"It is part of morality not to be at home in one's home." – Edward Said
Edward Said’s life’s work was principally about his own identity and search for a place to belong. As an author of 22 books, a regular columnist and newspaper contributor, and a music critic, Said never considered his life to be all that extraordinary.
Born into a Christian household in Jerusalem, Said would spend the majority of his 67 years suspended across borders with no place to call his home. He was raised in Cairo with a Western education, granted to him in large part by his father, an American citizen. Living an unsettled life would prove to be the inspiration for Said’s writing, forever echoing the journey of both Palestinians and Israelis looking for home and peace.
Presented by Icarus Films in a two-disc set of two feature documentaries, Out of Place and The Last Interview illustrate Said’s life in as complete a form as possible. The documentaries invoke the steps walked by Said through his life, telling his stories in his own words and in the words of those closest to him.
Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said borrows its name from Said’s memoir. Directed by Sato Makoto, the documentary takes a slow and gradual look through the subject’s life often with painstaking pacing. Makoto celebrates the importance of Said’s work and his love for music, highlighting his various roles and relationships.
Makoto places the documentary, which would be the director's last film before his death in 2007, between the Middle East and New York City, darting back between the two places to give the viewer a sense of the lack of belonging Said must have felt. While the film is certainly informative and thorough, it also has moments that are often quite bland. Makoto favours long shots, choosing to sit staring at photographs for long stretches and sweeping across relatively normal landscapes with slow relish.
It is interesting to view Said’s life from the perspective of a Japanese filmmaker with little to no connection to the Palestinian question that infused the subject’s existence. Even so, Makoto’s approach is one of distance, approaching the subject matter with clean, clear eyes and providing a lucid interpretation of Said as a writer, an artist, a man.
The Last Interview, filmed by Mike Dibb less than a year before Said’s death from leukemia in 2003, is pretty basic stuff. It is compelling to see Said, worn from the horrors of his illness, describing his life, beliefs and passions. He is a man overcome with exhaustion and displeasure, deeply upset at the idea of not having the energy to read, play the piano or take on projects anymore.
The two documentaries come with a 16-page booklet featuring writing from The Last Interview producer D. D. Guttenplan and Makoto.
Interesting but sometimes longwinded, Out of Place and The Last Interview provide hours of informative content for those with an interest in one of the great thinkers of the 20th centuries. While Said may have passed on without answers to many of his ongoing preoccupations, his was a life filled with learning, passion and bravery. This two-disc set does a nice job presenting the scope of Edward Said, revealing the true core of a man whose struggles to find belonging and a place to call home drove one of the most brilliant academic careers of our time.