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Posts from the ‘Sebald, Films About’ Category

Sebald Miscellany October 2016


On September 9 of this year, a symposium on “The Poetry of W.G. Sebald” was held at Stockholm University under the organization of Axel Englund. The participants were:

Axel Englund: “W.G. Sebald as poet: an introduction”
Iain Galbraith: “’A cover / of marbled faux / leather’: the uses of surface in the poetry of W.G. Sebald”
Adrian Nathan West: “Coincidences without antecedents, histories without verification”
Uwe Schütte (with Melissa Etzler): “On W.G. Sebald’s unpublished poetry”
Sven Meyer: “Our brothers the ducks: Sebald’s birds”



Ukrainian film director Sergei Loznitsa’s newest release is a 94-minute film called Austerlitz, which premiered in Venice earlier this year. According to a review in the New York Times, “Mr. Loznitsa varied between calling his work an adaptation and a ‘variation'” of Sebald’s novel of the same name. Austerlitz recently had its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Andréa Picard has written a short piece about the film:

What happens when the memorial and the museological meet — when places of death and destruction are transformed into tourist destinations? Sergei Loznitsa’s new film Austerlitz (which takes its title from, and enters into cryptic and compelling dialogue with, the final masterpiece by the great novelist W.G. Sebald) is a stark yet rich and complex portrait of people visiting the grounds of former Nazi extermination camps, and a sometimes sardonic study of the relationship (or the clash) between contemporary culture and the sanctity of the site…

Here’s the link to a short trailer for the film.

Sebald Miscellany August 2014


Before I go on vacation for a spell, I thought I’d toss out two Sebald tidbits just to keep everyone occupied – advance news of an important new book about Sebald and a video lecture on Sebald’s work.

First, I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of a new Sebald-related memoir Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, by Philippa Comber. A full review will be forthcoming around September 1. It will be the first book published by the new Propolis Books, which originates from The Book Hive bookstore in Norwich. Here’s the promotional text for the book from The Book Hive’s Facebook page:

In 1981 a young woman, recently moved to Norwich after being appointed manager of a psychiatric day-care centre in the city, went with some friends to the now defunct Noverre Cinema to watch Polanski’s Tess. Having spent the previous years living in Germany, a place whose people and language had struck a chord deep within her after first visiting as a teenager, another man had been asked along to the cinema whom mutual friends had thought she might like to meet. His name was Max.

From that first introduction a friendship immediately arose with the young German university lecturer to whom Philippa was to grow ever fonder of and closer to. Their love of European literature and poetry, of people’s personal histories and a shared sense of living in a state of suspended exile gave them great areas of topic for discussion and exploration, as well as identification. As their personal and professional lives carried on in the background – a period which provided difficulties for both of them – their friendship blossomed, until with the arrival of new work and so relocation, physical distance was put between them and contact gradually faded.

Shortly after a reconnection some years later, Max was killed in a car crash having suffered a heart attack at the wheel whilst driving on the A47.

With the use of her extensive diaries kept at the time, Philippa Comber has written not only a memoir about a period in her own fascinating life, with a list of extraordinary family members and friends that go back though English history and throws up some of the most unique characters this island has produced, but also a deeply touching, honest and revealing account of a relationship with a difficult man to know – by turns melancholic, outrageously funny, pessimistic, hopeful, proud and yet riddled with doubt. Ariadne’s Thread describes a man at a turning point in his life, as he begins to think about writing in a more serious capacity for himself, rather than just for academic purposes. Here we see, illuminated in a personal and frank manner, the ideas and motivations that came together in one man’s mind which subsequently went on to make him one of the most influential European writers of the 20th century.

Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory Of W.G. Sebald is published by Propolis, a new imprint based at The Book Hive. Propolis will specialise in idiosyncratic books which may not be able to find a home in the larger publishing market – or even ever have been considered for publication. To be starting out with a title about writers in Norwich, (albeit writers who are not from Norwich), seems a most fitting debut for a publishing house based in a bookshop in the centre of that Fine City.

Publication is scheduled for September 5.


LaCapra Lecture

The second item is an hour-long online video put up by Cornell University in September 2012 of a lecture by Professor Dominick LaCapra called “Sebald and the Narration of Trauma.” I confess that I have not had time to listen to it in its entirety yet, but the website says this about the lecture:

In his much-discussed texts, W. G. Sebald engages the classical double bind of a posttraumatic situation, particularly a situation in which one lives in the heavy shadow of atrocities one did not directly “perpetrate” but for which one nonetheless bears a sense of responsibility if not guilt.

Sensitive to both historical and formal problems in the writing of literature, this lecture explores the stylistic and substantive ways Sebald works his way into and at times through this double bind whereby one feels constrained endlessly to speak of the unspeakable.

The lecture is undoubtedly related to LaCapra’s 2013 book History, Literature, Critical Theory, published by Cornell University Press (description below).

In History, Literature, Critical Theory, Dominick LaCapra continues his exploration of the complex relations between history and literature, here considering history as both process and representation. A trio of chapters at the center of the volume concern the ways in which history and literature (particularly the novel) impact and question each other. In one of the chapters LaCapra revisits Gustave Flaubert, pairing him with Joseph Conrad. Other chapters pair J. M. Coetzee and W. G. Sebald, Jonathan Littell’s novel, The Kindly Ones, and Saul Friedlander’s two-volume, prizewinning history Nazi Germany and the Jews.

A recurrent motif of the book is the role of the sacred, its problematic status in sacrifice, its virulent manifestation in social and political violence (notably the Nazi genocide), its role or transformations in literature and art, and its multivalent expressions in “postsecular” hopes, anxieties, and quests. LaCapra concludes the volume with an essay on the place of violence in the thought of Slavoj Zizek. In LaCapra’s view Zizek’s provocative thought “at times has uncanny echoes of earlier reflections on, or apologies for, political and seemingly regenerative, even sacralized violence.”

Patience: The DVD

Patience DVD

The DVD of Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald) has been released.  I’ve written about Gee and his film several times, but here’s the primary link on the content of Patience (After sebald), which also bears the subtitle A Walk Through The Rings of Saturn.  The DVD contains one “extra”: a 20-minute “Ambient Visual Representation of the Film by The Caretaker.”  The ambient musician The Caretaker was responsible for the score for Patience, and this short video piece combines layered images from the film with The Caretaker’s layered music and sounds into a meditative, almost abstract experience.

Fullscreen capture 11192013 122518 PM.bmp

Here’s a bit more information about ambient musician The Caretaker.

The Caretaker, James Leyland Kirby, returns with a long-in-the-making soundtrack to acclaimed filmmaker Grant Gee’s documentary about German writer WG Sebald. Patience (After Sebald)… Much like The Caretaker’s oeuvre, Sebald’s works are particularly focused on themes of memory, both personal and collective, making Kirby the ideal candidate for this score. Grant tasked him with soundtracking responsibilities, but rather than thrift shop shellac, the source material for Patience was sourced from Franz Schubert’s 1827 piece Winterreise and subjected to his perplexing processes, smudging and rubbing isolated fragments into a dust-caked haze of plangent keys, strangely resolved loops and de-pitched vocals which recede from view as eerily as they appear.

Patience DVD 2

Photography and Literature Film Series

Source Photography Literature Cover

In conjunction with their forthcoming issue # 75 on  “Photography and Literature,” Source Photographic Review is putting up seven related films on their website – one every Friday from August 9 through September 20.  More details on the issue and the films can be seen here.

Friday August 9
Bruges-la-Mort (16 minutes)
A Symbolist book about a man obsessed with his dead wife, and fascinated by a dancer who resembles her. Thought to be the first photographically illustrated novel (1892). Film includes interviews with Clive Scott, French professor and Will Stone, a poet / translator who illustrated the most recent translation of the book with his own photographs.

Friday August 16
Austerlitz (30 minutes)
WG Sebald’s last novel, like its predecessors, is illustrated with mysterious photographs. Sebald scholar Jonathan Long visits locations featured in the book and explores how the photographs correspond to (or conceal) reality. Clive Scott, Sebald’s former colleague, recalls conversations with the author about the book. Michael Brandon-Jones, the technician who prepared Sebald’s manuscripts for publication, talks about how the books were arranged and the different sources of the visual material they contain.

Friday August 23
Roma Tearne: Using Photos to Write Novels (12 minutes)
Roma Tearne has an extensive collection of found photographs and, although her novels do not include illustrations, as the author (and artist) explains, they played a key role in their composition.

Friday August 30
The Home Place (12 minutes)
Unusually among those who have produced photographically illustrated books, Wright Morris was as skilled a photographer as he was a writer. Mick Gidley, who writes about American literature and photography, introduces the themes of the book and its inspirations.

Kafka Amerika Film

Friday September 6
Amerika (10 minutes)
Kafka had never visited America but used photographs from travel books as inspiration for his novel. Carolin Duttlinger explains how Kafka’s very approach to writing was formed by his experience of photography.

Friday September 13
Photography & Literature 1 (20 minutes)
Part 1 of an essay film with contributors discussing the underlying relationship between photography and literature. Participants include Lindsay Smith (Victorian photography and Literature), Colin Graham (Modernism: Ulysses, Proust, Wilde), Matthias Uecker (photography and documentary literature, Weimar period Germany), Andrew Stafford (post-war French literature and the phototext), James Casbere (an American photographer inspired by William Faulkner), Rut Blees Luxemburg (inspired by Holderlin), Patrick Hogan (learnt from Chekhov how to edit his photographs).

Friday September 20
Photography & Literature 2 (20 minutes)
Part 2 of an essay film with contributors discussing the underlying relationship between photography and literature.


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.

Michael Hamburger

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.”

Antwerp Central to Show in New York

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.

Postcard of Central Station, Antwerp, constructed 1895-1905
Architect: Louis Delacenserie

Sebald Events October 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. Then it will go on to the Vancouver International Film Festival for several showings beginning October 5.

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.

Patience (After Sebald) in North America

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.  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.

Antwerpen Centraal, A Sebald-Inspired Documentary

The Belgium-based film director and producer Peter Krüger has just released a new film called Antwerpen Centraal (Antwerp Central, in English), which draws its inspiration from W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.  According to the film’s website, the documentary uses the grand station as the vehicle for telling the story of three centuries of Belgium and its colonial past through the history of its national railway and Antwerp’s Central Station.  Inspired by Central Station’s location within Antwerp’s diamond  district and next to the city zoo, Krüger says he approaches the station as a “magical realistic location where past and present, history and daily life, fiction and reality are in constant flux.”   In the evocative trailer, there are scenes with zoo animals (a lion and a peacock) within the railway station.  The film has already won the Grand Prize at the International Festival of Films on Art (Montreal) this year and is making the rounds of various other film festivals.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any news about future screenings.

The Guardian Talks with Grant Gee About his Sebald Film

The Guardian has just put up a podcast which includes a conversation between their Stuart Jeffries and filmmaker Grant Gee.

Then we move to the Suffolk coast for a seaside walk with Grant Gee, a filmmaker who has tackled WG Sebald’s most famous work, The Rings of Saturn, in a film which is to be premiered next week in Aldeburgh. He tells Stuart Jeffries about the challenges of finding a visual language to match Sebald’s prose, and honouring the achievements of a writer who would have hated nothing more than having a blue plaque erected in his name.

The two take a walk along the Suffolk coast and talk about Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald), which premieres January 28.  If you want to listen only to this segment of the podcast, use the progress bar to skip directly to 27:00, where the nine-minute conversation begins.  At the end of the podcast, the host mentions that a film of the conversation will be posted in a week or so.