2017-05-08

sovay: (Rotwang)
I didn't realize until I was almost home that I had forgotten to take the paper bracelet off my wrist after my doctor's appointment earlier this afternoon. I was distracted by reading Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter (1994), which continues to be excellent. Kevin Macdonald writes well about his grandfather, whom he knew only toward the end of his life; he admits the difficulty of recovering the truth of a person as notoriously private as Pressburger, who unlike his partner-in-film left neither autobiographies nor published diaries and apparently not that many letters or interviews, either, and does his best to track his career from the estate his father managed outside Miskolc in Austria-Hungary to the cottage in Suffolk where he would regale his grandsons with stories from his life (but never the story of it). I'm learning all sorts of things about the interwar film industries of Germany, France, England. I don't always agree with Macdonald's assessments of movies or actors, but he's very good at context and history. The book is also a biography of exile, of alienness, of being an immigrant and a refugee. By the time he was my age, Pressburger had lived in six different countries—the first of which he didn't even choose to leave: it fell out from underneath him with the Trianon Treaty of 1920, when Hungarian Temesvár became Romanian Timișoara—and learned more than as many languages to varying degrees. He was sometimes homeless; he was often broke. He was officially stateless from 1926 to 1933. He had three and a half names over the course of his life and Macdonald uses them as an organizing scheme, dividing the phases of his grandfather's life by the countries or cultures he identified himself with, referring to him by chosen name in each. I have just reached the point in 1938 where he Anglicizes from Emmerich to Emeric, having previously Germanized to Emmerich from Imre in 1930 when he started working for Ufa. He's just been hired by Alexander Korda; The Spy in Black (1939) is right around the corner, which means I have all of the Archers to look forward to. I have already learned, however, that I made one great mistake about A Canterbury Tale (1944). I associated it preferentially with Michael Powell because Kent was his home ground. It's the most land-rooted of all the Archers' canon. It was Pressburger's film. He would say of it later that it was "the only one . . . that is entirely mine." Macdonald traveling through Romania in the early '90's in search of the places where his grandfather was born and spent his early life feels himself to be following Colpeper's instructions, walking the same roads as his ancestors in hopes of transcending the time between them. With one brief, difficult exception, Pressburger never returned to the land of his ancestors ("Home was Hungary occupied by Romania and what sort of home is that?"), though he kept his Hungarian accent to the end of his life and he always cooked its food; he rooted himself in England and even there he kept his continuity broken, not passing his story on. His grandson would have to do the archaeology decades later, restoring what fragments he could. But he wrote a film where nothing is really lost, where time gives back everything that it appeared to take away: it seems too simple to say it was wish-fulfillment. It was the thing worth fighting for.

Have a mix of links.

1. In the process of considering and rejecting the recent claim that the official history of the Manhattan Project deliberately misrepresented the science of the atomic bomb so as not to trigger public comparison to the chemical warfare of World War I, Alex Wellerstein says a lot of interesting things about publicity, security, professional bias, and the ways in which people think (or do not think) about information: "The Smyth Report: A chemical weapon coverup?"

2. Real-life noir, Californian and Vietnamese: "The Accidental Get Away Driver."

3. I am deeply disppointed there was not a functioning temple to Mesopotamian gods built in New York City last year. I really don't think it would have necessitated calling the Ghostbusters. The recreation of the arch from the destroyed Temple of Bel in Palmyra is neat, though, and I am sorry I did not see it.

4. There is one survivor of the Hindenburg disaster and one prosecutor of the Nuremburg trials still alive. This comic, too, is living memory.

5. Have a previously unpublished interview with Angela Carter!

6. I meant to link this poem weeks ago: Rodney Gomez, "Rally." What the hell, six things make a post.
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