Skip to main content

Desert Movies Are There! Part Two

"Deserts are places that have exhausted their future so that we begin to see things happen there stripped of their worldly context." Chaos-Rampant, 2010.

Desert Movies Are There- Part Two.

It is quite perplexing that Americans find European take on American life 'negative and condescending' and almost ban Baudrillard's book just for trying to understand what happened to Europe in America. Early US Americans where none other than European.
However, let us stick to this idea of European intrusions into elements of American popular culture as it proves the eligibility of desert movies to stand out as a genre of its own. Of course it is not the only deciding factor in this matter, but some of the most interesting desert movies were actually made by prominent European filmmakers. Midnight Cowboy is one good example at least in the opening scenes. I believe Wim Wenders was influenced most visibly by this 1969 movie by British filmmaker John Schlesinger in his 2005 movie "Don't Come Knocking", a great movie in its own right. Other memorable desert movies include British made 'Lawrence of Arabia' 1962 by David Lean, 'Fata Morgana' 1971 by Werner Herzog, 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' 1966 by Sergio Leone, 'Zabriskie Point' 1970 by Michelangelo Antonioni etc. But as you can see, these are not American movies.

An image from Zabriskie Point

There is a huge list of American desert movies. There ought to be. Desert in America has a huge metaphoric presence, apart from it huge physical presence. But what do we mean by desert in the context of cinema?
It is definitely not the climatic territory we are after. Within this climate lies what was unconquered by man. The magic and mystery of the vast expanses and the immediate recall of senses that happens when we approach it or find ourselves in it. This sharp call for sharpening the senses stills our abstract mind and we begin to think more in a matter-of-fact way. I imagine if ever I was forced to live in the desert, then I would enjoy my senses better and to a fuller extent.
There are lots of American desert movies but only few of them are listed as great ones. In fact the list for the best 10 desert movies include no US production! But listing seldom has an authority over its subject. Remember 'Vera Cruz' 1954 by Robert Aldrich. 'The Hired Hand' 1971 by Peter Fonda. 'Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia' 1974, by Sam Peckinpah. 'Ice Cold in Alex' 1958, by J. Lee Thompson. 'Badlands' 1973, by Terrence Malick. 'The Shooting' 1966, by Monte Hellman. 'No Country for Old Men' 2007, by the Coen brothers. 'The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada' 2005, by Tommy Lee Jones. One cannot have an exhaustive list of American desert movies.

On the international scene, there are remarkable desert movies, indeed. Again, the list cannot be inclusive. Take almost all the Sergio Leone movies! Then, there are: 'Greed' 1924, by Erich von Stroheim. 'Simon of The Desert' 1965, by Luis Bunuel. 'Gerry' 2002, by Gus van Sant. 'Walkabout' 1971 by Nicholas Roeg. 'Ashes of Time' 1994 by Chinese Kar Wai Wong, 'Daratt' 2006, by Chadian Mohamed Saleh Haron. 'Woman of the Dunes' 1964, by Hiroshi Teshigahara. 'Genisis' 1997, by Oumar Sissoko of Mali.

Daratt/Chadian movie 2006

Narrowing down to the middle east, we have, not only a history of the magic of the desert which extends from the mu'allaqat (odes) to the social origins of Islam and on to the birth of oil-rich emirates and kingdoms. The desert is not a place for the abstract. You have to have your senses wide awake. Just in case you get a call from the heavens! And this is how all that concerns the Arabs came to exist. The recent move of Arab film and videomakers into the desert has been duly observed by critics and researchers. In her valuable essay on 'the cinema of the desert', Laura U. Marks describes the Arab film and videomakers as ' nomadic thinkers in that their practice stays close to the material and conceptual reality of life in the Arab world'. Marks believes that the desert movie, which we are trying to set as a genre of its own, is part of the road movie! She believes that the new cinema of the desert is set on the asphalt, just before stepping into and 'striating' or disturbing the desert. This is because nomads, actually, do not live in the high of the desert, but move through it.

Marks goes on to examine some examples of the 'new desert movies'. She sites Youssef Chahine's 'The Emigrant' which is a retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph in which the narrative is built around the importance of water to the nomads. The researcher goes on to say that "The Egyptian 'Arak al-balah' (Date wine) 1998, by Radwan El-Kashef, the Algerian 'Desert Rose' 1989, by Mohamed Rachid Benhadj, and the Sudanese short 'Insan' (Human Being) 1988, by Ibrahim Shaddad, all suggest that modernity means leaving the desert and the village. Men leave, emigrating to work; women and children stay behind. To do otherwise, like the bewitched settlers in Nacir Khémir’s 'The Wanderers of the Desert' 1986, is to plunge backwards into history. Marks lays down a remarkable description of how the desert is seen today by people in the Arab world. "Now the desert is seen.., in the occasional love story and video clip, with a romantic view similar to that of the European colonials. A place to be simple again, to get lost, to revert to a fantasy life, on the weekends. Travel to the desert is time travel."
The term 'asphalt nomadism' employed by the essay writer becomes comprehensible as she sites the noteworthy example of the Lebanese movie 'Baalbeck' 2001, in which little of the desert is shown but a lot of driving and driving and getting nowhere appears to be the aim of the movie. The film is interesting in that it was shared by three filmmakers who divided the movie into three chronologically equal parts. Each one tells his own story but their aim was one, that is to get to Baalbeck to attend and cover a music concert. They never get to Baalbeck as a result of distractions!

A movie theater discovered lately in Sinai
Similarly, another movie, 'Baghdad On/Off'  is sited as a 'roadblock movie' in which the filmmaker is unable to reach Baghdad to see his ailing mother because of delays, wrong turns, dead ends and roadblocks. Apart from having a plot of failure, the movie was not received well by either the Arabs or France where the filmmaker resides!
Both movies, 'Baghdad On/Off' and 'Baalbeck' obviously refer to Arab failure which lead to later turmoils and transformations (the Arab Spring) which also seem to take the Arabs to roadblocks and possibly u-turns. Watch the full movie 'Baghdad On/Off' below.
It is needless to remind the reader that it is very difficult to make a movie in Iraq without having it listed as a desert movie. But of course, while I try to accumulate evidences to the eligibility of  desert movies to stand as a rich genre, research blurs the borders between genres instead of solidifying them.
It is worth mentioning that the first part of this article relied on information from the book 'Images of Postmodern Society' by Norman K. Denzin.


Popular posts from this blog

An Entity Unknown By: Mohamed Hamad- Translated From Arabic

Text by: Mohamed HamadTranslated by: Mustafa Mudathir

There is a tiny mystery;
an entity unknown that hymenates our souls for reasons undisclosed with a plasticine of thinness a sleazy film of boredom to blunt our insistence in dealing with existence. And verily those same songs,  enchanted as they are that ornament affect, the deepest and inmost, are turned to mere phonations that tend to bore at most.
The things you sought with passion are now dispelled around you devoid of early value, or heavily under-rationed. You like it, oh! no more, the stretching on your bed Nor do you like rising and nothing is surprising.
Your cup of tea, whose edges

سؤال الضهبان

سؤال الضهبان
لا تظنن أنه سؤال هيّن! أو عليك أن تتأكد أن السائل لم يعد ضهبان. وحتى في هذه الحالة ربما لم يجد الجواب ولكنه فقط تحوّل من (الضهب) إلى حالة أحسن نسبياً ودون تفسير. أي سؤال هو ليس بالهيّن. وأي سؤال هو لم يُسأل عبثاً ولهوا. زي، يلاقيك زول ويسأل: كيف اصبحت؟ تجربة وجودية عديل كدا. طيب تعال شوف كمية التزوير في الجواب! طبعاً مافي زول بيجاوب على السؤال دا بالضبط كدا. كلنا تقريبين في السؤال دا وفي غيره من اسئلة كثيرة. الجواب هو المصطنع في أغلب الأحوال وليس السؤال! ياخي حتى السؤال الغبي، الواحد بيتمرمط أمامه. لذلك سؤال الضهبان دا هو موئل الغناء والشعر الكاذب والبطولات! ومن الناس من يحاول أن يغشك! إنهم أهل الاجابات الذين تتكوّر ذواتهم في نهايات الأسطر، مدلهّمة. نقطة سطر جديد! - هوي انت هه! يعني شايل ليك اجابة كدا وفرحان بيها، قايل السؤال مات!؟ دعني أقول لك: جميع الأسئلة التي سمعت والتي لم تسمع بها، جميعها تتمتع بخلود مطلق! السؤال فيهو حيوية والاجابة ديمة نايصة. السؤال بيخلع وجامد. الجواب هو ختة النَفَس، التقية من عصف المشاعر. السؤال، أي سؤال، فيهو قوة، فيهو شواظ وبيطقطق زي قندول عيش ريف معذّب. الاج…

MovieGlobe: Japan's Version of Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet (2007) JapanOriginal Article by: Fateh Mirghani-Japan

I have just finished watching the masterpiece of Shakespeare” Romeo and Juliet “in its Japanese version.
The quality of the movie is great and the soundtrack, injected with a little Japanese folklore music, has given it a sensational dimension and Eastern fascination!
Basically, the theme of the movie remains the same as the original play, and that has been a particular Japanese notion in dealing with other nations’ cultural products. Part of the reason may lay in Japan's sensitivity to other nations’cultural products- given the long standing historical disputes with its neighbours, and part of it may lay in a fierce sense of homogeneity that has come to characterize Japan as an island nation-state since time immemorial. Thus the Japanese, unlike the Americans, don’t seem to have the temerity to ‘Japanize’ others’ cultural stuff. The movie “Renaissance man”  can be cited as an example of American boldness. The …