The Young Karl Marx. Courtesy Diaphana Films

Constant Reader

A Bookish Movie Buff’s Guide to SIFF

All the SIFF films with literary pedigrees your heart could ever desire.

Something very strange happens when you get a bunch of book people—booksellers and librarians, say—to sit down at a bar with a bunch of people who work with movies, like projectionists and film bookers. Usually, all the book people want to talk about is movies: what’s coming out, what this movie star was like when she visited town for a special screening, what working at a movie theater is like. But the movie people are excited to talk about books with a knowledgeable peer group for a change. In the end, they kind of tragically talk over and around each other in an unfortunate overlap of interests.

Book folks and movie folks do have a lot in common, though : They both spend a lot of time indoors staring at things. They both adore well-told stories. They are patient and abiding lovers of fandom. And for a few weeks every spring, their interests intermingle during the Seattle International Film Festival. A good portion of SIFF’s 400 films boast a literary pedigree, ranging from adaptations to biopics about authors to documentaries about literary figures. Some highlights:

The Fabulous Allan Carr focuses on a Hollywood producer (his big success was Grease) who achieved a curious stardom that flamed brightly, then burned out in a string of spectacular failures. This simply could have been interesting in a trainwreck way, but what elevates this documentary is its complex and finely structured portrait of its main character, which is based on Robert Hofler’s biography Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr. Egyptian Theater, May 19–20.

• The trailer for the raunchy comedy The Little Hours claims that it’s “based on The Decameron by Boccaccio.” That’s maybe a stretch, but the trailer, featuring incredibly foul-mouthed nuns, played by Alison Brie and Aubrey Plaza, taking drugs, engaging in an edgeplay orgy with Dave Franco, and throwing turnips at unsuspecting villagers, with Thunderpussy’s “Bling Bling” in the background, is apeshit enough that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. AMC Pacific Place, May 27.

• Based on the Stephen Fry novel of that name, The Hippopotamus is about an alcoholic writer who travels to the countryside in order to debunk a reported series of miracles. Egyptian Theater, May 30 & June 1.

The Young Karl Marx, the festival’s closing-night film, is about the birth of The Communist Manifesto. It’s directed by Raoul Peck, whose documentary I Am Not Your Negro from last year was also about a towering literary figure. If he can bring the same passion and literary understanding to Marx and Engels that he brought to James Baldwin, SIFFgoers might leave the theater hungry to seize the means of production. Cinerama, June 11. Find much more, including a few Roald Dahl adaptations and some fairy-tale animated movies for kids, at SIFF.net.

Paul Constant is co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage at seattlereviewofbooks.com.

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