Archives: August 2014

Sátántangó at the ICA on 6 September

Satantango

Sátántangó by Bela Tarr, adapted from Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s novel of the same name, is screening next Saturday 6 September at the ICA. This is a rare event: go see it.

A Nos Amours, Scalarama and the ICA are delighted to present Béla Tarr’s touchstone of durational cinema Sátántangó on 35mm.

This legendary film, running at 7 hours 12 minutes, deals with the collapse of a collectivised Soviet-era farm in rural Hungary. There is the scent of money in the air, and, in chaotic and changeable times, a yearning for meaning and salvation. At such times it is inevitable that prophets and Messiahs will be longed and waited for. The question is whether they will be false prophets, or mere charlatans. In the chilly, bleak rotten world of Sátántangó, who will follow who, and why, are left wonderfully uncertain.

These are ordinary human concerns, but it is the vastness of the landscape, the featureless plains and endless horizons, and a terrifying, unremitting wind from nowhere, and a rain that falls without end, that threatens to wash away all human hope. Signature long takes, often as long as the 10 minutes that a roll of film allows, combined with astonishing camera choreography offers a sublime cinema experience.

To commit to Sátántangó is to commit to the unforgettable and life-changing: these are the outer limits of cinema. The screening is on 35mm.

‘Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I’d be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life.’
– Susan Sontag

Sátántangó, dir. Béla Tarr, Hungary 1994, 432 mins, cert. 15

Based on the novel by László Krasznahorkai
Cast: Mihály Víg, Putyi Horváth, László Lugossy
Cinematography: Gábor Medvigy
Music: Mihály Víg

www.anosamours.co.uk
www.scalarama.com

 

Matías Piñeiro, Argentine filmmaker

Interviewed in BOMB Magazine
Still from Todos mienten, 2009. Images courtesy of the artist and Revólver Films.

Clinton Krute interviews young Argentine filmmaker Matías Piñeiro in BOMB Magazine:

Argentine filmmaker Matías Piñeiro has made four feature and medium-length films to date: El hombre robado (The Stolen Man, 2007), Todos mienten (They All Lie, 2009), Rosalinda (2010), and his latest, Viola (2012), which recently screened in New York as part of the New Directors / New Films series. His films are remarkable for their worrying of literature and the tension between text and image. Each of the four films takes either a literary figure or text as the jumping-off point for an exploration of the slippery correspondence between narrative and reality. Piñeiro is making movies that point to one of the original questions raised by cinema: How does the imposition of writing—of language or of a lens—alter the world? His carefully structured films—balanced like mobiles, as he says—describe with precision that slippage between words and reality.

While El hombre robado and Todos mienten both circle around the writing of statesman and polymath Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, the Argentine equivalent of Thomas Jefferson, in essence, they are both descriptions of the power dynamics of a small group of young upper-middle-class friends. His latest two, Rosalinda and Viola, are both based on Shakespeare and are the first two entries in a trilogy that the filmmaker has called “The Shakespeariada.” Working with the same cast and crew in all four features, Piñeiro—whose work shows a debt to the comedies of Rohmer and the shell games of Rivette—has developed a language all his own. Using literature to foreground the complex web of lies, acting, and language that underlies any social interaction, these films are less interested in psychology and individual characters than they are in social and linguistic structures.

Both the filmmaker and his work are warm, funny, and full of life. I encountered his work when his first two films screened at the Harvard Film Archive a few years ago while he was in Cambridge working on Viola as a Radcliffe Fellow. He is currently living in New York, where we met at a diner on a snowy February afternoon to discuss his films and how he makes them.

Why Writers Should Be Paid

n+1 issue 20

The new issue of n+1 is out. In this issue’s Intellectual Situation, the editors make a compelling case for why writers should be paid: 

FOR A YOUNG WRITER who hopes to produce literature, the greatest difference between now and twenty years ago may be that now she expects to get paid. Twenty years ago, art and commerce appeared to be opposing forces. The more you were paid for your work, the more likely you were to be a hack.

The term of art was “sellout.” Any artist who tried to make money would end up unable to make art. Record producer and guitarist Steve Albini outlined the story of the sellout in the Baffler in 1994. A sympathetic scout would persuade a band to sign a letter of intent, and from that moment forward the terms of the deal would become the most important factor in their work. An incompetent producer would make their songs sound “punchy” and “warm.” (“I want to find the guy who invented compression and tear his liver out,” Albini wrote.) Worse, the band wouldn’t even make money. Their manager, producer, agent, lawyer, and above all label would turn a profit, but the members would probably end up in debt.

The Lydia Davis Interview

Lydia Davis

From The Quarterly Conversations‘s Lydia Davis issue, published in March 2014: 

I think influence is a complicated thing. I am influenced by a kind of writing because I am drawn to it, open to it. I am drawn to it because there is already an affinity between my own sensibility and sense of formal structure and those of the author I am reading or studying. I would not be influenced by a writer alien to me. I really see an ongoing process that starts in earliest childhood. The very first picture books and nursery rhymes have their effect, as do songs and the lyrics of songs. My sensibility as a child is affected by these and then my changing sensibility and sense of structure show in my writings, even the stories written as assignments in grade school. And of course the influences of interactions with family and friends and teachers continue to have their effect.

I certainly read Kafka very closely and constantly for a few years—though I was reading many others at the same time, of course, like Hawthorne, Melville, Evelyn Waugh, R.L. Stevenson, Malamud, Dickens, Mary McCarthy, Poe, Emily Dickinson, James, and slews of mysteries. Something drew me to Kafka’s work, and in turn I’m sure I absorbed something of his sensibility and style. Clearly something drew me to Kafka more than to James, for instance—the spareness, the humility (whether assumed or real, or a combination), the bizarre imagination. He was interested in the possibility of two hands suddenly alien to each other; James’s interests lay elsewhere. For years I found James hard to read; I found that his prose left me no breathing room. Now I admire him. But the affinity still is not there.

RIP Simon Leys

Simon Leys

Simon Leys, the great essayist and sinologist, died in August. Ian Buruma’s piece on his essay collection The Hall of Uselessness is an indispensable introduction to the man and his work:

Simon Leys is actually the nom de plume for Pierre Ryckmans, a French-speaking Belgian with a Flemish name. He fell in love with Chinese culture when he visited China as part of a student delegation in 1955. After studying law at the Catholic university in Louvain, Leys became a scholar of Chinese, living for several years in Taiwan, Singapore, and in Hong Kong, where he made friends with a young Chinese calligrapher who, in a traditional flourish of stylish humility, named his own slum dwelling the Hall of Uselessness. Ryckmans spent two “intense and joyful years” there, “when learning and living were one and the same thing.” The name Leys is a homage to René Leys, the wonderful novel by Victor Segalen (1878–1919) about a seventeen-year-old Belgian who penetrated the mysteries of the Chinese imperial court just before the revolution of 1911.4

Ryckmans/Leys went on to become a highly distinguished professor of Chinese literature in Australia, where he still lives today, writing essays and sailing boats. Few, if any, contemporary scholars of Chinese write as well about the classical Chinese arts—calligraphy, poetry, and painting—let alone about European literature, ranging in this collection from Balzac to Nabokov. None, so far as I know, have written novels as good as his Death of Napoleon. Leys is perhaps unique in that his prose in English is no less sparkling than in French.

Unlike in the 1970s, few people now dispute that Leys was right about the horrors of Mao’s regime. Even the Chinese government admits that more than fifteen million people died of starvation as the direct result of Mao’s deranged experiments in the late 1950s. Recent scholarship shows that the real figure might be as high as forty-five million deaths between 1958 and 1962 (see Frank Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine, 2010). The Cultural Revolution, although Mao’s own leading role in it can still not be discussed openly, is commonly referred to as the “great disaster.” One of the questions raised by Leys is why most people got it so wrong when Maoism was at its most murderous. Was it a matter of excusable ignorance about what was then a very closed society?

‘Mount Street Gardens’ by Frederick Seidel

A poem
Mount Street Gardens

I’m talking about Mount Street.
Jackhammers give it the staggers.
They’re tearing up dear Mount Street.
It’s got a torn-up face like Mick Jagger’s.

I mean, this is Mount Street!
Scott’s restaurant, the choicest oysters, brilliant fish;
Purdey, the great shotgun maker—the street is complete
Posh plush and (except for Marc Jacobs) so English.

Remember the old Mount Street,
The quiet that perfumed the air
Like a flowering tree and smelled sweet
As only money can smell, because after all this was Mayfair?

One used to stay at the Connaught
Till they closed it for a makeover.
One was distraught
To see the dark wood brightened and sleekness take over.

Designer grease
Will help guests slide right into the zone.
Prince Charles and his design police
Are tickled pink because it doesn’t threaten the throne.

I exaggerate for effect—
But isn’t it grand, the stink of the stank,
That no sooner had the redone hotel just about got itself perfect
Than the local council decided: new street, new sidewalk, relocate the taxi rank!

Turn away from your life—away from the noise!—
Leaving the Connaught and Carlos Place behind.
Hidden away behind those redbrick buildings across the street are serious joys:
Green grandeur on a small enough scale to soothe your mind,

And birdsong as liquid as life was before you were born.
Whenever I’m in London I stop by this delightful garden to hear
The breeze in the palatial trees blow its shepherd’s horn.
I sit on a bench in Mount Street Gardens and London is nowhere near.

On Alain & Catherine Robbe-Grillet

Les Robbe-Grillet

Great piece by Adam Shatz on the life and work of Alain Robbe-Grillet and his wife Catherine, also known as Jean de Berg, written on the occasion of the release of A Sentimental Novel by Dalkey Archive Press: 

The virile looks, however, were deceptive, as his wife Catherine discovered. She was the daughter of Armenians from Iran; they met in 1951 in the Gare de Lyon, as they were both boarding a train to Istanbul. He was instantly taken by her. Barely out of her teens, not quite five feet tall and only forty kilos, Catherine Rstakian ‘looked so young then that everyone thought she was still a child’. She inspired in him (as he later wrote) ‘desperate feelings of paternal love – incestuous, needless to say’. The relationship began immediately, but with one condition, imposed by Catherine: there could be no penetration, since she had undergone a painful clandestine abortion the year before and didn’t want to risk another. Six years later, on a boat from Zadar to Dubrovnik, she changed her mind, only to learn that her fiancé was impotent. He had other things in mind for his ‘petite fille’, as he called her. ‘His fantasies turned obsessively around sadistic domination of (very) young women, by default little girls,’ she wrote in her memoir of their life together, Alain. He gave her ‘drawings of little girls, bloodied’. (‘Reassure yourself, he never transgressed the limits of the law,’ she adds.) Shortly after they were married in 1957, they drew up a contract in five pages, outlining the ‘special rights of the husband over his young wife, during private séances’, where she would submit to torture, whipping and other humiliations. If she performed her duties with ‘kindness and effort’, she would be paid in cash, which she could use for ‘expensive holidays, private purchases, or lavish generosity on behalf of third parties’.

Catherine Robbe-Grillet never signed the contract, which ‘clashed with my erotic imagination’: ‘A Master imposed himself, he didn’t negotiate.’ Writing under the male pseudonym Jean de Berg, she had explored her erotic imagination in an S&M novel,L’Image, published in 1956 by Minuit. He respected her wishes, and never asked for an explanation. When they moved into the Château du Mesnil-au-Grain, a 17th-century mansion in Normandy, it was Catherine, not Alain, who became the house dominatrix – France’s most legendary practitioner – as if she were ‘substituting myself for Alain’. He was remarkably solicitous of her needs, and she of his. He welcomed her lover, Vincent, so long as Vincent agreed to be his disciple (there could only be one Master in the house). She also shared her mistresses with him, and dressed up as Lolita when they had dinner with Nabokov. She was ‘content, even proud’, when Alain fell for Catherine Jourdain, a stunning blonde who seduced him on the beach in Djerba, where he was directing her in his 1969 film L’Eden et après; she read every letter he wrote to Jourdain. The affair appears to have been the closest thing to a conventional heterosexual relationship he had, but he was overwhelmed by her ‘voraciousness’ in bed, and she failed to be ‘the docile slave he dreamed of’. When the affair ended, Robbe-Grillet lost interest in sex. He felt burdened when Catherine offered him a close friend of hers as a birthday gift in 1975; the next year he announced his retirement from ‘all erotic activity between two people or with several’. From then on, she says, he ‘isolated himself in an ivory tower populated with prepubescent fantasies, in the pursuit, in his “retirement”, of the waking dreams in his Roman sentimental – reveries of a solitary sadist.’

Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)

Nadine Gordimer

RIP Nadine Gordimer, who died last July. Here’s her Paris Review interview, from 1983:

INTERVIEWER

What role do you feel politics and the constant conflict it evokes in South Africa have played in your development as a writer?

GORDIMER

Well, it has turned out to have played a very important role. I would have been a writer anyway; I was writing before politics impinged itself upon my consciousness. In my writing, politics comes through in a didactic fashion very rarely. The kind of conversations and polemical arguments you get in Burger’s Daughter, and in some of my other books—these really play a very minor part. For various reasons to do with the story, they had to be there. But the real influence of politics on my writing is the influence of politics on people. Their lives, and I believe their very personalities, are changed by the extreme political circumstances one lives under in South Africa. I am dealing with people; here are people who are shaped and changed by politics. In that way my material is profoundly influenced by politics.

‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ by Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

‘Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote’ by Jorge Luis Borges, one of the very best short stories ever written? And an opportunity for us to link to a website called Cold Bacon

The visible work left by this novelist is easily and briefly enumerated. Impardonable, therefore, are the omissions and additions perpetrated by Madame Henri Bachelier in a fallacious catalogue which a certain daily, whose Protestant tendency is no secret, has had the inconsideration to inflict upon its deplorable readers—though these be few and Calvinist, if not Masonic and circumcised. The true friends of Menard have viewed this catalogue with alarm and even with a certain melancholy. One might say that only yesterday we gathered before his final monument, amidst the lugubrious cypresses, and already Error tries to tarnish his Memory . . . Decidedly, a brief rectification is unavoidable.

I am aware that it is quite easy to challenge my slight authority. I hope, however, that I shall not be prohibited from mentioning two eminent testimonies. The Baroness de Bacourt (at whose unforgettable vendredis. I had the honor of meeting the lamented poet) has seen fit to approve the pages which follow. The Countess de Bagnoregio, one of the most delicate spirits of the Principality of Monaco (and now of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, following her recent marriage to the international philanthropist Simon Kautzsch, who has been so inconsiderately slandered, alas! by the victims of his disinterested maneuvers) has sacrificed “to veracity and to death” (such were her words) the stately reserve which is her distinction, and, in an open letter published in the magazine Luxe , concedes me her approval as well. These authorizations, I think, are not entirely insufficient.

Michel Houellebecq interviewed in the Paris Review

This is a subheading that you need to populate throughout the posts
Interview with Michel Houellebecq

Susannah Hunnewell interviewed Michel Houellebecq in issue 194 (Fall 2010) of the Paris Review (and for some reason those pictures of him with Iggy Pop happened too):

INTERVIEWER

So how did your life change after The Elementary Particles?

HOUELLEBECQ

The biggest consequence of The Elementary Particles, apart from the money and not having to work, is that I have become known internationally. I’ve stopped being a tourist, for example, because my book tours have satisfied any desire I might have to travel. And as a result there are countries I have visited that you wouldn’t ordinarily go to, like Germany.

Fitz Carraldo Editions