The Culture Trip: November Newsletter

“I want all that stuff to stay in Argentina, where my story began and where it will end.” Guillermo Vilas in the
documentary “Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score” | My childhood wooden racket.

 
 

“I used to think that, in order to see and feel extraordinary
things, I had to leave; leave home and journey far away
to search for these emotions. But not this time.”

Pedro Mecinas Martínez

 
 
During the summer, there are not many things for a summer girl to be looking forward to when she thinks of autumn. Of course, that changes when the season arrives because any change of season should and does make you present. But one thing in particular kept my interest up all summer long: the thought of a certain date in November when the 25th Bond would be released. Not because I was sure it would be safe for me to be able to go to the cinema to see it, but because I wanted to believe that in some parts of the world, with all the precaution and sanitary measures in place and the pandemic under control, such as New Zealand or Australia, people would be able to live the cinema experience again. It was this sense of some sort of return to normalcy that I needed to cling to.

November has usually been the month when a new Bond movie would be released. That made sense. That felt comforting. That thought kept people and cinemas alight. That all came to an end, as we all know, when the producers decided to cancel the release of the film once again and everyone’s morale went haywire. The mechanics of that decision are far too faceted and complex to get into, although I think Peter Bradshaw made a very good point when he wrote that James Bond has no licence to kill the movie industry. Unfortunately, bad news never travels alone, and with Sean Connery’s passing away, the end of an era (more than that of James Bond, but of the film industry as we know it and seen constantly change over the last years) looms larger than ever before. Sean Connery was Bond, James Bond, but so much more. But as James Bond, he defined the role and set the standard with an act of class, a magnetism not to be equaled, a wit as dry as his martini, a lethal edge of courage. The film industry has lost that edge of courage.

It’s November. I can’t go back to the cinema, but as the clocks turn back and the weather turns cold, I turn back to my favourite genre, film noir, transforming “Noirvember” into one of my favourite months. Right now I am on the hunt for more obscure noirs and whatever I don’t already own in my library I try to track down and buy, not stream online. At least I owe that to cinema. I have also felt like re-watching Harry Potter these days and reviewed The Prisoner of Azkaban last night. I blame it on the misty days we’ve had in the mornings and evenings, transforming the backyard into an eerie place, and on my penchant for mystery, dark subjects, and, not in the least, fantasy stories that make sense for children and adults alike. What would we be without storytelling?

But you know what one of the best parts of re-watching Harry Potter is? The memories from watching these films at the cinema when they first came out. As Sandra Lipski, the founder of the Mallorca International Film Festival (the 9th edition of the festival was held between 23-29 October), was telling me in my conversation with filmmakers about the current situation cinemas are in (everyone seemed so much more optimistic a few months back), I remember who I was with, the cinema I went to, the time of year, the atmosphere, our reactions to what we had seen on the big screen. For almost two decades my husband and I have been investing in our home theater and in our film archive, we are both movie freaks and film is part of our daily lives, but the cinema experience can not be replicated. It’s unimaginable to know that, for now, going to the movies is something of the past.
 

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

Reading

Books
I read A Month in Siena* in one sitting. You get lost reading it. In art, in thoughts, in a sense of place. Following the publication of his Pulitzer-prize winner The Return, his book about his return to post-Gaddafi Libya, to try to find out what happened to his father, who had been kidnapped and taken to prison there twenty-two years before, writer Hisham Matar decided to spend a month in Siena following his life-long interest in and love for the Sienese art. The book is not just about art, it is about humanity, and people, it’s writing about art from a very personal perspective, it’s writing about art with humanity.

Veronica Lake’s image was shaped by the Golden Age Hollywood’s star-making system. She could totally transform herself through costume. And yet, unusual for a film noir heroine, she wore trousers in The Blue Dahlia (1946). She also wore trousers in the noir This Gun for Hire (1942). And in Sullivan’s Travels (1941), she impersonated a bum for part of the film. Although not a noir, this was a satire that played with the idea of star image, and that contrasting role I believe was in accordance with Veronica’s own beliefs. Her real personality was in direct opposition to the image created for her by the studios. The real Veronica Lake was different and that’s why I am thankful that the book Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, co-written with Donald Bain, and which had been out-of-print, rare and sought-after for many decades, was reissued this year by Dean Street Press (their motto is “uncovering and revitalizing good books”).

I borrowed The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History from my brother a long time ago, but didn’t get around to reading it until I watched David Attenborough’s documentary A Life on Our Planet (more about it a little later in the newsletter) a couple of weeks ago. I think everyone should read this book. Because only through education can people learn and change. The book does not end on a positive note. Just think of that, too.

Magazine
Founded in 2011, Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan published 7 volumes until 2017. After a hiatus of three years, the magazine was relaunched in 2020 as MONKEY: New Writing from Japan and it publishes the best in contemporary Japanese fiction in English translation, as well as other works both old and new by writers, artists, and translators from Japan, England, Canada, and the U.S.

Online
The New York Review of Books allows free access to its full archive of 20,000 articles until November 3rd, so there are three more days when you can catch up on Geoffrey O’Brien Freudian Noir, on how 1940s filmmakers changed movie storytelling, or Pico Iyer’s Kurosawa’s Japan Revisited, where he writes about Ikiru: “But somehow it still touches on a world that grows deeper within me every autumn, even as its themes and props encircle me.” Of course, the NYRB thousands of articles are not just about movies.

In issue 9 of Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, Patrick Keating writes about music and point of view in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

The interview
Wes Del Val interviews Lee Kaplan of Arcana Books, the indispensable L.A. bookshop. Grab a pen and your notebook because you are about to enter a rabbit hole and you’ll have many books and under the radar publishing houses, whose art, design and photography books are more than just beautiful covers, to write down. The interview is part of Wes Del Val’s One Great Reader weekly series of interviews for the Book/Shop. They are all good and wells of incredible recommendations.
 

A piano in the middle of nowhere inevitably calls to mind one of the most singular books I have read,
The Lost Pianos of Siberia. | The delay of the release of “No Time to Die” doesn’t stop us reminiscing about
the entire James Bond series with Matt Needle. Poster art design by Matt Needle.

 
 
Viewing
Only Angels Have Wings (1939). It’s an electrifying, fast-paced, past-the-edge-of-yourself world, one of Howard Hawks’ fantasy worlds, a place for world-weary romanticism, borderline cynicism and crazy courage. Howard Hawks was an aviation enthusiast, a born storyteller and an “invisible director”, François Truffaut described him, because his “camera work is never apparent to the eye”. Seldom have I seen this abundance of life effervescence, verbal sparring and sense of fleeting existence better depicted on screen.

You Only Live Once (1937), because “each shot, each maneuver of the camera, each frame, each movement of an actor is a decision and is inimitable”, in François Truffaut’s words, and “You Only Live Once should be seen often, and Lang’s later films should be thought about in light of it“. Cry of the City, 1948, directed by Robert Siodmak – Victor Mature and Richard Conte are always a good idea in a noir. Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, the darkest, most bitterly disillusioned and sinister film noir of them all, which revealed a groundbreaking, raw sense of bleak postwar urban reality, riddled with anxieties and rotten morality that weaved through the American society. And everything I can get from here. As I was saying, I am going noir this month.

In Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score, the Argentinian journalist Eduardo Puppo, sets out to prove, with the help of the Romanian mathematician Marian Ciulpan, who re-made all the world men’s tennis rankings between 1973 and 1978, that Guillermo Vilas, one of the best tennis players ever, was wrongly denied the No.1 world raking in the 1970s. This documentary (Netflix) is remarkable: because of the remarkable work of a journalist who made Vilas’ fight his own without even telling Vilas only until years of having worked on it on his own; because it succeeds in completing the image of a remarkable tennis player. There is such humbleness in these two people and such dedication to their respective works and such friendship and such humanity. It’s rewarding and grounding. “I want all that stuff to stay in Argentina, where my story began and where it will end,” Vilas told Puppo when he gave him and trusted him with everything he had collected over the years for safe keeping, every arm-band, tennis shoe, racket, trophy and personal journal.

Sofia Coppola’s new film, On the Rocks, reunites the filmmaker with Bill Murray and that’s the reason why I jumped at watching it as soon as it was released on Apple TV (even if I am still not on the online streaming wagon – watching On the Rocks, Vilas and A Life on Our Planet on online platform as in a couple of weeks is a first for me). Although not among her best films (Lost in Translation remains one of my favourite films of the last 20 years), what I liked about this comedy is that it is nothing forced about it, it flows naturally, without a big drama or any big revelation, a slice of privileged New York City life… before 2020 hit. It may be the escapism you need right now.

David Attenborough starts his new documentary A Life on Our Planet (Netflix) by greeting us not from some far-away wild place or lush surroundings, but from the deserted and haunting remains of the territory around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, recalling the disaster as the result of human and technical error. At 94, David Attenborough has seen more of the natural world than any other man on earth. And what he has seen during his lifetime, a man’s lifetime, is the monumental scale of humanity’s impact on nature, how our planet’s health has steeply deteriorated. A man-made disaster. There are few people who can get anyone’s attention on this matter the way David Attenborough does. He simply makes you listen, pay attention and act. I think his films should be viewed in schools.

Listening

Music
Sasha Frere-Jones’ Perfect Recordings. I came across this playlist thanks to Wes Del Val’s interviews once again, and I loved it because of the same reason he did: “Once I saw that it was filled with many musicians I didn’t care about I knew I would like it, and I was right.” It is this sort of compilation that I like most because it leads you to new paths you weren’t familiar with and didn’t know you’d like. Just like entering a good bookshop. So many of the books that I love, I have discovered this way, by spotting a new author that I knew nothing about on the shelves, or by taking the recommendation of a passionate bookshop keeper whose tastes I trusted.

Podcast
“I just love social media. I don’t follow anybody, I don’t read anyone else’s stuff, I just do my own.” Oh, how I love that. For Monocle’s The Big Interview, Jane Fonda talks to Tomos Lewis about her decades-long activism and using her public image for social change. She was a human rights crusader when very few were and when being an activist wasn’t a “thing” or self-congratulatory. She hasn’t changed.

Exploring

“I used to think that, in order to see and feel extraordinary things, I had to leave; leave home and journey far away to search for these emotions. Until now, across my many group cycling and bikepacking trips so far, it has been like this. But not this time,” writes Pedro Mecinas Martínez in The Pannier Journal, as he sets off on a five-day bikepacking ride on the trails of Sierras de Cazorles National Park, located between the provinces of Castilla la Mancha and Andalucía, “an incomparable setting of nature, culture and gastronomy”.

Style

With every story she tells, Marte Marie Forsberg takes us on the journey of her life in the English countryside. It’s about following your passion and your heart. Her workshops are a new way of travelling and exploring the world, which makes so much sense right now, and her shop is a beautiful companion to her stories and visual storytelling.

On an end note

“Though book sales have been strong this year, local bookstores are struggling: more than one independent bookstore has closed each week since the pandemic started. As they enter a crucial holiday season, many stores are facing a challenging mix of higher expenses, lower sales and enormous uncertainty,” says The New York Times. Please consider all the independent owners and small businesses that are the pillars and pride of local communities, all the indie bookshops that are our cultural companions, and place your Christmas orders with them.
 

“You Only Live Twice” poster art by Matt Needle

 
 
*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.

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