Edge of Stardom
The prodigiously talented Fatih Akin, a 34-year-old German filmmaker of Turkish descent, has been navigating new territory in European cinema with his sophisticated take on multicultural Europe since his fierce 2004 breakout feature, Head-On. An exploration of love and cross-cultural friction in Hamburg and Istanbul, it bagged the Golden Bear at that year’s Berlin film festival. A year later his Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul offered a moving tour of Turkish music. His latest film, The Edge of Heaven, which won Best Screenplay honors last year at the European Film Awards and Cannes, arrives in U.S. theaters in May. It is a multilingual tale of crossing paths but wears its interwoven narratives less ostentatiously than does Babel or Crash. (“Akin doesn’t try to hide the plot’s coincidences or Swiss watch–like precision,” Variety observed.) His next stop is in this country, for the “Chinatown” segment of the portmanteau film New York, I Love You, to be released later this year.
They say no one writes a decent part for women over 40 in Hollywood. So when word got out that in October Knopf would be publishing John Updike’s Widows of Eastwick, the much-anticipated sequel to his 1984 novel The Witches of Eastwick, we have to imagine certain Hollywood BlackBerrys were buzzing.
Set in the same sleepy Rhode Island town 30 years later, the three witches have returned from abroad, all having lost their husbands. Who, we debated, should take the roles memorably played by Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon in the 1987 original? (This time around there’s no Jack Nicholson devil character—he’s left town—which is too bad; we were picturing Tilda Swinton in a gender-bending turn.) Our list began: Jane Alexander for Sarandon’s Jane, Julie Christie for Pfeiffer’s Sukie, and for Cher’s Alexandra the inimitable Sylvia Miles.
But then, we thought, why not have some fun and shift things around a bit? How about Catherine Deneuve, Betty Catroux, and Jeanne Moreau in a small town in Provence? Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, and Judi Dench mixing up spells in a Cornwall cottage? Or set the film in Miami, and this could be perfect for a Golden Girls reunion. Sorry, the devil made us do it.
Last year’s Africa exhibition at the Venice Biennale tapped the surging interest in the art world’s last “undiscovered” region. No African artist has gotten more (deserved) attention than Ghanaian El Anatsui, who makes exquisite tapestrylike wall hangings using bits of cast-off metal and other detritus.
Some argue that big international contemporary art exhibitions held every two or three years have become too predictable—same coterie of curators, same artists—and that they’ve been rendered less relevant by commercial fairs and the blistering pace of change in today’s art world. But don’t tell that to the hordes of frequent-flier art professionals and collectors who can’t stand to miss a beat. A map of this year’s busy trail, stops 1 through 12.
- Whitney Biennial
Through June 1
At the Whitney Museum of American Art and Park Avenue Armory; whitney.org
- Carnegie International
May 3–January 11, 2009
At the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; cmoa.org
- Reykjavik Arts Festival
May 15–June 5
At various venues around Iceland’s capital; artfest.is
- Sydney Biennial
June 18–September 7
At venues around the city; biennaleofsydney.com.au
- SITE Santa Fe
June 22–October 26
At SITE Santa Fe and other venues around the city; sitesantafe.org
- Gwangju Biennale
September 5–November 9
At Biennale Hall; gb.or.kr (Many visitors also go to the concurrent Busan Biennial.)
- Shanghai Biennale
September 8–November 16
At the Shanghai Art Museum; shanghaibiennale.org
- Taipei Biennial
September 13– January 11, 2009
At the Taipei Fine Arts Museum; taipeibiennial.org
- Liverpool Biennial
September 20–November 30
At various venues and public spaces around the city; biennial.com
- Bienal de Sao Paulo
October 26–December 6
At the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion in Ibirapuera Park; bienalsaopaulo.globo.com
- Prospect.1 New Orleans
November 1–January 18, 2009
At venues and public spaces around the city; prospectneworleans.org
- TURIN Triennale
November 6– January 18, 2009
At the Castello di Rivoli, Promotrice delle Belle Arti, and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo; torinotriennale.it
In June Salman Rushdie will publish his tenth novel, The Enchantress of Florence (Knopf). It’s a lush, peripatetic tale that weaves together the 16th-century Mogul empire of Akbar the Great and the late Renaissance Florence of Machiavelli, a historical figure who has fascinated Rushdie since his days at Cambridge. There is, as the title suggests, a woman at the center of it all. Our special cultural correspondent, Paul Holdengräber, recently sat down with the celebrated author.
PH: Why put Machiavelli and Emperor Akbar together?
SR: When I began to read about the period, I discovered certain surprising things. For instance, the philosophy and political thought of the first Mogul emperor—Babur, the grandfather of Akbar—were remarkably like those of Florence’s rulers at the time. Alternately, there are some passages of Machiavelli that you could transpose, almost, to Babur. These people who had no contact with each other’s thoughts were arriving at similar humanistic but also very realpolitik ideas of how to run the world.
PH: Why is that moment in history important to explore now?
SR: Well, I think that we may be losing our grip on some of these ideas, which are the foundational ideas of civilization. Whether it’s East or West, if you don’t have respect for the individual, that’s one step toward barbarism. If life doesn’t matter, then it can be easily lost. What’s happening in the Renaissance is that both ideas are there: the idea of the value of the human life and the idea of the absolute triviality and dispensability of human life. The brutality of this world is contrasted with the incredible culture that’s being developed. We also live in a world where there is great brutality. But it might be that we’re becoming less brutal, ironically, since we sit around and talk about the appalling things happening in the world today. After all, these were people who would hang an archbishop in full regalia out the window at the drop of a hat.
PH: You seem to have a great interest in the notion of defeat. And maybe failure, in some way?
SR: One of the first times I ever met Günter Grass—I think I was in Germany when Midnight’s Children came out in translation—and he talked very interestingly about defeat. He said he felt that Germans had learned more from their defeat than Americans had learned from their victory.
PH: How do you see that?
SR: He says that to be on the winning side is kind of dumb because you don’t question yourself. When you lose, you have to question everything. So losing is a much more profound act. In my own life I’ve found that losses teach you more than gains. One of the great losses for me was when my parents sold our house in Bombay, which I felt was the place where I was rooted. I was 16 or something, and I’ve never been so angry at my parents. But now if I look at the kind of life I’ve had, it grows out of that loss. Had I had that permanent home, I would just have gone back there to live after Cambridge and stayed forever. God knows if I’d ever have written anything worth a damn.
PH: Your new novel is quite funny. Talk a bit about the role of humor.
SR: It’s two things. On the one hand, the comedy varies from high to quite low. For instance, when the emperor gets irritated with his deaf servant, that’s almost slapstick comedy. And the other thing is that it’s probably—no, without any question—it’s the most sexually explicit book I’ve ever written. There’s an enormous amount of sex, which I hope makes it interesting.
PH: I learned a lot.
SR: Exactly. Well, me too. I just thought the two things that humanize faster than anything are laughter and desire. If you can write a novel that is full of laughter and desire, it’s a world that everybody can enter.