So recently we took a look at Colette, the forthcoming biopic of the French writer. It reminded me that there were other filmic things to discuss, and… how about we just begin and see where we end up?
I finally got my hands on The Surrender of Silence, the memoirs of Woolloomooloo’s own Ironfoot Jack previewed earlier in the year. So far it’s hilarious, its writer/subject being an all but unimprovable example of the chancer. It’s a tale of carnies, bohemians and vagrants told in drunken bar talk, encoded Polari, and the dynamic! copy! of back-of-the-mag advertising. Jack Neave has the odd distinction of being the first person to run a gay nightspot in Soho, now London’s pink heart – that would be the Caravan Club, which opened in 1934 and numbered Quentin Crisp among its patrons as QC himself relates in The Last Word. And if you’re in London you can find out more next month at an event dedicated to London Bohemia in which Colin Stanley, editor of The Surrender of Silence, will talk about Jack’s exploits. AND the ferrous footed one turns up as a character in Pablo Behrens’s forthcoming adaptation of the Colin Wilson novel Adrift in Soho, due in November. You can find out more here, and find out how they managed to create the atmosphere of post-war Soho on screen.
Early in the summer I caught Looking for Oum Kulthum, a film by Shirin Neshat (who also made Women Without Men) which is only parenthetically about the hyper-famous Egyptian singer, a work which in fact is a tacit admission that its purported subject cannot be contained by something as finite as a feature film. It’s an intriguing, odd, slightly airless film, more sumptuous and visually enveloping than I was expecting, with some beautifully framed and costumed shots of performances in old theatres and, needless to say, some exceptional music. The framing device is that an Iranian filmmaker, very much a stand-in for Neshat herself, has come to Egypt to film the life of the great singer, only to find unexpected intersections with her own path. Effective dreamlike sequences highlight the perilous endeavour of hunting ghosts, but even the more straightforward scenes have a slightly disjointed quality, with most of the dialogue in English – at best a second language for most of the actors.
It is always a pleasure to see people I’ve written about here make it to film. The eminently screen-worthy life of occultist rocket scientist Jack Parsons was recently turned into a TV series, Strange Angel. And I am very much looking forward to Gossamer Bridge, a documentary about beautiful, damned Harry Crosby. I know Harry’s life is in the hands of people who truly love his work and understand his persona, so this is not to be missed. The programme for the Strange Flowers film festival I carry around in my head is really coming together.
A tale that is not yet a feature film but definitely should be is told in Rupert Thomson’s Never Anyone But You. It is the hugely affecting account of the lives and love of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, told through the eyes of the latter. It follows them from tentative first love, the happy shock of their becoming step sisters, their contact with the Parisian avant-garde and finally their interrupted paradise on the island of Jersey, where they showed awe-inspiring bravery in the face of Nazi invaders. There is an occasional, forgivable awkwardness to the exposition (“what a lovely between-the-wars afternoon we’re having oh look there’s prominent Surrealist André Breton”; I exaggerate, but you get the idea). But the bond between the two – strained, unconventional yet ultimately tenacious – is powerfully depicted. Though its protagonists were intensely private, the story of their relationship is one of epic, indeed cinematic scope.
Oh, and if you want to know what I’ve been up to lately: my next translation for Rixdorf Editions is coming out in November – We Women Have no Fatherland by Ilse Frapan. And recently I got the opportunity to talk to Phillip Adams on Radio National in Australia about the whole endeavour – you can take a listen here.