Monday, 28 July 2014

MOVIE MONDAY - THE MAJESTIC


“If I made Cinderella, the audience would be looking out for a body in the coach.” - Alfred Hitchcock

For Movie Monday today, I am reviewing the 2001 Frank Darabont film The Majestic. Jim Carrey, Martin Landau and Laurie Holden are the leads and they are joined by a cast of other talented actors for this movie, which was very enjoyable. Not a great movie, we thought, but a very good one nonetheless and well worth watching.

Jim Carrey plays an aspiring scriptwriter, Peter Appleton, living in Hollywood during the 1950’s. Just as his life seems to be coming together, he is suspected of being a Communist as he had joined a leftist student group in his College days to impress a girlfriend. His whole life is thrown into disarray and his career seems certain to founder. Having had a few too many drinks to drown his sorrows, he gets into a freak car accident and suffers amnesia. He is washed up on the sleepy shores of a small Californian town. He is identified as the son of the local cinema owner, who is believed to have died in action in Europe in WWII. In his amnesiac state he adopts this identity and just as his life seems to be getting back to normal, he is confronted with an image that brings back his memory…

The film looks at the questions of who are we, as individuals and as a society. It deals with what we consider “appropriate” and “honourable” and whether we can hold onto the ideals that we set for ourselves as personal goals and how these correlate with the ideas of society. When is expediency and discretion better than heroism and standing firm on what we believe to be true. Is there nobility in self-sacrifice to uphold these personal ideals? Or should in fact self-preservation kick in and we stay silent and observe societal “rules”, conforming to what si expected of us? Sure enough, some of these are heavy concepts, but the film does well in dealing with some of them, while at the same time remaining engaging.

Darabont is an interesting director and he has some popular and well-reviewed films under his belt (“The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile”). With this film he also has quite a great deal to say, although in parts he does scrape the bottom of the barrel and panders to sentimentality and thinly veiled patriotism/chauvinism (disguised as high-flown idealism). Nevertheless, the film was entertaining and despite its length (150 minutes or so) was pleasant enough to watch.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

ART SUNDAY - RUDOLF HAUSNER


“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” - AlbertEinstein

Rudolf Hausner  (Vienna, December 4, 1914 – February 25, 1995) was a major Austrian artist of the “Fantastic Realism” style. He studied art at the Academy in Vienna from 1931 to 1936 and also travelling widely in England, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt. Many of his early paintings were confiscated and branded as ‘degenerate’ by the ruling Nazi party in 1938. In 1941 Hausner was drafted by the German army and remained a soldier until the war's end in 1945.

After the war he returned to Vienna and immersed himself in studies dealing with the unconscious and with the art of Surrealists, particularly that of Max Ernst. He co-founded the Viennese School of Fantastic Realism in 1947, and in the 1950’s and 1960’s this became one of Austria’s most important art movements, with Hausner its most influential proponents. During this time he also held principal teaching posts at the academies of Vienna and Hamburg.

In 1957, Hausner painted his first “Adam” picture. He came into conflict with the Surrealist orthodoxy that condemned as heretical his attempt to give equal importance to both conscious and unconscious processes. In 1962, Hausner met Paul Delvaux, René Magritte, Victor Brauner, and Dorothea Tanning while travelling in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. The 1st Burda Prize for Painting was awarded to him in 1967. In 1969, he was awarded the Prize of the City of Vienna. Shortly after, he separated from Hermine Jedlicka and moved to Hietzing together with his daughter Xenia and Anne Wolgast, whom he had met in Hamburg.

From 1966 until 1980, he was a guest professor at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg. He also taught at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Among his students were Joseph Bramer, Friedrich Hechelmann, Gottfried Helnwein, F. Scott Hess, Michael Engelhardt, and Siegried Goldberger. Hausner was awarded the Austrian State Prize for Painting in 1970.

Equally gifted as a painter, lithographer and etcher, Hausner’s complex art is based upon potent symbols and imagery. Primary among these is the constantly recurring image of the first man, Adam, who is part autobiographical and part archetypal. Another compelling image is that of the man or boy in a sailor’s cap. Hausner claimed that this image symbolised the myth of Odysseus and his epic voyages on the seas. It also, however, is representative of the artist’s own boyhood and the integrated relationships of youth and age within the self. As with all of Hausner’s monumental works of art, the elements within Adam Bei Sich demand a lifetime of contemplation and study.

The painting above is “Odysseus’ Ark” painted in 1948. The man in the sailor’s cap is the Odysseus of Greek myth, or perhaps the artist himself who is travelling through his own odyssey through his life. The right side of the image is taken up by a projection of the interior of the “ark” in which are found collected all of the artist’s “baggage”. A miscellany of images, symbols, things and people, exploding from the artist’s mind and populating the ark. The image hides both wonders and horrors. It is full of both optimism and pessimism, hop for the future and the terrors of the past war.

More of his paintings can be found here:

Saturday, 26 July 2014

MUSIC SATURDAY - MENDELSSOHN'S VIOLIN CONCERTO

“When you play a violin piece, you are a storyteller, and you’re telling a story.” - Joshua Bell

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847), born and widely known as Felix Mendelssohn, was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. A grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn was born into a prominent Jewish family, although initially he was raised without religion and was later baptised as a Reformed Christian.


Mendelssohn was recognised early as a musical prodigy, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his talent. Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in his travels throughout Europe. He was particularly well received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, and his ten visits there – during which many of his major works were premiered – form an important part of his adult career. His essentially conservative musical tastes, however, set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz.


The Leipzig Conservatoire (now the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig), which he founded, became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook. Mendelssohn wrote symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano music and chamber music. His best-known works include his “Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the “Italian Symphony”, the “Scottish Symphony”, the overture “The Hebrides”, his mature “E minor Violin Concerto”, and his “String Octet”. His “Songs Without Words” are his most famous solo piano compositions. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality has now been recognised and re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era.


Here is a phenomenal performance by Janine Jansen of the Violin Concerto in E minor op, 64 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (at the BBC Proms). There is written commentary as it was originally aired by BBC that outlines the major features of the work.

FOOD FRIDAY - DEATH BY CHOCOLATE

“When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.” - Regina Brett

Chocoholics of the world unite! Today, a recipe for the ultimate chocolaty cookies that will satisfy the most demanding chocoholic!


Death By Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients
225 g cooking chocolate
225 g chocolate chips
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Method

Heat oven to 180˚C. Position the oven racks in the middle of the over or if there are multiple racks of cookies going in, put one rack in the bottom third and one rack in the top third of the oven.
Microwave the cooking chocolate in a large microwavable bowl with the butter on High for 1-2 minutes.
Stir until chocolate/butter mixture is melted and smooth. Stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix until smooth
Add the baking powder to the flour and mix. Then add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture. Stir until smooth.
Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.
Line cookie sheet with greased baking paper. Drop by tablespoon onto greased cookie sheet.
Bake 8 minutes on bottom rack. Then rotate the rack and move to the top rack and cook for an additional 8 minutes.
Cookies are done when they are puffed and feel set to the touch. It might require additional baking back on the bottom rack. You need to really watch the bottom baking to make sure you don’t burn your cookies.
Cool on cookie sheet 1 minute. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Please link your recipe ideas here:

Thursday, 24 July 2014

ON CELEBRATIONS & GIFT-GIVING

“A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.” - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

The celebration of special days has always been a feature of human society. There is an overwhelming need to mark the year out, as the seasons advance and single out the feasts as red-letter days when celebrations are de rigueur. It is yet another of the human traits that separates us from animals and contributes to our essentially gregarious nature. All days are not the same, routine is interrupted, the constant drudgery of work and toil is broken up by a feast.

Religious holidays used to reign supreme in the past, but they are only one of these celebrations. Other anniversaries, seasonal feasts, birthdays, national days, commemorations, all play an important role in our life and lessen the boredom of everyday routine. They provide a means of breaking up the year into smaller blocks and give us a chance to mark several important highlights that we may look forward to as the year progresses.

Celebrations also provide ready enough excuses to catch up with friends and relatives, strengthening our ties and sharing our joys. Gift-giving is associated with these festivities and the special pleasure that this gift exchange gives us makes our celebrations all the more important to us. To give a gift is often a greater pleasure than to receive it and I certainly get a great deal of satisfaction from selecting the right gift for a certain person, wrapping it and then presenting it to them, waiting for their face to change (hopefully!) from surprise to appreciation to pleasure.

In recent times the giving of gifts has greatly overshadowed the other important social aspects of celebratory days. Our consumer-driven society looks for excuses to entice people to spend money and buy “stuff” – gifts. Often gifts that are expensive, but oh, so often useless or pointless. Gift-giving is what celebrating means to most people. Most celebrations have now been converted into consumer-fests where we are persuaded to spend as much as possible and buy as much as we possibly can… Another of the traits of our throw-away, consumer, capitalistic society and not a particularly attractive one at that.

However, gifts are not the be-all and end-all and many times, token gifts or hand-made ones are even more important than the expensive store-bought variety. I certainly appreciate them more when I receive them. This of course goes against what the stores would have us think. 

A gift to someone special doesn’t always have to be a physical “thing”. Time spent with someone we love can be the most precious gift. A cordial conversation over a shared meal, a tête-a-tête over a cup of coffee, a pleasant walk in a park are all precious gifts that we can give or receive with joy. But perhaps, even more so are the gifts we give to strangers. Kindness freely given to strangers make the world a better place. Love and compassion freely given not only benefit others, but benefit the giver also. While we may give of ourselves today, tomorrow we may need others’ gift to us.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

POETRY JAM - TRASH OR TREASURE?


“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” – English Proverb

Poetry Jam's topic for this week is: “Think of something that was trash/junk to you and a treasure to someone else, or vice versa – someone else’s trash/junk as your treasure. Write a poem about the experience.” Here is my offering:

Keepsakes

A closed drawer opened:
A dirty, crumpled envelope;
A dried-up mouldy flower;
A piece of faded fabric torn;
A Cracker Jack ring made of tin;
And a little stone heart, broken.
All trash; they were thrown out.

All trash; they were thrown out,
With other junk found all about
In house locked up in silence,
Disturbed by renovator’s violence.

A dirty, crumpled envelope;
That holds a treasured note,
Where words of tender hope
With love you fondly wrote.

A dried-up mouldy flower;
Once cut with sweet affection
In rosy, fragrant secret bower,
To mark our joy’s perfection.

A piece of faded fabric torn;
From summer dress then worn,
My finger’s wound to stanch –
Caused by the thorny branch.

A Cracker Jack ring made of tin;
Given in earnestness of youth,
Was good enough your heart to win,
Its tinny falsity concealing truth.

And a little stone heart, broken –
That signals doom, betrayal
Of vows of love then spoken
And of our play’s inept portrayal…

Our story’s ended, new ones start
With players fresh and young of heart,
Not mindful of the sad portent
Of closed drawer opened.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

THE STIGMA OF CANCER

“Death is not the worst evil, but rather when we wish to die and cannot.” Sophocles

Last weekend we visited some friends and had afternoon tea with them. The company was pleasant, the food agreeable, the conversation lively, laughter plentiful and time passed very quickly indeed. To share some food with friends while talking about everything and nothing is one the choicest pleasures in life. I revelled especially in their company because one of them is recovering from cancer. The treatment knocked him about a little and the big “C” is always a word to sober one, but we are all confident that he is well over the worse of it and he will be fully cured.

Cancer affects one in every three persons born in developed countries and is a major cause of sickness and death in the world. The disease has been described since ancient times, but until recently, it used to be death sentence. Significant improvements in cancer treatment have been made since the middle of the 20th century, mainly through a combination of timely and accurate diagnosis, selective surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy with drugs. Such advances actually have brought about a decrease in cancer deaths (at least in developed countries), and grounds for further optimism are seen in laboratory investigations into elucidating the causes and mechanisms of the disease.

Cancer is no longer the dreaded fatal disease that people in the past called the “accurséd blight”. One is diagnosed and treated for cancer nowadays and in many cases is cured of their disease. In fact, some cancers have a much better prognosis than other, non-cancerous disorders. For example, a woman with cancer of the breast has a better chance of surviving her disease with better quality of life than a patient with cirrhosis of the liver, one of the consequences of alcohol abuse. My point is that being diagnosed with cancer this day and age is like being diagnosed with any other disease and if one maintains a good, positive attitude, has all the recommended treatments and is sensible about their regime and lifestyle, in most cases one can conquer one’s disease. Cancer should carry no stigma, as was very much the case in the past.

And yet, one of the clouds on the sunny day of the lunch with my friends was a little comment made during its course, that was said casually, as if it didn’t really matter: “Thanks for being here, it’s good to see you being here as if nothing had changed. We’ve missed quite a few of our friends ever since we told them about the cancer.” I laughed and replied, that of course nothing had changed… Initially, the import of the comment eluded me, but a couple of moments later I realised what he had meant. Some of their friends had been alienated by the concept of him suffering from the dreaded disease. They saw him as a man doomed, a “moriturus”, hence their reluctance to come and visit. Amusement battled with anger, bemusement with annoyance, astonishment with pity, all directed against these stupid people!

Of course nothing had changed in my relationship with my friends, or perhaps something had changed. The frequency of my visits, which I would endeavour to make more frequent. Even more than before I need to make my friend with cancer understand that he is the same person, he is my friend and I will do all in my power to give him any support he needs during this time of crisis. He needs me more than before now, perhaps. Stay away because he is sick? What a ridiculous concept! Stigmatise him? This day and age?

Underlying this of course, is the fear that many people harbour of death. Cancer is still equated in most people’s minds with doom, death and demise. Most people in the West have so divorced themselves from the idea of death and dying that to be near someone who is dying or dead is a repulsive idea. But this is another big topic to be considered at a later time…

Monday, 21 July 2014

MOVIE MONDAY - NEVERWAS


“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.” - Iris Murdoch

We watched a quirky and quite enjoyable film at the weekend, which was interesting because it was a fantasy film but with its feet firmly planted in reality. While we expected it to follow the likes of the Narnia Chronicles () or something like “Stardust this was a poignant story with a believable plot and the twists supplied by explanations based on psychology. The 103-minute film is Joshua Michael Stern’s 2005 “Neverwas starring Aaron Eckhart, Ian McKellen, John Hurt, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Brittany Murphy. Stern also wrote the screenplay.

Gabriel (Ian McKellan) is a hospitalised mental health patient whose terrors of childhood abuse have driven him away from society and into the forest in a fantasy realm called ‘Neverwas’. Zach (Aaron Eckhardt) is a psychiatrist who leaves a promising academic career in a prestigious institution to take a position in a small independent mental hospital where his celebrated writer and father Tom (Nick Nolte) was committed. While there, Zach encounters Gabriel, who recognizes Zach as the child of Tom’s ‘Neverwas’ book. Haunted by the story of Zach Small, the boy hero of his father’s best seller children’s book, Zach attempts to bring peace to the troubled minds of the mental patients and understand the clues which Gabriel delights in leaving for him.

In the process, Zach evaluates the troubled relationship he had with his father, comes to term with his father’s early death and heals his relationship with his eccentric mother (Jessica Lange). Zach tries to piece together a route of discovery, to what ‘Neverwas’ really is, despite night terrors, and maniacal enchantment. He is helped in this by fellow seeker, Maggie (BrittanyMurphy), an attractive reporter and fan of the ‘Neverwas’ book. Together, they search to find the truth, and in the process outwit the system of stifling bureaucratic medicine, legal blockades, and commercial exploitation of ‘Neverwas’ through following Gabriel’s clues.

The film outlines some mental conditions (although it is not meant to be a documentary about them, nor is it a comprehensive psychiatric vade mecum) and explores the way in which these conditions can impinge upon the lives of families and how they can have long-term effects as children who grow up with parents who struggle with mental illness. The fantasy element is well-handled and if one’s expectations of the film are not misplaced (this is not a fantasy film per se), one can enjoy it immensely. If you watch this film expecting sorcery, dragons, magic and lots of special effects you will be disappointed.

The performances are excellent and McKellen and Eckhart have a good chemistry together. Hurt is his usual self, although his role is relatively small. Nolte and Lange play supporting roles, but they do these with aplomb. The characters are not only believable and one can relate tot hem, they evoke the viewer’s sympathy, and one truly hopes that good things will happen to them after what they have been through. Ian McKellen’s performance shines, while Aaron Eckhart’s performance as a man seeking answers to the mysteries of his troubled youth reaches out to anyone who feels as if they’ve lost touch with their inner child. There is beautiful cinematography, lovely autumnal colour, creative camera angles, and an excellent score to boot.