Monday,15 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)
Monday,15 October, 2018
Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Good times, bad times

Abboudi Abou Jaoude, Tonight: Cinema in Lebanon, 1929-1979, Beirut: Al-Furat, 2016, pp.450 - Reviewed by Nahed Nasr

Good times, bad times

The subject of another “normalisation” debate, the screening at the art house Zawya of Ziad Doueiri’s Oscar nominated The Insult brought Lebanese cinema into focus. But in fact Cairo has been seeing more and more films from Lebanon in recent years. Lebanon was the Country in Focus at the Cairo International Women’s Film Festival (3-9 March), where six Lebanese films by woman directors were screened, while the 2017 Cairo Cinematic Days featured 15 Lebanese films. Before The Insult, Zawya itself screened Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya’s Very Big Shot (2016), while Bosta by Philippe Aractingi and Caramel by Nadine Labaky were both commercially screened in 2008 — the first Lebanese films to have that dubious honour since 1970-something. For the longest time between 1930 and 1970, Lebanon and Egypt were cinematic partners in the best sense, exchanging resources and expertise. 


Good times, bad times

In his remarkable monument to the Golden Age, Tonight: Cinema in Lebanon, 1929-1979, which contains over 740 images, Abboudi Abou Jaoude explores part of this history. The publisher as well as the compiler of the posters, advertisements and other movie paraphernalia, Abou Jaoude describes his book as an accurate timeline of films produced in Lebanon in the half century with which it concerns itself. In his introduction, “An Overview of Film History in Lebanon”, Abou Jaouda stresses the connection between Lebanese and Egyptian cinema since the late 1920s. In 1929, he recounts, the first movie was made in Lebanon. It was a silent comedy by an amateur Italian named Jordano Pidutti, The Adventures of Ilyas Mabruk. In 1933 the first production studio, Lumnar Films, was established by Herta Gargor in collaboration with the Qattan and Haddad Company, which already owned several movie theatres in Lebanon and Syria. “By then,” Abou Jaouda goes on to say, “Egyptian cinema had attracted several young men and women from the Arab East through studios such as Studio Misr, among others.” 


Good times, bad times

He refers to Assia Dagher and her niece Mary Queeny, Lebanese actresses who played a fundamental role in early Egyptian cinema. He also mentions Nour Al-Houdda, who starred opposite the great Egyptian actor Youssef Wahbi in the 1943 The Jewel and the actor-singer Mohamed Bakkar, who performed alongside Tahia Carioca in Hussein Fawzi’s 1944 Naduga. The great actress-singer Sabah was to make her debut in Assia Dagher’s 1945 The Heart Loves But Once. A year later both Laure Daccache appeared in The Musician and Nourhan starred in two little-known films, Good and Evil and The Oriental. At around the same time Siham Rifki and Souad Mohamed, two great singers, also arrived from Lebanon. Both graced the silver screen, with the latter starring in Mahmoud Dhulfuqar’s A Girl from Palestine.

Collaboration took place in another way as Egyptian artists took to shooting their films in Lebanon and making promotional films to encourage Egyptian tourism there such as Summer in Lebanon by Salah Badrakhan in 1946 and Vacation in Lebanon by Bishara Wakim in 1947. In 1950, Mohamed Salman introduced the Egyptian director Hussein Fawzi to Lebanese producer Arteen Turabian, which resulted in Bride of Lebanon, starring Mohamed Salman, Hanan and several famous Egyptian stars. When the United Arab Republic nationalised film production in 1962, limiting the number of Egyptian films produced and thus leaving a huge gap in Arab demand, a new phase of collaboration began as Lebanese distributors turned into producers. With mostly Egyptian artists, they were to produce up to 30 films a year until 1967. 


Good times, bad times

As state control of cinema was relaxed in the early 1970s and Egyptian artists returned home, Lebanese producers set up shop in Cairo. Seventies collaborations include The Visitor (1972), My Love (1972), Sons for Sale (1972) and Best Days of My Life (1973). A new generation of Lebanese artists was coming home now, however, and in the build-up to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1975 filmmakers like Maroun Baghdadi, Jocelyn Saab, Borhane Alaouié, Randa Shahal were marking “the birth of a new Lebanese cinema as we know it today”. 


Good times, bad times

Tonight is divided into four parts. The first includes three introductory articles, two by the author and “The Printed Image of Film” by American University in Beirut professor Zeina Maasri. The second chronicles Lebanese production through three periods:1929-1959, 1960-1969 and 1970-1979. The third deals with joint and foreign (notably Turkish) productions and other aspects of film in Lebanon. The last part consists of two indexes of films and directors. 

According to the author, the book is a complete guide to movies filmed in Lebanon over 50 years (1929-1979) narrated through 252 posters, 110 cards, 40 guides, 60 articles and 34 advertisements: “It is a photographic journey exploring movies filmed in Lebanon and serving as a comprehensive movie library including names of producers, directors, technicians and actors. Furthermore, the guide includes the dates on which films were shown and the names of the poster designers whose creativity tempted me to watch the films. Ironically, some posters remained in my memory far longer than the story of the film itself.”

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