San Diego Jewish Film Festival screens documentary on Saul Bellow
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Tonight San Diego Jewish film festival will host an in-person screening of the new documentary, the adventures of Saul bellow, KPBS, film critic, Beth Huck, Amando discusses the film and the controversial author with filmmaker Assaf Goliath who spoke from his home in Israel.
Speaker 2: (00:18)
Uh, so if you have a new documentary about the author Saul bellow. So just before we started talking about the film, remind people who he was and why he was important as a writer.
Speaker 3: (00:29)
So Baylor was the most acclaimed writer in the 20th century. He won the Nobel prize. He won the Pulitzer prize. He was a powerhouse, but already in the eighties, something was going gone. They did the atmosphere change and his statues is a great writer. The great American writer since really unfuck news, started to decline.
Speaker 2: (00:57)
So what was it that inspired you to make this documentary right now? First,
Speaker 3: (01:02)
You can hear the time in Israeli, but I was born in Chicago. My father was studied the, in the university of Chicago and I was born in 78. And this is the use its soul. Bella was after the novel prize. He was the most prominent intellectual figure in the university of Chicago. My father admired, he, my grandfather liked him for me. It took time. And until I started to read him, he's not a writer for people that are young. You need to be a little bit with more life experience. Wait until age of 35 to start to read him. And then I did. My last film was about Isaac [inaudible]. The English writer also won the Nobel prize in his, a woman translators. He had 48 women translators, but his first translator was so below. So I said, okay, it's time to make a movie also about Soulsville or this. So I'm in Chicago. I was very admired Saul bellow in, in my house. And the third was that I, it was a connection from the field about Isaac Bashevis singer.
Speaker 2: (02:26)
Now Bella was a challenging writer to do a portrait of in the sense that he wrote about his life and not always in flattering terms about some of the people that he ended up using in his books. So how difficult was it to get people to come on and talk about some of those difficult portraits?
Speaker 3: (02:48)
But first I want to say that just to make a film about a writer is the most challenging in a documentary biography. If you make it feel about it, filmmaker, it's the easiest. You ever a lot of fields. If you make a movie about the dancer or theater also about writer, it's daunted, do a documentary, feel about writing. It's the most challenging. And in this time on sides and writers, that the people that were really near him felt really betrayed by him, really, eh, upset about him. And they have a lot of bad things to tell him like Phillip broth, for example, that I'm so happy that I got the last interview with him before he died, had a very complicated relationship with souls, Bella first field from, I started to be a writer. He came to solve Bella. And so Baylor was really telling you, he Phillips that you should be a writer.
Speaker 3: (03:56)
Phillip brought was really looking up to Saul bellow. And later on, he came to one of Saul, bellows reading with his girlfriend. And so Bella stole his girlfriend and he hated him really. And he wrote a story about him in the, to either feel poor that he was threshing. So, and later on, they became good friends again, but stilly, he CA he could never say that. So Bella was a mench. This is only the example feeling person, and also his family, his sons, and his wives. It's very complicated, but this is what makes a movie good. One.
Speaker 4: (04:48)
I grew up thinking of this book as that awful book about my mother, anybody who ever read the book that who met her would say, oh, you're Madeline. I know all about you. It was a torment for her, you know, to be portrayed in that verse sort of negative, angry way, and by a great writer who could really capture you, uh, in such a way that anybody walking down the street could, you know, who had read the book, be able to recognize you
Speaker 3: (05:14)
Huge to make you the very juicy film.
Speaker 2: (05:19)
It's difficult to win the trust of like his children to say like, yeah, come on and, and talk about these difficult aspects of his life. And of having him as a parent, uh, was it difficult to win their trust and, and get them to open up on camera?
Speaker 3: (05:36)
I think that is chill, man. His wives are very, very intelligent and seeming a very good perspective. They know the good things about him. They know the difficult things. First I wanted that they will just say good things about to, but then you can hear, eh, complicated things about him. I wanted that they will not ruin my perspective about him because I solve the teaser writers that I admire writers. I wanted to be a writer. And then you hear about all this complicated life and you say, okay, maybe it's better. As the time you will not be invited.
Speaker 2: (06:21)
You mentioned that his popularity or his stature as a writer declined a bit because views the social context in which he was writing changed and people's opinions of what he was writing about change. And you don't shy away from tackling some of the difficult aspects of his writing and bring up issues of racism and misogyny in your film. And was that something you knew you were going to tackle from the beginning?
Speaker 3: (06:49)
Uh, it's part of the, the journey of the films that you hear it tomorrow that, uh, you know, when you weighed his eh, little chair, I thought tomorrow to focus on his humor, but then you hear other new issues and you say it's a master. This is so contemporary and we shouldn't, I should deal with it. And so the many voices about it.
Speaker 2: (07:19)
And what would you hope people come away from your documentary, thinking about him as a writer. Do you hope that people are going to be interested in seeking out his work after seeing your documentary?
Speaker 3: (07:31)
Yeah, exactly. I think that if somebody tell me after the, he watched a movie, my M my movies say, I go back and I read again, Hertz again. I love it. Or I dislike it. I feel I did my job.
Speaker 2: (07:51)
Thank you very much for talking about your new film, the documentary adventures have solved.
Speaker 3: (07:56)
Thank you very much. I really enjoyed the conversation with you.
Speaker 1: (08:01)
That was Beth haka. Amando speaking with a soft Goliath, the adventures of Saul bellow screens in person tonight at the David and Darthy Garfield theater, and then will be available online tomorrow for a two-day window.
Acclaimed, controversial author is focus of Asaf Galay's new film screening in-person Nov. 10 and online Nov. 11
Israeli filmmaker Asaf Galay said there were three reasons he wanted to make "The Adventures of Saul Bellow. One, although he is Israeli he was born in Chicago where Bellow moved to at the age of nine and he was long associated with the University of Chicago.
Two, his father adored Bellow and Galay eventually read and loved the author (although Galay suggests only reading Bellow after accumulating some life experience so you can appreciate the insights). And three, while working on his documentary on Isaac Bashevis Singer, Galay discovered that Bellow was Singer's first translator.
Seven years after deciding to make a documentary on Bellow, Galay now has a film to share. The result is “The Adventures of Saul Bellow," a thoughtful and complex film about a writer whose life and work are inextricably intertwined. Bellow won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Pulitzer, and three National Book Awards but his work was not without controversy and the film is not afraid to confront that.
"The people that were really near him felt really betrayed by him and really upset about him," Galay said from his home in Israel. "His children, his wives are very intelligent and seem to have a very good perspective. They know the good things about him. They know the difficult things."
And they share both of them in very honest and candid interviews. Galay confesses that it was sometimes difficult for him because he admired Bellow and did not always want to hear the bad things. But he includes a wide variety of perspectives on both the man and his work.
"It's part of the journey of the film that you hear more about him than when you just read his literature," Galay said. "I thought I was going to focus more on his humor. But then you hear other new issues and you say this is so contemporary, that I should deal with it. And so there are many voices in the film."
Voices that address accusations of racism and criticism about his often unflattering portraits of women. The opinions did not change Galay's appreciation for Bellow but did open his eyes.
"Now I have more knowledge. I understand better about the character that he's writing," Galay said. "I understand better what his "the philosophy" was. I understand better what he disliked and what I think what was wrong with his analysis of the future, but I just understand him better and deeper."
And viewers of the film will as well. Galay makes a point to highlight Bellow's writing so you can appreciate or be critical of his work. Making a documentary about a writer whose work sits flatly on a printed page is a challenge, explained Galay. With a filmmaker or visual artist you can show their work in a cinematically engaging manner. So Galay decided to put the words on the screen and have people read passages.
"I put a lot of the words, the sentences, the paragraphs of Saul Bellow, like you are reading it," Galay said. "It came from his books. You hear somebody reading that's not an actor. So it's only the words. Very quietly. I gave it [the words] the honor that it should have. And this was really important to me to give a lot of honor and respect to his words, to his sentence."
The film explores Bellow's work through literary commentary, personal reminiscences, criticism of his depiction of women and minorities, as well as through archive interviews with the author. The result is a portrait of a flawed individual and skilled writer.