,A Summer at Grandpa’s). We continue our discussion of framing, ellipses, cinema, letters, the country and the city, heartbreak and exploitation, and all those other formal and thematic elements that make Hou’s cinema so great. James Udden’s wonderful article (see below) has been very useful in the discussion:
— The beginnings of Josés Scholarly Bibliography on Hou which we will add to after every episode:
-Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times, London: 07 June 2005: 13.
-Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48
-Combs, Geoffrey, ‘ Dust in the Wind/ Lianlian Feng Chen’, Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1, 1990;57, 675, pg.111.
-Diffrient, David Scott ,’The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,
-Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.
-Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19
-Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78
-Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.
-Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.
-Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14
-Rayns, Tony, ‘Tongnian Wangshi (The Time To Live and The Tine to Die), Monthly Film Bulletin; Jun 1, 1988; 55, 653
-Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98
-Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’, Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.
-Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.
-Udden, James, ‘Dust in the Wind: A Definite Hou/ New Cinema Work’, The Cupola, 08-2014 (This book chapter is available at The Cupola: Scholarship at Gettysburg College: https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/idsfac/21)
-Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3
-Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.
Y-ip, June, ‘Taiwanese New Cinema’ in The Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)
-Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.
In this podcast, Richard and I discuss how much we both like this film, an early one of Hou’s that we argue continues to be largely dismissed in accounts of his work. Here we admire what we see as his growth as a filmmaker: the increasing use of expressive long-takes, the filming from the inside of trains, the imaginative compositions, the handling of many people in the frame whilst still keeping dramatic focus, the deft control over various narrative threads. We notice that this is the third time in three fllms that we get scatalogical jokes but how now they’re not used as superficial toppers but instead evoke character and feeling as well as laughs. There are songs and there is romance but we discuss how there is also much more than that: a highly skilled and enjoyable work. The podcast can be listened to below:
THE HANDLING OF CONSIDERABLE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WITHIN THE FRAME:
…always attentive to the relationship between foreground and background but also elegantly visualised such as below;
in this riverside frolic all of the protagonists, each with their own particular problem is on view, as is their relationship to each other:
note again the relationship between foreground and background here: the children are bearing witness:
note here he door ajar on the left hand of the frame, brining the outside in (as well as the reverse)
The poetic letter to mom:
Kaosiung Station is appearing in many of his films, the destination point to the city from the country:
the emphasis on the green and the rural:
and lastly, the brilliant last shots:
The following quotes, cited in the podcast, are from:
Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3
“Hou Hsiao-Hsien was born in Mei County, Guangdong province (China) in 1947.He and his family fled the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan in the following year. Houis a waishengren and his family is Hakka, the peripatetic Chinese minority whowere often persecuted by the Han majority in Taiwan before 1895. Hou, whose father died when he was young, grew up in southern Taiwan where, without a father,he wandered outside more than was the norm for children of the time. These self-guided wanderings, at a young age, brought him into contact with many of the realities of everyday life, especially the underground gangs, which proved to be definitive influences on his films.
In 1973, Hou started as a continuity person, but soon became an assistant director, and finally a screenwriter, first writing three works with his closest associate during the 1970s, the director Lai Cheng-ying. In Taiwan, directors rarely did the actual directing; it was the assistant directors who actually faced the day-to-day problems on the set, and they were in charge of keeping film stock use to a bare minimum. Hou is listed as the assistant director for at least 11 films in the 1970s, and that experience drove home for him the limitations of current filmmaking practices. All of these limiting practices – functional editing, functional lighting, compositional gimmicks, minimal shooting ratios, start and stop performance and so on – Hou would one day reject, arguing that these stifled creativity and the freedom of art, although for years
Hou would bear some responsibility for perpetuating these practices (it was his
livelihood after all). Yet as strange as it may seem, his experience with these practices would have a profound and lasting impact on him even after he would no longer rely on them in his work. He would learn many things from this largely negative experience, but two invaluable lessons stand out: the importance of lighting and the importance of performance, two areas today that form the cornerstones of his own aesthetic (see Udden 45).
1983 was a turning point for Hou, when The Boys from Fengkuei (1983) (also known as All the Youthful Days) won the “Best Film Award” in the Festival of the Three Continents. This is Hou’s beginning in the making of new films, as he said – after The Boys from Fengkuei, “I re-think film and consider it is another language” (8). Since then, he abandoned the pattern of early commercial films, and began a kind of move which was personally-oriented, using the narrative of daily life as the main language for his work. Hou’s process of new cinema can be divided into two stages occurring before and after “A City of Sadness” (1989). There are five films before 1989 – The Boys rom Fengkuei (1983), A Summer at Grandpa’s (1984), A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985), Dust in the Wind (1986) and Daughter of the Nile (1987) While thestories are different, they have an internal consistency all about the growing experiences and memories of youth, as well as the collision between rural and urban life”.
The trailer for the podcast should evoke the flavour of the film:
Richard has provided links you might also find interesting and useful:
Richard returns! We discuss the famous Al-Karnak (Karnak Café) directed byAli Badr Kahn in 1975. A political film, a critique of the previous regime, based on a novella by Naguib Mahfouz, and a ‘model of de-Nasserfication’. The film is pulpy, melodramatic, sensationalist, a box-office smash. A very interesting work to discuss in relation to Chahine’s The Sparrow (1972), which deals with similar subject matter but in a a very different way. Ali Badr Kahn and Mahfouz had previously collaborated with Chahine as well so the film is an interesting focal point to a whole series of issues that intersect with Chahine’s work.
We continue our discussion with Hussein, to garner an Egyptian perspective on the career of Youssef Chahine to 1985. We touch on Son of he Nile/ Nile Boy (1951), The Blazing Sun,/ Struggle in the Valley (1954) ‘The Turn of the Decade’ films (Forever Love/ Forever Yours (1959), In Your Hands (1960), A Lover’s Call (1960), A Man in My Life (1961). We continue with all his major films and discuss how some phrases from them have become common parlance in Egyptian culture. We also touch on the complicated relationship with Mohsen Mohieddin Mohsen Mohieddin and we end with Dalida and The Sixth Day (1986). It’s a conversation still to be continued, and we will cover the last phase of his career in the next podcast.
Hussein also sent some wonderful photos which he describes as follows.
First photo (above) is a film poster from one of his first films, not sure which.
Second (below) is from Forever Love, the first of the four “turn of the decade” films.
Third is a photo I took on my way home from work today of the building where Chahine lived most of his life till death, he lived in one of the three upper floors with the many windows. He actually shot many scenes there, in Egyptian Story (1982), Alexandria Again and Forever (1989), Cairo as seen by Chahine (1991)and Silence on Tourne (2001).
The last one is the plaque at the entrance of the building memorializing him. He used to live in the downtown Nile island of Zamalek, one of the more affluent neighborhoods of Cairo back in the days and still today.
A discussion of Filmfarsi, a film by Ehsan Khoshbakht, on a mode of filmmaking extremely popular in Iran — urban gangster films, melodramas, musicals — set in urban working class milieus, that evoked and challenged the country’s vaunted leap in modernity. IAccording to Ehsan Khoshbakht, the film’s director, ‘Something rare, euphoric and mad was recorded on celluloid: the Iranian way of life after the second world war, with all its paradoxes. Even the sleaziest films became documents. If the majority of key Iranian arthouse films of the 1960s and 1970s were set in villages and rural areas (a tradition continued until after the revolution), filmfarsi was about the thriving cities, which were expanding blindly, thanks to petrodollars’.
t’s very different to the type of cinema Abbas Kiarostami was also doing in this period. It’s a cinema quickly banned after the ’79 revolution, and a cult on VHS. The filmmaker shows the wide range of filmmaking, its transnational perspective, its ritual and fetishistic post -79 consumption, and well evokes why it was so powerful, why it’s been banned and why it is so cherished.
He’s also offered a wonderful introduction in The Guardian, which can be found here.
It begins with: ‘Shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution, the country’s national newspapers published a joint subpoena, unique in film history. All the key stars of “filmfarsi” – a form of popular cinema that embodied the aspirations and illusions of a modernising society – were summoned to the revolutionary court. The careers of hundreds of actors and directors ended overnight. Unlike the Hollywood blacklisting of the McCarthy era, there was not even the opportunity for a mock hearing. The cinema, seen as emblematic of corruption, “westoxification” and the decadence of the ousted Pahlavi regime, was consigned to oblivion.
Those of you interested in watching the film can follow up bookings here. Many thanks to Wales One World for their superb programme and for the free screenings.
You can see Ehsan Khoshbakht speak to David Gillam on Filmfarsi here:
Richard Layne and I return with a discussion of Dawn of a New Day, one of Chahine’s best. It echoes Sirk once more and has traces of An Affair to Remember and European Art Cinema like Antonioni’s La notte (1961) or Fellini’s La dolce vita (1960) whilst remaining very much a popular melodrama about love which is also a commentary on the state of the nation and its future. A very beautiful film and so accessible it’s a real pity it’s not part of the current Netflix package.
Richard and I discuss the very beautiful cinematography by Abdel Aziz Fahmy, and I’ve provided some image capture below to give you a taste of it:
We also discuss the extent to which Chahine deploys Sirk, his style is a kind of vernacular through which Chahine expresses himself whilst also offering a visual analysis which would not be made in prose criticism until a decade later.
Richard and I also discuss melodrama, and how the abandonment of the child lingers over the last part and offers a critique which would be absent had the focus been solely on the love affair. I include it below though sadly without sub-titles.
Richard has also provided the following links which some of you may want to pursue and which I will add to as i come across them:
An extended discussion of Youssef Chahine’s Alexandria, New York. ‘I love American cinema but America doesn’t love me’. Anyone who loves Chahine’s cinema will find this irresistible. A film made by someone who thinks and knows how to visualise and dramatise. We will see it again. The discussion can be listened to in the player below:
Listeners might also be interesting in the clips below which are discussed in the podcast:
Watching Cairo Station in New York.
2. Watching the Girls Go By (and whose gaze is it?).
A bisexual gaze?
A coming full circle:
New York, New York: An Arab Ending.
Whilst scrambling to collect these clips this morning, Richard and I realised that we were speaking in relation to different prints and his findings might be of interest to some of you. Richard writes:
Very interesting – I’m assuming the 2hr 3 version is an Egyptian edit, and the longer one(2h9m) is the French version. Differences I could find are:
Scene at the dance contest: conversation at the bar is shorter and the presentation of the prize is cut (not clear why this is). Young Yehia walks Ginger home after the dance – their final long kiss is cut.
Scene with the peeping landlady – ends when she appears at Yehia’s door. Entire sequence of him showering in her flat and her joining him is gone. (about 2 minutes cut here)
Later scene where Ginger comes to Yehia’s room and they are interrupted by the landlady – their kiss is cut.
End of this scene where Yehia and Ginger go to bed is also cut.
Sex scene in Yehia’s room when he is planning to leave – opening two minutes of this scene has gone, the shorter cut opens at the end of this sequence with them lying in bed together (so, interestingly, it is still OK to show them in bed) 70s scene with the older Yehia and Ginger in his hotel room – mostly intact but the end of this scene is cut.
A discussion of Silence…on tourne focussing on the many characteristic flourishes we like so much in Chahine’s oeuvre but exploring also why they are less satisfying in this particular work. As we can see from Peter Broadshaw’s review here, the film was well reviewed on its original release but we found it less successfully realised than his other films (and this was also the case upon José’s first viewing and the podcast he did on the film with Egyptian filmmaker Tara Shehata).
We reference the ending in the discussion, particularly that great tracking shot/edit from the filming of the musical number to the rejected gigolo watching the finished version at the cinema, and this can be seen below
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. .
Richard Layne returns to discuss Youssef Chahine’s fascinating musical in the light of Tara Shehata’s great podcast on the film last week. We discuss the film’s achievements as a musical, the catchiness of the music, the appeal of Hind Rustum and Shadia, the woodenness of Farid El-Atrash, and the influence of the screwball, particularly Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story (1942). The podcast can be listened to below:
In the podcast, Richard discusses how C’es toi mon amour is the film that immediately precedes Cairo Station and Jamila the Algerian, and how it is worth comparing the two musical numbers set on a train in Cairo Station and in C’es toi mon amour in the light of themes of modernity, tradition, progress and personal freedom. You can see the clips below:
Hind Rostom and Farid al-Atrash in C’est toi mon amour:
Farid Al-Atrash and Shadia Yassmin:
Opening number of Silence, on tourne!:
Cinematographer Pierre Dupouey on filming with Chahine:
In response to a comment on the podcast, Saudi filmmaker Yaser Hammad, who featured in our of our recent podcasts, notes that: ‘That also happened in “An Egyptian Story” the AD on set in the first scene is Youssry Nassrallah. Who also became a director and Chahine produced his first films which are on Netflix as well. He had a number of ADs who later on became great directors. like Dawood Abdelsayed, Redwan Elkashif, Khaled Youssef and many more’.
A discussion of Tamer El Said’s In the Last Days of the City, currently screening as part of the program for Safar 2020, hosted by the Arab British Centre. The program of films can now be seen from home until the 20th of September and you can follow the link here: www.safarfilmfestival.co.uk/
In the podcast we discuss the film’s combination of documentary and fiction, It’s self-reflexiveness and it’s formal beauty. The film dramatises a dilemma of a film within a film that the filmmaker can’t make cohere whilst avoiding that very same dilemma for itself by bringing in structural elements (the four friends, the increasing force of theocracy, the national football team’s wins, the search for an apartment, the loss of a relationship, the consolations of poetry in world characterised by alienation.
Jeff Reichert has written a lovely appreciation of the film in Film Comment which can be accessed here:
Yaser Hammad is a young Saudi filmmaker as well as the screenwriter of Saudi Arabia’s first ever feature film to be released in Saudi Arabia, Roll’em (2019) . Meeting Yaser here has been one of the great pleasures of doing the Chahine podcast. Not only is he, like us, a great admirer of Chahine but, unlike us, he’s got access to all the Arab writing on Chahine and is much more knowledgeable about actors, songs, the whole pop and social culture around Chahine. His additions, corrections, interventions have been so invaluable that I asked him to join us for this podcast so that our listeners may also benefit. This is a wide-ranging conversation on Chahine’s oeuvre that tries to bring an Arab perspective on the work and, more personally, an account of what Chahine’s work has meant to at least one young Arab filmmaker.
A discussion of the seventh and last day of Ritrovato’s digital programming in full: Imperfect Crimes, To Kill a Child/ Att döda ett barn (Gösta Werner, 1953), Aimé Césaire – Le masque des mots (Sarah Maldoror, 1987), Mia madre – Giuditta Rissone (Anna Masecchia/ Michela Zegna, 2020), Ich War Neunzehn/ I was Nineteen (Konrad Wolf, 1968), Sepa, nuestro señor de los Milagros/ Sepa, Our Lord of Miracles (Walter Saxer, 1987) and, last but not least, Fail Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964).
We end the podcast with a discussion of the pros and cons of the digital experience of this year’s Ritrovato. We offer thanks and appreciation to the Ritrovato team for succeeding in putting on the festival in traditional form in Bologna itself, but also for taking the trouble to provide this digital offering for those of us who COVID prevented from going to Bologna as planned. A massive thanks. It was greatly appreciated.
The podcast can be listened to below:
Frinds of Ritrovato might also welcome seeing this goodbye from the festival itself:
David Cairns does a good summary of both’ Imperfect Crimes ‘compilations , which we don´t really cover them in detail and you can access it here:
Friends might also be interested in this image capture from:
We discuss the main features of Day 2 of Cinema Ritrovato’s digital offerings — Ladies Should Listen (Frank Tuttle, 1934) , Donne e Soldati / Women and Soldiers (d: Luigi Malerba, Antonio Marchi, co-written by Marco Ferreri) , Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939) — as well as some of the Bologna shorts. We wonder about the Henry Fonda selections and what we can learn from the Frank Tuttle/ Stuart Heisler pairings in the program available digitally. We also discuss some of the failures in access and how it affected our viewing.
The amazing footage of Armenia can be found here just after the 4 minute point: