Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lyon dispatch - the Lumière film festival

The Lumière film festival is wrapping up as I write.  Lyon is the city where film was invented, more or less, by the Lumière brothers, and the festival, a recent invention, only in its ninth year, is a tribute to that history.  It is not a showcase for new films, but a massive course in film history, from the French perspective.  The big – or biggest – retrospective features were for Wong Kar-wai, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Harold Lloyd, which gives an idea of the scope.  It is a festival where five thousand people fill a giant hall to see Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, and on another night five thousand fill the same space to see The Lion King.

I have perhaps alluded in the past to some aspects of French culture that I envy.  The Lumière festival was in this sense a painful week for me.  I will describe a single event.

Here we see the Hangar of the First Film at the Institut Lumière.  The festival’s screenings are scattered all over the city, but this theater is the headquarters.  The movie theater is literally built on the site of the first film, Workers Leaving the Factory (1895).  The theater is built out of and around the remnants of the building featured in the first film ever made.

I mean, come on.  I am going to see King Kong (1933) here.  I had already been here, before the festival, to see the restorations of Jean Vigo’s L’Atlante and Zero de Conduite.  The regular programming of the Institut Lumière is a year-round film festival.

The chairs at the hangar have little brass plaques on the arms with the names of important filmmakers.  I am sitting “between” Buster Keaton and Stanley Kubrick.  As with every event at the festival, nearly every seat is filled, a substantial number of them by schoolchildren.  Almost every film I saw was attended by school groups.  Every film is introduced, often by someone well-known.  A random early Clouzot movie I saw was introduced by Vincent Perez.  But this time we get:

On the left is the director of the festival; in the center is Bertrand Tavernier, president of the Institut and one of France’s greatest living directors; on the right is Michel Le Bris, who is talking about (see screen) Kong, his new 950-page novel about the directors of King Kong.  Le Bris is among other things a Robert Louis Stevenson expert.  How I would like to read this book.  Maybe someday.

My point is that at a screening of King Kong, the first twenty minutes are spent in the discussion of a novel, and the film itself is discussed as if it is something serious, as if it is a work of art, and this is all taken as entirely normal not just by the film buffs but by a hundred or two French school kids.

To top it off, Tavernier, who presumably has things to do, sits down to watch King Kong with the rest of us.  Afterwards, on the way out, I speak to him.  I tell him that he had created a beautiful film festival.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Frankfurt dispatch - notes on the Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair originated soon after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press.  I recently browsed through a history of early modern publishing that used the Fair’s records to quantify 16th century international publishing, the early years, circa let’s say 1570, when Venetian publishers brought a total of forty books to the fair, and Dutch publishers brought another thirty, and so on, an international book fair with a hundred books.

Now, well, this is one of three floors of the English-language building, with the enormous Harper-Collins campus sort of visible in the upper right.  Or maybe fortress is the right word, since it was the least welcoming space at the Fair.  The books were present as samples for the salespeople to use.  The fortress was full of little tables, each one the site of some kind of meeting.

The Frankfurt Book Fair exists for the purpose of facilitating meetings, at which the rights to publish books are sold.  Not books, but the rights to books.  Deeply interested in literature but not so much in books, I experienced the Fair as a great mystery, less of a glimpse behind the veil than a sustained look at the veil.  I still don’t really understand what is behind it.

But if I wonder why was this book translated instead of that one, why is this book available in the U.S. but not in England, why does this book exist at all, much of the answer was there in Frankfurt.  A Random House rep met with a Catalonian publisher, and said yes to this book and no to the rest of the pile.  Who, away from that little table, really knows why.  Lots of reasons.  At the Fair, I got to see all of this without understanding it.

Three big floors of English-language publishers, two floors (plus) of German publishers, two floors (plus) of the rest of the world.  And additional areas for scientific publishing, education, religion, travel, maps, greeting cards, and an endlessly interesting area filled with nothing but art book publishers, including the strange subset of publishers of facsimile editions covered in gold and jewels.

Part of why it was so interesting to me was that I did not need so much German among the art books, I admit that.  The Fair would have been a lot more fun if I had German.  This is also why I kept returning to the food and cooking area, where there were samples, wine, and a demonstration kitchen where the default language was English.  Plus, I mentioned samples?

The biggest celebrity I saw just wandering around was Dany Laferrière, the only Academician I have seen in real life.  I saw Péter Nádas being interviewed for a television program, and stumbled across Wim Wenders plugging his new book.  Meine Frau came across Reinhold Messner, who beats the others, I think, as a celebrity.

More pleasurable was meeting Lisa of Lizok’s Bookshelf, who was at the Fair fighting the good fight for Russian translations.  Thanks for the time and conversation, Lisa!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A footnote to the food in Lyon – the Spicy Dallas Burger Pizza

The point of photographing this horror, advertised all over Lyon, is not to note that potheads are everywhere but rather to puzzle over the culinary associations French marketers attached, and expect some segment of the French pizza audience to attach, to the word “Dallas.”  Does the city go with “spicy”?  Or “burger”?  Steaks would not be so strange, in a generalized Texas sense.

The café chain Flunch has a Tennessee Rosti Burger that is just as puzzling.  The rösti is Swiss, and Tennessee evokes – nothing at all?  Maybe the burger is tobacco-flavored.  Memphis, now Memphis has a lot of associations, not one of which are present in the Tennessee Rosti Burger.

Someday I will write something about food I have actually eaten in France, good good food.