The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

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Is it bright where you are?

The Death of Elizabeth (1828)

The Death of Elizabeth (1828)

Portrait (1909) by Henri Le Fauconnier

Portrait (1909) by Henri Le Fauconnie

(Google translate for link)

Music: “Absence” from Les Nuits d’Été Op. 7 by Hector Belioz, lyrics by Théophile Gautier
Mezzo-soprano: Dame Janet Baker
Conductor: Herbert Blomstedt.
Orchestra: Danish radio symphonic orchestra

(Info about the cycle) (Lyrics)


La! I’ve finally moved, all my delicious books are still in boxes, I’m finally living with a cat again (hooray!), and I already know at least…two past bad experiences one of my new roommates had with his exes. “I can’t believe I just told you that,” he said. Not me, I’m used to it by now. Maybe I should be a shrink instead of a….whatever it is I currently plan to become.

The best thing about my new place, besides the cat, is that I now have Turner Classic Movies on a permanent basis, not as a temporary freebie. (Bless you, house gods.) I celebrated by watching a noir –I looked up from my book, turned on the tv and lo! it had begun — called The Sniper. It was rather bizarre, atmospheric as any noir should be, and at times unintentionally hilarious. There’s so much going on in September: Cult movies, silent movies and back-to-school films! The new roommie and I continued the old movie fest by seeing the original The Italian Job on Suntv yesterday. The week should end with a literary flourish as TCM ‘s Saturday night prime time feature is “Based on Oscar Wilde”. It starts at 8:00 PM ET with  The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband at 9:45 PM, The Picture of Dorian Grey at 11:30, and ends with The Canterville Ghost at 1:30 AM. I’m a bit leery of the last because my memory of the short story does not include any American GIs but I’ll suppose we’ll see.

I had a lovely post written down on paper, just for you, but I left the book from which I wanted to pull quotes and other interesting titbits. I’m finding my travails through the Paris Review‘s archive so interesting that I wanted to do something similar with the Times Literary Supplement but the oversized binding with the collected archives from the early 20th century is “missing”. Going through microform isn’t nearly as fun so I may have to settle with the ones that start from the 60s. (Booooooo.) Maybe I’ll do it for the London Review of Books? Or maybe there’s another journal/magazine you think I should try.

I’m not only ludicrously close to tears, but have an insane desire to spend all my savings to attend his funeral. Instead I’ll do a film marathon. I started out backwards with Bergman, seeing his Sarabande in a local cinema about two years ago. I knew little about the film, even less about Bergman. I started it leaned back passively in a worn seat, munching on popcorn, sipping coke, ended it with chin on hands placed on the back of the seat in front, eyes peeled, stomach twisted and mind filled with Bach’s cello suites. His other films provided experiences too overwhelming to be expressed at present but suffice it to say he is *the director, as far as I’m concerned.

The radical intimacy of Bergman

*A friend reminded me of my Teshigahara worship so…ok.

I am busily trying to come up with a respectable post on the Ford novel, resisting the temptation to indulge in The Land of Spices‘ muted raptures. To hold you over Dewey has done an interview with me over at her blog The Hidden Side of a Leaf.

The Good Soldier: an interview with Imani : the hidden side of a leaf

The New York Review of Books imprint is celebrating its 200th classics release. The editor Edwin Frank explains why so many of Georges Simenon’s books were printed as classics and future additions to the catalogue. I am most excited about a new Richard Hughes (whoop!) and lots of new translations including a new Stefan Zwieg. I’m curious about William Empson’s Milton’s God — I read a reference to it in a TLS article who remembers when — and Christopher Priest’s “hard” science fiction novel, The Inverted World. (Maybe I’ll finally get around to reading a sci fi.) Considering my recently confessed ignorance of Greek playwrights a new translation of Euripdes’ plays, already released, looks tempting.

If you want to know exactly how many NYRB classics you don’t own type a list of the ones you do and send it in — you’ll receive a complete list of all the other books pining to be read and enjoyed.

Amusing pleasures await if you’re into old films. Turner Classic Movies has put up a media room on its website where viewers can watch old movie trailers that deflate the myth that everything was better in the good ol’ days. (In one trailer a movie boasted that it had a debut actress with “a new face…and a new body!” as she gyrated around a pole in one scene and made out with a sailor on a beach in the other.) You even get a stream of a full-length 1937 comedy, something TCM plans to provide more of. Long live TCM! (via A.V. Club)

And I thought I’d share with you some of my May purchases.

The Awful Mess on Via Meruluna – Carlo Emilio Gadda, translated by William Weaver

The Spell & The Folding Star – Alan Hollinghurst ( I own all of his novels now.)

Zoli – Colum McCann (I bought it after reading Robert Birnbaum’s interview with him.)

Demons – Fyodor Doestoevsky translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Darby made me do it.)

I wasn’t sure about how things would go at the start. Half of the introduction was devoted to minute observations on the interior design of his country abode and the various bric-a-bracs that reminded me of those awful InStyle celebrity home spreads. The other half was more similar to the introductions done under Gourevitch’s hand, a casual mention of the moments immediately before the participants settle down to chat; under Brigid Hughes’ they were more of a detailed time line of the interviewees literary career up to that point. Unlike either we are given no overview of Miller’s.

Anyway you can imagine my relief when the interview gets going and I realise it’s going to be all about the work. (Hooray!) It’s one of the best interviews I’ve read so far, for Miller shared interesting views with an authoritative tone that was quite mesmerising. It’s also great to read his takes on radio plays, the faults of the younger generation of playwrights and the potential of television drama.

Simply, it’s hard to get good movies, it’s hard to get good novels, it’s hard to get good poetry — it’s impossible to get good television because in addition to the indigenous difficulties there’s the whole question of it being a medium that’s controlled by big business. It took TV seventeen years to do Death of a Salesman here. It’s been done on TV in every country in the world at least once, but it’s critical of the business world and the content is downbeat.

Another intriguing part of the interview is that Miller spent some time on current problems of the theatre world, specifically a controversy with a permanent repertory group that had been trying to get off the ground but was rejected by most of the acting community. Miller explained that few actors wanted to commit themselves to a contract for a number of years in case they missed their big Hollywood chance. I don’t that the PR interviews ever do that now except in the most general way.

Did you know that The Crucible had anything to do with McCarthyism? I did not. I  had borrowed it from a friend in 6th form, vaguely recalled something about a film starring Winona Ryder (did she?) and was intrigued by the fact that it involved witches.

Overall I got the sense that this was a very interesting, exciting time in the literary establishment and Miller seemed to have so many links with theatre, with Hollywood, that he was in the middle of it all and could tell you so much about it; and on a larger scale, the political landscape with the changing ideas of politics in relation to one’s personal life. You should read it: it’s freely available at the website. (PDF format)

I’ll leave you with Miller on “Method” acting taking over and whether it was right for theatre. He just discussed the reasons for the failure of the permanent repertory company and the interviewer asked him if Lee Strasberg, a director, had influenced the actors.


He’s a great force, and (in my unique opinion, evidently) a force which is not for the good in theatre. He makes actors secret people and he makes acting secret, and it’s the most communicative art known to man; I mean, that’s what the actor’s supposed to be doing. But I wouldn’t blame the Repertory Theater failures on him, because the people in there were not Actors Studio people at all; so he is not responsible for that. But the Method is in the air: the actor is defending himself from the Philistine, vulgar public. I had a girl in my play I couldn’t hear, and the acoustics in that little theatre we were using were simply magnificent. I said to her, “I can’t hear you,” and I kept on saying, “I can’t hear you.” She finally got furious and said to me, in effect, that she was acting the truth, and that she was not going to prostitute herself to the audience. That was the living end! It reminded me of Walter Hampden’s comment — because we had a similar problem in The Crucible with some actors — he said they play a cello with the most perfect bowing and the fingering is magnificent but there are no strings on the instrument. The problem is that the actor is now working out his private fate through his role, and the idea of communicating the meaning of the play is the last thing that occurs to him. In the Actors Studio, despite denials, the actor is told that the text is really the framework for his emotions; I’ve heard actors change the order of lines in my work and tell me that the lines are only, so to speak, the libretto for the music — that the actor is the main force that the audience is watching and that the playwright is his servant. They are told that the analysis of the text, and the rhythm of the text, the verbal texture, is of no importance whatever. This is Method, as they are teaching it, which is, of course, a perversion of it, if you go back to the beginning. But there was always a tendency in that direction. Chekhov, himself, said that Stanislavsky had perverted The Seagull.


What about Method acting in the movies?


Well in the movies, curiously enough, the Method works better. Because the camera can come right up to an actor’s nostrils and suck out of him a communicative gesture; a look in the eye, a wrinkle of his grin, and so on, which registers nothing on stage. The stage is, after all, a verbal medium. You’ve got to make large gestures if they’re going to be able to see it all. In other words, you’ve got to be unnatural. You’ve got to say, “I am out to move into that audience; that’s my job.” In a movie you don’t do that; as a matter of fact, that’s bad movie-acting, it’s overacting. Movies are wonderful for private acting.


Can you read fiction while you’re working on a novel?



Not much. At least, not much contemporary fiction. I read less contemporary fiction than I used to and more of the classics. It seems they’ve hung around for a reason. When I wrote Fury, for instance, I read Balzac, in particular Eugenie Grandet. If you look at the opening of Eugenie Grandet, it uses a technique like a slow cinematic zoom. It starts with a very wide focus–here is this town, these are its buildings, this is its economic situation–and gradually it focuses in on this neighbourhood, and inside the neighbourhood on this rather grand house, and inside this house a room, and inside this room, a woman sitting on a chair. By the time you find out her name, she’s already imprisoned in her class and her social situation and her community and her city. By the time her own story begins to unfold, you realize it’s going to smash into all these things. She is like a bird in this cage. I thought, That’s good. That’s such a clear way of doing it.



Do you go to the movies a lot?



A lot, yes. Much of my thinking about writing was shaped by a youth spent watching the extraordinary outbursts of world cinema in the sixties and seventies. I think I learned as much from Bunuel and Bergman and Godard and Fellini as I learned from books. It’s hard now to explain what it feels like when the week’s new movie is Fellini’s 8 1/2, when the week after that it’s the new Godard movie, and the week after that it’s the new Bergman, then it’s the new Satyajit Ray movie, then Kurosawa. Those filmmakers were consciously building oeuvres that had a coherence, and in which themes were explored until they were exhausted. There was a serious artistic project going on. Now, whether it’s films or books, we’ve become a much lazier culture. Filmmakers get bought out just like that. You make one interesting film and off you go into moneyland. The idea of building a body of work that has intellectual and artistic coherence is gone. Nobody’s interested.



What did you learn from watching movies?



Some technical things–for instance from the New Wave’s freedom of technique, a freeing up the language. The classic form of film montage is long shot, medium shot, close-up, medium shot, long shot, medium shot, close-up, medium shot, long shot–like a kind of dance. In two steps, out two steps, in two steps, out two steps. It can be unbelievably tedious. If you look at the films of the fifties being cut like that, it’s sort of like editing by numbers. So Godard’s heavy use of the jump cut made you jump. To go from the wide scene–bang–into the face of Belmondo or Anna Karina. One of the reasons why, in the films of Godard, a character will sometimes address the camera directly–



–is because they didn’t have the money to film the full scene.



That’s right. But I liked the idea, the breaking of the frame, the fact that many of these films were funny and serious at the same time. In Alphaville, which is a very dark film, there’s this wonderful scene where Lemmy Caution, the down-at-the-heels private eye, arrives at the flop house where he discovers that all the superheroes are dead. “Et Batman?” “Il es mort.” “Superman?” “Mort.” “Flash Gordon?” “Mort.” It’s hilarious. And I love Bunuel’s use of surrealism, which doesn’t stop the film from being real. In The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, people sit around a table on toilet seats but go quietly to a little room to eat. And I like both Bergmans–the mystical Bergman of The Seventh Seal and the close-up, psychological Bergman. And Kurosawa taking us into a completely closed culture, the world of the samurai. I don’t think like the samurai thought, yet you’ve gotta love Toshiro Mifune scratching himself–you’re immediately on his side. It’s one of the things you want a work of art to do, to take you into a world you haven’t been in, and to make it part of your world. That great period of filmmaking has a lot to teach novelists. I always thought I got my education in the cinema.


From “The Art of Fiction” No. 186 interview with Salman Rushdie, The Paris Review, Summer 2005