Welcome to a dialogue between film and books that inaugurates a partnership between BAMPFA and the Bay Area Book Festival. The ten-film series, running concurrent with the festival and screening in BAMPFA’s new theatre, celebrates how the language of cinema can reflect—or reinvent—the forms and substances of fiction and poetry.
Films based on W. G. Sebald’s “Austerlitz” and Orhan Pamuk’s “Museum of Innocence” accomplish in image and time what the writers do in prose. “The Black Stallion” is a novel that became a visual poem in the hands of Carroll Ballard. When it comes to adaptation, what happens when the author does it—as John Huston asked of Leonard Gardner for “Fat City”? Nelson Algren has been adapted (to death, he might say), but a live reading of his stories, captured on film by renowned writers, breathes life into the author’s down-and-out characters. Author-as-filmmaker proves a brilliant way to explore a writer’s concerns in “Forbidden Christ,” which introduces the Italian writer Curzio Malaparte to American audiences. And four creative documentary approaches cast light on four very different poets: Elizabeth Bishop, Bob Kaufman, Czeslaw Milosz, and Carlos Drummond.
Each program is fittingly introduced by distinguished writers or the filmmakers. This program was curated by Tom Luddy, co-founder and co-director of the Telluride Film Festival, in conjunction with the Bay Area Book Festival, led by founder and executive director Cherilyn Parsons. We are grateful to City Lights Bookstore for their generous assistance. More detailed film credits can be found at BAMPFA’s website.
JUOZAS JAVAITIS (LITHUANIA, 2012)
INTRODUCTION Robert Hass, Mark Danner, and Anthony Milosz
Robert Hass, professor of English at UC Berkeley, collaborated with Milosz on the translation of his poems. Mark Danner, UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Professor in Journalism and English, was a friend of Milosz. Anthony Milosz is the poet’s son.
Epic and intimate as befits its subject—the Lithuanian-born Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel Laureate who spent four decades in Berkeley—this film sweeps us into a lyric childhood that was never far from his thoughts, even as he faced down a chaotic century in his poems and exquisite memoirs. Milosz was born in exile (“When he dreamed, he dreamed of Lithuania”), lived through two world wars and a revolution, and exile again. Through it all he was said to have maintained his faith. After all, he had language, and something like hope: “The poet remembers,” he warned in a 1950 poem. “You can kill one, but another is born.” –Judy Bloch
(185 mins, In Lithuanian, Polish, and English, with English subtitles, Color)
GRANT GEE (UK, 2015)
INTRODUCTION Jonathan Lethem
Jonathan Lethem is the author of nine novels and of the essay collection “The Ecstasy of Influence,” which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
There was a man named Kemal, who obsessively loved a woman, Füsun. Unable to keep her, he collected her in objects: hairbrushes, knickknacks, lipstick-laced cigarette butts . . . Out of this fictional fixation came Orhan Pamuk’s “Museum of Innocence,” opened in 2012; there the visitor relives his 2008 novel of that name through “the magic of ordinary objects.” Ordinary magic is also in Pamuk’s relationship to his natal city, Istanbul, where the self-described flaneur habitually prowls, relishing its secret corners, its disorder, and its melancholy. As the old city comes down for the new, so stories are cut down with it. Hence, city as museum. “A mesmerizing, original meditation on love and the city,” wrote The Guardian. –Judy Bloch
(90 mins, In English and Turkish with English subtitles, Color)
BARBARA HAMMER (US, 2015)
INTRODUCTION Katrina Dodson
Dr. Katrina Dodson wrote her UC Berkeley dissertation on Elizabeth Bishop.
The poet Elizabeth Bishop was never publically out, though for a recluse she got around, in and out of relationships with lovers and houses and landscapes that each for a time seemed to be everything to her, their presence in her life either overt or implied in her poems. Barbara Hammer’s tender and searching film on Bishop penetrates the poet’s “conflicted need both to stay still and to move.” Approaching the subject through an inquiry into Bishop’s homes—in Key West and Brazil, among others—and in carefully selected poems, Hammer opens unexpected closets into Bishop’s personality and history. –Judy Bloch
(79 mins, Color)
PRECEDED BY: STARFISH AORTA COLOSSUS (Lynne Sachs, Sean Hanley, 2015) A poem by Paolo Javier.
(5 mins, Color)
Total running time: 84 mins
JOHN HUSTON (US, 1972) NEW 4K DIGITAL RESTORATION!
IN CONVERSATION Leonard Gardner and David Thomson
Leonard Gardner wrote the novel and the screenplay from which Huston’s film is adapted. Film critic David Thomson is author of “The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies—and What They Have Done to Us,” among many other books.
In 1969 Leonard Gardner wrote one of America’s great novels. It was about small-time boxing in Stockton, California, in the 1950s, a book that is, the novelist Denis Johnson says, “so precisely written and giving such value to its words that I felt I could almost read it with my fingers.” Many writers still feel that way about the book. So we all worried when we heard there was a film coming. But they used Gardner’s script, and shot it in Stockton. It is one of John Huston’s quiet masterpieces—it has a huge, authentic, utterly convincing and compassionate quietness. –Michael Ondaatje
(100 mins, Color)
CARROLL BALLARD (US, 1979) NEW DIGITAL RESTORATION!
IN PERSON Carroll Ballard
RECOMMENDED FOR AGES 7 & UP
When this film was released, adults who grew up with the Walter Farley novel were as thrilled by the filmmaking as kids were mesmerized by a young boy’s bravery in rescuing a majestic wild stallion from a harrowing storm at sea, and by the tenderness with which they tame each other’s fears. “All [the] scenes of the boy and horse on the island are to be treasured,” Roger Ebert wrote, and Pauline Kael said it “may be the greatest children’s movie ever made.” Director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel will have you eating out of their hand. –Judy Bloch
(118 mins, Color, Blu-ray, from Criterion)
OSCAR BUCHER (US, 2016) PREMIERE!
IN PERSON Oscar Bucher, Barry Gifford, Dan Simon, Philip Kaufman
Bucher will be joined by New York–based writer/publisher Dan Simon, local writer and screenwriter Barry Gifford, and director Philip Kaufman.
Nelson Algren was literature’s answer to Edward Hopper for the interior worlds he limned and filled with the lonesome anger and throwaway wit; some cats just swing like that. The Chicago writer was well known in his time, winning the National Book Award for “The Man with the Golden Arm”; an activist, he was tracked by J. Edgar Hoover. If Algren fell out of public favor, some of our best writers insist on his greatness, and in his centennial year, several gathered to present a play from his words. Barry Gifford slips into Algren’s voice like a pair of well-scuffed shoes, while Willem Dafoe beautifully preserves a newly unearthed story by simply reading it. –Judy Bloch
(73 mins, Color)
PRECEDED BY: GOLDSTEIN (EXCERPT) (Phillip Kaufman, US, 1964). Nelson Algren in a clip from Phillip Kaufman’s 1964 film.
(3 mins, B&W)
Total running time: 76 mins
HEDDY HONIGMANN (NETHERLANDS/BRAZIL, 1996)
IN CONVERSATION Katrina Dodson, Idra Novey, Ramona Naddaff
IN PERSON David Peoples, Siciliana Trevino
Katrina Dodson is the translator of “The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector,” winner of the 2016 PEN Translation Prize. Idra Novey’s debut novel, “Ways to Disappear,” is about a translator’s search for a missing Brazilian author. Author and Berkeley professor Ramona Naddaff is cofounder and editor of Zone Books. Filmmaker Siciliana Trevino will be in person with screenwriter David Peoples with their short film.
A charming film in which the impish Honigmann asks an array of Brazilians to recite erotic poetry by Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902–1987), the illustrious polymath and poet from Itabira. In the film, the exquisitely sensuous poems, sparkling with onomatopoeic wordplay and idiosyncratic syntax—and beautifully subtitled here for the non–Portuguese speaking viewer—act as a window onto the fantastic topography of Brazilian sexuality. After the ad hoc recitals, Honigmann asks questions only an outsider could possibly get away with, to incite her mostly elderly subjects to explore their own memories and fantasies of sexual love. –Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Taylor
(76 mins, In Portuguese with English subtitles)
PRECEDED BY: NEW MO CUT: DAVID PEOPLE’S LOST FILM OF MOE’S BOOKS (Siciliana Trevino, 14 mins, Color, Digital file, From the artist)
Total running time: 90 mins
CURZIO MALAPARTE (ITALY, 1951)
INTRODUCTION Walter Murch
Widely regarded as “the film editor’s editor,” Academy Award winner Walter Murch also published “The Bird That Swallowed Its Cage—The Selected Writings of Curzio Malaparte,” featuring his own translations from the Italian.
The only film by Curzio Malaparte—Italian novelist, war correspondent, diplomat, and political prisoner—explores the bitter aftertaste of World War II in a Tuscan village. Returning from a Russian prison camp to a parched land now filled with crosses, Bruno (Raf Vallone) is intent on avenging his brother’s betrayal and death at the hands of the Germans. But the town is closed to him; shutters come down like scabs over a wound. Justice, guilt, innocence—these ideas are best forgotten until the next cataclysm promises freedom. A stunning entry in the neorealist genre, steeped in the pity of the postwar era in which it was made. –Judy Bloch
(99 mins, In Italian with English subtitles)
STAN NEUMANN (FRANCE, 2014) US PREMIERE!
INTRODUCTION Dana Spiotta
Dana Spiotta is the author of “Innocents and Others,” “Stone Arabia,” and other novels.
An adaptation of W. G. Sebald’s last novel and also an insightful essay on it, “Austerlitz” combines narrative forms to explore the novel’s interconnected themes—memory and architecture; vision, blindness, and history—and its many worlds: Brussels, Wales, Paris, Prague, Theresienstadt, and yes, Marienbad. Actor Denis Lavant appears as the eponymous protagonist, an architectural historian unbuilding his life brick by obstinate brick. Sebald peppered his novel with found photographs, inscrutable objects the film calls “worlds stolen, leaving a gap that only words can fill.” Austerlitz approaches cinematography in that way, too—not as description but as inherent mystery, a unique meeting of page and screen. –Judy Bloch
(90 mins, Color, In French with English subtitles)
BILLY WOODBERRY (US/PORTUGAL, 2015)
CO-PRESENTED BY CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE
IN CONVERSATION Justin Desmangles, devorah major, Al Young
Poet and radio producer Justin Desmangles is collaborating on an opera on Kaufman’s life. Poet devorah major’s “and then we became” will be released by City Lights Publishing in November. Al Young is California’s former poet laureate.
Perhaps no American poet has been so reactive to, and beaten by, his times as Bob Kaufman (1925–1986). In North Beach among the Beats he was a street poet in the oral tradition, always on the outside; in Paris, he was the Black American Rimbaud. Even his FBI file credited him a “smooth talker.” Like his hero Charlie Parker, he lived in “that jazz corner of life,” and Billy Woodberry (“Bless Their Little Hearts”) organizes his beautiful, soulful, picture-filled film on Kaufman in clear riffs and natural strains as they emerge from the telling of an uncompromising life of provocation and poetry. –Judy Bloch
(89 mins, Color)
PRECEDED BY: HAVE YOU SOLD YOUR DOZEN ROSES? (Allen Willis, Philip Greene, David Myers, 1957). Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti provided the narration (in the form of a poem created for the film).
(9:30 mins, B&W)