Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart: Dressed to Fit the Monochromatic Look and Distressed Reality of a 1955 Noir

Mickey Rourke in “Angel Heart”, 1987 | Carolco International N.V., Winkast Film Productions, TriStar Pictures

 
From the very beginning, Mickey Rourke was one of the four actors Alan Parker had on his list to play Harry Angel in the film Angel Heart. “We arranged to meet in New York. I picked Mickey up from his hotel looking, as he always does off-screen, like an unemployed gas station attendant. We had lunch and he told me quite emphatically that he was the only one to play Harry Angel and so I should “stop talking to the other guys.” We walked the streets talking about the film until it got dark.”

Rourke doesn’t care for his outward appearance. Harry Angel doesn’t either. He is a private detective looking for a missing band singer, Johnny Favorite, at the behest of Louis Cyphre, played with terrifying chill by Robert De Niro. This investigation takes the form of a nightmare for Angel as it progresses, as its past and his own demons catch up with him. A richly atmospheric film, filled with strong imagery and mysticism, at the intersection of noir and horror, Angel Heart (1987) was adapted from William Hjortsberg’s 1978 novel Falling Angel, but Parker moved the story from New York to New Orleans, a brilliant move which further imbued the film with a decaying Southern Gothic feel.

The “original attraction, I should imagine, being much the same as my own,” the director would explain his interest in the adaptation of the book (he wrote at large about each of his films on his website alanparker.com, a fascinating incursion into his cinematic universe – why don’t more directors do that?), “the fusion of two genres: the noir, Chandleresque detective novel and the supernatural. I might hazard a guess that any Faustian story would ring bells in Hollywood and not all of them cash registers.” But Parker was a director who, although knew what attracted the audience (he started out in advertising), wasn’t afraid to take risks and challenge conventions. His movies were made for moviegoers and movie lovers, not for critics. Which is what he did in Angel Heart. First, as already mentioned, he moved the bulk of the story from New York to New Orleans, first because many of the threads of the story led to New Orleans (his discussions with Hjortsberg revealing that the author had also thought of doing that), and second, because he felt that “shooting yet another Manhattan-based detective story would be tricky in that overly filmed city”. The dark and mysterious Louisiana, with its murky alleys and shadowy hall ways and muggy heat serve the story much better as the narrative progresses and Harry tiptoes closer to the hellish truth.

Parker also wanted to avoid using voice-over in the narrative, which I found very interesting, because “as with all traditional first-person detective tales, the fundamental problem is in the translation of literary exposition into filmic narrative (Consequently, the over-use of voice-over in this genre.)” Another important change was that the story was moved from 1959 to 1955 “for a small but selfish reason. 1959 was on the way to the 1960’s with its changing attitudes as well as environments. 1955 for me still belonged to the 1940’s – and, because of the historical pause button of World War II, conceivably the 1930’s – so quite simply, setting it in this year allowed me to give an older look to the film.” It makes perfect sense.

It also makes perfect sense that Mickey Rourke would play Harry Angel. Not only does Rourke’s presence lend absolute conviction to the film’s generic roots, its black vision of despair and dread finding resonance in the universally recognisable suppressed impulses and fears as shared human responses, but his disheveled appearance combined with his intimately vulnerable screen performance alluded to a different kind of masculinity, that of Marlon Brando and James Dean. It’s also the kind of sensibility that allows him to slip through time, being not of the past nor of the present, but always in search of some kind of truth, appealing to so many generations. Fragile and rebellious, tough and vulnerable, cool and irrational, who sees danger but continues to approach it. “Mickey is an intuitive actor: doing each scene differently as he searched for some truth. With the imprecision also comes danger and while the danger is there, so is the magic.“ But the danger he can not escape. He travels his entire spectrum of game, embodying a character who loses his footing, taking a hard-bitten look at the underside of one of the quintessential American characters.
 

Mickey Rourke in “Angel Heart”, 1987 | Carolco International N.V., Winkast Film Productions, TriStar Pictures

 
“In L.A. I also had the chance to meet up with Mickey at his local café”, continued Alan Parker to recount his pre-production meetings with Mickey Rourke. “In the space of an hour and a half, I managed to talk him out of having black hair, a Cyrano de Bergerac nose, a limp and six suits which he personally had made up by his pal to a design and with fabrics which missed the period of our film by about twenty years. He graciously accepted my suggestion that he stick to the acting.” His character Parker wanted to make “sympathetic. In the tradition of the down-at-heel gumshoe, his phlegmatic surface disguised an intelligence capable of unraveling a complicated, larger-than-life story with a degree of belief and conciseness.“

That belief and conciseness permeate every aspect of the film. Everything, from costumes to the paint peeled off of the walls has its own place in the story. “I went through the dozens of permutations on a dozen characters with the costume designer, Aude Bronson-Howard and art director Kristi Zea,” Parker recalled. “Mickey, congenitally scruffy, has the rare ability to make the most elegant suit look like a discarded potato sack, so it was easy to ‘dress him down’. Each costume, shirt and sock had to be washed a hundred times, to distress the fabrics so that they hung correctly, thereby being truthful to our period and to fit the de-saturated, monochromatic look that Michael Seresin, Brian Morris and I were after.” That monochromatic atmosphere, drained of colour, gave the film the gritty feel and grey soul, at the border between reality and the supernatural. “We had also taken out all the primary colours from the street, something we continued to do throughout the film with the sets and the costumes following the same colour palette as we attempted to shoot a black and white film in colour.”

The colour was taken out from both the streets of New York – Parker wanted the beginning of the movie to be filmed in the Lower East Side and Harlem: “I was particularly interested in the bizarre religious movements of the 1930’s and 1940’s, born of economic isolation, and perhaps spiritual desperation.” – and from the streets of New Orleans. What else to wear in bleak, cold, wintry New York than a dark-coloured oversized coat, reminding me once again of those photographs of James Dean by Dennis Stock taken in 1955 on the streets of New York in his big coat, shrugging his shoulders and withdrawing his neck into the coat, too rushed to stay in focus? Only after you have reached the end of the film, you realise how reassuring this coat is for Harry Angel in this first part of the story, like a protection from the truth and from himself. And then, what else to wear in New Orleans than soiled and well worn-out clothes peeled off one after another, almost shredded to pieces, as he is constantly scuttling through the heat-soaked streets, every step in the decaying city and its seedy bars and hotel rooms taking him further down into dissolution?
 

Mickey Rourke in “Angel Heart”, 1987 | Carolco International N.V., Winkast Film Productions, TriStar Pictures

 
 
 

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A New Perspective: Interview with Photographer Mónica R. Goya

Left: Photo by Mónica R. Goya for The New York Times | Right: Photo by Mónica R. Goya

 

The beauty of talking to a travel photographer and writer is that it stays with you, it broadens your mind, and even better than a good trip taken long ago, it’s an experience you can always come back to, not for daydreaming, but for something much more important, for fueling your sense of curiosity and your desire to see and feel and ask questions, and for a better understanding of the world, by having the respite to have a closer look at it and at our place in it in a time when travelling far and away is best to be kept at bay.

Mónica R. Goya‘s photographic stories have that spontaneity, the result of capturing whatever it was that surprised her, catching it as it was, whatever it was that caught her eye, that first impression, without any tricks. But they also seem to bring the depth of having established a close relationship to a place and/or to its people. That may many times be a brief acquaintance, which is why it reveals an even more valuable quality, a profound humanity. Mónica’s photographs, even her food photography, never seem detached from its contexts of time, place and humanity. There always seems to be an exchanges of senses and experiences going on in her photographs. And for the viewer, the photograph becomes a chance to engage in the discussion. Travel is about more than personal satisfaction, it is about shared enrichment. More than a photographer or journalist, she is attentive to people, their surroundings, their culture, their food, their customs, their history, she is attentive to life.

Originally from Spain, Mónica R. Goya is an independent freelance journalist and photographer based in London. Her work focuses primarily on the fields of farming, food, sustainability, wine growers and travel, in close connection to bringing awareness to environmental issues. Her keen interest in agriculture and food justice have been funneling her long-term journalistic projects which explore the culture of working the land and the intersection of human rights, food politics and sustainability.

In our interview, I am talking with Mónica about travelling alone, about sustainable farming, about the place she would choose for a simpler way of life, and where she would take us on a food journey.
 

Photo by Mónica R. Goya

 
 

”I find it easier to connect with locals when
I am travelling on my own. Furthermore,
when travelling alone there is more time for
observation, there is space for spontaneity.”

 
 
If you could gather all your friends you haven’t properly met in the last year, which place would you choose?

I’d be so thrilled if that was a real possibility (I am in lockdown London) that I probably wouldn’t worry too much about where, but I’d focus on the mere getting together. How magical that would be if only it was safe to do so. Having said that, even if we weren’t in lockdown, I’d probably choose a garden, somewhere outdoors.

The times we are living have opened our eyes to the beauty in our own backyard, as they say. You have lived in different parts of Europe. Where do you feel at home?

It’s a fascinating question for which I could give you many different answers! I think if you are content and feel welcomed in a place, it’s not difficult to feel at home anywhere after some time. At a different level, some people feel a special connection and attachment to places which are significant because of their ancestry, not necessarily a house, but maybe somewhere outdoors which is meaningful for some reason, and I am one of them.
 

Photos by Mónica R. Goya

 
Do people make the place?

Absolutely! Furthermore, it’s also brilliant that we can keep in touch so easily with friends and family that live far away, especially in these times of social isolation, lockdowns, etc.

How about travelling with the right people? Or do you prefer travelling alone? I have always been intrigued by something Wim Wenders wrote in one of his books, and I am bringing it up because it also touches the subject of photography. He said that “there’s a distinct kind of satisfaction that you get from looking and travelling alone, and it’s connected with this relation of solitude to photography. […] If you’re not alone you take different photos. I rarely feel the urge to take pictures if I’m not on my own.”

It depends on the reason for travelling. If I am travelling on a photo assignment, I have to agree with what Mr. Wenders said, it’s always more productive for me to travel alone. Mostly because photography is all about the light and sometimes you find yourself at pains to make non-photographers understand why you need to wake up before dawn, or why you need to go back again to a certain place at a different time of the day so that you get better light, for example. Also, I find it easier to connect with locals when I am travelling on my own. Furthermore, when travelling alone there is more time for observation, there is space for spontaneity, more flexibility to change plans if needed… Solitude allows for a unique dialogue with a place that sometimes can be translated visually into different layers in what you capture.
 
 

”To make individuals carry the weight of ‘saving the planet’
on their shoulders is the wrong approach, it is a global
problem that should be sorted collectively.”

 
 
So is it take or make a photo?

It’s a very interesting question and we could have an endless debate about this. Personally, I am not that bothered about definitions, take or make, I think it depends on the situation. I am aware many professional photographers prefer to say make a photo. To me, take a photo feels more spontaneous, quicker, whereas making a photo seems to imply that you have taken the time and given it some thought. I do agree with that famous quote attributed to Ansel Adams: “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

We have all more or less taken travel for granted. How do you think travel will change from now on?

I can’t really tell, who knows, but I do hope we all become more aware of the impact that travelling has, not only the environmental impact of going from place A to place B, but also the added pressure on natural resources that tourism represents, especially in places with fragile ecosystems. Maybe this is an oxymoron, but my hope is that in the near future affordable travel becomes more sustainable and responsible and more supportive of the local economies. This forced pause we are currently immersed in could be a golden opportunity to rethink and to right some wrongs. I hope humanity finds a way to make sustainability “the new normal” (not only in travel, but in general), accessible for the many, and not only for the few.
 

Photo by Mónica R. Goya

 
Your projects explore the culture of working the land and the intersection of human rights, food politics and sustainability. Has this crisis made people start to see more clearly the complexity of the food system and its relationship to sustainability and economics and health? Because I think this is a good chance for us to think about what sustainability means, because we have to think about how accessible it is to everyone and that being sustainable doesn’t resume to buying the fair trade bar of chocolate.

I feel more and more of us are opening our eyes to painful realities, including the way in which many crops are grown, with total disregard for the environment both humans and life on earth depend on. It’s really a very complex issue and the more I read and research about it, the more I realise it is simply impossible to detach sustainability from all the other aspects that are intertwined with it. On one hand, who gets to lead a “sustainable” life today, travelling sustainably, eating sustainably, etc? How catastrophic it is that only the privileged can afford to be sustainable? How tragic it is that the number of hungry people in the world is growing? According to FAO, 1 in 9 people on this planet suffer hunger and according to WHO data, almost 3 million die each year as a consequence of being overweight or obese. On the other hand, what is sustainable? Sometimes doing the right thing might be difficult even for people who make the effort to analyse thoroughly what they eat. A good example could be greenhouse crops like tomatoes. You go to the supermarket in London, you buy local British tomatoes to avoid food miles, thinking that in terms of sustainability, buying local is the best thing you can do. However, if those British tomatoes were grown using heated glass in the UK, emissions of CO2 (according to an interview with Guy Singh-Watson, a British farmer and founder of Riverford) are around 2.5kg per kg, compared to 0.24kg for trucking tomatoes from Spain.

Regarding your examples, of course it’s always best to buy fair-trade or taking your own reusable cup, every little helps. Nevertheless, there are so many other things to take into account in sustainability, from water footprint to deforestation, that it’s just overwhelming really, and many people have enough going on in their lives just trying to stay afloat. That’s why I think that to make individuals carry the weight of “saving the planet” on their shoulders is the wrong approach, it is a global problem that should be sorted collectively, that narrative of connecting it to individual attitudes alone won’t solve it, governments should step in and address it too.

Yes, there is a clash between what you as an individual can do and the complex situation as a whole. And this crisis has forced people to deal with limitations and realizing that doing good for the environment many times came from a privileged place. There definitely must be a policy angle to it. But do you think it is likely to happen soon?

I hope so. I think that we have reasons to be optimistic because the younger generations are very aware of environmental issues and keep strongly advocating for a change, so I’d like to think that it will happen, eventually.
 

Harvest at Suertes del Marqués vineyard, Tenerife, Canary Islands. Photo by Mónica R. Goya

Left: Winegrowers tending the vines at Suertes del Marqués vineyard, Tenerife, Canary Islands
Right: Envínate’s vineyard on Tenerife. Some winemakers use the traditional rope system which is very sustainable,
as they make the ropes from local banana tree leaves. Photo by Mónica R. Goya

Núria of Clos Lentiscus winery with one of her wines at her family’s estate in Catalonia.
Photo by Mónica R. Goya for Pipette magazine.

 
Is the food media ready to cover labour related issues that are so clearly connected to food, to stop talking about the chef and start at the root of the food chain, at the farmer, grower or migrant worker? And it’s not just about restaurants, but about supermarkets, too, to understanding how many people are essential to getting products to the supermarket.

I guess it depends on who the audience of those food publications is and how much editors want to push for a change, how much they’d like to give more visibility to those who feed us every day. Mainstream food media might not be there yet, but thanks to digital publishing, there are high-quality newsletters covering the issue. Also, independent magazines such as Whetstone, a personal favourite, are working hard to bring much-needed diversity to the food media table.
 
 

”Food there is understood as a whole, not the mere
act of cooking or eating, but the whole process,
from growing crops, to the ritual of communal
eating which seems to reinforce social bonds.”

 
 
You have written a piece for Whetstone magazine, Free Spirit, Free Wines, about the wine of the Canary Islands, where Victoria Torres Pecis produces wines that reflect the land and local traditions. Could our post-pandemic world be a world in which small communities are finally thriving again, in which wine producers, for example, will have more freedom of retaining a personality of their own?

I am very intrigued to see what happens next. We humans have multiple urgent fronts to address at the moment, just for the sake of our own survival. I am no expert, but here in Europe it’s difficult to see how small farming communities can thrive if the Political Agricultural Policy (PAC) continues to base its subsidies system in quantity: the more land a farmer owns, the more subsidy he or she receives, instead of prioritising vital issues like sustainability or conservation… Currently around 80% of CAP subsidies go to just 20% of largest farms. The CAP reform has been postponed until early 2023, and there is hope since the European Commission’s proposals for the future of the CAP include issues such environmental care, climate change action or preserving landscapes and biodiversity among others, however, basic payments will continue to be based on the farm’s size in hectares.
 

Victoria Torres sharing one of her wines in her 19th century cellar in La Palma, Canary Islands.
Photo by Mónica R. Goya for Whetstone magazine

 
I personally know so many people who have relocated to the countryside, to more remote places, who have experienced a new-found appreciation for a simpler way of life. Do you think it’s a welcomed, much-needed, long-term change worldwide or is it again a matter of privilege only reserved to the few?

I wish everyone could choose where to live, but unfortunately the reality isn’t that simple. The globalised world we live in seems to be designed for cities to continue to grow, and so I guess that to go against the current, you need to have not only aplomb but also the resources to navigate it. More often than not, it seems to be entrepreneurs or high-earners on qualified jobs the ones who have it easier to choose where to live, countryside or cities, because their employers are happy to discuss remote working. Urbanites working in low paying jobs that require a physical presence don’t really get to choose to move to the countryside because that would mean to lose their jobs. The latter are also spending a significant part of their daily lives commuting, doomed to live in cities that are becoming increasingly unaffordable, while average wages are stagnant. A simpler way of life sounds idyllic, I have to admit I fantasise about it all the time, however, for us to have the option to choose, we might need to rethink first our approach to what work means in the 21st century.

Is there any particular place you have in mind if you were to choose a simpler way of life?

Yes, there are a few… But if I had to choose just one, it’d probably be northern Spain, what is often called Green Spain. It’s a territory with strong regional identities and the landscapes are stunning, for an outdoorsy person it’s heaven. You have mountains like Picos de Europa National Park, a beautiful coastline with some of the best seafood on earth, idyllic islands like Cíes, brilliant food beyond the many Michelin starred restaurants of San Sebastián, lovely people… As you might have noticed, I am not very impartial on this one…
 

Photo by Mónica R. Goya for The New York Times

 

If you had to choose one book about travel and food that can help you escape, which one would you choose?

DISHDAA´W “La palabra se entreteje en la comida infinita” (editor’s note: the book is unfortunately not currently available in online shops) which tells the story of the incredible Abigail Mendoza Ruiz, a Zapotec woman who lives in Oaxaca, Mexico. The book unveils the way of life of her community and how she learnt to cook at a very young age, while providing an insider’s view of everyday life in Teotitlán del Valle, her village. I am not sure that one is available in English, so if you don’t mind, I am going to share two if that’s ok?

That would be great. Please do.

I have also enjoyed massively Tasting Georgia, written by Carla Capalbo. She is a brilliant travel and food writer and the book takes you through a gastronomic journey across the country, it’s a joy.

What about a favourite food film? Is there a movie that has made you appreciate the power or tradition of food in a way you never had before?

It’s always difficult to choose, but now Honeyland comes to mind, it has made a big impression on me. It’s a documentary about a wild beekeeper who uses ancient methods for harvesting wild honey in an unspoilt area in Macedonia. She harvests the traditional way, sustainably. If I remember well, when harvesting, she said something along the lines “half for them, half for me”, meaning that she always left enough food for the bees. Everything changes when new neighbours settled in the abandoned village where she lives with her elderly mother. The documentary really conveys a powerful ecological message and valuable life lessons.

And if you yourself were to take us on a food journey, which country or region would you choose (new from what you have already covered)?

I’d love to visit Mexico’s Pacific Coast. The country is incredibly diverse and rich and its gastronomy is truly unique, permeating every aspect of life. Having visited other areas of the country, it feels like food there is understood as a whole, not the mere act of cooking or eating, but the whole process, from growing crops, to preserving ancient traditions and techniques passed down through generations, or the ritual of communal eating which seems to reinforce social bonds. Plus, the country is the birthplace of so many foods such as corn, pumpkins, cacao, chili peppers, tomatoes, avocados or vanilla among many others.

What do you always take home from your travels?

In my experience, each travel is different, but now that I haven’t been able to travel for a while because of the pandemic, I can see that what I miss the most about travelling is interacting with people and learning about their lives. I think travelling is a fantastic vehicle to gain a better understanding of the world. Doing your research and reading books about a place is a wonderful starting point, but I feel nothing can replace those enlightening conversations with locals for they provide unique layers of meaning in your understanding of a culture or a place.
 

Photo by Mónica R. Goya

 
 

Website: monicargoya.com | Instagram: @monicargoya

 

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Delon, Belmondo, Borsalino and the Myth of the Gangster Dandy

Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo in “Borsalino”, 1970. Adel Productions, Marianne Productions.

 
François Capella and Roch Siffredi are rarely seen without a hat on. Most of the times it is a Borsalino, the dressy felt hat created by the legendary Italian manufacturer in 1857 in northern Italy. Borsalino was the first luxury brand that lent its name to the title of a film, and the movie, its two leading stars and the brand all enjoyed wide success. The brand’s relationship with cinema was already decades old, Hollywood having adopted the Borsalino hat as a cult object since the 1930s, and it enjoyed the brightest spotlight on Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the last sequence of Casablanca. But it was in Jacques Deray’s film, on Alain Delon’s Roch Siffredi and Jean-Paul Belmondo’s François Capella that the Borsalino was best immortalised on screen, perfectly embodying the myth of the gangster dandy, affirming itself as part of the iconography of this cinematic figure, along with the three-piece suits and double-breasted long coats. More than a figurative object, the hat becomes the most easily recognizable character trait, it is integrated in the storytelling and punctuates the rhythm of the film. It is quite simply one of those film wardrobe pieces that have played a major role in the imagination of the public.

“When it comes to a film, we rarely talk about the costume designer,” Jacques Deray, whose birth anniversary is this week, would comment. “And yet his work is an integral part of the work and contributes to its success: it is he who brings the characters to life, creates the difference according to the personality and the sensitivity of the actors. The psychology of the role must be found in the way of dressing, in the will to appear or just to stick to the reality of an era”.
 

Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo in “Borsalino”, 1970. Adel Productions, Marianne Productions.

 
Jacques Deray and Alain Delon had worked together on La piscine, in 1969, also featuring Romy Schneider and Maurice Ronet, and they would make a total of nine films together. Deray would go on to make “a series of excellent, star-led crime thrillers”, remarks Charles Drazin in The Faber Book of French Cinema, in the 1970s and 1980s, including Un papillon sur l’épaule (A Butterfly on His Shoulder), from 1978, with Lino Ventura, “but they never achieved any reputation outside France because they were too similar to what Hollywood already produced itself.” It’s interesting though how the film seems to have influenced the Hollywood buddy-buddy caper movie The Sting (1973). Adapted from the novel Bandits à Marseille by Eugène Saccomano, the film, set in the 1930s, follows the fulminant rise of two petty crooks into Marseillais mobsters: François Capella and Roch Siffredi. In an interview with Robert Elbhar, for Séquences, La Revue de cinéma, from October, 1971, Deray noted that the film was very important to him, which he wanted to be more than a gangster film, he wanted it to be both a highly stylised work and a social fresque, a reflection of the times and of the friendship between the two heroes, or anti-heroes, described by the director as “amitié amoureuse”. “In my mind, love and friendship merge,” he would say.

The film has a light-fingered style to it and Deray likes to stage a spectacle, but he was very keen on keeping and reconstituting the typical atmosphere of the town and its underworld from the 1930s, and the town of Marseilles plays its own role in the film. Such big imprint were Marseilles and its underworld to have in the film that Alain Delon, the producer of the film, was forced to negotiate with the real Marseilles underworld so that they would not use the real names of Paul Carbone and François Spirito, the two real gangsters on which the film characters were based. They also had to remove the part about the two characters collaborating with the Nazi during the Occupation.
 

Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo in “Borsalino”, 1970. Adel Productions, Marianne Productions.

 
Jacques Deray, well known for his passionate and meticulous work, made “the cities in which he was filming characters in their own right,” as noted in the documentary Jacques Deray, J’ai connu une belle epoque (Jacques Deray, I Knew a Beautiful Era), directed by his wife, Agnès Vincent-Deray. “He was in love with the city, bistros, places of culture…” The mise-en-scène, the precision of the decor was paramount for Deray. So were the costumes. They had to reflect history, society, the era. “I am a lover of quality. I think audiences need to see films that are well made, with great photos, audible sound and a certain perfection in the directing work. I believe that cinema should be practiced by professionals who know their profession inside and out and who live for it,” Deray would confess in the aforementioned interview. “Cinema is not a second life for me, it is life.”

It is indeed this combination of a thoroughly stylised cinematic world and the authentic period detail, and the accent put on humour and characters (played by two actors both at their natural best) instead of violence per say that make the film special. Alain Delon easily finds his place in this world, with his refined features, classical beauty and inward-looking image, and yet naturally possessed with a subtle expression and unique affinity for revealing a dark side. Jacques Fonteray (The Moonraker, 1976, and Barbarella, 1969) was the costumiere for Borsalino and the subsequent Borsalino et Co (1974). The opening sequence has Alain Delon step out of the prison in a worn-out, two sizes too small suit. Two of his friends are waiting for him. They greet each other, but no words are used – the jazz score is always present when words aren’t. One of them is wearing a good-looking dark suit. Siffredi admiringly feels the suit with his hand, still uttering no word. They get into a car and when they later descend from the car, Siffredi is wearing his friend’s suit and the friend is wearing Siffredi’s clothes. Needless to say, the suit is very becoming of our leading man.

There is in fact a clear delineation between Siffredi and Capella. While the first one has a more classic, crisp look, usually sporting a clean-cut suit, the latter is more playful with his looks – more colourful clothes, favouring separates to suits and scarves instead of foulards, and a more flamboyant silhouette, reflecting a more exuberant, lively and jovial character – and only later on in the film, when they are no longer small-time con men, does Capella get to wear a Borsalino instead of his signature newsboy caps. Still, he usually prefers a light coloured hat displaying a patterned band or some sort of a playful detail. Siffredi has been wearing his very smart felt hat all along. When they kill a rival mobster, the proof presented to one of the two remaining leaders of the underworld is the white felt hat of the deceased. No questions asked.
 

Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo on the set of “Borsalino”, 1970. Adel Productions, Marianne Productions.

 
 
 

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The Culture Edit: February Newsletter

Left: Tracking down the classic cars of vintage ski, inspired by Meredith Erickson’s Alpine travelogue. Zürs, Austria, 1953.
Photo by Hans Truöl | Right: “The word has carried enormous resonance for me ever since. Home.” Julie Andrews, Home:
A Memoir of My Early Years

 
 
It still happens. From time to time I come across a film that stops me in my tracks. It even felt like a small victory, because it happened right after I had tried to watch Lupin, the series everybody seems to be talking about. Here I was again, falling in the trap of trusting the general opinion. For the millionth time, general opinion simply doesn’t cut it for me. But I couldn’t help trying to figure out just what is it that grabbed the interest of so many. And then it dawned on me. Quick entertainment. A rather interesting plot, a few thrilling elements and the relief of having all explained to you at the end of each episode. Because the audience of our times must be entertained in small doses, at all times, and the attention span must be kept to a minimum. No waiting, no anticipation. There must remain no room for open interpretation, every idea must be dwindled without much thought, individuality must be blurred. Was it the year that was 2020 that did it alone? Not likely, we’ve had it long coming, but it was certainly the year that did us all, and the film industry, in. Here we are at a moment in history where screens are placed in front of us, from the youngest to the oldest generations, as pacifiers, revolutionaries, entertainers, educators and everything in between.

So.

This film.

The film that saved my night (I wish I could say the film that saved the world from itself): Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Welt am Draht (World on a Wire), 1973.

A glamorous cocktail party, circa the 1970s. The camera slowly glides past men and women jumping into the indoor swimming pool. Others stand at the bar in elegant evening attire. In the background, men with hats, with the air of secret agents, are watching. The camera stops on a good-looking man in a tuxedo. And only when we see him do we realize that something is slightly off with the rest of the party guests. People act strangely rigid, the facial expressions are minimal, their movements seem slightly mechanical, the language somewhat controlled and stiff. The man in the tuxedo is Dr. Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch) and he is the most humane of the people there. He is a scientist. He helped develop the Simulacron computer system, a simulation model of the real world, on the basis of which one hopes to gain information about future economic and political developments, to learn consumer habits decades from now. Since the mysterious death of his predecessor, Vollmer (Adrian Hoven), who shortly before his death spoke of having uncovered a terrible truth, he has been the new head of the Institute for Future Research.

Stiller starts doubting that his world is the real one – does he also perceive what is in fact his imaginary world as if it were the real one? Or is he delusional? 25 years before The Matrix, Rainer Werner Fassbinder made Welt am Draht. What Fassbinder’s film brilliantly does is that it denies the viewer the show elements that are usually present in American sci-fi films. The simulated reality could very well be the present day of the 1970s and the alienation theme is more disquieting than any artificially-looking futuristic setting. And the ones populating this world, whether it’s real or virtual, seem to be mere images of themselves caught in their own contained universe. Is it real? Is it simulated? Almost half a century later, this sounds frightfully familiar. How frightening is it that we let it happen?
 

Left: Photo by Classiq Journal | Right: Meredith Erickson shares the Kaiserschmarrn chopped pancake recipe on The Taste Edit.

 
 
The Classiq Journal newsletter goes out the first Sunday of each month. It’s a culture trip.

Reading

Books
The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait*, by Blake Bailey. I only found out about this book after I had learned about Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth coming out this spring. The Splendid Things We Planned is a darkly humorous and witty account (the humour comes just at the right time, the wit helps you read between the lines) of a family in ruins that seamlessly becomes more and more harrowing as you turn the pages. It’s a moving, profound and painful examination of a dysfunctional family and of Blake’s deeply troubled brother, Scott. As it approaches the end, you feel how the story suddenly gropes you with a finality you yet knew it couldn’t be helped.

Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, by Julie Andrews
I am taking my time reading this. Some people have a gift for storytelling and it seems so natural that Julie Andrews is an established children’s books author. I would love to hear this book read by Julie, because it is so elegantly written, so finely tuned with that great sense of British humour, so unsentimentally punctuated with frankness, qualities that have always defined my image of Julie Andrews, that the only thing that seems to be missing is that unique voice.
 
 

”A lot of my life happened in great, wonderful bursts of
good fortune, and then I would race to be worthy of it.”

Julie Andrews

 
 
Online
Alicia Kennedy is a food and drink writer based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and her newsletter, sent out every Monday, takes the form of essays that reach out to much wider issues, from food labor, to politics and climate change. Paid subscribers can participate in Wednesday discussions and receive Alicia’s interviews on Fridays.

The interview
Let me just say this: Tell me about any film featuring Bryan Cranston and I will watch it just because of him. There are very few tv series I have watched in the last years, especially in the last year (wildly surprising, I know, but I am a cinema goer and if I can’t have that (while I am waiting for and saying to myself that this is the moment for the movie theater to reinvent itself), at least I owe the movies the much more intentional deed of choosing what movie to watch from my shelves, hovering over its cover art and then putting it in the player instead of clicking on Netflix), but I will surely watch Your Honor, the miniseries where Bryan Cranston plays a judge who grapples with his own principles after his own son is involved in a hit and run. Until then, I loved reading Bryan Cranston reminiscing about his life-defining motorcycle trips through America.
 
 

Left: “Bird on a Wire”, Nadya Zim photographic print available in original landscape size in the shop
Right: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire, The Criterion Collection

 
 
Viewing

A Simple Plan, 1998, directed by Sam Raimi
A great snow neo-noir, a masterfully built story of greed, guilt, decaying human behaviour and mounting tragedy presented through two of those great character arch developments, those of Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, in two formidable performances.

Incendies, 2010, directed by Dennis Villeneuve
Born a Christian, Nawal (Lubna Azabal, who makes such an incredibly visceral role) fell in love with a Muslim. What ensues is a family quest narrative that takes place between Montreal and an unnamed country that’s likely to be Lebanon. The culminating point is so devastatingly shocking that makes you question so many things, from religion, to nationality, racism, cruelty, hatred and love.

Mr. Klein, 1976, directed by Joseph Losey
There is something of Jef Costello in Robert Klein. In his sharp suits, double-breasted tailored coats, pristine fedoras, carefully slipped-on leather gloves and calculated mannerisms, there is not much the perfectly groomed and perfectly dressed Mr. Klein leaves to chance in Joseph Losey’s film. But on a closer look, Alain Delon’s Mr. Klein’s identity is an illusion.

Night Train (Pociag), 1959, directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz
A noirish psychological story that reveals a microcosm of human experiences. In fact, the confined setting, an element of suspense and the fact that all the stories unfolding have as common denominator some aspect of love unequivocally reminded me of Hitchcock’s purely cinematic Rear Window. I wrote at length about it earlier this week.

The Ascent, 1977, directed by Larisa Shepitko
There are few world cinemas capable of transmitting such depth of human emotion on screen the way the Russian cinema does. During World War 2, two Russian partisans set out to find provisions for their starving outfit in a snowed-in Nazi-occupied Belorussia. They are captured by the enemy and forced the ordeal of deciding if they want to live or die. We don’t see bombs going off or soldiers blown to pieces or concentration camps, and yet this is one of the most powerful movies about the atrocities of war, where everything seems to happen in the close-ups of the characters’ faces. Who was that said that “the human face is the subject of the cinema?”
 
 

“My experience went through the early 60s, where boys wore short hair and this new thing called rock and roll came in, and boy, I remember everybody on the block when the Beatles came to America, and we bought albums and we would
get together and put a stack of records on and whenever someone had enough
money to buy an album, we all went over to their house to listen to it. We’d study
the art on the cover of an album and we’d study the liner notes and we knew the lyrics, because the lyric sheets were involved in it. So, you dove into it.

I think, these days there are so many more distractions going on that it’s
harder to dive in past the headlines. I think we live in a headline world now
and that’s unfortunate because you don’t get the whole story behind it.”

Bryan Cranston

 
 
Listening

Music
The Remote Part, Idlewild. Fleetwood Mac. On vinyl, if possible.

Podcasts
Whetstone is a magazine dedicated to food origins and food culture. Their podcast, Point of Origin, is about deepening the public’s understanding by going to the source, to every corner of the world, to explore where the things we eat and drink come from. More and more people are opening their eyes to labour related issues that are so clearly connected to food and the conversation is finally starting to shift and start at the root of the food chain, at the farmer, grower or migrant worker.

Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing, still one of my favourite podcasts, is usually mentioned in My Regulars (see further down this newsletter), but I wanted to highlight this episode with Stanley Tucci, which ran last year, because Stanley Tucci has a book, Taste: My Life through Food, that will come out this year. In it, the actor and avid cook will “share my experiences and love of all things culinary.” On Here’s the Thing, Alec Baldwin talks to Stanley Tucci about movies, food, and life in London. Alec has also recently talked to Mick Fleetwood, the drummer and a founding member of Fleetwood Mac, a conversation I also recommend – so many words of wisdom, about friendship, a parent’s faith in his child, music. I loved the Fleetwood Mac stories from Sound City, too.

Making

Every month I highlight one lifestyle/design brand that I believe in 100%. Taylor Foster is a mother, a baker, a model and the maker of an organic beauty line, Heaven on Main Street. She makes everything by hand in Bovina, NY, where she grows or forages plants from her land and infuses them into formulas. Living the simple, slow-paced country life has never looked so good, free and happy.

Exploring

In the Alps and Meters Journal, Meredith Erickson shares her love for the Alps and food. I believe her book, Alpine Cooking, which came out last year, might be just the right escape for the time being. It’s a cookbook and travelogue showcasing the regional cuisines of the Alps, including 80 recipes for the elegant and rustic dishes served in the chalets and mountain huts situated among the alpine peaks of Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and France. And I finally have a reason not to feel guilty about the fact that the early afternoon is the time of day when it is impossible for me to be any productive whatsoever: “The fact that my mind doesn’t work from 3-4 pm, I try to just choose something to tackle”.

Libraries. Who doesn’t want to get lost in there? Especially that they have the Accidentally Wes Anderson stamp of approval.

The regulars: The interviews, newsletters and podcasts I turn to every week and/or every month because they are that good.

Craig Mod’s newsletters, Roden and Ridgeline.
Wes Del Val’s book-ish interviews.
Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman.
Here’s the Thing, with Alec Baldwin.
Monocle magazine, in print.
 
 

 
 
*Note: For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the books recommended here, I have linked to the respective publishing house or author. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore I will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.

Posted by classiq in Books, Culture, Film, Newsletter | Leave a comment

Night Train and a Rear Window-like Microcosm of Human Experiences

Night Train, 1959. Zespól Filmowy “Kadr”

 

The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema


 
 
Atmospheric jazz music plays on the opening scene that shows us the animated entrance to a railway station. Where are they going? What are their stories? Why hadn’t it occurred to me before that jazz music goes with train journeys? It’s not an up-beat, jaunty music, it’s not romantic either, but a moody and reflective theme, Moon Ray (originally Artie Shaw’s) sung by Polish jazz singer and composer Wanda Warska, hauntingly recurring throughout the film. A train on the move, during a long trip (this one making the journey between Łódź and the Baltic resort of Hel), is the right setting that, on the background of the rhythmically speeding rail cars, affords you the unique chance of being a passenger in your own life and also a spectator at the world. What has been, what will be, how we imagine what could have been, what might be, what we want it to be.

Night Train (Pociag), 1959, directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, is a noirish psychological story that reveals a microcosm of human experiences. In fact, the confined setting, an element of suspense (the possibility of a murderer being among the passengers) and the fact that all the stories unfolding have as common denominator some aspect of love unequivocally reminded me of Rear Window, Hitchcock’s brilliantly, purely cinematic film, where James Stewart is confined to his chair, thus at the same time willingly and unwillingly becoming a spectator looking at the people living across the courtyard. The court yard however “conveys an image of the world”, as François Truffaut remarked. “It shows every kind of human behavior – a real index of individual behavior,” Hitchcock agreed. “The picture would have been very dull if we hadn’t done that. What you see across the way is a group of little stories that, as you say, mirror a small universe.”
 

Night Train, 1959. Zespól Filmowy “Kadr”

 
And all those little stories involve some aspect of love. In Night Train, we, the spectators, play James Stewart, peering into the lives of the passengers. And in Night Train, too, everything we see has a bearing of love. There is the coquettish wife who is bored with her ignoring husband and openly flirts with every available man, there are the man train conductor and the woman train conductor who are conservatively attentive to one another and pay each other nice compliments, there is a young navy man and a teenage girl who shyly throw glances at each other, there is the couple in love whom we only see at the beginning of the film when they board the train and then we forget about them and are only reminded of their presence when the controller rushes them out of the train after they reach the destination because they have overslept, having not left their compartment during the trip, there is the confirmed, cynical bachelor, who makes a remark about women, too, saying that he is better off without them, and even the murderer on the run is wanted for killing his wife, a crime of passion.
 

Night Train, 1959. Zespól Filmowy “Kadr”

 
And there are of course the two main characters, accidentally travelling together in the same sleeping car, she a woman with a past (one of her suitor’s is also on the train), he shielding away from something, both lonesome and unhappy, who have the courage to talk about their most hidden thoughts only because they are strangers to one another, unlikely to ever see each other again. Their elegance – Lucyna Winnika’s ice cool Hitchcockian blonde Marta in her off-the-shoulders black top and full checkered skirt, standing out from the crowd, Leon Niemczyk’s Jerzy arriving with his dark sunglasses on, very Cary Grant in North by Northwest-like, suit, white shirt and knitted tie in place – along with their loneliness and unhappiness could have played as a catalyzer for their binding. The fact that they are not, and on the evocative jazz sound, brings the film’s subtle examination of solitude to a striking effect. Each one of these characters is a display of human frailty, each one of them is in pursuit of happiness, each one of them has some notion of some semblance of happiness, but for each one of them happiness remains out of reach for the time being. The final shot is of the empty sleeping car, still messy after the passengers have left, the wind blowing through the open window, nobody in sight, on the sound of the recurring musical theme.
 
 

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Posted by classiq in Film | | Leave a comment