Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Gerald Peary (via the author)

Hello and welcome to Read, a column publishing Sundays. Many weeks we’ll be chatting with an author about their latest book and sharing that Q&A. Authors are selected based on a connection to the area or because they’re speaking at an event at Harvard Book Store, Porter Square Books or elsewhere in Cambridge and Somerville. (In those cases, Read will double as an event preview, and we hope those pieces will inspire you to check out their talks.)

If you have an author you think we should know about, reach me at [email protected]. Thank you for Read-ing!

You may recognize me from Snack, our weekly food column, in which I try menu items that cost less than $10 at eateries around Somerville and Cambridge and write about them. I like to eat, but I really like to read. Cambridge Day has run author Q&As for years, many of them by Alma Barak, but now, we’re making them a weekly thing. My goal is for Read to be an interesting, informative, and thought-provoking weekly dispatch that highlights local authors and events.

Onto the good stuff! This week, we have Cantabrigian Gerald Peary, who came to Boston in 1978 to be a film critic at The Real Paper, an alternative weekly newspaper. He spent decades as a journalist, working as a reviewer and columnist for the Boston Phoenix from 1996 until it closed in 2012 and freelancing for papers such as The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. He also taught in the Communication, Journalism & Media department at Suffolk University and was named professor emeritus when he retired in 2015. He’s the director of two feature documentaries and has written several books. His latest, “Mavericks: Interviews with the World’s Iconoclast Filmmakers,” compiles interviews conducted between 1975 and 2005 with filmmakers including Ousmane Sembène, Samira Makhmalbaf, Roberta Findlay, Howard Alk and John Waters. The interviews amplify the voices of a group of groundbreaking filmmakers whose works are antithetical to typical Hollywood points of view and embody the auteur theory – the idea that the director is the primary artist of a film, which gained traction in the New Hollywood era of the 1960s and 1970s. We interviewed Peary on March 7; his words have been edited for length and clarity.

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You’ve written nine books on cinema. Where did the idea for “Mavericks: Interviews with the World’s Iconoclast Filmmakers” come from?

The interviews were done long ago, they ended around 2005. I’m now 79 years old, and this was part of my legacy. I wanted to take these articles, which are sitting in lost newspapers, and put them together into a book as a sort of reflection of what I did all those years. These interviews are a time capsule of a certain kind of filmmaking which has disappeared a bit today. I was there at a high point in the late 20th century in terms of great European directors, who made great films in Europe, but also often would come to American film festivals like the New York Film Festival and be there to talk about their movies. I have a particular love of French New Wave and German New Wave cinema, so I was very excited to be able to meet with directors whose work really meant something to me. A lot of the directors are now legends, and they’re also almost all dead. I hope people would like to know what they actually had to say when I sat down and talked to them one on one.

What did you learn from speaking to them?

Nothing that philosophical; I think what I really learned was much more pragmatic. It was how to have a conversation. I think I’m a good interviewer because I’m really a conversationalist, I’m not just sitting back and listening. In my best days, I was embroiled in conversation with a peer. Even though they’re a filmmaker and I’m a journalist, we’re peers in the sense that we’re both thinkers and we’re both thinking about their movies. I found that they got deep into conversation about their movies in a way that maybe they wouldn’t with journalists who don’t really know their movies. That’s what I think is good about these interviews: You feel my knowledge of the subject and the person I’m talking to, and you feel that the filmmaker is genuinely engaged in the conversation and is not just answering because they have to talk to a journalist.

It’s a diverse group.

I think it’s like diversity in everything – our country is getting more and more isolated and suspicious of anybody who’s not exactly like you are. I always pursued diverse filmmakers and wanted the book to reflect that. First of all, the interviews have an international scope. I interviewed filmmakers from Iran and Palestine. But beyond that, there’s also the racial and gender diversity. I sought out women directors like Liv Ullmann, a Norwegian actress who also directed. From the beginning, I tried to interview directors of color like Ousmane Sembène – he was from Senegal and probably Africa’s most important filmmaker.

How did you select which interviews to include?

I wanted the best of my many, many interviews over the years. Occasionally there was somebody who I got to talk to for only a few minutes, and what we said was interesting but too flimsy to be included, so these are my most substantive interviews.

You’re obviously very entrenched in the world of film. What do you think the average, casual movie watcher can take away from your book?

First of all, the interviews are really entertaining to read; I’ve had that comment from a bunch of people. But the real takeaway comes from the fact that even to this day, most people don’t really get what a director does or, in this case, how a director thinks about the material in a movie. I think the book will increase your film watchability and your knowledge when you watch. The best viewer should be thinking ‘What is the director trying to do in this movie? How well is the director doing it? Was it worth doing?’ My book will help you think that way.

“Mavericks: Interviews with the World’s Iconoclast Filmmakers” is available here.