SIN: SELECTED POEMS BY FORUGH FARROKHZAD, translated by Sholeh Wolpé, Forward by Alicia Ostriker, Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2007, 134 pp.
I came upon this book quite by chance yesterday, while browsing through a bookstore. Although I have three earlier collections of Forugh Farrokhzad’s poetry in English (BRIDE OF ACACIAS, translated by Jascha Kessler with Amin Banani, Delmar, NY: Caravan Books, 1982; A REBIRTH, translated by David Martin, Costa Mesa, CA: Mesa Publishers, 1997; and REMEMBERING THE FLIGHT: TWENTY POEMS BY FORUGH FARROKHZAD, translated by Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Port Coquitlam, B.C., Canada: Nik Publishers, 1997), and one book in English about her poetry (A LONELY WOMAN: FORUGH FARROKHZAD AND HER POETRY by Michael C. Hillmann, Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press and Mage Publishers, 1997), all these books have been and remain extremely difficult to come by, and apart from the Hillman (jn an earlier edition), none of these is even mentioned in the “Recommended Reading” at the end of this new volume.
It’s a sad fact that while apparently you can go into any good-sized bookstore in Iran and expect to find translations of the major works of William Faulkner (or so I’ve been told by Iranian friends), finding any translated book by the most important Iranian woman poet of the 20th century (1935-1967) in even a large American bookstore has been virtually impossible up until now. And indeed, before the publication of STRANGE TIMES, MY DEAR: THE PEN ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY IRANIAN LITERATURE (edited by Nahid Mozaffari and Ahmad Karimi Hakkak, New York: Arcade Publishing, 2005)–a collection that doesn’t include any of Farrokhzad’s poetry, because she died over 40 years ago–there has been little else available in Iranian literature apart from books by Rumi and Sadegh Hedayat’s remarkable novella THE BLIND OWL.
As a mythical, iconic, controversial, and transgressive figure in Iranian culture, Farrokhzad (or Forugh, as many Iranians prefer to call her) seems to suggest at one and the same time such figures as Joan of Arc, Bessie Smith, and Marilyn Monroe -– a feminist martyr, both soulful and erotic, reminding one of the potency of poetry in that culture that virtually places it in competition with religion. My own interest in her poetry was largely sparked by her extraordinary short film THE HOUSE IS BLACK and the recitation of the title poem (which is hers) in Abbas Kiarostami’s THE WIND WILL CARRY US, translated in this volume as “The Wind Will Blow Us Away”, and its raw power continues to excite me.
The title poem in this collection is the first one included, and one of the earliest. It begins:
I have sinned a rapturous sin
in a warm enflamed embrace,
sinned in a pair of vindictive arms,
arms violent and ablaze.
I wonder what Hilary Clinton might think of this poem. I also wonder whether, when she stated back in April that “we would be able to totally obliterate” Iran –- a country of almost 66 million people that is even more multicultural than the U.S. (and if you don’t believe me, check out the C.I.A.’s own figures: page down to “ethnic groups” and “languages”, then compare them to the U.S. figures, here) -– she would include Forugh’s poetry in this conflagration. After all, as someone once said, Stuff happens. [5/29/08]
AT THE DEATH HOUSE DOOR (Steve James and Peter Gilbert, 2008, 94 min .)
This remarkable Katemquin documentary is showing at 8 PM tonight on the IFC channel (I saw it last night, at a free public screening), but if you miss it there, you’ll have plenty of other chances to see it–you can even screen it online. It wouldn’t quite do the film justice to say that it’s about capital punishment and miscarriages of justice in Huntsville, Texas, although these topics are certainly part of its fabric. It’s really a character study of Carroll Pickett, a quiet, undemonstrative man who served as the death house chaplain for over 95 executions, including the world’s first lethal injection, and gradually went from believing to disbelieving in capital punishment in the process. You might say that he’s someone who discovered the truth about his activity the hard way, which may also be the best way.
By the same token, as I believe Peter Gilbert pointed out at the screening I attended, this isn’t a “political” film in the usual sense, and it doesn’t preach, even though it’s about a preacher. Steve James and Gilbert put it across with so much power because they know how to tell stories, as their previous films–including James’s HOOP DREAMS, STEVIE, and REEL PARADISE, and Gilbert’s VIETNAM: LONG TIME COMING–amply demonstrate. And Pastor Pickett, who audiotaped his 95 encounters with prisoners about to die, is not the sort of person who spouts rhetoric about what he’s seen and heard, but he has plenty of stories of his own to tell. And I don’t expect to forget what he has to say about them. [5/29/08]
Recommendation: On David Bordwell’s web site, one of my models in setting up this one, there’s a very useful and eye-opening (as well as brain-enhancing) post about frame counts, and how these differ on DVDs (both PAL and NTSC), laserdiscs, VHS copies (considered more cursorily), and 35mm and 16mm prints. I discovered this January 28, 2007 entry belatedly, in a footnote, while checking out David’s latest blog entry, which provides a useful link. [5/26/08]
LES AVENTURES DE HARRY DICKSON: SCÉNARIO DE FRÉDÉRIC DE TOWARNICKI POUR UN FILM (NON RÉALISÉ) PAR ALAIN RESNAIS, edited by Jean-Louis Leutrat (series edited by Emmanuel Burdeau), Nantes: Capricci, 2007, 376 pp.
Only in France, I suspect, could a dream book of this kind ever have been conceived, much less realized–or done with so much exquisite beauty and care. The centerpiece here is the final draft of the screenplay for what likely qualifies as the most cherished of Alain Resnais’ unmade films—based on the fantasy dime-novels that first appeared in Germany in 1907, were translated into French the same year, then translated into Dutch in 1927, and finally continued by Belgian writer by Jean Ray in the 30s, who started out by translating the Dutch series into French. All these books recount the eerie exploits of Harry Dickson, “the American Sherlock Holmes”—born in the U.S. but educated and based in London. Resnais’ adaptation, developed over most of the 1960s and prefigured to run about three hours, was to star Laurence Olivier in the title role and Delphine Seyrig as super-villainess Georgette Cuvelier, alias The Spider, with whom Dickson sustains a long-standing love-hate relationship. (She’s the daughter of Professor Flax, a mad scientist who served as the supervillain in some earlier episodes.)
In short, one might say that LES AVENTURES DE HARRY DICKSON would have been Resnais’ own special variant of a Louis Feuillade serial, but clearly no simple pastiche: it was to be shot in color, but a form of color that would gradually evolve into some sort of monochrome (reportedly either black or blue) to match the development from reality to fantasy while the narrative style would gravitate towards opera: the lyrics to no less than 30 songs designed for inclusion were written and are included in this book. Other extras: a lengthy interview with the screenwriter, Frédéric de Towarnicki (a friend and fellow Jean Ray buff whom Resnais met in Nice in 1941); a reproduction of 16 photographs taken by Alain Resnais and drawn from his 1974 book REPÉRAGES (a collection of the 77 location-scouting photographs he took for the film between 1956 and 1971, which I’ve treasured ever since it came out); and a selection of eight full-color covers of the original novels, similar to those reproduced here–plus a list of the 170 previous adventures reproduced from one of them. [5/26/08]
LITERATURE AND CINEMATOGRAPHY by Viktor Shklovsky (Champaign and London: Dalkey Archive Press), 2008, 74 pp. Translated by Irina Masinovsky; Introduction by Richard Sheldon.
What’s unexpected about this early theoretical foray by the father of Russian Formalism (1893-1984), first published in 1923 and now appearing in English for the first time, is that it conveys pretty much the same emotion underlying “Moviegoer,” an essay by William Styron first published (in French, in the newspaper Le Figaro) in 1983 and now recently making its first appearance in English in Styron’s HAVANAS IN CAMELOT (see below): the anxiety of a literary writer feeling threatened by movies. (The same anxiety, incidentally, crops up periodically in other essays by Styron in the same book: in “`I’ll Have To Ask Indianapolis–’”, for instance, Styron records his consternation at receiving a dissertation in the mail entitled “SOPHIE’S CHOICE: a Jungian Perspective”–a study containing the following explanatory footnote: “Where the movie was vague I referred to the book, SOPHIE’S CHOICE, for clarification.”)
Shklovsky: “If it is impossible to express a novel in words other than those in which it has been written, if it is impossible to change the sounds of a poem without changing its essence, then it is even more impossible to replace words with a grey-and-black shadow flashing on the screen.” Styron: “While a fine movie has changed my perception for days, a great novel has altered my way of thinking for life.” [What about a great movie and a fine novel?]
In the snobbish world of film theory, Shklovsky is commonly regarded as hip while Styron would be regarded as square, but the difference between their perceptions 60 years apart only starts to become important once semantics and semiology enter the picture. Shklovsky: “A film does not move; it only appears to move. Pure motion, as such, will never be reproduced in cinematography. Cinematography can only deal with the motion-sign, the semantic motion. It is not just any motion, but motion-action that constitutes the sphere of a motion picture.” [5/25/08]