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Edward Said: The Last Interview (Documentary)

Historians in the News




Born in Jerusalem to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother, Edward Said, the writer and literary critic who died of leukemia in 2003, was perhaps fated to feel forever the outsider. In “Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said,” the director Sato Makoto examines the roots of his subject’s chronic alienation and sympathy for the Palestinian cause, visiting his childhood homes in Jerusalem, Cairo and Beirut, and encouraging the recollections of a wide variety of friends and family members.

Yet the man they describe as “contrarian” and “indomitable” gradually fades from view as the filmmaker, reaching for a larger theme, abandons the home movies and photographs to linger with Palestinian refugees in Syria and a family of Mizrahim (Arab Jews) in Israel. Though loosely framed by readings from Mr. Said’s 1999 memoir of the same name, “Out of Place” is less a biography than a somewhat rambling meditation on exile, identity and the psychological scars of dispossession. The result is a melancholy, searching film whose inspiration, modestly buried in a Quaker cemetery in Lebanon, remains as distant as the world that shaped him.

Far more satisfying is the complex portrait provided by “Edward Said: The Last Interview,” a riveting record of Mr. Said’s 2002 conversation with the journalist Charles Glass. Though visibly depleted by illness, Mr. Said speaks eloquently about his privileged upbringing (including his early love of the Tarzan movies, in which he admits to identifying with the colonialists), his teaching at Columbia University and his twin passions for music and language.

The movie really begins to crackle, however, when the conversation shifts to Arab-Israeli politics and his involvement with what Mr. Said terms the “creative chaos” of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Vividly detailing his eventual disenchantment with Yasir Arafat and disgust with the peace process, Mr. Said is rueful about his lifelong attraction to difficult subjects. “I have learned to prefer being not quite right and out of place,” he says, returning again and again to his feelings of homelessness. Engrossing and wide-ranging, “Edward Said: The Last Interview” proves that a couch, a camera and a great mind can be all the inspiration a filmmaker needs.
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