Archive for August, 2007

VENUS NACH GIORGIONE – a film by Juergen Boettcher (1981) and Giorgione´s painting (c.1510)

Venus Asleep, Giorgione
Juergen Boettcher´s experimental film “Venus nach Giorgione” made me realize how blind we are concerning images! Because they assault us from all sides, we´ve came to grow indifferent and sometimes even misread them, probably as a survival strategy. Throughout 22 minutes and 20 seconds Boettcher subjects a postcard with Giorgione´s “Venus Asleep” to multiple backgrounds, colors, filters and so we are forced to rediscover it surpassing cultural prejudice as it keeps changing before your own very eyes.
It is true that while looking at images our subjectivity and cultural background comes into play, inducing us in a certain direction. As such, the speech produced around Giorgioni´s Venus, our awareness of other famous classical depictions of this Goddess, impede us of seeing it for what it really is.

Revolutionary for the time (c.1510), we are before a totally naked woman laying down in an outdoor environment. And as many authors have stressed, she is indeed a starting point for modern art. Its composition had great influence, from Tizian´s depictions of Venus to Manet´s “Olympia“. And as Plenert rightly understood, Giorgione´s “Venus Asleep” did change the state of things; she is the first large-size representation of a Venus in complete nakedness, consciously breaking tradition. One must only compare it to Botticelli´s “Birth of Venus” (1485) to realize just that. Against what many say, her hand is not covering her lap, nor hiding her sex, and so I have my doubts whereas to see her within the Venus Pudica tradition. One should stress thought, that this painting has been subjected to changes. Not only was it finished by Tizian but, it has also seen severe restauration work throughout time. Despite this fact, it seems that Venus´ body itself and the positioning of the hand suffered little change.

I believe Giorgione, though making use of iconographic codes accepted at the time (composition, landscape background, etc) is giving us an insight to female sexuality disguising it along the way as a Venus-type-of-painting. Reading it within cultural tradition shouldn´t keep us from looking at it in new ways. This is a painting about the pleasure of looking. The same way the “Naked Maja” (c.1800- 1803) will depict a naked woman for the male gaze, except the Maja is proudly laying her arms behind her head, her eyes challenging us directly. Both paintings are about – among other things – the male gaze over female sexuality but, we will leave politics of gender aside for the time being.

With this I am only stressing the fact that our cultural filter has prevent us from seeing it in different ways. By filming it, Juergen Boettcher is not only talking about the very essence of film – gaze – but also, about giving a new perspective to the original painting.
Giorgione´s merit is exactly making us look at a painting that keeps facing us back in challenging new ways. Whereas, Boettcher´s film shows an icon under transformation thus also favoring unexpected meanings to appear before our own very eyes. In a sense, he is deconstructing an image that we all take for granted, thus admitting that a true work of art will always keep challenging us right in the eye.

August 26, 2007 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

THIS CHICK IS SO DAMN GOOD!

Graffitti
THAT´S MY DJANE!
I had already given up on Leipzig´s night, until yesterday. THERE IS HOPE! I was about to leave the club and had settled for 3 minute White Stripes – “my” only song the whole entire night and an unusual choice for the place, I thought. True be said, I´ve learned not to expect too much of Leipzig´s night! But I should have taken it for what it was: a sign from the Gods! When all the Martini boys and the Britney wannabes had already gone home, real pure magic night begun! On the way to the exit, this girl decided to check out the Electronic dance floor and immediately went from OFF to ON! Ladies and gentleman Djane 2hot4you RULED the floor! Sampling Laurie Anderson (GOD DAMN UNBELIEVABLE), with perfect bridges, intelligent samples and great sense of rhythm! It must be said: THIS CHICK IS SO GOD DAMN GOOD! And the GREAT news is she´ll be BACK and this girl here will be in the house rocking!

August 24, 2007 at 8:07 pm 1 comment

LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN – the movie

Last Exit to Brooklyn /Letze Ausfahrt Brooklyn” was filmed by the German director Uli Edel in 1989, with Jennifer Jason Leigh brilliantly casted as Tralala. Though still a punch in the stomach, the film is much less revolutionary than the book. Positive is the fact, that it manages well the coexistence of extreme violence and extreme poetry in the book. The film is specially sensitive to the struggle for survival, for in fact it puts more emphasis on the history of the strike than the book – confronting the viewer with the unstoppable march of capitalism and its injustices. Undoubtedly, the book is more about repressed sexual pulsions and what would happen if in a given abnormal context – such as the ongoing strike – they were to irrupt. Let’s not forget that the book was also written as a reaction against Mcarthian moral.

In Edel’s movie, Tralala, after being raped, ends consoling a young boy from the neighborhood that drops in on the scene, and always had a crush on her. Of course that, because he is still a boy, innocent, virgin, and with dreams of his own, he would be the only one that would like her in a “pure” way, and would think of her as a woman and not an object (aside the men who truly loved her). But, such scene is nowhere to be found in the book. This is a manipulation of Selby Jr’s work, a severe change of his story though it certainly had the approval of the author, since Hubert Selby Jr was involved on the set everyday.

Why did Edel introduce this change? Moreover when this is not just any scene but the “highlight” of the entire book, I would say. “Tralala” which is only 20 pages long but, took Selby 2 ½ years to write and about this he says: “

I spent a long time “emotionally involved” with the people. When I finally finished “Tralala” I was in bed for two weeks. The same with Georgie, and the others, until I learned how to write, and not be devastated by my peoples pain”. (Selby Jr, 2004, p. xii)

Tralala ends consoling the boy, as if she was his mother, because he has just witnessed the hardest of realities, the nightmarish side of human passions in action. She embraces and reassures him because as the vision of his boyish dreams, she represented the ideal for him, and that has just been shattered. She is telling him that everything is all right, because she free-willingly accepted punishment and sacrifice. There is no need to forgive all those men. They did not use her but, she used them instead, as instrument for her own punishment. She accepts and resigns to her place in the order of things, which is to be an object. And so she repeats: “It’s ok. It’s ok”. And the child cries because he just realized, probably for first time in his life, the unfairness of the world, the impossibility to change things and he is crying out of frustration.
Eli put the boy in, because the boy is the viewer himself. I believe such a scene was added because, it is clearly intending to make it easier for the viewer to understand Tralala’s actions and also because it is reinforcing the grotesque meant originally by the author of the book. Finally because the boy is acting out before our eyes what we feel ourselves, so we can deal/ digest such terrible situation.

About the process of shooting the film Selby himself tells a curious episode.

“We were screening the dailies of Harry/s crucifixion and when we were finished, and the lights went on, Uli, the director, asked me what I thought. It was just he, myself, Bernd, the producer, and Desmond, the screenwriter. I started to answer him and I ended up crying and sobbing so intensely I could not speak for many minutes. I was totally shattered. I remember so clearly hearing myself say, That poor son of a bitch, he only wanted to be happy. My involvement with the film made it possible for me to see how much I love these people”. (Selby Jr, 2004, xviii)

August 24, 2007 at 5:25 pm Leave a comment

LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN – the book

Written in 1964 by Hubert Selby Jr. (1928-2004), “Last Exit to Brooklyn” is a profoundly disturbing book that many have just, short minded, considered to be pure and simply obscenity produced by a sick mind. It is fueled with rage, provocation and violence. Due to his blunt treatment of lust, homosexuality, rape, brutality and drug dependence, Selby Jr’s book was subjected to an obscenity trial in England and banned in Italy. For me it is a masterpiece (of grotesque), for it is both abject and human while showing human complexity. This book belongs to the category of books that have the power to disturb the world, to transform the way we see ourselves – and each other. What to think and make of it remains disturbingly open, even today.

It is the most profane of books, since the writer himself declines his role as “God” and the reader is left with a great responsibility of what to make of it. Concerning this Hubert Selby Jr says:

“I have no right to impose myself, in any way, between the reader and the people in the story. It is my job, as a writer, to fulfil the responsibility to the story that has been given me to write. So often I will see these people making decisions, and taking actions, that will lead to a disaster and want to change the story, but I do not have the right to do that. I must simply honour their lives and allow them to follow their own path, and not interfere in the natural evolution of their lives. (…) If there was a message in the work it is in the lives of the people, their story and how they live it. Who cares about what I think of such matters”. (Selby Jr, 2004, p. viii)

All the sordid stories in it take place in Brooklyn in the 50’s by the riverbank. “Last Exit to Brooklyn” is about the struggle for survival taking place in the streets, and how such struggle dictates behaviors. The background is a long ongoing strike that represents a breach in everyday life; men are sitting in bars all day, bored, trying to avoid their wife’s whining about having to live shortly on Union provisions. The tension just keeps on rising until everything gets out of control. Despite that it becomes more and more violent and sadist as we read, we grow to see that the characters are only, poor human bastards. We cannot help but feel sympathy and disgust, for their flaws, secret and frustrated desires, ridiculous actions and petty ambitions. It speaks of the most unimaginable and horrifying things but then, it is only talking about human nature, even if of the dark side of it. Bottom line, all stories are dealing with the irruption of the grotesque, for repressed forces must find an escape.

Last Exit to Brooklyn

Harry, Georgette and Tralala, are nothing but poor human devils that end shattered by the powerful discovery of love/passion and literally end lynched, dead and tortured by it. Harry, exploiting the advantages of his new job as responsible for the strike office, literally starts buying respect and love. He is intoxicated by the power his new position gives him and the discovery of love for the first time in his life, all at the expenses of the ongoing strike. He is escaping from the tediousness of marriage life and the disgust for his wife’s touch, in the arms of a sophisticated queer. Except, this is only to last while he can afford such love. In fact, once his union boss discovers he has been taking money for his own benefit, he is dismissed and his whole dreamy world tumbles down. In face of rejection, he becomes absolutely despaired. Miserable and drunk he forces himself on a kid from the quarter, and when the kid escapes to denounce him to the local gangsters, he is left on his knees begging for the kind of love he has just recently discovered. He ends up lynched and crucified.
Vinnie, the gangster leader, is furthermore responsible for Georgette´s death, a queer that commits the error of following in love with him – and since he is a crook in need to prove his manhood by the hour, she ends up dead.
Tralala, a young and attractive prostitute, and in face of the impossibility to have real love and not being able to deal with the emptiness of her own life, goes on a descend to hell searching for self-inflicting punishment. She gets drunker than ever and free willingly decides to be screwed by every men in the bar. She offers herself as a sacrifice. She is drunk and she is laughing, and she keeps teasing the next in line. And then, she ends as a pile of meat on a wrecked car, covered in blood, semen and piss. The sickest of desire’s machines was set in motion – to hurt oneself -, and once it is released there is no stopping it until death.

By the end of the book one cannot help but wonder what kind of man imagined and wrote such a nightmare and for what reasons. Hubert Selby Jr words are very clarifying: “

I wanted to put the reader through an emotional experience. I wanted the reader to “feel” what the people were experiencing even if they were unaware of it. I did not want to limit the readers imagination, but to give them room so they could experience the story from their own POV, from their own lifes experiences”. (Selby Jr, 2004, p. ix)

The author started writing, as himself said, because he did not wanted to die without having done nothing with his life. His first piece of fiction was a suicide note, surely in result of the fact he was diagnosed Tuberculosis at the age of 18 – in a time where there was no cure and streptomycin was an experimental and very expensive drug for its treatment. He spent 3 years in bed in a hospital, had 10 ribs removed, one lung had been permanently collapsed and a section had been cut out of the other one. Selby Jr spent his life fighting for staying alive.
Indeed, the sleep of reason produces monsters and, of the most horrifying kind. And so we realize that the fabric of reason as an explanation for reality shows too many wholes in it. Enlightenment fails short. Not everything is under control, and from time to time we can grasp the “artificiality” underlying the given separation of worlds. Dante’s description of purgatory and hell, Sade’s writings, Pasolini’s movies and theater plays, Blake’s drawings and poetry, Goya’s Capricho’s, David Lynch´s films all a part of this other world always looking out at every corner, awaiting…

August 24, 2007 at 5:21 pm Leave a comment

Ich bin keine Amélie Poulain!

August 22, 2007 at 4:47 pm Leave a comment

INGMAR BERGMAN (1918 – 2007)

Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman

Unsere Beziehung zu anderen Menschen bestehen vor allem darin dass wir über Charakter und Verhalten anderer reden und urteilen. Das führte bei mir zu einem freiwilligen Rückzug…aus praktisch jeglichem so genannten sozialen Umgang. Aufgrund dessen bin ich nun im Alter etwas einsam geworden. Zeit meines Lebens waren meine Tage von harter Arbeit geprägt. Dafür bin ich sehr dankbar. Was als Sorge um das tägliche Brot begann…endete in einer Leidenschaft für die Wissenschaft”.

Thus begins “Wild Strawberries”, considered to be one of Ingmar Bergman´s most important films, who just recently passed away at the age of 89. Destiny wanted that on the very same day – the 29th of July 2007 – we also lose another of the greatest filmmakers ever, Michelangelo Antonioni at the age of 94. They both shared the view that a movie isn´t merely that, but an art form of it´s own right.

Wild Strawberries” is a classical within the whole of Bergman´s work. In it we can find the existential themes that would occupy him throughout his fairly 20 masterpieces, such as tortured characters, in particular women, a love for great dramatic roles and admiration for Strindberg, a research into the meaning of life and death and men´s spiritual worries and religious aspirations. Furthermore, his films speak of the lack of communication between people and our relation to childhood and memory.

For the role of Isak Borg, the actor Victor Sjöström won the American critique award just two months before of his own death. In “Wild Strawberries” Victor Sjöström plays a Doctor about to receive his Doctor Degree for his long life´s commitment to Medicine. He dreams about his own death and a strange number of events follow. As a result of the shock of such disturbing dreams and of finding that others see him as a selfish and an extremely cold person, he is led to rethink his long life´s values and his relationship to others – including his son. This revision will lead him to his childhood´s memories, a lost love, the film ending with the happy vision of his parents by a river on a summer day. Bergman won the Golden Lion at Berlin´s Festival for “Wild Strawberries” in 1958.

But, of all Bergman´s films I saw so far, the one that most impressed me was “Persona” (1966). Making extensive use of close-ups, Bergman explores the concept of the mask, as inspiration redraw both from theater and as theorized by Jung, as something that is not fixed but adapts according to and as a defense for social and cultural circumstances. “Persona” explores, even in a claustrophobic way, Liv Ullman´s and Bibi Anderson´s faces, as the film radically puts identity into question. The plot shows how their characters come to look more alike up to a point where they exchange and even become mixed identities. It is a film with and about women, showing how their relationship of dependency escalates to madness.

Persona

Talking about tortured characters and whenever speaking of Bergman and his universe I cannot help thinking about Woody Allen, who has declared Bergman to be his favorite director and greatest influence. This is specially obvious in “Interiors” (1978) – one of my favorite Woody Allen movies.
Eve, a severe mother and cold wife, obsessed with order and discipline, with a love for the distanced neoclassic aesthetics, always dressing in monochrome and never letting her hair loose, refuses to accept the fact her husband wants to divorce her. “Interiors” is a family drama, depicted around Eve and her refusal to comprehend her husband´s decision. He is choosing life against death, exchanging her for her opposite, for a woman who is instead a force of nature and dresses in red, thus introducing the only warm color into the whole film.
Eve is a bittered woman, incapable of love, with no spirit in her. She is the image of her work as an interior designer; distanced, colorless, orderly, motionless as a marble statue in a museum. And exactly because she is unable to integrate or understand change, her severity can only bring her to suicide. She is not made for life! As a last statement of her iron will and mirroring her unbreakable character, she walks towards the ocean and drowns herself, just like that!

Eve is the most unbelievable female character I´ve came across with, her coldness and empty heart finds a parallel in another very interesting example, Erika Kohut character – brilliantly interpreted by Isabelle Huppert – in “The Piano Teacher” (2001, Michael Hanecke). Erika commits self-injury, stabbing herself in the heart, after believing she has betrayed her own moral principles by letting herself feel desire.

Indeed, tortured characters, and specially tortured women, people incapable of love, were exactly one of Bergman´s classical topics. They´ve allowed him the most fascinating exploration of people´s psychological manifolds, no wonder that some might view Bergman as the director of demons. I would say he is the director of humankind!

August 21, 2007 at 8:32 pm Leave a comment

GREAT WOMEN on Screen

The world is loosing its colors! Whenever I look around I can only find either high-maintenance princess girls or down-to-earth-next-door-girls. The first ones would make you scout town under heavy rain at 3 am for an exotic ice-cream flavor, meanwhile the second ones would get the best promotion of your favorite ice-cream so you can share it with your buddies on a friday night meanwhile watching football games. The capricious girl or the best buddy seems to be the only choice these days. Where have the great women we´ve admired on cinema gone to?

In “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, Elisabeth Taylor plays Maggie. Maggie the cat isn´t ashamed to despair nor to make a fool of herself cause she knows she will get her man in the end. She´s got life in her alright! And everybody recognizes it in her and loves her for it! She is on a mission to save her man and fulfill her her own desire. Maggie the cat is a woman with an open strategy relying on her feelings to shape the world according to her own wishes.

Holly, interpreted by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany´s”, is, on the contrary, a woman waiting to be saved. Drifting through life, she is desperately seeking for the lost father that will finally take good care of her. She also has a structure but is unable to recognize that it won´t take her anywhere, that it is even harming her. Fortunately a breach occurs in her world, and a cat – just simply named cat – together with a man force her to open up to the world and drop her system in face of total failure.

Jeanne Moreau´s Catherine, in Truffaut´s “Jules and Jim”, is a force of nature with a tendency for the fall. This soon becomes clear as she spontaneously plunges into the cold dark waters of the river, leaving her two friends in total astonishment. She is excessive and finds no rest in a single man´s arms, she changes her mind about whom to love and divides her attentions between Jules and Jim. But, truth be told, no one is able to fulfill her emptiness nor give her peace.

These great women have in common that they are warriors, clinging desperately to life, being driven by their passions and not worrying about the consequences of it. This ineptitude to follow social conventions and behave according to political correctness is exactly what make us love and admire them. They are beyond control and fit no system, no label. Their wild spirit and passions shake the waters, making them alive and eternal. They are the material of which life is made of.

Elisabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat on Cat on a Hot Tin RoofAudrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany´sJeane Moreau in Jules and Jim

August 20, 2007 at 5:20 pm 1 comment

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