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Posts Tagged ‘David Bezmozgis’

A Big Week!

May 4, 2011 | by

It’s a big week for friends of The Paris Review, one full of readings, parties, and performances that we thought you, our dear readers, might like to attend:

Saturday, May 7: FUNraiser for J&L BOOKS

Leanne Shapton and Jason Fulford will host a fundraiser for their imprint, J&L books, which dedicates itself to publishing well-designed books of previously unpublished or rarely seen work by contemporary artists. A $10 ticket will get you a letterpressed Mother’s Day card and a raffle ticket, as well as access to a sale of vintage clothes, and original art by J&L artists. Later that evening, J&L will celebrate the launch of Another Ventriloquist by Adam Gilders. Click here for more information.

Monday, May 9: David Bezmozgis and Francine Prose

The New York Public Library’s Cullman Center will host a conversation between David Bezmozgis and Francine Prose, who are the authors of The Free World and My New American Life, respectively. Tickets are free but must be reserved. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, May 10: Geoff Dyer Talks with Lorin Stein

At Greenlight Books, Geoff Dyer and Lorin Stein will discuss Dyer’s latest book, a collection of essays called Otherwise Known as the Human Condition at Greenlight Books. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, May 11: Pop-Up Magazine + ESPN Magazine

What happens when you make a magazine for just one night? Nothing is published, nothing goes online—it’s a live magazine. Join contributors to The New Yorker, This American Life, The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, and others as they share stories, films, interviews, photography, and much more live on stage. Tickets are $25, click here for more information.

And keep up by checking out our events calendar!

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David Bezmozgis on ‘The Free World’

April 5, 2011 | by

Photograph by David Franco.

Set in Rome in 1978, David Bezmozgis’s first novel, The Free World, tells the story of the Krasnansky family, three generations of Latvian Jews, who leave their lives in Riga, and, like many Soviet immigrants bound for the West in the late seventies, must spend six months in the Italian metropolis to secure their visas. Contrary to the book’s title, the Krasnanskys find themselves confined to this Roman waiting room, weighed down by the rubble of their communist past, the uncertainty of their future, and their allegiances to one another. Born in Riga in 1973, Bezmozgis immigrated to Canada with his family in 1980 and told the immigrant assimilation story with his tender, restrained collection of short fiction, Natasha and Other Stories (2004). The Free World is a sort of prologue to Natasha, the taxing journey his resilient characters—Jews in Transit, as the émigré newspaper offered in Rome is called—made before settling in the North American suburb. I recently spoke with Bezmozgis at a café not far from the New York Public Library, where he is currently a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center.

The Krasnanskys’ story begins on a train platform in Vienna and concludes before they ever reach the North American free world. Had you always intended to contain the narrative in this strange way station?

Yes, one thing I knew very clearly is that the book begins when they get to Italy and it ends when they’re about to leave. That in-between period, that purgatory, is the balancing point between the past, the unknowable future, and the present, which is intriguing and exotic. It’s full of dramatic possibility. It was always fascinating to me that these people had given up their lives without really knowing where they were going. I feel like I leave my apartment in Brooklyn to go to the Bronx with more information than my parents had leaving the Soviet Union to go to Canada.

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On ‘Barney’s Version’: Barney’s Voice

February 25, 2011 | by

A Confession
David Bezmozgis | February 23, 2011

Rosamund Pike as Miriam, Barney's third wife.

Dear David,

There is a bias in Hollywood against voice-over narration. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat in a meeting and heard producers and development people go on and on about how they hate voice-over, calling it a “device.” I feel differently, however. My thinking is that if it can embellish the material, it should be used. The problem is that far too often it is used as a crutch. It’s redundant (we hear what we see) and therefore, downright boring. This has given voice-over narration a bad name. Yet we have seen it used effectively in films from the past, such as Little Big Man and My Life as a Dog, or more recent films, such as Easy A and Juno.

Even if I agree with you about the flow of the movie being better without the use of Barney’s particularly idiosyncratic voice, which is ultimately the main artery into Richler’s voice, I still have this nagging sense that something is missing in the film. To be honest, I am not sure I will ever be totally happy with the film but this opens up a whole other can of worms. Most artists, in general, are never really satisfied with the final product. We are always the Monday-morning quarterback, wishing we had done it like this and not like that. Don’t get me wrong, there are many things I like about Barney. The wedding sequence, for example, always gives me a kick. But in retrospect, I do miss Barney’s voice, because without it I feel that we are missing the notion of his actual “version.” His voice would have given the title more resonance and, in doing so, perhaps given more cogency to the piece as a whole. Also, for the audience, the concept of unreliable narrator would have been far easier to grasp.

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On ‘Barney’s Version’: The Great Taboo

February 25, 2011 | by

A Confession
David Bezmozgis | February 23, 2011

Mordecai Richler.

Hi Richard,

It’s interesting to hear you say that you still miss Barney’s voice. The book is driven to a great extent by Barney’s strong, idiosyncratic voice. (I, too, remember very well his riff about the colander.) That’s a tough thing to transfer to the screen. How to do that without weighing the film down and without making the audience too conscious of some kind of device—that is, the technical justification for how we are able to hear him? (One example from a relatively recent American film is Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt, in which we hear Schmidt’s voice through the inappropriate letters he writes to the child he is sponsoring in Africa.) What did you have in mind for Barney in that nursing home?

For what it’s worth—and not knowing what solution you had in mind—I was glad not to have Barney’s voice. I appreciated how fluidly the action unfolded and didn’t feel like I missed anything about Barney’s character. He still seemed to me like the Barney I remembered. I admired how, even without the voice-over, you managed to create a film that seemed very faithful to the book. I suspect Richler would have approved. (In my mind, when I tried to conceive of how I might adapt it, it became a road movie.)

On the subject of Richler and his voice, there’s something I’ve often found curious about him. Or if not curious, let’s say surprising. For a man who was a renowned curmudgeon, contrarian, and even cynic, he was also an extraordinary romantic. In his public life and in his books, Richler skewered seemingly every institution except the institution of marriage. The guy really believed in true love and in marital fidelity. You see it in the novel, and you were consistent about it in the movie. Cheating on your spouse, in Richler's moral universe, brings ruin. For Barney, and for Miriam, his beloved third wife, infidelity is unforgivable, irredeemable. In our hip, irreverent world this seems a very uncool position to take.

I’ve rarely heard this aspect of Richler’s work spoken about, and yet I think it’s present in all of his novels. In all of his “mature novels,” the hero—who is increasingly an alter-ego for Richler—behaves badly in any number of ways (he may profane God and country), but he never cheats on his wife. That is the great taboo. Not that I disapprove, mind you, but it seems a much stricter article of his faith than it is of mine. Was this something you thought about when making the film? It factors so heavily into the plot that I wonder what you made of it.

Faithfully yours,

db

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On ‘Barney’s Version’: Paul Giamatti Is Barney Panofsky

February 24, 2011 | by

A Confession
David Bezmozgis | February 23, 2011

Paul Giamatti.

Dear David,

Well apparently I am also not a Talmudist. I believe I was thinking of the practice of posing questions in order to merit religious and philosophical debate. I don’t know what that’s called. As far as I remember, I was either thrown out of or skipped almost everyone of my Hebrew school classes. I vehemently protested the idea of having to sit in another classroom after I had already endured a full day of real school. I may have acted out a bit. So what do I know?

I agree with you. Film is elastic. And even though the screen is two-dimensional, the illusion is that we travel down the Z-axis and into the world beyond the screen’s proscenium. I’m thinking about the new technologies that amplify this experience like CGI and 3-D. I’m also thinking about gamers who put on those geeky glasses and sit in a simulated car seat in order to increase their visceral enjoyment of their pseudo adventure. Is that what we are after? A more intense experience? Perhaps this is why we take a book from a flat page and then send it through our mind’s processor in order to set up a blueprint of what the experience would be like? Movies can be like your imagination on steroids. Who doesn’t like that? But beyond this, if we are to move from style to substance, it could be that at the heart of any great book is a character with whom we fall in love. And when it comes to fictional characters we love, people just don’t want to buy into the old adage "It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Instead, they opt to take their relationship to the next level. I loved Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but in the end I lost her to the executioner. Imagine my delight when she showed up as a young Natassia Kinski in Polanski’s movie.

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On ‘Barney’s Version’: The Elasticity of Cinema

February 24, 2011 | by

A Confession
David Bezmozgis | February 23, 2011

Paul Giamatti and Minnie Driver.

Richard,

I’m not a Talmudist, but in my recollection of the Talmud—which I was exposed to only as an adolescent in a Toronto Hebrew school—there were many rabbis engaging in debates, often across generations. Sometimes they agreed, sometimes they disagreed, and sometimes they agreed to disagree—the latter was my favorite, as it was personified by my Hebrew teacher holding both hands palms up and speaking the philosophical word Teiku. (I think the literal translation is tie. No overtime. No shootout.) Maybe some of the debates ended with “Why not?” but I don’t remember those. Although I feel like I know a half dozen Jewish jokes that end that way.

Certainly from an industrial, practical perspective, I get what you mean about the film business needing good stories to feed through the story mill. Good stories are hard to find. It’s true, too, that the film industry has traditionally turned to books and movies—now comic books—for material. Witness the two writing categories in the Academy Awards: Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. You’ll get no argument from me about the practice being fundamental to the medium, but that still doesn’t quite explain why it is so. And I’ll grant you also that people love to tell and hear the same stories. Children particularly love to hear the same stories repeated. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie ... to my two-year-old daughter. But there’s still something different about the impulse to transmute a story from one form to another. Besides, if we just liked repetition, we would reread the same book over and over again. (Other than the Bible, does any other book get that kind of treatment? And besides, people don’t read the Bible the way they read The Great Gatsby.) And though there’s more of a tendency now to adapt movies into stage productions, that process seems to me to be artificial. I don’t think anyone—other than an opportunistic theater producer—comes out of a movie and says, That would make an awesome play! Yet people who comes out of plays, and close the covers of books, often say, That would make a great movie! My take—merely on the conceptual level: Movies are an elastic form. Depending on ingenuity and budget, they can stretch to match the proportions of a person’s imagination. For example, space travel in a play or an opera will always feel simulated, but that isn’t true of movies.

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