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Two Edward Said Documentaries from Icarus Films

Edward Said: The Last Interview (October 15/09)

True to its title, Edward Said: The Last Interview boasts the final interview with noted intellectual scholar and literary critic Edward Said - with the movie's simple two-camera setup certainly reflecting director Mike Dibb's unapologetically stripped-down modus operandi. It's consequently clear right away that the movie has been geared primarily towards viewers with a previously-established interest in Said's work, as interviewer Charles Glass primarily dwells on his subject's theories and opinions on a wide variety of topics - though there's a particular emphasis on his feelings regarding the ongoing strife between Israelis and Arabs. There's little doubt, however, that Glass does an effective job of initially drawing the viewer into the conversation, as he kicks things off by discussing Said's struggles with leukemia - which leads into a fascinating stretch wherein Said frankly chats about his own mortality and his reluctant acceptance of his condition (ie he notes that most people diagnosed with his particular cancer "either die or they recover and I've done neither one nor the other.") It's only as the conversation unfolds that one's interest level slowly but surely begins to dip, with the emphasis on increasingly academic topics - ie imperialism, colonialism, Orientalism, etc, etc - effectively lending the proceedings the feel of a college lecture. Said's undeniable charisma goes a long way towards establishing (and maintaining) a marginally accessible atmosphere, yet it's ultimately clear that Edward Said: The Last Interview will fare best among the late thinker's most ardent fans (ie this probably isn't the best place to start for those interested in exploring Said's work).

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Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said (September 25/09)

There's little doubt that Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said establishes itself as a hopelessly unfocused and undeniably aimless piece of work virtually from the get-go, with filmmaker Makoto Satô's relentlessly meandering modus operandi ensuring that the movie is rarely as intriguing or compelling as its dynamic subject. Though he initially sets out to explore Said's upbringing and influences, Satô - in his efforts at padding out the movie's absurdly overlong running time - peppers the proceedings with a series of digressions that grow increasingly pointless as time progresses (ie an interminable stretch revolving around a displaced Lebanese family that also includes a fairly unpleasant interlude in which a goat is "sacrificed.") It's clear almost instantly that Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said is at its best when focused on Said himself; Satô's decision to accompany certain images with previously-recorded sound bites of the noted thinker stands as one of the film's few positive attributes, although the inclusion of several interviews with those closest to Said - ie his wife, his sister, his daughter, etc - admittedly does elevate the viewer's interest on an all-too-infrequent basis. Satô's unwillingness to explain why Said's work has driven him to make this film ultimately cements its place as an entirely needless piece of work, and it's subsequently unlikely that even the most fervent Said follower will find much to embrace here.

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About the DVD: Icarus Films presents both documentaries with non-anamorphic letterboxed transfers, along with a 16-page booklet that features several essays on Said.
© David Nusair