Ideal Home Noise (3): Wenders, Costa-Gavras, Home
Ideal home noise: Fiction, photography, comics, film, and music that’s worth taking up space in your head. Welcome to the third installment of a regular column surveying the landscape by Jeff Jackson. -ed.
WRITTEN IN THE WEST (REVISITED)
by Wim Wenders
Although best known as a film director, Wim Wenders’ first book of photography Written in the West (1983) became a cult classic and established him as a mature talent in the medium.
Shot throughout the American West while scouting locations for his film Paris, Texas, Wenders focused on rundown and abandoned motels, bars, cafes, movie theaters, and gas stations throughout small towns of the region. (Oddly, none of them feature the town of Paris, Texas itself.)
There’s a resonant emptiness to these half-forgotten landscapes that shares an aesthetic with his film making, but the photographs are more than could-have-been movie stills. The strongest work here evokes desolate scenes in vibrant color, creating images that simultaneously suggest narrative and cancel it out. It’s a shame, though, that for this new “revisited” version of Written in the West, Wenders subtracted a number of original images he deemed weak.
He’s compensated by adding a series of never seen images shot in the town of Paris, Texas. While taken several years later with a different type of camera, these haunting photos of gun stores, cowboy bars, music shops, and A.A. meetings fit perfectly with the rest of the book.
Overall, this volume serves as a welcome reminder of Wenders’ prodigious talents. With his early films scheduled for re-release next year, it’s a good time to reappraise his best work. This slim volume stands in that company.
STATE OF SIEGE
Films by Costa-Gavras
Costa-Gavras shot onto the international film scene in the late sixties with Z, a propulsive political thriller that mixed verité camerawork and historical events. But the two films he made right after his breakthrough have been unavailable for decades. Criterion’s Blu-ray release of State of Siege and The Confession rescues these films, showcasing them in beautifully restored prints and loaded with extras. They’re welcome rediscoveries, vital movies whose unflinching mix of real-world politics and sophisticated storytelling remains timely.
The Confession (1970) offers a harrowing take on the Soviet show trials of the 1950s, when Eastern Bloc governments turned on their own officials. It stars Yves Montand as a Communist true believer who can’t understand why he’s been abducted, tortured, and interrogated for years on end. The film alternates between brutal physical ordeals and byzantine bureaucratic procedures until they begin to blur. Also included is You Speak of Prague, a rare 30-minute short about this period by visionary filmmaker Chris Marker.
Even better is State of Siege (1972), which revolves around the kidnapping of a CIA official in South America and details the U.S. government’s extensive involvement in that region. It dramatizes a democratic country with growing inequalities that’s edging toward the brink of civil war.
The brash media manipulations and crude political maneuvering of that country’s elites are strikingly similar to the Republican party’s current playbook. Instead of being a distant historical echo, this story plays out with eerie immediacy.
THE 9 LIVES OF RAY THE CAT JONES
By Stewart Home
Stewart Home’s radical fiction operates in the blind spot of liberal book culture. He only employs recognizable plots, characters, and emotions when they serve his satirical ends – and more scandalously, he doesn’t care about writing traditionally well-crafted literary sentences.
His anti-novels, such as 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess, actively question the elements that many people consider foundations of a “good read.”
While this might sound forbidding, once you’ve tapped into Home’s frequency, his work is frequently hilarious, subverting various genres and rendering literary clichés ridiculous. The London Review of Books compared him to Kathy Acker and baldly stated, “I really don’t think anyone who is at all interested in the study of literature has any business not knowing the work of Stewart Home.” But in the U.S., he seems to have dropped off the radar.
His latest book, The 9 Lives of Ray the Cat Jones, is a mock memoir of the legendary English cat burglar. Despite being published on a small art press, it’s his most approachable and superficially conventional novel.
Home claims the manuscript was written by Jones himself and came to him through circuitous connections and parts of the book make his claim almost credible. In a compelling no-nonsense voice, Jones recounts his action packed exploits, including a difficult childhood in a Welsh mining community, bare-knuckle boxing matches, stealing jewels from celebrities, being set up by the police, and undertaking one of the most notorious prison escapes. His story also serves as an alternate history of London’s underworld and its gangsters, thieves, fences, and art forgers.
Where Home swerves from the typical biographical narrative is that Ray Jones interprets his colorful exploits through a Marxist lens.
He stole from the rich with a keen purpose: “My burglaries were a form of propaganda by deed against the very existence of private ownership, so it isn’t surprising the system’s defenders would invert the real nature of property relations by claiming that it was people like me rather than capitalist social relations that were violent.”
These interludes are frequent, transforming the memoir into a probing indictment of class relations without stripping away any of the action. While this book isn’t as gonzo as his earlier works, it’s typical of how Home rewires existing genres so they function in new ways. It’s marked by his sense of humor and play, the secret profundity of a prankster who’s intent on turning the traditional novel inside-out.