March Newsletter: On Music in Film and Escapism

Photos: Classiq Journal. Image to the left:
“Between seasons”, photographic print available in the shop, as part of the Classiq Journal Editions.

 
 

I find myself paying more and more attention to music in film. Sure, I have long been aware of the importance of music in film. But now I sometimes watch how a film begins and the music starts and say out loud: “Huh, that music will ruin the film.” And it often does. Far from me the thought of being an expert on music in film, but after having watched so many movies, it would be strange not to be able to tell when the music is clearly wrong for the film.

“Music is mysterious; it doesn’t offer many answers. Film music, on the other hand, is even more mysterious at times, both because of its bond with images and because of its way of bonding with the audience.” – Ennio Morricone

Maybe it’s this last year that has kept me away from cinemas. When I am in a movie theater, I am immersed in that story unfolding on screen all eyes, ears and feeling. At home, although my husband and I take great pride in our movie shelves and religiously watch a film from beginning to end without hitting pause or getting distracted by anything, the experience doesn’t even come close. And I have realised that a good soundtrack plays an important part in that departure to the kind of experience that watching a film in a cinema allows. Music becomes that link between the real world and the story you are watching. It is not escapism, it is a greater form of beauty and depth. As Jean Cocteau said, “I am rather surprised whenever I hear people chatter on about ‘escapism’, a fashionable term which implies that the audience is trying to get out of itself, while in fact beauty in all of its forms drives us back into ourselves and obliges us to find in our own souls the deep enrichment that frivolous people are determined to seek elsewhere.”

There is a line I loved tremendously in Your Honor – since my previous newsletter, I have watched the series, which I mentioned there and which I was interested in watching just because of Bryan Cranston (judge Michael Desiato in the film), not having to or wanting to know anything else in advance. Hunter Doohan, who plays Michael’s son, Adam, says something his late mother used to tell him: “Go deep, not wide.” It’s a line that has stuck with me. And Your Honor, which follows the butterfly-effect aftermath of a hit and run in which Adam is involved, turned out to be so good on so many levels, from the story as a whole, from every single cast member, to choosing the backdrop of New Orleans for the setting, to the musical score. There is, for example, that moment when Adam starts dancing on Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. That moment alone, which had the power to detach me from absolutely every mundane thought, would have been enough to make the series worth watching. Is it a great song? Yes, it is. And it comes like a total surprise and plays out that scene so beautifully. But it stays with you because it makes you live the film, which I don’t see as detachment from reality, but as “going deep, not wide”. And isn’t it ironic how a song in a tv series (the series has an indie feeling, that’s why, I tell myself, and, yes, it reminds me of Breaking Bad) reminded me of what it is that is so special about going to the movies? It is in a cinema that you live a film. That complete abandonment and freedom you experience in the dark, in front of the big screen.

I was listening to the radio one morning in the car and a band was invited to perform. The band was Stema and they sang Săgeata. And one of the two hosts of the show remarked that the song would have made a great soundtrack for Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. And I thought that was so great, that is exactly what the power of cinema and music in film is, that music can bond audiences with cinema in a way nothing else can. How else than by singing the songs we’ve heard can we get so easily closer to the story and to the filmmaker’s vision that has captured our minds after the credits start rolling and the lights are on?

Where do music documentaries fit into all this? If it’s anything like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz about The Band (that’s a music documentary filmed with a cinematic sensibility), you simply play it loud, watch in awe how the camera glides between the performers in synch with the songs and rhythm (it’s like it shows you how to see a live concert) and live it!
 

Left: “Golden Gate Bridge Sunrise”, by Nadya Zim, part of a cinematic series of photographs in tribute to
Hitchcock’s San Francisco movies, available in the shop. Right: Photo by Classiq Journal

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

Reading

Tippi*, by Tippi Hedren. She’s my favourite Hitchcock heroine (in The Birds) and I had to read her book, because I wanted to know her side of the story, about her two best films, The Birds and Marnie, the first two films she appeared in, without any formal training or experience whatsoever, and about Hitchcock. She comes off gracefully.

I have recently spotted George Orwell’s graphic version of The Animal Farm in one of my favourite bookshops, which has prompted me to start reading Nineteen Eighty-Four again, which has just been released in new editions both by Birlinn Polygon (on which occasion Hugh Andrew speculates on the connections between author, work and place) and William Collins. The brilliance of this writer. The book was published in 1949. And here we are today.
 
 

“To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are
different from one another and do not live alone – to a time when truth
exists and what is done cannot be undone.

From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of
Big Brother, from the age of doublethink – greetings!”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

 
 
Raymond Cauchetier’s New Wave, to celebrate the work and life of Raymond Cauchetier, the man who photographed the French New Wave, and who passed away at the age of 101 last month. One of my readers left me a message that best expressed his work: “M Cauchetier’s shots were often the first clue of the world that was on its way. I saw photos from Breathless years before there was a chance to see the film itself – by upping anticipation, his photos helped the movies enormously.”

Huh: A cafe with a view of the waterfall, a new Craig Mod newsletter. It’s a photo a week accompanied by a sentence. It’s about looking closely at the world, and taking a moment to do so, outside of Instagram. Craig Mod also hopes to inspire other photographers to create a home for their photos outside of Instagram. I believe it’s an inspiration for all of us to be more present. “An antipode to a good chunk of social media in general, but Instagram in particular, another way to share images, on a reduced scale.”

Harvester of Cinema: Viktor Schlöndorff pays homage to Jean-Claude Carrière. “Nobody but him could or would have dared to combine extremely conventional plotlines with such wild surrealist ideas.”
 
Viewing

The Last Waltz (1978), directed by Martin Scorsese. Play this movie loud! “The greatest concert movie of all time”, The Rolling Stone magazine named it.

Jacques Deray was a gifted and passionate filmmaker, and he knew how to stage a spectacle and create a certain universe in his films. He did all that in Borsalino, but Un papillon sur l’épaule (A Butterfly on His Shoulder), 1978, is anything but. Minimalist and frantic, with a Lino Ventura perfectly cast and Barcelona as a character in itself.

L’aile ou la cuisse (The Wing or the Thigh?), 1976, featuring Louis de Fùnes. For the laughs, for Louis de Fùnes’ innate and inimitable comedic talent, and for the humorously dark and accurate prevision on the future of food. It’s also about taste and the pleasure of eating and why tradition is more important than innovation.

Nous finirons ensemble (2019), directed by Guillaume Canet, has us follow up on the story of the characters in Les petits mouchoirs (Little White Lies). If’s about friends and friendship. It’s so incredibly relatable, sometimes painful, sometimes exhilarating. Canet will release his latest film, Lui, this autumn. A psychological thriller, in his own words, featuring Mathieu Kassovitz among others.

Lifeboat (1944), because it’s good Hitchcock and for the way the characterisation of Tallulah Bankhead dominates the entire film.
 
Listening

Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama have a podcast together: Renegades: Born in the USA. Need I say more? I didn’t think so.

The playlist. It complements the newsletter: soundtrack songs from the movies mentioned here and tunes I’ve been listening to.
 
 

 
 
Exploring

The Art of Travel, with Sophy Roberts. It’s about travel that has nothing to do with this age of distraction, it’s about truly seeing, it’s about life experiences, it’s about the sharper eye that comes with walking, it’s about a deeper connection with our world, it’s about storytelling. So many great stories.
 
On an end note

A true story someone shared with me the other day. Years ago, an elementary school teacher was confronted with a problem during his class. One of the pupils reported his watch had been stolen. After the teacher asked for the guilty party to come forward and that didn’t happen, he told all the pupil ps to stand up and close their eyes. He searched everyone and found the watch. He put it on his desk, asked the children to open their eyes and told the boy whose watch had been stolen to get his watch. Years after this incident, the teacher was stopped in the street by a young man, who greeted him and asked him if he recalled what happened with the missing watch that one time long ago. “Yes, I do”, he said, “but why do you ask?” The young man replied: “Don’t you remember? I was the one who stole the watch.” To which the teacher said: “I didn’t know who had stolen the watch. I had my eyes closed, too.” Be kind.
 
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 & Ridgeline & Huh (yes, all three of them).
Wes Del Val’s book-ish interviews.
Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman.
Here’s the Thing, with Alec Baldwin.
Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter.
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 | | 1 Comment

Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat, from Jaded Sophisticate to Humane Survivor

“Lifeboat”, 1944 | Twentieth Century Fox

 
A solitary and impeccably dressed Tallulah Bankhead appearing in a lifeboat afloat a foggy ocean opens Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. She remains impassive as drifting survivors from a ship attacked by a German U-boat start to fill the lifeboat. She is one of the most self-sufficient and independent and complex character developments of Hitchcock’s heroines and one of my personal favourites, alongside Tippi Hedren’s Melanie Daniels in The Birds. She simply dominates the film.

Her character’s trajectory is indeed similar to Tippi’s in The Birds, “starting out as a jaded sophisticate and, in the course of the physical ordeal, gradually becoming more natural and humane,” as François Truffaut himself remarked. Bankhead’s Connie Porter is a journalist, reportedly inspired by real life liberal political columnist Dorothy Thompson who subsequently attacked the film for this very reason, but she is also a woman of means and therefore has an arrogant sense of entitlement – “You know what is wrong with your writing? It’s always about yourself, not about the people you write about,” one of the fellow survivors tells her at one point. While the others have indeed had to make it to the boat, she occupied her place from the very beginning there, as if she were entitled to it, not because she had to fight the elements to get there as the others did. And she is perfectly done up. She is wearing a mink coat, a golden bracelet, a gift from her first husband and one she never parts with, her white blouse and suit and high-heel sandals are still perfectly intact and her hair is swept into an elegant coiffure, a delightful and intriguing sight amidst the other passengers. Her expensive clothes and jewellery are also a symbol of high civilization and social status in the modern democratic society.

Her moral itinerary couldn’t therefore be better punctuated than by the discarding of her purely material objects, going, just like Tippi, “from brittle artifice to melting vulnerability,” as Camille Paglia described Melanie Daniels’ arc in her brilliant essay on The Birds, part of the BFI Film Classics series. Tallulah Bankhead, who was an established theater leading lady in London and New York and about whom Marlon Brando later regretfully said that she had hardly had a chance to show her real talent, was forty-two when she appeared in Lifeboat (1944). And as it always was the case with Hitchcock and his actors, he got the best of her and this probably remains her finest screen moment. As her callous glamour is ousted by fear and neediness, she is stripped bare of every material object that used to define her, right down to her torn suit and disheveled loose hair by the end of the film, the loss of every single item being given a dramatic form: the typewriter that falls into the water, the mink coat that she gives to the mother who drowns herself after she loses her child, the gold bracelet that is used as fish bait when the survivors are starving.
 

Tallulah Bankhead in “Lifeboat”, 1944 | Twentieth Century Fox

 
Lifeboat is a tightly claustrophobic drama happening on an open boat – Hitchcock never let the camera leave the boat and there is no musical score at all. It is a stripped-down film, with no adornment, with everything going on on the psychological front, as the small group of humans struggle for survival against elemental nature and against each other. Just like Connie Porter and her things, one by one, each of the characters loses their sense of purpose and, amidst the backdrop of the Second World War, the film offers a view on humankind as mistrust and conspiracy and division take over every sense of judgment too.
 

Tallulah Bankhead in “Lifeboat”, 1944 | Twentieth Century Fox

 
 

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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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