“Russian Ark” gives one a vicarious historical tour of Russia

IMG20625

The Russian anti-gay propaganda law has made the country seem like a “no go zone” for me right now;  I presume that a western blogger with publicly available material on LGBT matters could be detained.  And an early chapter in my “Angel’s Brother” novel (Chapter 4) has a scene in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.  So the next best thing is film.  And perhaps the most important film ever shot about the museum is “Russian Ark“, by Alexander Sokurov.  I originally saw the film in 2002 (the year it came out) at the Landmark Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, on a big screen.  Recently, I bought the BluRay DVD from Anazon (distributor is Kino Lorber).

800px-Zimní_palác_(3)

The concept of the film (for example, as explained here)  is another interesting example of layering.  A ghost, the Marquis de Custine (Sergey Dreyden) comes awake and time-travels through the Hermitage, starting in the Winter Palace, reviewing all of Russian history (and meeting all the great public figures) up to the time of a great ball in 1913, before revolution would expropriate a lot of Czarist wealth.   The royal residence would be transformed into a museum in 1917, after a new government was in power. The ghost is accompanied by a “spy” dressed in black (Leonid Mozgovny).  The film digresses in the middle section, presenting a great hall reduced to rubble by WWII battles.

The presentation of Russian history would seem to rival that of the opening ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

IMG20095

The orchestra plays some music by Glinka toward the end.  At the very end of the film these is a ghostly, impressionistic image of the outdoor canal in ice, surrounded by fog.

The DVD includes a 43-minute short, “In One Breath“, explaining how the film was was shot in just one continuous take (ironically, a technique known from Alfred Hitchcock).

Wikipedia attribution link for 2008 image of Winter Palace by Dezidor (author Dezidor. CC 3.0 unported).

(Published Saturday Jan. 31, 2015 at 10 PM EST.)

In fifth grade, I was a “filmmaker”, so-to-speak

draw4

During a good part of the year 1954, when I was in fifth and then sixth grade, I developed an interesting hobby, “making movies.”  Actually, my cousin, one year older, and I drew “filmstrips” which at the time were an important media in the school systems.  We would have movies to write up, mostly black and white, and filmstrips, mostly history and social studies.  In fifth grade, I recall a BW movie about the Texas Republic, odd to be taught in Virginia. Gov. Perry would be pleased today.

draw9

Actually, the way we had handled “social studies” in fifth grade probably provided the inspiration.  We studied the geography of the continental United Stats in sections.  Each one of us would get assigned a state, and develop reports and drawings based on the state.  There were also project murals, little layouts (rather like model railroads without the trains) in the classroom.  I think I got Montana, not California,

In ninth grade (“General Education”), in 1958, we would do something similar with world geography.  I remember doing “Afghanistan” which turns out, now, to be oddly prescient.  I even picked it out, and the teacher said she knew that’s what I would pick.  Did we both read the future?  Maybe Iraq or Syria would seem more prescient now.

We each set up “home theaters” to show the filmstrips, and these consisted largely of manual scrolls as feeder and take-up reels for the drawings.   Sometimes we experimented with enlarging or altering the images with mirrors and magnifying lenses, a forerunner to Imax, maybe?

We even had an “Academy Awards”, I think around September, that ended in disaster.  We were kids.  Maybe we had two ceremonies.

Most of my filmstrips were based on specific places.  Over time, we built up drawing larger images, from “regular” to “Cinemascope” to “VistaVision”, to “Cinerama”, and finally “Cineramascope.”  Many of mine were drawings based on images in the 1950 World Book Encyclopedia.

I remember winning “Best Educational” with “The Land of the Bible”. These must have comprised pictures of the Holy Land.  At the time, I could not have cared about politics, about what was in Israel and what was on the West Bank, or possibly farther into Syria or even Iraq. Kids don’t care about other people’s religions or political affiliations until adults make them do so. But at age 11, I probably could not have grasped what the Holocausr had meant.  In fact, right now there is an outstanding IMAX film “Jerusalem” in museum auditoriums now (including Franklin Institute in Philadelphia).  We need something like a “Land of the Bible, Torah and Koran”, in Imax, without the politics.

I don’t remember the names of many of the other filmstrips.  I found a strip of “Alaska”:

Image 1

k4alaska

Image 2

alaska2

Image 3

alaska3

I made a few “horror” and “comedy” strips.  “One out of every six” was to be a horror film.  My contributions were “Squish” and “Sea Monsters”.  The first of these might have been inspired by “The Blob”.   For comedy, there was “Pie Face”, and I think a man “got it” from his wife in more ways than one, even including the razor.  In those days, movies weren’t supposed to present “real” romance or marriage.  (There was “Bloody Mary” in “South Pacific”, remember.)

There was one “movie” my mother detested.  I think it was something like “Old Maid” (maybe inspired by the card game), based on the idea that some women weren’t pretty enough to find husbands — remember a scene about that in “Gone with the Wind”?

Maybe it was something like “Other Men’s Women”, pre-code Hollywood.  Both this and “Maid” are in my Netflix queue to refresh “boyhood” memories.

Other images

WY:

draw1

CA:

draw2

UT:

draw3

SD:

draw5

CA:

draw6

AZ:

draw7

MT:

draw8

(First image is Mt. Rainier, WA);

After sixth grade, the summer of 1955, I and another friend would do fungo fantasy baseball in our backyards.  The Baltimore Orioles and St, Louis Cardinals won the pennants, and St. Louis would have won the “World Series”.  The Senators finished last.   Unfortunately, the paper records were tossed.  The Orioles had just moved to Baltimore from St. Louis in 1954, and the first season, much of the outfield at Memorial Stadium had no fence.

(Published: Jan. 29, 2015, 8:30 PM EST)

“Lilies”, a based on Bouchard’s play, was a quirky gay film in the 1990s and is now a musical

IMG_1168

Sometime in 1998 or 1999, while living in Minneapolis in the Churchill Apartments near the Mississippi River, I saw a bizarre gay film “Lilies“, directed by John Greyson, based on the play by French Canadian Michel Marc Bouchard.  I saw it at the Reading Theaters on the East Bank, in an old auditorium.  The Reading chain was a precursor to today’s Angelika theater chain.  At the time, it had showed mostly mainstream movies, but it showed this film from Alliance Atlantis.  The same theater previewed “Judas Kiss” at the Twin Cities LGBT film festival in 2011, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time to see it.

The film and play concept is layered. In 1952, a bishop (Michel Sabourin) visits a prison in Quebec.  The inmate locks him in, and makes him watch an embedded morality play in which the Bishop’s own involvement in a gay relationship, covered up, four decades before, is developed.   The structure of the film or stage play deserves study for anyone else (like me) developing a screenplay with a lot of embedded backstories.

There is a new production of the play as a musical in Belgium. (In Dutch or Flemish, the spelling is “Lelies“),

There is a 13-minute YouTube video, mostly in Dutch (a little German and a little English — Dutch is so close to “old” English you don’t need sutitles) with cast members chatting about the musical, and performing a few snippets, including the song “Go Back to Jail”.  (In Minneapolis, at a coffee bar off the Skyway, a friend who worked as an actor sometimes made a joke “Stay out of jail” to everyone after seeing this movie.)

I think the music is by Mychael Danna.  The chamber ensemble has a curious sound that mixes French humor with a little gentle Viennese expressionism, like Schoenberg unwould as tonal.

The cast includes Timo Descamps,  Matthew Michel, Hans Peter Janssens, and Aar Halici.

Flanders is well known as an independent film center (as with films from Strand Releasing). Although the “Dutch speaking part of Beligum”, to American travelers it seems like the rest of the Netherlands (and Belgium) for that matter.  I was last there in 2001.

The name of the theater in Antwerp, Belgium is apparently “Judas Theater Productions”, link here.

I would wonder if the musical will come to Quebec, and then to New York and Los Angeles and other cities (Minneapolis).

(Published Sunday Jan. 25, 2015 at 9:50 PM EST.)

“Being John Malkovich”: the idea of becoming someone else has been tried before (and not just during Advent)

IMG_7305

On November 30, 2014 Rev. Judith Fulp-Eichstaedt at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA started an advent series about getting into the mind of some of the characters leading to the Christmas story, with a sermon titled “Being Isaiah”. And she started out by a mini-review of the 1999 independent satire film “Being John Malkovich“, directed by Spike Jonze, from Gramercy Pictures

Here’s a short clip:

The story concerns a puppeteer, Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) who takes a job as a file clerk (a job about to become extinct) on a hidden floor, 7-1/2, in an office building, only 4 feet high, working with Lotte Scwartz (Cameron Diaz),  Craig finds a hidden door, and when sliding down the chute, he finds himself living inside the mind of actor John Malkovich (who plays himself, of course).  After a 15-minute simulation of being another person, the puppeteer gets ejected near the (divided) New Jersey Turnpike, in the days before Chris Christie’s deliberate traffic jams (and accidental overzealous gun control).

Needless to say, a story like this can explore “what it would be like” to have a relationship — if you really could be another person. Craig gets several tries at this experience, before it plays the usual games what we expect from the theory of relativity (he goes beyond the “Schwarzchild Radius”).

It’s one thing to wonder what it would be like to wake up on the morning of a critical day in your life years before, and “play the game” differently — like choosing a different subvariation in a critical chess game.  (Maybe stepping up to some kind of existential challenge to work with others on their terms when you really have to, as with a particular substitute teaching assignment in early 2005, link .)  But what I would relish, as an “old man”, is the chance to wake up and experience my body as it was at, maybe 24 (when I was in my best physical shape ever, after mandatory Army Basic Combat Training), and notice the things I’ve lost to “time” (as a fourth dimension), like leg and “pate” hair.

But waking up in someone else’s body, it he was an 18 year old Clark Kent (for perfection, try the market on another planet, like Gliese 581 G, thank you), would be cool.  Actually, though, this movie is about being inside someone’s mind.  So imagine waking up as “Clark” and knowing all his memories (from Krypton, or maybe a tidally locked perpetual-twilight Gliese planet), for maybe fifteen minutes or so — and then  — poof!  You vanish until the next session (or maybe wake up from a great dream and go back to being “you”).  One thing, about being Clark Kent, is that losing his “powers” even temporarily isn’t cool (see this blog Jan. 7, 2014).

Actually, in my novel “Angel’s Brother” something like this happens to some people, because of bizarre virus that encapsulates a micro black hole  (see this blog June 9, 2014).

One irony is that, of practically all the A-listers  Hollywood (March 4, 2014), John Malkovitch could best play ME as I am now.  And I am working on just the right script for “moi” (July 17. 2014).

And don’t forget, Mark Zuckerberg is an alien.

But he is too young for John Malkovich to play.

 

(Published: Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 at 3 PM EST.)