Archive for December, 2009

When I visited Hiroshima less than two months ago I thought that I knew quite a lot about the the events at the end of the second world war in the Pacific including the atomic bombs that were dropped upon Japan in order to reach a faster end of the war. Nothing was however comparable with seeing the destruction of Hiroshima at first hand in the Peace Museum, as well as the impressing memorial monuments in the Hiroshima Peace Park. Now comes this documentary by American-born Steven Okazaki which complements the images and the information that I acquired during my visit in Japan.

6 august 1945, 8:15AM

Let me say that it’s one of the best historical and investigative documentaries that I have seen in years, if not the best. There are many direct witnesses that present the two sides of the event – the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombardments in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who were most of them kids in 1945 and who carried for the rest of their lives the physical pain in their flesh and the psychological traumas in their souls, and the American crewmen who seem to have gained awareness about the dimensions of the event they participated in, but show almost no trace of guilt or remorse for their actions. Some of the pictures taken immediately after the bombing which some of them – it is said in the film – are being seen for the first time in public are shocking and succeed to convey the intensity and dimensions of the destruction and sufferings that were inflicted on the civilian population of the two bombed cities.

Hiroshima - The Atomic Dome

Yet, it is the opening sequence that impressed me the most. It is filmed today, in some big city of Japan. Young Japanese folks in the teens or twenties are asked ‘what historical event happened on August 6, 1945′. None of them knows the answer! This is by the way a little bit surprising for me as I have seen in the museum and park in Hiroshima last November many groups of school or college age students visiting the place. It may be that the policy changed lately, it may be that the attitude of the Japanese people – similarly to the Jewish Israelis relation to the Holocaust survivors – went through an evolution from denial to indifference and only lately to admission and active support for the survivors. I do not know. Such films as ‘White light, Black Rain’ can help however bring down completely the walls of silence that still exist.

Survivors

Johnny Cash era unul dintre cantaretii de folk preferatiai lui Cornel Chiriac in zilele de joi (daca imi amintesc bine) in care Metronomul era dedicat genurilor folk si country & western. Poate alaturi de Arlo Guthrie era cantaretul de country cel mai indragit de Cornel. Erau si anii cei mai buni ai lui Johnny Cash, anii in care a scos cele mai bune discuri si a dat concertele inregistrate la inchisorile San Quentin si Folsom.

Am vazut astazi documentarul ‘Johnny Cash at Folosom Prison‘  al regizorului Bestor Cram. Filmul depaseste limitele unui documentar din culisele concertului si prezinta contextul mai larg al biografiei lui Cash si al interesului pe care acesta l-a manifestat in tot timpul vietii sale pentru conditiile detinutilor din inchisorile americane.

In pofida conceptiei alimentate de talentul si simtirea cu care Cash a preluat cantece din repertoriul detinutilor, a flirturilor sale cu bautura si drogurile, si a unor probleme care s-au soldat cel mult cu arestari de o noapte, cantaretul nu s-a gasit niciodata ca detinut in inchisoare in spatele gratiilor. Eliberat in 1954 din armata americana dupa ce trecuse o perioada de stagiu in Germania asemanatoare celei pe care avea sa o efectueze cu cativa ani mai tarziu Elvis, Johnny Cash incepe o cariera muzicala alaturi de un grup numit Tennessee Two. In scurt timp este remarcat de producatorul Sam Philips de la Sun Records, iar unul dintre primele sale cantece este Folsom Prison Blues, inspirat de un film de fictiune din 1951 inspirat din viata inchisorii, unul dintre penitenciarele de maxima securitate in care erau intemnitati in acea vreme criminali violenti condamnati la pedepse grele, unii chiar condamnati la moarte.

Au urmat ‘I walked the Line’ – primul sau mare succes national si el un cantec de inchisoare. Cash incepe sa studieze repertoriul genului si apoi sa cante in inchisori, in credinta ca prin cantec poate contribui la imbunatatirea conditiilor detinutilor si readucerea lor in cadrul societatii. Concertul prezentat in film a fost inregistrat pentru casa de discuri Columbia in 1968. A urmat concertul si mai faimos de la San Quentin din 1969. O parte din documentar este dedicata prieteniilor pe care le-a format in timpul vizitelor si concertelor sale in inchisori, povetiri si interviuri cu oamenii pe care i-a ajutat – pe unii cu mai mult succes, pe altii cu mai putin. Este partea cea mai interesanta si mai solida a filmului, alaturi de multa muzica buna si cateva clipuri noi pe muzica originala dintre care cele realizate in tehnica de animatie mi s-au parut cele mai reusite.

Trailerul filmului

http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi2919105049/

I got to know Egill Saebjornssonl via the Arte et Maniere program of ARTE TV. He is a young artist born in 1973 Iceland and living in Berlin. He started as an animator, then continued by combining techniques from different art fields.

One of his first works:

An inventive installation combining objects and animation:

Here he is playing with objects and changing their image and meanings by changing light and colors through film techniques:

Egill is also a singer, he actually had his own band, recorded music and went on tour in places like the UK. Here is a clip combining animation, music, and photo-collage

Last, just a music fragment on stage with his band:

The life of composer Dmitri Shostakovich and his relationship with the soviet regime and with dictator Stalin was already the subject of ‘Testimony’ where Ben Kingsley played the lead role. As a human being he was intimidated and oppressed, often criticized by the regime, and Stalin himself kept an eye on his creation. He chose to compromise in order to save his life and his power of creation, but the splendid music he composed reflects the torments, the pride and the soul of the Russian people confronted with some of the hardest years in its history. Now, this docudrama incorporating an opera in film deals with one specific episode and them in Shostakovich’s life – the writing of the opera ‘The Violin of Rothschild’ and his relation to the Jewish culture and music.

The story takes us back to the years before the second world war, when Shostakovitch befriends one of his students, the Jewish musician Benjamin Fleischmann. When the young disciple proposes a plan of an opera based on a story by Chekhov with a Jewish theme and featuring Jewish-inspired music Shostakovitch encourages him, Moreover, as the student goes to war and falls defending the city of Leningrad under blockade, the master takes over the work and finishes it. It was however very late that it could be put on scene, many years after Stalin’s death, and only for one time during the Soviet regime. The night after the premiere it was again forbidden. In the Soviet Union where the Jewish revival started immediately after the Six Days War and was to be followed by the mass emigration to Israel the opera written almost two decades before on a libretto inspired by Chekhov was considered ‘Zionist propaganda’.

The film deals quite efficiently with the characters and their fight for intellectual and artistic survival. The opera in film is quite good, probably the best part.

I found on youTube a version of the opera for yourselves to judge (not the same as in the film).

Postul de televiziune Mezzo m-a ajutat sa descopar doi extraordinari muzicieni de jazz francezi – Martial Solal si Didier Lockwood inregistrati la un concert la festivalul de la Antibes in 1990.

Pianistul Martial Solal este nascut la Alger in 1927. A compus muzica filmului ‘A bout de souffle‘ al lui Godard, si a participat la festivalul de la Newport din 1963 despre care Cornel Chiriac a vorbit in repetate randuri in emisiunile sale de jazz.

Iata doua secvente recente:

Violonistul Didier Lockwood este nascut la Calais in 1956, a fost influentat de Jean-Luc Ponty si Stephane Grapelli si a cantat rock inainte de a se stabili la jazz.

http://www.didierlockwood.com/

Nu am gasit din pacate niciun fragment din concertul in care au aparut cei doi.

‘Hashmatsa’ (‘Defamation’) by Israeli director Yoav Shamir broadcast last night by Channel 2 of the Israeli TV dares to attack one of the sacred cows of Israel and of the Jewish people – how it reacts to antisemitism around the world, how it looks at the evil of the Holocaust, and how young generations are being educated in Israel with respect to these painful and fundamental issues.

The result is mixed I must say. Without emulating completely the Moore style (he appears seldom on screen for example) Shamir uses the same approach – picks a number of characters and interviews them longly until they lower guard and reveal their weaknesses, which then are used as part of the demonstration of the thesis.

There are actually two slightly different themes in the film, although they are related and interleaved in the presentation. The first deals with the definition of antisemitism and the question whether real antisemitism exists in the world today at the scale claimed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and some of the Israeli and Jewish press. Here the director presents two leading characters, one on each side of the dispute – Abraham Foxman, one of the leaders of the ADL and Norman Finkelstein, Jewish thinker, author of a book that argues against the exaggerated usage of the Holocaust on political purposes by Israel and Jewish people, None of the two get a very clean image in the film, both have arguments that sound valid at some point, but show weaknesses and ideological bias in other moments. The weakest part of the argumentation is however the one that tries to argue that antisemitism does not exist, and the method used by the film is flawn, as the issue of antisemitism is not acute at all in the US where the director investigated most of the time, but has deep and specific aspects in many countries in Europe for example.

I did like more the approach being taken by the film relative to the education in Israel of the young generations about the Holocaust, about antisemitism and how to cope with this phenomena. Here the film does succeed to raise valid questions and the success of this part is dues mainly to the fact that he lets the images and situations on screen speak more for themselves. The questions asked in the final sequence of the film – ‘does this type of auto-victimization, of fear and lack of trust for anything that is foreign educate well the younger generations, or even give them the right approach to address real antisemitism and to cope with the horror of the Holocaust?’ ‘is this type of education better fit for the past or for the present and future?’- these are indeed valid questions which I would love to see being addressed in a public debate at prime time, not at late hours this documentary was broadcast by Israeli Channel 2 yesterday.

An interview with Yoav Shamir can be read at http://theeveningclass.blogspot.com/2009/11/hashmatsa-defamation-2009-evening-class.html . More information about the film is available at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1377278/

Brian Coll sends in one of the last issues of TIME Magazine a Postcard from Belfast dealing with the lowering number of priests being ordinate in Ireland -  http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1942665,00.html . It is interesting to see how different religions in the Western world deal with the threat of secularism in the light of economic progress and a more materialistic world which they perceive – right or wrong – as deprived of spirituality.

The Illusionist’ is a film that was often compared with Christopher Nolan‘s ‘The Prestige’ which had a similar theme inspired from the life of the turn of the 20th century magicians and was released about the same time. It fails the comparison I am afraid.
The story takes place in the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where a magician of modest origins is using his skills to fight the system and win back his lost love who is to become the wife of the crown prince. The intrigue is quite simplistic and the characters around the main hero are all schematic, with the exception maybe of the chief police inspector played by Paul Giamatti who oscillates between fear and allegiance to the system on one side and curiosity and search for truth on the other side. So it falls upon Edward Norton to save the film, and he does it brightly. It’s his best role until now in my opinion – he is dark and subtle, sensible and articulate. While ‘The Prestige’ will probably remain the better film about magicians of that year, Norton will stay as the better magician in the two films.

An interview with Norton about this role can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QslgkMt-ih4 and the oficial Web site is available at http://www.theillusionist.com/

I think that I have first met a work of Anish Kapoor in Chicago two years ago – the huge ‘Bean’ is part of the Chicago landscape in a public park that was not far from our hotel.

Kapoor's 'Bean' in Chicago

The BBC broadcast (or maybe broadcast again because it’s holidays and year in retrospective season) an interview with the artist, occasioned by his show at the Royal Academy of Art in London. He is a very interesting character and had smart things to say about how as an artist he rapports himself to success, about biography (his father is Indian, his mother Jewish), about perennial and ephemeral art, about involvment in big memorial projects in the UK, and last but not least about critics.

Shabatul cu vreme frumoasa, primul dupa cateva saptamani ne-a scos si pe noi din casa. Am mers in Neve Tzedek, cartierul de sud al Tel Avivului vechi, in care casele construite in primele decenii ale secolului trecut au fost in mare parte renovate si sunt astazi in parte populate de studiouri ale artistilor, institutii culturale sau restaurante si cafenele su farmec si fason.

shabat in Neve Tzedek

Peisajul nu i s-ar parea probabil complet strain pictorului Nachum Gutman, nascut in 1898 in Basarabia si ajuns in Eretz Israel in 1905, care a locuit o vreme in Neve Tzedek si a ramas legat de acest loc pe care l-a redat in repetate randuri si in epoci diferite in lucrarile sale.

Neve Tzedek vazut de Gutman in 1939

Neve Tzedek vazut de Gutman in 1960

Multe dintre case sunt renovate sau in curs de renovare. Pe strazi un amestec de omenire cum numai Tel Avivul poate oferi – tururi organizate si haredim venind dela sinagoga, parinti iesiti cu copiii la plimbare si cucoane conversand la o cafea la unul dintre multele restaurante si cafenele. Multe dintre cladiri sunt renovate cu gust si fantezie, combinand elementele de arthitectura traditionala a Tel Avivului vechi cu lucrari plastice originale, pline de umoe si nonsalanta.

alb-albastru-verde

mode

poarta cu cele 12 triburi

strada Shabazi

Muzeul Nachum Gutman si-a inaugurat recent o noua aripa si cu aceasta ocazie a deschis o expozitie dedicata perioadei ‘africane’ a creatiei pictorului si dialogului intre artele plastice si culturile israeliana si africana. Despre muzeu si expozitie voi scrie cu alta ocazie, deocamdata am pus aici fotografiile celor doua cladiri de pe strada Shimon Rokah.

muzeul Gutman - aripa veche

muzeul Gutman - aripa noua