The Heart of the World by Guy Maddin

Guy Maddin’s dreamlike and often surreal films are mostly in black and white and contain a lot of echoes of films of the 20ies and 30ies. He is mostly known for his feature film The Saddest Music in the World (2003), featuring a mesmerising Isabelle Rossellini, and his personal documentary vision of his home town My Winnipeg (2007) . Maddin also made a lot of experimental short films.

The Heart of the World was made in 2000. For the 25th anniversary of the Toronto Film Festival, several directors were asked to create a short film that would be screened prior to feature films during the festival. When Maddin heard that other directors planned films with a small number of shots (Cronenberg’s Camera for example has less than sixty shots in its nearly 6’40 minutes), he planned to make a film with about 100 shots a minute.

This film not only features lots of characteristics inspired by silent film and early sound film, such as the experimental camera angles, irises to focus or blend, actors either over-acting, either under-acting. The film was also digitally manipulated to give it the look of an old and fading print, and last but not least, this fascinating short film is full of allusions and references to German expressionism as Murnau’s Metropolis or Von Sternberg’s Der blaue Engel ; surrealist film as Dali & Buñuel’s Un chien andalou ; or Lotte Reiniger’s shadow animation. The most explicit one – and mentionned by Maddin himself – is the connection with Russian constructivism. This reminiscence of Russian constructivism is enhanced by the use of music by the Russian composer Georgy Sviridov (1915-1999). The theme used here was written for the film Time, Forward!, a Russian propagandistic drama film from 1965, and became a sort of calling card for the Soviet Union itself. Since 1986 it was used as the signature tune of Vremya, the TV news program on USSR Central Television and Russian Channel One.  Filmic influences from Russian constructivism are also palpable, from Eisenstein’s dialectic montage in Potemkin to Vertov’s The Man With the Movie Camera and Pudovkin’s Mother for example, and most of all the proto-science-fiction of Aelita, a 1924 film by Iakov Protazanov that in its turn inspired Murnau’s Metropolis.

As such, The Heart of the World not only functions as a fine introduction to Maddin’s universe, but as a condensed trip into film history as well.

From Herbie Hancock to Daft Punk

Great was my surprise lately when I heard Herbie Hancock’s album Directstep (1978) for the first time. In the second half of the seventies, Hancock was not only touring with V.S.O.P., essentially the fabulous Miles Davis Quintet from ’64-’69 (Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams on drums and Wayne Shorter on saxophone) with Freddie Hubbard instead of Miles on trumpet. In the same period, Hancock also released a very beautiful duet album with Chick Corea, and experimented with pop, funk and disco on albums such as this Sunlight (1978) and Mr. Hands (1982). Directstep is such a pop-jazz crossover album. It was originally only released in Japan and was one of the first albums to be released on CD. For this album, Hancock re-recorded the track I Thought It Was You from Sunlight, turning its sound even more in an electronic direction than on the first recording.

 

Impossible not to think of Daft Punk’s The Game of Love from Random Access Memories (2013):

It’s not only the use of the vocoder that creates an echo of Hancock. Rhythm, bass, melody, it all contains clear echoes from Hancock – too close to be pure luck. Even the part of Daft Punk’s text “and it was you” sounds almost like Hancock’s line “I thought it was you”.

Actually, it’s no surprise, since Random Access Memories features many echoes from that time period, becoming very explicit in the track Giorgio by Moroder, featuring Giorgio Moroder who made extensive use of the vocoder on the albums Einzelganger (’75) and From Here to Eternity (’77).

But in the case of The Game of Love, Daft Punk should have credited Hancock too, or change the title of the track into The Game of Herbie, or Herbie by Daft Punk.

 

ps: Too nice to withold: Hancock continued to play games, as can be heard in the eighties hit Rockit, according to wikipedia the first popsingle that featured scratching.

m&m colors

I didn’t print any photograph on paper for more than two years. As I still like the physical touch and because looking at a picture on paper is different from watching a screen, I’m browsing through thousands of stills, selecting some for a print order.

As such, I stumbled upon these pictures taken in London in 2012. On Leicester Square I stumbled upon a building devoted to m&m merchandising. I did not go inside (I wouldn’t know why), but the changing lights on outside of the building inspired me to take these colorful abstract pictures.

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This version of Way To Blue by Nick Drake, solo on piano (the version on Five Leaves Left, 1969, also features strings) suits well with all this blue…

The Poetry of Francesca Woodman

The exhibition WOMAN. The Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s  at Bozar, Brussels, features a beautiful collection of images by Francesca Woodman.

To state the obious: her images are very poetic. To quote this nice article:

Taken between 1972 and 1981, Woodman’s photographs are almost all black-and-white and have a general softness of focus not often seen these days. They depict a world almost identical to the one captured by earlier generations of photographers, as if Woodman’s camera were a filter through which the neon clutter of contemporary life could not pass.

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I had seen images before, but never such a big collection (about 50 I guess). To see a multitude of her images, makes it an even more intense experience.

Her photographic language was one of subtility. Her nakedness expresses more fragility than temptation. Nothing seems forced, although a lot of pictures feature a sophisticated scenography. In these, Woodman often seemingly attempts to come into union with the desolate setting – be it the roots of a tree, inbetween the cracks of earth in a dry field, or a window or a door in a squat.  But if angel wings appear in the setting, she seems to run away from them. Or do they elevate her?

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What struck me the most is that these images, as good poetry, are delicately multilayered and open for interpretation, as the angel wings in the picture above.

Take this beautiful image for example, taken in Rome.

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At the exhibition, where the pictures were presented in 14 x 14 cm (5.5×5.5″) prints, I thought the object behind the corner was a stick and mask. As if Woodman had discarded a mask, or was dubious to put it on. Only at home, when browsing the internet and watching the image on my computer screen, I saw that it had nothing to do with masks. It is actually a Calla lilly (from the arum family). A beautiful white flower – the word kalla in ancient Greek means beautiful. Does the female figure wait for the flower to be handed over to her, or is she refusing it?

Reading about the origin of the name of the flower in Greek mythology, a first new layer opens:

The myth is that Zeus brought his mortal son Hercules to his wife Hera to nurse from her as she slept. Zeus wanted his son to have divine powers from drinking Hera’s milk, but because the child was from another woman, Hera flung Hercules away from her when she woke up. Her milk flew out through the universe to create the Milky Way, and a few drops fell to Earth, where beautiful white lilies sprung from the ground. In Roman mythology, Venus, the goddess of love and lust, saw the flowers, and in a fit of jealousy over their beauty, she made them grow a large pistil in their center.

When looking at the symbolism of this flower, the picture becomes even more intriguing:

The calla lily was by the Romans in association with the winter solstice. The lilies were forced to bloom indoors during the darkest time of year to celebrate the preservation of the light and bringing the light indoors. Calla lilies were often associated with funerals, only later to become a popular wedding flower.

The lily was a sacred flower to the Minoans and also prized among the ancient Jews. In Christian iconography, the flower came to represent purity and chastity. In contrast with this, the flower’s large spadix, a phallic flower stalk containing many male (pistillate) and female flowers, was symbolic of lust and sexuality among the Romans. As mentioned above, calla lilies have been viewed as a symbol of death and associated with funerals. In this capacity, they have been placed on the graves of youth who have suffered untimely deaths.

Purity and chastity but also lust and sexuality; winter, death, but also rebirth:

The calla lily plays a role in the Christian Easter service as a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection. In many paintings and other works of art throughout history, the calla lily has been depicted with the Virgin Mary or Angel of Annunciation. For this reason, it has been associated with holiness, faith and purity. Additionally, as the cone-line flowers blossom in spring, they have become symbols of youth and rebirth.

(…) they are traditional symbols of divinity, marital bliss and true devotion. More specifically, the calla lily marks the 6th wedding anniversary. However, they have also been used at funerals to represent sympathy and the purification of a departed soul. The exquisite calla lily is an appropriate flower for any occasion that involves major transitions, rebirths and new beginnings.

All these multiple possibilities suit well with the figure of Francesca Woodman. For me, this picture has now become the symbol of the power of her images.

 

 

 

Miles Davis – Dingo

I finally saw Dingo, a film by Rolf De Heer from 1991 – the only feature film featuring Miles Davis (aka God) as a character and not only as a music performer.

A nice film about an Australian kid who is blown away by a surprise concert of Miles Davis (named Bill Cross in the film) and dreams all his life about playing trumpet with the musician who opened his ears and mind. As you could expect, this dream will not be reached without difficulties, but in the end…

It is not the film that blows you away – although it is a nice and entertaining movie – but the music and the look and voice of Miles take you to heaven. And his red trumpet :-)

Enjoy this fragment – and the music. It was about time I posted something on Miles Davis…

Ludwig: Consonant Music in a Dissonant Life

I’m proud to present a new essay, published in S. Stoppe (Ed.), Film in Concert : Film Scores and their Relation to Classical Concert Music (pp. 191-204). Glückstadt vwh Verlag Werner Hülsbusch. (available through amazon)

It focuses on the intertextual use of classical music (mostly Richard Wagner) in the film Ludwig (1972) by Luchino Visconti.

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Ludwig (Luchino Visconti, 1972) is an outstanding example of how the intertextual use of classical music can alter the perception of the movie. The film focuses on the decline of Ludwig II, king of Bavaria from 1864 to 1886, who ascends the throne at the age of 18, full of romantic ambition, but cannot realise his dreams because of his lack of vigour and due to social and political changes. The film’s visual splendour is striking, but makes it look like an empty mausoleum for a long gone king, as if Visconti created an homage to a waning aristocrat who isolated himself in a crucial historical period. But, looking at the figure of Wagner – whom Ludwig patronised – and the use of classical music, it becomes clear that Visconti is idolising Ludwig nor Wagner, but has a critical attitude towards both historical figures.

Through his music, Wagner wanted to express art’s mission in society, without sacrificing music as an independent form of expression. However, in the film Wagner is squeezed between the financial dependence of patronage to be able to create freely; Ludwig is trapped between his social and political role as a king in a changing public climate and his wish to live life as a dream. The contrast between the characters serves as a pointer that both Ludwig’s quest and Wagner’s ideals are doomed for failure. These reflections become solid statements when we look at the specific use of classical music in the film. Where the music of Schumann and Offenbach function as cheeky comments, both the choice and placement of fragments of Wagner’s operas are delicate and precise, and the music becomes the critical voice the movie mostly lacks on narrative and visual level. Wagner’s music in the film does not only symbolize the arrival of a new social and political area but also illustrates Ludwig’s shortage of decisiveness and lack of sense of reality. As such, it is used as part of a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ where different disciplines meet and reinforce each other.

The essay analyses the specific use of music in the film; for this blogpost, I’ll give one example as a glimpse of the article.

(more…)

Into the woods

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A log is a portion of a tree. At the end of a crosscut log — many of you know this — there are rings. Each ring represents one year in the life of the tree. How long it takes to a grow a tree! I don’t mind telling you some things. Many things I, I musn’t say. Just notice that my fireplace is boarded up. There will never be a fire there. On the mantelpiece, in that jar, are some of the ashes of my husband. My log hears things I cannot hear. But my log tells me about the sounds, about the new words. Even though it has stopped growing larger, my log is aware.

Log Lady intro to episode 28 from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

For all Log Lady intros, see wikiquote

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For more pictures, see flickr

Alvin Curran, Inner Cities

Dreaming while listening to Inner Cities from Alvin Curran, recorded by the Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle.

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The 6 hour musical cycle makes me feel in an open space, where human presence is reduced to abstract shadows and even the landscape becomes more a feeling than a place; defined by forms and colors rather than by lines or specific shapes or objects.

The composer Alvin Curran desribes the cycle on his own website as

I offer these disconnected autobiographical fragments like a drawer full of fossilized imprints to put you in the same position I am in now, attempting to connect the dots and tell you something, anything about the pieces on this set of CDs, maybe my best music.

In these Inner Cities there is no “drive-by” anything; there’s merely back alleys, empty lots full of stubborn weeds and clear sky, trails of memory which may or may not lead anywhere or even have relevance to the music at hand. The bottom line: these pieces are a set of contradictory etudes – studies in liberation and attachment, cryptic itineraries to the old fountain on the town square whence flows all artistic divination and groping for meaning in the dark.

Samples of this fascinating and very diverse cycle are featured on Curran’s website. I feel so free to upload one of these samples, part of the first piece, directly here.

Inner Cities 1 (Alvin Curran, played by Daan Vandewalle), Inner Cities CD set, 1:21

Strongly recommended!