Thursday, June 29, 2006


Antonioni, Weaver on Calvino

The other night I popped out to BAM to see one of Antonioni's semi-obscure films, Identification of a Woman (1982). Thematically, it's par for the course: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy is devoured by contemporary anomie. Since the boy happens to be a frustrated director, the film takes on a reflexive ripple of autobiographical interest. Still, it remains pretty thin gruel, enlivened only by Antonioni's crisp compositions, a few patches of sneaky comedy, and some energetic rolling in the hay (courtesy of Daniela Silverio, who plays the upper-crust object of desire.) On one level it's about a writer's block, which raises the inevitable comparison with 8 and 1/2. When Fellini (or his fictional proxy) had a breakdown, it was a noisy, messy affair, a carnival of unease. In Antonioni's case, it's more like being trapped in a silent, chrome-and-glass elevator. His proxy, Tomas Milian, spends most of the movie with a pained look on his face, as if his shoes were too tight. In his ancient review, Vincent Canby compared the leading man to "a morose Dudley Moore"--accurate, I must say--and was similarly jocular about the director's mystifying tendencies. "There are still a number of red herrings drying in the sun when the film ends," he writes. (Zing!)

While I was taking a breather from blogging, I came across this brief, touching reflection on Italo Calvino by his customary translator, William Weaver. For the most part he discusses his work on Invisible Cities, whose lucid poetry demanded not only a sharp eye but a hypersensitive ear: "Translating Calvino is an aural exercise as well as a verbal one. It is not a process of turning this Italian noun into that English one, but rather of pursuing a cadence, a rhythm--sometimes regular, sometimes willfully jagged--and trying to catch it, while, like a Wagner villain, it may squirm and change shape in your hands." But this short essay also offers a sidelong glance at Calvino himself, who clearly had zero appetite for small talk:
Our conversations were always a pleasure for me, though Calvino was anything but a conversationalist. In literary circles, hostesses exchanged horrified stories of his agonizing silences, which could freeze an entire dinner table. Calvino--it seemed to me--did not enjoy talking with me about his writing except at the basic, dictionary level of our working encounters. During one of these, a meeting at his house in Square du Chatillon in Paris, I unwittingly overstepped the bounds; I casually asked him if he was working on something new. Calvino froze, cleared his throat nervously, hemmed, hawed, then finally muttered, almost growling: "I'm thinking about some cities." I quickly redirected the talk to the problems at hand.

Italo Calvito has also been my favorite writer. If you wana read the best, read his novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If on a winter's night a traveler (1979). They are absolutely fantastic. Thanks alot for this great sharing.
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