There's More to Life than Just Movies

I know. That is a heretical statement. And I will probably be burned at the stake by the Cinematic Inquisition. (Well, I would be, if I weren't one of the leading inquisitors myself. In honor of the great Warner Brothers cartoons, I call myself -- wait for it -- Porky-Mada.)

However, just to put your minds at ease, allow me to open up another round of random entries by giving you an advance head's-up on an upcoming film opening. Ira Hozinsky and I spent a very entertaining 90 minutes at Film Forum this morning at the press screening of Corneliu Porumboiu's 12:08, East of Bucharest, one of the late spring's more eagerly anticipated releases, and I can say quite happily that Porumboiu's debut feature is every bit as good as the advance word on it. Very dark, very dry and very funny, with an ingenious use of diegetic camerawork and some of the best deadpan humor in recent film. It opens at Forum on June 6 and I'll have more to say about it next week.


Some of us also read books. Actually, thinking back to Steven Spielberg's quasi-infamous Oscar speech about the need to read books, I have always thought that the Blessed One was being incredibly condescending or astonishingly naive in his heartfelt appeal to the industry. After all, it was Spielberg and Lucas who churned out all that toy-marketing crap in the '80s and, in the process, created the next generation of manipulative film-school nitwits. (Hey, I went to film school too, so back off.) In truth, the film people I know were all voracious readers, frequently with deliciously esoteric taste that spoke quite nicely for their heightened literacy and literary interests.

God knows, we need more people like that today. I can't remember the figure offhand, but the percentage of fiction published in the US and UK that is translated from other languages is infinitesimal -- less than 10%, I'm sure -- and the result is that our willful ignorance of history and of cultures other than our own just grows and grows.

That's why I'm stepping out from under my film-critic hat (it's a colorfully embroidered sombrero, by the way) to urge you to check out one of my favorite websites/on-line magazines, Words Without Borders. Their focus in May was on prison writings from around the world, not surprisingly concentrating on Latin America and the Middle East, two regions in which writers are found behind bars as often as they are found at bars in New York City.

WWB is also one of the prime movers behind a worthy endeavor, Reading the World 2007, an attempt to get booksellers and readers behind recent translated literature. They have an excellent website with links to international reading blogs, an admirable list of recently published titles, and all the requisite links you could possibly want.

Of course, you could go to one of the giant chain booksellers, particularly those on-line behemoths who shall remain nameless, to buy these books, but I urge you -- as I frequently do -- to go to your local independent bookseller in person and buy or order the titles you want. They need the money and deserve your support. Riggio, Bezos and their ilk do not.
If you must buy on-line, go to Powell's; they are a union shop and have every bit as impressive a selection as the Burger Books chains.