8 1/2 on Federico Fellini’s Centenary

Marcello Mastroianni in “8 1/2”, 1963 | Cinerix, Francinez

 

There is no other film that has made me aware that one’s taste in cinema evolves as the years past by more than Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The first time I watched it, many many years ago, when I knew nothing about cinema and I wanted to watch as many films as possible in the shortest amount of time, I couldn’t finish it. The second time, some years later, I did make it to the end, but did not make much sense of it. I watched it again last week, anticipating today’s centenary of Fellini, and it was like I was watching it for the very first time, perfectly aware that I was viewing a masterpiece (a word I don’t use lightly) in cinema-making and artistic vision. And I know every time I will watch it again from now on, the more it will be revealed to me, the more absorbed in its revelations and mysteries I will be. Don’t all great films unlock new depths every time we watch them?

This intricate portrait of a famous film director, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), who is experiencing an acute crisis of confidence and creativity, draws largely on Fellini’s own experience that he encountered just as he was having a hard time to find an idea for his next film, notes Chris Wiegand in the book Federico Fellini: The Complete Films, the film that would become 8 1/2. Just like Mastroianni in the film, Fellini lost hold of the film even before starting shooting, and one day on the set he began writing a letter to his producer, Angelo Rizzoli, explaining his difficulty in directing the movie, while constantly being interrupted by the arrival of different cast members. When he finally could not take it anymore and got away for a breath of fresh air, he realised he had found the story idea: “I got straight to the heart of the film,” he told film critic Giovanni Grazzini. “I would narrate everything that had been happening to me. I would make a film telling the story of a director who no longer knows what film he wanted to make.” That’s 8 1/2.
 

Images above: Federico Fellini and his alter ego, Marcello Mastroianni on the set of “8 1/2”, 1963,
photographed by Gideon Bachmann

 
 

”Simply stated, I love to invent stories. From the caves to Titus Petronius
to the troubadours to Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen, I
would like to be in this tradition with films that are neither fiction nor
non-fiction, but approximate autobiography, archetypal tales of
heightened life, told with some inspiration.”

 
 
From the astonishing opening sequence – Guido’s nightmare where he is trapped in a traffic jam, unable to get out of his car and eventually succeeding to rise out of the car and float away only to be pulled down from the sky by a rope by his crew members eager to tie him down by his contractual obligations – to the memories of his childhood (another autobiographical element of Fellini’s) and the recurrent appearance of a mysterious vision, Claudia Cardinale, this is the imaginary world behind the chaotic life of a director. But everything is so spectacularly filmed in crystal clear black and white, with the camera constantly moving, making great use of surrealist elements (this is a surrealist comic film, after all), in the true vein of Luis Buñuel, that you can always tell when the reality ends and the fantasy begins, even though it is done so seamlessly. Guido’s escape to the dream world is so obvious because he feels at ease there. And 8 1/2 is a free space for dream and memory. It is a celebration of images over ideas.

Talking about the evolution of his work, Fellini said that “as I progressed I acquired more faith in images and increasingly tried to do less with words while filming.” This is the medium of cinema and Fellini was the master of its art. It’s Fellini’s tribute to cinema, the film that marked the apotheosis of his talent, the one that defined “Felliniesque” for good, freed from any remaining commitment to neorealism (as good as I Vitelloni and La strada may be and as much a fan of them as I may be) and unapologetically embracing personal fantasy and pure cinematic creation. Because Federico Fellini was the ultimate dreamer and how fortunate for us that he reached the point in his career when he could give shape to his dreams in film: “The best part of the day is when I go to bed. I go to sleep and the fête begins.” He said that Ernst Bernhardt, the psychoanalyst, “made me grasp that our dream life is no less important than our waking life, especially for the artist.” Fellini’s cinema is not fact, but feel, not a real life depiction, but an invention of new life.

There had been made other films about film-making before, like The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), but Fellini’s opened the path towards a specific new type of cine-fiction, focused on a director’s creative dilemma, on an artist’s dreams and demons, which proved to be a direct influence on François Truffaut’s La nuit américaine (1973), Woody Allen’s Starsust Memories (1980) or Pedro Almodóvar’s Dolor y gloria (2019). There has probably been no other filmmaker more often identified with his work on a personal level than Fellini and there is probably no other film more a mirror to the profession of filmmaker than 8 1/2.
 

Marcello Mastroianni and Sandra Milo in “8 1/2”, 1963 | Cinerix, Francinez

 

Federico Fellini on the set of “8 1/2”, 1963, photographed by Gideon Bachmann

 
8 1/2 cemented Marcello Mastroianni’s reputation as Fellini’s alter ego. Apart from the role itself, of a director in a creative dilemma, he also dresses like Fellini. Black suit, black slim tie, hat and those legendary sunglasses, behind which he seeks the respite from all the media circus, all producers and actors and women that gravitate around him, all the creative decisions he must make – the same kind of respite he finds in his dreams world. No one has worn the black suit better on screen. Marcello Mastroianni remains the quintessential example of the sartorial Italian, the personification of proverbial Italian masculine style. And his look in 8 1/2 is to remind all mankind that the single-breasted black suit, fitted white shirt and thin plain tie are the canon of perennial style. More than ever before, we are in dire need of this reminder, of the staying power of classics, in a time when the caprices of fashion seem to get hold of an entire generation against personal identity and ineffable taste.
 

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film | | Leave a comment

Louder Than War

¡Oye Esteban!, Morrissey

 
I heard Morrissey’s new single, Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?, in duet with Thelma Houston, on the radio in the car one morning this week. Always the controversial, never the predictable. And why not? He is uncompromising in his art and ethics and often misinterpreted by those who want everyone to think and speak alike. I remember Morrissey’s words from his autobiography, a book written with audacious skill and understated humour, sincere to the core, devastatingly articulate and completely authentic: “I didn’t want to live unseen, camouflaged within the crowd. I knew then that life could only ever be changed for the better because somebody somewhere had taken a risk – often with their own life.” So instead of reading what the press says about Morrissey maybe everyone should first read this book. For those interested, here is also a great interview Morrissey conducted with Joni Mitchell many years ago.

Later in the day I lay my eyes on the cover of the indie, alternative and post punk music magazine Louder Than War. Editors, one of my favourite bands, fronted the cover. It was a good day for music, I concluded, especially after I read the Louder Than War manifesto, of which I have taken the liberty to quote my favourite parts below.
 
Words are my weapons. The writing will be informative but also emotional. I want people who are immersed in culture and want to fire you up with their love of it.

Music is one of the last things we have left. No-one owns it. We can all make it. And we can all celebrate it. It is beyond the accountant’s grim fingers.

Fast forward to the future. We are always looking for the new noise, the next buzz, we have no borders, no boundaries.

Old, new, borrowed and blue. The future does not mean a fear of the past – we have a wonderful archive of classic features which we will exhibit; movers and shakers from any period always burn brightly.

Do you believe in the power of rock n roll? We still believe in the power of music and we still believe in the counter culture.

People once wanted to save the world now they are saving up to buy it. We are a break from that.

Here is a playlist with music that has something to say.
 
 

 
 

1. Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?, Morrissey ft. Thelma Houston/ 2. Everything Now, Arcade Fire / 3. Marching Orders, Editors / 4. Lips Like Sugar, Echo & the Bunnymen / 5. Another One Goes By, The Walkmen / 6. I Won’t Be Long, Beck / 7. Mr. Brightside, The Killers / 8. Do I Wanna Know, Arctic Monkeys / 9. Riders on the Storm, The Doors / 10. Age of Consent, New Order / 11. Modern Love, David Bowie / 12. Monkeyland, The Chameleons / 13. Nothing Lasts Forever, Echo & the Bunnymen / 14. Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division / 15. Heartbreaker, The Walkmen / 16. Drive, R.E.M. / 17. Show of Strength, Echo & the Bunnymen / 18. Ready to Start, Arcade Fire / 19. First of the Gang to Die, Morrissey / 20. All the Kings, Editors

 

Posted by classiq in Culture, Sounds & Crafts | | Leave a comment

Editorial: All the Comfort in the World, No Compassion

Yohannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli in ”Force Majeure”, 2014 | BLS Business Location Südtirol-Alto Adige, Beofilm

 

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


 
 
Back in 2014, one of my favourite films of the year was Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure. I wrote about it at the time, after it premiered at Cannes, and I have watched it again recently, before they release the American remake, titled Downhill, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in the lead roles. Because why should Hollywood come up with something original when they have a recipe for a successful film to replicate and reap the benefits domestically? Especially that it will be in English, so that the wide American public won’t even have to bother with the subtitles.

Will it however reach the sharp dry tone and multilayered story of Force Majeure? I doubt it. The American version will probably be one more obviously comedic, with appeal to the larger public, thus losing the subtlety of an incisive portrayal of a privileged modern-day family and lifestyle. The darkly comedic Swedish drama unfolds as a Swedish family travels to the French Alps for a five-day skiing holiday. During a lunch at the resort’s rooftop restaurant, an avalanche risks everyone’s lives and turns everything upside down, after Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), the mother, desperately tries to protect the two children, while Tomas (Yohannes Kuhnke), the father, grabs his cell phone and runs for his life. It is a great satire, about a family shaken to its core, with a well written screenplay, beautiful cinematography capturing the alien nature, the alienation of the contemporary-world human, and the contrast between nature and man trying to control the force of nature. The film is a great character study, benefitting from great acting, especially of the two main actors (there is so much drama and emotion happening on the faces of Ebba and Tomas), and sometimes wickedly funny, without diminishing the permanent anxiety hovering over though, as if you are expecting another dramatic thing to happen any moment.

The film looks at human behaviour from the point of view of a family in crisis, but it questions in fact the self-centered interests of an entire Western society. In an interview for Film Comment at the time of the film’s release, the director said: “But this kind of lifestyle – I mean, just look at the electronic toothbrush. We’ve reached a level of comfort, and we’re allowing ourselves to let relationship problems be the main focus of our lives. I think that that kind of lifestyle is silly, and we have to look at those problems from a realistic perspective – this isn’t something that we should put all our strength into. Shouldn’t being at that socioeconomic level make us think: “How do we change other people’s situations? How do we fight for other people’s rights? How do we deal with extreme poverty in other parts of the world?” But Western society, and the whole culture that we are basing our society on, is telling us that we are allowed to put all our effort into relationship problems.”

Ruben Östlund’s words distill very well not only the idea of the film, but one of the greatest flaws of our society. Everyone has become so selfish, so absorbed with one’s own well-being – and we can extend that to one’s own family, one’s own business (“I don’t know how my friends are because all they talk about when we meet is how busy they are,” someone was saying and how frightfully right she is), even one’s Western world – that nobody cares about anybody and anything else anymore, let alone the world at large. Just because we are not policy makers doesn’t mean we are not individually accountable for anything but ourselves. We have reached a point where none of us can be just a teacher, or a photographer, or a writer, or a doctor, or a parent anymore. We have to care more about one another and about the world we live in, we have to finally take action against our decades-long carelessness and neglect towards the one next to us, towards the less fortunate, towards our surroundings. We take everything for granted (like those electronic toothbrushes in the film), we are all expecting grand gestures from others and do nothing in return. There is too much of everything and yet we produce more, we want more of everything, more comfort for our lives so that we can feel fulfilled, and that’s it, that’s where it stops, with personal welfare and professional accomplishments. We have forgotten to be human (human as in Force Majeure at the end when the people feel connected as they are all walking together on the road). We should start with being kinder to one another and to our world.

I don’t think the American sense of humour has all the nuances capable of capturing and transmitting this kind of message.
 

Posted by classiq in Editorial, Film | Leave a comment

Dressing the Classes: The Rules of the Game and Gosford Park

Kristin Scott Thomas in “Gosford Park”, 2001 | USA Films, Capitol Films

 
 
“I learned the rules of the game from The Rules of the Game,” said Robert Altman about Gosford Park (2001), inspired by Jean Renoir’s La règle du jeu (1939). On the surface, Renoir’s film takes the superficial form of a country house farce resulted in an accidental death, a case of mistaken identity, while Gosford Park employs the genre of the classic British murder mystery, as defined by Agatha Christie: guests and servants gather at a stately house and one of them is murdered. But just as The Rules of the Game is “a fusion of moral statement and social observation, of comedy and tragedy, of fantasy and cruelty, the culmination of Renoir’s quest for la drame gai“, as Andrè Bazin wrote in the book Jean Renoir, Altman uses the setting of the murder mystery but surpasses its limitations and makes it his own, a sardonic, deeply layered story of greed, snobbery, eccentricity and class exploitation. Two satires of two different societies and cultures.

Renoir depicts the ruling class as silly adulterers, with the working class emulating them at smaller scale. He shows husbands and wives, lovers and cheaters, masters and servants sneaking behind doors and into each other’s bedrooms and pretending they are all suitable
representatives of a well ordered society. Gosford Park begins with perfect order, too, where everyone up and down the ladder class seems to know their place. Until that order is disrupted by murder and disclosures of unexpected interlinks between the classes, unveiling a labyrinthine plot. Set in 1932, the action unfolds during a weekend shooting party hosted by Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his wife, Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas), at his estate, Gosford Park. Among the guests are friends, relatives, the actor Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and an American producer, Weissman (Bob Balaban, also one of the screenwriters on Gosford Park). Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Richard E. Grant, Maggie Smith, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Ryan Phillippe and Geraldine Somerville round the cast. The hunting party is a rehearsal for the party at the estate and this idea came right out of Renoir’s The Rules of the Game.
 

Mila Parely wearing Chanel in “La règle du jeu”, 1939 | Nouvelles Éditions de Films

Nora Gregor dresses in a Chanel hunting suit in “La règle du jeu”, 1939 | Nouvelles Éditions de Films

Kristin Scott Thomas in “Gosford Park”, 2001 | USA Films, Capitol Films

 
 
Renoir has a shooting party followed by a party at the château, too, but the game (the game of hunting, the game of love) is much more complex. Renoir’s film is now considered one of the greatest films ever made, but when it was released it was both a critical and public failure, it was soon after subjected to cuts and banned by the French government as demoralizing and unpatriotic and the original negative was destroyed during World War II, to be reconstructed only in 1959. It is a brilliantly constructed film, an intricate flux of movements and events, an extraordinary web of allusions, parodies and recurring motifs, where no scene is unnecessary, where every line of dialogue counts and has hidden meaning, and where the camera becomes one of the characters – it always looks like there are more scenes than one happening in one frame and the photography of The Rules of the Game is considered the precursor of the depth of field in cinematography.

It is the film in which Jean Renoir, the most humanist of directors, showed best his sense and taste of comedy that comes from his deep understanding of human nature and tragedy and his great ability of adapting his artistic sensibility to the realities of the contemporary world. La règle du jeu was made on the brink of the Second World War and it is the most advanced expression of prewar French realism, a portrayal of a corrupted, rarefied, ignorant, decadent society and of a morally defunct upper-class on the eve of the outbreak of world disaster. “When I made The Rules of the Game, I knew where I was going. I knew the evil that gnawed at my contemporaries. My instinct guided me, my awareness of the imminent danger led me to the situations and the dialogue. And my friends were like me. How worried we were! I think the film is a good one. But it is not difficult to work well when the compass of anxiety points in the true direction.”

The Rules of the Rules opens with aviator André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) completing a trans-Atlantic solo flight (ten years after Charles Lindbergh) only to lament at arrival because the woman he loves has not come to meet him. The rest of the action mostly takes place at La Coliniere, the country estate of the Marquis Robert de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio) and his wife, Christine (Nora Gregor), the love interest of Jurieux. Among the guests invited are socialite Geneviève (Mila Parely), Robert’s mistress, Jurieux and Octave (Renoir himself), the confidant and go-between to all of them. Lisette (Paulette Dubost) is Christine’s maid, who prefers attending to her madame in Paris instead of being a wife to Schumacher (Gaston Modot), de la Chesnaye’s gamekeeper at La Coliniere, and when she does arrive at the estate she starts to fool around with another servant, Marceau (Julien Carette).

In an interview with Marguerite Russot, for the January 1939 issue of Pour Vous, Renoir explained the scenario of La règle du jeu: “A precise description of the bourgeoisie of our age. I want to show that for every game, there are rules. If you don’t play accordingly, you lose.” But added that “but what I want to convey in this film is my great love for women. To do this, I have to show men, men who talk about women, who say everything that can be said about them.” Andrè Bazin observed that “the party at the château is a game, but it is nevertheless a game whose absurd rule is to die of love.” Because the real hunting party occurs at the château – and what confusion, chaos and finally tragedy will this unfold. When one of the characters comments upon Christine kissing Jurieux, another one observes: “We are here to hunt, not to write our memoirs.” The characters racing through the corridors, the exchanges of identity between masters and valets, gamekeeper Schumacher shooting at his wife’s suitor, these constitute the real hunt.
 

Jean Renoir, Roland Toutain and Nora Gregor in “La règle du jeu”, 1939 | Nouvelles Éditions de Films

 
 
That exchange of identity between masters and valets is differently but interestingly employed in Altman’s film. Downstairs, to avoid confusion, the valets and maids are referred to not by their real name, but by the names of their respective masters and ladyships. Carefully composed and textured, Gosford Park is a comment on hierarchy, a sharp comparison between the idle, aimless, glamorous above-the-stairs life and the tireless, backbreaking work necessary below-the-stairs to make it happen. One of the most suggestive ways to accomplish this contrast is through costumes. The ones upstairs wear what they like and the most luxurious clothes, the ones downstairs wear uniforms. There is no mingle between the classes, not as far as the clothes are concerned. “Didn’t you hear me? I am the perfect servant. I have no life of my own,” Helen Mirren’s character, Mrs. Wilson, says in Gosford Park. For the English, the working class’s meaning is to serve. “You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that,” says Isobel (Camilla Rutherford) when a valet surprises her talking intimately to one of the guests, Freddie (James Wilby), a married man. “Don’t worry about him, he’s nobody,” the man tells her.

Things are different with the French. The working class simply wants to emulate the ruling class, and the upper-class lets them. Christine takes her maid Lisette’s cloak without a moment’s thought because she can’t stand spending another moment in the house, and when a poacher, Marceau, is hired by de la Cheyniest as valet, he is happy because “I have always wanted to be a servant. Because of the clothes. I’ve always wanted to wear a suit.” The suit is a way to mimic the nobility. But Renoir’s message goes deeper than that. A guest to the house, a general, makes the following observation not once, but twice: “She has a touch of class, that’s a rare thing these days,” and that has nothing to do with the title of the one he is referring to, although she is part of the aristocracy. For Renoir, the matter of true nobility is not one of blood, but of the heart.
 

The English hierarchy of the classes seems well established | Michael Gambon, Emily Watson
and Richard E. Gant in “Gosford Park”, 2001 | USA Films, Capitol Films

The French working class emulates the ruling class at smaller scale | Paulette Dubost and Nora Gregor
in “Le règle du jeu”, 1939 | Nouvelles Éditions de Films

 
 
I believe Coco Chanel understood very well this nobility of the heart. She was a self-made woman, with the surest touch in fashion and the shrewdest sense for business, who not only imposed on the French and on the whole world the elements of the Chanel style, she imposed style and came to represent the epitome of class. She was born poor and then made a fortune and her clothes were not made to give women an aura of wealth, but of class, the kind of class that has nothing to do with social hierarchy.

Chanel made the costumes for La règle du jeu. Kristin Scott Thomas also wears one Chanel dress, from my knowledge, in Gosford Park (the first one in the images below). But Lady Sylvia’s entire wardrobe (costume design by Jenny Beavan), from her bias cut white evening dress and little black dresses to her little riding tweed jackets and buttoned-up shirts worn with ties and knitted cardigans, hints at Coco Chanel, beautifully reconciling modernism and tradition, French chic and English good taste. After all, Coco Chanel spent a lot of time in England during her relationship with The Duke of Westminster and knew not only how to impress the English, but drew inspiration from them as well. “At Eaton, Chanel slipped into the role of châtelaine with the same ease as she wore her silk fringed evening gowns, in sapphire blue or black, designed so as no to crease when they were packed for travelling,” writes Justine Picardie in the book Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life. Chanel’s love affair with the Duke was reflected in her new designs. She not only understood that the clothes had to be more formal in England than for similar occasions in France, but won the admiration of the British with the element of youth she brought to the classics. Chanel’s practical sense of style made sense on both sides of the channel.
 

Kristin Scott Thomas in “Gosford Park”, 2001 | USA Films, Capitol Films

 
 
Coco Chanel loved men’s fashion, wanted to free women from the constraints of what was considered acceptable women’s fashion, and soon started to blend menswear and womenswear and to adopt men’s clothes into her own wardrobe and designs. At Lochmore, she borrowed the Duke’s clothes, making his tweeds her own, and wearing them with an elegance not usually associated with traditional sporting attire. She then started to source fabrics from a Scottish tweed mill for her signature little jackets and suits. She also adopted the uniforms and striped waistcoats of the footmen and butlers at Eaton, transforming them into what Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar dubbed “Chanel’s English Look”, which “also included the loose woolen cardigans that she herself wore with the yards of real pearls that the Duke gave to her,” as Picardie writes.

When Geneviève arrives at the château in La règle du jeu, she takes her cheetah-fur coat off and keeps the belt to fasten over her skirt. Make it functional. Minimalize. That’s true sophistication. The skirt has pockets, of course, and it cuts right below the knees in a straight line. She wears it with a buttoned-up white shirt and two strings of pearls over it. Classic Chanel. At the shooting party, both Christine and Geneviève are wearing tailored tweeds, skirt and double-breasted waist-lined jacket, each jacket with rear vents and inverted pleats that allow freedom of movement for the game of shooting. The camera even captures from behind this mobility of the clothes when Christine aims to shoot. La petit robe noir makes its appearance, too, a couple of times. Both versions are worn by Christine, the first one is a day dress, simple and practical, with white collar, cuffs and a little white ribbon subtly placed at the waist, the other one is a silk cocktail dress, elbow-sleeved and with a low neckline fastened by a brooch at the chest. Christine hardly wears anything too lavish, except for the white fur at the beginning of the movie and a white silk night robe later on. It is Geneviève who dresses more exotic – a luxurious embroidered robe when we first meet her, a gold lamé dress at the party, a white night robe with its huge sleeves covered in white fur. Both women’s looks encapsulate their characters best and prove that, for The Rules of the Game, Coco Chanel was a costumière, not merely a fashion designer, albeit a fashion designer who changed fashion forever.
 

Mila Parely wearing Chanel in “La règle du jeu”, 1939 | Nouvelles Éditions de Films

 

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film | | Leave a comment

The Culture Trip: January Newsletter


 

A regular round-up of the latest talks, films,
music, books, interviews and cultural news.

 
Playing football. That’s how our entire family, gathered for the holidays, spent the first day of the new year (no snow this year). Get out, get moving, get on with it. I love Mondays (and dislike Sundays), therefore I love new starts, but loathe New Year’s Eve fancy celebrations (unless they involve a film premiere and a jazz club – any La La Land fans out there?) and love being active while the rest of the world has a hangover. Out with the old, in with the new.

Or so they say. But this does not quite stand for at least two things, as far as I’m concerned. Books and movies. I still struggle with contemporary fiction and call myself lucky that I got to have Philip Roth as a contemporary and rejoice whenever Patti Smith publishes a new book. Will, for example, any author’s work of the last two decades be adapted to films with the same fervent dedication as the classics? One of the presents my son got for Christmas is a shortened version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. We’ve been reading every evening from it and the awe I see in his eyes when he hears the story is simply flabbergasting, to see how this visionary mind of the 19th century exerts this kind of fascination over a child of the digital age. Because, see, there may be good writers today, and there are, and they, as well as we all, have to adapt to the changing concerns of our history, of our society, of different cultures, of our times, and that each decade is an opportunity to broaden our perspectives and sensibilities and to adapt to our contemporary world. But does good writing truly have an age? And where is the imagination? The creators who sense things in advance? That lust for discovery, the curiosity of the mind, the thought-provoking turn of the phrase? I am at a loss.

In the Bright Lights Film Journal, Matthew Asprey Gear writes about how Orson Welles found in Joseph Conrad’s stories a creative source and a lifelong literary touchstone. Welles considered himself “made for Conrad” and wrote screenplays for never-realized adaptations of three Joseph Conrad novels. In Heart of Darkness, which the filmmaker turned into two separate radio plays, “Welles seems to have found what would become one of his archetypal scenarios: an everyman’s quest for the truth behind an enigmatic “great man” who has succumbed to moral corruption, megalomania, and fascistic abuse of power. It isn’t surprising that Welles eventually elected to play both Marlow and Kurtz on radio and screen, as the story allowed him to simultaneously explore his conflicting identifications with the democratic and aristocratic man.” Will any book published in the last decade ever represent this kind of well of inspiration for other artists? And how will cinema further be transformed in the face of online streaming?

Happy New Year!
 
 
 

1. “New Path: A Window on Nenets Life”, by Alegra Ally (Schilt Publishing) | 2. Children, Outskirts of Comacchio
Emilia-Romagna, 1955, by Enrico Pasquali, from the book “NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy”, by Enrica Viganò |
3. “Our House Is on Fire”, by Malena and Beata Ernman and Svante and Greta Thunberg (Particular Books)

 
 
 
Elizabeth Avedon gives the best insight on photography books and exhibitions and her interviews are no less insightful and interesting.

Documentary photographer and anthropologist Alegra Ally travelled to the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia to study and document the Nenets way of life. For thousands of years, indigenous Nenets have lived nomadic lifestyles herding reindeer across the Yamal Peninsula in the Russian Arctic. Ally’s book, New Path: A Window on Nenets Life, follows the Khudi family, one of 12,000 Nenets of northern arctic Russia still migrating along the same routes as their ancestors did for centuries. Ally lived for two months in the Arctic tundra with Lena, nine-months pregnant, Lyons, her husband, and their daughter Christina, as they prepared for their annual winter migration. New Path opens a window onto Nenets life today, highlighting the adjustments they have made to modern life, and the challenges they now face in the light of expanding resource extraction in the Arctic, globalization, and climate change.

Ten ways to travel more sustainably. Because when in comes to doing, not talking, there are actually very few people who are willing to limit their travelling and their boasting about it on Instagram. That’s why I appreciate when travel photographers raise up the issue of traveling responsibly.

When I am talking about very few people who are actually doing something, I am specifically talking about Greta Thunberg. The book Our House Is on Fire, by Malena and Beata Ernman and Svante and Greta Thunberg, which will be published in March, tells the story of the Swedish environmental activist and her family, involving Greta’s awareness as an eight-year-old of the climate crisis, her diagnosis of autism and selective mutism, and a family who becomes aware of their new life, which is further imperilled by a rapidly heating planet. “Steered by her determination to understand the truth, the family begins to see the deep connections between their own and the planet’s suffering. Against forces that try to silence them, disparaging them for being different, they discover ways to strengthen, heal, and act in the world. And then, one day, fifteen-year-old Greta decides to go on strike.” If Greta and her actions are not one of the most inspiring ways to enter this new year and decade, then I don’t know what is.

 

 
Let’s talk movies.

NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy 1932-1960 is a collection of photographs, film stills, posters and essays edited by Enrica Viganò, with forward by Martin Scorsese. “The NeoRealismo style became a call for economic justice as well as an artistic movement that influenced the modern world. The achievements of that movement are celebrated in this book with more than 200 illustrations, including exquisitely reproduced photographs and magazine images as well as film stills and posters.”

Michael Wood looks at Fritz Lang’s use of sound in his first two films, M and Der Testament der dr. Mabuse, for the London Review of Books podcast.

Annie Atkins, who has designed props for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story, Todd Phillips’ Joker and Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, and whom I have recently interviewed, has a book coming out in February, Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps.

Jazz and Cocktails: Rethinking Race and the Sound of Film Noir, by Jans B. Wager, offers close readings of such films as Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958), and Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959), with insightful analyses of the contributions of jazz composers such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Chico Hamilton, and John Lewis, and it considers the complex roles of jazz and race in classic film noir.

With the first trailer of the upcoming new Bond film, No Time to Die, Josh Sims breaks down Daniel Craig’s sartorial legacy, making the case for a more dressed-up Bond than this latest outing as 007. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to the film, especially that I am afraid that the post-Daniel Craig Bond and Bond movies will become too politically correct.

I couldn’t end this January newsletter without a few words about some of the most promising films of 2020. The French Dispatch is the latest from Wes Anderson and is “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th century French city”. Paul Thomas Anderson has an untitled new project, about a child star attending high school in Southern California in the 1970s. Laurent Cantet (his film, L’Atelier, 2017, impressed me even more than his 2008 Palme d’Or winner, Entre les murs, especially after attending a Q&A with the director and hearing how he started to write the script after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, as he wanted to make a film about a new way of seeing the world, about the new violence that’s in the world, Internet technologies, and all that stuff that’s come into the way of the young people, and how we can address all that) will also have a new film out, Arthur Rambo. Oskar Roehler is making a movie about Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Enfant Terrible. David Fincher will direct Mank, based on the months-long period that screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz spent with Orson Welles working on the screenplay of Citizen Kane (1941). Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island, set on Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman lived and shot some of his movies, is about a couple who travel there and try to finish their respective screenplays. Wendy, directed by Benh Zeitlin, is a spin on Peter Pan: “All children grow up, but some, the wild ones, the ones with a light in their eye, escape.” Imagine.
 

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