Sunday, 31 January 2010

Hope for spring eternal

Snow. Again, snow. Everything white, everything cold. People falling off their bikes, people shuffling on their feet. I'm tired of it. I don't like cold. I don't like snow. I don't like Winter. I am not one of those people who say "I don't mind the cold as long as it is clear" - I do not mind the rain as long as it is warm.

And so, despite the photographic opportunities that this monochrome world of snowsnowsnow is offering - could we have Spring please?
Oh, who am I asking?

Friday, 29 January 2010

Life and death, film-wise

(Although I realise that (nearly) nobody actually reads this blog, I decided not to mind. Hope that whoever stumbles across it, will enjoy it.)

Catching up on my films. This week, two films.
First, A Serious Man by the Coen brothers.
Second, Shaun of the Dead by, um, Edgar Wright. (Okay, I had to look that up.)

Both very much man-films. And very, very different from each other but I knew that in advance.

Coen brothers are usually instant hits for me. I could rave now about Lebowski but I won't. However much I love that flick, my first impression of Coen films came from Fargo. I instantly fell in love with that one - the dialogues, the imagery, the way the persona were portrayed and especially how they all connected and interacted. The superb way the Coens handle these elements is something I recognize in all of their films I have seen since.
And then came A Serious Man.
I have to admit: I need to get used to it. Leaving aside the constant feeling of 'what has that poor man done to deserve this?' which actually enhanced the viewing pleasure in a strange way, I just felt a little lost. Just like poor Larry I suppose. Some of the dialogues were again brilliant, with the silences held by the actors in just the right places and especially for the right lengths of time.
Just like many other Coens films A Serious Man is a bit of a road movie of a kind. Please mind that I am stretching the term 'road movie' enormously here... I mean that the characters start off somewhere and then a current of events and coincidences and decisions (usually by other people) takes them along and all they can do is try to keep their head above water. (Maybe the term should be 'river movie'?) We saw that in Lebowski, Fargo, Burn after Reading and obviously in Oh Brother.
The aforementioned Coens elements are there in A Serious Man and it is, again, a 'river movie'. I have no doubt that in time I will learn to love this one too.

As for Shaun - ah, I was so very often told to see it. I never wanted to because I don't like films about undead and I especially hate films that make me jump. This week for some reason I just thought something along the lines of 'oh what the heck' and watched it. I enjoyed myself immensely. It has a perfect balance of originality and predictiveness in one carefully dosed package of excitement and tongue-in-cheek. With some very gratifying shots and twists. For example, you hope Wanker Davs is not going to make it through the film - and he doesn't. Hurray! Possibly the first time ever I cheered a disembowelment. Never too old to learn, eh?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Any final words?

You may find it strange that I'm making an entry about funereal matters when only a day ago I announced my pregnancy. Or maybe it is not so strange; life, death, rites of passage?

Maybe it is my background as an ethnomusicologist but I am usually fascinated with the choice of music at funerals. This is why at regular intervals I make up my own list of music I would like to have played at my funeral. Not that I will be there to enjoy it but it would be nice to add a little bit of my own personality to the cold, marble, formal-dress atmosphere of the rite. And so I end up making mental notes of songs and musics that I enjoy and that I think would be appropriate for the occassion. Some things are of consideration for me.

Firstly, I don't go for shocking or provocative songs and works. I am not much of a shocker during my lifetime, I won't be after I'm gone.
Secondly, no puffed up self-images for me. I'm not going to have Born to be Wild or I did it my way because, frankly, I was not born to be any type except me, and I have no other way than my way anyway.
Thirdly, I believe that music has power. Over the atmosphere, over emotions, over people basically. This means that it can change people's behaviour or enhance it. However, I also believe that this is true to a degree - it works best if it takes into account the current state of mind of the audience as well as the intended mood. Ergo: don't play overly happy songs at sad people because chances are it won't make them happy. Not really. Hence, Always look on the bright side of life is out of the question for me.
Fourthly, I would like the music to reflect the things I appreciated. Seems like an obvious one - it probably is.
Fifthly, one needs to take the overall program into account. Too often one hears a scramble of songs or pieces that are nice enough on their own but when put together they just don't work. There is an art to concert programming and although I do not master that art I do care about how it all fits together. A good program, like a good story, should take the listener along from beginning to end. Especially at a funeral there needs to be a sense of "this is it: the end" for the listeners.

Currently the following works/songs/pieces are on the list. The only trouble I have with them is that the overall program does not fit as well as I would like. The Monteverdi definitely stands out. I have been in love with this piece ever since I first heard it at repertoire class at university. The rendition in the video is not nearly as good as the one by the Royal Opera in Amsterdam (with two women!) but it is the best I could find for you to listen to.

(Please note: the videos accompanying the music are not important. I just picked these videos because of the songs!)

Duet between Nero (Nerone) and Poppea, lovers. Poppea is trying to convince Nerone to stay with her after the night.
I don't really care for the baroque stage setting and costumes in this version. Better close your eyes while you listen. ;)

There is something about Angelique Kidjo's voice that makes me shiver. It is incredibly powerful and versatile. This is a Serge Gainsbourg song and she does it so well.
Haiti earthquake - not a connection I made but okay.

Let's go dancing! There is always an afterwards.

Monday, 25 January 2010

For those of you who know ME but don't know THIS yet:

You might like to know that I'm pregnant. With twins.

We saw them today on an 'echo' (ultrasound). They are now about 6.5 cm long, top of the head to the tip of the tail. They are complete in the sense that they have arms and legs and a head with eyes and a mouth and everything. They just need to grow a little lot more, for the next six months. As we watched them they were bouncing up and down inside me, stretching and turning and jumping with their little legs. They are expected to be born end of July. The official date is August 6 but twins are usually early. We'll see.

So... that's the news! I'm not calling or mailing everyone of my acquaintance to tell them the news because to be honest I'm still much too flabberghasted by it myself. I do hope you'll understand.

Also: I promise not all of my blog entries will be about kiddies and kiddie things. :)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Casablanca, and why I found it a fine film indeed

Yesterday I finally got around to watching that all-time classic film Casablanca. My guy told me I had to see it and after some pestering from him I did. I enjoyed it immensely. After the dark and grey, gritty things I had seen recently (Firefly, 9, Avatar…) the black and white images of Casablanca were a relief for the senses. Those were the days of film making!

Okay, I admit that after a while I wanted to slap Ilsa across the cheek and tell her to think for herself for a minute dammit! Okay, I admit that halfway through I wanted to throw some cold water over Humphrey’s face and tell him to get himself together man! But those are cultural differences. The past is, after all, another country.

In short: I loved the film. I loved how it presented its story. I loved how the characters were charming or convincing or downright funny. I loved the imagery of the film, and I loved its music. I loved how the film was set in its own time: usually in films about the war there is already a shadow of things to come. Not in this case because they didn’t know at the time how the war would develop.

Laszlo’s imprisonment in a concentration camp: it was presented as a long internment in a maximum security prison because nobody in Hollywood knew what went on in those camps at the time. Or what was going to happen. It’s an amazing blissful ignorance. Consequently Germans are only depicted as rude oafs and not as the vicious cruel men they would become in all Hollywood productions not much later.

Related to ‘the past is another country’: I must admit that I also loved seeing an onscreen romance without sex. Clothes stayed on. I am no prude but am I really the only one who gets fed up with characters immediately tearing each other’s clothes off because they happen to be male, female and approximately the same age? The peer pressure for anyone finding him or herself in an adventurous situation must be killing. "Oh look, we have a few minutes to spare before the alien invasion / grand shoot-out / criminal heist of the century. Well there’s nothing to it but to have sex now, no matter how tired, injured, or hateful we are. Here goes!" Gah.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Avatar, and why I found it a very disturbing film

We went to see Avatar yesterday. It played on the big IMAX screen in 3D and it seemed like just my kind of film. It wasn’t. I wanted to leave the theatre half way through and felt so relieved when I finally stepped out into the chilly air of the Amsterdam winter 2010. To me the film was very disturbing in many ways, some of which I am able to express more or less, and some are less manageable by words. And even with those I can address verbally, I struggle to get it right.

The thought that went through my head mostly during the film was what a friend of mine had posted on her Facebook when she went to see it. She said she had read a review that said: “Why do white people keep making these films?” I can see where the reviewer got it from.

Now despite the fact that Avatar is sci-fi/fantasy, I still felt the director wanted to make some real parallels to actual humanity. And that is where I start to itch. We had humans in their starring role was Greedy Westerners (because they represent humanity in most films), and we had Na’vi in a rendition of Exotica with sure signs of African features and cultural aspects, a Balinese kecak (a.k.a. ‘monkey dance’) set-up (but with harmonic singing), and some Asian influences as well.
The whole storyline, such as it was, was immensely black and white, with the blue people as the good guys who are so close to nature and in touch with their spiritual selves, while the human people were greedy aggressive bastards. Except for a few of course but they wanted to be like the blue people.

Ah! The blue people! Or Na’vi as they were called. With idealized physiques (so strong! so flexible! slim waists! big eyes!) and distinctly African facial features, they represent the perfect being. They also have a perfect community. And they connect, as a community, with the natural and spiritual world.

Somehow I cannot help thinking of that late nineteenth century notion of the ‘noble savage’. I remember an exhibition with pictures of native Americans from that age: all proud indians on proud stallions, both of them gazing off into the distance, so wholly in touch with… well, everything! How the photographer at the time had portrayed them was as icons. As images. Things. And as such, they were not acknowledged really as people. They were different, see?

This is probably what irked me most about this film: the notion of the noble savage coupled with the obvious parallels to the situation on earth. Other than that I really don’t like watching war films and I had not expected this to be one but violence was definitely presented as something wonderful. I also felt a deep annoyance about how the main character naturally became the leader of the Na’vi people, despite him having been with them for only three months, because hey! he was trained as a marine! Marines are widely known for their cultural sensitivity, right? Right. And researchers are geeks with little to no knowledge of the real world.

Top that off with that “but it is only a film!” can be countered with the notion that something similar to what happened on Pandora is actually a regular occurence in earth’s Amazonia, but without the flying dragons… Bad taste in mouth.

The 3D was stunning.