SF Signal welcomes back Lavie Tidhar, whose book Osama is out from Solaris Books on October 1st. He runs the World SF Blog, which contains four years of short stories, essays, articles, interviews and links to genre literature from around the world. When he’s not doing that he’s the World Fantasy, BSFA and Campbell Award nominated author of The Bookman Histories (out in December in omnibus from Angry Robot), and editor of The Apex Book of World SF 2, collecting 26 stories from Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe, out from Apex Books.
Casablanca is my blueprint, a movie that has woven itself into the fabric of my being as a writer. It is referenced in the very first chapter of Osama, and its doomed love story informs the nature of the book. What fascinates me most about Casablanca, however, is the fact that many of the actors were genuine refugees from the Nazis, filling up the film in bit parts in Rick’s Cafe and the casino. It’s a film I can watch again and again and always find new things in.
I was watching the director’s commentary on Escape From New York on the night Isaac Hayes died. Which is this weird sort of coincidence. I was struck in particular by Carpenter talking about the transition between scenes. In one scene we’re shown Snake Plissken outside the New York Public Library. In the next scene he’s inside – but the two scenes are shot in completely different locations, hundreds of miles apart.
That idea, of doors in films opening onto other places, informs the later part of Osama – suitably titled Escape From New York, and further acts to undermine “the reality of the situation”. Those words, incidentally, were the ones used by one of the 7/7 London bombers.
Osama, it could be argued – depending on your interpretation of the novel, and I am certainly not going to put across my own position – is made up of an assemblage of old films. Todd Browning’s films are interesting to me partially because I never actually watched them. I know Freaks the way I know Lovecraft – mostly by osmosis. You might be able to spot Joe watching Freaks during the Paris section of the novel. Later, lying in an opium den in London, he watches a silent black and white film about a mysterious man who may or may not be a vampire.
This is Browning’s London After Midnight, and I became fascinated, in the course of researching the novel, with Lost Films – those movies that were, to all intents and purposes, made but did not survive. There’s a whole world of them out there, like a secret history of cinema – a theme that of course fed directly into the novel.
The blurred line between reality and fiction – between day-to-day life and the silver screen – is a major theme of Osama as much as it is of Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which a woman falls in love with a character on screen, who then emerges into the real world. There’s a small reference to the movie in the London section of Osama, when Joe visits Little Cairo.
I still remember watching The Big Lebowski in the little Odeon on Panton Street, off Leicester Square. Since then I’ve watched it numerous time, so that, like Casablanca, it is almost a part of me. I still remember the conceptual wonder I felt when I suddenly realised, on second or third viewing, that it was explicitly referencing Raymond Chandler. Lebowski plays all kinds of games with its source material, transforming the hardboiled detective story into something new and strange, an exploration of life and art and friendship. There’s a little visual reference to Lebowski towards the last part of Osama, which is also I think a significant clue in Joe’s journey.