Larry Portis, 1943-2011
‘Comradeship implies a common “situation” or “position” in relation to social classes, political institutions, historical change and the shared emotional commitment to act on knowledge of what must be done to combat domination and exploitation. “Comrades” are linked in struggle, struggle against either a vicious, merciless enemy or a generalized ignorance.’ (Portis 2011: 173)
The upcoming issue of Film International (52, vol. 9, no. 4) is dedicated to the memory of our regular contributor and, I would like to think, my ‘comrade’, Larry Portis. The above lines are from his autobiographical novel, American Dreamingwhich was published only weeks before Portis, suddenly and unexpectedly, passed away on June 4 of this year, age 67.
American Dreaming tells the story of the intellectual and political awakening of an American working class boy from Billings, Montana, who finds himself married with kids whilst still a teenage dishwasher and yet eventually makes his way through university and all the way to Paris, France, where he settles as a thirty-something in the 1970s.
Holding a Ph.D. in history from Northern Illinois University, Portis became a popular teacher of American and European history and culture at several French universities. Over the years he also became an increasingly prolific writer of both fact and fiction. His breadth of knowledge in combination with his personal background gave him a keen eye for both the psychological and the economic realities of social class.
During the final decade of his life he published, apart from numerous articles and essays, no less than ten books, on subjects including the social histories of French and American popular music, contemporary American foreign policy and the history of fascism in the United States. Fascism was also the subject of his final book of fact, Qu’est-ce que le fascisme ? (‘What is fascism?’, 2010). Exploring its various historical forms, Portis convincingly warns us that fascism remains a real threat, as capitalism’s ultimate answer in times of extreme crisis.
Portis often collaborated with his life partner, author and radio journalist Christiane Passevant. This is the case in the forthcoming issue of Film International. The interview articles with Spanish film-makers that make up the best part of its feature section are written and introduced by Passevant and translated by Portis, who also took part in the roundtable discussions that they are based on.
These discussions all took place at the Mediterranean Film Festival, in Montpellier. Portis, who also taught in the Mediterranean studies program at the University of Montpellier, regularly reported for us from this event. His final report, from last year’s edition, can be read here. We also recently re-published online his two-part assessment of the career of Italian director Elio Petri, originally published in print during 2010 (see here and here). Portis, much like Petri, left us too early. It is up to us to make the best possible use of the invaluable legacy they left behind.
Portis, Larry (2010), Qu’est-ce que le fascisme?, Paris: Alternative libertaire.
Portis, Larry Lee (2011), American Dreaming: A Novel, College Station, TX: Virtualbookworm.com Publishing Inc.