Monday, December 26, 2011

The Egyptian Postal Service

Most of the time when I have shipped Egyptian film posters from Cairo to the USA using the Egyptian postal service there have been no problems and there has also been the advantage that shipments done the cheapest way (which they call the "by sea" method) is much less expensive than any other method available; this has always been 100 percent reliable, if also quite slow. From Cairo I usually send posters to myself in the USA about 10 days ahead of my expected arrival home, with perfectly satisfactory results.

When I've done this it has sometimes been necessary to shepherd my shipments through Customs or through the Supervision Office (al-Raqaba). There would be no need for this if the postal employees really knew their jobs well because in Egypt it is OK to ship printed materials out of the country if they are less than 100 years old, even though some of these are quite scarce and collectible. Every poster or film journal I have ever seen from Egypt is less than 100 years old. There could well be a few here and there that are more than 100 years old, but I've never seen one and it is also unlikely any of the postal employees would recognize such an item if it were placed before them.

Occasionally one of the postal people will take an officious attitude, tell me these are "rare" items that might not be permissible for export, and hold me up for a few hours. This rarely happens now because they all know me and they also know if I am there trying to get my goods cleared, sooner or later the senior officer will be summoned to the scene and they will have to relent since they have no real grounds for objecting. Sometimes I think they make these delays just to have an opportunity to draw me into a political discussion about Israel and Gaza. They don't have enough to do, obviously.

Recently I've been having posters sent to me from Cairo by a friend, who just takes the goods to the post office and deposits them there for forwarding to the US. He does not wait around to make sure the Customs or supervision authorities OK the shipment as I always do. His last shipment was held up for 10 days, until he finally went back to the post office to investigate and found his shipment to me waiting for release at the Supervision Office. This holdup could well have lasted for months if he had not gone back to see what was going on.

We finally decided today that from now on we will send everything by FedEx to bypass the bored government bureaucrats who over the years have established their tiny rings of authority at the Egyptian Postal Service. This will save us some time. However, when I am in Cairo again I will use the cheap "by sea" method as before.

Calumnied by the People (1950) Egyptian

Calumnied by the People [zalamuni al-nas] (1950) - (directed by Hassan Al Imam)

Poster for the 1950 Egyptian film Calumnied by the People (directed by Hassan Al Imam) starring Kamal Al-Shennawi, Faten Hamama and Shadia. The film tells the story of a poor but honest worker in an Egyptian company who is unable to marry off his two daughters when he is falsely accused of embezzling company funds. The man is convicted and imprisoned, then serves out the term. After his release there is another investigation because some people think he has hoarded the embezzled funds for use after his release from prison. This new investigation reveals that the real embezzler was the company boss. Vindicated, the poor but honest worker is then able to marry off his two daughters. The poster art is by the famous film poster artist Abdel Rahman.

The film features Kamal Al-Shennawi, Faten Hamama, Shadia, Abbas Fares, Choukoukou, Salah Mansour, Aziza Helmy, Wahid Farid, Abu Seoud El-Ibiary and Reyad El Kasabgy.

Watch on YouTube

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ulysses against Hercules Egypt 1962

Ulysses against Hercules (1962) - (Georges Machal) Egyptian two-piece film poster

Designed by Wahib Fahmy and Studio Marcel, dimensions 39"x54" the same size as an Italian two-sheet with the difference that this one is actually printed on two pieces paper. I haven't seen the Iralian two-sheet for this film but strongly suspect the art and layout are about the same.

Egyptian 39x80 Rebel without a Cause

Rebel without a Cause (1955) - (James Dean) three piece Egyptian poster

This is a ragged but still presentable three-piece Warner Brothers poster printed in Egypt for the 1955 Nicholas Ray film Rebel without a Cause, measuring 39" x 80." It was designed by Wahib Fahmy and printed by Raghaeb Printers. The Arabic title in yellow script at the top of the poster could be translated as "The Recklessness of Youth."

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Love in August 1966 large three-piece Egyptian poster

Love in August (1966) - (Fouad El-Mohandes) three-piece Egyptian poster

This 65x39" poster for a 1966 Hassan El-Seify film was designed by Wahib Fahmy and Abdel Aziz, printed by Al-Nasr printers of Cairo and distributed by the General Company for the Distribution and Marketing of Cinematic Films [sherket al-'am li-tawdi' wa-ard al-aflam al-sinemaia]. The actors in the painting are Fouad El-Mohandes holding the undersized umbrella, and Shouweikar whom he is attempting to shelter. The umbrella seems much too small for blocking either sun or rain, and seems also to symbolize the suitor's hopeless situation. I haven't seen the film but have read that the character Farid (El-Mohandes) is trying to fill the shoes of the late husband of Salwa (Shouweikar), who was killed in a traffic accident on their wedding night. Apparently he manages to do this because they eventually marry (the required happy ending for this type of Egyptian film).

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The Magnificent Beast

La Bestia Magnifica (Lucha Libre) (1953) (Miroslava) directed by Chano Urueta

This is an Egyptian poster designed by Abdou Mohamed and Wahib Fahmy for the Chano Urueta Mexican wrestling film. It was printed by Nasr Printers of Cairo and distributed by the United Arabic Films Company [sherket al-aflam al-arabia al-motaheda] on Kasr al-Nil Street in Cairo. A series of clips from the film was posted to YouTube by user jarrett421, the first of which is here:

The yellow title in Arabic translates as "The Beautiful Beast." I have not seen the original Mexican poster but it is very probable that it looks very similar and even more beautiful than this one, with brighter colors and clearer definition. The Mexicans were making gorgeous poster in those years.

Watch on YouTube (Spanish)

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gasour's First Poster

Lipstick [ahmar shafayef] (1946) - (Naguib Al Riyhani) directed by Walli Eddine Sameh

This rare Egyptian poster is very important historically because it was the first one designed by Egypt's legendary poster designer Hassan Mazhar Gasour, whose studio and printing business domitnated the world of Egyptian film posters for over 30 years. Gasour was the only poster designer ever to receive the equivalent of an Egyptian academy award for poster design. The poster is a stone lithograph measuring 24.25" x 35".

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Egyptian Stage Fright Poster

Egyptian Three-piece Poster

This is a Warner Brothers poster printed in Egypt for the 1950 Hitchock film Stage Fright. It is printed in three pieces and measures 79.5" x 39.5". This is a common Egyptian size. The three sheets used to make the design are each roughly the standard 27" x 39" size for an Egyptian one-sheet. It was printed by Raghaeb printers, an old company that was active in Egypt mostly in the 1940s. It is signed by the artist Wahib Fahmy, who made the designs for many Egyptian posters for foreign films. Fahmy sometimes did original designs but for foreign films he usually relied almost entirely on elements of the design used in some poster issued by the film's foreign studio, and that is what he did for this poster. The Arabic title translation at the top is "Crime on the Stage" with the name Hitchcock in the red script.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Natalie Wood's Egyptian Presence

On 10 September 1957 Natalie Wood appeared on the back cover of the Egyptian arts and entertainment journal Al-Kawakeb. In 1957 she had not yet appeared in All the Fine Young Cannibals, Splendor in the Grass or West Side Story. The woman on the front cover is Zubaidah Tharwat, a musician and actress who later appeared with Omar Sharif in the 1961 Henry Barakat Egyptian classic There is a Man in Our House [fi baitina ragol]

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Stoning of Soraya M (2008, dir: Cyrus Nowrasteh)

The Stoning of Soraya M 2008, with Mozhan Marno as Soraya

This film is a moving, culturally accurate presentation, with a great contribution by Parviz Sayyad in an unexpected variant of his old Samad persona from his long prerevolutionary career as an actor in Iran. This film is based on a true story, so I can't quarrel with the plot, but I do hate the implication that this is the story of an "unjust" stoning, since the woman who was stoned did not really do what she was accused of doing and for which she was brutally tortured to death. What I hate is the insidious implication that there might be a "just" stoning somewhere.

Watch clips on YouTube

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Land of Plenty (2004, dir: Wim Wenders)

Land of Plenty 2004 directed by Wim Wenders, German poster

Mr. Wenders made this film in a 16-day period on a very low budget while he was in a period of limbo during the making of Don't Come Knocking. His skill expressing his emotions with such a powerful work on such short notice is remarkable. Like a lot of other people though, the thrust of his initial emotions was anger--not at the Muslims who attacked America, but at Americans for their "exaggerated patriotism."

However, there is a gaping hole in the very quick treatment of 911 in this film. That hole is the point of view of the attackers. What were the Muslim religious motivations for the 911 attack? Lana, as a complete outsider, simply reports the celebrating Palestinians with a poignant "they hate us." For a lot of self-loathing Americans, this might be enough, but I felt cheated.

In his DVD commentary Wenders notes his Christian sensibilities. For me, the sprit of Christian forgiveness, love for mankind and turning the other cheek has a lot more meaning if it can be convincingly expressed with a full awareness of the driving force behind an evil act. Wenders shows no awareness of that. The word Muslim is not used in the film, although the story is obviously about American hostility to Muslims and about a journey John Diehl's character Paul makes from initial hostility to greatly improved awareness catalyzed by his dealings with his well-traveled neice Lana (Michelle Williams) and the Pakistani Hassan (Shaun Toub).

A Wenders film that explores this material more thoughtfully--with the courage to use accurate language--would be welcome should Mr. Wenders ever find himself moved to go in that direction. I doubt if he would tell a story that would match my views, but it would be nice to see more directness and honesty from a man who is too great for this kind of timid innuendo.

Watch trailer on YouTube

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Quail and the Autumn (1967) Egyptian one-sheet

Al-Saman wal-Kharif [The Quail and the Autumn] Egyptian film directed by Houssam El-Din Mustafa; the people depicted on the poster (artist unknown) are Mahmoud Moursy as Esa and Nadia Lutfi as Riri.

Cast: Adel Adham, Abdallan Gheith, Nadia Lutfi, Mahmoud Moursy, Ihsan El-Kalawy, Leila Sheir, Naima Wasfy, Mimi Shakeeb, Ehsan Sherif; cinematography Klelio, screenplay and dialogue Ahmad Abbas Salah.

This black-and-white film is based on a story by Naguib Mahfouz.

Plot summary: With the revolution hopes ended for Esa the tanner (Mahmoud Moursy), a political party youth who had promised himself to be a man of the future, especially since he had failed to adapt to it on a personal or a general level and his marriage to Salwa (Leila Sheir) had failed. Esa fled to Alexandria and while carousing in a nightclub there he met Riri (Nadia Lutfi), a girl of the night who came to love him almost immediately. However he dispensed with her when he discovered she was pregnant. Riri married an older man to give her daughter a name and protect herself from ruin. Esa returned after six years to confirm that the girl was his daughter and to try to persuade Riri to marry him, but she refused. In the end there was a reconciliation between them, just as there had been a reconciliation with the political system of the revolution, through one of his best friends who had stood on the side of the July revolution. According to film critic Sa'ad al-Din Tawfiq this is one of the top 100 Egyptian films.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Egyptian Cinemagraphics of Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz


This book is the result of over ten years of data collection, research, traveling and poster collecting. It is a collector’s field guide, a catalog and a work in progress that focuses on some of the most important memorabilia in the modern history of Egyptian film, the cinematic legacy of Naguib Mafhouz. Because of its meticulous listing and index of film studio personnel, this work can also serve as a graphic film studies outline for an essential phase of Egyptian cinematic realism.

Novelist Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988 for literary fiction. By the time he got his prize all but six of the Egyptian films based on his work had already been produced and marketed, for Mahfouz had long been a recognized talent in his own land. His fiction is famously cinematic. He was one of the insiders in the Egyptian film industry and also a prolific writer of screenplays. Over 70 Egyptian films based on his novels, short stories and screenplays were produced in the period 1947 - 1992. Presented here are graphic images from promotional material for most of those films, their plot summaries and an indexed listing of studio personnel and promotional entities. In short, what we offer here is an executive summary of the long cinematic career of Naguib Mahfouz, with many of the classic commercial images that were used to promote the films.

These posters and graphic designs all come from an important but little documented period of art history in Egypt. It was a time when domestic and foreign films were being produced and exhibited in Egypt frequently and in large numbers, and posters and other promotional materials were made with primitive tools by a busy but highly talented pool of artists and technicians. The art on the posters is beautiful, but the visual beauty gives only a faint taste of the bustling environment from which they emerged.

Small print and design workshops in Cairo and Alexandria were kept busy day and night for many years meeting the promotional demands of the burgeoning Egyptian film industry. Zinc printing plates were etched by hand. These plates were expensive and had to be washed and reused, sometimes in their hundreds in the case of the production of color billboard posters, which required the preparation of 24 multi-colored images, each of which required at least three different plates for the color separations. The printed posters that survive were sometimes displayed in front of theaters alongside original paintings done for the same purpose that were never printed. The original unprinted paintings are almost all lost to posterity, as are unfortunately all known copies of many of the printed posters from Egypt’s golden era of cinema.

Many of the printed posters were done as labor intensive stone lithographs where the images were transferred to the paper directly from an etched stone on a small hand press. The paper sheets were fed into the these devices one at a time. In today’s world this kind of production would be prohibitively expensive, but in Cairo in the forties and fifties it was often the only method available to determined cadres of skilled but poorly paid workers. Yet the Egyptian film posters made so beautifully in this painstaking way, like most of the world’s other film posters, were made for one-time use and often discarded afterwards. The graphic images here are scarce remnants from a lost period of 20th century industrial art.

This chronological arrangement of Egyptian poster images gives visual milestones for several parallel lines of development, Mahfouz’s develpment as as a writer and professional film worker, the evolution of the modern Egyptian film along with the emergence of the Golden Era of Egyptian film and the evolution of the technology and art of the film poster in Egypt.

When Mahfouz wrote his first story for film in 1945 with Abdel Aziz Salam (the Adventures of Antar and Ablah), the most common Egyptian poster size was about 24× 35 inches, and the most common printing technique was stone lithography. Mahfouz’s fiction was still historical, nationalistic and patriotic, a thematic focus he would abandon later for contemporary social realism, thanks in part to the influence of that film’s director Salah Abouseif.

This was just before the beginning of what can be called the Gasour era in Egyptian film poster design, a period of over 40 years beginning in 1946 dominated by the great Egyptian cinema poster artist and printer Hassan Mazhar Gasour (1925-1992). When Gasour came onto the scene in Egypt posters were being produced by a handful of small art studios, but as the Egyptian film industry developed Gasour, with his own printing business and his prodigious skills as a painter, soon became the nation’s undisputed master in the field of poster production. In those years his studio also served as a working school for other developing poster artists and technicians.

Mr. Gasour’s daughter Hala maintains his printing business today, as she has been dong for the last 24 years; she continues to print Egyptian film posters, but she does not design them.

The early period of Mahfouz’s cinema career lasted until 1960 when his first novel to become a film production was released, Dead among the Living [bedaya wa nehaya]. In this first period, in his film work Mahfouz wrote mostly screenplays and collaborated frequently with director Salah Abouseif, who also directed Dead among the Living.

By the time Dead among the Living was released Egyptian film posters had become larger and were made with zinc plate lithograph or offset presses instead of stone lithography. Most posters at this point were now 27× 39 inches and the smaller 24× 35-inch size had fallen into disuse. The old artists and printers active in the 40s had largely faded from the scene and most posters were now printed either by one of the two Gasour shops or by Sayed Ali Ibrahim Al-Nasr, although there were many other active printers.

The next period in the Mahfouz filmography includes his famous 1,500-page work known as the Cairo Trilogy. The film titles based on it are Between Two Palaces (1964), Palace Walk (1967) (sometimes called Palace of Desire) and The Sugar Bowl (1973) (sometimes called Sugar Street). The trilogy is an extended narrative covering the affairs of three generations of a single Cairo family descended from the patriarch al-Sayed Ahmed Abdel Gawad. The family is depicted as being challenged constantly by its difficulty adapting to the rapid pace of social change. In this period films based on Mahfouz works were more often taken from his novels than his screenplays and were built around the dense detailing of the urban street for which Mahfouz is best known.

The final period of our Mahfouz cinemagraphic survey points to a miscellany of remakes and initial film treatments of earlier Mahfouz works, but it is also includes films based on works such as Adrift on the Nile in which Mahfouz’s political disenchantment echoes more loudly in his crowded social matrix than it had done in earlier films. Mahfouz was always acutely sensitive to politics but in some of his later work and the films based on it we can see his disappointment with certain political developments in Egypt such as the revolution and the 1967 war.

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