Nobel Prize Winning novelist Orhan Pamuk in front of the wall of cigarette butts featured in the new documentary 'Innocence of Memories' by Grant Gee.
It's Sunday lunchtime or thereabouts and I have just been to Brighton to see the latest film by Grant Gee called 'Innocence of Memories', which was being shown at the Duke of York's prior to a two-week run at the BFI in London at the end of January. It was a rerun, having been shown a week or so before but with a print that had no subtitles. The original audience was invited back for an 11:00 screening this morning but as it turned out there were only a dozen there - a real privilege. No reflection on the quality of the film I hasten to add at this point.
Grant and I have known each other since the early 1990s or thereabouts and worked on a short film together when William Gibson was in London promoting his novel 'Virtual Light'. I did the interview and Grant shot it. Its never seen the light of day but watch this space. From the same office in London they were handling Wim Wenders video for U2 and all of the above parties were hanging out together in Berlin.
Grant has shot many great short films, but is perhaps best known for his work with Radiohead: '7 Television Commercials' and the world tour film 'Meeting People Is Easy'  and the stunning 'Joy Division' documentary, written by Jon Savage . After seeing this, I sat down and did a long interview with him which you can listen to on the Audio Generalist
He was also the cameraman on the documentary 'Scott Walker 30 Century Man'  which must have required both courage and tact. It is one of the strangest music docs you'll ever see - I mean recording the sound of a slab of meat being beaten in a proper recording studio and then sampling it! Difficult to get that out of one's mind.
Most recently he has won great plaudits for his beautiful, absorbing black and white reinterpretation of W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn'. Called 'Patience (After Sebald)' (2012) it traces W.G.'s journey through Suffolk in imaginative style. In most of his films, Grant works with Jerry Chater as Editor (who also deserves a big nod of appreciation).
Which brings us to 'Innocence of Memories' of which there is quite a lot to say as it is stunning, deep and many-layered.
It is certainly about Istanbul and the novelist Orhan Pamuk. Its about an intense love affair which is metaphorically encoded in a museum of objects, an affair played out in the novel that inspired its creation and funded by Pamuk's Nobel Prize for Literature money. Pamuk is Turkey's great living author [who, Grant tells me, lives only ten large apartments down the River Bosphorous from Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey's greatest living director, profiled a week or so ago on this blog. The two men have met only once]. They both have large desks and a big panoramic view of the river.
So there are voices in a narration written by Pamuk - a man and a woman, who talk to us. The entire film is shot a night on the streets of modern-day Istanbul. Its a gliding camera that roams the street, picking up the rag pickers, taxi drivers and boatmen, following the dogs quietly (of which there are many), sliding through empty streets in a cab with one of Turkey's great actresses who has made 200 films and meeting Ara Guler, the Cartier-Bresson of Istanbul, who has spent his life documenting the city in thousands of memorable images.
And all roads lead back to the Museum and the magic objects which document the couples' journey in space-time because that's another level and meaning of the film. As is, of course memory. In fact this film seems to encompass everything and draw it all together in the one intense real-life building of great spookiness. There's an entire wall of cigarette ends in the Museum, every one of which, in the story, she had smoked and he had stolen from ashtrays and preserved, There is a rim of lipstick on each.
Pamuk himself appears on tv screens doing an interview (presumably a real one?) with a tv presenter asking questions. He can talk at great length and does, providing another level to the film, about his life, how he came to write the book, how he had bodyguards and feared of being assassinated. As we roam the streets with the dogs, the TVs are everywhere, in apartment windows, restaurants, taxi booths.
Then we're in Gezi Park in Taksim Square, amongst the trees, which hold the memories of when it was a favoured spot for lovers, once also the site of an old cinema that would show romantic films. There are also other resonances here. Short digression:
This one green space in the centre of Istanbul was threatened by government plans to concrete much of it over. As a result, in 2013, the Park was occupied first by a few hundred demonstrators who were violently evicted by police. This triggered a two week occupation of the Square by a massive protest movement. According to Wikipedia, 3.5 million of Turkey's 80 million people are estimated to have taken an active part in almost 5,000 demonstrations across Turkey connected with the original Gezi Park protest. 11 people were killed, more than 8,000 were injured and 3,000 were arrested.Then the camera goes back and back and we see the whole city, an ocean of lights. On other occasions, the darkness is filled with whirling white birds.
'Innocence of Memories' is an important film and a beautiful and imaginative one, that stands, like the city itself, on the edge of east and west, the past and the future. Its multiple resonances touch brain and heart. It throws a big rock into our own individual memory pool and leaves one full of ripples and challenging thoughts.
PS: TWO GREAT QUOTES FROM A VARIETY INTERVIEW AT THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
Orhan Pamuk: “We are very attached to our buildings, squares, monuments, trees, parks because they trigger our memories. Only through objects we remember things, we experience them. Not just cigarette butts, salt shakers, or ashtrays in our daily lives, but trees, parks, buildings. They also make us remember. A city, if you live in it for 63 years like me, turns into a sort of index for everything pointing to our memories. But once these monuments and trees begin to be destroyed we feel first of all not a political but a very personal energy and anger to preserve them, like an animal. Like a dog who watches out for his womb. Because we want to preserve them. It’s something very instinctual. In Ghezi Park that kind of thing gained political dimensions, Erdogan mismanaged it, and a little green park become connected to a more secular anger with Erdogan. But anger against Erdogan is not only [about] the destruction of Istanbul. In fact that’s a minor thing.And what impression did the all the destruction and construction in Istanbul make on you, Mr. Gee?
Grant Gee: "I read somewhere the other day that by 2050 seventy-five percent of the world’s population will live in cities of greater than ten million, which I think is think is just extraordinary That’s going to be the main unit in which the world’s population will exit, so these megacities will just start communicating with each other. When you are in Istanbul you can just feel this seismic thing; the ground is shaking. It’s almost like you turn around and the characters on the street are changing. It’s very exciting and also very scary. The excitement of creation and the scariness of destruction. The two things are simultaneous. That’s why it’s so interesting to be there."
Footnote: Grant has written to correct the off-the- top-of-his-head statistics. Its correct that by 2050, it is predicted that 75% of the world's population will be living in cities; but 10% of the world's population will live in megacities, each housing over 10 million people.