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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Jean-Jacques Schuhl Ingrid Caven (2000)

 

‘”I have a very small cult reputation to protect,” Jean-Jacques Schuhl protested to me a few months ago in Paris when he learned that he’d been nominated for the Prix Goncourt (and the four other top French literary prizes) for his first book in twenty-three years. Now that he’s won the Goncourt, this avatar of Duchampian wit and encyclopedic misanthropy will just have to live with a much bigger cult. Ingrid Caven, his novel, is named for the celebrated singer he lives with, the former wife of Rainer Fassbinder and muse of Yves Saint Laurent; La Caven returned to the concert stage in November, at the Theatre de I’Odeon, in postmodern triumph, as a fictional character who sings. Ingrid Caven is not her biography, however, but a phantasmagorical riff on the social, political, and artistic history of our times, filtered through a meditation on stagecraft, the voice and attitude of the singer, the diva, the personae of history’s actors.’ — Gary Indiana

 

 

‘Jean-Jacques Schuhl was born in 1941 in Marseille. In 1972, he published Rose Poussière  mixing pop collages (extracts from newspapers, scores …) and descriptive fulgurances on real characters (Mao, Marlene Dietrich, the Stones …), elevated to the rank of myths unique and yet all interchangeable. Rose Poussière will become the fetish book of a whole generation. And the next one. His second text, Telex n ° 1 (1976), remains unavailable for a long time before his reissue this spring at L’Imaginaire. In 2000, Schuhl, after 24 years of absence, signed his great return to the literary scene: he received the Goncourt Prize for his novel Ingrid Caven, around the life of his companion, German singer and actress in the years 1960-70 . His latest book, Entry of the Ghosts, was released in 2010, again at Gallimard, in L’infini, the imprint of his friend Philippe Sollers.

‘Jean-Jacques Schuhl is an esthete who perceives the mutations of society with a deliciously feigned distance, at the periphery, that of the half-world. His taste for the observation of majestic decadences and his writing, elegiac or luminous, always chiseled, made him one of the most precious French authors (in the sense of sacred). And rare. So valuable. We are careful not to tell him, fearing to pass, like his alter-ego against Fred Hughes in the news of Vanity Fair, for “a complacent memorialist” (passage that will be cut in the course of the numerous discussions and corrections which will enlace the Elaboration of the text.) One evokes his readings of the moment: Reverdy therefore, and Proust, regularly. In the face of our avowed reluctance, he suggests that the best way to approach the work of the author of  Swann is to leave aside all the sociological and theoretical analyzes “rather boring, it must be said” To the benefit of descriptions of atmospheres, portraits and dazzling associations of ideas.’ — Jean Perrier

 

 

‘Jean-Jacques Schuhl was only 50 francs (about £5) better off yesterday after winning France’s top book award, the Prix Goncourt, for a difficult and experimental novel based on the life of his lover. But his back manager will not be worried: Schuhl can expect to sell up to 500,000 copies of his book, Ingrid Caven, such is the prestige of the award. And the real Ingrid Caven, a German singer and actor, will not do too badly as a result of the book’s success, either. She tells this morning’s Le Monde that she has received several film offers as a result of its publication earlier this month.

‘Schuhl, 59, is hardly a well-known writer in France, not least because Ingrid Caven is his first novel for nearly 25 years. “It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and it’s a dramatic turn of events,” he told France-2 television after winning the award. “I didn’t expect it.” Caven was married to the film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and starred in many of his pictures. She was later a lover of Yves Saint Laurent. Caven was last seen in Britain in Raoul Ruiz’s movie adaptation of Proust, Time Regained.

‘The choice of Schuhl’s novel is certainly a vote for French literary iconoclasm at a time when the country’s literary prizes in general, and the Goncourt in particular, have been widely criticised for not rewarding literary merit but bowing to the pressures of leading publishers. But Schuhl’s award was described as the “a vote for quality” by Michel Tournier, one of the judges and a previous winner of the prize. “Jean-Jacques Schuhl’s novel isn’t a commercial book and it won’t be displayed prominently in bookshop windows,” he said. That last point may well be an exaggeration, since the award of the Prix Goncourt usually guarantees huge sale, the winner’s book often bought as a Christmas gift in France.’ — Stuart Jeffries

 

 


au fond, jean-jacques schuhl, c’est moi

 

Interview
from Purple Magazine

 

OLIVIER ZAHM – Do you still belong to the underground?

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – The underground, it does not exist any more since now everything is in the light. It’s horrible ! It’s no longer attractive … It’s like poetry. In France, a poet is someone who has not known how to make a novel … In Germany, it is different: poetry has another status. Kafka, for example, is considered a “dichter”, that is, a poet in a very strong and wider sense … In America, too, with the poets of the Beat Generation … Even Edgar Allan Poe is Curse, but with all that entails prestige. Here, it is still and always head in the moon! The underground, no longer exists because it was recovered by the mainstream. And it is no longer erotic to say underground in the current context of the unprecedented cult of money and power.

OLIVIER ZAHM – Is the term “novelist” better for you?

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – I received the Goncourt prize with Ingrid Caven  … I have no problem with it. At the bottom I have almost written nothing … Three books in all and for all … That I am hardly classifiable, I want … Well!

OLIVIER ZAHM – You have written little, yet you play the figure of the novelist for a whole new generation.

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Maybe it’s because I’ve disappeared! After Rose Poussière came out in 1972, I did not write for very long. There was indeed Telex No. 1 . Then I left in the stratosphere: radio silence … But I returned with a literary brilliance and a price for Ingrid Caven.

OLIVIER ZAHM – Your trajectory is enigmatic, mysterious, very unusual today. It has an elliptical shape that enhances the “Schuhl myth”.

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – In silence and absence are made fantasies … What has he done all this time? Where was he ? If I had definitely disappeared, we would no longer ask the question, but I came out of the silent desert to make a surprise mediaatic-literary hold-up! A beautiful booty indeed! Surveillance cameras have not spotted me! Stories of ghosts, it works
always…

OLIVIER ZAHM – But this mystery has been linked with your vision of writing and probably with the decline of literature which is now a machine to reveal everything from the author (memoirs, autobiography, autofiction …).

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – For there to be an echo or a resonance, there must also be a little emptiness around. The music resonates with silences that count as notes, as in printing, the white has value in the typography of signs in its own right. We must never lose sight of silence. One always thinks of the full, it is the fault of the West. Without silence, without emptiness, things do not resonate or very badly.

OLIVIER ZAHM – This silence for more than twenty years has not been deliberate?

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – There is undoubtedly a share of powerlessness in that or the requirement of something I could not develop after Rose Poussière . This narrative was intended as a manifesto for a sort of impersonal writing, made up of a mosaic of genres, quotations, observations, press articles, poems made of AFP dispatches, telexes with horse names Or hotel listings … It was something very personal. And impersonality leads quite normally to withdrawal and silence. I wanted to capture the air of the time without being too present. It was about being a simple sensor-transmitter … It was three times nothing, hardly a book, and that wrote itself, without me … I should not have signed it!

OLIVIER ZAHM: But why have not we pursued other texts?

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – As of 1975-76, for me things are a little extinct. I was no longer stimulated as I had been in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Perhaps I could no longer observe, seize, listen to or see all these frail indecisive indices, but it was That I had no more matter. It was perhaps an alibi to justify a personal state. Perhaps a laziness. Take fashion in 75-76 for example, it has already swung into what it has become now: a market, economic powers, a kind of globalization and standardization, the dictatorship of commercial demand. Already was foreshadowed the resumption in hand by new forces … All that there was of savage and which had interested me, a kind of spontaneous emergence, was diluted … Everything that had fascinated me also in the English musics , Or the stuff that came from the East – including the history of the Chinese Red Guards – all this happened without warning, strikingly and unpredictably … It was very clear in fashion. I remember one of the first parades of Claude Montana in 1976-77, room Wagram, an old boxing room. There was an effect of unpredictability, of sudden emergence. I do not want to be nostalgic, say it was better before! Not at all ! But today we see quickly where things happen: revival, cloning, return of the same, reinterpretation, mixing weakened … So in more and more stifling … We see where it comes from! Not that before, it did not come from somewhere, but there was a dazzling and subversive rise that blurred immediate comprehension. What inspired and fascinated me was the savagery of something remote or foreign. Maybe I can no longer see or hear him. I always ask myself the question. Is it me or the world?

OLIVIER ZAHM – This is the question that despairs everyone …

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Hence the persistent fascination for the 60s and 70s. It is this period of emergence that keeps coming back to the heads and phagocytating us. Retro fashion and disembodied technology. But I’m still alert. In Search of the Present Time!

OLIVIER ZAHM – During all these years of silence, I have the impression that you have never given up, nor stopped observing, refine your perceptions. One feels it in Ingrid Caven which finally covers the time of this prolonged silence. As well as in your next novel of which I have read a few pages.

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Rose Poussière was made in chance. It is an assemblage of things that were in the air: the newspaper, the English fashions, a few dialogues of films, short portraits, a personage that I had wanted a little futuristic, Frankenstein-le-Dandy. All that made scarcely a book, between the manifesto, the narrative, the newspaper. Rose Poussière was directly connected to what can be called “reality”. With Ingrid Caven , I told a biographical romanticized story. Now I write through the screen of artistic elements, with filters. I look at David Lynch. I dive into Edgar Poe. Whereas at the time I read very little, and almost not … except the press, France Soir and magazines … I went out at night in clubs, I watched the street, fashions, styles, clothes … The Red Guards wanted the books burnt … Today I keep looking around. I read fashion magazines, but I’m less interested. I return to literature and cinema … In the excerpts of my next novel you read, I placed a character of mannequin with a certain reluctance, because it interests me less than before. It’s just the idea of ​​the mannequin, this automatic, inhuman or say non-human and manipulated thing, that always fascinates me.

OLIVIER ZAHM – How do you explain the confidential and persistent success of Rose Poussière through the years?

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – An extract from a newspaper can be as important as a book. I like what passes and leaves very little trace: an extract of article, fugitive tracks on newspapers or magazines, words on the sand … But precisely, Rose Poussière which was hardly a book, Crossed the time. Before it was published, I brought some fragments of texts to Gallimard, like that, without thinking of anything … It was made of bric-a-brac, a kind of ephemeral collage of telex, newspapers, film dialogues and a few Texts from me. I am glad that this thing has become a little cult book … A friable and light thing that first sold to a hundred copies and then a few thousand and more. You yourself asked me to use the title for an exhibition on French art at the Grand Palais, La Force de l’Art . One day I was at a parade of Christian Lacroix. I did not know him personally and he whispered in my ear: “Rose Poussière” … Like a password … I had wanted to put in

Featured accessories. Pink Dust was a shade of make-up I’d seen in London: Dusty Pink . My title is a makeup! Now, accessories have become the essential, 70% of the brands revenue. They clutter up everything, they see nothing but themselves. They too are in full light. I do not care. What I like, these are the stars in the shadows! Personally, I prefer Ingrid Caven , I think it is a novel more accomplished.

But what made it so that Ingrid Caven shot 350,000 copies and Rose Poussière became a cult book with so much resonance, the great echo of a little thing …

OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s the butterfly effect!

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Yes, it’s relatively hushed for years and it’s growing and spreading. In fact objects found came to fit in a book and I was medium of the times. The best of arts is a medium. People are barring this today with the cult of “Me I”. If one is a medium, as the fisherman tends the net, things come to it.

OLIVIER ZAHM – You still have to know how to throw the net, because you are a great stylist.

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Yes, of course, you have to open your ears and your eyes, be there without being there … Everyone can be a medium at times on his zone. Go for a walk in the night for example and let things pass through you … Intermittent medium, voila!

OLIVIER ZAHM – There are very few writers who, like you, go out at night, read fashion magazines, are interested in modern and contemporary art. In Paris, it is the self of the writer, self-fiction and psychology that predominate …

JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – I really like journalism. Mallarmé directed and wrote his own newspaper, La Dernière Mode , all the sections, including under feminine pseudonyms … I put my rare articles on the same level as my books. I do not make any difference. A writer should be at least a little journalist in the twist: openness to the world, capture of what is happening, precision of copyist, scribe …

 

 

Jean-Jacques Schuhl Ready-made & cut-up: on William S. Burroughs (1975)

The cut-up exists without Burroughs. It’s the newspaper. The agency dispatches were torn and then shown. It is enough then to read his daily life without bending to the references on the inside page (the suite, that is what it is next to), that is to say like a book, sweeping the whole page, and By connecting the various items. It’s a ready-made-cut-up. For my part, I work from the newspapers which are what best reflects the official discourse – especially France Soir. But rather than break the meaning, as Burroughs does, I prefer to mining it from inside, betraying it, pretending to play its game, and blurring it. I take a newspaper clipping that seduces me as a beautiful symptom, and puts it in relation with other cuts, or other cuts (all around), or with what is on the back of the page (I cut With the chisel the page and then looks at what is on the back, materially what is related to what I wanted to cut), or transparently in the light of a lamp, to obtain a spectral text (see-through ). We can say that it is a reorganization of the newspaper, a redistribution of its elements, with thin games, quotes hardly displaced, slight lags, slides, transparencies, telescoping, mine of Nothing, a “serious” (political) heading and a “frivolous” heading (turf, set of 7 errors). It would have to be seen almost as a fire, only this evening almost.

The cut-up of Burroughs breaks the circuits of thought. I prefer to try to pervert them gently, in a non-repairable way.

The reservation I make about the cut-up is that it’s a little too cut, I prefer a more sneaky disassembling where one mimes the traditional narrative and the mine. Slips, short circuits, shifts, whites, small squeaks inside the academic discourse, rather than breaks (it must not break anything). Example to follow: Lautreamont. I would like us to say: that’s it, that’s right, it’s only nice news, and yet! And yet! But we do not know what is going on, where the trouble comes from. Something like the voice or gesture of a transvestite, a synthetic robot, or W. Burroughs in a fake Anglican clergyman. I would like to write a book with a single journal, a story that does not look like anything, that comes from the recomposed headings of the newspaper: there is something wrong, but what? Obviously, the ideal would be to enter the marble of France Soir at night, and to operate swiftly a recomposition which, in the morning, would make the city say a little embarrassed: “There is something wrong, but what ?”

But there are other betrayals …

 

 

 

Jean-Jacques Schuhl Ingrid Caven (City Lights Books, 2004)
(Buy it)

‘A novel about the life of German cabaret singer and film actress Ingrid Caven, who was once director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s star, and his wife, muse to Yves Saint Laurent, and a protege of Pierre Berge. Consisting of memories, mixing real and invented people and events, Ingrid Caven reveals the cold heart of the European counterculture of the 1970s, an era of celebrity glitz, cocaine-fueled excess, gay bathhouses, and young idealists-turned-terrorists. Ingrid Caven was an immediate bestseller in France, where it sold over 235,000 copies in its first year of publication. It has been translated into 18 languages.Jean-Jacques Schuhl is a Parisian dandy who lives with Ingrid Caven and who had not published a book for twenty years until this one.’ — City Lights

‘Singing for the Führer’s troops at age five makes material for Ingrid Caven’s lifelong running gag—and the definitive event novelist Schuhl returns to again and again in recounting her life. Ingrid is a plucky girl from Saarland with a terrible skin problem and a wondrous voice, which propels her through classical training and on to accolades on the Munich stage (that’s when she meets a lonely boy in black leather who wants to make films—the Wunderkind of German film). Over the years, Ingrid will mingle with the likes of Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent, and even become embroiled with the Baader Meinhof Gang. A sensational Paris debut and suddenly the “little hurting girl in borrowed clothes” becomes really famous, meeting Bette Davis and Satie, flying about the world as the wife of Fassbinder, who turns out to be a drug-using homosexual. In telling Ingrid’s story, Charles is a kind of misanthropic alter ego: he follows the singer around, has affairs of his own, reports a lot of hearsay and snatched dialogue, but provides little sense of interior life. The climax comes at Fassbinder’s untimely funeral (he was 38), when, with all his actresses linked up front as if at a premiere, a posthumous piece of paper is discovered detailing Fassbinder’s outline for a script about the life of Ingrid Caven, “the woman he loved.”’ — Kirkus

‘Adolf Hitler, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Yves Saint Laurent — German-born cabaret singer Ingrid Caven’s life flowed around these icons of 20th century European counterculture. Caven was married to Fassbinder and starred in many of his movies; she was Saint Laurent’s model and muse. At 4 1/2, she sang “Silent Night” in the barracks for the German troops. This novel, by her current lover and based on her life, is a collage of that strange postwar period in Europe of high artifice, drugs, terrorism, leather jackets and cinema. Behind the glamorous backdrop of hotel rooms, the Brasserie Lipp, the Rue de Bac, the clothing by Saint Laurent, Issey Miyake and others, you can still smell cities burning, lives decaying. Artists drape themselves over rich American producers and patrons. The “era of Potsdam and Sans-Souci … matching plates and Meissen dancers” is over. But so is the era of cabaret, and Caven finds herself a relic: “The time of stars and divas was long gone, and haute couture was disappearing, too…. Why go on singing when all the voices have been flattened, standardized, synthesized?”‘ — Los Angeles Times

 

 

Excerpt #1

The sheet of paper was 8 ×11, crumpled, spotted with splashes of coffee, wine, maybe nicotine; they found it on the ground by the side of the dead man’s bed, lying there to be picked up by anybody, the cop, the maid, the doctor. The writing that covered it was like a speech given in a single breath, no punctuation, only one real erasure, two words now illegible at the end of a correction and a little arrow for cross reference. Eighteen paragraphs in the sequence, as though he had the whole text already written in his mind, all he had to do was write it out, the words had been etched in him forever and he had only to read and copy them; but the writing was just phrases, telegraphic, not exactly literary stuff. He had jabbed the paper, gashed it, raised welts and sores, made hard signs as though with a stiletto and not a ballpoint: it was something raw and brutal. The writing was firm, but still it shook like the needle of a seismograph, shaken up, rickety, words on the slant: like a child’s writing, like an old man’s writing, each letter formed with force and great attention, as though writing was slipping away just as life was and he tried to trace the letters, especially the capitals. The words blew about, had their own life, and none of the phrases lined up neatly; these were words thrown onto paper, as you write a note when you’re in danger, page torn from a notebook, no time to punctuate or take a breath, someone is after you… Numbered 1 to 18, the paragraphs were the stages, the chapters, images, scenes, synopsis, who knows—there was no title—of the life of Ingrid Caven. What follows is a literal translation, with the punctuation and the syntax of the original:

1 Birth + hatred of mother + start of allergy (Germany needs canon fodder)

2 First song, silent night holy night

3 Allergy much loved

4 University + worsening of allergy, decision for psychiatry you need courage to live

5 End of allergy, love with psychiatrist, high-class woman in rosewood, end of love

6 Flight skilful very disheartened for the terrible chic Revolution [sic]

7 Short life alone with many stories of men

8 Plays theatre, lives in commune, electronic love (GVH)

9 Marriage, fear of marriage, divorce

10 Africa

11 Second strategy

12 First appearance at Pigall’s

13 Jean-Jacques Schuhl + some bad films

14 Catastrophe with Musical, end with Jean-Jacques

15 Time of loneliness, appeal of suicide, drugs, schnapps and boys and cockroaches in the Chelsea H

16 Attack in waiting room, knowledge of great love

17 Sex and crime and black eyes

18 Dispute fight love hate happiness tears pills death +a smile

Just a wretched scrap of paper, found and kept by sheer chance, someone might have thrown it out despite the lines scrawled on the back. On the other side of page, the ‘right’ side, there is dialogue in neat electronic typing from the script of some movie Rainer had already made—big budget, six, seven, eight million dollars, big historical reconstruction, period sets and costumes, the Second World War—he must have used this particular piece of paper because he had nothing else available in a sudden emergency, he didn’t have the strength to get up and he lived very much alone at the end. On the reverse of this big historical movie, Rainer wrote his last words: the story of his wife, real, imagined.

The big budget project was pushed to the shadow side of the page, hidden away, the kind of production that he complained at the end was keeping him prisoner: and on the new ‘right’ side, these words he had scrawled, almost cut into the paper with such force and application, the life of the woman he loved. It was almost nothing, but only almost: a simple sheet of paper… just like fifteen years earlier and the cut of the Yves Saint Laurent dress, Ingrid Caven claimed the ‘wrong’ side, the second side, the reverse of the black satin cloth and now the paper, its secret side turned round, the dark, forgotten, secondary, shadow side of things turned to the front. That was where he wrote her ‘life’ and where she too had ‘written’ her life, not on the grand, fixed side of things but rather on the rootless side which she made grand with her songs.

Once again it was like the cloth you turn over because it’s the back side that counts, and you don’t know any more which is front and which is back, the Moebius strip, everything changes and comes back, what’s noble becomes vulgar and comes back, cloth that shows its lining, flags that beat in the wind. On what was once, and is no longer the ‘right’ side of the page, this scrap of dialogue: But, tonight, in front of the men, it will work, I am sure, and then I will realize something you desire. Something that you desire…

It was a troubling page because episodes 1 to 13 referred to facts and events, but 14 to 18 were entirely from his imagination. He saw her life as tragedy, a melodrama from an airport novel, and he had finished it. He did it as if she, too, were finished, deciding even her violent, scandalous, ignominious ending,; but Rainer was the one dying that way, sometimes he was found alone, outside, stark naked in front of his door on the landing, asleep in his shit, full of alcohol, drugs, sleeping pills, and at the height of his fame. In 14 to 18, was he taking revenge or playing tricks or just assembling the threads like a skilled writer for the screen? Or like a fate that he was trying to ward off with his words? She had got away, and on his deathbed he invoked her, he evoked her, took her back with words, with this skeleton story of her life. It was extraordinary: he wrote the life of the woman he loved, part real, part imagined, part elliptical, and on the way he made a picture of himself, and then he died.

Fascinating, worrisome, even very worrisome: you think about it, it couldn’t possibly be a film project. How could he shoot Ingrid’s disastrous end, her terrible fall and ignominious death while she was still living, and more alive than many others? He could have filmed 1 to 13, but not 14 to 18. Never. So what was this thing? A malevolent prediction, tempting fate like the voodoo priest pricks the doll with needles; but Rainer’s needle was a ballpoint pen.

 

 

Excerpt #2

It wasn’t the sight of the saucepans, it was the noise they made that seemed so unholy, such a vulgar noise for a singer and such a seedy noise, too, as though her whole past was dragging behind her, and above all the sound was so entirely out of place, nothing at all to do with the luxurious and old-style setting – carpets, wall hangings, such well trained staff: the hotel was like a ventriloquist’s dummy, letting out a cry that didn’t belong to it, something irritating, agonising, making the brain falter. Maybe Ingrid also remembered Sundays at home, her mother cooking in the kitchen with a clatter of pans that mixed with the Liszt, ‘Hungarian Rhapsody,’ that her father used to play over and over in the next-door drawing room. That, too was in her mind, making it tilt like a pinball machine. A saucepan bumped up against one of the metal bars on the stairs, and came to rest, dumb.

There’s a photograph of Marlene Dietrich, which she once gave to Hemingway (1): She’s all legs, sitting, like in those famous shots for the Blackglama furs, her head is down, so all you can see is the line of nose, mouth, chin: enough to identify her at once like a logo, a Chinese pictogram, a coat of arms, and, alongside those long, bare famous legs that were insured for $5 million at Lloyds, she’s written: ‘I cook, too.’ Were they lovers, friends, loving friends? The old story keeps the crowds agog: the writer and the actress, or the singer, D’Annunzio and la Duse, Miller and Monroe, Romain Gary and Jean Seberg, Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange, Phillip ‘Portnoy’ Roth and Claire ‘Limelight’ Bloom, the marriage of word and flesh, intriguing, puzzling, riotous.

Hemingway? Maybe, if it comes down to it, the picture wasn’t dedicated to him at all but to one of her other men – Erich Maria Remarque, or Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin? Jean Gabin, perhaps? Or to Mercedes d’Acosta, that exotic lesbian? Or just to some nameless fan? Doesn’t matter, it’s all ancient history, the young woman with the saucepan is also a chain smoker, but she uses a common black plastic cigarette holder, Denicotea, only twenty-five francs from your neighbourhood tobacconist.

She’s still laughing in the elevator and when, with the manager going ahead, she enters her suite, she’s amazed by what she sees: white lilies, on the night table, on the desk, the vanity, in the bathroom, in the entrance hall, everywhere white lilies. Yves paid tribute to his queen with a suite in white. After saucepans, lilies, after the hausfrau, the vamp. Pans and lilies – a good title if one day she wrote her memoirs; Eva Gabor, sister of the more famous Zsa Zsa, called her book Orchids and Salami.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, could be one of those surprising productions of her friend Werner Schröter whose nickname – but why on earth? – was ‘The Baron’: Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, The Death of Maria Malibran … she was bound to arrive in Paris under this particular sign, because, truth to tell, her real range of mind is more from lilies to saucepans, if you see what I mean, just as at the end of some exquisitely turned sentence – like this one – you need a break, but even the break is still too exquisite, those lovely rhetorical cadences I never quite escape. On stage with a flourish of her hand followed by a broken wrist, a back kick in the air that was a wink at flamenco, she knew just how to break up all that virtuosity, that panache, to do it neatly and dryly, to cut things short, never to make them too rich, yes, that was it, heading for the world of lilies and orchids, then turning back abruptly to saucepans and salami. Lupe Velez was engaged to Johnny Weismuller, but she fell out with Tarzan, wanted to kill herself, but looking lovely, image before everything, even when dying, hours and hours of fixing her makeup and her hair. She had no luck at all, pills and booze upset her guts and so it was that they found her, in her loveliest frock, immaculately styled, powdered, bejewelled, virtually embalmed, but stifled on her own vomit with her head down the toilet. That’s the art of breaking a mood, a right-angle turn of mood, art upside down, the leftovers restored, and anyway a kitchen utensil is always handy: John Cage wrote a concerto for mincer and beater.

 


4 Ingrid Caven songs in one video


Ingrid Caven ‘Alabama Song’


Ingrid Caven ‘Polaroid Cocaine’


Ingrid Caven ‘The Wonderful Widow of 18 Springs’

 

 

Further

Jean-Jacques Schuhl Website
Buy J-J Schulh’s ‘Ingrid Caven’
‘Jean-Jacques Schuhl, mythe majestueux’
‘Telex n°1, come-back du mythe signé Jean Jacques Schuhl’
‘Profonde superficialité’
J-J Schuhl ‘Apparition de Werner Schroeter’
J-J Schuhl ‘JLG, rapports secrets’
Video: ‘Jean-Jacques Schuhl – “Entrée des Fantômes”‘
‘Laure Adler reçoit Jean-Jacques Schuhl, écrivain’
Jean-Jacques Schuhl Facebook page

 

 

 

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p.s. Hey. Just a heads up that I have a big meeting tomorrow morning. I don’t know when it is yet. If it’s really early, I won’t be able to do the p.s. tomorrow and will catch up with the two days of comments on Thursday, and, if it isn’t so early in the morning, I will do the p.s. So a bit of mystery for you there. ** H, Hi. Thank you. Did you end up watching the eclipse from Coney Island? My impression is that Coney Island has become a shadow of itself? ** David Ehrenstein, Thank you, yes. ** Sypha, Hi, James. Nice to see you, bud. My condolences and hugs about your family dog. Well, I’m with you about Facebook, but I still find it a valuable place to search for interesting things and personal news, even though that involves very heavy weeding these days. The nonstop outrage and hysteria there is an exhausting train wreck. NecronomiCon was dead boring? Sad given its name’s promises. Oh well. Anyway, it sounds like you found a non-boring beeline in the middle of it. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Yeah, reshooting is really tough without a bunch of money. Like I said, we just gave up on the idea and did what we had to in order to transform any problems in what we shot into virtues. Well, writing about the Flesheaters can happen any old time, so saving it for a less rainy day just seems sane. Look forward to the interview. Everyone, Steve Erickson has interviewed director Eliza Hittman about her very well liked new film ‘Beach Rats’ over at the Roger Ebert site, and I recommend you partake. ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick. Ha ha, I almost never ask about content. Content is always material to me. It’ll get to me regardless of whether I study it. Separating the content out from the presentation just seems very strange. I always hunt art for its degree of individuality because that’s where you can learn and where any genius or newness lies, so what I like about films is always in the construction, I guess. Really, really interesting to read how you made it and where its effects are coming from. I’m a process junkie. Thank you for the generous share, man. ** Jamie, Hi, J-ster. My day wasn’t a whole lot, but it was par for the course. Yes, there it was, as you kind of requested, and I’m glad it still seems valuable. Favorites? That’s tough. ‘Life And Nothing More’ and ‘Taste of Cherry’ maybe. And ‘Where is the friend’s home?’  Whoa, taxing is the word, it sounds like. Is Jonathan a persuadable guy? Easily strategically charmed? Tribe tickets, sure. I’m in. Zac said he was in. Go for it, and we’ll pay you back. I just realized they’ve opened a new roller coaster, so that’s exciting to a previous visitor like me. Thanks, man. What happened today in a nutshell or a bushel or an even bigger vessel? Disco without the mirrored ball love, Dennis. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Exactly, comfort comes in all kinds of unexpected forms. It’s beautiful that way. Yes, please do let me know what happens with the two hopeful jobs. I was a little nervous about the rehearsals in the moment, but then it passed. Ultimately what needs to be done to make the piece work right is entirely up to Gisele since, even though my part in it is quite important, it’s a dance piece, and it’s the movement that will make or break it, and I can only offer random advice on that front. I hope (and know) you will have a wonderful time with Anita, and of course I send you infinite strength and hugs for the funeral. I hope it does what funerals were created to do. I look very forward to seeing you soon! Take good care!!! ** Jeff J, Hey! Man, the eclipse looked crazy on TV, so I can only imagine, and, like I said, I experienced one in Amsterdam in the mid-80s, and it was kind of a monumental thing. Wow, Nicole Brossard! I haven’t heard her name in a long time. I’ve only read ‘Mauve Desert’ and ‘Picture Theory’. I remember thinking they were very, very interesting. Huh. I don’t remember if I’ve dedicated a Day to her, but I think I absolutely will. She’s a perfect candidate. Anyway, I think I can recommend ‘Mauve Desert’, yes. Let me know what you think if you dive in. ** Alistair, Hi! Great, I’ll hold open the best spot available. Interesting that ‘Taste of Cherry’ was in your thoughts. And, now that you say that, huh, yes it makes an inexplicable sense. Oh, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll stop in NYC on my way back from the New Narrative thing, unfortunately, but, if there’s a chance, I will and would so love to be at your book launch and see Tim’s performance. ** Misanthrope, Hi. Hm, I don’t know what’s up with your invisible comments thing. I’ll wait to see if others have the same problem and if your problem keeps recurring before I dig deep. I’m going to have to google Noah Matous. I’m out of it. Hope you feel better, dude. If you’re reading this, I’ll assume your eyes survived, unless I guess you’re reading this while screaming in pain. Good and good luck if needed about Saturday. ** Okay. I was about 3/4 of the way through making the post today when I thought, Did I … do a post about this book before? And sure enough, I had, and sure enough, that elderly, dead post wasn’t very good in retrospect, and so I continued making this brand new post. Interesting, no, ha ha? See you tomorrow.

Abbas Kiarostami Day *

* (restored)

 

‘Abbas Kiarostami is the most influential and controversial post-revolutionary Iranian filmmaker and one of the most highly celebrated directors in the international film community of the last decade. During the period of the ‘80s and the ‘90s, at a time when Iranians had such a negative image in the West, his cinema introduced a humane and artistic face.

‘Kiarostami is a graduate of Tehran University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in Painting. He was first involved in painting, graphics and book illustration and then began his film career by making credit-titles and commercials.

‘He founded the film department of the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (known as Kanun) where a number of the highest quality Iranian films were produced. He ran the department for five years and at the same time directed his first film, Bread and Alley, in 1970. Making educational films for children at Kanun, a non-commercial organization, helped him form his basic approach to cinema.

‘Although Kiarostami made several award-winning films early in his career, it was after the revolution that he earned a highly esteemed reputation on the stage of world cinema. 20 years after his ground-breaking debut feature, Report (1977), he was awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) award at the Cannes International Film Festival for his film Taste of Cherry in 1997.

‘His masterpiece Close-Up (1990) and, later, the poetic Life and Nothing More… (1992) led to Kiarostami’s discovery in the West, and only then it was mainly by the French. He won the Un Certain Regard award for the latter at Cannes.

‘Kiarostami belongs to a generation of filmmakers who created the so called “New Wave”, a movement in Iranian cinema that started in the ‘60s, before the revolution of 1979 and flourished in the ‘70s. Directors like Farrokhzad, Saless, Bayzai, and Kimiavi were the pioneers of this movement. They made innovative art films which had highly political and philosophical tones and poetic language. Some, like Saless (who is compared to Bresson), introduced a realist (minimal plot, non-dramatic) style, while others, like Kimiavi (known as the Iranian Godard, mixing fantasy and reality), employed a metaphoric form.

‘What distinguishes Kiarostami’s style is his unique but unpretentious poetic and philosophical vision. Not only does he break away from conventional narrative and documentary filmmaking, he also challenges the audience’s role. He plays with their expectations and provokes their creative imagination. His films invite the viewer to reflect, confront stereotypes, and actively question their assumptions. In Taste of Cherry, the reason for Mr. Badii’s suicide is not given to the viewer. Consequently, the audience has to imagine that reason. In Kiarostami’s words, the untold or unexplained parts of his films are created in the minds of his audience. What is presented as obscure or hidden becomes clear and apparent through the audience’s imagination (for example, characters’ motivations and inner worlds). In this way, the audience member becomes responsible for the clarity that she/he expects from the film.

‘In Taste of Cherry, the shift from narrative to documentary not only adds another layer to the film but separates and distances the audience and therefore creates a space for his/her presence in the film. For example, in the final sequence, where the hero lies in his grave, a long fade shifts the film from the narrative section to a behind-the-scenes documentary (shot on video) where we see Kiarostami and his crew. The long fade becomes a trigger for viewers to start feeling their own presence, as well as a mirror to see themselves in. It also motivates them to think about the ways they can understand the shift from the narrative to the documentary, as well as the change in formats from film to video.

‘Kiarostami, in his movement towards a plotless cinema and a minimal and elliptic compressed narrative, has also used the dark screen in a number of his films, serving similar goals in terms of the audience’s involvement. The dark scene in the cellar where the young village girl is milking the cow while the hero is citing Forough’s poetry to her in The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), and the seven minute black scene in A.B.C. Africa (2001) where we hear Kiarostami talk, beautifully challenge the audience’s expectations as well as celebrating the creative use of sound. This striking moment in ABC Africa occurs when Kiarostami stops talking as he enters his room in complete darkness. We hear him drawing the window’s curtain but we don’t see anything for awhile. Suddenly a lightning bolt reveals the view of trees for a second. The image has become magical because it is delayed and anticipated for a long time.

‘Another way that Kiarostami invites the creative participation of his audience can be seen in his film Close-Up, where he interrupts and undermines the expected dramatic flow of the story-line with minor characters whose lives are not considered dramatic or important. He also mixes fact and fiction in such a way that it is impossible to separate the two. The non-chronological order of the scenes in the film which offer different points-of-view urge the audience to make sense of the story (putting it in their order), as well as asking them to judge the characters on their own terms.

Close-Up not only refers to the role of cinema in Iran as a means of power, popularity, and social mobility, similar to the role of basketball for black youth in America, but it also confronts the viewer with her/his own relationship to cinema. Kiarostami criticises the role of media and the media-maker in deceiving the audience – a contemporary universal issue. In this film more than his other films, Kiarostami reveals the characters through their lies and performances. Hence Kiarostami’s quotation “the shortest way to truth is lie.”

‘Close-Up contains many key elements of Kiarostami’s cinema. The main character is innocent yet corrupt. Although here, unlike in Traveler (1974) or The Wind Will Carry Us, he is sympathetic. Both behind-the-scenes and within the frame, Kiarostami is self-critical as a filmmaker. We see him in the opening scene talking to the hero in prison and toward the end we hear him talking to his crew. In Homework (1990) he interviews the children and in Case No. 1 and Case No.2 (1979) he interviews a number of cultural authorities. The filmmaker, though as a fictional character, appears again in Through the Olive Trees (1994), Life and Nothing More… and The Wind Will Carry Us. This self-conscious cinema is a double-edged sword. It can be read as a self-critical cinema where Kiarostami questions his role as a filmmaker. Also, it can be seen as a means to distance the audience and make them conscious.

‘What is so specific in Kiarostami’s style is his attention to form and the role it plays in creating poetry and humor in his films. As Tati demonstrates, and as observed by Jonathan Rosenbaum, form plays a major role in creating cinematic humor. What is normally non-humorous is seen and heard as humorous, ridiculous, or absurd through Kiarostami’s films. Similar to Tati’s Playtime (1967), Kiarostami’s fantastic short Orderly or Disorderly (1981) derives its power and humor through shot composition, the use of sound, and, in particular, Kiarostami’s voice over. The high angle long shots of the children in the school-yard lining up to drink water or gettin
g on the bus, as well as the impatient drivers who complicate traffic in a Tehran intersection, reveal the humorous nature of chaos and order in public spaces.

‘Also, form as a zigzag pattern is emphasised through shot composition or camera movement. For example, the recurrent image of zigzagging roads in his films has become a philosophical and metaphysical statement as well as revealing the general situation of his characters. The zigzag path in Where is the Friend’s House? (1987) shows the many turns that the child has to take in order to find his friend. Similarly, the man who is driving on the hilly roads in Taste of Cherry is looking for someone to bury him. In Life and Nothing More…, the filmmaker has to find two children who acted in his previous film, following a deadly earthquake that shook northern Iran. Even sometimes the zigzagging movements of an object like an apple in The Wind Will Carry Us or the empty spray can in Close-Up show the randomness of fate. They are practically Kiarostami’s signatory shots.

‘Kiarostami’s later films, especially the three films that are known as a trilogy, Where is the Friend’s House?, Through the Olive Trees, and Life and Nothing More…, have a strong emphasis on landscape and architecture, revealing Kiarostami’s philosophical point-of-view. The beautiful view of trees revealed through the ruins of the village in Where is the Friend’s House?, the long shot of the cracked road in Life and Nothing More…, and the long shot of the wheat field in The Wind Will Carry Us, remind the audience of the beauty that the main character ignores. As Kiarostami gradually moves toward nature and rural characters and settings, the landscape shots become more instrumental in the structure of his post-revolutionary films.

‘Although Kiarostami uses small crews and mainly non-actors and no script, his recent documentary feature A.B.C. Africa signals the emergence of a new approach. It is his first film that is shot outside Iran and on digital video. The film is predominately shot in English, saturated in colour, and has wall-to-wall music. Unlike most of his previous films, A.B.C. Africa is populated with strong women characters – a sharp contrast to his previous films, where the absence of women was noticeable. One can view this as another movement in his cinema that has started mainly with The Wind Will Carry Us and is continued in his most recent film, Ten (2002), films which feature mainly women characters.

‘Kiarostami’s cinema celebrates the economy of film language and offers an alternative to the fancy, excessive mainstream cinema. A controversial characteristic of his films is how they encourage the audience to reflect and creatively participate in them. His films challenge viewers’ stereotypes and make them aware of their own blind spots. A refreshing experience of watching Kiarostami’s films is how they resist giving an expected, homogeneous, or exotic “third-world” image of Iranian culture to the audience. Each of his films, even those that are shot in the remote rural areas of Iran, reflect McLuhan’s concept of the “global village” and our disillusion of the image of “self” as separate, immune, and distant from the “other”.’ — Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, Senses of Cinema

 

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Stills





























































































 

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Further

Abbas Kiarostamis @ IMDb
‘The Films Of Abbas Kiarostami: A Retrospective’
‘What is the best introduction to Abbas Kiarostami films?’
‘Iranian Director Abbas Kiarostami: ‘The Situation in Iran Has Never Been This Dark”
AK @ Strictly Film School
AK @ The Criterion Collection
‘Meeting Abbas Kiarostami’
‘With Borrowed Eyes: An Interview with Abbas Kiarostami’
‘6 FILMMAKING TIPS FROM ABBAS KIAROSTAMI’
‘Behind closed doors with director Abbas Kiarostami’
‘Abbas Kiarostami, l’homme qui peint l’amour sur la surface des êtres’
‘Abbas Kiarostami @ 75’
‘Abbas Kiarostami, In His Own Words’
‘Nature Has No Culture: The Photographs of Abbas Kiarostami’
‘They Should Be Grateful’
AK @ Artificial Eye
‘WHEN ABBAS KIAROSTAMI LEFT IRAN, HE LOST A HOME BUT GAINED A PLANET
‘US refuses visa to Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami’
‘Abbas Kiarostami on Japan, Actors, and His Use of Sound’
‘The films that Abbas Kiarostami carries inside’
‘Abbas Kiarostami- Not A Martyr’
”A Wolf Lying in Wait’: The Poetry of Abbas Kiarostami
‘Contemporary Neorealist Principles in Abbas Kiarostami’s Filmmaking’
‘Fiction Criticizing Reality: Abbas Kiarostami and the Cracked Windshield of Cinema’
‘The Metaphysical Riddles of Abbas Kiarostami’

 

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Extras


Abbas Kiarostami – An IU Cinema Exclusive


A short film made for Venezia 70 – Future Reloaded (2013)


Open Conversation with Abbas Kiarostami


Seagull Eggs by Abbas Kiarostami


Abbas Kiarostami at Indiana University


Lumière and Company – Abbas Kiarostami

 

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Interview
from BOMB

 

Akram Zaatari I would like to know more about your idea of the film and the lie. Let’s start with Close-up in which a man fabricates a lie out of his passion for cinema and hence makes his own film. One of the powerful points of Close-up for me was the fact that it merges film and life. Through the Olive Trees, on the other hand, presents itself clearly as the making of a film. What’s different in the second approach?

Abbas Kiarostami Our work starts with a lie on a daily-routine basis. When you make a film you bring elements from other places, other environments, and you gather them together in a unity that really doesn’t exist. You’re faking that unity. You call someone a husband or a son. My own son was critical of me because in the second film, Life Goes On, I hint that these two people are married, and that’s what I lead the audience to believe at the end of that film. In Through the Olive Trees, I come up with the idea that they are not really married, and it’s just the boy who is really fascinated by the girl. In my next film, I’m going to show another layer of truth in that actually the boy is not really that crazy about the girl. So, my son is
critical that I keep lying to people, that I keep changing. In the next film it’s really the girl who loves the boy. My son concluded that perhaps if we analyze different aspects of the lie, then we can arrive at the truth. In cinema anything that can happen would be true. It doesn’t have to correspond to a reality, it doesn’t have to “really” be happening. In cinema, by fabricating lies we may never reach the fundamental truth, but we will always be on our way to it. We can never get close to the truth except through lying.

AZ You’re now working on a fourth addition to what was to be a trilogy. The idea of a film that develops into another film can go on indefinitely. Where are you reaching with this? Is it merely a motivation to make another film?

AK As long as this series is fresh and has energy, I’ll go with it until I’m exhausted. I have had other scripts I have made a commitment to making, but when I finish a film, I still have emotional attachments to elements of that film. So it becomes an edge on my part, to go back to the same story and make another film so I can get it out of my system. When I made the first movie in that trilogy, Where Is the Friend’s House?, I never felt the certainty and intimacy that I feel now about that particular environment. Back then it presented a new environment, new people, fresh subject matter . . . but it didn’t have the same energy. Now I feel I am much more deeply involved with the actors of this film.

AZ How did you connect to the narrative of Through the Olive Trees?

AK There was a four-minute scene in Life Goes On in which the main character, Hossein, is attracted to Tahereh, the same girl in Through the Olive Trees. It was interesting to me that the girl wasn’t reacting to him because I was under the impression that in a village community there would be more equality in terms of relationships. You wouldn’t see the kind of choices people make in urban environments. But she says, “You’re not good enough for me.” It was interesting that something like that existed in a village environment.

AZ How did the narrative evolve from that point? I read that you started with a 15-page treatment. What changed between the treatment and the film?

AK I really wanted to avoid having a film-within-the-film structure but I just couldn’t come up with anything else. So, I followed the 15-page treatment I had put together, and that was the basis of the film. I wrote those 15 pages as an encouragement to the cast and crew so they could base their work on something. But as far as I’m concerned, I’d be fine with only five pages of material. That provides enough of a narrative foundation. If you write something well in advance, you develop a fixation and a sense of commitment to it that might restrict your freedom in terms of improvising or coming up with new ideas. I like to save that kind of freedom for when I shoot the film. When you write a script and think it should be turned into a film word by word, then what is the motivation to go out and turn it into a film?

AZ You’ve said that you wrote the dialogue of Olive Trees, but in fact it belongs to the non-actors and actors in your film. Can you elaborate on that?

AK I give them the general subject matter the night before. And I start communicating with them so they can really clear out their minds from any previous exposure to a script. This way they come to the set with a fresh mind. The following day, rehearsing before the shoot, I work on it with them from an entirely different angle. Then, the moment before starting to shoot, I play this trick on them. I say, “Forget about what we just discussed, let’s go back to what we discussed last night.” The advantage of this technique is that the actors are unable to use memorized words. They know what the idea is, but they have to make up new ways of putting a sentence together. And doing that, they have the same anxieties you would have. So, I simply remind them of a general subject while we’re shooting. It’s like a computer: you want them to be blank-minded so you program them, then get immediate feedback.

AZ Both Hossein in Through the Olive Trees and Sabzian in Close-up are men who are unsuccessful in their lives. Hossein would like to marry Tahereh, but she refuses him because he doesn’t own a house. Sabzian has lost his job and his wife. However, they are both able to realize their dreams through faking reality: Hossein plays the husband of Tahereh in the film shown being made in Olive Trees. Sabzian fabricates a lie and lives for a while the way he would like to live, as a director. Your male characters are very modest, except for the filmmaker characters, who operate on a different level and seem able to solve everyone’s problems. I would like to know more about the role you attribute to the filmmaker in society.

AK I can see why you might have misunderstood me in terms of the power I give to the director. In both films, the directors are really the background characters. The real figures come to exist within that background. So the background is just a vehicle. I use the director characters to bring the other characters to the forefront. A director character needs to show some strength and power, some control of the environment. It’s only natural that they would be perceived as stronger characters.

AZ In Olive Trees, there are three strong women characters: Tahereh, who refuses to marry Hossein; her stubborn grandmother; and Mrs. Shiva, the assistant director. But these characters, like women characters in your other films, remain opaque and unexplored. Is this deliberate?

AK Traditionally, in Iranian films, the female characters are portrayed in two categories: as mothers or as mistresses. And in neither of these categories are characters I’d like to use. They lack human dimension. Many Western films suffer from the same shortcomings. Women are treated like cosmetic characters, just to boost box office sales. There are two other types of women characters in Iranian films. The first is the heroic type, which I can’t relate to because they’re too shrewd. The second is the victim, which again is a type I can’t relate to. Outside of these four categories there isn’t much left to deal with. There are exceptional women characters, but then I don’t make movies about exceptions. I would like to deal with normal women, and I don’t find too many of them. I would like to have that kind of woman character whose womanhood is not an issue, but I just can’t find them. There’s an Italian actor, Lando Bozanco, whose films are very popular in Iran. His characters are macho and naive at the same time. In Iranian films you have a lot of women who are like that male character. They are too concerned or too much aware of their womanhood, and are somewhat pretentious about it.

AZ And your male characters are the opposite of that.

AK They are just normal human beings. Their sexuality is not a question.

AZ You rely on your own experiences in your films, things that happen within the family or that you observe in society. What do you think outsiders to your culture wouldn’t understand in your films?

AK I normally go with the most commonplace experiences, so every type of audience can relate to them. Can you pinpoint something in particular that you think relates to me personally and would not be visible to other audiences?

AZ Is there any kind of humor, for example, that specific audiences would or would not react to?

AK The audiences have different expectations, and it wouldn’t be correct to categorize them by the regions they come from. There is a relationship with which I can’t interfere between the film and its audience. The movies and the way audiences react to them have to d
o with the audience’s minds, and it’s not something we can measure like somebody’s shoe size.

AZ Since you have worked so much with local communities in Iran, do you think you can work in some other society where you haven’t lived? Do you think you can come up with plots with the same power?

AK What is Iranian about Through the Olive Trees and Close-up? In Olive Trees, there is nothing terribly Iranian about the relationship between Hossein and Tahereh. The same is true about Sabzian and the way he relates to the family. It’s not really Iranian. I make my films about human beings and their universality. In that sense I don’t restrict myself to a certain area. We may be different in terms of the color of our skins, but we get the same toothaches.

AZ I think what speaks to the fact that your films do come from a very specific place is the way you examine the tension between tradition and modernity, between rurality and urbanity. The audience is made aware of the presence of new settlements next to a highway. We hear the noise of cars but never see them.

AK I’m only posing questions by showing those types of conflicts. I would never think of myself as someone who also comes up with some way of resolving them. In a scene in Olive Trees, a bunch of girls are dressed in black and later another bunch of children are dressed in bright colors. Compared to the earlier scene in the film where women are dressed in black, I treated the colorful scene with a lot more freedom to evoke an open environment. To me, that is the visual comment I’m making. I react with sorrow to any sort of change that would not be consistent with the freedom of people. When they chop down trees to construct buildings, I feel the same sadness.

AZ But isn’t that the way things have been going for a long time?

AK That’s why I mentioned earlier not to expect a solution or a judgement from me. I feel the same way about the idea of my grandmother’s death. I’m really sad, but there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t have the power to say, “No, I want to keep her forever.” But when she goes, there’s no way I would not be sad about it.

AZ Koker, the area you filmed, was depopulated by the earthquake. I see that as a big problem, but you seem to portray a very embellished image of the post-quake period in Koker. You called that film Life Goes On, as if the problems of the earthquake had been overcome, which is not the case.

AK I would agree with you that I do embellish. Life is alive and well and keeps on going. Life is stronger than death because life is still there. After I made the second film, somebody asked, “When do you think the normal life of these people will resume again?” And I said, “On the third day, when I saw them washing their carpets.” But I was mistaken when I talked further with the people. I realized they had stories going back to the time of the earthquake. There was a man who had fallen under a huge piece of metal, and the minute he started to get out from under it to save himself—as far as he’s concerned—that’s when life started again.

AZ In the beginning of this interview you mentioned something about your process of filmmaking being very open to change. From casting to editing, a film might transform into a different film. Can you comment more on what qualities this adds to the film? Could it be a film that is more open to interpretation, for example?

AK I wouldn’t know about people’s interpretations, but I find it extremely useful in terms of the way I work. It allows me to make those changes. During the film you have Hossein correct the director. He tells him that the girl doesn’t have to say Mr. Hossein—when she addresses him, that “Hossein” is enough. When you don’t have a prepared script and are allowing that kind of freedom you can have situations like that. Sometimes we go from Tehran to remote villages, and it would be a mistake for us to go there with preconceptions and the inability to change.

AZ I wanted to compliment you on the use of sound in your film. Relying on ambient sounds, you rarely use music as an emotional guide.

AK For some directors the significance of sound is more important than the visual. When we go out to shoot, sometimes people ask the crew where they’re going and they say, “We’re just going to record some sound, but we’re taking a cinematographer with us, just in case.” If you just concentrate on the visual, you would be dealing with only one side of the cube. Sometimes we put so much emphasis on our shot, it’s as if we’re telling the world, “Shut up, the picture is so important!” But if you look at you and me sitting here talking, there are all these noises around us. That’s an important part of reality.

 

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17 of Abbas Kiarostami’s 44 films

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The Traveler (1974)
‘Kiarostami’s first full-length feature (following the hour-long The Experience) depicts the adventures of a resourceful but amoral 10-year-old boy, Qasem, who will stop at nothing to see the Iranian national football team play an important match at a stadium in Tehran. By stealing money from his parents, swindling his schoolmates, and selling off his own football team’s gear, he manages to finance a ticket and traveling expenses. But the trip that ensues doesn’t quite go according to plan.’ — Film Society of Lincoln Center


Excerpt

 

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A Suit for Wedding (1976)
‘Through almost purely visual means, Kiarostami creates an O. Henry–like story of a wedding suit “borrowed” from the tailor’s for a night, and uses it to explore the world of working youths in the shops and streets of Tehran. To outward appearances, the boys in question have only to wait on adults, delivering tea from the cafe or being a tailor’s assistant. But with adults out of earshot, an active subculture thrives, a hive of youthful desire for that which is perceived as unattainable, whether it is a girl, as in The Experience, or, in this film, a bespoke suit made for a middle-class mama’s boy but coveted by the fast-talking street kids who give the film its life, its pathos, and its subtle class message.’ — Judy Bloch


the entire film

 

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Rangha (1976)
‘I’m calling this “Learning with Abbas”, feauturing Italian-Job-tense toy car racing (Tom Sachs, U jelly?), and a structural repetition based around the enchantment of putting coloured stuff in glasses of water, which, come on, was like inventing your own softie, and also features practically every other kidnip: a duck’s feet, farm equipment, goldfish, chugging from the box, and who can forget shooting chromatically-sequential bottles on a shelf with a massive revolver?’ — TLSC


the entire film

 

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Avaliha (1984)
‘Even though FIRST GRADERS is clearly the other Kiarostami film with subject matter closest to HOMEWORK, I was struck at the structural similarities between HOMEWORK and ABC AFRICA. Both start with a reflexive intro that establishes the director’s mission; both contain the director’s visual/verbal presence and occasional direct commentary; both accept and present evidence that might not perfectly illustrate the inscribed sociopolitical thesis; and both end with the film’s most aestheticized sequence, shifting the stylistic terms of the piece. By contrast, FIRST GRADERS dips from time to time into a fictional shot breakdown instead of a documentary shot breakdown; and the fictional elements don’t really shift the terms of the piece – it’s more as if they brush us back a bit, like a pitcher throwing an inside fastball to keep us from getting too comfortable.’ — Shooting Down Pictures


the entire film

 

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Where is the friend’s home? (1984)
‘The film that established director Abbas Kiarostami’s reputation outside his native Iran, Where Is the Friend’s Home? tells a simple story in such a spare fashion, many critics found its impact to be almost subliminal. As the film opens Ahmed (Ahmed Ahmed Poor), a grade schooler, watches as his teacher (Kheda Barech Defai) berates a fellow student, Mohammed (Babek Ahmed Poor), for repeatedly failing to use his notebook for his homework , threatening expulsion on the next offense. When Ahmed returns home, he realizes he’s accidentally taken Mohammed’s notebook. Against his mother’s orders, he sets out in search Mohammed’s house, encountering false leads, dead ends, and distractions as he attempts to enlist adults in his search.’ — Keith Phipps, Rovi


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Homework (1989)
Homework is nowhere more classically modernist than in its allusiveness and chaste renunciation of all explicit meaning. But this aesthetic choice is equally a command. Given that he too is under scrutiny by authority (in the shape of Iran’s post-revolutionary regime), Kiarostami must tread a thin line between connotation and denotation. Paradoxically, the enforced obliquity works to the film’s advantage by lending it a wider metaphorical resonance. We aren’t permitted the complacency of thinking that institutionalised child abuse is a problem confined to the patriarchal Middle East. Kiarostami’s documentary mirror also points at us. The footage was shot in 1987 at the height of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq, and Kiarostami no less than Wiseman characterises state education as a preparatory boot camp. Two or three times, we see the complete student body assembled in the schoolyard, jumping, beating puny chests, shaking tiny fists and chanting: “The warriors are victorious… Saddam’s followers are doomed.” I have attended screenings of Homework where some viewers audibly cooed over these scenes as if determined to find the spectacle of baby militarism adorable. They weren’t being utterly thick in that a feint of innocuous cuteness is one tactic the movie uses to throw the authorities off the scent. Moreover, the esprit de corps demonstrated by the pupils is visibly shaky – hard as the teachers try to preserve a martial discipline, stray tots repeatedly break rank. (At one point, professing outrage at the sloppily performed rites, Kiarostami shuts off the sound.)’ — Peter Matthews


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Close-Up (1990)
Close-up is neither a documentary nor a drama but a provocative, unconventional merging of the two, a meditation on perplexities of justice, social inequity, and personal identity that also subtly interrogates the processes and purposes of cinema. The film met with a mixed, generally unappreciative reaction when it was first shown in Iran in 1990. Abroad, however, it proved singularly successful. Although displayed at second- and third-tier festivals in the West, Close-up made such an impression among critics and cinephiles that it paved the way for Kiarostami’s elevation to Cannes, New York, and other top festivals with his next film, And Life Goes On (1992). Arguably, no film was more dramatic or decisive in heralding the international artistic arrival of postrevolutionary Iranian cinema. At the end of the 1990s, Kiarostami was voted the most important director of the decade by U.S. critics in Film Comment, while dozens of international and Iranian film experts surveyed by the Iranian magazine Film International named Close-up the best Iranian film ever made.’ — The Criterion Collection


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Life, and Nothing More… (1992)
‘Conventionally considered the second of director Abbas Kiarostami’s undesignated ‘Koker trilogy,’ following Where is the Friend’s House? and preceding Through the Oliver Trees, Life,and Nothing More… (1992) positions itself between fact and fiction as it presents a Kiarostami-double “film director” in his search for Babek and Ahmad Ahmadpour, the child actors of Kiarostami’s (and his) feature Where is the Friend’s House?. Though the film’s narrative, implicitly modeled on Kiarostami’s presumed real-life attempt to locate the Ahmadpour’s after the June 1990 Manjil-Rudbar earthquake, unfolds within a week of the tragedy, a greater temporal gap from the time of the earthquake to that of the shooting is belied by the autumnal colors that mimetically reinforce the mass casualties (e.g. the death) afflicting the region. In this way, the film maintains a looser relationship to its stated temporal coordinates, and thus to the reality it is presenting, than is stipulated by the narrative. Enough time has intervened to call into question whether the results of Kiarostami’s search – parallel to the ‘film director’s’ – were as uncertain as they were made to appear. All of this is to say that Life, and Nothing More… is only made to look like a documentary masquerading as a fiction film. In reality, Life, and Nothing More… is a fiction film that looks like a documentary pretending to be a fiction film. Kiarostami’s subsequent Through the Olive Trees usefully clarifies Life, and Nothing More…’s deceptive ontological status: by virtue of the multiple takes of the 1994 film’s reconstruction of the film director-Hossein encounter in Life, and Nothing More…, the spectator is asked retrospectively to identify the earlier film’s identical scene as a construct, with the labor involved in its production – the crew behind the camera, and conceivably, multiple takes – erased from the resulting film. Ultimately, Life, and Nothing More… is fiction to its narratological core, even if the objects of the filmmaker’s quest and their physical environment present a historical reality.’ — Tativille


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Through The Olive Trees (1994)
‘The films of Abbas Kiarostami continue to spur polarized, impassioned debates. In depicting the everyday lives of ordinary people through mundane conversations and unremarkable actions, he attempts to capture the essence of the human experience in a way that is honest and contemplative. But in the process of conveying life in real-time, his films can also test one’s patience. In Through the Olive Trees, the director shuts off the camera, only to find that the lives of his actors are far more fascinating off-camera than the characters that they portray on-camera. To accelerate this revelation, that is, to cull out the personal observations of the director for the sake of brevity, is to deny human experience. To trivialize its message is to comment on our own insignificance. Should the camera only be used as an instrument of entertainment? Is the wonder of life only worth capturing when there is an audience?’ — Senses of Cinema



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Taste of Cherry (1997)
‘Clearly insufficient as significant anecdote or standard drama, the film’s spare narrative has the opaque, insinuating allure of allegory, or veiled confession. That, during filming, Kiarostami himself occupied the off-camera seat in every conversation we see, suggests the filmmaker revisiting his own struggles with inner darkness. Yet if we read the seminarian as “religion” and the taxidermist as “natural philosophy” we glimpse a debate that galvanized Iranian philosophers of the Middle Ages, and, in Kiarostami’s handling, can be parsed as a subtle argument against theocracy. Or, perhaps this is another Kiarostamian film-about-film, with Badii standing for a fading form of auteur cinema whose final act is its own erasure. The interpretations cut in so many directions because the elements are so simple, yet their arrangement is so intricately, seductively suggestive. Why does the film not tell us why Badii wants to kill himself (perhaps because what it really concerns is why he, or anyone, would want to live)? Why does it oddly pose suicide as involving more than one person (which is actually true of life)? Here, seeing begins in asking.’ — Godfrey Cheshire


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The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)
‘Abbas Kiarostami’s 1999 film The Wind Will Carry Us takes its title from a poem by the Iranian artist Forugh Farrokhzad, a controversial figure who preached progressive political and feminist doctrine through a variety of written, verbal, and visual mediums before dying in a car accident in 1967 at age 32. In Kiarostami’s film, the poem is recited in what could be called its centerpiece scene—it’s the only one set indoors—by our unnamed male protagonist as he attempts to seduce a young girl in a dimly lit grotto while she collects milk from the family cow. The encounter isn’t quite as provocative as it might read, and indeed Farrokzhad’s words convey much of the sequence’s visceral and thematic weight. Preoccupied with notions of transience and temporality (“The moon is red and anxious…The clouds await the birth of rain…One second, and then nothing”), the passage is indicative of the film’s larger considerations of death and the incremental accumulation of time, as well the formal and nominal characteristics marking it as a cumulative work for its creator, if not cinema itself at the turn of the millennium.’ — Slant Magazine


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Ten (2002)
‘Abbas Kiarostami, best established of Iranian directors and the mentor of several younger filmmakers, is the master of the talking-and-driving movie. He shared the Palme d’Or at Cannes four years ago for Taste of Cherry, in which the protagonist drives around the outskirts of Teheran trying to persuade a variety of people to bury him after he has committed suicide. In Ten, his wonderfully nuanced new picture, at once simple and technically bold, a middle-class woman (Mania Akbari) makes 10 journeys around the inner city. All around her is urban bustle, seen and heard, but the camera never shifts from a position near the middle of the dashboard. The lens is aimed either at her or her passenger, there are no two-shots and we never see the car from the outside.’ — The Guardian


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Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003)
‘While Five Dedicated to Ozu arrives relatively free of the extra-screen factors that make films such as Empire (would we hear of this static, eight-hour view of the building if it hadn’t been created by Andy Warhol?) — it is still, indelibly, an experience, in addition to a film, for narrative and even experimental pieces alike rarely call one’s attention to the facts, the literal being there, of sitting in one’s seat with the same keenness that watching a piece of driftwood for over several minutes straight calls to mind. Five Dedicated to Ozu presents five shots involving a beach; the first three, which I have seen so far, are of a piece of driftwood that is carried away by the oncoming tide, a boardwalk anonymous people walk by on, and a bright shot of what looks like dogs on the beach itself. It is quintessential of film that we may continue to discover new details in these shots; an equivalent painting* of, say, a black square on a yellow background would involve the same principles of emphasis and balance, but film moves — it changes, the horizon behind the dogs slowly turns from blue to a brilliant white (by which I knew I’d went too far back, to tell the truth.)’ — Unsung Films


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Shirin (2008)
‘The Iranian arthouse master Abbas Kiarostami continues his experiments with subjectivity, cinematic portraiture and fixed camera positions in this intriguing if somewhat exasperating new feature: an installation-type work that might work as well, or better, on a blank wall in an art gallery. We are in a darkened, crowded theatre, and a film is playing: it is the 12th-century legend of Shirin, an Armenian princess who falls tragically in love with a Persian nobleman. But we never see the movie – or rather, we see it only reflected in the eyes of the women watching the film. There are one or two guys in the audience, occasionally to be spotted at the corner of the frame, but this is very much a women’s picture. We hear dialogue, music, the whinnying of horses and the sounds of battle behind us, while Kiarostami’s camera shows us a succession of female faces, entirely in closeup, one after the other: all captivated by the story. The idea is elegant and high-minded, but also, frankly, a bit precious, especially as we have to take on trust the emotional power of this film they’re all watching.’ — The Guardian


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Certified Copy (2010)
‘In discussing the influence of poetry on his work, Kiarostami has often spoken of leaving gaps or elisions in his stories in order to invite or oblige the viewer to consciously participate in the creation of meaning. Certified Copy certainly qualifies as a variation on this technique; ultimately, we must determine what “happens” (or doesn’t) in the film, which means that our intentions regarding the characters (do we want them to be strangers or spouses, flirtatious or alienated?) are at least as important as Kiarostami’s. As for what he intends, both cinematically and personally, some of that may be discerned by pondering the two films that Certified Copy arguably has the most significant relationship to: Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1953) and Kiarostami’s own The Report (1977).’ — Godfrey Cheshire


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No (2011)
‘A little girl with beautiful hair. She loves movies and wants to become an actress. She is being told about the plot of a movie that she is going to play: “a friend is jealous about her hair and cuts it when she is asleep”. The girl rejects playing the role. Then she is then told that she can play the jealous girl but she again rejects the role.’ — IMDb


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Like Someone in Love (2012)
‘I’d like to start with the word like. Twice in Like Someone in Love (2012), we hear Ella Fitzgerald’s 1957 recording of the song of the same title, originally composed for the 1944 film Belle of the Yukon by Jimmy Van Heusen, with lyrics by Johnny Burke. It may seem curious that an Iranian director making a film in Japan with a Japanese cast and crew would give it an English-language title borrowed from a Hollywood soundtrack, especially when he has repeatedly described his own idea of cinema as one in opposition to a Hollywood narrative tradition in which “we want to follow everything or we think the film has failed.” Perhaps we can understand better by looking more closely at the word like. Many of Abbas Kiarostami’s narratives hinge on some form of dissimulation, on acting like. To offer only a few examples: in The Traveler (1974), a boy acts like a photographer, using a camera with no film in it to collect money to buy a ticket to see a soccer game that he will eventually miss because he oversleeps; in Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), a young boy, after failing to return the notebook that a friend left behind, will forge the friend’s homework, an act of generosity that will lead to a moment of grace; in Close-up (1990), a film that is both a real and simulated documentary, an unemployed man is accused of pretending to be a filmmaker to take advantage of a family whom he told he was going to make the subject of a film. Dissimulation in each of these works is about testing the limits of authority, social demands, and expectations.’ — Nico Baumbach


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NYFF Press Conference: Like Someone in Love

 

 

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p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Ah, the McMartin days, hard to forget, yes. And, yes, RIP to Jerry Lewis, a brilliant and complicated artist/guy if there ever was one. And let’s not forget RIP Dick Gregory who blew and improved my mind substantially when I was young. ** Misanthrope, Hey, G. Your complicatedness is only a plus. Hey, I’m no flash-read myself. I think fear of rejection is the emotional equivalent of breathing or something, so yeah. I guess I was, yes, suggesting that HS’s looks drew you to him at the very least. I understand, but I do think removing your thought that he’s attractive from the equation of your non-sexual interest would be a cheat. I would guess his looks are always there working on you even if that aspect of him is subliminal at this point. Well, yeah, it’s been ages since I participated in the escort-client thing, but I’m obviously still fascinated by the set-up. I like things that try to organize things that can’t be organized in general. I can’t explain why you had problems seeing the blog and comments. Everything seemed fine on this end. If it keeps happening, let me know, and I’ll look around in the blog’s bowels and talk to the host if need be. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I don’t think the world outside of social media is the sand, you know? It’s not like there’s a choice of either talking about something on social media or repressing what you think. It’s interesting how people seem to think interacting on social media is being public and active and everything else is being passive and private. Strange. I enjoyed reading your squib about the Cars on FB. Thank you for that. What a hassle about the IFC thing. Isn’t Flash being phased out? Their methodology seems obviously nothing but self-defeating. I personally think the world could use much more writing on the Flesheaters. I knew Chris D a little. The LA scene was smallish and pretty cozy. Interesting guy both re: the music and his writing on/behind the scenes as well. ** Wolf, Howl! So great to see you over here. I’m so glad we got spend a relative bunch of time together. Things since a few days ago have been okay, pretty quiet, but things ‘pick up’ now. And you since then? Oh, wait, you said. Gotcha. Know that one. I saw the Ismaïl Bahri show. I liked it very much, yes. The Van der Elsken show didn’t excite me much and hasn’t stayed with me. The dance piece is … needs a lot of work still. It’s progressing, but it’s having big growing pains right now, which is normal. It’ll be fine. Everything is there. It just needs to be focused and edited a lot. We have a month of rehearsals left, so it should be okay. Love, me. ** MANCY, Hi! Thanks for talking re: the post and for the kind words about the GIF work. Anything you can say about your stuff and you? ** Alistair, Hi, A! I am very much! I’m close to finished with it even! So great! Yes, send the post stuff when you’re ready and I’ll set it up. Oh, god, yeah, the weird feeling … I of course know that extremely well. No way around it. Just remember that every single writer feels the way you do at this point if that helps neutralize it. Love to you from me, and please give Tim a big hug for me to. ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick! I’m really glad you’re happy with how the weekend went! Me too! And I really, really liked your film. Fascinating, really. Is it indicative re: your work in general in terms of its construction, style, etc.? Really liked it! Very exciting, thank you a lot for sharing that. ** Jamie, Ho-ho. My weekend was all right. Dance piece work, getting stuff done and chilling on the last days before Zac gets back today and our work restarts. Great about the Writing Gang! So cool. And, yeah, ‘John Wick’, fun, right? I want to see his new thing ‘Atomic Blonde’. Cheesecake with sliced banana on top? Wow. That makes so much sense and yet I’ve never heard of that combo before. Huh. Delish, I’m sure. Today is my last somewhat free day, and I’ll be catching up with the last of the non-work stuff I should do, or I’ll try. Should be okay. May Monday blast off into outer space with you abroad. The opposite of open heart surgery love, Dennis. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Cool about the post stuff! I’m glad the group meeting wasn’t shitty. I would imagine that even a not so great meeting did a lot of good even if you didn’t see the evidence in bright colors right away. Oh, gosh, fingers extremely crossed about those two possible bookstore jobs! The rehearsals were very useful. The piece, as I said above, is in an awkward stage, and it’s just not working right now. That’s natural. It’s being pushed in a lot of directions at once. But nothing to worry too much about because there’s still a month of rehearsals between now and the early November premiere left to go. Not too much else happened, to be honest. Just trying to do stuff I need to do during my last free-ish days before the film and other work picks back up. How was Monday, my pal? ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Thanks for talking to Nick. And about the ‘Remains’ photos. Yeah, it looked cool, right? I’m hoping there’ll be some video. Dominating your thoughts is as it should be. Everything sounds electric! Enjoy the wedding and Leeds if I don’t speak to you before you take off. ** Rewritedept, Well, hey there, Chris! What’s the haps, buddY? Wow, that’s a sweet GbV gig right there. Um, I don’t have my if/when LA plans/ideas in place yet, and, honestly, I think even if I do get to go there, it won’t be a situation where I’ll have the time to travel to LV. Wish I could. Awesome of you to suggest and offer. Oh, right, the eclipse is today. It’s not happening here so nobody is talking about it at all. I guess to the French it’s probably like the World Series or something, Mushrooms and a lake sounds like a great way to take it in. I saw a full eclipse once when I was living in Amsterdam. It was pretty fucking trippy indeed. Work on PGL starts up again this week. It’ll be done by the end of September. Writing? If you mean fiction/novel, no, none, but plenty of writing for other projects. Awesome to see you! ** Chris dankland, Hi, Chris! Cool stuff about Warnke. I’m very happy to. Yeah, ZJ’s costume was very cool. I wasn’t told that she’d be gotten up like that. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go with a binge watch of ‘Twin Peaks’. Just seems right. Don’t know when exactly. Might have to wait until the end of September, yikes. My morning has started quite smoothly, and I hope yours has too! ** H, Hi. Like I told Rewritredept, I forgot the eclipse was today. I know it’s understandably massive news in the States, but, really, it has barely been mentioned here. Zac gets back from his vacation and travels tonight very happily. What kind of person would suggest Bresson love requires a doctor’s help. He must be psychotic or something. Good riddance. The eclipse at Coney Island sounds kind of really, really nice. ** Okay. A couple of people nudged me to restore the dead Kiarostami post to life, and I am happy to do so. See you tomorrow.

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