February 25, 2012
A few seconds after the title of Grant Gee’s film fades, a subtitle appears that tells us what the next 84 minutes are going to be about: “A Walk Through The Rings of Saturn.” Patience (After Sebald) is a tour through a book rather than a visit to a place or the story of a life. Gee does, at times, show us locations referred to by the words of the book, but, as several interviewees say, it’s foolish, really, to follow in Sebald’s footsteps. So, like a good reader, Gee follows Sebald’s words.
Patience is a layered, often leisurely film, content to linger on images or, in one instance, plunge the screen into blackness for a few moments. The film begins and ends with the opening and closing words of The Rings of Saturn, wonderfully read by the actor Jonathan Pryce, whose uninflected, almost monotonous voice has the requisite underlying hints of sadness and melancholy. Packed into the center of Patience are superbly edited interviews, scenes of East Anglia, clips from vintage documentary films (the British fishing industry, World War II, the hatching of silkworms). In a film equivalent of Sebald’s multi-layered text, Gee often has two, if not three distinct films superimposed : his own contemporary documentary, a vintage film, and the slow scanning of the words from Sebald’s book. The visual tracks and the audio track act like tectonic plates, shifting underneath each other and causing momentary, almost random disruptions that jar the viewer into seeing new relationships. The film is predominately black and white, although there are brief incursions into color film, as well as sequences when small color films are inset within the dominant black and white image.
By visually and aurally keeping Sebald’s words first and foremost in the viewer’s attention, Gee emulates the act of attentive reading. As the film moves through the book (always reminding us that we are focused on a book, Gee frequently notes exactly what page the film is referencing), Gee digresses to a geographic site, or permits a talking head to propose an interpretation or or explanation of Sebald’s text or insert a bit of Sebald’s biography, or, as Sebald often did in his books, simply leaves us staring at an inane, odd, but somehow fitting image. It’s precisely how an engaged reader would move through Sebald’s meandering text, pausing briefly to wonder about an odd reference (what does the Emperor of China have to do with the bridge over the river Blythe?) or reflect on a particularly beautiful or unexpected turn of phrase. Is there another film like this, a film that simulates “reading” a book? I can’t think of one.
The talking heads (who, for the most part, remain offscreen talking voices) are a well-chosen lot that includes: Robert Macfarlane (writer), Christopher MacLehose (publisher), Adams Phillips (writer and psychoanalyst), Barbara Hui (creator of LitMaps), William Firebrace (architect), Rick Moody (writer), Bill Swainson (editor), Kate Mitchell (theater director), Iain Sinclair (writer), Lise Patt (editor, Searching for Sebald), Christopher Woodward (writer), Tacita Dean (artist), Jeremy Millar (artist), Michael Silverblatt (KCRW radio interviewer), Dan Gretton (writer), Marina Warner (writer), Sir Andrew Motion (poet), Arthur Lubow (journalist), and Chris Petit (writer & filmmaker). Poet and Sebald translator Michael Hamburger appears via clips from an earlier film. And Sebald himself is heard, talking about Virginia Woolf, Bleak House, and other topics), via Silverblatts’ great radio interview, made only eight days before Sebald’s death. Gee elicits many great quotes, but one of my favorites comes from Macfarlane, who calls Sebald a “biographer who walks his subjects back into life or maybe he walks forward after them into death.”
January 24, 2012
Grant Gee’s excellent documentary on W.G. Sebald Patience (After Sebald) is starting to appear in cinemas across England. It will have a short run at the ICA in London from January 27 through February 2, with Gee appearing on the 27th. Details here.
If you are near Manchester you have a chance to see Patience and meet Grant Gee on January 29 at Cornerhouse. It’s just a single showing as part of a series put on by the New British Cinema Quarterly. Here is the link for more details. The website includes a very brief video clip that manages to give a bit of the flavor of the film.
The NBCQ series moves on to London where Patience will be shown at Curzon’s Renoir Cinema in Bloomsbury on January 30. Once again, Grant Gee will make an appearance at the showing for Q&A. Details here.
The BBC has also posted a five-minute audio piece about the film. Grant Gee talks for a bit and Andrew Motion reads a poem about Sebald. Listen here.
American audiences will apparently start seeing Patience in theaters starting in late April, distributed by Cinema Guild.
And the film’s soundtrack by The Caretaker has just been released as a vinyl album and a CD. Buy here (and sample three of the tracks).
And eventually, I am told, there will be DVDs of the film for sale.
October 3, 2011
The film Antwerp Central will be showing October 21 and 22 during New York’s Architecture and Design Film Festival. In fact, the entire Festival line-up looks very enticing. I first wrote about Antwerp Central, directed by Peter Krüger, back in May. Here are the program notes from the Festival website:
ANTWERP CENTRAL takes the viewer on a journey through the physical and mental space of Antwerp’s railway cathedral, from its construction to the present day. The film covers three centuries of Belgian railway history: from the moment that the national railway company laid its first tracks to the development of the high-speed rail link in the 21st century. Echoes of Belgium’s colonial past and the location of the station in the centre of the bustling diamond district and next to the city zoo add a surreal touch as contrasting pairs, such as animal and human, nature and industry, baroque and modernity, dilapidation and renovation are complexly juxtaposed.
Drawing inspiration from the book Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, screenwriter/director Peter Krüger approaches Antwerp Central Railway Station as a magical realistic location where present and past, history and daily life, fiction and reality are in constant flux. Running as a thread through the film are the dreams and reminiscences of a traveler, played by Johan Leysen, who arrives at Antwerp Central and through whose eyes we observe the station.
Leysen appeared last year in the Anton Corbijn film The American, which starred George Clooney.
[By the way, hop over to Night RPM and read one viewer's response to the film Patience (After Sebald), which just showed in New York.]
September 29, 2011
OK, final reminder: Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald) will be arriving in North America in a few days. It will show at the New York Film Festival on Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 3:30 PM. Details here and here. Then it will go on to the Vancouver International Film Festival for several showings beginning October 5. I’ve written about Patience and Grant Gee several times before.
And across the Atlantic at the Birmingham Book Festival, Jo Catling and Uwe Schütte will present a program called “W.G. Sebald: Beyond Literature,” which will “examine aspects of his life and works that are hardly known: his role as an academic in the UK, his critical writings, his reception as a writer in Germany, and so on.” This happens on the evening of October 10.
Need more to do? Then spend October rereading The Rings of Saturn in preparation for a book discussion at the Writers’ Centre, Norwich on November 15.
August 26, 2011
Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald) will finally be arriving in North America. It will show at the New York Film Festival (assuming the city survives Hurricane Irene…) on Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 3:30 PM. Details here. Then it will apparently go on to the Vancouver International Film Festival for a showing on October 5, although the festival schedule is not posted online yet. I’ve written about Patience and Grant Gee several times before.