Archive for February, 2016

Apollo’s Girl

February 28, 2016

Film

apollo and lyre

 

 

Friends From Abroad

As a non-member of the Academy, never have I been more grateful for not having to vote than for this year’s flag-bearer from somewhere else; no category breaks more hearts than the Best Foreign Language Film. Backstage politics and deals aside, each entry has already been a winner at home, selected from strong contenders, to represent the biggest talents its country can muster. So, by the time it’s been shortlisted in Hollywood, it’s notas with so many domestic finalists—so much about who did what to whom, or who owes a favor to old friends. It’s safe to say that 2016 has shortlisted an array of foreign talents from first-timers to veterans strong enough to paralyze any attempt to raise one’s hand. And if you are drawn to character-driven films, this is the category in which to find directors, writers and actors united in a single purpose: to create characters (and lives) which remain lodged in memory for decades.


son of saulOf course there is
Son of Saul, a kind of King of Kings, already crowned with Cannes’ Grand Prix. It is 
harrowing, disturbing, painful to watch. It is also a work of genius. For one who has seen countless Holocaust films, it rises above even the best of them for its sheer intensity. During a press conference at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, director László Nemes and actor Géza Rӧhrig recounted their five-year odyssey of writing, rewriting, replanning and fundraising made even more difficult by the fact that Nemes had not made a feature-length film (let alone one on such a difficult subject) before; that his co-writer (Clara Royer) was a full-time academic at the Sorbonne; and that Rӧhrig (who described himself as a professional—“a professional poet”) had previously appeared only in two episodes of a Hungarian mini-series. That press conference was enthralling, and unforgettable for the breadth and depth of its discourse, as well as for the civilized wit summoned by it subjects as they answered Gavin Smith’s questions. press conference

embrace of serpentNo less intelligent, but in an entirely different style and intent, Embrace of the Serpent (director/writer Ciro Guerra) is an original and thrilling marriage of reality and fantasy played out in two 20th-century time frames, magic realism based on the accounts of two European explorers who pierced the Amazon forests, contemplated the natives who had survived brutal exploitation, and did their best to understand both the ecological and spiritual cultures so at odds with their own. The film is hypnotic, full of mystery, and mostly in black and white, which seems to enhance its purpose. http://variety.com/2015/film/festivals/film-review-the-embrace-of-the-serpent-1201510916/.

mustang_poster_285The sheer energy and courage of the five young women in Mustang capture your heart and your sympathy from the opening scenes at a beach frolic to the arc of their destinies as their family tries to marry them off and control them in the interim. The progressive constraint takes its toll, yet the two youngest and fiercest of the sisters are able to escape bleak lives and create a future with a truly dazzling and intrepid escape. A first-time feature directed and co-written by a woman (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, with co-writer Alice Winocour), Mustang is a soaring tribute to what is possible for those who are determined enough to take chances. The traditions here are definitely worth pushing against.

a warA War: yes, a man’s film that speaks to women as well, by director/writer Tobias Lindholm, whose style is defined by a pared-down aesthetic without one ounce of fat; it’s all about the story and the characters who tell it. Starring Pilou Asbaek as a Danish soldier in Afghanistan, it is a riveting, intense up-to-the-minute account of an unwinnable war, responsibility, and the effect of trauma and confusion on the soldiers and their families; the consequences do not fade with time and distance. Lindholm has many films to his credit, notably A Hijacking and screenplay credit for The Hunt, and seems to have been born to prove that less is always more.

theebTheeb: 

http://www.filmfestivals.com/blog/laura_blum

 

No matter which contender walks off with the prize tonight, all five films offer a command of filmmaking as art and craft. They remain required viewing for everyone who cares about the medium and for what it can accomplish with imagination, inspiration, commitment, and (to use an overused word) vision strong enough to stay the course

Go forth and see them!

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Cooper’s London

February 28, 2016

Books

Mel snapshot 19

 

 

The Reader’s Reader

Latest Readings (Clive James),
Yale University Press

Years ago, Clive James was a very entertaining journalist and TV personality in the UK. I’m not sure how far his writings or TV shows penetrated the USA, but in on this side of the pond he was a major, much-loved star. In 2010 he was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. Despite the shock, he decided to fill his time with reading and re-reading. Still entertaining, and in a series of cogent, brief essays, James reports back to us from these experiences and shares his insights with inimitable charm. As ever, he is decidedly witty, at times hilariously funny, and always clear in his understanding and recommendations. His Latest Readings is also a great place to pick up tips for your own reading, reactions and interpretations.

clive james1Along the way, James also takes you with him on the journey of his illness so far. For example:

Among the disadvantages of COPD, which used to be called emphysema, is a susceptibility to chest infections. Despite one’s daily intake of antibiotics, different bacteria keep arriving from all directions, eager to squat. One day I was checking in at the hospital for a routine clinic, and my temperature was deemed to be too high for me to go home. I spent ten days in the pulmonary ward, while the fever turned into pneumonia. … But meanwhile the problem of boredom loomed. I staved it off by re-reading Lord Jim, a copy of which, along with the usual epics about swords and dragons, was on the library cart which a very sweet and obviously fulfilled senior female volunteer was wheeling around the wards. … I remembered it as a boring book. I suppose I had a plan to stave off one kind of boredom with another, as a kind of inoculation. On the strength of this long-delayed second reading, the book struck me as no more exciting than it had once seemed, but as a lot more interesting. I had long known Conrad to be a great writer: on the strength of Under Western Eyes alone, he would have to be ranked high among those English writers – well, Polish writers resident in England – who, dealing with eastern Europe, analyzed the struggle between the imbecility of autocracy and the imbecility of revolution. But on the strength of my earlier memories, I didn’t see Lord Jim as part of that international historical picture. Now, reading a few pages at a time as I lay fitfully on a sweat-soaked sheet while my fever refused to break, I could see that I had been laughably wrong about Conrad’s most famous book for the whole of my reading life. An international historical picture is exactly what it exemplifies.”

Okay, analyse that! Note: the humour; the wry tone; the bits of autobiography; the luring you into thinking seriously about Conrad; the implication of the fun to be had; the irony; the lack of self pity; the straight stating of the facts; the conversational authorial tone. The whole book is at this level; and the whole book is a total delight made poignant by knowing the Clive James has a terminal illness and that he’s sharing some of his intellectual interests with you. His taste is eclectic; his choices of book sometimes surprising (Sir David Fraser’s biography of Alanbrooke? David Halberstam’s The Powers That Be? his taste for reading about American politics?) but he covers a considerable number of classic authors as well.

Like his old TV criticism, the essays feel personal, somewhat demotic, and very direct. The cumulative effect of this book is to make you want to follow Clive James’s reading list and to admire and share his joy of living. His intellect and insights are remarkably appealing.

The book is simply excellent; there isn’t a dud essay in it, not an essay that doesn’t make you want to read the volume he’s talking about for yourself;clive james 2not an essay that isn’t informative as well as enthusiastic. Recently, James commented that he almost had to apologize to his readers for continuing to survive beyond the original expiration date. Well, I can only hope that he survives a lot longer for all the right reasons and also so that he can produce at least ten more sequels! You could do a lot worse than forming a book club to read all the books that he covers in this charming tome.

Apollo’s Girl

February 23, 2016

Film

apollo and lyre

 

 

In the Library…

The Festival of Films on Art will be performing its annual miracle in Montreal (March 10 -20, 2016), with dozens of films from dozens of fifa logocountries on every conceivable aspect of the arts.
Imagination is key here; you can expect the unexpected, the cutting edge, and the retrospective glories of yesteryear screening side-by-side for almost two weeks. This is FIFA’s 34th season under Director Rene Rozon’s 
skillful hands, pulling international bold-face names and discoveries out of his bountiful hat.

hepburnFIFA is also a movable feast: its best films tour the world when the festival ends. Right now, in New York at Lincoln Center’s Library for the Performing Arts, you can behold last year’s treasures, with selections from Katherine Hepburn to the design genius of the Vignellis; Bill Viola’s video art; dance with diaghilevDiaghilev; and finally Jonas Kaufman doing songs from 1930s Berlin. Best of all: the programs (mostly Tuesdays at 2:30 til March 1) kaufmanare free, in the Library’s Bruno Walter Auditorium.
Details at: http://www.musefilm.org/events/2015/12/9/2016-fifa-festival-of-films-on-art

As of March 1st, go to www.artfifa.com for a complete rundown of the Mother Ship’s upcoming slate and related events in Montreal; many filmmakers will be there for discussions and Q & As, and—if you don’t know this already, make sure you make it part of your plan—there’s always the glory of Montreal’s restaurants and history. You can fly, of course (it’s only a little over an hour) or, if you like matchless scenery, take Amtrak’s Adirondack at 8:15 AM and arrive in time for dinner. Catch the Hudson River, the upstate forests, and Lake Champlain on your way north. It’s definitely a cool trip…

Cooper’s London

February 17, 2016

Books/Dance/Film

Mel snapshot 19

 

On Her Toes…


Taking Flight
:
From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
Michaela and Elaine DePrince, Ember (Paperback)

deprince4Before she was five Michaela DePrince had survived a civil war in Sierra Leone that led to the deaths of her biological parents (her father was murdered by rebel soldiers, her mother starved to death soon after); life as a refugee; life in a dysfunctional orphanage; being a witness to the brutal butchery by rebel troops of the pregnant teacher who had awakened her intellectual curiosity; and a flight from marauding armies. She was then adopted by extraordinary, loving and understanding Americans (Elaine and Charles DePrince) who took her and her best friend, Mia, to New Jersey together and changed their lives. Michaela DePrince (who has just turned 21) was only 19 when she wrote this memoir with the help of her mother. She wondered if it was premature to undertake the task, but the story she has to tell is of wide interest. The book is now being released in paperback; it’s worth serious attention and I hope it will find, in this new format, the very large audience it deserves.

Michaela describes how she had to adjust to a whole new world and was brought up in some affluence and comfort when she arrived in the USA. But also, as she grew older, was a target of the bigotry that can exist not only in white American society but also in the world of dance to which she aspired. She writes so simply and directly that the impact of her experiences is all the stronger.

michaela060509_400x300There’s much that one can say about this touching book, particularly that it seems easy to read, and persistently awakens and addresses very difficult questions about the state of the world in which we all live. Michaela’s reflections on Sierra Leone, America and beyond are haunting for many reasonsnot least the almost magical yet real aspect of her wishing to become a ballerina as a very young child. This obsession or dream developed from the time the wind blew an old ballet magazine to her during a storm in Sierra Leone when she was about four; she became entranced by the image of the ballerina en pointe on the cover. Fate? Serendipity?

Her memoir raises the question of inborn talent and capacity versus opportunity and the nurturing of talent. This little girl has now achieved the hard-earned recognition that promises entry to a fine career, but has also benefited from the sheer luck of the draw. First she had to survive; and then she had to be found by caring, concerned people who could take her to a place where her talent could be understood, appreciated and encouraged. How much talent of all sorts is being wasted all over the world today by war, desolation and famine and the absence of cultural opportunities?deprince1

Michaela, was born Mabinty Bangura, but as Michaela DePrince became one of the subjects of the excellent documentary about the training of young children in dance, First Position (http://www.balletdocumentary.com/official-trailer/) . She has gone on to work with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and is, at this time, with the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. Refused a child’s part in The Nutcracker when she was eight years old because (in the opinion of a casting director), America was not ready for a black girl ballerina yet, and also one suffering from the vitiligo that disfigured her skin for years. Michaela’s is an inspirational story in print and on film. It also gives us some unusual and important insights into the world of pain, discipline and devotion behind those dream performances of ballet. 

Finally, because of its straightforward approach and clear prose style, this book is an ideal gift for young people and, like the Diary of Anne Frank, a moving and emblematic tale. In America the book is called Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. In the UK, it’s Hope in a Ballet Shoe. With either title, its author has done us all a service by sharing her story.

Apollo’s Girl

February 13, 2016

FILM

apollo and lyre

 

 

A Festival of Festivals

When the two screens and amphitheater of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Center were added to the one-screen capacity of the Walter Reade, it was clear that programming at the Film Society would expand to fill the spaces. A quick tour of the Society’s Web pages (http://www.filmlinc.org/) confirms that its schedule has ramped up to embrace not only a full-time festival lineup, but compelling sidebars, symposia, and special events to go with it. 

dance on camera 2016Starting now, we’ve got Dance on Camera (February 12-17); Film Comment Selects (February 17-24); Oliviera’s Tetrology of Frustrated Love (February 25-28); Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (March 3-13); Golden Days: The Films of Arnaud Desplechin (March 11-17); New Directors/New Films (March 16-27); Bring Me the Head of Sam Peckinpah, a lavish retrospective ( March 31-April 7); and The Art of the Real in April. 

The wide-ranging schedule of Dance on Camera always draws the usual devotees and often makes enthusiasts out of first-time viewers who are simply curious about the possibilities of motion. One recurring theme is the importance of passing the torch, as celebrated dancers focus on inspiring the up-and-coming.

gaonasThe Flight Fantastic keeps your heart in your mouth as the Flying Gaonas make their death-defying moves in the air, spinning and swooping above gasping crowds in the tent below. Bessie: a Portrait of Bessie Schonberg reveals a dance legendthe woman whose real  vocation appeared when, as a young dancer in the Martha Graham Company, she was injured too seriously to bessiebe able to continue as a performer. But there is no question about her quiet genius as a teacher, and especially as a supportive muse for choreographers. “Space can be your friend, or your enemy; space IS!” she reminds them. At her 88th birthday party giants of the dance world come to thank her for what they have learned. She is filmed receiving their tributes, and guiding young dancemakers with a firm hand. “Pay your dancers!” she urges one student, and “It’s a dandy piece,” she tells another. In a discipline rife with emotion and shifting allegiances, she was the rock that kept them anchored to creation.

There are two programs of shorts from all over the world, rainerand some extraordinary feature-length pieces. Feelings are Facts: the Life of Yvonne Rainer presents the choreographer over her long career as she joins the non-conformists of the 1960s, defies tradition, experiments (“I was going to make something out of this recalcitrant, undancerly body and I was going to carve my own way”), and builds the unique style of “non-style” movement that won her a MacArthur Fellowship. Two films touch upon Cuba in very different ways: They are We traces the songs and dances of Sierra Leone that spread through Cuba they are weduring the slave trade and remained vital for generations; now the Cubans return to Africa to perform them for the descendants of the long-ago dispossessed and find instant recognition. Alicia Alonso’s star alonsopower and determination have produced the world-class Cuban National Ballet; in Horizontes/Horizons it is clear that its dancers will astound the world now that the long, bitter embargo of Cuba is coming to an end. There is another pairing very much required viewing: The Dance Goodbye, in which the New York City Ballet’s Merrill Ashley makes the transition from brilliant ballerina to ashleygifted teacher and coach, remarkable for her candor in expressing the pain and difficulty of a huge life change. On a smaller, more private scale, Enter the Faun features two remarkable people: choreographer Tamar Rogoff and dancer Gregg Mozgala. They are as honest about their journey as Ashley is about hers, and as articulate. But theirs is a very different trip: Mozgala has suffered from cerebral faun
palsy most of his life and had gone (he thought) as far as he could go with medical interventions and physiotherapy. Yet Rogoff (learning as she goes) works with Mozgala for a year on a dance piece and finds that he is gradually able to unlock his muscles and unleash his talent. Together, they manage to write a new chapter of possibilities for a creative future. And finally, Our Last Tango is a dance drama about a real couple (María NievesRego and Juan Carlos Copes). Truly artful (in the best sense of the word), it mixes together their interviews (here again honesty is key, and emotions run high) with archival footage of their turbulent marriage and evolution as tangodancers. There are segments of their enormously successful Broadway hit, Tango Argentino, plus rehearsal-room footage of coaching young dancers in their own repertoire. In lesser hands than German Kral’s it might have turned into chaos. Instead, it burns with a gemlike flame from beginning to end and keeps you as hot as the material.

When ordering tickets, be sure to check the schedule carefully for the many personal appearances and related events, usually sold out. Calendar and tickets


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