Read Instead…in Print


 
A photo of a good book about cinema or filmmakers. No discursive, pretentious analyses, no verbose scrutiny. Because the idea is to invite you to read the book, not read about it here. But instead of using social media, I use my journal. Back to basics. Take it as a wish to break free of over-reliance on social media (even if it’s just for posting a photo of a good book) for presenting my work, cultural finds and interests. These are things to be enjoyed as stand-alone pieces in a more substantial and meaningful way than showing them in the black hole of Instagram thronged with an audience with a short attention span. This is also a look through my voluminous collection of books about film that I use as research in my adamant decision to rely less and less on the online and more on more on print materials.

Read instead…in print #16.

A first full account in English of Jules Dassin’s life and work. Jules Dassin, who, according to François Truffaut, “made the best film noir I have seen.” Truffaut was, of course, referring to Rififi, which Dassin filmed in France, the first in five years of having trouble finding work after having been blacklisted in Hollywood by the House of Un-American Activities Committee. So I can not help feeling that Peter Shelley’s singular book on Dassin’s films, published as late as 2011, is the result of a facile reading of a great director. Ignorance continues to run deep unfortunately.

Part personal history, part reporting, part film commentary, the book, exhaustively researched (a journalistic trait I place great value on), is a comprehensive study of Dassin’s entire filmography. Because I like to stay away from film reviews, I often favour this documentarist approach. And I only wish I had Melina Mercouri’s autobiography, I Was Born Greek, which has been out of print for years, for an even more complete picture of her husband’s films and filmmaking.

 
 

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August Newsletter: On Close Encounters of Every Kind


 

Photos: Classiq Journal

 
At the beginning of summer, we made a list of films to watch for the whole family. With each science-fiction film checked off the list (Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind being the latest), the question remains: “When can I see Alien?” I don’t quite yet know what to answer to my seven-year-old, but I am looking forward to the moment. I can not wait to relate to a child’s enthusiasm when he watches for the first time one of the defining sci-fi films. My wishful thinking? To watch it on the big screen.

In space no one can hear you scream.

What, in my opinion, makes Alien extraordinary is that it belongs to itself, and to cinema. Retaining a trace of the independent spirit of the New Hollywood, as well as an European sensibility, Alien created a world that lived on its own. A world, mainly contrived to the interior of the ship Nostromo, with its empty and immersive corridors and spaces and a feeling of otherness, that I think can be best described as organic. It merges biology and technology in a way it had never been done before, nor since, in sci-fi cinema, investigating how it is to be human in a hostile universe where you encounter other biological and artificial life.

It is not an action film, there are no hierarchies, no gender references, no sentimental dialogue (all paths that, unfortunately, the ordinary sequels subsequently took). None of this matters out there, in the infinite space. There is something bigger than you out there. You simply get the sense of that watching the film. It uniquely conjures up primal emotions, the kind I imagine you would experience if you witnessed the dawn of human existence. That’s my personal relationship with Alien, one of those few films you don’t just experience, but rather inhabit.

There is this particular scene, an early scene that made me alert, planting the seed in my head, the very first time I watched it years ago, that I was in for a great film, as well as for a great character, one of cinema’s greatest sci-fi characters. It is when Sigourney Weaver’s resolute Ellen Ripley – who, until that moment, has an unidentified role in the hierarchy of the spaceship – shows steely determination and cold calculation in directly refusing her captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), to admit Kane (John Hurt) back into the ship after Dallas, Kane and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) had left the ship to investigate the derelict craft after they received an emergency signal from a planet previously thought to be uninhabited, and an extraterrestrial creature had attached to Kane’s face.
 

”Dallas: Something has attached itself to him. We have to get him to the infirmary right away.
Ripley: What kind of thing? I need a clear definition.
Dallas: An organism. Open the hatch.
Ripley: Wait a minute. If we let it in, the ship could be infected. You know the quarantine procedure. Twenty-four hours for decontamination.
Dallas: He could die in twenty-four hours. Open the hatch.
Ripley: Listen to me, if we break quarantine, we could all die.
Lambert: Look, could you open the god-damned hatch? We have to get him inside.
Ripley: No. I can’t do that and if you were in my position, you’d do the same.
Dallas: Ripley, this is an order. Open that hatch right now, do you hear me?
Ripley: Yes.
Dallas: Ripley. This is an order. Do you hear me?
Ripley: Yes. I read you. The answer is negative.”

 
Who is this person? It’s not that often, not anymore anyway, when a character grabs your interest so fully and so forcefully. What makes her stay so cool? She’s the one who does her job. And I believed her. I believed she wouldn’t have let them in. The only reason why they are let in is because another character, Ash, overrides Ripley and opens the hatch. Sigourney Weaver played her role cool. Androgynous and with a masculine height and dressed in her spaceship uniform and displaying that hard look refusing to allow herself to be governed by her emotions. Her work ethics and functional uniform are so far from the norm of today’s society that Ripley, more than forty years on, is a near-mythical creature herself, more so than she has ever been.
 


 
 

Viewing

Pour elle, 2008
Fred Cavayé

Intimate drama and unrelenting thriller at the same time, Fred Cavayé’s debut film is a beautiful piece of movie-making. Julien Auclert (Vincent Lindon) and his wife Lisa (Diane Kruger) – both Vincent and Diane are so very, very good in their roles – live a happy and comfortable life with their son, Oscar (Lancelot Roch). Their world is shattered when, one evening, the police break into their home and arrest Lisa for murder. Unable to prove her innocence (a matter of unfortunate circumstance and justice miscarriage), Lisa is serving a 20+year sentence. But when she starts refusing to take her insulin (she is a diabetic), Julien knows that the only way to save her is to break her out of prison. I have chosen the Japanese poster for Pour elle (Anything for Her) to use in the newsletter because it visualises so well the film, with the blurry background of the wall plastered with Julien’s sketches, notes and newspaper clippings that make up the escape plan, and the couple in the foreground, the impatient look of two people in love who can’t see their future further the present desperation that has unexpectedly taken over their lives. It’s the moment that can break you or make you do things you would never have thought you could possibly do.
 

The Breakfast Club, 1985
John Hughes

I have a soft spot for the teen movies of the 1980s. Some Kind of Wonderful, written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch, is one of my favourites, but the one I’ve seen most recently is The Breakfast Club, another Hughes film. I am usually against quotes or slogans covering the film poster that try to sell the film, but this one is the exception to the rule: “They only met once, but it changed their lives forever. They were five total strangers, with nothing in common, meeting for the first time. A brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse. Before the day was over, they broke the rules. Bared their souls. And touched each other in a way they never dreamed possible.” The only background they need is the music of the ‘80s.
 

Un éléphant ça trompe énormément (Pardon mon affaire), 1976
Yves Robert

I can’t remember when it was the last time I laughed so much at a film. Pardon mon affaire is madly funny without failing to be a good film and without falling into the ridicule or into triviality. Four men best friends (Jean Rochefort, Claude Brasseur, Guy Bedos and Victor Lanoux, all impeccably cast) would go to any length to help each other. It all starts when Étienne (Jean Rochefort), a family man, falls head over heels for a mysterious woman in a red billowy dress after a Marilyn Monroe above a windy grating moment. The film is loaded with humour and slapstick moments, but while I was watching, there is something else I realised: films used to have a certain pace, they took time being made, they were made with joy, it wasn’t just entertainment.
 

The More the Merrier, 1943
George Stevens

Isn’t Jean Arthur one of the best comedic actors? And she’s at her best George Stevens’ quick-witted comedies. The Talk of the Town, co-starring Cary Grant, is one of them. The More the Merrier is another one. Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) decides to sublet her apartment to two men, Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) and Joe Carter (Joel McCrea), because of the housing crunch during World War II. Jean Arthur is so naturally funny. Comical yet not silly ridiculous. So gracefully yet confidently making her way among the men. It’s the attitude and body language, the verbal wit and physical humour, that distinctive voice that could be low and husky or going into a high pitch, simply put, so much more than what meets the eye that completes the picture. She knows how to be romantic, smart and grown-up without forgetting to be a tomboy and free-spirited and funny. And I like the different kind of humour that Joel McCrea, with his quiet demeanor, and Charles Coburn, with his usual effervescent self, bring to the film.
 

Left: Photo by Lusophonica, Cascais, Portugal: “Lusophonica is a coffeeshop. And also a radio.
A radio located in Cascais. And also a music nation.” | Right: Japanese film poster for “Pour Elle”, directed by Fred Cavayé, 2008

 
 
Reading

“I read books for pleasure and their transformative power,” Philip Glass writes. He refers to literature, mainly, but his book, Words without Music, certainly has something of this transformative power. Not all artists’ memoirs give you a glimpse into their creative processes and minds the way this one does. Philip Glass grants you this access and it’s incredible. He not only makes and plays music, he hears and sees music. “I don’t make music to go with the film, I write the music that is the film (including Paul Schrader’s Mishima or Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream).” I simply found his composing journey fascinating, from operas to film music to operas adapted from Jean Cocteau’s film trilogy Orphée/La belle et la bête/Les enfants terribles. On a side note, here is the Philip Glass calendar for the upcoming months on the occasion of the musician’s 85th anniversary this year.

Not since waiting for David Lynch’s Room to Dream have I looked forward more enthusiastically to a director’s book than I am for Quentin Tarantino’s Cinema Speculation. It’s due to come out in November, but I am already counting the days to its release (which is why I am writing about it in August). The best part is that it’s not autobiographical, but organised around key American films from the 1970s, all of which Tarantino first saw as a young moviegoer at the time. “At once film criticism, film theory, a feat of reporting, and wonderful personal history, it is all written in the singular voice recognizable immediately as QT’s and with the rare perspective about cinema possible only from one of the greatest practitioners of the artform ever.”
 

Listening

Creedence Clearwater Revival, anytime, anywhere. And the best news is that the band’s legendary 1970 show, Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall, is set for release (on vinyl, cd and cassette – doesn’t the design of a cassette look better than ever before?) for the first time in late autumn. A documentary concert film, directed by Bob Smeaton and narrated by Jeff Bridges, is also ready for release. Jeff Bridges narrates: “What set Creedence apart from many of their contemporaries was their ability to produce the sound of their records on stage, and the primal excitement and joy of their concerts, which came from their love of live performance.”

Biffy Cliro.

The Stone Roses’ self titled 1989 album, and 1980s music galore, including The Breakfast Club and Some Kind of Wonderful soundtracks.

 

 
 
Making

There is something so liberating and authentically inspiring about brick and mortar shops that have no online version whatsoever. Together, Lisbon, is one such store. It requires a close encounter to discover it. You have to pass its threshold. The owner, artist Anna Westerlund, told me: “Together is a long time dream! It is an Anna Westerlund shop in the way that it is my shop, carrying all the collections, one off pieces and new ones that I am testing. It works a little bit like a scenery where I can test new ideas and having that permanent stage for my pieces is amazing. But at Together, we mix my ceramics with other brands that I feel compliment my work and makes the experience of who visits us richer. I think it would be boring if it was just ceramics!”
 
 
 

”I pursued literature as a personal refreshment. My opinions
didn’t need to be authenticated or verified by anyone else.
I read books for pleasure and their transformative power.”

Philip Glass, Words without Music

 
 
 
Exploring

Record stores, radio waves and the most original list of adventure films and documentaries I have come across so far.

Decked out in 1950s fashion and posters of Mick Jagger, James Brown, Serge Gainsbourg and David Bowie on the wall, Rupture Records, a record shop in the 10th Arrondissement in Paris, was founded five years ago on the premises of reconnecting with the pop culture from the 1950s to the 1980s, and of reconnecting people with culture. “We restore value to the music, we return to the object and the quality of the music,” owner Alexander Sap told Le Figaro when the store opened. “That’s what vinyl stands for. We take the time to choose, to look at the covers, to read a booklet, to feel the material, to hear the sound unfold, to breathe and to listen.”

 

 
 

”I knew right away that the image and the music could not be
on top of each other, because then there would be no room
for the spectators to invent a place for themselves.”

Philip Glass, Words without Music

 
 
 
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. Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman. Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter. The Racquet magazine newsletter. The Adventure Podcast: Terra Incognita. The print magazines Monocle and Sirene.

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This Summer We’re Channeling: Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood”

Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”. Photo by Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures

 
The Hollywood of my mind… The Hollywood I would have loved to see is not the Golden Era Hollywood, nor the modern day Hollywood, but that very Hollywood depicted in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. A Hollywood trying to make peace with itself and move forward, a Hollywood that reflects the changes taking place in those times, in America and in the film industry, a time of changing identities and manhood perceptions, a time of decline for the old studio system and of rise of the independent cinema. But also a Hollywood that for sure is not just one of reality, but one of Tarantino’s imagination as well. And I find that even more fascinating. Another incredible thing about this Hollywood is that the two main characters, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, are themselves voyeurs of the glamour of Hollywood. They are like you and me. Even Rick. He may be working there, and even be living there, but he isn’t living the high life. He is mesmerised by it, but keeps it real, he’s there to do his job, and his job is acting, not being a star.

Delirious, funny, shocking, exhilarating, beautifully crafted around movie lore and history, blending fiction with reality, brimming with pop culture detail and an idiosyncratic soundtrack that takes you to another time and another Hollywood. You can not remain indifferent to Quentin Tarantino’s black comedy crazy bravura and auteurist excursion. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is ultimately about what it is like to live and die in L.A., by way of Tarantino’s liberal take on history and freeing visionary mind.

It’s the diffused LA light that seems to always remind you, even if it’s just in the back of your head, of the most notorious light, the dream-effect and disillusioned limelight of Hollywood. It’s the homage payed to Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie), depicting her, through scarce dialogue and infused with optimism, joy and a luminous aura, as an angelic, surreal creature, looming over the entire film. It’s the 60s, in time and place: posters-within-the-film, some sourced from the director’s impressive personal collection, some commissioned to the renowned Renato Casaro, vintage cars, the recreation of entire parts of Hollywood Blvd. and other cultural fixtures, bookstores, shops and bars. It’s the music: Every time a car starts, the music starts blasting from the radio. It was the 1960s. Music was very much part of the culture, and there was a car-based culture, and music was mainly listened to on the radio in the car. It’s, after all, Quentin Tarantino, one of the last purveyor’s of movie making. And there is just one definition of movie making: that in which artistic freedom is still possible, when a director still thinks in terms of making movies just for himself, with every thought and every sense and every emotion put into making a film, when he does what he likes and says what he thinks.
 

Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”. Photo by Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures

 
And it’s the 60s style made timeless.

When it comes to the costumes, there is a lot to take in, from Rick Dalton’s bellbottom-trousers-turtlenecks-golden-chains outfits (slightly out of fashion even for the late 1960s, thus keeping with his washed-up career), to Sharon Tate’s go-go boots, mini skirts and snake skin print coat (inspired by Sharon’s own personal style, but adding a fictitious element to it as well). Costume designer Arianne Phillips had most of the costumes made, but also sourced some of them at costume warehouses, flea markets and vintage sales.

But it is Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth who takes costume design beyond ‘60s fashion and transforms it into timeless style. He makes the Hawaiian shirt worn unbuttoned over a sun-bleached Champion white t-shirt (the logo belongs to the Champion auto parts brand, not the clothing brand by the same name) tucked into his vintage blue jeans and cowboy buckle look cool and current. The look is completed with suede moccasins, gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses, leather bracelets and a gold Citizen 8110 Bullhead watch. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it also shows that he is keeping with the changing times, something Cliff is far more willing to accept than Rick. It’s both his attitude and clothes, modern yet very much of those times, that project this California cool which everybody has been so eager to emulate since the film’s release. He is the stuntman of an actor of the old guard in decline, he lives in a trailer next to a drive-in theatre, and has no perspective whatsoever. Yet, he is content with what life offers him, he lives in the moment, he is optimistic. That very much captures the end of the decade’s uplifting, freewheeling spirit – it was a time of change.

There have been other memorable Hawaiian shirt moments in cinema – most notably Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet, Montgomery Clift in both From Here to Eternity and A Place in the Sun, or Al Pacino in Scarface. None of those had the timeless appeal of Brad Pitt’s yellow shirt in Once Upon a Time. It’s the whole blue jeans – white tee pairing that does the trick, and the Southern California setting (bathed in that warm light that envelops Robert Richardon’s overall photography as well as these film set stills of Brad Pitt shot by unit photographer Andrew Cooper) that creates an imprint and nostalgia for a certain open and bright lifestyle, and a collective yearning for a less complicated life. Little did we know when the film came out, in 2019, how soon and how much we would collectively start to yearn for it.
 
 

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The Stone Roses at Golden Hour


 
There’s something about a 1980s soundtrack and a long summer’s day evening at golden hour, when the heat is finally starting to defuse (we are living through a heatwave – are you, too?), that seems to, you want it to, stretch on forever. I have always loved the music of the ‘80s, but watching Some Kind of Wonderful a couple of weeks ago (reportedly, John Hughes wrote the script on the soundtrack and the fact is that every song matches beat for beat each sequence) forged a newly found appreciation for the sound and the charged atmosphere of the music of that decade and for everything else it stood for. “We were focusing on our own obsessions, problems, and frustrations, but also adding in romance instead of just negativity,” writes Billy Idol in his book, Dancing with Myself. “With our slightly more straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll direction, we picked up an audience that wasn’t exclusively punk. So we outraged some purists but drew in music lovers and started to create the larger-than-life images that went beyond punk and into the ‘80s.”

The Stone Roses’ self titled 1989 album is the current mood. It has its own place on the playlist of an endless summer.
 

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Taking a Shot at Paul Newman


 
“Hmmm, Paul Newman”, my son casually remarks as he rushes off by our countryside living room table, casting a look towards the new book that has made an appearance among the many other film books on display. He doesn’t stop, it’s just a frugal look – like saying hi to a member of the family, his eyes clearly focused on the Animalopoly game, the afternoon indoor activity forced on us by the heatwave. At seven, he is yet to watch a Paul Newman film. He has already seen Jaws and The Birds, as well as other more age-appropriate movies like Jurassic Park, and he is eagerly waiting for his first western (we haven’t yet made up our minds which one – we may just as well settle on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), so discussions revolving film subjects have become quite common in our house. But I wasn’t aware that the other film talks we have that don’t always involve him have started to rub off on him. I’m glad. And hopeful maybe? Hopeful that future generations, with the proper guidance and a whole lot of love for movies (our film archive, as well as our book collection, has never been out of reach, doubling as a perfect browsing activity from an early age), will continue to pour over films and images of Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Cary Grant and Robert Redford the way we always have.

“Despite his obvious dramatic gift for portraying characters on screen, and in addition to the reputation he enjoyed for upstanding personal character and an earnest work ethic, I discovered a goofball Paul, too,” writes photographer Tom Zimberoff in his introduction to the book Paul Newman: Blue-Eyed Cool. Pinned to my permanent summer inspiration board, leaning against one of the walls of the afore-mentioned living room, is the Lawrence Schiller photo of Paul Newman, Robert Redford and one other guy playing ping pong in shorts, on a hot summer day in Mexico, in 1968. More than his memorable roles, more than the cool guy whose great looks never surpassed his individuality and quiet confidence, it’s the goofball Paul in that photo that is more than welcome to permeate our lives during the summer and define our summer vibe: “come as you are, do what you like”. Decades after his stardom years, another decade and a half after his passing away, Paul Newman still vividly connects to audiences of all ages, with the help of the moving pictures and of the photographers who have burnished, with skill and sensibility, his movie-star image, “that magical combination of both himself and the characters he portrayed on screen”.
 

Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Mexico, 1968. Photograph by Lawrence Schiller


 
Seen and remembered through the lens and words of six great photographers (there are never-before released photos, and there are candid, funny, great stories, like Terry O’Neill photographing Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood because there was no good photo of them together), Paul Newman: Blue-Eyed Cool, published this year (it should be a great companion to the up-coming autobiography of Paul Newman, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir, to be released this autumn), is a celebration of Paul Newman, the actor, the man, the family man, the car-racer, the philanthropist. It’s also a celebration of movies – that’s how he first came into our lives, through the movies, this one-of-a-kind medium that makes actors seem larger than life, who fill the screens with their hearts and presence and activate our souls and lives, and makes us even more fascinated with them when we discover that their humanity is above their stardom. Paul Newman was one of them. It’s not just about his movies. Any photo of him, on- or off-screen, any conversation about him, creates memories that can last forever, even in the mind of a seven-year-old. Just like a beautiful summer day.
 
 

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