October Books

Paul Newman in Martin Ritt’s Hud (1963)

Let’s open this month’s overview of new books with an update on last month’s roundup on Pierre Clémenti. Still to come in the Museum of Modern Art’s series of films starring and/or directed by the French actor and filmmaker are features made in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Philippe Garrel, and Dušan Makavejev. The series runs through the end of the month, and then, on November 3, Clémenti’s son, Balthazar, will be in Los Angeles to introduce a screening of his father’s 1986 film In the Shadow of the Blue Rascal presented by Mezzanine and MUBI.

Rascal is “an unnerving, colorful punk noir about police violence and totalitarianism amidst a background of mindless hedonism and a drug war,” writes Dana Reinoos at Screen Slate, and the occasion for the screening is the publication of Claire Foster’s translation of Clémenti’s 1973 memoir, A Few Personal Messages. The book is a furious response to Clémenti’s arrest in Italy the previous year on trumped-up charges of drug possession and the seventeen debilitating months he spent behind bars.

“This incarceration in Italian prisons changed Clémenti, and his memoir nonlinearly focuses on life in prison, the oppression of the State, and his own life, all now inherently linked,” writes Madeleine Wall in the Notebook. Reinoos wraps her overview of the MoMA series with a quote from A Few Personal Messages: “Prisoners are on the frontline in the fight against all wielders of power, money, culture. Inside their cells, in the depths of their misery, prisoners bear witness. They are fighting for life.”

The Lives of Actors

The Last Movie Stars, Ethan Hawke’s documentary series on Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, drew on thousands of pages of interview transcripts that the late screenwriter Stewart Stern (Rebel Without a Cause) conducted between 1986 and 1991 with Newman, his friends, collaborators, and family. Those pages have now been shaped by editor David Rosenthal into Newman’s posthumous memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man. “Newman does not hold back on sensitive topics,” writes Dave Itzkoff in the New York Times. “He digs deep into his memories and reflects at length on his difficult childhood, the earlier marriage he abandoned before he wed Woodward, his excessive drinking, and the loss of his son, Scott, who died from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol. The vulnerability that Newman reveals in the book is astonishing even to people who knew him intimately.”

Writing in this week’s New Yorker, Louis Menand finds that Newman’s “flaws were so, well, ordinary. People do drink too much, cheat on their spouses even though they love them, and wish they had been better parents. What people generally do not do is become the biggest male star in Hollywood and get nominated for ten Academy Awards. There’s got to be more to Paul Newman than this. It seems that most people who knew Newman thought that there was. In the memoir, the juxtaposition of their testimonies with Newman’s self-analysis produces a sort of cognitive dissonance.” The key to Newman’s success, suggests Menand, is what he learned from his acting teacher, Stella Adler, who “thought that actors express emotions by immersing themselves in the circumstances of their characters.” Newman “was so good at it that audiences felt he was not acting. They felt he was Hud.”

Late last month, the Guardian ran a series of excerpts from Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries, a collection edited by Alan Taylor and approvingly reviewed by Thomas W. Hodgkinson (Literary Review), Anthony Quinn (Observer), and Fiona Sturges (Guardian). One batch of excerpts centers on the Harry Potter years—Rickman spent ten years playing Professor Severus Snape—and another focuses on just about everything else. A third round gathers brief notes on the films Rickman saw over the years. Though he eventually developed what Quinn calls “a taste for the high life,” Rickman was born into a working-class family in London, which gives a certain poignance to his quick take on Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies (1996): “Like watching your own life flash by. Things that aunts did or said and mums never forgot and never talked about leaving you perplexed as you open Xmas doors on sobbing relatives. Tim Spall quite wonderful.”

Directors’ Notes

In the Notebook, Arun A. K. offers a guide to Satyajit Ray Miscellany: On Life, Cinema, People & Much More, the second volume in the Penguin Ray Library series, an ongoing project that will eventually bring to light of all of Ray’s film criticism, LP liner notes, book introductions—just about every previously unpublished word Ray ever wrote. “With handwritten notes, sketches of scenarios, cover designs, musical notations, portraits, and doodles of artists, Miscellany invites the reader into the ingenious and highly creative mind of one of the most multifaceted artists of the previous century,” writes Arun A. K.

There are more than a few facets to the work of Gus Van Sant as well. The director of My Own Private Idaho (1991), the 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, and the Palme d’Or-winning Elephant (2003) is also a painter, photographer, and a musician. In 1997, he wrote a novel, Pink. “When Gus and I were talking,” Katya Tylevich, the author of Gus Van Sant: The Art of Making Movies, tells Will Higginbotham in Port Magazine, “Gus was fairly adamant that they’re pretty separate practices to some degree. I never quite believed him.” Higginbotham talks with both Tylevich and Van Sant about his insistence on maintaining his independence, even when working for a studio. It begins, explains Van Sant, with the format of the screenplay.

Hollywood History

Last winter saw the release of two books on Buster Keaton, and the latest to recommend them is Geoffrey O’Brien. James Curtis’s Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life is “an encyclopedic biography that lays out his trajectory and vicissitudes in novelistic detail,” writes O’Brien in the New York Review of Books, while Dana Stevens’s Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century is “a series of meditative essays that examine Keaton and his world from a multitude of vantage points . . . If Curtis provides the chronicle (immersing us deeply enough to induce claustrophobia in recounting the dark years when Keaton’s career imploded), Stevens provides the brilliantly illuminating commentary, reflecting with its unexpected leaps the imaginative agility of his greatest work.”

Sight and Sound has republished Penelope Houston’s 1952 feature on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s troubled career in Hollywood, where the studios “bought his works, and did its worst with them. Fitzgerald made two abortive visits as a scriptwriter and then, at the time when his popular reputation was at its lowest, when the critics had attacked Tender Is the Night and he had documented the history of his own collapse in The Crack-Up, he went to Hollywood again. His unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, may be taken to sum up what he felt: the old, powerful fascination of the medium, the disillusioning experience of strategy and compromise, the sense of waste and corruption and of vast, partly realized possibilities. In a nation that ‘for a decade had wanted only to be entertained,’ the pull of Hollywood, however it might deflect a writer from his true course, was not to be resisted.”

First Novels

Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance is “the craziest thing I’ve written in a while, so maybe it’s fitting that my novel was shocking enough to jumpstart the engine of my film career,” says John Waters, announcing that he will write and direct an adaptation. Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr., who broke the story, notes that this will be the first film Waters has directed since 2004’s A Dirty Shame. Introducing her interview with Waters for the Chicago Review of Books back in May, Mandana Chaffa wrote that “the pleasure of the novel is as much Waters’s verbal acrobatics as the increasingly wacky plot, which includes extreme bouncing enthusiasts on a quest, nearly-immaculate conceptions, appendages that spontaneously talk, and cross-species pets. I found myself laughing out loud in slight and sometimes more than slight horror, and then laughing more.”

Tom Hanks released Uncommon Type, a collection of short stories, four years ago, and now his first novel is slated for release next May. The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece begins in 1947, leaps to 1970, and then to the present day. An eccentric director intends to turn a fifty-year-old comic book into a blockbusting hit, and the comics that Hanks has created himself are incorporated into the text.

New and Forthcoming

Daniella Shreir launched the feminist film journal Another Gaze in 2016 and the streaming project Another Screen last year. Now she and coeditor Missouri Williams have created a new publishing imprint, Another Gaze Editions. Livia Franchini’s translation of filmmaker Lorenza Mazzetti’s 1961 novel The Sky Is Falling will be out late next month, and Shreir’s translation of Marguerite Duras’s My Cinema will be released early next year.

Duras was an influence on Philippe Besson, whose 2017 novel Lie With Me was translated by Molly Ringwald. Now Ringwald has translated journalist and novelist Vanessa Schneider’s memoir, My Cousin Maria Schneider, which will be out in April. Translations have yet to be lined up for two very notable forthcoming French titles: Jean-Luc Godard, by Nicole Brenez, the professor (La Fémis) and curator (Cinémathèque française) who worked with the late filmmaker on The Image Book (2018); and critic Jean-Marc Lalanne’s Delphine Seyrig, En constructions.

Semiotext(e) will release Fassbinder Thousands of Mirrors, the first full-length book by celebrated critic Ian Penman, in April. Quentin Tarantino will be taking his first nonfiction book Cinema Speculation on a tour of the country early next month, and Kim Morgan has the dates and cities. November will also see the release of Naomi DeCelles’s Recollecting Lotte Eisner: Cinema, Exile, and the Archive.

Artist and writer Mark Alice Durant’s Maya Deren, Choreographed for Camera has yet to be reviewed, but it does come with a recommendation from J. Hoberman, who calls it an “illuminating, loving and long-overdue biography.” The International Film Festival Rotterdam is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with IFFR 25 Encounters, a collection of conversations with filmmakers, artists, and journalists, including Sergei Loznitsa, Christine Vachon, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The American Society of Cinematographers, in the meantime, carries on celebrating its big anniversary with an expanded second edition of Our First 100 Years.

You’ll find more book news and recommendations in Ruben Demasure’s latest outstanding roundup for Sabzian, where the scope is broad and international, and in Leonard Maltin’s capsule reviews of five books, each addressing a different chapter in the history of Hollywood.

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