Abbas Kiarostami’s Early Films

Last weekend, at MoMA, I caught about a dozen early—and rare—films by Abbas Kiarostami. I saw these films with Zach Campbell, who has a wonderful, insightful post about them. A few words about the films, in chronological order:

Bread and Alley (1970, 10 mins). Kiarostami’s first film. A boy is walking home in an alley and finds his way blocked by a barking dog. After some fretting, he throws the dog a piece of bread. The way now clear, he gingerly heads home, followed loyally by the dog. After he disappears inside his house, a new boy darts into the alley. The frame freezes.

Remember that great moment in Close-Up (1990), when a man kicks an aerosol can and Kiarostami abandons the story and characters for a minute to simply follow that clattering can down the street? The very first shot of Bread and Alley is strikingly similar: the boy kicks a box down the street for a good while, accompanied by some Paul Desmond-esque Latin jazz alto sax player on the soundtrack. Music is used inventively here: it only plays when the boy is in action; the soundtrack is silent when he is pondering, decision-making. When the new character appeared at the end, Chabrol’s Les Bonnes Femmes popped into my head, probably because it has a similar ending. A modest film but emblematic, containing ideas and tropes which will recur later.

* * *

Recess a.k.a Breaktime (1972, 14 mins). A boy is punished at school for breaking a window. At recess time, he leaves the school with his soccer ball, and wanders through alleys, finally ending up running by the side of the highway as cars roar by. A quietly daring and disconcerting film, ostensibly small but hinting at several possible (and possibly grave) ‘outer’ stories.

AK: “You may not believe it but my ideal film is my second film, Breaktime. This film is way ahead of Taste of Cherry in terms of form, audacity, avoidance of story-telling, and indeterminate ending. But the reaction of the critics at the time was so incisive and bitter that it hurled me toward recounting a story and making my next film, The Experience, which was a love melodrama.”

* * *

The Experience (1973, 60 mins). Not at all a melodrama, as AK too modestly suggests above, but a coming-of-age story about a poor errand-boy (orphan?) who works in a photographer’s office, and is smitten from afar by a well-off girl who waits for a schoolbus. He borrows a suit without asking (like in the later film The Wedding Suit) so he can walk past her house and impress her. He tries to get a job working in her home. An adaptation of a story by AK’s friend and influence, the early Iranian New Wave filmmaker Amir Naderi (The Runner).

This was one of my favorite films in the series, open-ended and elliptical. Virtually all our time in this hour-long film is spent with the boy, who is lonely and quite friend-less. For the first time, we notice in Kiarostami the superb use of ambient sound. Although it’s virtually without dialogue, this is not a quiet film. There are long uneventful passages on the streets of Teheran, accompanied by precise, vivid sounds. (The sound was dubbed, not live; AK’s next film, The Traveller, was the first in Iran to be shot with live sound.)

* * *

Two Solutions for One Problem (1975, 5 mins). [Clip above]. Jonathan Rosenbaum nails it: “[…] like a deadpan, Bressonian staging of one of Laurel and Hardy’s epic grudge matches.”

* * *

The Wedding Suit (1976, 54 mins). I was a bit exhausted for this one, and can’t really trust my impressions. The relative abundance of dialogue plus the suspenseful denouement—complete with Griffithian cross-cutting—threw me for a little loop. I’m sure it’s a good film, and I’d like to see it again sometime, but I think I preferred the open-ended storytelling approach of The Experience. A theme that has emerged strongly in AK by now: children living in their own world, apart from casually indifferent adults….

* * *

Solution No. 1 (1978, 11 mins). A man follows a wheel as it rolls (and rolls) down a mountainous road. Once again, like Bread and Alley and Close Up: a person following a moving object down the road! In an entirely different context—the directing of actors in Taste of Cherry—AK quoted this verse from the poet Rumi in an interview:

“You are my polo ball/Running before the stick of my command/I am always running along after you/Though it is I who make you move.”

* * *

Toothache (1979, 23 mins). A didactic documentary about the virtues of children brushing their teeth. Much of this film consists of a dentist droning monotonously to the camera about the proper care of teeth but while he’s doing this, the ambient sound is a killer: a child moaning and groaning with pain in the dentist’s chair!

There are a couple of other great touches, like an animated sequence of green, mean, saber-toothed cootie monsters hacking away with pick-axes inside the human mouth. (I was reminded of being similarly startled, out of the blue, by the cellphone-text animations in Jia Zhangke’s The World.) Also, a great shot of a blank classroom wall as a teacher takes attendance; as each name is called, a student’s head pops into the frame from below, acknowledges the roll call, and drops down below like a puppet’s head. One of numerous examples of the use of repetition in AK…

* * *

Orderly or Disorderly? (1981, 16 mins). Tries to demonstrate, didactically, the contrast of order and disorder by staging scenarios in pairs: e.g. boarding a schoolbus in single file versus all children rushing the bus at the same time. What is hilarious is that the filmmaker tries to control reality in order to film it but of course, reality refuses to co-operate: the demonstration breaks down when traffic at an intersection declines to ‘behave’ properly and provide a suitable example of ‘order’ for filming.

AK’s first self-reflexive film that specifically references filmmaking. Sharp and funny, definitely a highlight of his early work. The high-angle shots of candy-colored cars automatically evoke Jacques Tati’s Playtime. Apparently, the question mark of the title is frequently omitted (by mistake) when the film is cited or screened.

* * *

The Chorus (1982, 17 mins). An old man takes off his hearing aid to shut out the noises of the world and doesn’t hear his grand-daughters calling to him repeatedly at his door. A gorgeous film, with glowing colors and static camera compositions to show them off all the better. The use of color, light and subjective sound make it a film wonderfully aware of cinema and its means.

AK: “I regard sound as being very important, more essential than pictures. A two-dimensional flat image is all you can achieve with your camera, whatever you may do. It’s the sound that gives depth as the third dimension to that image. Sound, in fact, makes up for this shortcoming of pictures. Compare architecture and painting. The former deals with space while all you have in painting is surface.”

* * *

Fellow Citizen (1983, 52 mins). A fascinating and productively maddening film! A camera records one car after another coming to a stop at a traffic intersection, and the drivers pleading their case about why they need to get through. The traffic cop listens to each appeal, and decides yes or no. We see this happen a couple of hundred (?) times. End of film. Apparently, AK boiled 18 hours of footage down to 1.

Like Warhol’s Screen Tests or The Chelsea Girls, the film sets up a structure (car enters frame, driver appeals to cop, they argue, cop makes a decision) and then generates multiple instances from that structure. Like Warhol, the film makes you think about boredom and how we respond to it. Personally, I chafed against the film for a good twenty minutes, then broke down and started paying close attention (because: what else to do?) to the occupants, the way they were dressed, how they spoke and gestured, their body language, etc. The relentless repetition mesmerized (stupefied?) me and once ‘in the zone’ I could have continued watching it for a good while longer (I think). I’m not sure I’d want to see such films all the time but some occasional (and temporary) perceptual rewiring isn’t such a bad thing….

N.B.: Above, the filmographical and biographical detail, and the interview excerpts, have been drawn from two sources: Abbas Kiarostami by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum; and The Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami by Alberto Elena.

* * *

The Iranian New Wave broke in the West mainly in the 1990’s. We are familiar with quite a bit of Iranian cinema since then: AK, the Makhmalbafs, Jafar Panahi, Abolfazl Jalili, Bahman Ghobadi, etc. But I’m wondering if we can collect here some examples/recommendations of earlier Iranian film and filmmakers (i.e. pre-1990’s). I’ve seen a little Darius Mehrjui, and that’s probably it. So, any suggestions would be helpful and welcome….

pic: Toothache (1979).

Comments (47):

  1. Anonymous

    March 19, 2007 at 4:37 am

    Such a great short…and not so obvious as the work of a director firmly entrenched in “contemplative cinema.”

  2. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

    March 19, 2007 at 8:22 am

    The only film by the poet Forugh Farrokhzad is wonderful–it’s a short film shot in a leper colony, The House is Black, and it predates the Iranian New Wave by a bit (being from 1963). Facets put it out on DVD with another short Iranian film.
    Around the same time, her lover (and the producer of The House is Black), Ebrahim Golestan made a few features. Brick and Mirror (can’t remember the year, but must be early-to-mid 1960s) is a notable one, but after moving to England in the 1970s, he stopped making movied. Like Farrokhzad, he was a writer, too–really more of a public intellectual, a cultural figure. Incidentally, a film he made in 1961, called A Fire, was the first Iranian film to win an international award (at Venice).
    His films don’t match Farrokhzad’s single short, but they’re nonetheless important as stepping stones in the development of cinema as an aspect of Iranian culture, even though it was a radically different culture when he was making movies.

  3. girish

    March 19, 2007 at 10:43 am

    Thank you, Barry and Ignatius!

    Ignatius, I forgot all about The House is Black, which I have here at home but haven’t seen yet. And I had never heard of Golestan. Thank you for the tip, and for taking the time to set down the context for us.

    btw, I enjoyed your recent posts on Resnais, La Ronde and Kenneth Macpherson’s Borderline (1929), which I didn’t know about.

  4. acquarello

    March 19, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    They recently had a Bahman Farmanara retrospective at FSLC which I wasn’t able to attend, but just from Prince Ehtejab and Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine, I really like Farmanara’s allusive, subtle touches of sad humor and “magical realism” (for lack of a better term).

  5. Daniel Kasman

    March 19, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    A wonderful write-up Girish. I found FELLOW CITIZEN maddening as well, but it fell into context after I saw FIRST GRADERS, which similarly is a very formally restrictive study of the way people tell stories, explain themselves, and act when confronted by authority. Of course, the fact that in that film all the interviewees are children makes it much, much easier to watch.

  6. girish

    March 19, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Hey, Acquarello and Daniel–Thanks!

    Acquarello, the only thing I’ve seen by Farmanara is Smell of Camphor, at TIFF in 2000. For some reason, they haven’t shown any others by him since, which is too bad.

    Last year at TIFF, Darren and I caught an interesting French documentary about Iranian cinema called Iran: Une Revolution Cinematographique. Makhmalbaf was the most interesting and insightful of the many talking heads, but there were also lots of surprising and jaw-dropping clips from earlier Iranian cinema (e.g. some sexually frank films from the pre-revolutionary era). I’m kicking myself for not jotting down the names of films and filmmakers in those clips; I remember many of the images but almost none of the names.

    Daniel, it was a huge disappointment to not be able to see First Graders or Homework. I don’t know how you New Yorkers do it: I bet you have to make difficult choices on a daily basis of what not to see…although it’s a pretty enviable dilemma to be saddled with!

  7. girish

    March 19, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    And Daniel, I also enjoyed your account of the Kiarostami films!

  8. Brian Darr

    March 19, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Thanks for the plug, girish!

    If watching youtube counts as seeing a film, I think this counts as the fifth pre-1990’s Iranian film I’ve ever seen. The others are the House is Black, Mehrjui’s the Cow, and two of Makhmalbaf’s 1980s films: Boycott and the Cyclist. The latter is my favorite of his films so far.

    I can’t resist saying something utterly simplistic to the point of nonsensical, but somehow I feel on a gut level true: George W. Bush needs to see Two Solutions For One Problem. Anyone have his e-mail address and wanna forward the link?

  9. Tuwa

    March 20, 2007 at 3:33 am

    Ah, Brian, you made me smile. I’m a bit less certain Bush would care about the film and be willing think about its implications. It’s a charming thought, though.

    Girish, I’ve only seen a handful of Iranian films–I think all by Kiarostami. I enjoyed them but I wish I could see more.

  10. Noel Vera

    March 20, 2007 at 7:00 am

    The Cyclist is my favorite Makhmalbaf as well.

    Talked to actor Dariush Arjmand once, and his favorite film is Behrma Behzai’s Bashu, the Little Stranger. Neorealist drama, beautifully done, with little or none of the kind of self-reflexive or surrealist games Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf, or Darish Mehrjui often play. But it’s a lovely film.

  11. girish

    March 20, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Thank you, Brian, Tuwa & Noel!

    Of Makhmalbaf’s pre-1990’s films, I’ve seen only The Cyclist. I think my favorite of all his films might just be A Moment of Innocence. Not sure why he hasn’t made a film since Kandahar (2001) (maybe he has and TIFF has not shown them), although perhaps he’s been spending time working with his wife and daughters as they make films. And I’ve heard of Behzai but have seen nothing by him.

    Let me make a mention here of Abolfazl Jalili whose Delbaran (2001) I saw at the Montreal film festival. A strong, formally inventive and confident film. It is on one level a humanist film that uses children but is very different from AK’s films: a bit harsh in tone, structurally fragmented, with a cerebral edge. One of the “lost” films of this decade, I think…

    Brian, best wishes with the blog-a-thon!

  12. girish

    March 20, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Dave Kehr:

    “Lots to chew over in the Sunday New York Times double feature from A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis on the digital-download future of movies. I have to agree with Manohla’s apostate position that seeing movies on any medium is better than not seeing them at all; I grew up watching films on black-and-white television and 8mm (here’s a toast to Blackhawk Films!) and I’ll always be grateful for the wide range of exposure those two flawed formats gave me to movies that have since virtually disappeared. An iPod can’t be much worse than the 8mm editing machine that gave me my first look at “Intolerance.” Seeing it little just made me want all the more to see it big.

    “On the other hand, Tony Scott’s optimism struck me as, well, a little optimistic: “It is now possible to imagine — to expect — that before too long the entire surviving history of movies will be open for browsing and sampling at the click of a mouse for a few PayPal dollars.” That’s reckoning without the cost of preparing a film for digital distribution — the same mistake made by the author of the recent vogue book “The Long Tail” — which, depending on how much restoration is necessary, can run up to $50,000 a title. None of the studios is likely to pay that much money to put anything other than the most popular titles in their libraries on line. When Tony says, “there are still hundreds more titles awaiting transfer to digital media,” he understates the case exponentially. There are thousands of films out there that now only exist in archives, effectively abandoned by the studios that own them (hello, Universal), and thousands more that have fallen into the public domain, which means that it is in no one’s financial interest to preserve and distribute them. Who is going to pay to put the Eastman House collection on line, much less the vast holdings of the Library of Congress? I just can’t see this happening any time soon.”

  13. Tuwa

    March 21, 2007 at 2:10 am

    “Who is going to pay to put the Eastman House collection on line, much less the vast holdings of the Library of Congress? I just can’t see this happening any time soon.”

    Interested people with the time, equipment, and passion, I’d imagine: the same people who put so much on Napster even though it didn’t benefit them financially. I really don’t think that economic benefit is the root cause that most people share things; more often it seems a bit of harmless evangelism: “this is really cool, give it a shot.” Or maybe now I’m being too optimistic. ^_^

  14. Tuwa

    March 21, 2007 at 2:11 am

    Of course in most cases it would require those companies opening their archives to the public–really what they should do is arrange something with, say, It would be a tremendous benefit to the public and also good PR. I think.

  15. weepingsam

    March 21, 2007 at 2:16 am

    Not sure why he hasn’t made a film since Kandahar (2001) (maybe he has and TIFF has not shown them), although perhaps he’s been spending time working with his wife and daughters as they make films.

    He’s made a couple – Sex and Philosophy and Scream of the Ants, plus a couple shorts (per the IMDB). I’ve seen Scream of the Ants – very strange philosophical travelogue about an Iranian man and woman in India, looking for answers. Kind of a grab bag – philosophy and religion, politics, sex, art, all mixed up together, with a kind of pervasive duality – realist vs. surrealist, secular vs. religious, political vs. humanist, skeptical vs. mystical – running through it all. And nudity – full frontal male, almost full frontal female – which for an Iranian filmmaker must be extraordinarily radical. Contains, as one would expect, a few moments of utter magnificence, and, strange and awkward as it is, is quite compelling.

  16. Anonymous

    March 21, 2007 at 4:20 am

    Interested people with the time, equipment, and passion, I’d imagine: the same people who put so much on Napster even though it didn’t benefit them financially.

    I think Kehr’s point was that transferring any film from print to digital is so expensive as to render that time and passion moot.

    A vital requirement for developing tools for film restoration is to have actual digital film scans at cinema-grade 2k horizontal resolution. Such scans, even of public domain movies from before 1923, have not been available anywhere. Producing such scans uses a special $1M film scanner with a typical charge of $1/frame.

    2K is a lofty goal so let’s say 1K at 50 cents a frame: a 90 minute feature film has approximately 129, 600 frames! Unlike Napster, where a person can rip and host an album with the tools of a standard computer, to get a film print into the digital realm requires immense scanners, particularly if the transfer is to be of any quality, and tons of time and hard drive space (again if the eventual file is to be of a size large enough to maintain acceptable quality).

    The only few ways I can think of organizing the process would be to a) convince professional “print to digital” labs to dedicate to, say, a print a week or month (have no clue how long this takes), at a discounted fee as a public service to a nationally designated restoration project backed by restoration bigwigs like Scorcese (sp)…or b) keep those prints in storage until the cost and means of scanning and storing them inevitably become more portable and affordable…or c) decisions could be made to sacrifice image and audio quality and persons could rig some of these higher end HD Cameras/camcorders and literally record prints run through a projector. It may not be so bad under the proper rig…and the audio, where needed, could actually be recorded separately under more pristine conditions and rejoined to the image once both are digital. Sometimes those subway bootlegs look pretty close to the real thing =)

  17. girish

    March 21, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks, Tuwa, Weeping Sam, Barry.

    For a cinephile, I’m woefully ignorant of the technical aspects. So I’m glad to learn a bit about the scanning/transfer process and costs.

    Weeping Sam, your description of the Scream of the Ants sounds intriguing. I wonder why those films have not really shown up on the radar of North American media or distribution, considering MM is a well-known name in cinephile circles here…

  18. Tuwa

    March 21, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks, Barry. I was imagining something like the DVCam recordings using prosumer equipment, but I forgot that (years ago) it was something I ended up not doing because the framerates didn’t coincide and so it would have caused a steadily flickering image. I guess that must have been addressed since then, as there are so many subway bootlegs. In any case I’d hope that filming a properly focused print and grabbing the audio digitally later could produce something at least as good in quality as the DVD of The Hitch-hiker. Which is a far cry from the Criterion treatment, yes, but when you’re comparing subpar viewing and complete unavailability….

  19. Gareth

    March 21, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    Thanks for the link to Cinemascope. Rosenbaum’s point about the ‘missing’ materials is well-taken, although he doesn’t really propose a good way around the simple fact that booklets and books are a good deal less robust than DVDs; I can understand why they are excluded, even if I might prefer to receive them (as much as I like Rosenbaum, he doesn’t necessarily do a great job of imagining the reality of those who don’t receive the goodies he does!). Incidentally, he laments the fact that certain texts are not accessible to those who don’t receive the booklets, but J. Hoberman’s text on Pandora’s Box is, like all of the Criterion Collection essays, readable online for those who care to look for it.

  20. Brian Darr

    March 21, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Thanks for the second plug, girish! The Blog-a-Thon is going well, I think.

    Since I’m now at a computer with access to my files, I just thought I’d take a tiny bit of time to post some titles of pre-1990 Iranian titles on my to-see-someday list:

    At one point listed among the ten best Iranian films by Mohamad Atebbai (he also listed the Cow, which as I said I’ve seen):

    The Runner (1985; Amir Naderi)
    Still Life (1975; Sohrab Shahid Saless)
    The Heart-Stricken (1977; Ali Hatami)
    The Deer (1975; Massoud Kimiai)

    Part of a similar list by Houshang Golmakani:

    The Night it Rained (1974; Kamran Shirdel)
    Tranquility in the Presence of the Others (1972; Nasser Taghvai)
    Deadlock (1972; Amir Naderi)
    The Deer (1975; Massoud Kimiai)
    The Dear Uncle Napoleon (1977 TV series; Nasser Taghvai)
    Haji Washington (1983; Ali Hatami)
    Maybe Some Other Time (1988; Bahram Bayzai)
    The Beehive (1975; Feraidoun Goleh)

  21. girish

    March 21, 2007 at 10:13 pm

    Thanks, guys.

    Gareth, I’ve always regretted that I don’t have access to the text materials through Netflix, and almost always make it a point to look at the Criterion essay online after I’ve seen one of their films, but it seems too much (except in some special cases) to pony up for the DVDs and buy them. So I just end up living without them. (e.g. I bought the Cassavetes box, Lang’s M, Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy, etc., but end up renting most Criterion titles.)

    Brian, thanks for posting those interesting and useful lists! I’ve seen none of those films. And I can see that your blog-a-thon is off to a great start!

  22. Anonymous

    March 21, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    Speaking of recording images off a wall…

    Shameless plug G: I finally got my short films on the internet.

    They’re both eight minutes in length and can be viewed by clicking the following:

    My Josephine
    Little Brown Boy


  23. girish

    March 22, 2007 at 12:59 am

    Barry, not shameless at all! Glad you posted the links, and I look forward to watching them.

  24. Gareth

    March 22, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    girish –

    I guess that was ultimately the point I was trying to make, less succinctly: that in a world of finite resources, such materials are lovely but ultimately beyond my price point in all but a few cases. I’d much prefer to have a couple of months of Netflix, with all its highs and lows, than a copy of one film, however lovingly documented. My objection to some extent is that Rosenbaum complains about something that’s not liable to be an issue for him, since he’s almost certainly receiving review copies and is thus not forced to make these same trade-offs!

  25. girish

    March 22, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Hey there, guys…!

    Gareth — Just to add two more cents: Rosenbaum’s comments can also be viewed in the larger context of a polemic that is familar to us from some of his recent books, like Movie Wars, which contend (quite correctly, I think) that there are corporations big and small (studios, distribution companies, the media) that make critical decisions about what we cinephiles have access to. A large company like Netflix has decided (for profitability reasons) that it is not worth it for them to provide us access to those extra materials, but as a cinephile who cares about cinema scholarship and film culture, I deeply regret this. For reasons of affordability, this material will remain inaccessible to me. If on the other hand, this material was not owned by Criterion but instead published and available separately in a book of some kind, I could use an inter-library loan to obtain it, but that’s just much harder to do with DVDs and supplementary materials. Which ultimately hurts film appreciation in the aggregate picture….

    So, I think it could be good for film culture when Rosenbaum takes up such points publicly; maybe some DVD companies will take note and perhaps even think about providing some samples of scanned materials at their websites, a relatively low-cost option for them…

    I’ve been a Cinema-Scope subscriber since issue 1 (they’re published over here in my neck of the woods) and have been following Rosenbaum’s column since its debut (which occurred not at the very start but at some point after). I can’t remember where but I think he mentioned something about regularly spending a lot of his own money on DVDs, although I’m sure he also gets review copies….

  26. girish

    March 23, 2007 at 10:31 am

    David Bordwell has a post from Hong Kong, where he watched Johnnie To on the set of his new movie:

    “To’s art is furthered by his craftsmanship in shot composition. Composing in anamorphic (2.35:1), nearly always putting the camera on a tripod or dolly, he gets precise results with few lighting units. When I complained that all the new films I saw at Filmart were shot shakycam, Shan Ding reported a neat saying that HK DPs have. The handheld camera covers 3 mistakes: Bad acting, bad set design, and bad directing.

    “Unlike Hollywood filmmakers, who fiddle with the film by pushing and pulling and bleach bypassing and digital fixing in postproduction, Mr To just lets the film do its rich photochemical work. Expose it correctly, anchor the camera, and 35mm film stock can look gorgeous. His films show that we already have a high-definition moving-image medium, using not pixels but molecules. Motto: Let the emulsion be your friend.”

  27. girish

    March 23, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Whoa, Doug’s on a roll: Here he is on Resnais’s Muriel.
    Several new posts at Jeeem Emerson’s place.

    So, I just browsed the new Spring 2007 issue of FILM QUARTERLY, and it has an article on Internet film writing by Rosenbaum. (Not sure much of it is new to us webhounds, but I was glad to see it.)

  28. HarryTuttle

    March 23, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Is it the text of his lecture at Mar Del Plata? I wish I could read this. I don’t think we can get Film Quarterly in France.
    Maybe Burdeau’s lecture will be published in the next Cahiers. I asked on their forum, but no response…

  29. Gareth

    March 23, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    girish –

    I agree with many of the points you are making, and see entirely the linkage with the arguments developed in Movie Wars (among other places). What I like about your response is that you are making explicit suggestions that seek some form of middle ground (as Criterion is already doing; it irritated me more than it probably should that Rosenbaum fails to note that at least these essays ARE available to anyone with access to a computer: not the entire planet by any means, but a good start). This is by way of saying that I’m always interested in the practical consequences that flow from the polemic.

    Thus, for example, I feel Netflix’s decision not to send me the printed materials is not just an economic one on their part but a consequence of the fact that many of the printed materials are pretty flimsy (i.e. Criterion and others print them as brochures rather than as more expensive bound texts in most cases) and liable to be damaged/destroyed through repeated use (I used to belong to a local specialized video store which did hand out such materials, and when they survived they were almost always in terrible shape, because we – the consumers – ripped pages out or otherwise failed to consider one another, even for titles released a few weeks previously!). Putting materials on the Internet is a good way to avoid such damage, although of course it loses the ‘bookishness’ of the whole exercise – but it points up the way in which this issue is related to both economics AND human behavior in the aggregate, which I don’t think is an unimportant aspect of the debate.

    I’m sure that Rosenbaum spends a great deal of his own money on films and books; I’m being unfair to him when I imply he gets a free ride throughout!

  30. girish

    March 23, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    Harry, I don’t know if it’s the same text, athough I suspect it might be. I might email JR for a text of his talk; I think his email address might be at the Chicago Reader site.

    Gareth, you make good points there. Yes, the flimsiness and unwieldiness of the materials is a deterrent, as is customer behavior.

    IMO, and I know people have a wide range of opinions on the matter, I should say this: From the point of view of a large corporation, there is only one consideration, and that consideration is economic. Human considerations–whether those human beings are located externally (customers, stockholders) or internally (employees)–are ONLY important for the manner and extent by which they impact the corporation’s profitability. Even the corporation’s attempts at socially responsible or ethical practices exist only because they will, it is hoped, ultimately enhance long-term profitability. That is always the ultimate–and ONLY–objective of the corporation.

    Now, the kind of human behavior that leads to theft and damage of DVD supplementary materials also applies to DVDs themselves. But Netflix is very good (or I should say, very smart) about replacing damaged DVDs quickly, and not penalizing customers unless there’s considerable and consistent evidence of ‘bad behavior.’ And, true, replacing materials would be more expensive than replacing DVDs and wouldn’t make (economic) sense for Netflix…

    At bottom though, Netflix has determined that the core product/service ‘The Netflix Customer’ wants is the Criterion DVD and only the DVD, not the supplementary material. This might be true for many Netflix customers (the non-cinephile, film-interested person) but it’s not true for us cinephiles. For me, reading on & researching a film, getting to know the scholarship on the film, can be every bit as important as watching the film itself. Which leaves me disgruntled. (Not that I’m likely to cancel my gluttonous eight-at-a-time membership with them any time soon! :-))

  31. Gareth

    March 23, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    A brief question to those who know: how do other mail-order services compare on inclusion of materials, esp. e.g. Greencine?

  32. girish

    March 24, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    A few links this morning:

    — It’s great to see Matt Zoller Seitz writing regularly for the NYT. At The House Next Door recently: links to his reviews of three different films.
    An interview with Hong Hang-Soo at Brian Darr’s place.
    Many interesting links in Harry Tuttle’s digest post for March.
    A_Film_By thread on Otto Preminger.
    Goatdog’s 1927 blog-a-thon.
    New issue of the academic journal Post Identity includes articles by, among others, Chuck Tryon and Matthew Clayfield.

  33. Brian Darr

    March 25, 2007 at 12:34 am

    Technically it’s not an interview with Hong, but a transcript of his answers at an audience q-and-a session. But thanks so much for linking to it!

  34. girish

    March 25, 2007 at 12:47 am

    Ah, thanks for the correction, Brian! And cripes, I misspelled Hong Sang-Soo’s name above…!

  35. Noel Vera

    March 25, 2007 at 5:58 am

    Noticed from Zach’s Iran Cinema post that Olaf loves Beyzai–calls him the greatest Iranian filmmaker at that.

  36. ZC

    March 25, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Here’s a context for the Olaf statement (from the 2004 Saless piece):

    “Sadly, consideration of Iran’s prerevolutionary cinema has mostly focused on establishing a lineage to reinforce the cultural legitimacy ol today’s Iranian critical darlings-or conversely, on highlighting filmmakers who share Kiarostami’s Bazin-compatible sense of realism. To put it bluntly: everybody’s looking for the predecessors to Kiarostami et al., and those filmmakers who don’t match the template are ignored (Makhmalbaf fits thanks to his occasional textbook exercises in modernist self-reflexivily, i.e., due to one aspect of his work rather than its entirety). For example, the 1995 Vienna Film Festival’s retrospective oi Bahram Beyzai, Iran’s greatest filmmaker, was ignored by most critics because, as one of them said to me, his films had nothing to do with Kiarostami.”

    I don’t think Möller dislikes Kiarostami per se (maybe he does), but I think he dislikes what Kiarostami, like a lot of other major “festival” filmmakers, has come to mean in film culture (not entirely their own fault)–which is why he’s got this harsh assessment of contemporary critics/viewers’ very real interest in recent Iranian cinema but not the pre-1979 stuff. I would ascribe this almost willful pre-1979 blindness not to Kiarostami-worship, but something else, myself. At any rate, he is either saying that Beyzai is his personal pick for greatest Iranian filmmaker, or he’s descriptively propagating received wisdom himself (i.e., like someone calling Hitchcock the “greatest” filmmaker in Hollywood even if that didn’t quite correspond to their personal taste)–maybe both.

  37. girish

    March 25, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Zach — Thanks for that, and for your post!

  38. Unknown

    September 13, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Kiarostami’s earlier films doesn’t sound educative for kids except “one problem two solutions” but indeed artistic and poetic. Loved the short movie “The chorus”.

    as far as “House is Black” movie concerned it was the most disturbing movie I ever watched yet poetic and still those frames lingers in my heart and soul.

  39. cv

    December 24, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Have decided to watch the Bread and Alley this week end..thanks dude for this amazing post!

    Director CV

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