While the Bansky exhibition curated by Steve Lazarides is still open in the city, the local cinematheque screened the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop which has the name of the artist as director in its credits. Banksy is a mystery as artist and person, and Exit Through the Gift Shop does not aim and will not disperse the secret of his identity. It adds however more light on the origins of the street art genre and develops the documentary genre towards a direction that is both unexpected and rewarding for the viewers, whatever their opinions on this phenomenon may be.
The basic rule of street art is that there are no rules. This film tries to follow this. The principal character starts as a video camera addict (and there is a good reason for his addiction) named Thierry Guetta who at some point discovers street art and starts filming the fringe individuals who make street art during their night escapades. He gets to know some of the most famous ones, including the secretive Bristol-based Banksy. At some point he becomes more and more involved with his subjects, he abandons his bourgeois commercial profession, and street art becomes a way of life. Crossing the border between documenting street art and becoming a street artist comes next, and by the end of the film we see Thierry Guetta having become Mr. Brainwash, a successful artist cashing well on his products, while Bansky has become the maker of the film about him.
The very surprising turnaround makes out of the film a strange hybrid, a documentary where the lines between authors and subjects are blown up, with characters that claim to be real but defy common logic and would risk to be considered ‘non-credible’ in a fiction film. There is also a rather deep subtext and question marks about art and its value, about where street art belongs, about fighting commercial art and becoming successful and rich by selling counter-art. It’s difficult to put it in a box, but this is the case with street art in general. More than anything however, I found this film fun to watch.
Cunoştiinţa mea cu filmele regizorului german Werner Herzog datează de vreo patru decenii. Cândva, în anii 70, cinematograful Magheru de pe bulevard, în apropiere de Piaţa Romană devenise ‘cinematograf de artă’. Cred că a fost chiar şi cinematecă pentru o anumită perioadă. Acolo, într-una din rarele ferestre prin care se mai strecura câte o rază de cultură în perioada îngheţului ideologic inaugurat în 1971 de in-faimoasele Teze din Iulie, s-a organizat o ‘Săptămână a filmului din Republica Federală Germană’. Nu ştiu cum şi de de a scăpat acest eveniment filtrului cenzurii, poate a fost o ‘obligaţie’ contractuală a părţii române din sistemul de relaţii căruia în România i se spunea ‘destindere’ iar în Germania de Vest ‘Realpolitik’. Cert este că atunci, în acea săptămâna am cunoscut filmele câtorva dintre realizatorii generaţiei de cineaşti reprezentând ‘Noul Film German’ care devenise unul dintre curentele cele mai interesante ale anilor 70 ai cinematografiei internaţionale. Dintre toate filmele văzute atunci cel mai puternic m-a impresionat ‘Aguirre, spaima zeilor’ – o drama istorică plasată în perioada ‘la conquista’ – colonizarea spaniolă a Americii de sud – avându-l în rolul principal pe extraordinarul actor Klaus Kinski. Numele regizorului filmului era Werner Herzog.
Cariera celui pe care Francois Truffaut l-a numit cândva ‘cel mai important regizor în viaţă’ a avut parte de numeroase suişuri şi coborâşuri. Face parte din generaţia lui Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Margarethe von Trotta, Volker Schlöndorff, şi Wim Wenders şi după anii ’80 şi-a diversificat preocupările şi eforturile artistice şi şi-a împărţit timpul în trei direcţii principale: regia de filme de ficţiune, de operă şi de filme documentare. În domeniul operei (în care înregistrase succese remarcabile între 1986 şi 2002) nu a mai creat decât un singur spectacol în ultimii 15 ani. Filmele sale de ficţiune din ultimele decenii au fost cam toate ‘eşecuri remarcabile’ şi de public şi de critică, dar niciodată neinteresante. Criticul de film american Roger Ebert scria că până şi eşecurile lui Herzog sunt ‘spectaculoase’. Domeniul filmelor documentare pare a fi cel care i-au dat cele mai multe satisfacţii şi s-au bucurat de o primire foarte apreciativă în ultima vreme. Filmul său cel mai recent din această categorie ‘Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World’ are că temă istoria, prezentul şi viitorul Internetului. Un subiect care desigur că mi-a trezit interesul şi care ocazionează o întâlnire unică între pasiunea mea pentru cinematograf şi unul dintre realizatorii cei mai interesanţi ai industriei filmului, şi profesia (şi pasiunea) mea – Internetul. Un motiv în plus este faptul că filmul este produs (sau producţia este sponsorizată) de compania Netscout Systems, fondată în 1984 de Anil Singhal, al cărui nume apare pe generic, companie care a creat produse şi aplicaţii de măsurare a performanţei reţelelor informatice dintre care cele mai cunoscute sunt ‘sniffer’-ul şi probele de monitorizare a traficului Ethernet.
Cele zece episoade ale filmului tratează în ordine oarecum cronologică începuturile Internetului, prezentul cu realizările şi problemele sale, şi viitorul cu oportunităţile şi riscurile lui. Primul episod deşi scurt a trezit interes şi a creat nostalgie celor care au trăit epoca începuturilor comunicaţiilor între calculatoare, sau care – ca mine – au avut ocazia să-i cunoască personal pe câţiva dintre eroii acelor vremuri. Leonard Kleinrock (în fotografia de mai sus) este unul dintre cei care a participat la prima încercare de a stabili o comunicare între calculatoarele universităţilor californiene din Los Angeles şi Stanford. Dulapul electric (de fapt un calculator cu o putere de calcul infimă faţă de orice telefon mobil astăzi, dar un vârf al tehnologiei de la sfârşitul anilor 60) care a iniţiat comunicaţia în cămăruţa care apare în film a încercat să trimită cuvântul ‘log’ pentru a se lega (a se loga) la calculatorul aflat la distanţă. Doar că primul mesaj trimis vreodată pe Internet a întâlnit şi primul ‘bug’ şi a cauzat şi primul ‘crash’, aşa încât a treia litera din cuvântul l-o-g nu a mai apărut în cealaltă parte. A rămas doar acel ‘lo’ de la începutul titlului filmului care oferă ocazia unui joc de cuvinte în limba engleză folosind expresia ‘lo and behold’ care semnifică surpriza unui eveniment pe care l-am putea numi astăzi în limbaj hi-tech şi ‘disrupting ‘.
Fiecare dintre celelalte nouă segmente abordează din perspective diferite relaţia între tehnologiile informatice şi de comunicaţii şi lumea în care trăim sau lumea viitorului. Cititorii rubricii CHANGE.WORLD se vor găsi în multe dintre ele pe un teren familiar, căci majoritatea tematicilor descrise au fost abordate de-a lungul anilor în articolele mele. Există de exemplu segmente despre inteligenţa artificială şi aplicaţiile ei în transporturi inteligente, despre începuturile Web-ului şi perspectivele dezvoltării hipertextului, despre securitatea comunicării pe Internet şi insuportabila uşurinţă a atacurilor de securitate, despre legătura dintre jocurile electronice şi evoluţia programelor inteligente. Câteva alte subiecte au fost abandonate pe parcursul producţiei, de exemplu cele legate de plăţile electronice şi moneda bitcoin, deşi materialul filmat există şi poate cândva va apare şi public. Apar persoane şi personalităţi cunoscute între care Bob Kahn, Elon Musk şi Tim Berners-Lee. Şi despre ei am discutat în acest spaţiu cu diverse ocazii. Unele episoade au o tentă mai pesimistă şi discută pericolele comunicării – impresionant fiind cel în care apare o familie care deplânge publicarea fotografiilor copilului pierit într-un accident circulaţie, incident tipic lipsei de discreţie şi sensibilitate în comunicaţii atât de răspândită din păcate pe Internet. Nu toate au legătură directă cu Internetul – de exemplu fenomenul sensibilităţii faţă de undele electromagnetice este cunoscut, studiat şi tratat în diferite feluri (cel prezentat în film este doar una dintre opţiuni) dar nu este legat direct de reţeaua globală ci mai degrabă de comunicaţiile radio. Facem cunoştiinţă însă cu acest prilej cu una dintre acele comunitatati anarhiste care încearcă să trăiască în insule sociale fără legătură la reţeaua globală. Tehnica intervieverii folosită de Werner Herzog este cea a interogării din off (nu îi vedem niciodată chipul), cu întrebări puse cu calm şi precizie germană (subliniată de accentul vocii), însă care evident ghidează interlocutorii şi crează liantul şi firul raţionamentului dezvoltat în film.
Interesul lui Werner Herzog pentru Internet şi tehnologie este de dată recentă. Până cu câţiva ani în urmă, Herzog putea fi considerat un ‘tehno-sceptic’, iar atitudinea să faţă de anumite aplicaţii internetice cum ar fi platformele sociale era net negativă. Lucrurile s-au schimbat în momentul în care a abordat acest proiect dar punctul de vedere umanist, întrebările tranşante venite din direcţii neaşteptate, o doză nedisimulată de precauţie şi chiar de pesimism în legătură cu interactia între natură umană şi tehnologie rămân trăsături distince ale acestui film care abordează altfel decât suntem obişnuiţi Internetul şi comunicaţiile în masă. Abordând tema ‘viselor’ şi prezentând combinaţia dintre Internet şi inteligenţă artificială că una dintre direcţiile cele mai promiţătoare tehnologic, dar şi dintre cele mai intrigante şi poate chiar şi periculoase dintre posibilele trasee în viitor, Herzog se plasează în avangardă tehnologică, dar interesant, nu şi cea a ficţiunii căci tema a fost abordată de scriitori ai genului science-fiction cu multe decenii în urmă, un exemplu cunoscut şi la noi fiind polonezul Stanislaw Lem şi al său ‘Solaris’. Va deveni Internetul (generalizare a entităţilor dotate cu inteligenţă artificială) complet autonom? Iar după ce se va întâmpla – problema doar de timp – care va fi diferenţa între aproape perfectele maşini gânditoare şi imperfecţii indivizi care compun omenirea? Capacitatea de a visa? Cea de a iubi? Se pot îndrăgosti şi pot visa roboţii? Dar Internetul?
The message of Robert Kenner‘s documentary Command and Control is crisp and scary. Atomic weapons are man-made machines. Man-made machines sooner or later break. A very serious accident, or even atomic apocalypse is only a matter of time. Actually a very serious accident did happen in 1980 at a nuclear missile in Arkansas, when the area around, the continent and maybe the whole world was close to a disaster maybe similar in proportions to the one that happened in Chernobyl in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union) a few years later.
I liked the low-key documentary style of this production. The authors restrained from commenting too much (although there are a few punch lines) and let the facts speak. It is amazing how much filmed material was available if we are taking into account the classified nature of the events that took place. We can also draw some conclusions, this being mostly left to us, viewers. At the end of the day the safety systems in place worked, but the wrong decisions of the human factors did not lack either. What was different from the incident in the Soviet Union besides the very existence and quality of the safety equipment was also the fact that the decisions were made at a relative low level, and eventually the right decisions prevailed. Heroism was there, at least one precious life was lost, and several people remained with physical and psychological traumas, not to speak about the imposed silence about the events. For these people the film is an act of recovery and rehabilitation which seems to be well deserved.
One more thought could not escape me when seeing this film – how young the heroes of this story were. The safety of the nuclear devices was put in the hands of very young people in uniform, who were only a few years before just kids. Many of the members of the emergency teams were also very young. Maybe one day a film needs to be made about those kids, or men and women who have been so recently kids to whom we trust not only the manipulation of deadly weapons, but the very existence of the planet and of life on it.
We know about the great musicians of the past only from written stories if they lived and played until the end of the 19th century. We can only imagine and read the stories of the contemporaries about the sound of the violin of Paganini, or the piano under the hands of Chopin or Liszt. Sound recordings started to be available at the end of the 19th century, and film rendition soon after, with film and sound synchronized since the end of the 20s. The great advantage of the artists playing today is that their music is available – if they allow, of course – for the times to come on recordings and films. More recently their lives and careers became also subject of documentary movies. Form now on not only their music but also their lives, characters, loves, families crisis can be documented for the posterity – if they allow so (or even if the do not, I guess).
I have seen three of them recently, all made in the last two years. The first was the closest to the traditional documentary genre retracing the life and career of the Hungarian-born conductor George Solti. The second one focused on how the Chinsese pianist Lang Lang grew up under the strong influence of his father and how he built a world-famous career starting from the very improbable career of a Chinese workers one-child family. Today I have seen BloodyDaughter, the documentary that Stephanie Argerich dedicated to her mother, the famous Argentinian pianist.
If somebody wanted a proof that it is practically impossible to live the life of a great artist and build a normative family with happy partners and children, Bloody Daughter is certainly one. Stephanie is the younger of the three daughters that Martha Argerich had with three different partners, and much of the film is dedicated into bringing together the pieces of the biography of a pianist who was another of these wonder children, raised and educated to be an artist – but also a beautiful woman, with a strong and unconventional character who decided to live her life as she wished to, placing her career at the highest priority. She is also a woman who does not have much of verbal communication skills, so although there is a lot of private footage of her on screen she talks very little about her art (and no great wisdom results) or even about her private life or feelings – we understand more from her looks, her facial expression, her eyes.
Stephanie Argerich wanted this film to be not only about her mother but also about herself, her feelings, the relationship with her mother. There are implicit questions that she seems to want to ask her but never dares to. The puzzle of the family relations is carefully built in the first hour of the film, with the story of each one of the three daughters retraced and brought to its place. I would have personally wanted to dig more into the Jewish past of the family, but this seems to be a subject that neither Stephanie, nor Martha queried too much – maybe this is not that important to them, something buried in the past of Martha’s parents for unknown reasons never asked about. The last third of the movie does not bring too many new and interesting information about the great artist, and instead of the redundant family footage more music would have been preferable. Of course, this is just a personal opinion, but it might be shared by the many of us who love her art.
Ginger Baker is not only one of the greatest drummers ever but also a character who waits for a movie to be made about him. One day maybe a fiction movie will be made, until them we have ‘Beware of Mr. Baker’ – the documentary made by Jay Bulger. Rock documentaries are now quite ‘en vogue’ and there is a good reason for this. The big rock stars of the 60s and 70s, well, the ones who survived are now at the age of writing or telling on screen their memories. The younger generations may have heard little about ‘Cream’ or ‘Blind Faith’ but they do have an opportunity not only to watch part of their concerts (luckily filmed concerts technology developed just in time to catch much of their sounds, moves and the atmosphere of their live shows) but also to hear fist hand their version of the history of rock. And fans like me are definitely delighted.
‘Beware of Mr. Baker’ is centered around the interview reluctantly given by Baker at his ranch in South-Africa. He is one of those anti-social partners of discussion that you sometimes pity the interviewers about. He certainly loves to complain about his family, other musicians, life and fate in general – one of these guys who seem to love themselves much less than the world lives and admires them. We learn much more about his life from interviews with members of his family (his first wife seems still to have a crush on him, his son’s best memory is having made music with his father) and with other musicians. It’s the story of a life damaged by drugs abuse and a pattern of behavior that preempted Baker from establishing good working relations with any of his colleague musicians and eventually led to the early breaking of all bands he played in. Yet, it is also doubtful if in the absence of this temper and even of the use of drugs his music would have been the same. And music is what is left at the end from such personalities. Great music in the case of Mr. Baker.
Cream - the gathering of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker was a stellar event. In my view it simply gave another dimension to rock, developing progressive rock and setting the stage for hard rock and metal (in the documentary Ginger Baker strongly disagrees, of course). It is hard to believe that they played together for only two years (1966-1968). It is said that when Hendrix came to London the only musicians he asked to play with were Cream, I do not know if this ever happened.
Next step was for Baker and Clapton Blind Faith where they joined forces with Steve Winwood and Rick Grech. This super-group did not last more than two years either, but they also left one concert of legend in Hyde Park.
Is the trip over? Not yet! After being filmed and interviewed for the documentary Ginger Baker was on stage in 2013 with Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, a quartet comprising Baker, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, bassist Alec Dankworth and percussionist Abass Dodoo.
It is probably better sometimes to see a film after the buzz is over in order to appreciate it – its good as well as its weakest parts. The break-through film of Alma Harel was very much talked about when it was released a couple of years ago. I have seen it only now and I can probably better enjoy its best parts, as well as wonder about other without necessarily being influenced by the chorus of praise (some justified) which accompanied its release.
The landscape seems to belong to a post-apocalyptic film. On the deserted shores of a sea that was born by an accident a small community of people deprived of almost everything tries to survive. Yet this is not the planet after an atomic war, and this is not the Sea of Aral either, but a real landscape and real people in the state of California, in a place located at measurable distances from all the services available in one of the most sophisticated states of the USA. The destinies of several people are being followed in parallel. A boy with behavioral problems whose parents went to jail are may be in danger of being denied parenthood if they get in any kind of more trouble. A teenager who was born and raised in the violent suburbs of a big city and has seen death and violence, and came here in the search of the right path for overcoming his social condition. An old man who survived a life of working in the oil fields but never abandoned his passion for booze, smoking, women. All the stories are human and credible and real. This may look like art fiction, but is actually a documentary of a special kind.
The art dimension of the film is provided by the each of the characters dancing at some point in time. Each of the dancing episodes is so well integrated in the whole movie that it looks quite natural. Dancing may not be part of their real life, but Alama Harel made it look like it is. Yet here comes also the problematic aspect of the film. We get a glimpse of life in one very extreme area of today’s America, with its people. It’s real life and yet there is some manipulation here, because there was a cameraman (maybe the director herself) some place to catch what looks like pieces of truth. It’s beautiful but I could not escape a feeling of artificiality. Yet Alma Arel is certainly a film-maker to follow, Let us see what subjects she will pick next.
Two of the five documentary films competing for the Academy Awards (‘Oscars’) that will be distributed a few days from now deal with the conflict between Jews and Arabs, between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. The Gatekeepers was distributed commercially and is on screens for several weeks here in Israel, while ’5 Broken Cameras’ was presented on cable TV a couple of months ago, and this week it was broadcast again, including an almost prime time spot scheduled for tonight on the most popular mainstream commercial channel. This is a good thing, and for the Israeli audiences both movies are highly relevant, as they show different aspects and different perspective of the conflict. There are many differences of course in styles, approaches, characters but the reality is the same, a complex reality with many pieces of puzzle and the more you know, the better.
The concept and the story of the making of ’5 Broken Cameras’ is pretty unusual. Israeli film-maker Guy Davidi met in 2005 Emad Burat, a Palestinian inhabitant of the village of Bil’in. This place is well known in the area because the wall of separation between Israel and the Palestinian territories passes in the neighborhood, separating inhabitants from their fields and orchards, and this led to several lawsuits and permanent protests and confrontations with the army some of which turned violent, which were also widely covered by the Israeli and international press and TV. Emad received in 2005 a first camera from Davidi, a camera which covered not only the incidents around the construction of the wall, but also the life of the inhabitants and of the family, the permanent tension between occupation, protests and the need to run normal lives. Since then he is filming until today, actually if I am not mistaken being a cameraman became his profession. In time five cameras broke, most of them during the various incidents, and the cameras themselves became together with the material that was filmed part of the testimony.
At no moment does the film make the claim that it is impartial. It would be an impossible claim to make as the five cameras are hold by a person directly involved in the conflict, the commentary is made by the same person, and what we see and hear is a part of the close and harsh reality the author and his family lives in. Eventually both ’5 Broken Cameras’ and ‘The Gatekeepers’ despite their differences share the same problem. Their contents are highly relevant for the Israeli audiences, and the Israelis should watch them in order to understand the consequences of the occupation, the suffering of the other side, the dangers of the status-quo and of the lack of progress in the peace process. However, this is not the whole picture, this is one piece of a complex puzzle, of a long history, complicated present and uncertain future. Of course, there is that much one film (or two films) can show, and reflecting one aspect of the reality is important. The film should be taken for what it is, and the piece of reality that this film is showing should not be confused with the whole reality, as as part of the truth does not equal the whole truth.
Israelis abide to very few myths. In a young country that is a melting pot of people coming from almost one hundred different countries, where a majority of the population is either born some other place or belong to the second generation of children of immigrant parents, what unites even more than the shared traditions (respected in various manners and to very different levels of obedience) or the common history which is for many yet to be learned (if not to be written) are above all the permanent external menaces perceived in many moments, rightly or wrongly, as existential dangers. In such moments the trust of the nation is not that much focused on politicians but on the people who defend the country, some with the arms in hands, other in wars that are more secret than visible. The heads of the military and the heads of the security services – the legendary spy agency Mossad and the internal Security Service ‘Shin-Beth’ as it is called in this film are living legends for most of the Israelis. Until recently some of them were known only by their initials as long as they lived and were active. Their opinions count, and when they converge, as seems up to a certain extent to be the case in this film, people listen. The first major achievement of director Dror Moreh and the team that made this film is to have brought together six of The Gatekeepers, the former heads of the internal security service of Israel and make them talk about the history of the service, the war on terrorism, the relations with the Palestinian neighbors of Israel, the situation of Israel today, and the perspective ahead. The convergent views of these men should worry all Israelis who have seen or will see the film.
There is a lot of good and interesting information that is presented in this film, but of course, not all history and the whole complexity of the conflict could have been brought on screen in a documentary that lasts about 90 minutes. Lacking facts will certainly expose the film to critics from all directions, but these critics would be to some extent unfair. In fact for the Israeli audiences there is nothing completely new here, investigative reporting in the Israeli press, TV documentary movies, and books written by political experts and historians have exposed sometimes in much more details different aspects of the stories presented in this film. What is new and different is the candid manner the makers of the movie succeed to make the six different personalities who successively lead the service talk about the events that took place in the last 45 years, their meaning, their implications. Attentive spectators who also know the differences between the views and positions of the six leaders will perceive also the differences between their opinions and their approaches into presenting the facts, but overall a fascinating perspective is built by getting together their testimonies and the history of the area in the period between the Six Days War and today, the initial euphoria, the lost opportunities, the achievements and the mistakes in the fight against terror, the moral dilemmas and the price of the occupation, the human risks and morality of lack of morality of some of the methods – all come together in a perspective which is amplified by the coherent message delivered by each one of the speakers. If you search for information in this film you will not get the whole picture, and I am quite sure that the film will be much better understood from this point of view by Israelis than by audiences abroad. If you look for the historic trends and for indications about things to come, it’s mandatory viewing, and it does not look like good news, but rather like a very strong warning signal from people who were in the middle of the policy making and security actions of Israel.
I believe that this film should be seen by as many people as possible and debated in Israel. Best would be probably a screening on prime time TV, but I am not optimistic about this happening soon as prime time TV in Israel seems to be almost fully booked by (i)reality shows. At least, by now The Gatekeepers is distributed commercially and the audiences seem to be interested. However, the more echoes may come from abroad, especially as the film is a candidate for the Oscar in the documentary category, certainly if it also wins the award. The editing of the film is smart, the combination between historical footage and computerized effects puts even more life into the illustrations, and the permanent images of the big screens as a symbol of the technology used to permanently supervise the territories is haunting. I have seen however much more sophisticated technical means put at work in documentaries. ‘The Gatekeepers’ is eventually a talking heads movie and is important because of the stories that the talking heads tell and the message that they deliver.
I spent last night an evening with the Brubecks. The host was the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the art film festival Epos now at its third edition. Unfortunately I knew too little about the event in the past years and this year I learned about it too late, but this is something to follow in the years to come. The evening program started with the excellent documentary In His Own Sweet Way directed by Bruce Ricker and produced by Clint Eastwood about and with Dave Brubeck and continued with a concert by Darius Brubeck, mostly dedicated to his father’s works.
The title of the film is inspired by one of the most famous pieces composed by Dave Brubeck (here is on a recording in 1964, with his quartet including preferred saxophonist partner and friend Paul Desmond). It is also a defining story line which is followed with off-voice commentaries in a rather conventional and chronological manner, but gets enriched at each stop by a rich and significant melt of interviews made by the musician during his long career with media figures like Walter Cronkite, and commentaries on the music of Brubeck by experts and artists like Yo-Yo Ma or Sting, and most than all the music itself. Archived clips take us from the music of the debut years to the 2007 Newport festival concert, and then some music played specially for this film.
This is the story of a fabulous life, which started in California, continued on the European second world war theaters where his talent is quickly discovered and put to the service on entertaining and raising the moral of the troops and the formal musical studies with Darius Milhaud. The 50s brought him the recognition, the formation of the famous Dave Brubeck Quartet which would accompany him for almost two decades and fame, as jazz was entering mainstream and Brubeck was the first musician in the genre who made the cover of TIME Magazine in 1954. He was also a breakthrough artist in what concerns the penetration of jazz in the popular music attention and hit parades. Take Five above (which also gave the name of the concert last night) was recorded in 1961 and made it to the top in many countries around the world.
Brubeck was also part of the first generation of ‘Jazz Ambassadors’ program initiated in 1958 by the State Department, which took the best American jazz musicians in tours world-wide making them known one of the most original forms of art brought to the world by America. This was how American jazz music and some of its bigger musicians reached Romania in the late 60s and start of the 70s. These tours also were a great opportunity for the musicians to be exposed to the music played in other countries and continents. From that period he drew inspiration for pieces like Blue Rondo a la Turk recorded in 1962, this was fusion before the word was applied at all in the musical field.
Here he is at an award ceremony at the Kennedy Center in 2009, honored by some of the finest musicians that America has, including his sons. This comes by the end of one of the best music documentaries that I have seen lately, the portrait of an artist whose whole life is music, who loves music and makes people who see and listen to him love it.
The concert that followed had Darius Brubeck as main performer at piano, with the excellent British saxophonist Dave O’Higgins, and local drummer Shay Zalman and contra-bassist Tal Ronen in the band. Darius is an experimented and articulate pianist, whose luck was to be born in such a family of gifted musicians but this may also have been his handicap because of the comparison everyone immediately draws to his father. His own Web site can be accessed at http://dariusbrubeck.com/. O’Higgins is an excellent saxophonist who would deserve being invited here as separate guest in one of the international jazz series. Both played mostly from the repertoire of the Brubeck Plays Brubeck group they are part of (it is also the name of Dave’s first solo album recorded in 1956). The success and the enthusiastic response of the audience was immediate. A great jazz evening.
A Web site worth being visited is Brubeck Music dedicated to the music of Dave Brubeck and of the members of the whole clan.
As an interesting trivia for my Romanian friends, Darius spent some time in Romania in the last few years playing music and teaching, and his most record ‘To and Fro’ was recorded in concert in May 2010 at the Hungarian Theatre, in Cluj-Napoca.
As the saying goes some of my best friends are architects. Well, maybe the saying does not exactly go like this, but this is actually true, and this is not the only reason I hold in high esteem their profession. With my friends in mind I went last night to see at the Herzlya cinematheque the documentary Incessant Visions written and directed by Duki Dror and dedicated to the life and work of one of the greatest but maybe not that famous as he would have deserved architects of the 20th century Erich Mendelsohn.
Incessant Visions is by no means a dry documentary about architecture or just a biographical feature about a great architect. It is also or maybe first of all a love story. A love story about a young German Jewish architect named Erich who writes letters to his beloved girlfriend Louise (herself a gifted cellist) from the trenches of the First World War. These are not however usual letters from the trenches, they are beautiful love letters, and they include visions – visions of fantastic buildings inspired by the dunes and the hills of the unfamiliar Eastern European landscape, dreams about structures the soldier architect may build one day if he survives the nightmare.
One of the first clients after the war was Albert Einstein, who required to build in Postdam an astronomic observatory which could help prove his relativity theory. The Einstein Tower stays until today one of the most famous works of Mendelsohn, and it started from sketches made during the war.
With fame came a lot of significant projects, many of them in Berlin, one being the Universum Cinema, today the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz theater which was the first big scale cinema theater in Europe. I will not say too much about the style of his works, as my architect friends may read the blog, what I heard is that it does belong to the International Style or Bauhaus, but with an evident twist in the rounded forms taking inspiration mostly from nature rather than from the artificial structures. On the other hand the concrete and steel structures are in line with the technology developed and used by most of the significant architects of the period.
Here is a clip I found on youTube about another work of Erich Mendelsohn in Berlin, the Metal Workers Union Building. During this time his relation with Louise was not that smooth, as while he was absorbed by his work and growing fame, she got involved with the playwright and revolutionary Ernst Toller, an affair which lasted until Toller comited suicide in 1939.
The ascendance of the Nazis to power led quickly to Mendelsohn being deprived of his position as one of the lead architects of Germany, and soon of his right to work. He took the road of exile, with the first stop being England, Although he did not stay long, he created in England one of his major works in the Southern England coastal town of Bexhill on Sea, the De La Warr pavilion, which stays until today a landmark of the city.
The meeting with Haim Weizman, head of the Zionist movement and later the first president of the State of Israel was decisive in his decision to traval to Palestine in 1934. In 1935 he opened an architecture office in Jerusalem. During his stay here he created a little more than ten buildings, but his influence on the path taken by the architecture in Palestine and future Israel was tremendous. Among his major works here are the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, the Rambam hospital in Haifa, the Anglo-Palestinian bank in Jerusalem and several buildings in the Weizman Institute complex in Rehovot, including the house of the first president and the Daniel Wolf building above.
With the German forces advancing in North Africa, Eric Mendelsohn feared that the German Nazis would conquer Palestine and flew in 1941 to the United States. He settled in California at Berkeley and the clip above talks about his period there. Actually only part of the filmed material here made it to the film, or at least to the version of the film that I saw yesterday.
The theme of the film is that Mendelsohn is today an almost forgotten figure, although his contribution in the history of architecture deserves higher recognition. It may have been his fate of never being at home any place he went – a Jew in Germany, too short time in Palestine to become a man of the land, and then a ‘German’ refugee in America. His dreams however, the ones he was drawing on sketches in the trenches of the first world became at least in part reality wherever he worked. “Architects think they leave something eternal. Their buildings are carved in stone and steel, but they too finally decay and vanish” wrote Louise Mendelsohn in her journal. The memory of Erich Mendelsohn has maybe a second chance with this film.