January Books

The Daily — Jan 16, 2019
Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann

For most of her life, Norwegian novelist and journalist Linn Ullmann has resisted writing about growing up as the daughter of Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann. Profiling Ullmann for the New York Times Magazine, Wyatt Mason is careful not to even mention her parents’ names until he’s several paragraphs in, but what eventually comes through is how close she felt to her father and how deeply connected she is still to her mother. “‘Magnificent’ was the word she used” when talking about her, notes Mason. But Linn Ullmann was determined to establish her own identity independent of her upbringing. She studied literature in New York, and when she returned to Oslo, she eventually became, as Mason puts it, “the most important literary critic of her generation, a James Wood of Norwegian writing.” In 1998, when she was thirty-three, she turned away from criticism to write her first novel, and she wrote four more before her latest, Unquiet, came out in Norway in 2015. This week sees the publication of Thilo Reinhard’s English translation.

“If the backs of her books always hid from view any mention of her family past, the new book foregrounds it,” writes Mason. Ullmann has put together a fragmentary patchwork of memories that incorporates transcripts of conversations with her father that she recorded late in his life. “Ullmann’s other books are filled with voices, with shifts in point of view,” notes Mason, “but the voice of the father in Unquiet feels different, not a creation so much as a kind of visitation. Thus the book became in part about her father’s death, a death that allowed her to write the story of her life, of her parents’ love and of her own for them.”

Last month, the New Yorker published “Time for the Eyes to Adjust,” a piece adapted from Unquiet, and you can listen to Ullmann reading it as well. For those who admire the work of her parents, there are invaluable recollections here, though Ullmann does warn that “you can never know much about other people’s lives, least of all your parents’, especially if your parents have made a point of turning their lives into stories that they then go on to tell with a God-given ability for not caring in the least about what’s true and what’s not.”

French Criticism

Jacques Rivette never intended to become a film critic, but in 1950, after he’d made his first short film, he began writing about movies for Gazette du cinéma, Cahiers du cinéma, and Arts. A new volume from Post-Éditions, Textes Critiques, gathers reviews, conversations, diary entries, and tributes to François Truffaut, Cinémathèque française cofounder Henri Langlois, and critic and theorist André Bazin. “Despite the constant evolution of Rivette’s critical position, several concerns have a permanent presence in his writing,” notes Srikanth Srinivasan before addressing six of those concerns in his review for the Notebook.

Speaking of Bazin, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody alerts us to a new two-volume set of the complete writings out now from Éditions Macula. The 2,848 pages are divided into twenty-four sections, each introduced by historian and scholar Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, who’s written extensively about not only Bazin but also Hayao Miyazaki and Pier Paolo Pasolini. An English-language edition of either the Rivette or the Bazin collection, never mind both, would be a tall order, but we can dream.


At the Daily Beast, Christopher Dickey introduces an excerpt from Richard Gergel’s Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring. In 1946, Woodard, a black army sergeant who’d returned to the States from the Second World War, was beaten by a white police officer so severely that his eyes were crushed. The excerpt focuses on Orson Welles’s campaign on national radio to discover the identity of that officer. This is the first of his four broadcasts addressing the incident:

Eventually, Welles was able to report that the man had been found. “I gave my word I’d see him unmasked,” he told his listeners. “I’ve unmasked him. I’m going to haunt Police Chief Shull for all the rest of his natural life.”

John McElwee revisits In and Out of Character, Basil Rathbone’s 1956 autobiography, and finds that the actor who played Sherlock Holmes in sixteen films and over two hundred radio broadcasts was still, ten years on, bitter about being shunned by studio bosses after he refused to carry on playing the world’s most famous detective. “It was understood by most, if not Rathbone, that you didn't quit Hollywood until they were ready to quit you,” writes McElwee.

Eye Candy

In Typeset in the Future, designer Dave Addey “shows how filmmakers have used the innovative design of the present to lend a believability to visions of the future,” writes Allison Meier at Hyperallergic. Readers of Addey’s blog will be familiar with his winning blend of expertise and humor, and the book, which analyzes the use of typography in seven science fiction classics, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, has the added benefit of fresh interviews, over 250 illustrations, and a foreword by Matt Zoller Seitz.

Scala Cinema 1978–1993 is a big thumping collection of posters and programs gathered and introduced by the London theater’s program manager, Jane Giles, and “if you were a teenager in the eighties, chances are that nearly every cult-film you love is in this book,” writes Ard Vijn at ScreenAnarchy.


The Sopranos Film Festival may have come and gone, but we’ll always have The Sopranos Sessions, a book by Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall that covers every episode of the landmark series in the form of recaps, conversations, and critical essays. Flavorwire is running an excerpt in which Seitz discusses “Pine Barrens,” the episode that finds Christopher and Paulie wandering aimlessly through the frozen woods, with series creator David Chase, screenwriter Terence Winter, and episode director Steve Buscemi.

Last month’s books roundup opened with a sampling of praise for The Earth Dies Streaming, a collection of writing by n+1 film critic A. S. Hamrah. The raves keep coming, most notably from Jennifer Szalai in the New York Times and from Kyle Paoletta, who, writing for Guernica, argues that the book “solidifies Hamrah’s place as our age’s most irreplaceable critic.” Talking to Artforum senior editor Jennifer Krasinski, Hamrah explains why he feels that “something was lost” when Jonathan Rosenbaum retired and the Village Voice fired J. Hoberman.

Another recurring critical favorite is Karina Longworth’s Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood. “It has the pace and intensity of a true crime story, which in a way it is,” writes Joanna Scutts for the New Republic. “By unearthing unpublished material from the archives of Hughes and his contemporaries, and, more often, by astutely reading between the lines of official histories, Longworth shows how valuable and revealing it is to tell the story of a playboy from the perspective of his toys.”

Lists and Guides

At Silent London, Pamela Hutchinson introduces 30-Second Cinema, a collection of fifty brief primers for anyone looking to brush up—quickly—on their film history. Topics range from genres and movements to stars and directors. Meantime, critic Glenn Kenny and film historian Luke McKernan offer a few notes on each notable book they read in 2018, and for One Grand Books, Richard E. Grant, whose performance in Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? has been chalking up nominations and awards, lists his ten favorite books of all time.

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