|Forums > Film-making > YES and Fassbinder
at 16:19, 13 Apr 2007
|YES and Fassbinder
Hello from Toronto- I am a prof here at U of T, and I was recently speaking with Sophie Mayer who is currently writing a book about you for Wallflower Press. I am writing an article about your movie YES and she encouraged me to contact you through this forum. Two questions: When watching YES, I was struck by the honest, sensual, and complex portrayal of the relation between the lovers, and by the way poetic language seemed to create connection between them. I was thinking also of Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (although that movie is obviously very different from yours, I was interested in the depiction of the Arab male love interest in both). What are your thoughts on Fassbinder's work -- given the way his films play with gender and sexuality, I wondered if you saw any similarities or points of contact between your work and his? And more generally, what challenges/opportunities did you find in creating an Arabic character without exoticizing or idealizing? Thanks in advance for taking the time to respond. I am happy to take your response on the forum; if, however, you would be interested in talking to me further as well, my e-mail address is: email@example.com
at 12:50, 14 May 2007
Hello, sorry you have waited nearly a month to hear from me. My attention has been focussed on new and increasingly demanding projects. I hope this reply is not too late for your needs.
Yes, I think it is true that poetic forms, which are essentially dense and precise, have the potential for creating frameworks in which connections of all kinds become more possible. Connections between different ways of thinking about the world, between the material and the spiritual, sensuality and politics, as well as connections between individuals. The ramblings of ‘normal’ speech are slower, somehow, even when distilled or condensed. Poems are arrows, shooting at the heart; there is a feeling of urgency, of speed. Getting to the point. (No financiers that I met agreed with this perspective in relation to film. They were overwhelmingly concerned that any spoken language with a degree of formality in its structure would push people away, alienate them).
Fassbinder: I never felt as connected with his work as some of the other German filmmakers of that period: the early Wenders, for example. But Fassbinder’s work taken as a whole -his oeuvre- always seemed to me more vivid and extraordinary than each individual film. Perhaps I felt the presence of the man, his struggles and preoccupations, more keenly than the forms he arrived at. I always loved the sense of danger and commitment that infiltrates the work; the intensity, the risk. Perhaps that is where I feel the point of contact. The love of risk, the love of the process. Your question makes me want to re-visit his work…it has been a long time since I have seen one of his films.
The character of HE was based on observation, and a kind of listening…not just to words spoken but to an historical accumulation of cultural pride and pain. I listened to friends, I read books, and the work with Simon Abkarian deepened my understanding of the character I was writing. (By the way, I thought of HE as a man from Beirut, rather than necessarily Arabic. But any man from the Middle East is, in the eyes of the West, linked to Arabic culture in its myriad forms.)
The struggle to avoid exoticising or idealising is the same struggle for subtlety, against cliché, that applies in writing any character, especially one who is not generally at the centre of the stories we are familiar with. I tried to get into the skin of HE, just as I tried to get into the skin of the dying aunt, the teenager drowning in celebrity culture, the husband who unwittingly finds he has become the enemy in his own home, the cleaner who has become invisible. It wasn’t that hard to imagine what it might be like.
I also read a lot of Arabic poetry. There I found the musical rhythms of speech, the imagery, the melancholy, the sensuality in metaphors, the intelligence, the anger. And I only had to switch on the news and watch men from the Middle East regularly being humiliated to get a sense of what can happen when you erode people’s dignity.
I also believe we are all more deeply linked than we can mostly articulate or even feel. We slip into cliché when we forget this fact. Every individual from every background anywhere in the world is a miraculously complex bundle of thought, feeling and experience; unique – extraordinarily so, given the numbers of humans on earth - and yet profoundly similar.
You, me, Fassbinder, a man from the Middle East….not so many degrees of separation.
at 01:27, 19 May 2007
Thank you so much for your gracious and thought-provoking response. It's extremely helpful to me. It's been such a pleasure, by the way, to re-visit and write about your film. Good luck with your ongoing projects -- I always look forward to seeing your work.