Bahram Beyzai

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بهرام بیضائی
Bahrām Beyzaie
Bahram Bayzai.jpg
Bahrām Beyzaie pensive, photographed by Fakhradin Fakhraddini about 2002
Born (1938-12-26) December 26, 1938 (age 79)
Tehran, Iran
Occupation Playwright, Film director, Theatre director, Screenwriter, Film editor
Years active 1962–present
Spouse(s) Monir-A'zam Raminfar (m. 1966)
Mojdeh Shamsaie (m. 1992)
Children Niloofar, Negar, Niasan

Bahrām Beyzāie (also spelt Beizai, Beyza'i, Persian: بهرام بیضائی‎, born 26 December 1938) is a critically and popularly acclaimed filmmaker, playwright, theatre director, screenwriter, film editor, and ostād ("master") of Persian letters, arts and Iranian studies.

Bahram Beyzaie is the son of the poet Ne'matallah Beyzai (best known by his literary pseudonym "Zokā'i").[1] The celebrated poet Adib Beyzai, known as one of the most profound poets of 20th-century Iran, is Bahram's paternal uncle.[2] Bahram Beyzaie's paternal grandfather, Mirzā Mohammad-Rezā Ārāni ("Ebn Ruh"), and paternal great-grandfather, the mulla Mohammad-Faqih Ārāni ("Ruh'ol-Amin"), were also notable poets.[3]

In spite of his somewhat belated start in cinema, Beyzai is often considered a pioneer of a generation of filmmakers whose works are sometimes described as the Iranian New Wave. His Bashu, the Little Stranger (1986) was voted "Best Iranian Film of all time" in November 1999 by a Persian movie magazine Picture World poll of 150 Iranian critics and professionals.[4] Still, even before the outset of his cinematic career in 1970, he was a leading playwright (as well as theater historian), so much so that he is often considered the greatest playwright of the Persian language, and holds a reputation as "the Shakespeare of Persia."[5][6]

Since 2010, Beyzai has lived and taught at Stanford University, United States.

Early years[edit]

Beyzaie was born in Tehran, to a poet, anthologist and biographer father and a housewife mother. Zokā'i Beyzāie made a living through a legal occupation and was able to attend to his literary interests reasonably.

The young Bahram did not seem very interested in his family legacy, being poetry, which was pursued by his father, uncles and cousins. In high school, the Dar'ol-Fonoun,[7] he wrote two historical plays which went on to become his preferred method of writing. He started skipping school from around the age of 17 in order to go to movies which were becoming popular in Iran at a rapid pace. This only fed his hunger to learn more about cinema and Iranian visual arts.

Beyzai attended the Dar'ol-Fonoun high school as an adolescent, where he did not spend a good time getting along, skipped classes and went to the movies, and in his late teens composed his earliest dramatic pieces.

After school, and after a year of waiting before passing the competitive examination for university admission and meanwhile reading the Shahnameh, he began to study Persian literature at the University of Tehran. But it became impossible for him to stay in the university, particularly because his professors would not accept his researching Persian theatre as a graduate work, arguing that "Persia has had no theatre."

Faculty of Letters of the University of Tehran
Beyzai dropped out of the undergraduate program in Persian literature in the Faculty of Letters in 1959, only to return to the adjacent Faculty of Fine Arts as a visiting professor about a decade later, where he remained a leading professor for another decade before he was expelled in the Iranian Cultural Revolution (1980).

At the age of 21 he did substantial research on the traditional Persian plays, particularly Ta'zieh, and by 1961 he had already spent a great deal of time studying and researching other ancient Persian and pre-Islamic culture and literature. This in turn led him to studying Eastern theatre and traditional Iranian theatre and arts which would help him formulate a new non-Western identity for Iranian theatre. He also became acquainted with Persian painting.

Playwriting in the 1960s[edit]

By late 1961 he had already published numerous articles in various arts and literary journals. In 1962 he made his first short film (4 minutes) in 8 mm format. In the next two years he wrote several plays and published "Theatre in Japan".

In the next eight or so years of his life throughout the early to late 1960s, Bayzai dedicated himself to writing in various publications about Eastern art and Persian literature enabled through his extensive study and also wrote a number of essays about Iranian cinema which later became the subject of one of his books. It is during this period that he wrote popular plays which are often regarded as masterpieces; Sindbad's Eighth Voyage, Banquet, Serpent King, The Marionettes, The Story of the Hidden Moon and many more.

In 1968, Beyzai was one of the nine founders of the Iranian Writers' Guild, a highly controversial organization in the face of censorship. In 1969 he was invited to teach at the Theater Department of the College of Fine Arts at University of Tehran. He chaired this department from 1972 to 1979. With his readership many prominent authors and artists started teaching at the department and created the most fruitful period in the history of that department.

Beyzai in his first wedding in the company of other artists, notably Parviz Fannizadeh and Parviz Sayyad, 1965

His daughter, Niloofar Beyzaie, is a theater director and playwright. Beyzaie's early study and interest in drama and the theatre is well known, but less well-known is his early work as a dramatist. As a young man Beyzaie had always been fascinated by the traditions of Iranian theatre, and this included the puppet theatre. His "Se Nemayeshname-ye 'Arusaki" ("Three Puppet Plays") was published in 1963, and The Marionettes was the first one of these three plays. But for all that it is unmistakably based on the model of the traditional puppet theatre, "The Marionettes" is shaped by other traditions, too. It is the work of someone au fait with the work of Pirandello and the Theatre of the Absurd. In the 1960s, plays by dramatists such as Beckett and Ionesco were often translated into the Persian language and performed in Iran soon after their premieres in the West). Drawing on these varied influences, Beyzaie's play is a little-known master-piece of 20th-century drama. Beyzaie's groundbreaking A Study on Iranian Theatre (Namayesh dar Iran), published in mid-1960s is still considered the most important text on the history of Iranian theater. Beyzaie is also the first scholar in Iran to publish books on theatre of Japan and theatre of China.

plain"His poetic vein is unmistakable. He writes as though he had a sad look in his eyes, a detached and philosophical understanding in his tone. A vague sense of destiny haunts his plays."[8]

Ehsan Yarshater

Some of his plays, such as his masterpiece Death of Yazdgerd, have been translated into numerous languages and have been performed around the world. Death of Yazdgerd has been performed in Iran, France, England, India and USA among other countries, and was made into a highly acclaimed film of the same name by Beyzai in 1981.

1970s and the outset of a cinematic career[edit]

In 1969 he began his film career by directing the short film Amu Sibilou (Uncle Moustache) followed by "Safar" in 1970. With these films Beyzai is often supposed to be a pioneer of what is called the Iranian New Wave, a Persian cinema movement that is supposed to have spontaneously started in the late 1960s, i.e. ignoring earlier efforts by filmmakers such as Farrokh Ghaffari and Ebrahim Golestan, and includes other outstanding directors such as Nasser Taghvai, Forough Farrokhzad, Amir Naderi, Ali Hatami, Sohrab Shahid Sales, Dariush Mehrjui, Abbas Kiarostami, Parviz Kimiavi, Masoud Kimiai and Fereydun Gole among others; and soon following Khosrow Sinai, Masoud Jafari Jozani, Kianoush Ayari, Varuzh Karim-Masihi, Ebrahim Hatamikia and others.

Immediately after, in 1971, he made his first feature film "Ragbar" ("Downpour") which is regarded by critics to this day as one of the most successful Iranian films ever made. The successful film addresses the late Parviz Fannizadeh as its central character and protagonist.

Since then he has produced and directed 8 films including Qaribe va Meh (Stranger and the Fog) (1974), Cherike-ye Tara (Ballad of Tara) (1979), Bashu, the Little Stranger (1986, released in 1989), Shāyad Vaghti digar (Maybe another time) (1988) and Mosaferan (Travellers) (1992).

Filmmaking in the 1980s[edit]

In 1981, the revolutionary leaders started the Iranian Cultural Revolution, as a result of which Beyzaie among many others was expelled from the university. He continued writing and making films though. His screenplay Ruz-e Vaqe'e (The Fateful Day) was adapted into a film in 1995 and another screenplay was adapted into a film named Fasl-e Panjom (The fifth season) in 1996, whilst he also made four of his finest films. He also edited Ebrahim Hatamikia's Borj-e Minu (Minoo Tower).

1990s: another trip, a film and some plays[edit]

He married the actress and make-up artist Mozhdeh Shamsai in 1992. After Mosaferan, he failed to get a permit for the production of a number of screenplays. In 1995 he left Iran for Strasbourg at the invitation of the International Parliament of Writers. Soon however he returned and staged The Lady Aoi in Tehran.

After 2000[edit]

In 2001 he made When we all sleep, after which he managed to stage three plays as well before he left Iran for the United States.

He left Iran in 2010 at the invitation of Stanford University, and has since been the Daryabari Visiting Professor of Iranian Studies, teaching courses in Persian theatre, cinema and mythology. There he has given workshops on the Shahnameh, the history of Iranian performing arts, Iranian as well as Semitic myths, etc. He has also staged several of his plays including his nine-hour Tarabnameh.

Cinematic style[edit]

}} He is known as the most intellectual and conspicuous “author” in Iranian cinema and theater. The main theme of his works is the history and “crisis of identity” which is related to Iranian cultural and mythical symbols and paradigms. He is considered as Iran’s most prominent screenwriter in terms of dramatic integrity of his works, many of which have been made into films.

Reception and criticism[edit]

Beyzaie has made significant contribution to the development of the cinema of Iran and theatre and is regarded as an influential director and innovator of the Iranian New Wave movement of cinema. He is also considered Iran’s most prominent screenwriter in terms of dramatic integrity of his works, many of which have been made into films.

"Some people in our old and enduring culture assume iconic significance, for reasons far beyond our crooked measures. Beizai is one of them. When the annals of our contemporary history are written, Beizai will have the same significance as Hafez."[9]

Hamid Dabashi


Critics have often praised Beyzai above all Persian filmmakers as well as playwrights. He was voted the best Persian filmmaker of all time in 2002, and his Bashu, the Little Stranger was voted the finest Persian film of all time. All the same, his formalism has occasionally raised criticism, even from himself. Ebrahim Golestan, who had previously made objections to Beyzai's style, praised him in a letter in 2017.

Works[edit]

Filmography (as director)[edit]

  • Amū Sibilū (1969 - short)
  • Safar (1970 - short - a.k.a. The Journey)
  • Ragbār (1971 - a.k.a. Downpour)
  • Qaribé va Meh (1974 - a.k.a. The Stranger and the Fog)
  • Kalāq (1976 - a.k.a. The Crow or The Raven )
  • Charike-ye Tārā (1979 - a.k.a. Ballad of Tara)
  • Marg-e Yazdgerd (1982 - a.k.a. Death of Yazdgerd)
  • Bashu, the Little Stranger (1986 - a.k.a. Bashu - released 1989)
  • Shāyad Vaghti digar (1988 - a.k.a. Maybe Some Other Time)
  • Mosāferan (1992 - a.k.a. Travellers)
  • Goft-o-gū bā Bād (1998 - short - a.k.a. Talking with the Wind)
  • Sagkoshi (2001 - a.k.a. Killing Mad Dogs)
  • Qāli-ye Sokhangū (2006)
  • Vaqti hame khābim (When we are all asleep) (2009)

Plays[edit]

Beyzaie has over 50 published plays, some of which are as follows. These works have occasionally appeared in French, English, German and other translations too.

Speeches and lectures[edit]

Frequent collaborators[edit]

  Play

  Film

Films & Plays Year of Production Mojdeh Shamsaie Jamshid Layeq Manouchehr Farid Enayat Bakhshi Susan Taslimi Parvaneh Masoumi Majid Mozafari Sami Tahassoni Hessein Kasbian Said Oveissi Karim Akbari Mobarakeh Mehdi Hashemi Ali Omrani Afshin Hashemi Parviz Poorhosseini Shabnam Tolouei
The Marionettes 1967 - Yes Yes Yes - - - - - - - - - - - -
Heritage and Banquet 1967 - Yes - Yes - - - - - - - - - - - -
King Serpent 1969 - Yes - Yes - - - - - - - - - - - -
Uncle Mustache 1970 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Downpour 1971 - Yes Yes - - Yes - - - - - - - - - -
The Journey 1972 - - - - - Yes - - - - - - - - - -
The Stranger and the Fog 1974 - - Yes - - Yes Yes - - - - - - - - -
The Crow 1977 - Yes Yes - - Yes - - - - - - - - - -
Ballad of Tara 1979 - - Yes - Yes - - - - - - - - - - -
Death of Yazdgerd 1979 - - - - Yes - - - - - - - - - - -
Death of Yazdgerd (film) 1981 - - - - Yes - - - - - - - - - - -
Bashu, the Little Stranger 1986 - - - - Yes - - - - - - - - - - -
Maybe Some Other Time 1988 - - - - Yes - - - - - - - - - - -
Travelers 1992 Yes Yes - Yes - - Yes - - - - - - - - -
The Lady Aoi 1998 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Deeds of Bondar the Counselor 1998 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Speaking with the Wind 1998 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Killing Mad Dogs 2001 Yes Yes - Yes - - Yes - - - - - - - - -
The Thousand-First Night 2003 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Passion of Makan and Rokhshid 2005 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Eloquent Carpet 2006 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Afra 2007 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
When We Are All Asleep 2009 Yes - - - - - Yes - - - - - - - - -
Jana and Baladoor 2012 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Arash 2014 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ardaviraf's Report 2015 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Tarabnameh 2016 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Crossroads 2018 Yes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Awards and honors[edit]

Beyzai, dressed in a St Andrews black cassock with a yellow hood, having just received an honorary doctorate in letters, June 2017

The prizes, awards and honors he has won are numerous.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Two thousand verse lines by Zokā'i Beyzāie, of a total of six thousand, were published in 1978 (1357 AH) in a book entitled Yad-e Bayzā (The White Hand); Bayzā in Persian is the literary word for White. See Arash Fanā'iān, Gofteman-e Iran, January 20, 2008. [1][permanent dead link].
  2. ^ Arash Fanā'iān, Gofteman-e Iran, January 20, 2008. [2][permanent dead link]. It is noteworthy that Adib Ali Beyzāie's son, Hossein Beyzāie, is also a poet; his literary pseudonym is Partow (Ray of Light).
  3. ^ Arash Fanā'iān, Gofteman-e Iran, January 20, 2008. [3][permanent dead link].
  4. ^ Picture World (Donyaye Tassvir), No. 74, November 1999, ISSN 1023-2613
  5. ^ Hasani.
  6. ^ Abbas Milani's speech, Toronto, 2017.
  7. ^ For an illustrated report on Dar'ol-Fonoun see: Hamid-Reza Hosseini, Dar'ol-Fonoun in want of Love ("Dar'ol-Fonoun dar hasrat-e eshq"), in Persian, Jadid Online, September 22, 2008, [4]. The pertinent photographs (15 in total) can be viewed here: [5]. The following is the photograph of what used to be the amphitheatre of Dar'ol-Fonoun: [6].
  8. ^ Yar-Shater, p. 58-59.
  9. ^ Dabashi, p. 253.
  10. ^ https://openlibrary.org/works/OL15120341W/Memoirs_of_the_actor_in_a_supporting_role
  11. ^ https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/news/archive/2017/title,1283540,en.php

References[edit]

External links[edit]