Friday, January 08, 2010

Days and Nights

I keep meaning to watch some HK movies and put up another review or two along with some pictures of an actor but life keeps getting in the way. Or maybe I just keep finding frivilous things to do so that I don't have to watch any movies. Like my self-imposed project to divide the music on my MP3 player into the years 1963 - 1975. It took days but it is finally done. The biggest year in terms of the number of songs you ask? Well, yes I know you could actually care less but still it was 1967 with 495 songs - an astonishing year of creativity that hasn't come close to being equalled. It was actually the year I discovered rock music. Living in Afghanistan you didn't exactly get the latest hits from back home (The Kingston Trio was big in our house), but that summer my older brother visited us from university and brought along Sgt Peppers, Surrealistic Pillow, The Doors and The Kinks's Something Else and I was sold on the devil's music.

Last week I watched my first film from Egypt and enjoyed it so much that I ordered a few more from what is termed the Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema, the 1940's till the end of the 1950's. After that Nasser nationalized the film industry and it quickly went downhill as those things generally do. From what I can gather, most films were quite conventional, contained moral lessons and had happy endings. Many of them also had music and Days and Nights (Ayam Ou Layali) had all of this plus a lot of glamour and style. With the many songs popping up the film reminded me of Bollywood films during the same period - great black and white photography and a thick layer of Western elements throughout. Directed by Henry Barakat (who directed loads of films in his lifetime, 1912 - 1997) in 1955, it stars one of Egypt's legendary male singers, Abdel Halim Hafez (1929 - 1977), and his mellow singing style is terrific - sort of an Egyptian Perry Como. One song Ana Lak Ala toul is pure lush romance - later I found out it is a classic. Another song Toba (Never Again) is so catchy I had to watch it several times.

It is a simple romance from which basic moral questions arise - what is more important, your loyalty to your family or holding to your principles. Yehia is brought up by a step-father who married his mother after she divorced her husband for his drinking problems. Though there is no great love between Yehia and his step-father, he is given a good upper middle class upbringing with an education in university. One day while rowing, he spots Samia (the stunning Iman, a Lebanese actress) on her balcony and immediately knows she is the girl for him and so begins to woo her the old fashioned way - through song from below. All appears headed for a happy ending until Yehia's no good older step-brother who likes his booze and his belly dancers in that order kills someone in a hit and run car accident. The police think the offender is Yehia's friend and so Yehia who was in the car is then faced with a delimma - turn in his brother and destroy his family or watch his friend be ruined. Not that I need to get into yet another film industry (and there doesn't seem to be all that much available anyway with subs), but this was a really enjoyable glimpse into another time and another place that feels very much to have vanished.


YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

Wow... you just saw your first Egyptian film? Seems like I beat you by a few years (for once)! Not that I've seen that many films -- even while liking pretty much all that I've seen. But two words: Youssef Chahine. Considering your love of music and dancing in movies, I think you'd particularly like his "Destiny".

And speaking of music, can ID some singers on the Milkyway CD:-
1 - Silver Ko (Go here for an article on her by an ex-colleague and friend:

2, 4, 6, 8 - Sammi Cheng

3 - Andy Lau

7 - Stefanie Sun

Brian said...

Wow - that is pretty good - how did you know all those singers! Thanks - I will check the director out - one of the dvds I ordered was Cairo Station which I know you saw and I missed at HKIFF. Another one has a young Omar Shariff before he hit it big in Lawrence.

Anonymous said...

That film looks good! I'm sure that I would enjoy the Golden (ie. black & white) Age of Egyptian cinema. I've already been tempted by the siren call of Samia Gamal, but have yet to take the plunge. Where did you order your DVDs?

Brian said...

Cool. Sort of reminds me of what I was watching the other night - some old Inner Sanctum Mystery called Weird Woman in which Lon Cheney Jr goes into the voodoo jungles and comes across a ritual ceremony that had some cool dancing as well - wish I could find it on YT. I love the way old Hollywood completely makes up these "cultural" dances - like in SHE.

I picked up Days and Nights in a video store but ordered the others from - can't say yet whether they are reliable. But other places sell their dvds as well - just enter Arab Film Distribution - and cheaper but none of them had all the dvds I wanted other than this place.

Brian said...

Duh. And I see now that Cairo Station is directed by Chahine who YTSL recommended and they also have Destiny and a bunch of his other films at that site. That will be in the next order.

Diana said...

Thanks for the music from Milkway, I have never heard Sammi's song from "Love on a Diet" all the way through before, only part of it is heard in the film.

Brian said...

My pleasure - it was really nice to hear these songs again as I had seen the movies years ago. I really like her Needing You song as well. I can't for the life of me recall when the Election song takes place in the film - probably not when Simon is whacking Big Tony though!

YTSL said...

Hi again Brian --

"how did you know all those singers!"

For Silver Ko -- I fully scrutinized the end credits of "Election"! For Stephanie Sun, around the time that "Turn Left, Turn Right", there was quite a bit of publicity about the singers. (Gigi sang the Cantonese version of the song, BTW.)

And for the rest: well, those movies star Sammi and "Love on a Diet"'s male lead is Andy. So... :)

"I can't for the life of me recall when the Election song takes place in the film..."

I haven't seen the movie in ages but if memory serves me right, the song comes on near the end of the movie/as the end credits roll.

Michael Wells said...

I see YT beat me to the Chahine recommendation. One of my favorite underappreciated filmmakers. I actually met him briefly at a NY Film Fest retro of his work in '98 (I think). Sweet man. BAMcinematek had another Chahine retro in early '09 as well, to mark his passing a year or so before.

You really perked up my ears by pointing out somewhere where I can buy some of his films - almost none have been released stateside. You're in for a huge treat with Cairo Station, and you should also immediately get The Land (1969). And then let me know if the DVDs are halfway decent, because I'll buy them pronto if they are. Amazing films. I'll second the Destiny rec, and add Alexandria-Why? and Adieu Bonaparte, for starters.

What I've seen and heard of his recent work (since Destiny) wasn't encouraging, but nobody's brilliant all the time, I suppose.

Brian said...

"but nobody's brilliant all the time, I suppose."

Don't be modest.

Thanks. I guess if you 2 recommend this guy he can't be all bad. Having already spent most of my money on Asian films I really appreciate you pointing the way for me spending the rest!

Michael Wells said...

On another note, I also like the contrast you draw in the beginning of this post between "frivolous things to do" and "watching movies." A good life is all about priorities.