Sharjah Biennial 12 was on from 5th March till 5th June. I had a chance to visit it during the opening weekend and since then I visited a couple of times to see the work.
Curated by Eungie Joo with the title, "The past, the present, the possible", this year's biennial was much smaller compared to Sharjah Biennial 11 in 2013, with 51 artists participating compared to 100+ artists in 2013.
Rather than conforming to proscribed themes, works in SB12 are presented in conversation with each other. Challenging modes of participation and engagement, The past, the present, the possible invites participants and the public to reflect upon the possibilities and ambitions of Sharjah, a city and emirate still in the process of imagining itself through education, culture, religion, heritage and science.
SB12 acknowledges the centrality of the present - respecting the past, but rejecting nostalgia and the burden of history in favour of productive imaginings of the possible. These perspectives resonate with the ideas of philosopher Henri Lefebvre in his essay The Right to the City (1967), which inspired the exhibition’s title.
My first impression of the biennial during the opening week is that it was very 'inward', I didn't feel the presence of the biennial - with lots of exhibitions and installations held indoors. It didn't feel that engaged with the community and its surroundings compared to previous biennials.
I didn't see/feel the conversation between the works as not all the work really reflected upon "the possibilities and ambitions of Sharjah". Also, if Sharjah was the focus of the biennial, I wondered why there weren't more artists from the UAE invited to participate. Only three (and only male) artists from the UAE were in this biennial - Abdulla Al Saadi, Mohammed Kazem and Hassan Sharif. All three are established artists and not just in the UAE, but I couldn't help but wonder why weren't more UAE based artists included.
Having said that, there were some works in the biennial that related to Sharjah and there were some very good standalone work, regardless of the theme.
Here are my top 10 picks from Sharjah Biennial 12, the quoted descriptions are taken from the official biennial catalogue.
Abdulla Al Saadi - Al Zannouba Journey (2015)
Various media - Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
I love the fact that Al Saadi travels across the UAE on foot and documents his experience. He's created work from his previous trips and this is a new addition which includes paintings, writing and video.
Al Zannoba Journey is an extension of Al Saadi’s The Watermelon Series, The Comparative Journey and most notably, The Stone Slippers / Al Zannoba (all 2013).
For this journey, Al Saadi planned to walk wearing zannoba, or slippers, made by the artist from rubber and goat skin. Following a specific route through mountain areas and villages in the eastern region of the UAE, Al Saadi attempted to remain self-sufficient, transporting his supplies and belongings in a wheelbarrow.
Both slippers and wheelbarrow failed him, cutting his feet and refusing to move along the steep, uneven path. But Al Saadi persevered, each limit along the way providing fuel for reflection and reconsideration.
Al Saadi documented his journey in various ways, including a GoPro camera attached to the wheelbarrow, thirty-one small paintings of the landscape employing different perspectival orientations, a journal recording his daily activities and maplike paintings on stones collected while travelling. Together these elements locate the changing relationship between nature and man.
Abdulla Al Saadi - Scarecrows (2013)
Mixed media installation
Another piece by Al Saadi, this one is from 2013 that was humourous, but also addresses public space and social relations in this region.
In 2009, Abdullah Al Saadi had the opportunity to explore Brazil during a four-month residency in South America. Inspired by the thirty-eight-metre-tall Christ the Redeemer statue that reigns over Rio de Janeiro, he made Scarecrows (2013).
While scarecrows are commonly used in fields to scare birds away to protect growing crops, Al Saadi’s idea was to create these figures in a decorative manner to attract the public.
Repurposing found objects, gourds and various distressed materials that reflect local culture and daily life, the artist depicts a community of both male and female scarecrows to disrupt taboos of gender, social relations and public space.
For SB12, dozens of these scarecrows are displayed in the open courtyard of Bait Al Serkal, an absurd, silent anti-monument.
Damián Ortega - Talking Wall (2015)
Wooden cast, clay, sand, gravel, hay, rocks, Styrofoam ear pieces and flexible PVC pipes - Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
I really liked Talking Wall because it made me think of communication, isolation, private and public spaces.
Talking Wall continues Damián Ortega’s long engagement with architecture, informal construction and systems of communication. The work also pursues the artist’s concern with restricted areas and the boundaries that define physical and intellectual territories, particularly those that can be easily violated.
On his first visit to Sharjah, Ortega was intrigued by the walls found in the heritage area and the abandoned village at Al Khan. Constructed from fossilised coral, these walls are made to be transgressed. As a thermal filter, they allow warm air to travel through organic micro-labyrinths kept moist to promote natural ventilation and cooling.
Though walls are unequivocal symbols of private property, they function as uncertain barriers, frequently penetrated by street noises, voices and weather. As suggested by Walter Benjamin’s concept of porosity, the wall as defined border between interior and exterior can evolve through spontaneous use and nature’s chaos.
The three curved structures in Talking Wall are punctuated with generous orifices connected by an invisible system of channels that transform the dense, rammed earth walls into sensitive, receptive and communicative sites.
Jawshing Arthur Liou - Kora (2011-12)
Video installation, 27:54 minutes
I was in awe as soon as I stepped in the room because of the size of the screen. The film was hypnotic, about reflection, solace and the power of nature. A beautiful video piece which I hope many people got to see.
Jawshing Arthur Liou creates video installations that employ digital technology to transform representation and reality. Kora (2011–12) highlights Liou’s 2,300-kilometre expedition from Lhasa through the Tibetan Plateau, ending at Mount Everest and Mount Kailash.
The cathartic journey, which followed the passing of his daughter Vivian, included a four-day kora – a walking circumambulation – around Mount Kailash at an elevation between five and six thousand metres. The work retraces the steps of his search while presenting vast mountain landscapes, invoking a reverence for nature and space for spiritual reflection and sanctuary.
Liou captured the experience of his pilgrimage on an ultra-high-definition 4K camera, and structured it with a minimalistic acoustic soundtrack. Focusing on the path ahead from a first-person perspective, the work simulates the otherworldliness of his journey, with startling, ever-changing vistas witnessed through the hallucinatory scrim of limited oxygen. Liou’s slow, mesmerizing excursion around the sacred mountain wends through a pass strewn with colourful prayer flags – evidence of the spiritual quests of thousands of pilgrims before him.
Rayyane Tabet - Steel Rings (2013- )
Rolled engraved steel - 80 x 10 x 0.6 cm each
A brilliant use of space inside Sharjah Museum and a very powerful installation reflecting on the political and econimic situation in the Middle East.
A line is a construction of distance in space, time and vision. It gives a strong definition to form and position through connection and separation. The Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company (TAPLine) was established in 1946 to build and operate a 1,213-kilometre-long, seventy-eight centimetre-wide pipeline to transport oil by land from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria, and after 1967, through the Golan Heights.
With this endeavour, the company conjoined three intersecting lines in an arc of history, geography and geometry. Due to the sociopolitical and geographic transformation of the region in 1983, the company was dissolved and the pipeline abandoned, its infrastructure left hidden on the land. Today it is the only physical object that crosses the borders of five countries in a region very conscious of its demarcated boundaries.
Steel Rings (2013– ), from the series The Shortest Distance Between Two Points (2007– ), is a sculpture that replicates this hidden history in ten-centimetre sections manufactured to the same diameter and thickness of the original pipeline, each engraved with the distance from the pipe's source and its corresponding geographic coordinates. Consuming an entire wing of the Sharjah Art Museum, this installation of Steel Rings represents the first sixty kilometres of the TAPLine from its origin in Saudi Arabia.
Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme - The Incidental Insurgents (Parts 1–3)
Mixed-media installation - Partial commission by Sharjah Art Foundation
Another impressive installation that included video and a 'studio space' that drew me in. The studio space had a lot of work to read and look at, it made me feel like I wanted to grab a seat and go through all the piles of paper and books. The three part video series were shown in two different spaces, as a viewer I felt like i was 'following' the characters who were just driving or walking forward, with thoughts and questions appearing on the screen.
A three-part installation that spatialises a contemporary search for a new political language and imaginary. The project positions the ‘incidental insurgent’ as both a foil for present deficiencies and a protagonist in the pursuit of new formations of self-determination.
In SB12, The Part about the Bandits (Part 1) (2012) and Unforgiving Years (Part 2) (2014) are presented across a screening room and in an artist’s studio turned meeting area.
In the latter, a variety of original and appropriated materials entwines an unlikely group of protagonists: the Marxist revolutionary Victor Serge, Abu Jildeh and Arameet, the bandit in Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives (1998), the publishing house Manshourat Salah El Din’ and the artists themselves.
The installation’s suspended state reflects the challenges of leveraging prior political gains in the face of current configurations of power and capital.
When the fall of the dictionary leaves all words lying in the streets (Part 3) (2015), commissioned for SB12, comprises a four-channel video installation driven by an experimental audio track.
Perhaps giving palpable form to the potential of the incidental insurgent in its myriad manifestations, Part 3 draws from reality, imagination and memory to move toward a direction that cannot be seen but feels possible.
Unnikrishnan C - Untitled (2015)
Oil, acrylic and carving on terracotta bricks - Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
Unnikrishnan C was born into a family traditionally engaged in basket weaving in Pezhumpara in rural Kerala. His work draws from his surroundings, especially the imagery and belief system he encountered at home.
While an art student, he started painting the terracotta bricks on the walls of his home, creating one painting a day like pages of a diary not limited to the present.
Unnikrishnan’s paintings and carvings on brick record intimate scenes of life in the city and anecdotes of his relations with people and objects. These modest vignettes reveal the artist’s urge to archive objects and ways of living that face extinction as rural Kerala sees the collapse of traditional economies centred on craft and textiles.
Untitled (2015) is a freestanding wall composed of more than three hundred painted and carved bricks that the artist has created in Pezhumpara and on site in Sharjah. Assembled as a wall dissecting the space, together these fragments suggest various structural possibilities of space and human behaviour in certain contexts.
Rheim Al Kadhi - Communications From the Field of Contact (Each Hair is a Tongue) (2015)
One of the most intimate pieces of work at the biennial, Al Kadhi created a piece made of eyelashes of sea labourers she met along Sharjah Creek.
Alkadhi’s new commission attempts to provide a framework by which to contemplate new cultural intimacies. By soliciting small pieces of peripheral vision – the eyelashes of sea labourers who work along Sharjah Creek – relationships were forged between strangers with a shared regard for the sea.
Through this intimate exchange, the stranger-participants navigated unfixed identities in migrating moments. In her work Alkadhi asks, ‘Within this temporary field, how close can we get to seeing differently than before?’
Asuncion Molinos - WAM (World Agriculture Museum) 2010/2015
In her practice, Asunción Molinos Gordo questions the categories that define ‘innovation’ in mainstream discourses. She employs installation, photography, video, sound and other media to examine the rural realm and understand the value and complexity of its cultural production and the burdens that keep it invisible and marginalised, often disregarded as folkloric or mythological.
WAM (World Agriculture Museum) combines parody, fiction, theatre and fair-distribution data to challenge the production of history and knowledge. The work employs the trope of the cabinet of curiosities to explore current methods of farming and food production. Influenced by the eclectic Agricultural Museum of Cairo, WAM recreates the atmosphere of the old museum and its colonial aesthetic, updated with contemporary discourse on ‘agricultural progress’ and biotechnology.
Understanding the museum as a theatre stage, Molinos Gordo displays a symbolic arrangement of images, raw data and opinion in an attempt to construct an incomplete scenario that reveals inconsistencies in the hegemonic narrative around food production and introduces the issues of today’s food crisis. WAM immerses the public in a spatiotemporal illusion – a museum of the future in which the truths of our present reveal their potential obsolescence and fragility.
Michael Joo - Locale Inscribed (Walking in the desert with Eisa towards the sun, looking down) 2014-15
Intervention in existing site and silver nitrate - 20 x 27 m
Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
This would be my number 1 favourite work from the biennial. I loved the aesthetics of the piece, the idea behind it and the space. It also took on different characteristics depending on the time of the day. It was bright and shiny during the day, but the space felt very sinister at night.
In his work, Michael Joo interrogates science and technology in conversation with the history of art. His works generate a set of questions that examine the ongoing exchange between man and natural history.
Joo developed his commission for SB12 after researching fossilised remains, ancient irrigation systems and outmoded ways of living. But the work is also deeply tied to his existing practice and long dialogue with the land art of Robert Smithson, here referenced through an obviating of process, with visible layers pointing to a conversation with time.
This work emerged from Joo’s site visits to Sharjah over the past year, which traversed various terrains to track archaeological patterns and traces of past human life through the universal act of walking – an act that bridges time and encourages deep contemplation of how early man negotiated survival, efficiency and pleasure. Joo’s site-specific work in a derelict warehouse near Port Khalid asks the public to perform the same act of walking.
As they follow excavated pathways that recall falaj water channels, a reflective surface covering the entire main wall bears witness to their movement. Seen in the silver-nitrate-mirrored surface, the visitor is at once walking towards herself, leaving the past behind, and towards an unknown future, which incorporates that abandoned past.
Here's a video interview with Michael Joo explaining the work.
Adrian Villar Rojas - Planetarium
Site-specific installation at Kalba Ice Factory - Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
This was the piece everyone was talking about during the biennial. It was located an hour's drive away from Sharjah and the biennial, in a former ice factory located at the creek (khor) in the southern area of Kalba - Khor Kalba.
To me, this piece encapsulated the "The past, the present, the possible" and had to be seen in person to really appreciate the magnitude and the details in it.
The practice of Adrián Villar Rojas is marked by large-scale, site-specific interventions that incorporate his fascinations with battling ecosystems, physical decay, unlikely rebirth and man’s interference in it all.
Continuing his recent experiments with organic matter, colour, suspension and cultivation, Villar Rojas has stationed his team of carpenters, metal workers and artists in an abandoned ice factory in the east-coast city of Kalba for two months to develop a massive installation of new works.
Extrapolating on cement protrusions, trenches and pits left behind at the site, the team introduced vast amounts of construction materials and a range of plants, shells, rocks, trash and bones collected in the UAE to cover the 2,400-square-metre space with a balanced composition.
Mimicking a filtration-system he witnessed in the Sharjah Municipality’s composting plant, Villar Rojas has also deployed tons of freshly produced compost to frame the main plaza of this obsolete factory.
An anomalous substance in the region, such enriched soil demonstrates how increased consumption and demographic expansion can be transformed into living parts of the environment.
Watch this video interview with Adrian Villar Rojas talking about the work and explaining the process behind it.
Last Dance: The Supercut by video editor, videographer and clearly a fan of dancing, Klara Tavakoli Goesche is an true joy to watch.
Dubai, get ready for some "East-African retro-pop" with Alsarah and the Nubatones live concert at The Music Room on Monday, 15th June.
Alsarah, is a Sudanese born singer, songwriter and ethnomusicologist. Born in the capital city of Khartoum, where she spent the first 8 years of her life, she relocated to Taez, Yemen with her family to escape the ever stifling regime in her native country. She abruptly moved to the US in 1994, when a brief civil war broke out in Yemen.
Now residing in Brooklyn, NY, she is a self-proclaimed practitioner of East-African retro-pop. Working on various projects, she most recently has been working with The Nile Project and was featured on their debut release, Aswan (named 1 of the Top 5 “Must Hear” international albums by NPR). She has also collaborated with French producer Débruit on the album Aljwal, released this past November via Soundway Records UK.
The band Alsarah and the Nubatones started out as "a dinner conversation between Alsarah and percussionist Rami El Aasser in his living room, digging through archives of old music from North Africa, and reading about migration patterns in modern day Nubia."
The band includes master oud player and luthier Haig Manoukian and bass player Mawuena Kodjovi.They've performed in prestigious venues such as The Kennedy Center, The Apollo Music Cafe, Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park, The World Music festival in Chicago, and the Festival du Mond Arab in Montreal just to name a few.
Watch the music videos below featuring songs from their album Silt. I've also embedded the album at the end of this post so you can listen to it. Beautiful voice and and lyrics, the album is smooth, groovy with a few tracks that will get you clapping and dancing.
There will be a few opening acts before Alsarah and the Nubatones come on stage, including hip-hop artist Toofless, DJ sets with James Locksmith, Essarai, DJ O))) from Beg, Steal, Borrow collective and DJ Mocity.
I am REALLY looking forward to this gig. Music aficianados in Dubai, DO NOT MISS THIS. Think it will be a fun night.
Listen to more music by Alsarah and the Nubatones from their album "Silt", which you can buy online here.
Date: Monday, 15th June 2015. Doors open at 8.00pm.
Venue: The Music Room, Majestic Hotel, Mankhoul, Bur Dubai (location map)
Tickets on the door - AED 100 and free entry for ladies before 9.00pm
Event page on Facebook
"Here Comes the Sun" is the theme of Cinema Akil's latest film screenings which will take place between 3rd June and 28th August 2015 in the Cinema Room in A4 Space at Alserkal Avenue.
The series showcases stories and narratives that grapple with concepts relating to sunlight, sunshine and the sun in its many manifestations, featuring films from around the world that span a universe of cinematic styles, directors and genres, including romance, sci-fi, drama and comedy.Presented at a time when The Sun takes full command over the city, Here Comes The Sun invites audiences to escape the heat and tuck themselves away into the Alserkal Avenue A4 screening room, a shelter of sorts for a cinematic confrontation with The Sun, our chosen protagonist for the summer.
I will list the film line up each month between now and August. But you can see the entire programme here. Here's the line up for June.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) on 3rd, 4th, 5th June at 7.00 pm
"Director F.W. Murnau's emotional odyssey stars George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor as a country couple whose marriage is threatened when O'Brien falls prey to cosmopolitan temptress Margaret Livingston's feminine wiles. Imbued with an intoxicating ambiance in style and substance, the lyrical silent film -- which is, by turns, quixotic, blissful, sensual and terrifying -- chalked up Academy Awards for Best Actress (Gaynor) and Best Cinematography."
Plein Soleil / Purple Noon (1960) on 10th, 11th, 12th June at 7.00 pm
Director: René Clément | 118 min| English, French | France | Thriller
Based on the novel by crime scribe Patricia Highsmith who also wrote 'Strangers On A Train', Rene Clement's striking study from 1960 of a glamarous and complex psychopath features a career-defining turn from a young, beautiful and ultra-cool Alain Delon.
Solntse / The Sun (2005) on 17th June at 7.00 pm and 18th, 19th June at 9.00 pm
Director: Alexander Sokurov | 110 min | Japanese | Russia | Drama, History
The Sun / Solntse is a 2005 Russian biographical film depicting Japanese Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) during the final days of World War II. The film is the third drama in director Aleksandr Sokurov's trilogy, which included Taurus about the Soviet Union's Vladimir Lenin and Moloch about Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler. The Sun won the Golden Apricot at the 2005 Yerevan International Film Festival, Armenia, for Best Feature Film.
Duel in the Sun (1946) on 25th, 26th, 27th June at 9.00 pm
Director: King Vidor | 129 min | English | USA | Western, Romance
Duel in the Sun is a Technicolor 1946 Western film directed by King Vidor, produced and written by David O. Selznick, which tells the story of a Mestiza (half-Native American) girl who goes to live with her caucasian relatives, becoming involved in prejudice and forbidden love.
The movie stars Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore.
May has been a good month of film watching, especially on the big screen, in Dubai, Sharjah and London.
- Watching Once Upon a Time in America: Extended Director's Cut in London at the Brixton Ritzy. Wrote about it here.
- Watching The Tribe at ICA in London. This film from Ukraine has been getting great reviews from last year, so I was glad I managed to see it in London. Not a single spoken word was uttered, the whole film was in sign language acted deaf non-actors. A harsh and brutal film set in a school for the deaf.
- Mad Max: Fury Road was such a thrill. I watched it twice.
- Really enjoyed watching It Follows by David Robert Mitchell in the cinema (wrote about it here) and I also managed to see his first film, The Myth of the American Sleepover. Not a horror like It Follows, but still focuses on teens - a very toned down and warm film about teenagers. Looking forward to see what he works on next.
- Two film screenings in Sharjah during the Sharjah Biennial Meetings, there were lots of long and drawn out talks, but the two film screenings were my highlights. The impromtu screenng of Out on the Street by Jasmina Metwaly and Philip Rizk which premiered at the Berlinale earlier this year and Eliso aka Caucasian Love by Nikoloz Shengelaia a film from the Soviet Union made in 1928.
- The National Gallery by Frederick Wiseman, a fly on the wall three hour documentary about the National Gallery in London. Very dense and insightful.
- Deep Red by Dario Argento from 1975. Despite the hammy acting, it had some scenes that freaked. me. out. Once to add in my list of favourite horror films.
- Seeing Stanley Kubrick's first feature film Fear and Desire. Some dramatic close up shots in this and signs of his greatness that would appear in his later films.
- May also known as Eurovision month and to those that don't know me, I LOVE Eurovision, so I watched everything I could related to it, including the competition of course. It's an annual tradition.
The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell, 2010) ★★★★
Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975) ★★★★
Oh, Moon / A Ay (Reha Erdem, 1989, Turkey) ★★★
Travel Plans (Ted Fendt, 2013) ★★
Broken Specs (Ted Fendt, 2012) ★★
Diary of a Pregnant Woman (Agnès Varda, 1958) ★★★
The National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman, 2014) ★★★★
Dior and I (Frédéric Tcheng, 2015) ★★★★
Tomorrowland (Brad Bird, 2015) ★
Zorba the Greek ( Michael Cacoyannis, 1964) ★★★★
Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939) ★★★★
Once Upon a Time in America: Extended Director's Cut (Sergio Leone, 1984, 2012) ★★★★★
The Tribe (Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, 2014, Ukraine) ★★★★★
Industrial Soundtrack For the Urban Decay (Amélie Ravalec & Travis Collins, 2015) ★★★
Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951) ★★★★★
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (Chuck Workman, 2014) ★★★★
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011) ★★★★
The Girl on a Motorcycle (Jack Cardiff, 1968) ★★★
Mon Oncle Antoine (Claude Jutra, 1971) ★★★★
Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski, 1962) ★★★
Mad Max:Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) ★★★★★
Me Without You (Sandra Goldbacher, 2001) ★★★
Nocturno 29 (Perre Portabella, 1968) ★★★★
Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, 2008) ★★★
Out on the Street (Jasmina Metwaly and Philip Rizk, 2015) ★★★★★
Eliso aka Caucasian Love (Nikoloz Shengelaia, 1928) ★★★★★
C.R.A.Z.Y. (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2005) ★★★
Involuntary (Ruben Östlund,2008) ★★★
Dingomaro (Iran, Kamran Heidari, 2013) ★★★
It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2015) ★★★★
Fear and Desire (Stanley Kubrick, 1953) ★★★
The Man with the Golden Arm (Otti Preminger, 1955) ★★★
Where the Truth Lies (Atom Egoyan, 2005) ★★★
Code 46 (Michael Winterbotton, 2003) ★★★
Top of the Pops: The Story of 1978 (BBC)
Eurovision at 60 (BBC)
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
Eurovision's Greatest Hits concert (BBC)
For the month of June, Cinema at The Space will explore explore a selection of original films and filmmakers who have created innovative, daring and highly memorable experiences leaving an indelible impression across the world. It includes some of my favourite films, including In the Mood for Love which is in my top 3.
The screenings take place at The Space in Abu Dhabi (twofour54 Park Rotana Building), and free to attend, but you must RSVP in advance.
Here's the line up for June:
Last week I was in London for a few days to attend Photo London. But I also made time to watch a few films, one of them was a special screening of an extended director's cut of Sergio Leone's last film, Once Upon a Time in America, which I couldn't miss.
Once Upon a Time in America was first released in 1984. I saw it on VHS, but can’t remember exactly when, most probably in the late 1980s. Before going in to see the extended version, I couldn’t remember much of the film; apart from a few scenes that stayed with me from the first time I saw it.
Oddly enough, scenes from the film were used in Modern Talking's music video Brother Louie, a hit from 1986. For a while I thought the song was from the film, and when I watched it, I realised it had NOTHING to do with the film. Till today I keep wondering how and why Modern Talking used scenes from a Sergio Leone film. What did Sergio Leone think?
But back to the extended director's cut - it looked magnificent on the big screen. Quoting Martine Scorsese, "a great film just became that much greater".
The extended version is 4 hours and 15 minutes long and is the version that should have been released in 1984 - the one Sergio Leone would have wanted us to see compared to the butchered version that was released in the US. (The US version was re-edited in chronological order and lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes and the European version, presented at Cannes in May 1984, lasted 3 hours and 49 minutes.)
It is a masterpiece and I don't use this word lightly. A poetic film about friendship, love, nostalgia, greed and betrayal set between the 1920 and 1960s.
This extended version has a better flow - it's a fuller film and even though some of the new inserted scenes had a lower quality look to them (there were from discarded strips of film that were originally printed for reference only), they added tension and build up.
Leone’s final film, Once Upon a Time in America (1984), re-envisioned the gangster genre. Based on Harry Grey's novel, The Hoods, the story follows the lives of a gang of childhood friends, led by David “Noodles” Aaronson (Robert De Niro) and Maximilian “Max” Bercovicz (James Woods), as they rise to prominence in New York City's criminal underworld.
Spanning a period of American history from the 1920s to the 1960s in a non-chronological structure, Leone and the film's crew meticulously evoked three separate eras through masterful production design, costuming, and a brilliant score by Ennio Morricone.
Exquisitely lensed in the United States and Europe, Once Upon a Time in America was one of the last great epics to be shot before the advent of the digital age. With its unforgettable imagery and powerful performances, the film is the culmination of Sergio Leone’s magnificent career.
The film was restored by Italy’s Bologna Cinematheque in collaboration with Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation and Gucci. Here's a clip where you can hear Martin Scorsese talking about the restoration.
The screening at the Ritzy was followed by talk and Q & A with Elizabeth McGovern, moderated by Craig Williams. McGovern played the adult Deborah (the young Deborah was acted by a very young Jennifer Connelly). And yes, the Elizabeth McGovern that many of you know as Cora Crawley aka Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey.
McGovern talked about the experience of the screening of the extended version at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival – almost 30 years after the cast and crew worked on it. She described the strange feeling she had seeing the scene where Deborah and Noodles (Robert De Niro) meet 30 years later in the film and how she related that moment with Robert de Niro sitting next to her at the screening, how she and the rest of the cast had gone through their own 30 year journey in their careers.
Answering a question if she and Jennifer Connelly worked together during the film, she said despite the similarities in looks and mannerisms with Jennifer Connelly, they never actually discussed or worked on their characters together.
She also touched upon how she received harsh criticisms for her character Deborah for appearing weak and victimized, but was happy the restored and extended version was able to show Deborah as a much stronger and empowered character, that she pursued her dreams and succeeded.
One of the audience members asked if Sergio Leone discussed or explained the ending with the cast, McGovern replied saying that never happened, he left it for his cast and viewers to interpret it themselves.
Also I had no idea she’s a singer/songwriter and fronts a band called Sadie and the Hotheads.
The screening I saw was the UK theatrical premiere and it was the only screening. Sadly there hasn't been any announcement of more screenings in cinemas in the UL or elsewhere, but you can find it on iTunes in some regions. It is also available on Blu Ray.
Hopefully Once Upon a Time in America will gets its cinema-worthy moment for its 40th anniversary in 2024. But if you ever get a chance to watch this version of Once Upon a Time in America, especially on the big screen, please don’t miss it.
I leave you with this short interview with Robert De Niro about Once Upon a Time in America and you can read more about the film and the restortion here.
More images via festival-cannes.com.
On Sunday, 31st May, Alserkal Avenue and Cinema Akil will host the UAE premiere of Deepak Rauniyar’s Highway at A4 Space. The aim of the night is to raise money for the recovery efforts in Nepal, via the Dubai-based social initiative Flea4Charity in association with the UAE Red Crescent.
Entry is by donation and all contributions will go directly to the recovery efforts.
Highway is viewed as a new era in Nepali filmmaking, it was first screened the Berlin International Film Festival in 2012.
Directed by: Deepak Rauniyar | Nepali with English Subtitles | 80 mins | PG
All aboard the bus to Kathmandu! As if the mountain terrain weren’t challenging enough, our bus is repeatedly stopped by bandhs, spontaneous civil disobedience blockades which are a frequent phenomenon since the end of the civil war.
Meanwhile, a young woman can’t decide between her boyfriend and the fiancé arriving to marry her; a soldier rushes to his wife in time to try out a fertility potion he’s swallowed (not knowing she’s kept some secrets from him); and the bus driver knows the woman he loves may be forced back into another life if he doesn’t show up with money for her sick child.
Deepak Rauniyar’s debut feature has provoked a tumultuous response from Nepali audiences with its realistic characters and their taboo-shrouded issues rendered in an improvised cinematic style that heightens an already wild ride.
Date: Sunday, 31st May 2015
19:05 Nepal (2013) a short film by Dubai-based filmmaker Lafi Abood
19:15 Highway (2012) a feature film by Deepak Rauniyar
Venue: A4 Space in Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, Dubai (location map)