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After yesterday I wanted something I knew I would like.

This is the least of the Jarman I've read so far, since a lot of it is collected interviews, which means that some of the material repeats itself and some of the interviewers ask really stupid questions. (e.g.: Interviewer: You were telling me why you don't regret no longer being promiscuous-- Jarman: No, you were telling me why I shouldn't regret no longer being promiscuous.)

Also, more than his diaries this is a set of meditations on the films he was making at the time of writing, as opposed to about his personal life, and I have not yet seen the films of this period, post-Caravaggio and pre-Edward II. The principal one of these films is The Last of England, and it is clear that a) Jarman considered it his masterpiece and b) it tongue-tied him, he couldn't talk about it, he said what he had to say in it and when trying to explain it he goes into sentence fragments and heaps of broken images and bricolage of Ezra Pound and William Blake in a blender. It's very entertaining and ludicrously erudite but I have no idea what he means. Maybe after seeing it those chunks of book will make more sense, but I am not betting on that.

But around the edges there are some lovely things, descriptions of things he likes and doesn't about other directors, of a trip to Moscow and south to the Caspian Sea, of the experience of the couple of times he acted in films instead of directing them (both times playing real people, a painter he knew and a director he admires: I may have to hunt down the film in which he plays Pier Paolo Pasolini, being buried in a muddy desert at four in the morning).

So. Not a book for people unfamiliar with Jarman as a director, or possibly even as a writer. But I liked it. It has all his facets, rage and irony and humor and endless benevolence and brilliance.
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Apparently it is World Book Day. There's been a meme going round in honor of that; here it is.

The book I am currently reading: today's will be below.
The books I am currently writing: this currently untitled collection of book reviews; the book on shoujo and josei anime and manga with Thrud and the household, tentatively titled Shoujo Revolution; Altarwise by Owl-Light, the three-quarters-done novel which is kind of what you get if you put some Dylan Thomas poems and Machiavelli's play Mandragora in a blender with bits of Final Fantasy VII, except not.
The book I love most: there is no most. There are too many. And anyway it would only change.
The last book I received as a gift: the pocket edition of Sir Thomas Browne's Hydriotaphia.
The last book I gave as a gift: Joanna Russ's To Write Like A Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction.
The nearest book on my desk: I have no desk. The hearthrow-shelf books are tied as to what's closest to me-- I think the principal contenders are The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt, John Banville's The Infinities, C.J. Cherryh's Rimrunners, and John Bellairs' The Curse of the Blue Figurine.

Nightwatching is one of Peter Greenaway's films; this is the published script. Unusually for a film script, it has no images except that of the painting it's centered around, a painting probably Rembrandt's most famous and certainly one of his most confusing.

Greenaway in recent years has developed something of an obsession with artists, history, and conspiracy. One of the books I read very early for this project was his Rosa, which is one of ten opera libretti he wrote in the nineties about the deaths of composers. The composers were fictional, but he seems to have moved on to real paintings and painters, as for the last few years he's been doing a video installation series called Nine Classical Paintings Revisited, of which this is the first.

The best way I can describe this is that it's a film that attempts to make a context by which one can read the painting as a murder mystery. It's a depiction of the time in Rembrandt's life surrounding the act of painting the picture, a turbulent and grief-ridden time including the death of his wife, and it builds a portrait of the members of the Amsterdam militia as a set of profiteers and swindlers who set up a killing for money and then can't make Rembrandt stop painting about it (because, by that point, what does he care). Greenaway says in the preface that he's stuck to verifiable facts wherever possible but that the shaping of them is his own, that this is meant to be a conspiracy theory as with those about the Kennedy assassination and at the same time a plausible overturning of an artwork, as with the anti-monarchical theories around Velasquez's Las Meninas.

Being a film script intended as an actual shooting guide, it doesn't have much in the way of character interpretation: one sees these people from the outside. But it's got a lot of set-dressing and a lot of color, physical description, and this serves well, especially because all the paintings that are meant to be referenced in the film shots are tagged for you, which would not happen watching the actual cinema. I want to see it. I don't believe a word of it, but it's a good movie to read, and it catches something about seventeenth-century Holland, a time which could contrast an incredible roistering bawdiness with the gentle delicacy of Vermeer's light.

And it's a clever story, a well-balanced story, with a man at the heart of it who's sympathetic despite himself because of a believably clutching grief. I'd like to see this film. Unlike Rosa, which was intended to be in the medium it presents itself in, this is the translation of one art into another art (into a third, if you take the painting as the original), and therefore, while moving, probably better seen than read. See it, I'd say, and then use the script to footnote. I suspect I've got it the wrong way around, though I don't think it should hurt the movie, when I get there.
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In Boston, fairly recently, in a basement, [personal profile] sovay and I watched Derek Jarman's Caravaggio, and then wide-eyed and astonished went as quickly as possible to find his Edward II, two films which juggle anachronisms with a bitter beautiful wit, indelible from first to last instant. I'd thought Sally Potter had found Tilda Swinton for Orlando, but I was wrong: it was Jarman. In Caravaggio she doesn't look out of her teens, so skinny and sharp and vulpine I thought she was playing a boy, and then all of a sudden from under her headscarf that glorious copper hair, as violent as her grin. In Edward II she tears a man's throat out with her teeth. Amazingly enough, I am not even sure she is the best thing about these movies; there are so many things to choose from.

So [personal profile] sovay got me this book for Christmas.

Jarman's death is the shadow over this book, far too early, AIDS. In the paragraph he gives here of introduction (my copy is from this book's second edition) he says that after diagnosis his goal was to outlast Thatcher's term of office, which he managed. "Now I have my sights on the millennium," he says, "and a world where we are all equal before the law." He got to 1994. This made bits of the book almost too painful to be readable.

But he's the best writer I've seen on film since Louise Brooks, if not a better, mordant, delighted, never quite having the opinion you'd expect (hates Peter Greenaway, hates Julian Schnabel, the directors I find most like him, though to be fair he only knew Schnabel as a painter-- worships at the feet of Pier Paolo Pasolini, which simply flat-out confuses me). He's erudite and vicious, documenting economically one of those odd lives in which somehow no one he knows ever has any money but they all have priceless antiques in their unheated apartments, continuously either scrabbling with arts boards for inadequate financing or finding themselves on tour with Alice Cooper, no apparent intermediary steps. He appears to have had more than half of what I know as twentieth-century pop culture tromp through his living room at one point or another, sometimes entirely by accident, as when offering a young woman a seat on a train led, in a way that seemed sensible at the time, to his designing two films for Ken Russell. About half the half of pop culture fell through his bedroom, too, I think. There's a bit where he picks a guy up in a bar and is telling him about the film-in-progress, Caravaggio, and the guy says if it's about Italian murder, where is all the Gesualdo on the soundtrack? and all I have to say about this is, some people have better luck than others at bar pickups, seriously.

There are two still photos in this book that taken sequentially illustrate almost everything I find interesting about cinema. The first is a still from Sebastiane, Jarman's first feature, an epic about the life of Saint Sebastian filmed in Latin with a lot of nudity. The picture is Sebastian, on his post, with the arrows, after being shot and before dying. He's naked and bleeding and bloody-but-unbowed, and resembles greatly many, many pieces of religious art and also the artsier type of fetish magazine, though it is genuinely a fairly classy picture. Then in the second still, the camera's swiveled ninety degrees, so we can see the camera which is taking the first shot, and everyone in profile. In this one, Sebastian is, quite firmly, a naked guy tied to a post, and he has been tied to this post for a bit of a while now, thank you, and it is hot out and the arrows look uncomfortable and you can see that his back does not appreciate having been tied to a post for a long time and that he wants to get this over with. And they're the same shot, taken at the same moment; it's all in how you look at it. Because that's what movies, and actors, can do.

Derek Jarman supervised both photos, of course. Knowing them both to be important is part of what made him such a great director. This book (which is, I should mention, funny on top of everything else) is a treasure, because he never settles for a simple look at anything, and has the command of his own voice to go with it. Apparently he started as a painter, then a theatre designer, drifting into cinema accidentally and winding up somehow also a published poet. I only regret he never gave us a novel.
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I cried when I heard Satoshi Kon had died, earlier this year. His work has always helped remind me of the sheer scope of possibility that animation has as a medium, the way that every visual element can be planned in a manner impossible for live-action, the way the laws of physics and gravity are totally irrelevant. Satoshi Kon, Masaaki Yuasa's Mind Game, Shoji Kawamori's Spring and Chaos: there are points when I would have stopped watching anime entirely if not for the beautiful, disciplined yet surrealist grandeur of work like that.

Osmond's book is from 2009, meaning that it covers all of the things Kon finished before he died. (The unfinished Dream Machine is still in progress.) I honestly had not been expecting much-- it's a thin book, a large percentage of which is taken up by synopses, from an author I had not heard of-- but this is very good and I'm glad to have it; it achieves a nice synthesis between going into detailed analysis of each film and concentrating on the arc of Kon's career as a whole. There's a nice range of quotations acquired from Kon in direct conversation and quotes gathered from magazine and other interviews, and the background details for each film include not only the standard discussion of voice actors and character designers but mention of the film pedigree of animators and studio personnel and the careers of the writers whose novels Kon adapted. In addition, I was interested by the section on Kon pre-Perfect Blue, because I'd known he must have done something but hadn't tracked down what-- his several not-terribly-successful manga sound like interesting failures.

I would not suggest reading any given segment of this book before seeing the work it covers, because the synopses are incredibly detailed and the analysis assumes familiarity with the material. Mind you, the synopses are also sufficiently confusing at times that I'm not sure they'd be terribly illuminating to someone trying to get an idea of a film from them, but I really ascribe only minor blame to Osmond about this, because trying to adequately summarize Perfect Blue is pretty high on my lifelist of things I don't want to have to do as a writer. I don't think that reprinting the complete script would make that synopsis any less confusing. (I was interested to note that you can adequately summarize Millennium Actress, which I wouldn't have bet on.)

Also, if you're looking for an actual biography (and I for one would find that interesting) this isn't one, although it does have some biographical details where relevant.

In general, though, I'm happy with this book, which told me things about every one of the films I didn't know, and boggled me with the revelation that they didn't plan the ending of Paranoia Agent in advance, despite it being an ending that follows perfectly logically from what appears to be foreshadowing throughout the entire series. Apparently they looked over the series-in-progress, picked out some things to take as foreshadowing, and went from there. If you want to spend some time thinking about Satoshi Kon-- and you do, he's one of those directors I recommend heartily to people who hate anime-- this is a book you would enjoy.
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A present from [personal profile] sovay. This contains the final-draft shooting script for the 1985 movie My Beautiful Laundrette, written by Kureishi and directed by Stephen Frears; note that I did not say it contains the actual script of My Beautiful Laundrette, as it was one of those films where the writer dashed frantically around the set scribbling new dialogue "before," as he says, "the cast could make it up themselves". At any rate, it's an interesting script, though I would want to have the book open and the film playing in front of me before actually comparing the two too thoroughly, as otherwise I would be bound to misquote something somewhere. The film this script would have produced is I think a good one, a resolutely non-commercial look at the tangles of class and race and money and identity among a large family mostly from Pakistan and mostly living in an English city; it's also (the reason I first heard of it) one of the first movies I can think of containing a gay romance that does not also contain massively depressing amounts of internalized homophobia leading to externalized ranting, suicide, etc. on the part of the people involved. (This couple's depressing circumstances tend to center around one of them being Pakistani and the other ex-National Front, which is a giant social problem for them in all conceivable directions, including internally.) In these elements I consider the script to match the actual film. Closer comparison I will not attempt.

The book also has several of Kureishi's essays. )


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