I know that I said I’d post some things for you this weekend but in my defense I spent most of the last 4 days blowing my nose. I did, however, watch a few films, including The Phenix City Story, Dial 1119, Wolf, Blood Ties, and a few episodes of Broadchurch (in addition to one episode of Grantchester on Sunday, a series my friend refers to as “the sexy vicar show”).
I can recommend all of these save Blood Ties, which should have been incredible given its provenance as a French crime novel, its budget, and its cast. Marion Cotillard, for instance, AND Clive Owen (AND Zoe Saldana, Lili Taylor, James Caan, et al). Unfortunately, the end product was a mess. Actually, thinking about it now, perhaps its flaws are the very reason why you ought to screen Blood Ties: those failures are ultimately narrative in character and will thus be instructive. It’s obvious when a narrative doesn’t work; we need to be able to explain why.
Wolf, as many critics noted upon its initial release, is simply a re-telling of the classic immigrant crime story, one familiar to fans of Paul Muni’s Scarface or Edgar G. Robinson’s Rico: the tension between 1st generation and second generation, the temptations of fast money, the structural violence of capitalism versus the spectacular violence of robbery and assault, etc. That the lead character, Adil, played by Chemseddine Amar, is lured away from a promising kick-boxing career and ultimately betrayed and led astray by one of his closest friends only underscores the extent to which this film meets many of the most familiar narrative conventions of the genre.
The Phenix City story is brutal in a way only stories set in the (Jim Crow) Dirty South can be. It has been described as one of the most violent Hollywood films of the 1950s and this might be true. Certainly the film goes right up to the limit of what was permissible according to the Production Code (a system that you will want to become familiar with).
There are two biographical documentaries of Emile Zola available through the library. You can stream them via Films on Demand. We will need to discuss the historical context of Zola’s novel (the Second Empire, and the eve of the Paris Commune, a bit past the halfway mark of Eric Hobsbawm’s useful if counter-intuitive periodization “the long 19th century”– 1789-1914).
Just as crucial, we should discuss Zola’s role as THE key figure of European literary naturalism– a genre that feeds into crime fiction in its hard-boiled mode and represents, perhaps, a shift in what Raymond Williams called the era’s “structure of feeling.”