Friday, June 11, 2010

"The City of Your Final Destination": when do you need "permission" to write a book (about someone)?

The City of Your Final Destination”, directed by James Ivory (perhaps the last Merchant Ivory film, released by Screen Media) raises the interesting question of needing “permission” to write a book about other people. I wondered how the question applies if the book is primarily autobiographical (like my own “Do Ask Do Tell”) but involves other people’s history, at least family, and maybe others who, even if unnamed or pseudonymed, could be identified. Ironically, the film is based on a novel (fiction) by Peter Cameron, adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

In the film, Omar Razaghi (played by Omar Metwally) is the swarthy, slender and likeable 28-year-old graduate student at the University of Colorado (imdb says the University of Kansas, where I got my own MA in Mathematics in 1968, another parallel to me). His dissertation (or post-doc assignment for his teaching job) is to be a biography of unconventional novelist Julius Gund, who had committed suicide while working on just his second book. He has written to the family in Uruguay for “permission” and is refused, so he goes down there – a move that seems hard to believe but whose credibility drives the screenplay. (The South American scenes are actually filmed on the pampas of Argentina, and they look a bit like the King Ranch in Texas.)

He shows up unannounced, and the family takes him in despite the adversarial situation. Pretty soon he is probing a web of family secrets, some of which involve Julius’s gay brother Adam (a pot-bellied Anthony Hopkins) who lives on the estate with a native lover – one is struck that Omar, straight and effectively drawn into a heterosexual love triangle himself – is much more attractive than either one of them – and he is challenged when stung by a bee and winding up in a coma. Which secret is the most critical: is it Adam’s plan for jewelry smuggling, or the personal problems in the marriage (the widow is played by a domineering Laura Linney) that might have contributed to the writer’s block that led to the suicide.

The website for the film is here.

News X Video has a trailer on YouTube:

Picture: Campanile tower at the University of Kansas
Below, NASA satellite image of Uruguay (wikipedia attribution link).

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