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Jul 182017

You can be a flâneur on Numéro Cinq, sauntering, loitering, browsing the archives, the contents pages, the back issues page. Now and then, I check the stats. They don’t change a lot at the top for the obvious reason that newer pieces just haven’t had time to catch up. Something published last month won’t be there. But over time, items with a consistently high hit rate rise through the ranks. Recently Anthony Doerr and Paul Curtis moved into the Top Twenty. Also my sons Jonah and Jacob — who’d have thought nepotism would work so well? The vagaries of hit rates and search engine terms are mysterious. I only have the brute stats provided by WordPress to go on. But certain things seem clear. Our What It’s Like Living Here series has always been extremely popular. This is a human thing. We like our nests, we like the local. These are very simple essays but utterly appealing. Pat Keane and Bruce Stone both have two texts in the Top Twenty, which shows that quality and consistency do win out. A. Anupama has a translation and classical Indian poetry constituency that happens to be very large and welcome. And the startling originality and visual panache of Anna Maria Johnson’s essay on Annie Dillard has always pulled in readers.

I am copying a second list  below the Top Twenty. It’s the top twenty for the last three months. Interesting to compare.

All Time Top Twenty

  1. What It’s Like Living Here — Richard Farrell in San Diego
  2. Translations of Classical Tamil Love Poetry: Essay & Poems — A. Anupama
  3. The Senses of an Ending: The Grapes of Wrath, Novel and Film — Patrick J. Keane
  4. A Visual Approach to Syntactical and Image Patterns in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Essay & Images — Anna Maria Johnson
  5. From “The Deep”: Fiction — Anthony Doerr
  6. What It’s Like Living Here — From Lisa Roney in Orlando
  7. What It’s Like Living Here — Wendy Voorsanger in San Mateo
  8. Nabokov’s Exoneration: The Genesis and Genius of Lolita — Bruce Stone
  9. 7 Things I Learned from Reading 15 List Essays — John Proctor
  10. What It’s Like Living Here — Michelle Berry in Peterborough, Ontario
  11. The Consecution of Gordon Lish: An Essay on Form and Influence — Jason Lucarelli
  12. Montaigne On Experience & Defecation: Essay — Jacob Glover
  13. What It’s Like Living Here — Kim Aubrey in Saskatoon
  14. Translation, Adaptation and Transformation: The Poet as Translator — Richard Jackson
  15. Revisiting Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet — Paul M. Curtis
  16. The Formalist Reformation | Review of Viktor Shklovsky’s Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar — Bruce Stone
  17. What It’s Like Living Here — Gwen Mullins in Chattanooga
  18. Talking to a 17-Year-Old Girl, When You are a 16-Year-Old Boy: Micro-Memoir — Jonah Glover
  19. Let Us Be Silent Here: Poems in English and Spanish — John B. Lee/Manuel de Jesus Velázquez Léon
  20. On Looking Into and Beyond Wordsworth’s Daffodils: An Intrinsic and Contextual Reading | Patrick J. Keane


Last Three Months Top Twenty

  1. From “The Deep”: Fiction — Anthony Doerr
  2. Translations of Classical Tamil Love Poetry: Essay & Poems — A. Anupama
  3. From Roses by Rainer Maria Rilke — Translated by David Need
  4. Uimhir a Cúig | Dunamon: Poems — Jane Clarke
  5. I am the big heart | Poems — S. E. Venart
  6. Revisiting Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet — Paul M. Curtis
  7. The Senses of an Ending: The Grapes of Wrath, Novel and Film — Patrick J. Keane
  8. Hot: Short Story — Adrienne Love
  9. Plot Structure in Three Short Stories | Essay on Conflict and Form — Michael Carson
  10. Through leaded panes | Memoir — Dawn Promislow
  11. Research for the Larger Project | Poems — Maggie Smith
  12. Painter & Poet: Studies in Creativity — Victoria Best with Miranda Boulton & Kaddy Benyon
  13. Portland | Fiction — Gary Garvin
  14. What It’s Like Living Here — Michelle Berry in Peterborough, Ontario
  15. Nabokov’s Exoneration: The Genesis and Genius of Lolita — Bruce Stone
  16. What It’s Like Living Here — Richard Farrell in San Diego, CA
  17. Numéro Cinq at the Movies: Tom Tykwer’s “Faubourg Saint-Denis,” Introduced by R. W. Gray
  18. How Swiss Is It? | Review of Walks with Robert Walser by Carl Seelig — Dorian Stuber
  19. 7 Things I Learned from Reading 15 List Essays — John Proctor
  20. Leconte de Lisle’s Les Roses d’Ispahan | Translation & Performance — Marilyn McCabe



Vol. III, No. 12, December 2012

Vol. III, No. 11, November 2012

Vol. III, No. 10, October 2012

Vol. III, No. 9, September  2012

Vol. III, No. 8, August 2012

Vol. III, No. 7, July  2012

Vol. III, No. 6, June 2012

Vol. III, No. 5, May 2012

Vol. III, No. 4, April 2012

Vol. III, No. 3, March 2012

Vol. III, No. 2, February 2012

Vol. III, No. 1, January 2012

Jul 062012


It’s difficult to hang out with Carol (Margo Martindale), the awkward protagonist of Alexander Payne’s short film “14e Arrondissement.” An American postal carrier on vacation in Paris, she narrates what happened on her trip in a broken and poorly pronounced French delivered to an unseen French class in Denver, Colorado. Her desire to fully explore Paris, to really experince what she imagines is a French experience is troubled by her insistence on doing so with a fanny pack . . . we are, at least at first, meant to see this as a satire of American tourists abroad.

But what I like about Payne’s satire is how his characters are clowns (themselves the somestimes desperate object of ridicule) and also buffoons (who ridicule the audience). Of course, this double aspect may be only apparent in any discomfort we feel listening to Carol’s poorly pronounced travelogue, watching her awkward interactions with the locals, and seeing her trying to pop her ears in an elevator like a deep sea bass coming up from the depths (while she, in voice over, talks about death and dying). We don’t want to identify with Carol, particularly if we own fanny packs.

But Carol’s frank and clear narrative counterposes the poor French and her so-very-un-Parisian travels as she confesses a litany of loss, failed dreams, and a little bare-bone loneliness. She perhaps shares too much with this well of pathos, and yet there is a brutal honesty to the confession, partly a product of the directness of the form, a dramatic monologue that is her French class report, but also part of the clarity with which she sees her losses and reports them. There is no sense that she seeks sympathy. In case we’re confused, she explains that she is a happy person. Her story isn’t a plea for sympathy. It’s about her trip to Paris. And in the conclusion of the report and the short film, a conclusion we may feel teeter on the edge of all that disappointment and loss she has experienced, her real journey breaks through.

Carol has an absolute outsider’s view of the city and with her awkward perspective, her struggle to find her way through her expectations and hopes, she at first seems to be the quintessential tourist. In the opening shots of her in the hotel she reports that “the food wasn’t as good as [she] expected” over a shot of a half-eaten burger and a bottle of diet coke she has obviously ordered through room service in her hotel. But Carol is complex and confesses she did not sign up for a tour because she “wanted to live an adventure in a foreign place.” Paul Bowles in The Sheltering Sky argues that an “important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.” Carol refuses to be exclusively a tourist because she resists becoming a victim to her expectations, her homesickness for her dogs, or her jet lag. She does intrepidly seek what Paris has to offer, despite her desire for familiar narratives like when she imagines what it would be like to deliver mail there.

It was with great fear that I watched the last scenes of this short though, as it reminded in a terrible way of Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Mrs Brill,” a story I read in my youth and that, thereafter, filled me with foreboding whenever I imagined I was part of some great musical theatre moment of belonging on trains or in public parks. Who hasn’t wanted to feel what Mrs Brill feels when she imagines all the people in the park with their chorus of “We understand.” Carol is thankfully not Mrs Brill, though.  For Carol does  not desire to be accepted or to be drawn into the beloved arms of a throng of strangers. Carol’s ending is about her own experience, her own insistence on happiness and her own ability to appreciate the moment, on the bench, with the sandwich, in Paris.

“14e Arrondissement” is the last of the eighteen short films by well-known filmmakers that make up the anthology film Paris Je’ Taime. Richard Brody in his New Yorker review argues that “this mixed bag [Paris Je T’Aime]. . . is mandatory viewing for its one absolute masterpiece, by Alexander Payne.” Numero Cinq at the Movies has featured one of the other Paris Je T’Aime shorts, Tom Tykwer’s “Faubourg Saint-Denis.”

Payne apparently first resisted this story when he was challenged to make a short film set in the 14e Arrondisement. In an interview with David Stratton, he admits, “the last thing in the world I wanted to do was make a film about an American tourist, and I thought this would be an excuse to hire some really beautiful European actress, you know, and like, you know, have some fun that way.” But the place inspired him to move away from his own Francophile desire and this idea occurred to him. “After I spent time walking around that Ahondes mall and brainstorming as to what the idea could be, I just thought the idea I came up with was one that would give me an excuse, basically, to make a documentary about that. 
I wanted to show as much of it as possible, and the idea of a woman having a lamo tourist day walking around that strange Ahondes mall . . . somehow the idea of an American tourist and hiring Margo Martindale came to me.”
 And yet Carol allows Payne to represent the sublime she finds in the lamo.

Alexander Payne is an American writer and director known for such compelling and fascinating films as Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways, all four co-written with his frequent writing partner Jim Taylor They were nominated for an Oscar for their adaptation of Tom Peyrotta’s novel Election, won both the Golden Globe and Oscar for their adaptation of Sideways, and, Payne and two other writers recently won an Oscar for their adaptation of The Descendants. He is in pre-production to direct a film called Nebraska.

— R. W. Gray


Jan 192012


Tom Tykwer’s “Faubourg Saint-Denis” tells the story of a moment of confusion between two lovers, Francine and Thomas (played by Natalie Portman and Melchior Beslon) where, briefly, the man thinks things are over and the relationship flashes before his eyes. The voice-over addresses the beloved in the second person, a love letter the audience intercepts, and the breathless montage recounts the varied history of these two lovers. It’s a love story of all the small moments, the screams, the tears, the laughs, the repetition of days.

It’s an excessive discourse that recalls other excessive expressions of passion: Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Marguerite Duras’s The Lover. And yet, in its passion and direct address, its lovely claustrophobia, maybe more accurately Pablo Neruda’s Captain’s Verses.

The film is intimate, excessive, and yet made up of an abundance of small moments that on their own might be insignificant. It’s the repetition of these small moments that makes up the pattern of the couple’s days, the accumulation of memories that shapes the intimacy here. As their history flashes by, the repetitions layer like a palimpsest, the images becoming part of a larger passionate body. “I see you,” says Thomas at the end of the film, as though this were only possible through the crisis and remembering he has just experienced.

Such passionate expression requires a talented hand. It’s difficult to distill so much dramatic history down into a short film without lapsing into melodrama or without drama turning into comedy. Tykwer seems to meta-comment on this here with the film within the film, the cheesy pimp and prostitute story that Francine stars in. When she calls Thomas back to figure out why he hung up, Francine asks him, “How are you supposed to say [it]  . . . without sounding completely melodramatic?”

Their story avoids melodrama through montage and the pure adrenalin of the piece. This is in a sense the polar opposite of the Wong Kar Wai offering a few weeks ago: where Wong lingers and hangs all granite gravity on an image in slow motion, Tykwer races past images like a water slide of vodka.

“Faubourg Saint-Denis” is one of the eighteen short films featured in Paris, je t’aime, an anthology of short films by several significant directors, each set in a different arrondissement of Paris. Other directors in the project include Gus Van Sant, Richard LaGravenese, The Cohen Brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, and Alexander Payne.

Tykwer has masterly told passionate tales before, matching star-struck and tortured romances with a sort of fairy tale sensibility: the questions of fate, free will and running in Run Lola Run; the innocence and violence of The Princess and the Warrior; the dark, damaged passion of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Tykwer, with The Matrix’s Wachowskis,  is adapting and directing David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas for the big screen (it’s listed as currently in post production).

—R. W. Gray


Numéro Cinq at the Movies



Numéro Cinq’s unique and unparalleled collection of short films and commentary edited and (mostly) written by R. W. Gray. Other contributions from Jon Dewar, Douglas Glover, Sophie Lavoie, Philip Marchand, Megan MacKay, Jared Carney, Erin Morton, Julie Trimingham, Michael V. Smith, Nicholas Humphries, and Taryn Sirove.








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