W.G. Sebald documentary to receive U.S. distribution


Patience (After Sebald) has been picked up for U.S. distribution. Directed by Grant Gee, the film is a documentary-essay that explores the writing and influence of the late German author W.G. Sebald. According to reports, the film will open at Film Forum in New York City on May 9, 2012.

Gee’s documentary explores the author’s work as well as history, art, architecture, and landscape, weaving in commentaries by Rick Moody, Robert Macfarlane, Tacita Dean, and others. It apparently takes the form of a walking tour of the eastern coast of England, just like Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.

Best known for his music documentaries, Gee is the director of Meeting People is Easy (about Radiohead), Demon Days (about Gorillaz), and Joy Division (you can probably figure out which band this one is about).

Sebald is one of my favorite writers, right up there with Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Jim Shepard. I don’t want to get too carried away (because I don’t have much time and, well, this is a movie site), but I’d like to offer a very brief appreciation of Sebald after the jump which maybe can explain his appeal.

[Via IndieWire]

Sebald’s writing is this peculiar hybrid, reminiscent in some ways of Borges’s essay-like fiction: part memoir, part history, part travelogue, and part invention. This makes classification of his work difficult. (In a 1999 volume of The Paris Review, his publisher joked, “You have to make sure it doesn’t get in the travel section.”) Complicating matters further, his books also contain photos and drawings which complement and inform his text. Of course, not all of these photos are authentic — Sebald admitted to going through second-hand shops to purchase images that struck him and that he could invent around.

Essentially, each of Sebald’s books is a work of bricolage or assemblage. He arranges images and anecdotes and creates these stunning ruminations on memory, history, and death. His writing appeals to me in the same way as Joseph Cornell’s boxes or Errol Morris’s documentary Fast, Cheap & Out of Control: there is a meticulous arrangement of ideas which results in something strange and yet resonant and harmonious. (Just so you know, Sebald’s no charlatan since he’s never tried to pass his work off as factual. I prefer to think that his writing deals more with what Werner Herzog called “the ecstatic truth”: that refinement of fact through art to get at something that is more fundamentally real, something that feels truer than mere fact.)

Sebald died nearly 10 years ago in a car accident. He suffered a heart attack behind the wheel and lost control. He was 57 years old.

There’s a blurb on back of The Rings of Saturn from Richard Eder of the Los Angeles Times that reads, “Think of W.G. Sebald as memory’s Einstein.” I’d add that you can also think of him as memory’s Borges and memory’s Cornell.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.