Screening Room: ‘Mustang’

The sisters of 'Mustang' (Cohen Media Group)
The sisters of ‘Mustang’ (Cohen Media Group)

In Mustang, France’s official entry for this year’s Academy Awards, five sisters living in a remote Turkish village strain against the prison-like limits put on them by a local male culture terrified of allowing them even the slightest hint of freedom.

Wild, exuberant, and altogether masterful, Mustang is playing now in limited release; make sure to seek it out. My review is at PopMatters:

The view from the family home of five sisters living in a remote Turkish village on the Black Sea is the kind of vista for which wealthy travelers pay dearly. Nearby mountains are covered in lush forests and the ocean slaps musically into sandy beaches below.

This panorama is also a taunt, because the sisters will never be allowed anywhere near it unless a male guardian accompanies them. Even then, they won’t be allowed to play and run and laugh, but instead will be expected to follow like docile sheep in shapeless dresses…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Know Your Audience

battleborn1Claire Vaye Watkins has a truly astounding piece in Tin House, where she writes with gimlet-eyed precision on not just the infinite ways female and minority writers are put in a box by a white male literary establishment, but on how to write for a particular audience.

She wasn’t shocked that an older gentlemen came up to her at a signing and said how surprised he was that he liked her stuff. That was her intention:

I wrote Battleborn for white men, toward them. If you hold the book to a certain light, you’ll see it as an exercise in self-hazing, a product of working-class madness, the female strain. So, natural then that Battleborn was well-received by the white male lit establishment: it was written for them. The whole book’s a pander.

Watkins writes that she had never looked up to women writers, because that’s not what she had been taught to do:

I watched the boys, watched to learn. I wanted to write something Cormac McCarthy would like, something Thomas Pynchon would come out of hiding to endorse, something David Foster Wallace would blurb from beyond the grave.

We like to think of art as being outside the ugliness of the power structure and society’s coarsening anti-intellectualism. It is nice to imagine that writing can be (as millennials would put it) a safe space. But that’s not always the case:

I was under the impression that artmaking was apart from all the rottenness of our culture, when in fact it’s not apart from it. It is made of it.

Know your audience but don’t let them minimize you. Don’t allow your writing to be limited by anything except your own hard-fought talent. Do the work, don’t be afraid, and never take no for an answer.

Reader’s Corner: Stealing Books

In Islamabad, readers know that when they’re looking for a book, it’s best to check out the Saeed Book Bank. One of the world’s largest bookstores, it’s a three-story institution with nearly a hundred employees that stocks just about everything—and in English, too. According to this profile of the store and its owner Ahmad Saaed in the New York Times, they once operated in Peshawar, but:

… the rise of terrorism and fundamentalist Islam made Peshawar, capital of the wild frontier lands of Pakistan, a dangerous place for a bookseller — especially one who insisted on carrying magazines like Cosmopolitan and Heavy Metal, books by Karen Armstrong on Islam, and even the scientist Richard Dawkins’s atheist treatise, “The God Delusion.” (“You just wouldn’t believe how that sells,” Mr. Saeed said. “We buy a thousand copies from Random House every year, year after year.”)

Saeed, inherited the store from his father, Saeed Jan Qureshi, who was such a book lover that he took a gentle approach to book thieves. After Ahmad took over, an apologetic academic appeared, explaining that he had once shoplifted an Archie comic from the store:

“He came to say that when he was a child, 6 years old or so, he stole an Archie comic book and my father saw him,” Mr. Saeed said. “He said he was afraid he was going to get slapped, but my father said, ‘This is good that you like books. So every day you can take a book but keep it in mint condition and return it when you’re done so I can still sell it.’”

Weekend Reading: Thanksgiving Edition


Screening Room: ‘Carol’

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett exchange Christmas cheer in 'Carol' (Weinstein)
Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett exchange Christmas cheer in ‘Carol’ (Weinstein)

priceofsalt1In 1952, Patricia Highsmith — riding high after the success of Strangers on a Train but before she started her Ripley series — published her semi-autobiographical novel about a love affair between two women, The Price of Salt, under a pseudonym. It went on to sell over a million copies.

Now, Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) has adapted it for the big screen as a lush period romance, with Rooney Mara as the inexperienced shopgirl and Cate Blanchett as the older married woman who falls for her.

Carol is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

Todd Haynes’ Carol offers two views of the holiday season. In 1952’s New York City, we first see family gatherings, snowy sidewalks, and shopping trips. Just below that surface, two women engage in illicit romance, at every turn reminded of everything they are not allowed to have. Their world doesn’t allow for same-sex attraction, much less the idea that two women could share a life together. As everyone else around them is making merry, their secret turns sharp enough to cut glass…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: ‘A Moveable Feast’

hemingwayFans of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast love it for its aching and ephemeral beauty. For writers, it’s also a celebration of the craft and (almost more importantly, to some) the lifestyle as it should be enjoyed. For instance:

…we ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.

Now, the book has taken on an extra significance in the City of Lights:

Copies have been laid among the flowers and tributes at the sites of the massacres, and people are reading the book in bars and cafes…

Weekend Reading: November 20, 2015