Screening/Reading: Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema

Tue, November 20, 2007 6:30 pm at Two Boots Pioneer Theater

(View all screening/readings »)

Alwan for the Arts and 3rd I NY Collaborative Film Series Presents:

Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema: Book Discussion and Signing with Hamid Dabashi

And Screening of

The House Is Black (Khaneh Siah Ast) by Forugh Farrokhzad/ Iran/ 1962/ 22 min

The Cow (Gaav) by Dariush Mehrjui/ Iran/ 1969/100 min

Tickets: $10 Adults / $6.50 Pioneer Members

The House Is Black by Forugh Farrokhzad/ Iran/ 1962/ 22 min/ Farsi with English Subtitles

A classic in Iranian New Wave filmmaking from poet/ director Forugh Farrokhzad presents a haunting and sympathetic examination of life in a Tabriz leper colony. Through powerful imagery and a striking voice- over by Farrokhzad, a startling glimpse into a hidden aspect of humanity is revealed. A film of staggering force, lyrically composed by one of the 20th century's leading poets, The House Is Black is a revelation. In the 1960s, poet Forough Farrokhzad directed her first and only film. It depicts the lives and bodies of people tragically deformed by leprosy. This is a film of stirring and powerful images, and a beautifully tragic poetic narration. The House Is Black has heavily influenced the modern Iranian cinema of such great filmmakers as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who called it "the best Iranian film." It provides, in the film's own words, "a vision of pain no caring human being should ignore."

Forugh Farrokhzad (1935-1967) was born in Tehran into a middle class family of seven children. Author of several volumes of poetry that are hallmarks of contemporary Persian literature. In 1967 she tragically died in a car accident. She was associated with the film industry in Iran through the filmmaker Ebrahim Golestan, House is Black is the only film she directed.

The Cow by Dariush Mehrjui/ Iran/ 1969/100 min Farsi with English Subtitles

This highly symbolic Iranian drama (shot in black-and-white) revolves around the most important figure in a remote rural village. That figure is the village's sole cow, owned by Mashdi Hassan (Ezat Entezani). The beginning of the film makes clear just how vital the cow is to the life of the village and how much Mashdi and his neighbors cherish it. When the cow is threatened and then killed by members of a nearby clan, Mashdi becomes so distraught that he is gradually transformed into a cow himself.

The Cow (Gaw), Dariush Mehrjui/'s second feature brought him national and international recognition and it is one of the films that signalled the emergence of Iranian New Cinema. The Cow was among the very first projects to receives state funding, however, it was banned by the Shah's censors for the dark images of Iranian rural society. The film was smuggled to 1971 Venice Film Festival and not officially in the festival's program and unsubtitled, it turned out to be the event of festival that year. The Cow received the Critics' Award in Venice and toured the festival circuit the world over.

Dariush Mehrjui was born on December 8, 1939 in Tehran. As a child, he was deeply involved in music and painting, playing piano and santoor and drawing miniatures. In 1959, he left for California to study cinema with Renoir but then he switched to Philosophy and graduated from UCLA in 1964 and became one Iran's most influential directors, with more than 20 films to his credit.

Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema by Hamid Dabashi/ Mage Publishers/ 456 Pages/ 2007

The rise of Iranian cinema to world prominence over the last few decades is one of the most fascinating cultural stories of our time. There is scarcely an international film festival anywhere that does not honor the aesthetic and political explorations of Iranian artists. Masters & Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema celebrates this remarkable emergence. It focuses on twelve of the most important Iranian filmmakers of the past half-century—among them, such pioneers as Forugh Farrokhzad, Dariush Mehrjui, Abbas Kiarostami, and Jafar Panahi. In his examination of their lives and their greatest works, Hamid Dabashi explains how, despite the censorship of both the Pahlavi monarchy and the Islamic Republic, the creativity of these filmmakers has transcended national and cultural borders. His account traces the ascendancy of Iranian cinema in modern Iranian intellectual history and also probes its links to Persian poetry, fiction, art, and philosophy.

In Europe and in North America, in Asia and in Latin America, in Australia and Africa, the thematic and narrative richness of Iranian cinema has met with tremendous acclaim. Indeed, its particular modes of realism—building on such cinematic antecedents as Italian, French and German neorealism—have become truly transnational, contributing a new visual vocabulary to filmmaking everywhere. Masters & Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema studies the role that prominent film festivals have played in fostering the global success of Iranian cinema, and investigates the reception of these films within Iran, an intriguing story in its own right. This is a book that will reward not only the scholar and the film aficionado but also anyone interested in the cultural history of modern Iran.

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York, the oldest and most prestigious Chair in Iranian Studies. Professor Dabashi has written 12 critically acclaimed books, edited 4, and contributed chapters to many more. He is also the author of over 100 essays, articles and book reviews in major scholarly and peer reviewed journals on subjects ranging from Iranian Studies, Shi'ism, Medieval and Modern Islamic Intellectual History, Comparative Literature, World Cinema, Trans-aesthetics, Trans-national Art, Philosophy, Mysticism, Theology, Post-colonial Theory and Cultural Studies.


Iran's cinematic evolution, before and after the revolution of 1979, is as rich as any country's; however, despite boasting numerous film awards and international critical acclaim, the country's output remains relatively unknown—even to cineastes. "What is Iranian cinema?" is as logical a question as "Why is it underexposed?" This book by Dabashi (Iranian studies & comparative literature, Columbia Univ.) takes the form of a letter to a young filmmaker but eschews the colloquial for a scholarly approach. He chronologically highlights directors, discussing a key work in each person's oeuvre and its place in Iranian and world cinema. Dabashi also explores the development of Iranian cinema objectively and subjectively via the people who created it, without the need for restrictive answers. He considers Iranian cinema representative of a living world cinema and will let "the bored historians of the future worry about its dead certainties." Given its academic approach, Dabashi's book is highly recommended for universities, large public libraries, and those with extensive focuses in film or cultural history." --Library Journal

To anyone with a knowledge of Iranian cinema, the 12 film-makers covered here will come as no surprise, with perhaps only Ebrahim Golestan, Arby Ovanessian and Bahman Famanara unfamiliar in the west. Hamid Dabashi devotes a chapter to each director and the film he considers best represents their work, each written in the form of a letter addressed to a young Iranian born after the 1979 revolution. Taken together, the essays outline Dabashi’s view of the evolution of Iranian cinematic realism and in the process provide a highly readable narrative.

The book was prompted by Dabashi’s reflections on the nihilism of many of today’s young film-makers in comparison with the earlier Iranian cinema with which he grew up. He recognises that important cinematic movements often arise out of moments of national trauma but thought that the standard question of how the Islamic Republic has produced so many visionary film-makers needed more exploration. “What is it about [this] realism, which is neither reducible to its European counterparts nor limited to its colonial origins?” he asks. “Where were its origins, whence its disposition, how had it come about, who were its best representatives and why?”

This leads him to postulate an evolution of realist forms from Forough Fanokhzad, the pioneering female poet whose The House Is Black (1961) he describes as poetic realism, through Ebrahim Golestan (whose 1965 Mud Brick and Mirror is labelled affective realism) and the “psychedelic realism” of Dariush Mehrjui’s The Cow (1968). All three, he demonstrates, are directly influenced by classical writers. He then investigates Arby Ovanessian (spatial realism), whose 1972 film Spring he recommends his readers to watch with the sound off, Bahram Farmanara (Prince Ehtejab, 1974; narrative realism). Sohrab Shahidsales (Still Life, 1974; transparent realism). Amir Naderi (The Runner, 1985; visual realism), Bahram Beizai (Bashu, the Little Stranger, 1990; mythical realism), Abbas Kiarostami (Through the Olive Trees, 1994; actual realism). Mohsen Makhmalbaf (A Moment of Innocence, 1995; virtual realism), Marziyeh Meshkini (The Day I Became a Woman, 2000;parabolic realism) and Jafar Panahi (Crimson Gold, 2003; visual realism). He classes Panahi as one of the beneficiaries of “an opulent visual vocabulary delivered to them on a silver platter... surpassing the lone and illustrious history of our verbal memories,” So the evolution of visual realism is now complete.

Dabashi’s analysis and description of these realisms, via Persian poetry, literature sad philosophy, the globalising influence of European modernity “through the gun barrel of colonialism”, Reza Shah Pahlavi, a (failed) revolution, Kubrick, the Cannes film festival, western critics, walks in New York and much else, make for a complex and witty account. And his theory is for the most part convincing: his contention that Iranian realism “is rooted in the particularity of our cultural modernity” is surely proven. He is critical of western writing that, he insists, “has generated and sustained an entirely false conception of Iranian cinema around the world.” French critics in particular, he contends. “have cut and pasted the nature of Iranian cinematic aesthetics according to some abstract notion of cinema they have cooked up at Cahiers du cinéma.”

Masters & Masterpieces should make us review our assumptions next time we view an Iranian film and whet our curiosity as to how contemporary film-makers might take this visual heritage forward. --Sheila Whitaker, Sight & Sound “Masters & Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema offers a remarkable overview of Iranian cinema and the directors who have transformed the shape of Iranian culture in modern history. With his superb authority on the social and political history of the region, Dabashi provides a tour de force of the artistic developments in Iran over the past half a century and thus beautifully lays out the alluring dynamic between Iranian art and politics. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of this marvelous book is Dabashi’s refusal to limit the importance of Iranian cinema to its regional domain, as he consistently cultivates its global prominence.” —Shirin Neshat, film & video artist, director of Women without Men

“For over a decade Hamid Dabashi’s revelations have been as instrumental in the fashioning of my own cinema as Naderi, Kiarostami, Bresson, or Rossellini. Dabashi brilliantly weaves together Iranian cinema, literature, history, philosophy, and politics in a national and global setting, and lovingly and masterfully guides his readers to cultural and aesthetic insights. If Iranian cinema brought the world a “poetic” vision of modern Iran, Dabashi has done no less in this piercing analysis.” —Ramin Bahrani, filmmaker, director of Man Push Cart

Last updated: 2007-11-20 11:54:26

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