Thursday 23 December 2021

Sixtynine (Jörn Donner, 1969)

Sixtynine (1969)

As a part of tribute to Jörn Donner, Sixtynine plays (on 35mm) at London's Closeup Film Centre on January 14, 2021. - EK

When a working woman learns of her part-time hockey referee husband's infidelity, she takes her gynaecologist's advice, to "take a lover", seriously and ends up sleeping with him.  

This sex comedy, Jörn Donner's second Finnish feature after four films made in Sweden, was deemed too scandalous even for Finnish society in the late 1960s. It continues some of the themes the director had previously explored in Black on White (1968) and with its fluent use of fast cutting and motion, fantasy sequences and documentary style camerawork, it could be seen as Finland's response to the Swinging Sixties, as the decade was coming to a close.  

As well the title's allusion to the year, Donner (who himself appears playing the role of the dispassionate gynaecologist) says the film is called Sixtynine because the relationships in the film have turned upside-down – despite some Finns feeling near certain that some "immoral sexual acts" were meant to be promoted by the film. 

Monday 13 December 2021



A survey of the production line (shooting and editing stages) of Monogram studio as in July 1952. The "star directors" in the stable for summer productions are William Beaudine, Lesley Selander, Kurt Neumann, Lew Landers and also less appealing Thomas Carr and Ray Nazzarro.

Click to enlarge.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

La revolució oblidada. Cinema iranià anterior a 1979

Programme curated for Filmoteca de Catalunya (December 2021). — EK 

[Short introduction in Catalan]

La revolució del 1979 va canviar el destí i el rostre de l’Iran. Com la majoria de les revolucions, també va suprimir el passat i les seves imatges, i amb això un dels cinemes més innovadors d’aquella època. Aquest programa mostra algunes de les pel·lícules clau de la revolució cinematogràfica més progressista, interrompuda per una altra de social per la qual el país va acabar sent conegut.

Aquesta retrospectiva de cinema iranià anterior al 1979 fa reviure pel·lícules prohibides, perdudes o simplement oblidades. Obres mestres de la Nova Onada Iraniana que s’estrenen ara, acabades de restaurar, al nostre país.

Sunday 21 November 2021

I Wake Up Screaming (Bruce Humberstone, 1941)


Dir: Bruce Humberstone

Originally titled Hot Spot and even released in some territories as such, this is an indispensable work in the development of film noir. Focusing on the psychological complexions and sexual obsessions of its characters, the film's expansion of noir themes as well as its use of chiaroscuro lighting are pioneering, even if the "wrong man" story doesn't always abide by the rules it has defined and ventures into other, lighter territory.

The murder of rising star Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis) is announced at the beginning of the film and through a series of flashbacks, narrated by her sister Jill (Betty Grable) and the suspects, we learn about how the capricious Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) has turned Vicky from a waitress into a celebrity. During the investigation we are also introduced to a psychotic detective, Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar), who is already convinced of Frankie's guilt and determined to send him to the "hot chair". The framed Frankie and Jill, now in love, embark on their own investigation while Cornell is on their tail.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Conversation with Paul Haggis

Paul Haggis (left) in Bologna

My conversation with writer and director Paul Haggis, recorded in Bologna on July 27,  2021.

The Cinema of George Stevens: A Dialogue Between Imogen Sara Smith & Ehsan Khoshbakht

George Stevens (standing, right) on the set of Giant

Video of a dialogue between Imogen Sara Smith and I about the cinema of George Stevens, recorded in Bologna, July 2021. — Ehsan Khoshbakht

Sunday 7 November 2021

Esmail Koushan: The Storm of Life (by Abbas Baharloo)

Esmail Koushan

When serving as the editor-in-chief of the now defunct Underline arts quarterly, I celebrated the centenary of Iranian film director-producer by commissioning two pieces on him. This is the second essay (the first one, by Nima Hassani-Nasab, is already available here), written by the untiring historian of Iranian cinema Abbas Baharloo. I'm publishing it here for the first time. — EK

Esmail Koushan: The Storm of Life

By Abbas Baharloo

A portrait of Esamil Koushan, one of the fathering figures of Iranian cinema

Esmail Koushan, producer, director, screenwriter, cinema owner and founder of the largest film studio in Iran, has been described as both ‘the father of Iranian cinema’ and ‘the bad guy of Iranian cinema’.

From the very beginning, Koushan was determined to be a pioneer. He was responsible for the first foreign film to be dubbed into Persian; he founded the first film studio in Iran, Mitra Film, after cinema had experienced a fallow period (1937-47) following the art form’s initial development there; and was the producer of the first Iranian talkie to be made in Iran, The Storm of Life (1948). He made possible the production of the first episodic film in Iran (The Spring Variety, 1949); he initiated the making of the first black and white CinemaScope film (Accusation, directed by Shapur Yasami, 1956), colour CinemaScope film (The Runaway Bride, which he directed himself, 1958), and the first films co-produced with France (Ebram in Paris, directed by himself, 1964), Turkey (Divine Justice, 1969), and West Germany (The Sleeping Lion, directed by Esmail’s brother, Mahmoud Koushan, 1976). He also initiated the publication of one of the first Iranian film magazines (Alam-e Honar or ‘The World of Art’, 1951).

Divine Justice (1969)

Esmail Harir-Forush (his surname meant ‘the silk merchant’), who following the example of his uncle changed his surname to Koushan, was born in Tehran in 1917. He passed away in the same city on 5th July 1983. He began his studies at the Dar ol-Fonun School, and at the end of autumn 1937, at a time when the reign of Reza Shah had led to a contraction of commercial relations with Britain and an increase in contacts with Germany, he moved to the latter country to continue his education, studying economics in Berlin. At a time when he benefited from no financial assistance, he made the acquaintance of Bahram Keykhosro Shahrokh, son of a prominent Iranian politician and a newsreader for Radio Berlin.

Thursday 14 October 2021

Filmfarsi on DVD!


Filmfarsi will be released on DVD in North America (via Grasshopper Film) on November 9, 2021. Pre-order here.

The design is by F Ron Miller.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

The Curious and the Downcast: An Interview with Kamran Shirdel

Kamran Shirdel at the exhibition. Photo (c) Houshang Golmakani

The Curious and the Downcast: An Interview with Kamran Shirdel

By Houshang Golmakani

An interview with the distinguished Iranian filmmaker, photographer, and writer about his latest exhibition of films and photographs taken during the days of the Iranian Revolution. I commissioned this for a winter 2019 issue of Underline magazine but by the time this was translated and edited, the Underline project was abruptly folded. I publish it here for the first time. — EK

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the revolution that saw the monarch of Iran overthrown and replaced with an Islamic republic, renowned documentary filmmaker and photographer Kamran Shirdel is now exhibiting his photographs and raw, unedited footage of the historical event for the first time at a gallery in Tehran. Born in 1939, Shirdel originally studied architecture at the University of Rome before going on to study film at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. Upon his return to Iran in 1964, he produced a number of documentaries on Iranian social issues in the space of just a few years, the most famous of which include Women's Prison, Women's Quarter, Tehran Is the Capital of Iran, and his satirical masterpiece The Night It Rained. Due to their controversial subjects, all of these early documentaries were banned at the time of their release and Shirdel had several encounters with the Shah's secret police force SAVAK as a result. With the exception of his first and only feature-length film, The Morning of the Fourth Day (1972), Shirdel was forced to pursue industrial documentary filmmaking in the years that followed. 1978 saw a rise in strikes and social unrest that fuelled the fires of an impending revolution: the event that Shirdel had been waiting for ever since his return to Iran. Armed with a video camera and a camera, Shirdel took to the streets of Tehran, tirelessly documenting every development throughout the course of the revolution.

40 years later, and for the first time since they were taken, Shirdel's photographs and footage from those days are now being exhibited at the Nabshi Centre in Tehran from 30 November 2018 to 25 January 2019.  Shirdel, who was 39 years old at the time of the revolution, will turn 80 later this year. Despite his age and a spinal condition that requires him to use a walking stick, Shirdel still attends the exhibition almost every day in order to see the effects of his work first-hand. The exhibition itself is relatively large, covering two floors, with mostly large-scale photographs displayed on the walls and 40-year-old, antique television sets showing 8mm footage on repeat. Unfortunately, Shirdel's 16mm footage was confiscated in the days following the revolution and no trace of them has been seen since then. 

Thursday 23 September 2021

The Spat-on Messenger: Youssef Chahine in Conversation with Tom Luddy

Youssef Chahine

Bologna, June 2019. I spotted an Arab name on the badge of the hotel's night porter. When I asked, he turned out to be one—an Egyptian. I mentioned to him that Youssef Chahine's films would be playing in Bologna for the next few days. His face lit up. A floodgate of emotions, about Egypt, his past, and cinema opened, temporarily drowned him in nostalgia, passion and regret. He shared stories of Chahine, of his beloved Alexandria. He even cursed the extra who had forgotten to remove his wristwatch during the battle scene of Salah Eddin (a film about the Crusade, from the Arabs' point of view). According to him, by doing so he had prevented the film from entering the Oscar competition.

Very few directors can make that impact on their people, endowing them with a sense of pride and identity. Chahine's generosity with emotions is contagious. In reaction to a Chahine film, it is as legit to dance or holler as it is to write an essay. In Bologna the scholar and musician Amal Guermazi decided to sing, as her introduction to Al Ard.

Sometimes effortlessly Ophulsian (especially in the '70s, in the fluidity of his carousel-like narratives) and sometimes dialectically Chaplinesque, Chahine brought together the seemingly irreconcilable worlds existing in 20th-century Egypt and gave them a sense of harmony. There was a wise calmness about him. He had every reason to be angry, but instead he gave a sad smile which became the Chahine cinema.

Aligned with Pan-Arabic sentiments, he looked beyond Egypt, too. However, his Algeria-set Djamilah (1958) is nearly impossible to see in a cinema. Telling the story of the Algerian Independence War fighter Djamila Bouhired, it has been absent from recent Chahine retrospectives. It's an anti-French film, in exactly the same manner that hundreds of western films, including some French ones, have been anti-Arab. But it's more than just tit-for-tat—it is a celebration of change in the Arab world, done in the best of Hollywood traditions which Chahine adored. Find the film and show it!  (For the Chahine tribute at Il Cinema Ritrovato, we tracked down a print in Albania but the subtitles were so big, covering almost half the screen, in the process turning them into Godardian onscreen statements.)

Wednesday 22 September 2021

Sight & Sound's 100 'Hidden Heroes' of Cinema: Lily Amir-Arjomand

Lily Amir-Arjomand

From Sight & Sound magazine, Summer 2021, Vol. 31, Issue 6, dedicated to unsung heroes of cinema. This was my contribution, trying to go beyond the familiar names and professions one hears on a film set. — EK

Lily Amir-Arjomand (b. 1938)

One of the key architects of the new Iranian cinema, Lily Amir-Arjomand was most likely unfamiliar with even the most basic film terminology. But no matter when she had one thing that no one else in Iran has possessed before or since: trust in the filmmaker.

Emerging from a privileged background, this former classmate of the Queen of Iran was a technocrat with imagination. In 1964 she founded a library for children. Four years later Kanoon had become an impeccably streamlined production house for first-rate cultural goods (including films) aimed at children, with centres spread all over the country. And everything was free.

Saturday 11 September 2021

Alias Nick Beal (John Farrow, 1949)

Alias Nick Beal, publicity still

Written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2021. -- EK

In 1948 director John Farrow began a close, decade-long collaboration with writer Jonathan Latimer that resulted in ten films, including one marvel (The Big Clock), quite a few greats (Night Has a Thousand Eyes among them), and some obscurities. The intensely engaging Alias Nick Beal, their fourth collaboration, is a dark, claustrophobic variation on the story of Faust (Mindret Lord's original story was titled Dr. Joe Faust) in keeping with the increasingly relevant "political corruption" cycle of the late 1940s (the Oscar for Best Film in 1949 went to All the King's Men). Thomas Mitchell plays Joseph Foster, an ambitious district attorney who meets a shady character who offers to help him in his rise up the political ladder. But there's a price to be paid, especially when one is dealing with the Devil, alias Nick Beal.

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Duke Ellington in Isfahan

Duke Ellington in Isfahan 

Director: Ehsan Khoshbakht

UK, 12', 2018/2021, colour/b&w

World premiere: Telluride Film Festival 2021

This short documentary by the Iranian filmmaker, writer and archivist Ehsan Khoshbakht tells the story of Duke Ellington's concert tour of the Middle East in 1963 and the development of one of the most beautiful jazz standards.  

The legendary composer and bandleader was seen as the ideal cultural ambassador for the United States at the height of the Cold War, when President Eisenhower's desired perception of the US as a moral force for good in the world was being undermined by an awareness of its treatment of African-Americans. 

Arriving in Iran with his band, Ellington was inspired by the historical city of Isfahan and especially its architectural riches. It would give its name to one of the pianist's most enduring compositions, and the tour as a whole helped to shape a Grammy Award-winning album, Far East Suite, which showed how much Ellington had absorbed from the sounds of his travels. 

Using archival images and video footage, and with added insight from broadcaster and jazz historian Alyn Shipton, Duke Ellington in Isfahan shines a light on a largely forgotten episode in jazz history and political history, and provides a clearer sense of the ways in which Ellington's music was affected by, and reflects, his vision of the East.

Wednesday 18 August 2021

The Lady of the Harem (Raoul Walsh, 1926)

Hollywood Orientalism involving Iran#1: The Lady of the Harem

A lost silent from 1926, produced by Paramount, directed by Raoul Walsh.

"Jesse L. Lasky announced that The Lady of the Harem has been selected as the title for the Paramount picture which, under the working title of "The Golden Journey," Raoul Walsh has just made from James Elroy Flecker's play Hassan. The new title is considered exceptionally appropriate, as the story deals largely with the lavish harem of the Caliph of Khorasan, Persia, during the twelfth century. 

"Featuring Ernest Torrence, Greta Nissen, William Collier, Jr., and Louise Fazenda," said Mr. Laskey, "The Lady of the Harem will be one of the most colorful and sensational pictures ever produced by this company. Mr. Walsh, who directed The Wanderer and The Thief of Bagdad has filled  this new spectacle with all the colorful atmosphere of the East and I am confident that this production will receive an even  greater reception than was accorded The Wanderer." [From Moving Pictures, 1926]

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2021: Favourites & Discoveries

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2021 ended last week, on an uplifting note. More than 400 films and other projectionable audiovisual curiosities were shown and seen. While still in the post-festival haze, I sought the insight of some of the festival attendees on what they thought to be the essential — what was liked and cherished most, what was discovered and became a revelation.

I posed two questions on colleagues and friends who attended the festival in person: What was your absolute favourite film this year and which film turned out to be a major discovery or rediscovery at the festival. They were gracious enough to send me their picks which you can read here in alphabetical order. (Please feel free to add your favourites in the comment section of this post.) 

Some contributors have sent along some notes which I wanted to share with you. They come at the bottom of the post, marked by * (star)

You can also view this list on Letterboxd where it has been nicely compiled and illustrated by Jon M.

Monday 2 August 2021

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2021 Opening Speech (July 20)

A Place in the Sun at Arlecchino on July 25. (C) Lorenzo Burlando

Short speech made at the launch of the festival at Cinema Jolly, July 20. — EK

We are back but some of our friends are not here.

During the weeks and months that have interrupted lives, movements and careers, I found myself filming the entrances of cinemas. Those that I wasn't able to shoot myself, I asked the people who worked there to shoot for me. These images of the factory, captured at a time when no workers were to be seen leaving, was intense. 

This longest of intermissions that any of us can recall when it comes to cinema might be unique in its universality, but interruption as a cruel reality is hardly new. In fact, it's old enough to have been used many times before as an intellectual and artistic tool of reinforcement.

Through the films we are presenting this year, you'll see a history of the many possible forms of interruption which filmmakers and viewers have experienced – particularly those living and working in the 20th century. At the same time they offer a mirror to what we have felt and experienced in the recent past.

Thursday 8 July 2021

The More the Merrier (George Stevens, 1943)

The More the Merrier

Restored in 4K in 2019 by Sony Pictures Entertainment at Cineric, Roundabout West and Prasad laboratories, from the nitrate original negative and the nitrate dupe negative preserved at Library of Congress and BFI National Archive. Playing at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna on July 24 & 27 and at Cinema Rediscovered in Bristol on July 31.

In this, George Stevens’s most sophisticated comedy, the wartime housing (and male species) shortage in Washington DC is the main excuse for the mischievous Charles Coburn – sharing a tiny flat with Jean Arthur – to sublet his half of the living space to Joel McCrea, deliberately pushing the two younger flatmates into a shared bed. The credit for the script should go to the uncredited Garson Kanin who wrote it for, and was paid by, the scrupulous Arthur, in search of a script that she could like (she was temporarily suspended from Columbia for rejecting too many). When the script finally reached Stevens’s hands in June 1942, it had a different ending in which the three characters continue to share the flat – typically of Stevens, he altered it.

Wednesday 30 June 2021

All the Films of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2021

Bologna getting ready for Il Cinema Ritrovato XXXV

All the titles programmed for Il Cinema Ritrovato XXXV, listed by the year of production:

Saturday 26 June 2021

Nattlek (Mai Zetterling, 1966)


Nattlek [Night Games] (Mai Zetterling, 1966)

Actors: Keve Hjelm, Ingrid Thulin, Jörgen Lindström, Naima Wifstrand, Lena Brundin

In this compelling work of cinematic rigour, a man returns to his childhood country home, accompanied by his fiancée. In flashbacks, we learn of his troubled relationship with his mother, who is also the object of his sexual fantasies. Living a sybaritic life, the mother hosts one party after another, the guests resembling characters from a nightmare or circus, completed by a jazz band (the ensemble featuring well-known Swedish musicians Jan Johansson and Georg Riedel). The present is woven into these scenes from the past which, rather than offering simple reminiscences, provide explanations for the behavioural traits of the leading character.

This second feature by actor-turned-director Mai Zetterling, after the remarkably accomplished, if highly scandalous Loving Couples, is arguably even more controversial. Described by some as "pornographic" (accusers included the former child star Shirley Temple), it is in fact one of the most intelligent and sincere studies of the agonies of puberty; the story of a young boy surrounded and troubled by women.

Thursday 17 June 2021

Cinemas in Antonioni's Films

Cine Romolo in La signora senza camelie (1954)
Walden Cinema (?) in Saffron, UK, in I Vinti (1953)

Wednesday 16 June 2021

Cuadecuc Vampir (Pere Portabella, 1970)

Cuadecuc Vampir

This note was written on the occasion of the screening of Cuadecuc Vampir at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2020 where Mr. Portabella's scheduled and much-anticipated attendance was cancelled due to the Covid crises. Fortunately, he managed to participate via Zoom and Esteve Riambau engaged in a conversation with him which you can view over here. — EK

Duke Ellington disliked the term jazz, instead preferring "beyond category" when referring to any type of musical accomplishment. This mesmerising tour de force of audio-visual etching by Catalan filmmaker Portabella, which plays with but shrewdly eschews experimental filmmaking, underground cinema, documentary film, behind-the-scenes film and even fiction, is strictly Dukish in being "beyond category".

The Spanish genre director Jesús Franco was churning out one of his more expensive horror flicks (El conde Drácula), starring Christopher Lee, when Portabella, who was present on the set, made his own film based on the events. Cuadecuc Vampir is a film about images being constructed (with fake fog and cobwebs), and about Bram Stoker's Dracula. It is far more eerie and haunting than not only Franco's film, but anything since Dreyer's Vampyr. It is also a film of political metaphors, the kind one would expect being made under Franco's dictatorship.

Monday 31 May 2021

Cinemadoosti: Iranian Cinephile Documentaries

Poster for VHS Diaries

A programme curated for DocuNight, currently streaming on their platform. Although I have discussed Jerry and Me here, the rights couldn't be acquired by DocuNight, so this one is not being streamed as planned. — EK

In Memory of Negahdar Jamali

This programme celebrates the intense passion for film and its possibilities that persists among Iranians, in a series of documentaries that reflect 'cinemadoosti' – the Persian word for cinephilia. These are films about daydreaming and the high price one pays for it, the story of marginalised and estranged people whose passion for cinema becomes their raison d'être.

The image of an Iranian cinephile asserts certain clichés which are not entirely unfounded: often a lonely male who collects filmic memorabilia and devours the content of film magazines; a figure occasionally facile and portentous yet burnt by an unbounded love for the movies. A name-dropper and date-of-production memoriser who likes to be seen as a walking film history, a 'cinemadoost' (cinephile) living in a parallel universe.

Friday 28 May 2021

The Glass Key (Stuart Heisler, 1942)

After the successful Hollywood adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Paramount joined the race to find another story by the author to bring to the screen. When an initial attempt to make a film based on Red Harvest (with Alan Ladd as the lead) fell through, the studio dusted off one of its older properties, The Glass Key, previously filmed by Frank Tuttle in 1935. 

Wednesday 19 May 2021

The Forgotten Revolution: Iranian Cinema Before 1979 (A Retrospective at Sinema Transtopia, Berlin, September 2021)

Downpour (1972)

The Revolution of 1978-79 changed both the fate and face of Iran. Like most revolutions, it also suppressed the past and its images – and with it one of the most innovative cinemas of its time. This programme aims to show some of the key films from the more progressive cinematic revolution, which was discontinued by a social one for which the country eventually became known. Films banned, lost or simply forgotten are revived in this overview of Iranian cinema before 1979, which features German premieres of newly restored Iranian New Wave masterpieces. Starting and moving forward from the 1962 Oberhausen prize-winner The House Is Black, directed by poet Forough Farrokhzad, the programme traces the course of the blazing years before the Revolution. — Ehsan Khoshbakht

This selection of Iranian pre-revolutionary films plays at Bi'Bak's Sinema Transtopia (Berlin) in September 2021. For further information on the screenings and tickets visit Transtopia's website here.

Saturday 15 May 2021

Ahmad Shah Qajar Being Filmed for Fox Newsreel

The last Qajar king being filmed

Ahmad Shah Qajar, the last shah of the Qajar dynasty (1789-1925), being filmed in Paris by Frédéric Fesneau for the Fox Newsreel in either 1925 or 1926 (a year after he was stripped of his title, so no longer the Shah of Iran).

Tuesday 11 May 2021

Il Cinema Ritrovato XXXXV

Download the guide to Il Cinema Ritrovato 2021 in pdf format.

The full line-up and titles in each strand will be announced later.

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2021

A few days ago we reopened Cineteca’s cinemas and all the screenings are seeing an extraordinary presence of audiences. It’s been a wonderful start!

The 35th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato will take place in person in the theatres and open-air venues of Bologna between July 20 to 27, 2021.

The programme is fantastically rich and full of discoveries from across the world, an invitation to start experiencing again the thrill of being part of an audience, watching and sharing cinema masterpieces.

Also this year, for all those who will not be able to attend in person, a selection of films from the festival will be made available through the MYmovies streaming platform.

Monday 10 May 2021

The Glass Key (Frank Tuttle, 1935)

The Glass Key (1935)
Written in spring 2020 for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato. EK

Based on a celebrated novel by Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key focuses on the relationship between a crooked businessman and his loyal associate, whose plans for the upcoming election are blown apart by a murder. The story first appeared in “Black Mask” magazine in 1930. Paramount bought the movie rights for $25,000 before the hardcover edition was even published in 1931. Though Gary Cooper was announced as the leading actor, the film was not made until 1935, possibly due to a fear of failure (the crime cycle of the early 1930s was quickly falling out of fashion). 

However, Tuttle’s take was very different, shaping the characters in a more psychologically nuanced way. Ed Beaumont (played by George Raft in one of the better roles of his career) is a rye-drinking, sharp-dressed gambler who protects businessman Paul Madvig (Edward Arnold) against rival gangs and is smart enough to tell him what to wear too. Madvig is backing a local senator in his electoral campaign, and also plans to marry his daughter; meanwhile Madvig’s own daughter, Opal, is in a relationship with the senator’s troubled son. Ed stays cool-headed, balancing these conflicting interests, which are increasingly open to exploitation by a rival gang. When the senator’s son (Ray Milland) is killed, the rival gang mobilise their newspapers to accuse Madvig of the crime. 

Monday 3 May 2021

The Crown Jewels of Iran (Ebrahim Golestan, 1965) | Notes on the film and its restoration

Ebrahim Golestan's 1965 short documentary, Ganjineha-ye Gohar [in English: The Crown Jewels of Iran], will be screened at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2021. This will mark the world premiere of the restored version and a new beginning for a film very difficult or even impossible to screen in a cinema for almost 55 years. Like its title, The Crown Jewels of Iran is a true jewel of Iranian cinema, though so far a buried one. 

Made for the Central Bank of Iran to celebrate the collection of precious jewels kept in the treasury, this film remains filmmaker Ebrahim Golestan's most visually dazzling work, embellished with terrific camera movements. 

Some of the most iconic landscape photography in the history of Iranian cinema can be found within a minute after the opening credits, in which peasants of various ethnicities and tribes are quickly reviewed, all posed in a graceful manner, like kings without being kings. Like a work of musical composition, a simple act of ploughing is spread across shots of various size and angle, creating an intimate visual symphony. And then appears one of Golestan's allegorical match-cuts: a farmer seen on the horizon before a cut to a diamond on a dark background – the farmer is the jewel. 

Friday 30 April 2021

The Deer Freed — On International Rediscovery of Masoud Kimiai's Classic

The Deer گوزنها

اولین حضور رسمی فیلم گوزن‌ها در صحنۀ بین‌المللی کمی دیر رخ داده، اما برای دیده شدن فیلم‌هایی با اهمیت تاریخیِ گوزن‌ها هرگز دیر نیست.

فستیوال رتردام 2021 در هلند، گوزن‌ها را برای نمایش در بخش Regained فستیوال انتخاب کرده است، فیلمی که به خاطر حوادث سیاسی و اجتماعی‌ای که به طور مستقیم و غیر مستقیم به نمایش این فیلم در ایران گره خورده و محبوبیت کم‌نظیر آن بین تماشاگران و منتقدان ایرانی (در واقع یکی از معدود فیلم‌هایی ایرانی که هر دو دسته دربارۀ آن متفق‌القول‌اند) باید دهه‌ها پیش دوباره کشف می‌شد.

من همیشه دربارۀ شانس موفقیت گوزن‌ها در خارج از ایران تردید داشتم و مطمئن نبودم فیلمی باشد که غیرایرانی‌ها آن را دریابند. نمایش‌های اخیر فیلم و ارزش‌های مسلم آن ثابت کردند که من اشتباه می‌کردم. بازی بهروز وثوقی (یکپژوهشگر و استاد دانشگاه اسپانیایی/بریتانیایی اخیراً بازی وثوقی را بهترین و دقیق‌ترین تصویر اعتیاد در سینما خواند)، فضای خانۀ سید، مضامین سیاسی فیلم و الهام خلاقانه از سینمای آمریکا، به خصوص موج فیلم‌های «دورفیق» از ایری رایدر تا بوچ‌ کسیدی و ساندنس کید، این اثر مسعود کیمیایی را به یکی از محبوب‌ترین فیلم‌های ایرانی نمایش داده شده در خارج از ایران تبدیل کرده است.

نمایش این فیلم هم‌چنین مهم‌ترین وظیفه‌ای را که در قبال گوزن‌ها داریم یادآور می‌شود: این فیلم باید هرچه زودتر مرمت شود. دلیلی برای به تأخیر انداختن آن وجود ندارد. در فیلم، رقص برهنه یا سکس وجود ندارد. فیلمی است که سرنوشت‌اش پیوندی محکم با مسیر انقلاب ایران دارد. آیا مشکل هم‌چنان بهروز وثوقی است؟ اگر این حدس درست باشد، ایران یکی از معدود کشورهای دنیاست که قصد دارد یکی از بهترین بازی‌های سینمای ملی‌اش را به خاطر مهمانی آخر شبی که بازیگر آن نیم قرن پیش رفته، زنده‌به‌گور کند. آیا 42 سال شکنجۀ دائمی وثوقی در خواب و بیداری کافی نیست؟

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Playing with Camera: 'Music Films' from Bach to Bob Dylan (2021)

من هم مثل خیلی‌ از فرزندان عصر سینما و تلویزیون، بخش عمده‌ای از تاریخ موسیقی را از طریق تصاویر متحرک و با دیدن نوازندگان و موسیقی‌دانان و خوانندگان در فیلم‌های داستانی و مستند کشف کرده‌ام. بین آواز و ساززدن لویی آرمسترانگ به‌عنوان قطعات ضبط‌شدۀ موسیقی با تصویر ثبت‌شدۀ او در فیلم‌ها، با آن عرق روی پیشانی و چشمان درشت‌شده و زخم روی لبش که حاصل دهه‌ها دمیدن در ترومپت‌ بود، ارتباطی حیاتی وجود داشت. این نه‌فقط برای دیدن کشمکش فیزیکی یک موزیسین با خودش و بدنش و سازش در حین اجرا، بلکه برای دیدن روابط او با بقیۀ موزیسین‌ها بود و اینکه آرمسترانگ چطور فضای پیراموش را می‌بلعد، چطور به طبّال گروه با شوق نگاه می‌کند و نخ می‌دهد یا چه شوخی‌هایی در گوش جک تیگاردن زمزمه می‌کند که ما هرگز نمی‌شنویم. شنیدن کی بود مانند دیدن؟

شاهکارهای مستند دربارۀ موسیقی، مانند جاز در ظهری تابستانی، پشت‌سر را نگاه نکن و مونتری پاپ، هم به درک من از انواع مختلف موسیقی که در آن‌ها شنیده می‌شد (جاز، راک‌اندرول، گاسپل، فولک، راک، موسیقی سنتی هندی) کمک کرده‌اند و هم اطلاعات بی‌اندازه مهمی در خود داشته‌اند دربارۀ ارتباط موسیقی با جوامع و دوره‌های فرهنگی که این آثار موسیقی از آن‌ها برآمدند. هدف این کتاب مطالعۀ هر دو جریان و نقش سینما در ترجمۀ آن به تصویر و چگونگی بازنمایی موسیقی است.

این کتاب حاصل دو دهه نوشتن دربارۀ سینمای موسیقی است و رویکردی تجدیدنظرطلبانه دارد، هم تجدیدنظر در موضوع در مقایسه با آثار مکتوب دیگر و هم تجدیدنظرِ خود این نویسنده در دریافتش از موسیقی که این آخری باعث شد بخش عمده‌ای از نوشته‌ها و دیدگاه‌هایی را که در اوایل کار دربارۀ موسیقی داشتم، دور بریزم و آن‌ها را در طرحی تازه بیان کنم.

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Brecht in a Persian Miniature: A 1978 Interview with Iranian Filmmaker Marva Nabili

The Sealed Soil (1976-77)

Marva Nabili's The Sealed Soil [Khak-e Sar bé Mohr] has been rediscovered and reclaimed in recent years as a feminist masterpiece. However, judging from the interview you are about to read, the film didn't enjoy the same enthusiastic reception upon its initial release. Though premiered at the Berlinale Forum (along with films by Dorothy Arzner, Sohrab Shahid Saless, Germaine Dulac, Laura Mulvey, Karin Thome, Ursula Ludwig, John Cassavetes, Barbara Kopple, Godard & Miéville and Taviani brothers) and enjoying a healthy festival run afterwards, it was forgotten until its name appeared on a couple of lists about great films made by women directors. It was then that both Cahiers du Cinéma and Sight & Sound took note of the film and the filmmaker (who made only one other work, for the US television.) In Sight & Sound, the film's "poetic tone, sparse dialogue and focus on its heroine’s daily life" was compared to Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman.

Chronicling the life of woman in a small village in southwest Iran, the film's US premiere took place on January 25, 1978, at Pacific Film Archive where my friend, Tom Luddy, interviewed Marva Nabili. Below is an edited version of that conversation of which an audio tape of poor sound quality survives. Since some of the audience questions are inaudible even to the people present in the auditorium, Tom occasionally repeats them for Marva. He also has the unenviable task of translating and abridging the long-winded, abstract questions. (I have altered the order of some of the question/answers to have the more general questions appear at the beginning.)

The reason I bothered to transcribe the interview was the fact that I was hoping to show the film in Berlin next month (Sinema Transtopia, May 2021) but I discovered that the Arsenal/Berlinale print of the film is too worn-out to be screened. Even before this revelation. I knew a restoration was much needed and already long overdue. If someone comes forward, there's a good chance that we could make this great piece of cinema available to general audiences. Hopefully, next time around they'll ask more sensible questions.

* * *

TOM LUDDY: Is the first American showing of the film to a public audience?


LUDDY: Well, we're very honoured. Can you talk a little bit about your life as a woman filmmaker in Iran?

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Something to Live For: The Cinema of George Stevens

George Stevens with Elizabeth Taylor

[This blog post was last updated on June 22, 2021]

The retrospective Something to Live For: The Cinema of George Stevens will take place in Bologna, during the 35th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato, July 20-27, 2021.

No other director has been credited for filming such disparate situations and figures, of such cultural and historical importance: from Laurel & Hardy's cake-throwing parties to the Crucifixion; the unique elegance of Astaire/Rogers's dance numbers and the liberation of Dachau, the latter a real-life document. This year's American master and the man behind such classics as A Place in the Sun and Shane is George Stevens, who rose from the rank of camera-cranker at Hal Roach Studios to become a filmmaking ace and comedy specialist in the 30s. However, after participating in active combat and filming some of the major atrocities of WWII, something changed in this romantic adventurer. The newly gained intellectual maturity, combined with Stevens's characteristic fluency and brio, proved fertile ground for directing an array of masterpieces which, along with a survey of his late 30s and early 40s masterpieces, are the main focus of this retrospective. — Ehsan Khoshbakht

Sunday 18 April 2021

"Nothing Sacred About My Stipend Either": A 1938 Interview with Ben Hecht

Ben Hecht

Interviewed for Variety by Radie Harris, printed in the UK in World Film and Television Progress, Apr-Nov 1938.

Ben Hecht, looking somewhat like a Goldwyn "folly" himself, in a blue moire dressing gown, sat in the living room of his three-room suite at the Hotel Algonquin, N.Y., and confided that he had just finished his daily dozen for the year by elevating his right thumb to his nose and waving all other four digits exuberantly in the direction of Hollywood!

It seems that Mr. Hecht and his latest employer, Samuel Goldwyn, have had a tiff, and now they're farther apart than Cecil Beaton and Conde Nast. "I left in a childish huff," Hecht explained, "because Sam wouldn't allow me to bring a few of my friends in to the projection room to look at some of the rushes on The [GoldwynFollies. I asked Sam whether it was in a desperate effort to save it from the public, but I'm afraid the significance was lost on him. I didn't really want to write another Follies, anyway. The current one was revealed to me in a dream and you know how unreliable dreams are so I packed my luggage, crossed off a couple of zeroes on my next year's income tax, and here I am back in New York, to write a novel for Covici-Friede, my first since A Jew in Love. I'm about a third way through now, but it won't be finished for another year. I'm calling it Book of Miracles—and it has no picture possibilities." (That's one of the major miracles; it will most likely be sold from the galley proofs!)

The Goldwyn Follies (1938)

Thursday 15 April 2021

Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (Stuart Heisler, 1947)

Notes written on the occasion of the screening of an impeccable 35mm print of the film in Bologna, courtesy of UCLA Film and Television Archive — EK

Female insecurity in a male-dominated world is at the core of this proto-feminist melodrama, dubbed the “feminine version of The Lost Weekend”. Alcoholism as a subject found its way into three of Heisler’s films. In addition, his interest in women’s issues manifested itself in at least six films in which women are the leading characters, most prominently in two works starring Susan Hayward, Smash-Up and Tulsa

Talented singer Angie Evans abandons her profession to support the rising career of her musician husband. The birth of their child ties Angie further to the drab apartment in which she wastes her life, while her husband’s acclaim only adds to her sense of insecurity. She turns to drink and gradually becomes addicted. Told through one long flashback, the story leaves no room for optimistic resolutions, dragging Angie – an adequate performance by Hayward – through scene after scene of humiliation. 

Wednesday 14 April 2021

The Age of Innocence: American Cinema's Studio Era Revisited (2021)

عصر معصومیت


کتاب «عصر معصومیت: بازخوانی سینمای استودیویی آمریکا» منتشر شده و باید در کتابفروشی‌ها و در سایت‌های اینترتی برای خرید آنلاین نسخۀ چاپی موجود باشد.

این کتاب اول از مجموعه‌ای است که توسط نیما حسنی‌نسب سردبیری می‌شود. او پشت جلد این کتاب نوشته:

«حکایتِ نام‌ها و فیلم‌ها و روایتِ شیوه‌ها و مسیرهای فیلم‌سازی در کارخانه رویاسازی هالیوود هم لذت‌بخش است و هم راهگشا؛ چه برای آن‌ها که می‌خواهند آثار تاریخ‌سازِ آن روزگار را بهتر تماشا و درک کنند و چه کسانی که قصد دارند از این گنجینه برای ورود به کار سینما پشت و‌ جلوی دوربین بهره ببرند و از میراث به‌جامانده استفاده کنند تا مسیر دشوار و دلپذیرِ «سینه‌فیل تا سینه‌است» هموارتر شود.

‌جلد اول از مجموعه‌ «دفترهای سینه‌فیلیا» ‌درباره‌ی ‌چند ‌كارگردان ‌سینمای ‌آمریكا ‌از ‌پایان ‌عصر ‌صامت ‌تا ‌دوره‌ی‌ مصادف ‌با ‌زوال ‌سینمای ‌كلاسیک ‌آمریكا ‌در ‌اواخر ‌دهه‌ی ‌۱۹۵۰ ‌است. احسان خوش‌بخت با پیشینه‌ی سال‌ها تحقیق و بررسی سینمای آمریکا مثل نقال‌های خودمان یا بونشی‌های سینمای ژاپن انگار کنار پرده نقره‌ای ایستاده و دارد چیزهای مهم و جذاب و دست‌اولی از زندگی و کارنامه چند نام بزرگ و مهمِ یک دوران سپری‌شده را توصیف می‌کند؛ از جان فورد و اورسن ولز و رائول والش تا ادگار اولمر و دبلیو اس ون دایک مشهور به وودی یک‌برداشته و همچنین زنان کارگردان مطرح در نظام استودیویی که شرحِ موجز سازوكار تولیدشان در‌‌ فصلی دیگر از کتاب آمده است. بخش پیوست این جلد مروری است بر پانتئون سینمایی معروفِ اندرو ساریس که هنوز از مهم‌ترین منابع برای شناخت و دسته‌بندی‌ کارگردان‌های هالیوودی در دوران طلایی است؛ فهرست و توصیف‌هایی که می‌تواند نقشه راه مناسبی برای سینه‌فیل‌های سرگردان در اقیانوسِ دست‌رسی دیجیتال به آثار تاریخ سینما باشد.» — نیما حسنی‌نسب

شرح عکس روی جلد: استودیوی ساموئل گلدوین پشت‌صحنۀ ما دوباره زندگی می‌کنیم (1934) به کارگردانی روبن مامولیان (نشسته مقابل دوربین) با بازی فردریک مارچ و آنا استن. پشت دوربین هم گِرِگ تولند نشسته؛ چند سال پیش از این‌ که همشهری کین را فیلم‌برداری کند

Sunday 4 April 2021

The Star (Stuart Heisler, 1952)

“Come on Oscar, let’s you and me get drunk,” says Bette Davis, as Margaret Elliott, picking up the Academy award on her desk (Davis’s own Oscar in fact). Already intoxicated, Davis drives across town giving us a ghost tour of LA mansions, which look like exhibits in a wax museum. With one hand on the wheel, she puts the statue on the dashboard, its head hidden behind the rear-view mirror. She grabs the bottle and makes a toast, “To absent friends,” the image of the headless piece of gold, the blurred lights in the darkness and the bottle capturing Hollywood’s solitary universe in one shot.

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Revolution, Televised

This article was commissioned by the Iranian documentary streaming website, DocuNight. The programme dedicated to films about Iranian revolution featuring an array of thoughtfully selected titles is still live and many of them are seeing their internet premiere. Highly recommended. — Ehsan Khoshbakht

It has happened more than once. While speaking with documentary filmmakers of a certain generation (Med Hondo, one of the greatest African filmmakers, for one) I have been told how much they would have loved to go to Iran in 1978 to film, document and report back on the revolution as it was happening – followed by an expression of regret, that they couldn’t get into the country. This conversational turn has been repeated often enough that when that great documentarian of our time, Jocelyne Saab, talked about wanting to shoot the Iranian revolution, I hastily and foolishly jumped ahead, saying “But you couldn’t get in, could you?” She gave me one of her calm smiles and replied: “I could, and I made a film about it – Iran, Utopia in the Making – which was shown on public television in Japan, Algeria, Sweden and Switzerland.”

Sunday 7 March 2021

Filmfarsi — Streaming in the UK

Filmfarsi (dir: Ehsan Khoshbakht, 2019) will stream in the UK for free (though limited to 300 viewers only), as a part of Wales One World film festival, commencing from March 14, accessible until March 20, 2021.

(It can only be viewed in United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey.)

Booking is essential and can be done here.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

King of the Movies - A Henry King Documentary

Henry King retrospective (Fox output only) at NFT, London

When Henry King went to London in 1977 to open a retrospective dedicated to his 20th Century Fox films at the National Film Theatre (now BFI Southbank), BBC Television seized the opportunity and filmed the 90 year-old master at what seems to be a single-take, single-set-up interview. Film clips aside, King of the Movies, directed by Philip Chilvers, relies almost entirely on the brilliance of King’s storytelling, which entertains, illuminates and charms. 

Elegantly dressed in his typical late-period style of bowtie and horn-rimmed glasses, resembling a professor of American history, King reminisces on half a century in “the strangest business in the world”. He talks about his love for the rural American landscape (“I like the countryside of any country”); discovering Tyrone Power and Alice Faye; overcoming the limitations of early sound film by moving to Florida to shoot his first talkie Hell Harbour; Zanuck’s issues with his moustached heroes (Power and Peck); the translation of spirituality in the movies through the use of light (“I want a holy light here,” he asked the cameraman Arthur Miller in The Song of Bernadette); his years in Paris and meeting Hemingway, which led to King directing a series of high-profile films focused around 20th-century American authors.