Wednesday 9 December 2020

The Deer (Masoud Kimiai, 1974)

The Deer plays at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2021.

For two consecutive decades and in various Iranian critics' poll, The Deer has occupied the very top place as "the best Iranian film ever made." Known for his rape/revenge drama Gheysar (1969)—which changed the course of Iranian cinema—director Masoud Kimiai (former assistant to Jean Negulescu and Samuel Khachikian) adds an explicitly political dimension to the story of his typically defiant characters. Here, in a nod to Hollywood's "buddy film," the familiar hero of Iranian popular cinema is prompted into social action, far beyond the usual romantic conquests. There is a sense of an imminent revolution in this story of a former champ turned junkie who reunites with a leftist classmate and is redeemed by revolutionary anger. Picking up where the anti-hero of Gheysar left, the leading character (Seyyed, played by versatile method actor Behrouz Vossoughi) again takes the law into his own hands and challenges the established order.

Friday 4 December 2020

Philosophical Treatises of a Master Illusionist: A Conversation about Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016), arguably one of the the greatest of Iranian filmmakers, was a master of interruption and reduction in cinema. He, who passed away on Monday in a Paris hospital, diverted cinema from its course more than once. From his experimental children’s films to deconstructing the meaning of documentary and fiction, to digital experimentation, every move brought him new admirers and cost him some of his old ones. Kiarostami provided a style, a film language, with a valid grammar of its own.

On the occasion of this great loss, Jonathan Rosenbaum and I discussed some aspects of Kiarostami’s world. Jonathan, the former chief film critic at Chicago Reader, is the co-author (with Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa) of a book on Kiarostami, available from the University of Chicago Press. – Ehsan Khoshbakht

* * *

Ehsan Khoshbakht: Abbas Kiarostami's impact on Iranian cinema was so colossal that almost swallowed up everything before, and to a certain extent after. For better or worse, Iranian cinema equated Abbas Kiarostami. It was good because it made Iranian cinema a global phenomenon. And not so good when it overshadowed other filmmakers and other existing modes of filmmaking in Iran. Can you think of any other filmmaker whose presence could have dominated a national cinema to such extent?

Jonathan Rosenbaum: As you know, I tend to view Kiarostami more in transnational terms. In terms of being identified with a national cinema from outside that particular nation, I suppose one could cite Satyajit Ray, Almodovar, Bergman, and Kurosawa, among others. But from a transnational perspective, I suspect that the only figure comparable to Kiarostami, both in terms of influence and in terms of stirring up controversies, would be Godard. Godard himself apparently once said that the cinema that begins with Griffith ends with Kiarostami. For me, both directors excelled in creating global newspapers during separate decades -- Godard in the 60s, Kiarostami in the 90s. And people are still quarrelling about their formal procedures in comparable ways. Another parallel with Godard worth mentioning is the capacity of both filmmakers to keep reinventing themselves, in terms of audience, format, relation to narrative, and much else besides. You might even say that Godard and Kiarostami each have had as many "periods" as Picasso did.

Thursday 26 November 2020

Dick Cavett Show: John Cassavetes, Peter Falk & Ben Gazzara

Husband (1970)

Notes on the restored version of Dick Cavett Show: John Cassavetes/Peter Falk/Ben Gazzara (21 September 1970), screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019. The entire programme, sourced from a VHS tape, can be viewed below. — EK

A notorious moment in television history, one which is both funny and embarrassing to watch. Dick Cavett's interviews with film personalities are usually precious; they can be casual (resulting in some hilarious moments with certain guests) but at the same time focused. In 1970, two years into its run, Cavett introduced a new, longer format show to coincide with football fixtures, when many TV viewers would be hooked to the sports channel. The first episode to follow this new format, featuring the leading talents of Husbands, made for a disastrous start. Everything that could go wrong with an interview (including the unlikely possibility of the guests taking off their socks on camera, rolling on the floor and wrestling) did go wrong. Seemingly intoxicated, Cassavetes, Gazzara and Falk refused to talk and when they did, it was in incomprehensible half-lines – the spirit of the Three Stooges channelled via three figures of the New American Cinema. Cavett leaves the set in protest, returning later with the audience clamouring, "We want Dick!" The three bad boys kneel in front of him, seemingly apologetic. Yet, five seconds later, the mischief resumes to a maddening intensity. Towards the end it becomes clearer to see that it's all more of an act than actual intoxication. It's up to you whether to see it as a mean attack on the shallowness of such TV shows, or a sign of troubling immaturity. (For further drunk interviewees at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019, see Sterling Hayden in Pharos of Chaos.) 

Monday 16 November 2020

His name was Negahdar Jamali...

نگهدار جمالی، سینمادوست، مبلّغ سینما و فیلمساز خودآموختۀ شیرازی که برای فیلم‌های ویدئویی وسترن، تارزانی و اکشنی که با کمک دوستان و هم‌محله‌هایش می ساخت، اول در شیراز و بعد به لطف مستند کامران حیدری، «من نگهدار جمالی وسترن می‌سازم»، در سطحی جهان به شهرتی کوچک رسیده بو،د شب پنجشنبه، 22 آبان، بر اثر ابتلا به کرونا فوت کرد.

این خبر را کامران حیدری مستندساز تأیید کرد که قصد داشت فیلم دیگری با مرحوم نگهدار بسازد.

تماشاگران بین‌المللی با وجد فراوان «من نگهدار جمالی وسترن می‌سازم» را در لندن و نیویورک و شهرهای دیگر دیدند و به دنیای ساده اما دیوانه‌وار این وسترن‌باز شیرازی خندیدند، نه از سر تمسخر، بلکه از سر همراهی با شیدایی او و ایمانش به کاری که می‌کرد.

وقتی اولین بار این فیلم را دیدم، نگهدار را رومانتیکی یافتم که شکست‌های متعددش چیزی از عشقش به سینما نکاسته و درباره‌اش نوشتم «نگهدار جمالي يكي از وجدآورترين فيلم‌هاي سال 2013 است كه مي‌تواند هر بيننده‌اي را تحت تأثير قرار دهد و فقر فيلم‌هاي اين مؤلف شيرازي ناخودآگاه او را به وسترن‌هاي اوليه ادگار اولمر پيوند مي‌دهد.»

Saturday 14 November 2020

University of Wisconsin Cinematheque Podcast: Filmfarsi

"Discover a hidden world of Iranian film with this fascinating archival documentary, which resurrects the long-lost popular cinema that thrived in pre-revolution Tehran. Though today it is best known for world-class auteurs like Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi, Iranian cinema between the 1950s and 1970s was sensational and melodramatic, chock full of sex and violence. As director Ehsan Khoshbakht wryly notes, the actual quality of many of these films “starts at B and descends to the last letters of the alphabet,” but today they provide a valuable window into the country’s midcentury psyche. Created in a culture caught between religious tradition and modernity, these lowbrow genre films often encapsulated contradictory ideas—on the common motif of actresses wearing miniskirts along with their headscarves, Khoshbakht observes that “women’s freedom meant a feast of male visual pleasure.” Nearly all of the over 100 films excerpted in Filmfarsi were eventually banned in Iran, relegated to the VHS bootlegs that form the raw materials of this invaluable history. To complement our presentation of Filmfarsi, Khoshbakht has also provided an exceedingly rare opportunity to see The Deer, a high-water mark of pre-revolution Iranian cinema." — Mike King

Wednesday 4 November 2020

La femme et l'animal (Feri Farzaneh, 1962)

La femme et l'animal

A much-welcomed online streaming of a series of short art and culture documentaries by Mostafa Farzaneh is significant in the sense that it allows for adding a few pages to the still being drafted history of the birth modern cinema in Iran. When I say "being drafted", I'm directly pointing at the question of access which is particularly relevant to these type of films, as Iran remains one of the last cases in cinema history where access to certain films is still systematically denied, with the majority of the films made prior to the 1979 revolution not available to the public.

Films like La femme et l'animal (Mostafa Farzaneh, 1962) whose director worked and was known in France as Feri Farzaneh, have been overlooked in reassessing the ebbs and flows of modern experience in Iranian cinema mostly due to that fact that they stand in a no man's land: produced in France with a French crew and in French language but essentially meant to promote Iranian cultural heritage through the medium of moving images to non-Iranians. Hence it is both "institutional cinema" in its approach to the subject and "cultural heritage cinema" in its reverence for it. So if Charles Ravier arranges French 13th music for this film whose subject is ancient Iran and the artifacts from Achaemenid Empire and earlier, it is because the film somehow clings to the common practices of "institutional cultural heritage" cinema, aiming for a cinéma de qualité.

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Hostages (Frank Tuttle, 1943)


Hostages (1943) which I screened from a brand new 35mm print in Bologna in August 2020 remains one of my favourite WWII resistance films. Below, programme notes written for the Cinema Ritrovato screening. — EK

One of the most sobering wartime films made in Hollywood about the atrocities in Europe, this is also one of Tuttle’s greatest. Written by Lester Cole, soon to be blacklisted, the film’s historical perspective and visionary nature matches that of Cole’s other great achievement from the following year, None Shall Escape. William Bendix, in one of his finest screen roles, plays a restaurant waiter in 1943 Prague; considered an idiot, he is in fact a resistance leader. His workplace is frequented by Nazi officers and when a homesick officer kills himself, the Gestapo calls it a murder and vows retaliation. Random citizens are picked for execution, including the resistance leader and a collaborator. While the initial death is considered a murder, the film ends with a Nazi passing off the murder of another officer as suicide. 

Thursday 24 September 2020

Roman Scandals (Frank Tuttle, 1933)

Directed by Frank Tuttle
Written by William Anthony McGuire, George Oppenheimer, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin
based on the original story by George Kaufman & Robert E. Sherwood
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography: Gregg Toland, Ray June
Edited by Stuart Heisler
Eddie Cantor (Eddie/Oedipus), Gloria Stuart (Princess Sylvia), Edward Arnold (Emperor Valerius), David Manners (Josephus), Ruth Etting (Olga), Verree Teasdale (Empress Agrippa), Alan Mowbray (Majordomo), John Rutherford (Manius).
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Distributed by United Artists 
December 25, 1933
93 minutes

West Rome, Colorado. Eddie, a good-natured but clumsy delivery boy with a passion for Roman history, is tired of the deceit of the local authorities. Humiliated and banned from town, he daydreams and is transported to his idealised ancient Rome, where he becomes entangled in even more treacherous plots. As with the opening scene of the film, in which the Roman statues of the local museum are dressed in Eddie’s clothes, for Tuttle the story serves as a means of reconciling the old world and the new through popular entertainment.


Sunday 13 September 2020

Notes (and Images) on Frank Tuttle

"Tuttle’s importance as a communist comes from the fact, first, that he is recognized as a very capable motion picture director and, moreover, he is considered to be an excellent teacher of motion picture methods." The first serious appraisal of Frank Tuttle (1892-1963) in writing was not penned by a critic but an admiring FBI agent, who had the ‘red’ director under surveillance, adding these notes to his secret dossier.

With Bebe Daniels on location

Friday 11 September 2020

Film Composer David Raksin Testifies Against Frank Tuttle

David Raksin

It happened more than once: the HUAC interrogators pushing the interviewee to a corner, encouraging him to name director Frank Tuttle. Why so much sensitivity towards Tuttle? His name popped up on FBI's list very early on. He was successful and his name known and respected since the 1920s; he was highly educated (a Yale graduate) and sophisticated (amateur painter and sportsman); furthermore, his luxurious Beverly Hills mansion was in fact a meeting place of the members of the Communist Party. To HUAC, Tuttle was the epitome of the corrupting Red element in movie industry.

So unlike the common notion that Tuttle was a "stool pigeon", there were others who named him first. I've read at least three different movie people mentioning his name at the HUAC hearings between 1947 and 1951, including the Esquire magazine film critic Jack Moffitt.

Here's one example from September 1951 when film composer David Raksin testifies again Tuttle.

Monday 7 September 2020

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020 - Opening Speech

Partly improvised, partly written, delivered on August 25 at Teatro Comunale di Bologna, also known as Bologna Opera House. — EK

As I'm speaking here, there is a film playing at the Jolly cinema. It's called The Star, and was directed by Stuart Heisler. It's about a washed-up movie queen who is looking for love in the ghost city of cinema. She drives along the famous streets where movie stars are supposed to live – but the streets are deserted. The actress, Margaret Elliott, played magnificently by Bette Davis, wants to get back on the big screen at any cost. The process is full of agony, humiliation and false hopes.

Like Davis’s character, most of us – for hours, days or even months – dreaded that it might never happen again. That we would never see a beam of light passing through that tiny hole in the wall. “An invention without a future,” was how one of the father figures of cinema described it. In March 2020 we began to fear that this might finally be the case. An affirmation was needed before things were lost.

Thursday 6 August 2020

Conversations with Mervyn LeRoy (1970-71)

Mervyn LeRoy

Everybody has a favourite Mervyn LeRoy film even if one hasn't heard of Mervyn LeRoy. To be more precise, if you like American cinema, you have to have a favourite Mervyn LeRoy film.

Long before Billy Wilder, LeRoy was one of the most successful director-producers in Hollywood, but since his production activities were more "unit production" undertaken for studios such as Warner and Metro, he never enjoyed the recognition that the independent producers of the 1950s did. Yet, his name, both as director and producer, is linked to some of the best remembered films in the history of American cinema, films of enormous popularity, technical brilliance and politically progressive conceptions. His domain of responsibilities in the production of most of his films is so vast (picking the material, casting, producing, framing the shots, doing promotion) that those still adhering to politiques des auteurs should be alerted, taking LeRoy very seriously. I'm not one of them, nevertheless I do take LeRoy seriously.

Some newly digitised tapes, courtesy of Pacific Film Archive, shed new light on a prolific and thrilling career. During an informal conversation worth nearly three hours of Q&As, Albert Johnson poses questions and LeRoy responds, reminiscing his career in chronological order. Conducted between April 16, 1970 and December 2, 1971, it was done with the prospect of a book publication. As far as I know, no book was ever written by Johnson about the cinema of LeRoy. The location for the interviews seems to be LeRoy's house where his wife is occasionally heard offering tea. Sometimes people drop in and evidently a dog is hanging around. The phone goes off quite often.

The first tape starts abruptly but my guess is that the discussion is about Harold Teen (1928). This is first in a series of sudden interruptions, pauses and silences but all and all the tapes have a very decent audio quality and the conversation is engaging for the most part, even if LeRoy acts as another laconic Hollywood veteran using the most economic of languages with answers as brief as "sure" and "you bet!"

The films, people, and subjects discussed include (in the order of the tapes):

Showgirl in Hollywood (1930): all-talking musical with Technicolor sequences

The World Changes (1933): drama starring Paul Muni, Aline MacMahon and Mary Astor

Big City Blues (1932): drama based on the play New York Town by Ward Morehouse with stars Joan Blondell and uncredited appearances by Humphrey Bogart.

Hard to Handle (1933): comedy with James Cagney as a con artist who organizes a Depression-era dance marathon. "Cagney wasn't hard to handle. He was easy to handle," says LeRoy

Gold Diggers of 1933: working with Busby Berkeley & Sol Polito

Marie Dressler; Differences between working for Warner and MGM; Sidney Franklin;

Tugboat Annie (1933): "Beery was a mean man."

Paul Muni; Art directors and sets, "Who's John Wray?", Ralph Ince

Two Seconds (1932)

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932): "We told the truth."

Heat Lightning (1934): based on the play of the same name by Leon Abrams and George Abbott. "I never saw it!" -- "Bette Davis didn't like me."

Happiness Ahead (1934): comedy starring Dick Powell with Josephine Hutchinson

Oil for the Lamps of China (1935): "My favourite picture!" Shot on location near Arizona

Kay Francis ("sad woman")

Three Men on a Horse (1936): based on a funny and successful Broadway play of the same name starring Frank McHugh and Joan Blondell

Anthony Adverse (1936) and working with Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Lana Turner's discovery demystified and LeRoy's subsequent move to Metro; lack of interest in Marx Brothers

They Won't Forget (1937)

On the set of I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Tonight or Never (1931)

Joe E. Brown comedies

Five Star Final (1931) and working with Edward G. Robinson ("Do you think Two Seconds could be made today?" asks LeRoy.)

The World Changes (1933): Child actor and future director Richard Quine is in the film.

Three on a Match (1932) & directing Ann Dvorak

On Bogart: "He thought he was a tough guy but he was sweet. He couldn't lick a fly! In those days they all seem to be geniuses."

Gold Diggers of 1933: talking about the colours of the female costumes in the Shadow Waltz number and the film's junket (city-to-city train journey); in-jokes in the films

[There's jump here. The sound quality and the period they are discussing change so it must be recorded some time later]

Waterloo Bridge (1940)

"Every week I have three or four pictures on television."; Bronisław Kaper; Visiting London's National Film Theatre located right under the Waterloo Bridge; San Francisco Film Festival where in 1965 LeRoy was awarded.

Escape (1940): An American in pre-WWII Nazi Germany tries to free her mother from a concentration camp. (This is the second time I'm hearing Hungarian actor Paul Lokas wasn't a good actor.); Arch Oboler not liking to wash his face!; "I had hand-held camera in my movies... It doesn't mean a damn thing."

Blossoms in the Dust (1941): working with Greer Garson. "My first film in color?"; "The only problem I had was with that son-of-a-bitch Walter Pidgeon!" LeRoy used dancing dolly for the first time since Pidgeon couldn't dance.

Lana Turner

Thursday 30 July 2020

The Negro Soldier (Stuart Heisler, 1944)

An African American artist in The Negro Soldier

This film is considered a “watershed in the use of film to promote racial tolerance”, and Heisler had previously handled the subject with surprisingly fine results in his 1940 The Biscuit Eater. Hollywood showed little interest in the subject of race, apart from work by those communist writers such as Lester Cole (None Shall Escape) and John Howard Lawson (Sahara) who gave African Americans a voice as agents of democracy in the fight against fascism. However, The Negro Soldier was perhaps the only film in that vein written by an African American, Carlton Moss. Films about the black experience were either ‘churchy’ or ‘bluesy’ (a rare exception, King Vidor’s 1929 Hallelujah! was both). The Negro Soldier is churchy (even if it does include a fleeting shot of the father of the blues, W.C. Handy), adopting the form of a sermon, in which the history of African Americans’ involvement in the making of America is recounted to an entirely black audience. But when the familiar image of the church minister at the pulpit arrives, it delivers a twofold punch: it is Moss himself – and the book in his hands is Mein Kampf, from which he reads Hitler’s perspective on the black race. The church form finds new urgency, as the film’s writer merges roles with that of the minister. Heisler makes his point visually, to avoid preaching: at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the German and Japanese athletes fail and an African American wins; a black conductor leads a mixed orchestra through Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. 

Tuesday 28 July 2020

André Breton on Sadegh Hedayat's The Blind Owl

Sadegh Hedayat

Nasturtiums Purple

Of Sadegh Hedayat, who committed suicide in Paris on April 9th, 1951, reached us, in the beautiful translation of Roger Lescot, The Blind Owl, a hopeless sign in the night. Never more such a dramatic apprehension of the human condition has aroused such an examination  of our shell, nor such a knowledge of  timeless struggle in a maze of mirrors, with the attributes that are our common lot ... The acuity of the sensations and the violence of the impulses which like  Wölfli, make a confounding use of certain stereotyped images, gasping from one end to the other, those that Hedayat excludes from the world of the "scoundrel". A Masterpiece if any! A book that must find its place near the Aurelia of Nerval, the Gradiva of Jensen, the Mysteries of Hamsun, which takes part in the phosphorescence of Berkeley Square and the prisons of Nosferatu. (Jose Corti Library). A. B. [André Breton]

Albert Maltz on This Gun for Hire

This Gun for Hire (Frank Tuttle, 1942) [Photo: LIFE Magazine]

Interviewed by Joel Gardner between 1975 and 1979 for an oral history series by the University of California. As a part of Guns for Hire: Frank Tuttle vs. Stuart Heisler retrospective, This Gun for Hire will be playing at Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, August 26, 9:15 AM, Cine Jolly.


The financial squeeze that I [was in] became too great in the spring of 1941. My friends Michael Blankfort and George Sklar had gotten work in Hollywood, and we made the decision that I would try also. And as soon as teaching was over, I went out to Las Vegas, New Mexico, because my mother-in-law was ill and my wife had taken our son out there earlier. And then after a few days I went overnight by bus to Los Angeles. And I, for about ten days, slept on a couch in the tiny cottage that the Sklars had. Although he was working, they had not yet accumulated enough money to move into anything better than the very simple little quarters that they had. 

By luck I got a job very quickly. The film director Frank Tuttle had a piece of material--had a novel, actually, by Graham Greene called This Gun for Hire which had been owned by Paramount, and he had worked out a way in which the story might be done which was acceptable. He wanted a  writer just at the time that I came into town and heard about me and knew my work, and I got the job at $300 a week.

Saturday 27 June 2020

Imogen Sara Smith on Among the Living (Stuart Heisler, 1941)

Click to enlarge
Playing at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020, August 28, 11.45 Cinema Jolly | 35mm

Within a running time of just over an hour, Among the Living samples an array of genres: Southern gothic horror, evil-twin thriller, Freudian melodrama, comedy, and politically charged satire. In the opening scene, unemployed mill-workers crowd around the gates of a dilapidated mansion, heckling the funeral of the hated mill-owner – surely voicing the views of Lester Cole, who co-wrote the story and screenplay. The son of a union organiser for the garment industry, Cole was one of the most unapologetic communists among the Hollywood Ten. Six years before the congressional hearings that would send him to jail and onto the blacklist, he seems to forecast the mood of the McCarthy era in a climactic scene where a small town’s citizens turn into a frenzied mob, rabidly pursuing a cash reward for the capture of a killer and trying an innocent man before a kangaroo court.

Thursday 25 June 2020

The State of Cinema in Iran, 1933

Only 6 cinemas in Iran could show sound films in 1933

From The 1934 Film Daily Year Book, a report on the state of cinema in Persia AKA Iran.

Agitation: None.

Censorship: Active and strict censorship of all films to be shown in Persia is maintained by the Amusement Section of the Imperial Police. All films are shown before a board of Police Officers at whose discretion the entire film or parts of it may be rejected. The following scenes are usually barred from films to be shown in Persia:
(a) Any scenes reflecting directly or indirectly on Shah.
(b) Scenes containing political propaganda.
(c) Scenes depicting the horrors of war, suggesting pacifism, or inciting to revolution.
(d) Scenes thought to be detrimental to public morals.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Ten Key Actresses of Iranian Cinema [by Nima Hasani-Nasab]

Originally commissioned by me and published in the Underline, the Iranian film critic Nima Hasani-Nasab has written about ten actresses who, in his view, helped shaping Iranian cinema before and after the revolution. — EK

Apart from sheer acting talent and the entertainment they have given to different generations of Iranians, every one of the actresses profiled here is also a representative of her gender, and of a particular acting style. They range from much loved popular stars to those appreciated by a small and discerning minority of film devotees; some have taken on a variety of screen roles, while others have gladly reprised a favourite part many times. Some hold records for film credits; others have appeared in only a handful of films.

Every one has put her own individual stamp on the world of cinema. To leave any one of them out would make any account of the key female performances in Iranian film incomplete. Still, it being necessary to include actresses from both before and after the 1979 Revolution, a number of prominent personalities who might otherwise have been included have had to be left out.

This overview is dedicated to the memory of Ruhangiz Saminezhad, the first actress in the history of Iranian cinema, who paid for her performance in The Lor Girl with bitterness and curses; misfortune and loneliness – all so that Iranian women could take their rightful place on the cinema screen, take over from men in women’s clothing.

Saturday 13 June 2020

The Houses They Lived In#1: George Cukor

Time Remembered: Chris Marker Picks His Favourite Bill Evans Recordings

Chris Marker in Telluride, 1987. Courtesy of Tom Luddy.

On the art of lyrical compilation, from one medium to another

Until midnight music is a job, until four o’clock it’s a pleasure, and after that it’s a rite.” – Chris Marker

There are only indirect hints as to what Chris Marker liked and did beyond his films. In studying the world of this elusive director, every sign invites us to scrutinize it carefully. Marker appears in small details, such as the mix CD which one day arrived on my doorstep. If the address on the parcel hadn’t confirmed the sender as Tom Luddy, co-director of Telluride Film Festival and a close friend of Marker’s, I could have taken it to be Marker’s personal gift from the beyond.

The CD cover gave little away: Sandwiching a photo of pianist Bill Evans was his name and the words "joue pour Guillaume" [plays for Guillaume], along with an illustrated image of the Markerian animal familiar Guillaume, a wise if mischievous-looking cat, holding sheet music. A lyrical filmmaker, who could also compose and play the piano, had compiled his favorite tunes performed by the lyrical jazz pianist and composer Evans (1929-80). The fascination with compilation is also evident in the films. Marker would often juxtapose material from various sources—news footage, computer games, photographs and songs—to remarkable effect.

Tom Luddy recalls conversations about jazz with the filmmaker, who used to tune in to KJAZ whenever he was in the Bay Area. One of his favorite satellite TV channels was Mezzo, playing classical and jazz around the clock. While the genre didn't feature much in his films, one could argue that jazz for Marker, like cinema, was something both personal and political. His jazz-related writings for Esprit (“Du Jazz considere comme une prophetie”) and Le Journal des Allumés du Jazz seem to bear this out. Marker even made a small contribution to jazz literature by writing the narration for a documentary about Django Reinhardt directed by Paul Paviot, who'd previously produced Marker’s Sunday in Peking.

Thursday 11 June 2020

Willow and Wind, an Overlooked Gem Scripted by Abbas Kiarostami

Willow and Wind

Willow trees bend easily in the slightest breeze, but even the wildest wind cannot uproot them. That is, more or less, the story of children in Mohammad Ali Talebi’s cinema; they are affected by every turn, every event, each nuance of the adult world, but they never fall down or stop fighting.

Willow and Wind is Talebi’s greatest cinematic achievement, both in terms of narrative and visual style. It tells an amazingly simple, sometimes absurd story. Like a Persian miniature, it is expressed through fine details. It depicts the efforts of a young boy to carry a large piece of glass some distance across country, to reach the school where he has broken a window during a football match. He’s not allowed back into class until he mends it.

Thursday 21 May 2020

Future Imperfect

Pis'ma myortvogo cheloveka

فانتزی‌های آینده، کابوس‌های امروز
احسان خوش‌بخت

فیلم‌های علمی-تخیلی و فانتزی‌های ضدآرمان‌شهری امروز بیش از هر زمانی طنینی نزدیک به واقعیت دارند؛ بعضی‌هایشان حتی به مستند پهلو می‌زنند. در روزهای قرنطینۀ کرونا به سراغ یادداشت‌ها و فهرستی رفتم از سال 2017 که بعد از تماشای فیلم‌های رتروسپکتیوی دربارۀ سینمای علمی-تخیلی (Future Imperfect) در فستیوال فیلم برلین نوشته بودم. در این برنامه، «فیلم‌های علمی-تخیلی فاقد هیولا» نمایش داده شد، فیلم‌هایی که صاحب تخیل بودند اما تخیل‌شان فانتزی محض نبود و تا حدی ریشه در واقعیت یا احتمالات علمی داشت. خیلی از فیلم‌های نمایش داده شده را می‌شد آثار محیط‌زیستی خواند که نگرانی جدی‌شان از آیندۀ کرۀ زمین را پنهان نمی‌کردند. یکی از امتیازهای بزرگ برنامه معرفی فیلم‌های زیادی از کشورهای بلوک شرق سابق بود که لحن‌شان تفاوتی اساسی با نمونه‌های مشابه در غرب دارد و معمولاً آثاری فلسفی و اخلاقی‌اند تا سرگرمی برای بچه‌های بزرگ شده با کتاب‌های مصور. تقریباً تمام فیلم‌ها از نسخه‌های 35 میلیمتری نمایش داده شدند، طوری که این فیلم‌ها باید هرجایی دیده شوند.

Thursday 30 April 2020

David Meeker's Ten Favourite Jazz Films

Duke Ellington behind the scene of NBC's What Is Jazz? (1958) episode#1 [Source: GettyImages]

David Meeker, the author of Jazz in the Movies (and its online, massively updated version, Jazz on the Screen, available on the website of the Library of Congress), has been kind enough to furnish me with the list of his favourite jazz films. I don't think anyone in the world has seen as many jazz films as David has and certainly no-one has bothered spending years retrieving information (including song lists and personnel) from these films, compiling the indispensable encyclopedia that he has given us. For that reason, I think this list should be cherished more than other similar listings — this is the work of a man who has almost seen everything! - EK 

By my reckoning the first ever sound film of a jazz performance was produced in 1922, a short featuring pianist Eubie Blake. Therefore, faced with almost 100 years of world cinema and taking a degree of masochistic pleasure in sticking my neck out I have managed with considerable difficulty to reduce untold millions of feet of celluloid to a necessarily subjective choice of 10 favourite titles, undoubtedly quirky but hopefully not pretentious. Try and see them if you can - they all have much to offer both intellectually and emotionally.
David Meeker

Tuesday 14 April 2020

5 Nowruz Recommendations [1398]

جوسلین صعب

پنج پیشنهاد تماشا برای نوروز 1398، به درخواست ماهنامۀ سینمایی فیلم.

سه‌گانۀ بیروت (جوسلین صعب، 82-1976): این معادل تابلوی گِرنیکای پیکاسو در سینماست، همان اندازه تکان دهنده، موحش و ساخته شده سر یک بزنگاه تاریخی و اخلاقی. یک زن آن را در زیر بمباران‌های دائمی و در بین منظری از بچه‌هایی که بدن‌هایش از گرسنگی دفرمه شده و بدن‌های تحت تأثیر بمب‌های شیمیایی اسرائیل به رنگ آبی درآمده ساخته است. فیلم مناسب عید نیست، اما آیا واقعیت مخصوص مواقع مشخصی از سال است؟

ای آفتاب (مد هوندو، 1970): بزرگ‌ترین کشف من در سال گذشته. اگر چارلی مینگوس (نوازنده باس و رهبر ارکستر موسیقی جاز در طرف مدرنش) فیلمساز بود، فیلمش اثری چنین خشمگین، زیبا، و با فرمی سیال از کار درمی‌آمد. فیلم دربارۀ تنهایی یک آفریقایی در اروپاست و این فیلمساز اهل موریتانی هر ثانیه‌ این دنیای دشوار را تجربه و لمس کرده است.

Saturday 11 April 2020

From the Archives: Iran - Rich Land, Poor Land

click to enlarge

Poster (newsmap) produced by the US Army Information Branch in February 1946 to provide the army members with the basic information regarding the post-war landscape of Iran. Courtesy of the University of North Texas.


[United States.] Army Information Branch. Newsmap for the Armed Forces : Iran, rich land poor land, poster, February 18, 1946; [New York]. ( accessed April 11, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library,; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.

Thursday 9 April 2020

On Film Curating [Scalarama Newspaper Interview]

Interviewed by UK's Scalarama Newspaper in late summer 2019. EK


What inspired you to get into film programming?

I was playing films, from VHS tapes, for my two sisters. Every day we were lying on the floor , putting our heads in 30 degree angels towards each on a big pillow -- almost like mummies -- totally transfixed by Singin' in the Rain or Citizen Kane, without understanding a word of English. It came out of that, a sort of natural tendency to share what you think is good. Later I thought if I could entertain my sisters, I might be able to keep more people entertained.

Tuesday 31 March 2020

Moonfleet, Gothic and Scope

فريتس لانگ، گوتيك و سینمااسكوپ

مونفليت تلخ‌ترين و احتمالاً گوتيك‌ترين فيلم "ماجرايي" سينماي كلاسيك آمريكاست. ژانري كه با طنز، ماجراهاي عاشقانه، رنگ‌هاي دلفريب و لباس‌هاي فاخر انبوهي از فيلم‌هاي محبوب و پرفروش را به سينما ارزاني داشته، در دستان لانگ به شرحي از تباهي دنيايي تاريك و غم‌زده تبديل مي‌شود. این‌که قهرمان اصلی فيلم يك پسربچه (جان وايتلي) است و ستارۀ بزرگ فيلم‌هاي شمشيرزني از خانوادۀ اسكاراموش، يعني استوارت گرينجر، کنار اوست کمکی به تلطیف نگاه لانگ نمی‌کند.
فيلم فضايي گرفته، مرده و حتي ترسناك دارد که در آن از پایان خوش یا شور و عشق نشانی نیست. به جایش لانگ هرزگيِ شخصیت گرينجر در برخورد با زنان را نشان می‌دهد. مي‌گذارد. بیش‌تر نشانه‌‌های آشنای ژانر مثل گنج‌هاي مدفون، مخفيگاه‌هاي زيرزميني، مهماني‌هاي رقص و زنان حسود وجود دارند، اما به قول اندرو ساريس در مقایسه او بین مونفلیت و متروپولیس «هر دو فيلم در آن نگاه تلخ به دنيا مشتركند، در هردو انسان با تقديري محتوم دست به گريبان است، كشمكشي كه قطعاً به شكست انسان مي‌انجامد.»

The Night Before the Divorce (Robert Siodmak, 1942)

Monday 30 March 2020

Richard Boleslawski

بولسلاوسکی (راست) پشت صحنۀ تئودورا وحشی می شود با شرکت آیرین دان (وسط)، 1936
ريچارد بولسلاوسكي
متولد چهارم  فوريه 1889 در دبووا گورای لهستان درگذشته در هفدهم ژانويه 1937 در هاليوود كاليفرنيا
فارغ‌التحصيل مدرسه افسري سواره نظام Tver. تحصيل در تئاتر هنري مسكو زير نظر استانيسلاوسكي. شركت در جنگ جهاني اول به عنوان افسر سواره‌نظام ارتش تزار روسيه (لهستان در آن زمان بخشي از امپراتوري روسيه محسوب مي‌شد). بازي در چند فيلم روسي پيش از انقلاب که یکی از آن‌ها نسخۀ صامت ایوان مخوف (1915) بود و کارگردانی یک فیلم در همان سال. ترك روسيه بعد از انقلاب اكتبر و سپس جنگ علیه شوروی در ارتش لهستان. کارگردانی چند فیلم در لهستان که یکی از آنها، معجزه در ويستولا (1921) دربارۀ پيروزي لهستاني‌ها در مقابل سرخ‌ها در نبرد رودخانه ويستولا زباني مستندگونه داشت.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

I've Got Something to Say that Only You Children Would Believe — A Book Illustrated by Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami had a long, colourful career as an illustrator, graphic and film title sequence designer, and photographer before his career as a filmmaker got kick-started in the early 1970s.

His slow success and even a slower international recognition meant that this first part of his artistic life had vert little chance to be appreciated in time and not surprisingly, it was overlooked even by his ardent audience. One could argue, his eventual coming back to these fields (plus poetry and installation) in the 21th century was itself a classic case of Kiarostamian "return" as often seen in his films: returning to a home, to a place, to a landscape, in this case, to old passions.

A great portion of the achievements of these early years remain unavailable but here we have a wonderful example of his illustration work which he contributed to a children book, written by modernist poet and author Ahmad Reza Ahmadi.

One of Kiarostami's illustrations for the book

Monday 9 March 2020

Abbas Kiarostami, a Cinema of Participation [Introduction to Harvard Film Archive Retrospective, May 2020]

Abbas Kiarostami circa late 60s, probably in his studio. On the wall (left) the poster for Masoud Kimiai's Come Stranger (1968), designed by Kiarostami.

Written for Harvard Film Archive's forthcoming retrospective dedicated to Kiarostami. More info here. — EK

Known for single-handedly putting Iran on the map of international cinema, Abbas Kiarostami’s filmmaking style was shaped by a variety of Persian arts, especially poetry. Reframing the world and the relationships between individuals through his creative involvement with actors—often amateurs, often children—and showing a keen eye for the beauty of landscapes, he produced philosophical works that reinvigorated the genres of documentary and narrative fiction.

Born in 1940, Kiarostami developed a love of painting at a young age, which led him to enroll in Tehran’s University of Fine Arts. During the 1960s he was involved in the film and television industry, both as a director of commercials and as a title designer for films. After the initiation of the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (known as Kanoon), which as part of its artistic activities provided funding and facilities for the production of films for or about children, Kiarostami joined the organization and made The Bread and Alley, a short film about a boy’s fear of a stray dog.

Sunday 8 March 2020

5 Nowruz Recommendations [1399]

آخرین مرحله

پنج پیشنهاد تماشای نوروز، نوشته شده برای ماهنامۀ فیلم. احسان خوش‌بخت

آتش‌ می‌آید (الیور لَکس، 2019) بیرون از سینمایی که نمایش کار تازۀ این فیلمساز فرانسوی در آن تازه تمام شده بود، دوستی که نقشی جدی در جنبش‌های محیط زیستی دارد این فیلم غریب و دشوار برای طبقه‌بندی را فیلمی محیط زیستی و یک زنگ خطر موقر و غیرمستقیم می‌دانست. اما برای من داستان رابطه پسری تازه از زندان آزاد شده با مادر سالخورده‌اش در کوهستان‌های پردرخت گالیشیای اسپانیا طنینی انجیلی داشت. شاید نظر هردویمان تا حدی وارد باشد؛ هرچه باشد هم دنیای امروزمان پر از آتش‌های مهار نشده است و هم داستان‌های انجیل. فیلم بهترین سکانس آتش تاریخ سینما را دارد.

Tuesday 3 March 2020

The House Is Black — Which Version to Screen

The House Is Black (1962), the only film directed by the poet Forough Farrokhzad before her tragic death at the age of 37, is short like the life of its creator. Only twenty minutes long, this haunting piece of cinema and poetry has become a milestone not only for Iranian cinema but also for women filmmakers in general. However, many people viewers don't realise that almost every single circulating print of the film has been incomplete and not the featuring the version that Farrokhzad originally cut. Or I should say all the prints were missing elements until September 2019 when the film was restored by Cineteca di Bologna.

If you have seen the film in 35mm prints in one of the European or American films festivals, it's very likely that you have seen a print preserved either by Oberhausen Film Festival (where it received the main prize of the International Jury for the best documentary in 1964) or an analogue restoration of the film by CNC in France. Both prints, though fine in quality, miss verses of poetry and both have burnt-in French subtitles with a translation which is not exactly flawless.

Monday 2 March 2020

Four Iranian New Wave Films That You Must See

The Cow (1970)

Written for the catalogue of the 2015's edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato. The two other essential titles which were restored and shown in Bologna a few years after this were Brick & Mirror and The House Is Black.


This programme offers one way of looking at the birth of modern cinema in Iran, a development now commonly referred to as the Iranian New Wave. The films presented here (The Night It Rained, Night of the Hunchback, The Cow, A Simple Event) make up roughly one quarter of the New Wave films and were selected according to accessibility and print quality above notions of artistic merit alone.

This particular narrative concerns four filmmakers, each of whom returned home to Iran following a period spent overseas, in order to revolutionise, even if subconsciously, their national cinema. In doing so they also rebelled against a society they found apathetic and divided over matters of justice.

Friday 14 February 2020

Il Cinema Ritrovato XXXIV

May 15, 2020 update: The festival has been postponed. New dates yet to be announced.

Bologna calling!

All the elements of an internationally curated programme for Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020 are coming together fast and we thought we should update you on some of the wonderful strands and wide-ranging films that we will be presenting this year.

The festival takes place from 20 to 28 June, the final day being a 'bonus' day, showing our curators’ favourite films from each section.

We also tried an experiment last year which we would like to repeat: we started a couple of days earlier as a warm-up, screening only documentaries on the subjects of the main strands. This means that if you decide to get to Bologna sooner and overcome your jetlag before the main festival begins, there will be films for you!

And of course, there’s Piazza Maggiore and its evening screenings which was described by one critic as the “Glastonbury of cinema… without the mud!”

This year, as in every year, in addition to the most recent restorations – a list of which we will reveal in the near future – we will be bringing you treasures from archives from around the world, including an extensive focus on the Komiya Collection, the centrepiece of this year’s silent screenings.

Our Asian adventures continue with works from Japan and India, two of the richest national cinemas. From Japan, the artistry of cult director Yuzo Kawashima will be the subject of an overview retrospective, while India’s Parallel Cinema, perhaps the most unexplored chapter in the sub-continent’s cinematic history, will be presented screening the best available archival prints and one brand new restoration.

During a particularly turbulent time in the world – and only months to go before the US presidential election – Henry Fonda for President is a section which not only features the star of this edition but also provides an opportunity to catch some absolute classics of the canon.
Thrilling discoveries await you in programmes dedicated to Soviet women directors, Frank Tuttle and Stuart Heisler.

Thursday 2 January 2020

Henry King Ranked

Henry King on the set of Jesse James with Nancy Kelly and Tyrone Power
In 2019, I put together a tribute to Henry King in Bologna where Il Cinema Ritrovato featured 12 films by this gentle giant of American cinema. The reception was overwhelming and the enthusiasm contagious. Rounding up that year with King, I'm posting the programme notes written for that retrospective here on this blog along with this ranking of the King's filmography. Feel free to add yours in the Comments section below.