January Newsletter: An Extraordinary Life, An Ordinary Man, and Finding Alain Delon

Photo to the right: David C. Phillips, print available on shop.classiq.me

 
 

Photos: Classiq Journal
(unless otherwise stated)

 
 

”Even though that may not be okay for you, it’s okay
for me. I just get so pissed off when everyone imposes their
standards and evaluations and their remembrances of what
they worked on, what they did, and they assume that’s
the way it happened for me, too.”

Paul Newman, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man

 
 

Photo to the right: Nadya Pajarillo, print available on shop.classiq.me

 

Viewing

L’insoumis, 1964
Alain Cavalier

The Smiths have this image of an immovable Alain Delon on the floor on the cover of their The Queen Is Dead album. I have always been intrigued by that cover, and yet I didn’t want to look into it, I didn’t want to find out what film it was from, just waiting to one day come across the film and have that image revealed to me. I have finally come across that film. It is L’insoumis, a film I knew nothing about when I started watching it, for the reason that it was just one of Alain Delon’s films I had somehow overlooked. And suddenly, there it was that image of Alain Delon, that for years had remained unplaceable. I loved the film. It has this unperceivable quality to it. It also has some incredibly shot action scenes and hauntingly beautiful close-ups of Delon. But it is the way the story builds up until that final scene that simply erupts in this wordless, powerful moment, that stays with you.
 

Tár, 2022
Todd Field

I have to admit I have mixed feeling about this film, which tells the story of renowned composer and conductor Lidya Tár, who, on the brink of recording the symphony of her life has to face the consequences of her past actions. On the one hand, Tár is a wonderful piece of cinema, the way it is filmed, the way it takes its time to tell the story (something that so many films of today rampantly lack), the way every set and scene are impeccably thought out, the musical score by Hildur Guðnadóttir that is a character in itself (the silences throughout the film are just as important as the music), the performances: Cate Blanchett remarkable in the role of Tár, but also a favourite of mine, Nina Hoss, as well as the rest of the cast really. Everything forms this perfect synergy. It’s probably the film of last year that made me feel the most that immersive power of cinema while watching it, feeling like a fly on the wall. And yet, I have to be honest here and say that there are certain parts of the story (an original screenplay by Todd Field) that are maybe too intricately woven into the realities of our times, namely the feminist and genre issues. And that would have been fine, too, were they not so clearly formulated and spelt out.
 

Escape from New York, 1981
John Carpenter

1997. Manhattan is a walled maximum security prison. Breaking out is impossible. Breaking in is insane. But break in Snake Plissken does. He is a criminal, former war hero, who is chosen for his skills to rescue the president of the United States whose plane has crashed in New York City. Kurt Russell plays Plissken and John Carpenter said Plissken could not have been played by anybody else. And here is why this sci-fi works the way it does: “Right now Manhattan is Disneyland,” Carpenter remarked in an interview with The Flashback Files. “It’s fake. Everything’s great there, so it really wouldn’t work. Escape from New York is really a movie of the seventies. That was when I wrote it. New York was going through some real problems then. A lot of crime, a lot of decay. It was a whole different place.”
 

Starman, 1981
John Carpenter

Another John Carpenter sci-fi, Starman challenges once more the genre and I have talked about it at length here.
 

Reversal of Fortune, 1990
Barbet Schroeder

Based on real life events, this is the story of Claus von Bulow’s two trials on the charge of attempting to murder his wife. Sunny von Bulow fell into an irreversible coma on a January morning and the family and police suspected foul play, with Claus as prime suspect. By the end of the film you don’t quite get the answers you were expecting, and that’s the beauty of it, especially that it’s narrated by Sunny, who walks us through all the details without revealing the essential, because she doesn’t know it, and asks for our thoughts. And that’s the trick, that’s what makes you keep watching. Having a penchant for courtroom dramas and thrillers, I took great joy in watching the trial preparation led by Alan J. Dershowitz (Ron Silver), the Harvard professor who conducted Claus von Bulow’s appeal and wrote the book that inspired the film. Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close play Claus and Sunny von Bulow, and you may be tempted to ask yourself: how hard is it two play two rich people with too much time on their hands, who mostly lie around the house? Well, you just have to watch the film and see just how demanding their roles were – who else but Jeremy Irons could allude to all the things he alludes to under that impenetrable façade, and how different is Glenn Close’s Sunny at those different parts in her life portrayed in the film?). It’s actually the kind of performance that deserves to be acclaimed more than the physically transformative roles that always get the most attention. Reversal of Fortune is mischievous, funny, tantalising, deceitful and cynical. It makes you aware that under the appearances (and it plays even better with its rich characters) there might lie a whole different truth.

 

 

Reading
 
The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man

I don’t think I have ever read an autobiography that is so sensitive and rough at the same time. This has nothing to do with the movie business and the films we saw Paul Newman in and loved. It is a sharp and accurate look into one’s own life, and the result is not absolute understanding or revelation, but the effort of setting things straight, and dismantling many myths in the process, and ultimately the realisation that one remains an observer. This flawed image of a human being, of a Hollywood star is so much more moving and deeply relatable. “I’ve always had a sense of being an observer of my own life. I have a sense of watching something, but not of living something. It’s like looking at a photograph that’s out of focus, because the camera was shaken and the head is blurry. In fact, you can almost see three or four separate distinct images, depending on how it’s been vibrating. It’s spacey, I guess I always feel spaced out.” He doesn’t dramatise himself, doesn’t give him self-importance, and he plainly confesses that he had the luck to find the drive to overcome the label people always put on him that unquestionably involved his looks. “I think Paul was waiting for someone to make a demand on his talent,” said Sidney Lumet, who directed him in The Verdict. “He knows what good acting is, and good acting is about self-revelation.” I think this book is as close as it could be to a self-revelation of the man.

One of the most authoritative voices in tennis, Mats Wilander, talks to Sebastián Valera just a few days before the Australian Open. They talk the Grand Slam titles favourites this year, all-time greats, biggest challengers in the game, and the lack of consistency in women’s tennis. “What are we asking these players to be? Do they have to be in social media? Do they have to be a model? Do they have to win the US Open? Do they have to defend the points? Wowowow, let her be, slow down. I hope she keeps playing tennis.”

 
Listening

The Pedro Almodóvar interview for the podcast At Your Service. His films are so special and unique and I believe he gives the answer to that in this episode. He also talks the present film he’s working on, his beginnings as a filmmaker, the Spanish he grew up in, the strong women in his life, his frequent collaborators, Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, his favourite contemporary filmmakers and all-time cinema masterpieces (I just love how he refers to Godard’s first film, À bout de souffle, by its original French title and has no idea what the English title is) and he makes a plea for watching movies in a cinema.
 

The album: Disintegration, The Cure

 
Making
 

A photography book is more likely to fall into the category of making rather than of writing a book (just the way a photographer says he makes, not takes a photo), or so I believe. Especially when the photographer is Joni Sternbach. How often does it happen to you these days to go back over and over again to a photograph you’ve seen and wonder: How was it made? Very rarely indeed. And how often does it inspire you to describe it as made by hand? Almost never. But this is why Joni Sternbach’s photographic series titled Surfland is so singular – evoking a feeling of both wonder and tranquility, an acute sense of time and place, a perfect imperfection that only handmaking and artistic intuition can achive, standing apart in this age of ubiquitous photography, and relating so well to the world of surfers and their spirit, their passion, their patience, their calm, and the certain state of mind it takes to ride above.

Using large format cameras and hand-poured plate collodion process, Joni Sternbach creates unique and strikingly beautiful portraits of unrivaled texture and depth along coastlines across the globe. She has been working on her ongoing series Surfland since 2006, documenting the surfing culture across the world, capturing and celebrating the diverse range and the way of life of people that are devotees of the sea. This is photography made by hand. It has soul. It’s one of a kind. There is something so extraordinary and mystifying about Joni Sternbach’s photography and I had the pleasure of interviewing her some years ago.

Her most recent book however, Kissing a Stranger, gathers her early work, from the 1970s and 1980s, and “in essence it is a portrait of the artist as a young woman forming her visual language through freedom of experimentation and expression”. These photos are not only a product of the woman and artist she was back then, but also a portrait of the times.
 

Exploring

TOKIO TŌKYŌ TOKYO², a pop-up newsletter by Craig Mod, about seven days of winter walking the city of Tokyo, a city he has now been walking for some twenty-three years. The newsletter starts on January 16 and ends on January 23. I have subscribed to all of Craig Mod’s previous pop-up newsletters and they simply are a different kind of experience, so remote from everything mainstream. Plus, he’s a wonderful writer.
 

 
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 Adventure Podcast: Terra Incognita. Sirene magazine.
 

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