August Books

On Film / The Daily — Aug 12, 2019
Chantal Akerman

In 2013, while caring for her dying mother and breaking up with a young lover, Chantal Akerman began writing what would become Ma mère rit, her last book. The Song Cave, an independent publisher based in New York, has released Corina Copp’s translation in the U.S., and BOMB Magazine has posted an excerpt. “Like Akerman’s films, My Mother Laughs is centered on the material, even banal, actualities of day-to-day life, albeit with a hyperconsciousness of passing time that carries with it a razor-sharp poignancy,” writes Daniel Witkin in the Brooklyn Rail. “Composed in short, intense fragments, the book moves between a record of Akerman’s life split between multiple cities—most notably New York, where she taught at City College, and her mother’s home in Brussels—and intimate personal disclosure, each delivered in an unaffected style that largely prioritizes clarity of expression over rhetorical gymnastics.”

Reviewing My Mother Laughs for Forward, Jackson Arn calls it “a hard, bitter book, full of feelings most people lack the courage to acknowledge, let alone analyze with such care.” But Steven Zultanski, writing for frieze, argues that the book also reflects “the depth of a love, and a life, by quietly replaying both good and bad moments repeatedly, insistently, movingly.” At Hyperallergic, Tanner Tafelski suggests that it “may be Akerman’s most interior, psychological work.”

Silver Press will launch Daniella Shreir’s translation of My Mother Laughs in the UK on September 25, the day after the British collective A Nos Amours presents its Chantal Akerman Retrospective Handbook. The Handbook gathers research material that filmmakers Adam Roberts and Joanna Hogg relied on when staging a complete Akerman retrospective in London from 2013 to 2015. Both books will be celebrated with a festival of screenings, talks, and readings through September 30.

Chantal Akerman: Afterlives, collection of essays edited by Marion Schmid and Emma Wilson, appeared in April, and Nadin Mai finds that it’s “not a book about the ‘usual’ subjects we speak about in the context of Akerman’s cinema. There is work on the director’s installations; there is work on, yes, aging and smoking; there is work on what Albertine Fox calls ‘vocal landscapes’; and there is also work on Akerman’s use of light.”

Marker and Moullet

Daniel L. Potter has posted a review of Chris Darke’s 2016 book on Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1963) that originally premiered in the journal Studies in European Cinema. “Revelatory of the deeply personal and impersonal associations that La Jetée sensually invites,” writes Nadine Boljkovac, “Darke’s book exposes both Marker’s and his own private connections to the film, the post-cinematic momentum of Marker’s multimedia works, and the enigmatic Marker himself—while the book gradually opens, from its start and middle, to even fuller engagements with the film’s cinephilosophical questionings. By its sixth and final chapter, ‘The Life and Death of Images,’ Darke’s book returns, as does the film, to where it began, so that the structure of the book mirrors the film’s (and Marker’s?) own life.”

Srikanth Srinivasan’s ongoing translation of Piges Choisies, a collection of writing by critic and filmmaker Luc Moullet released in 2009, has been mentioned here before, but there have been some pretty significant additions to the project in the last few weeks. In a 1988 piece on François Truffaut, for example, Moullet asks, “Was the image that Truffaut gave of himself a false image intended to forge a legend, or was there an evolution—as we can rightly say in the case of Godard or Chabrol—or is there a natural dichotomy between the critic, sensitive to what had been done, and the creator, understandably driven to do something different from what the masters had done? I admit to hesitating between the second and third options.”

There’s also a 1959 essay on Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu (1953) and another from 1963 on Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962). “I remember this sally of Rohmer’s,” Moullet writes at the top: “‘Moullet, I know why you love Buñuel. It’s because both of you are slackers.’ The greatest compliment of my life.” All three of these pieces originally appeared in Cahiers du cinéma.

American Movies

From August 23 through September 3, Film at Lincoln Center in New York will present a series of double features selected by film critic and historian J. Hoberman. The program of films from the 1980s will complement Hoberman’s new book, Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan, which completes the “Found Illusions” trilogy begun with The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties (2003) and An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War (2011). The first hundred pages or so of Make My Day set the stage for Reagan’s election by addressing films made in mid- and late 1970s. Longreads has posted a good portion of the first chapter, in which Hoberman places Robert Altman’s Nashville, something of a last hurrah for the improvisational spirit of 1960s-era filmmaking, and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, a harbinger of blockbusters to come—both released in the summer of 1975—in the context of a nation reeling in the wake of Watergate and the fall of Saigon.

Over the past few weeks, Hoberman has been talking about the book with Steven Erickson (Filmmaker), David Fear (Rolling Stone), and Patrick Z. McGavin (RogerEbert.com). Writing for the Brooklyn Rail, Madeline Whittle admires “Hoberman’s virtuosically lucid syntheses, delineating how key movies can be read as texts of a distinctly ‘Reaganite’ culture. Drawing heavily on the work of ‘psychohistorian’ Lloyd deMause, Hoberman identifies audiovisual media in general, and the Hollywood film in particular, as the privileged repository for collective symbolic expressions that capture a moment in history.”

A current Film at Lincoln Center series, Another Country: Outsider Visions of America, runs through Wednesday. For Artforum, Max Nelson reviews the collection of essays that inspired the program, America: Films from Elsewhere, arguing that what these films by foreign and immigrant directors share “is a sense that it wouldn’t suit them to project smug or complacent expertise. They needed to give themselves room to hurl their own idiosyncratic impressions at the settings they filmed and permission not to understate how much cruelty, injustice, and repression they found there.”

Plays and Players

In 1932, when Orson Welles was all of seventeen, he worked with his friend and mentor Roger Hill on Marching Song, a play that chronicles the life and death of abolitionist John Brown. The play was performed once in 1950 and then forgotten—until Hill’s grandson, Todd Tarbox, picked it up again, edited it, and wrote an introduction and an epilogue. Marching Song: A Play was released last Friday with an introduction by Welles biographer Simon Callow. Calling the publication “a significant cultural event” at the World Socialist Web Site, David Walsh finds that “Welles’s play owes far more to Shakespeare and other epic traditions than it does to the cramped psychological drama so beloved by American playwrights or the relatively short-lived and limited ‘proletarian’ theater of the 1930s and 1940s.” At Wellesnet, Tarbox tells Ray Kelly that “it could be argued that Marching Song was the first flowering of Welles’s liberal social consciousness—defending the defenseless, the oppressed, the forgotten—that remained in full bloom throughout his life.”

Reviewing Adina Hoffman’s “beautifully written” Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures, “a concise but nuanced biography,” and Julien Gorbach’s The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist, “written for the Hecht specialist,” for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Liesl Olson notes that the screenwriter always wanted to write that ever-elusive Great American Novel. “He wrote many novels, and none are great,” she adds. That said, he did write “films that would define Hollywood’s signature forms: the screwball comedy, the newspaper drama, the film noir, and the gangster saga. He was tremendously skilled at writing movies for mass consumption, including classics like Scarface, The Front Page, Spellbound, and Design for Living, as well as un-credited hits like Gone with the Wind, A Star Is Born, and Roman Holiday.

Producer and director Ismail Merchant, best known for his work with his partner James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, grew up in a conservative Indian Muslim household in Bombay, where it was the women—and only the women—who did all the cooking. “Sitting alongside this cultural history of women inverting the trap of the kitchen into a province of creativity is an obscured history of gay men pulling off a similar magic trick,” writes Mayukh Sen in a marvelous piece at Hazlitt. Sen tracks Merchant’s self-education in American kitchens; his eventual use of food not only as a form of expression but also as a status-leveling way to bring artists together; and the unique flair of the recipes found in two cookbooks, Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine (1986) and Ismail Merchant’s Passionate Meals (1994).

Interviews

Jonathan Rosenbaum has two new books out, Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues and Cinematic Encounters 2: Portraits and Polemics. “Sometimes knowing a filmmaker enhances your appreciation of her or his work,” Rosenbaum tells Jeremy Carr at Film International, and “sometimes it interferes with it; it always and invariably adds complications.” Last year saw the release of a new and expanded edition of Abbas Kiarostami, the 2003 book Rosenbaum cowrote with filmmaker Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, and both authors have recorded an audio commentary for our upcoming release of Kiarostami’s And Life Goes On (1992), one of the films in the Iranian director’s Koker Trilogy. Rosenbaum tells Carr that the two of them have been working on a film, A House Is Not a Home, “a personal essay about the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Florence, Alabama commissioned by my parents and which I grew up in, so it’s very much about my family as well.” And Shawn Glinis talks with Rosenbaum for Film Inquiry.

At RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz talks with Godfrey Cheshire about his new book, Conversations with Kiarostami. “I got to know him well enough that I saw a kind of autobiographical dimension in his work that I don’t think I would have seen, or seen as clearly, if I hadn’t known him personally,” says Cheshire. When Seitz asks him which of Kiarostami’s works might serve best as an introduction to the oeuvre, Cheshire recommends the Koker Trilogy and Close-up (1990), “a great place to start with Kiarostami. It is so fascinating on so many levels. I’ve shown that film in all sorts of different situations to all sorts of different audiences, and it’s the one Iranian film I’ve shown that everyone is really taken with.”

Filmmakers’ Fictions

Over the weekend, the Brooklyn Academy of Music screened Losing Ground (1982), one of two films directed by Kathleen Collins, as part of Women at Work: Radical Creativity, a series running through Friday. The screening is another sign of revived interest in Collins, a filmmaker, playwright, and author who died too young at forty-six in 1988. Her daughter, Nina Lorez Collins, has edited two collections of her work, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, which gathers sixteen short stories, and Notes from a Black Woman’s Diary, which includes more stories, but also plays, screenplays, excerpts from an unpublished novel, and a selection of letters. “Here is the brilliance of Collins’s work in all of its quietude,” writes Farah Jasmine Griffin in the Nation: “Its turn within, its placement of the interior and subjective in the context of the social and political. Collins recognizes the power of those structures that remake everyday life, for better and worse, but she chooses instead to shine a light on the inner workings of complex souls.”

In the 1990s, when Ingmar Bergman was in his seventies, the director wrote three novels, The Best Intentions, Sunday’s Children, and Private Confessions. “All three novels are worth reading for no other reason than that Ingmar Bergman wrote them,” suggests John Talbird in Film International. “However, Sunday’s Children would be a great novel by anyone.” The conceit is that children born on a Sunday can see ghosts and may even be clairvoyant. “The concept, if not the story which is much darker, reminds me of Bergman’s film, Hour of the Wolf (1968),” writes Talbird. “Like that earlier film, Bergman seems to be creating folklore from whole cloth. Just by the power of Bergman’s storytelling, we become convinced that there really is an hour of the wolf in Swedish fairytales, that there really are Sunday’s children with special insight.”

Excerpts

Both Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Dean Brandum have essays in the new collection they’ve edited, ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May, but one of Brandum’s pieces didn’t make it into the final version due to a lack of space. That exploration of May’s role in the writing of Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Reds (1981) is now running at Film International.

In a brief passage at Literary Hub from Stories From the City of God: Sketches and Chronicles of Rome 1950-1966, a collection of short pieces by Pier Paolo Pasolini, a young man who peddles snacks up and down the aisles of a movie theater falls hard for “a sky-blue sweater” he spots in a shop window.

Think About the Future

In Live Cinema and Its Techniques, Francis Ford Coppola “routes his vision for the future of cinema through the so-called Golden Age of Television, the era in which the medium exploited its liveness as a counterpoint to the ‘pre-recorded’ status of cinema,” writes Jeff Menne for the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Cinema was good at perfecting drama—given infinite takes, you’re bound to get it right—but the presence of its performers was always past tense for its audience. We key into a live performance, by contrast, because, happening in our own moment, it could always go wrong. Coppola likes these high stakes and bases his idea of ‘live cinema’ on the same daring element.”

In the wake of the Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election of 2016, four editors asked fifty-five writers to contribute an essay on “a media object” that they deemed “unwatchable.” Two of the editors of Unwatchable, Maggie Hennefeld and Nicholas Baer, writing for the LARB, note that “items of aversion ranged from images of political violence (war, genocide, torture, nuclear catastrophe), to schlocky Hollywood Oscar bait (biopics, ‘precious’ auteurist flicks, and glib tearjerkers about solving racism), to ‘extreme’ art cinema by provocateurs such as Catherine Breillat, Michael Haneke, Gaspar Noé, and Lars von Trier. As their essays make clear, we’re a culture of hate-watchers—we cultivate deep investments in the things we most passionately despise.” Hennefeld and Baer argue that it’s only “by refusing to misrecognize the unwatchable—as anything other than a dire symptom of our catastrophic times—can we debunk the medusan fallacy and imagine a different way forward.”

Forthcoming

It’s not too early to start adding titles to next summer’s reading list. Two seasoned directors are cowriting thrillers that should be out early next year. From Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman, a former editor at the New York Times, comes Are Snakes Necessary?, the fast-paced tale of a senator who seeks to rid himself of a beautiful young staff member with whom he’s been having an affair. Entertainment Weekly’s David Canfield has the story and a blurb from Martin Scorsese, “who says the novel contains ‘the same individual voice, the same dark humor and bitter satire, the same overwhelming emotional force’ as De Palma’s film work. He adds: ‘It’s like having a new Brian De Palma picture.’”

Michael Mann in the meantime is working with crime writer and poet Reed Farrel Coleman on a novel that will be both a prequel and a sequel to Heat, Mann’s 1995 film starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro as a detective and criminal going head to head in Los Angeles. Talking to Blake Howard, host of the podcast One Heat Minute, Coleman recalls meeting Mann for the first time at De Niro’s restaurant in Tribeca. Harvey Weinstein was sitting at the next table.

Christina Newland, a critic who’s written for Sight & Sound and Little White Lies, is editing a collection of new writing by women, She Found It at the Movies. The book promises to explore “women’s secret desires, teen crushes, and one-sided movie star love affairs, flipping the switch on a century of cinema’s male-gaze domination.”

Notes and Addenda

As she’s done since 2007, Kristin Thompson has put together a guide to posts at Observations on Film Art that have appeared in the past twelve months and that might serve as supplements to specific chapters in Film Art: An Introduction. The widely respected book that coauthor David Bordwell calls “an orientation to film aesthetics” is currently in its twelfth edition.

Novelist and filmmaker Dennis Cooper has gathered links, videos, interviews, writing about, and an excerpt from philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s 1985 book Cinema 2: The Time-Image.

Further Reading

In his latest roundup at the Film Stage, Christopher Schobert recommends books on Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and more. And Devon Ivie, Interview’s “Coffee Table Curator,” suggests that Alfred Hitchcock: Cinema on the Edge of Nothing, a collection of photos and essays, and Key Zest, a selection of poems by Moondog, the fictional writer played by Matthew McConaughey in Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum, would liven up anyone’s living room.

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