A call for papers for a panel at the upcoming ACLA conference in Utrecht, July 2017
samuelbeckett-passport
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
0782c-josephconrad_philhale_thesecretagent
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
high-rise-poster-ben-wheatley.jpg
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
orson-welles-citizen-kane-arriving-premiere.jpg
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.

(more…)

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
dustin-hoffman-the-graduate
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)

uncorrected-jonathan-cape-proof-thomas-pynchon-inherent-vice
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…)