A call for papers for a panel at the upcoming ACLA conference in Utrecht, July 2017
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Samuel Beckett’s passport photographs.

Neil Doshi and James McNaughton are putting together a panel entitled ‘International Beckett’ for next year’s ACLA conference at Universiteit Utrecht, Netherlands. The seminar will comprise 8-12 participants, meeting for 2 hours on each of the conference’s 3 days. You will present a 20 minute paper, and then have an opportunity to discuss your work with likeminded scholars and enthusiasts. (more…)

Mark Lawson (The Guardian) reviews a new BBC period drama and traces its contemporary relevance
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Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

As they watch a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his chest walk through a London that feels on the brink of political collapse, some viewers may suspect that the new TV adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel, The Secret Agent, has been tweaked to maximise contemporary relevance.

Those elements, though, are in the original, making the BBC1 three-parter – with Toby Jones as Verloc, an anarchist who becomes involved in a plot to blow up Greenwich Observatory – the latest example of Conrad’s story becoming a prism through which modern political insecurities are viewed. It is a tactic that goes back to 1936, when Alfred Hitchcock filmed the story, under the title Sabotage, as a reflection of the developing political pressures in Europe.

Ever since, the years that sees an adaptation of The Secret Agent is unlikely to have been a good one for democracy. The BBC put the book on the screen twice in quick succession, in 1967 and 1975, straddling an era of international instability, marked by the rise of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, student riots in France and assassinations in the US. There had even been, in the early 70s, a period of actual anarchist terrorism in England, with bombings carried out by the Angry Brigade. (more…)

Will Self rates the film as an adaptation of Ballard’s vision
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Promotional poster for Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise

Of the film adaptations that had been made of his work during his lifetime, JG Ballard vouchsafed to me that he liked Jonathan Weiss’s version of The Atrocity Exhibition the best. It was hardly a surprising verdict; the movie, released in 2000, eschews any of the easy certainties of narrative for a furious collage of extreme images – urban wastelands, nuclear explosions, penises rhythmically pumping in and out of vaginas – all to the accompaniment of a voice-over comprising near-verbatim passages from the quasi-novel. And as the book is a furious collage of extreme images, the film is of the highest fidelity imaginable.

Ballard also liked Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Empire of the Sun, although more, one suspects, because of the opportunity he got to be an extra in a party scene that was set in a simulacrum of his parents’ interwar home in Shanghai. So tickled was he by this Möbius-looping of reality and the imagined that Ballard wrote about the episode in another roman-à-clef, The Kindness of Women. When it was announced in the early 1990s that David Cronenberg was to adapt Ballard’s apocalyptic tale of autogeddon, Crash, and moreover set it in Toronto, I was so exercised that I phoned the writer. “You can’t let him do that, Jim,” I protested (or words to that effect). “Crash is one of the great London novels. The city demands that it be set right here!” He was having none of it and gently talked me down: the point of the novel was to describe a global phenomenon, one Ballard termed “the death of affect”. It was quite irrelevant which city the film was set in – the important point was that Cronenberg’s affectless vision and planar cinematography, all lit at operating-theatre strength, strongly resonated with Ballard. (more…)

This afternoon, I was chatting with Jennifer Dawn Whitney (@Critical Cookie) about an interview she read with Hollywood actor Kirsten Dunst. The interview, which is published in the latest issue of The Gentlewoman (Spring and Summer 2016), reveals that Dunst is working on a directorial debut.  (more…)

Michael Wood (NYRB) reviews four biographies of the American filmmaker and raconteur
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Orson Welles arrives at the premiere of Citizen Kane on 1 May 1941. The actor, director, producer, and co-screenwriter is 25 years old.
There is a special risk in writing about Orson Welles. The dimensions may get a little out of hand, as if they had to mime the physical size and imaginative reach of the subject. Patrick McGilligan’s excellent biography of Alfred Hitchcock takes 750 pages to cover the director’s life and his fifty films. By page 706 of Young Orson, Welles is about to start shooting Citizen Kane, his first full-length movie: he is twenty-five years old, and he lived till he was seventy. There is a thirty-nine-page postlude about the day and night of Welles’s death.

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Some exciting news from The Guardian‘s Sian Cain:

American icon Toni Morrison has been awarded the 2016 PEN/Saul Bellow award for achievement in American fiction

The award, which is presented to living American authors whose “scale of achievement in fiction, over a sustained career, places him or her in the highest rank of American literature”, is worth $25,000 (£18,000).

Morrison is famous for her epic, often historical writings about race, family and identity. She wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970 when she was 39, while working as a senior editor at Random House. Morrison won the Pulitzer prize in 1988 for her novel Beloved, which was adapted in 1998 into a film starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. She later won the 1993 Nobel prize in literature and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. (more…)

Frank Rich (Criterion Collection) reads Mike Nichols’ 1968 film as a text that anticipates a cultural revolution
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Dustin Hoffman
Before there was “the Sixties,” there was the relatively more tranquil 1960s. To appreciate the cultural excitement whipped up by The Graduate, it’s useful to recall that it belongs to that quieter part of the decade before the apocalypse. At the time of the film’s Christmas week release in 1967, the national divisions over civil rights and the Vietnam War were raging, but the explosions of 1968—Lyndon Johnson’s abdication, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Chicago riots—were still months away. Yet somehow this movie, technically a romantic comedy with a nominally happy ending, caught the drift of the boomer generation’s growing alienation from the status quo and captured a new zeitgeist that was in the air but had yet to fully take hold. That it did so is all the more impressive given that The Graduate contains not a single reference to a contemporary headline. The characters are uniformly upper-middle-class (or wealthier) and white. The protagonist, Benjamin Braddock, may have just graduated from college but he seems not to have heard of pot, and his many anxieties do not include a fear of the draft. When plot complications propel him from Los Angeles to the University of California in Berkeley, we don’t meet that campus’s radicals but instead some unreconstructed frat guys who seem to have been living in a bubble since the Eisenhower fifties. Just the same, intimations of a brewing youth rebellion ripple through the entire film. The Graduate, an elegant exemplar of old-school high-end Hollywood filmmaking,anticipates the counterculture without ever enlisting in it. [Read More]

 

Critics respond to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2014 film, the first adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel

Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)

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Uncorrected Proof of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice

After a publishing career of more than 50 years, Thomas Pynchon has finally allowed one of his novels to be filmed. Inherent Vice, which has been adapted and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is all about a stoner private detective named Larry “Doc” Sportello in 1970 southern California, called in by an ex-girlfriend to investigate the sinister disappearance of her married lover. It is an occult mystery upon which Doc attempts to shed light using the torch he still carries for her.

The resulting movie is a delirious triumph: a stylish-squared meeting of creative minds, a swirl of hypnosis and symbiosis, with Pynchon’s prose partly assigned to a narrating character and partly diversified into funky dialogue exchanges. Each enigmatic narrative development is a twist of the psychedelic kaleidoscope. (more…)

Calling for Submissions to a conference at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies in Berlin
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Promotion still for The Road (dir. John Hillcoat, 2009), based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Throughout his rich literary career, Cormac McCarthy has consistently explored the intersections of different modes of thinking and creative practices. Reflecting his stated view that the novel can “encompass all the various disciplines and interests of humanity” (Woodward 1992), McCarthy’s work navigates between artistic and scientific discourses as readily as it interweaves various fields of knowledge and genres from chaos theory and legal history to English poetry and the Western. His fiction mediates between different worlds insofar as the stylistic and thematic trajectories of his fiction can be considered a narrative negotiation of opposed discourses and perspectives on the world, such as cognitive science and religious experience, realism and romanticism, or ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. While much has been said about spatial border crossings in McCarthy’s work, this conference invites readers and scholars to consider McCarthy’s other crossings, from the intersections of literature and science to his stylistic and generic crossovers.

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A notable precursor to the contemporary zombie movie
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Richard Matheson, I Am Legend
Recently, I picked up a copy of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend at a second-hand bookstore. Matheson—whose high-concept man vs. truck short story Duel was to launch the career of Steven Spielberg—made a name for himself in the genres of science-fiction, horror and fantasy. His writing spans novels and short stories, alongside work in television and film. I Am Legend, itself no stranger to the silver screen, has been adapted no less than three times, and is, in some ways, a reflective document of post-war American culture. First published in 1954, it laid an early foundation for zombie movies such as George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) series, and critiques many of the same social and cultural concerns associated with these later films.

“a reflective document of post-war American culture”

The plot revolves around Robert Neville, the ‘last living man on earth’. He navigates a post-apocalyptic landscape where every other man, woman, and child has been converted into zombie-like nocturnal vampires. It is a cautionary tale, negotiating the long-term impact of violence and exploitation in the atomic age.   (more…)

Some exciting news from Megan Milks over at Weird Sister
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Djuna Barnes

[Djuna] Barnes’s Ladies Almanack, first published in 1928 (full title: Ladies Almanack: showing their Signs and their Tides; their Moons and their Changes; the Seasons as it is with them; their Eclipses and Equinoxes; as well as a full Record of diurnal and nocturnal Distempers, written & illustrated by a lady of fashion), is a sly roman à clef chronicling Barnes’s (mostly lesbian) circle of friends and lovers, and their HQ in Natalie Clifford Barney’s long-running Parisian salon. In reinventing it as a film, [Daviel] Shy is creating a hybrid Chicago-Paris setting and what she calls a “triple time” zone where three distinct periods collide. The film follows characters based not only on Barney (played by Brie Roland) and other thinly veiled figures in the book, including Mina Loy (Brenna Kail) and Radclyffe Hall (Deborah Bright), anchored by narration from French feminists of a later time: Luce Irigaray (Elesa Rosasco), Monique Wittig (Eileen Myles), and Hélène Cixous (as herself). All of these characters blur into the present as they find form in the bodies of contemporary artists and writers. I spoke with Shy about the genesis of the project, her relationship to the book and the community to which it pays homage, and what it was like to work with the great Cixous. [Read the full interview with Daviel Shy]

David Lean on location for Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
David Lean on location for Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Criterion Collection profiles the many sides of the epic filmmaker
For many cinephiles, the name David Lean signifies grand moviemaking—sweeping epics like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. But the long and eclectic career of this legendary British director encompasses arresting intimacy as well, as evidenced by the films of his in the Criterion Collection. Among those are pictures that he was responsible for editing, early on in his work in film: some of his national cinema’s greatest hits, including Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard’s Pygmalion, Gabriel Pascal’s Major Barbara, and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 49th Parallel. In the forties and early fifties, having moved to directing, he made several luminous films, including adaptations of such classic and important contemporary works from the stage and page as Harold Brighouse’s Hobson’s Choice, Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit and Still Life (Brief Encounter, in the film version), and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. All are graced by evocative, shadowy black-and-white cinematography and elegantly restrained compositions. Summertime, his gorgeous 1955 Technicolor trip to Venice with Katharine Hepburn, marked a turning point in his career: the sun-dappled location shoot was galvanizing for Lean, and the remainder of his films, from The Bridge on the River Kwai to A Passage to India, could be considered outdoor spectacles. Yet Lean’s deep interest in complex characters, his brilliant way with actors, and his classic sense of storytelling were never trumped by scale. [More at The Criterion Collection]

Introducing a new series of publications from Ibidem
Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett in Company is a new series from Ibidem that seeks to place Beckett within an array of contexts – literary, historical, geographical, philosophical, theoretical and institutional – yet with the overarching rationale of tracing the relations of which Beckett is the centre.

Through a career that spanned prose, poetry, theatre, literary criticism, radio, film and television over a period of some 60 years, Beckett was influenced by, negotiated with, and then came to influence, a host of artists (both literary and non-literary), media and their associated institutions. By placing Beckett at the centre of such relations, the series aims to trace influences on Beckett, but also to investigate how he influenced subsequent artists, movements, media and institutions. Submissions that focus on new or previously neglected relations are particularly welcome. (more…)

Tilda Swinton in Orlando (dir. Sally Potter, 1992)
Tilda Swinton in Orlando (dir. Sally Potter, 1992)
In an article for The Telegraph, Tilda Swinton writes about Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the impact the novel had on her personal life, and her experiences playing the title role in Sally Potter’s 1992 adaptation

I was at school near Sevenoaks, within a short walk of Knole, and one of my school chums was a Sackville-West. Like Orlando – like Vita – I had grown up in an old house and looked like the people in the paintings on the stairs, mainly ruffed, mustachioed, velvet-covered men. We all posed formally in front of bits of furniture, strung together on a high family tree like so many forgotten party balloons caught in the branches. Like Orlando, I wrote poetry. In my adolescent fantasy I read this book and believed it was a hallucinogenic, interactive biography of my own life and future. [Read More]