Monday, 26 January 2015


“I let the audience use their imaginations. Can I help it if they misconstrue my suggestions?” - Ernst Lubitsch

Imagine this scene: A young man is eating a pastry, walking down a fashionable boulevard in Paris. He is lost in his tumultuous thoughts and his black mood. A woman sits on the pavement, begging. She extends her hand towards him and he throws the scrunched up paper bag with the half-eaten pastry in her lap. This is one of the first few scenes at the beginning of Michael Haneke’s 2000 film, Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages, translated into English as “Code Unknown: Incomplete Tale of Several Journeys”. This early scene will return to haunt the actors in this drama and it is interwoven with other scenes of a similarly challenging type that tantalisingly shift into a pattern and are then quickly disrupted by scenes that deliberately confound our logic.

“Code Unknown” is a well-crafted film, made by an obviously gifted director, with actors who play with extraordinary talent. Juliette Binoche, Thierry Neuvic, Josef Bierbichler, Alexandre Hamidi all interact wonderfully and handle each nuance of their character with aplomb. And yet the film is a strangely unsatisfying one; it is a film that frustrates and delights one at the same time. Austrian director Haneke plays with us self-indulgently, refusing to compromise his artistic ideals, unwilling to make any allowances to us, his audience. Yet, that is one of the strengths of the movie.

If one goes into a movie house and expects a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, one will be disappointed with this movie. On first viewing, especially if one is unprepared for it, it may seem like a hodge-podge of images, random threads of disparate stories that occasionally criss-cross, a device that is at risk of becoming cliché. There are stylistic links to: Magnolia (1999), Amores Perros (2000) and Crash (2004), and yet, this movie is set apart from them in that we see only little glimpses of people’s lives, incomplete and shadowy, we have to work hard in order to guess at what is going on, and as far as the end is concerned, be prepared to be let down. This is no ordinary tragedy and definitely not a happy or even hopeful end.

Several themes are explored by the film, including child abuse, illegal immigration, failure of communication, racism, prejudice, morality, homelessness, the generation gap, war, rich vs poor, the dehumanising aspect of modern urban life, lack of responsibility towards one fellow human beings… It is a clever film and one that skillfully manipulates the viewers’ emotions. Several scenes grate on our nerves, others draw out pity from us, in others we feel angry, helpless, repulsed, horrified. Yet, we are also detached and curiously uninvolved by Haneke’s characters. We cannot make up our minds if they are heroes of anti-heroes, protagonists or antagonists. We vacillate unsure of where to place our loyalties. Villains become victims, sacrificers become the sacrifice, situations that seem black or white, become curiously gray as more scenes are revealed to us.

The experience of watching the film for me was similar to experiences I have had sitting on a bus and watching the people getting on and off. Or when I am people-watching in an airport or a train station, or perhaps glimpses of lives as the train rushes past the lit windows of apartment buildings. My vivid imagination connects people and their lives and builds stories with common threads in them, significant stories of universal relevance: The search for love and acceptance, the pursuit of happiness, the need to be understood and appreciated for what one is. Haneke does this with consummate skill and in his choice of scenes, he gives the viewer significant clues to decipher.

This is no escapist flick, no pleasant tale to delight and amuse us. It is dark, confronting, intelligent and challenging. It will make you think and demand from you the viewer an active interaction. It is not a film that you will watch passively. It needs rumination upon and a second viewing that will perhaps leave you with more questions than you had when you first saw it. Perhaps that is what all great art should do, make us ask questions rather than give us answers.

Sunday, 25 January 2015


“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” - Aristotle Onassis

Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865–1915) was an Australian Impressionist painter. He was born on 12 March 1865 to Alexander Fox and Rosetta Phillips at 12 Victoria Parade in Fitzroy, Melbourne, into a legal family whose firm, DLA Phillips Fox, still exists. He studied art at the National Gallery School in Melbourne from 1878 until 1886 under G. F. Folingsby; his fellow students included John Longstaff, Frederick McCubbin, David Davies and Rupert Bunny.

In 1886 he travelled to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian, where he gained first prize in his year for design and École des Beaux-Arts (1887–1890), where his masters included William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Jean-Léon Gérôme, both among the most famous artists of the time. While at Beaux Arts, he was awarded a first prize for painting. He was greatly influenced by the fashionable school of en plein air Impressionism. He exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1890, and returned to Melbourne in 1891.

In October 1892, Fox opened the Melbourne Art School with Tudor St George Tucker, where he taught European ideas and techniques. He had a considerable influence as a teacher on Australian art during this period. In his brief career with the Heidelberg School, Fox was noted for his figure compositions and subdued landscapes, often painted as nocturnes, utilising a low-key palette in which the colours, although limited in range, were related to each other “with the utmost delicacy and inventiveness”, to quote Australian art scholar James Gleeson. The emphasis on landscapes may have been at least partly a response to market demand – landscapes found more ready acceptance, and Art Students, a figurative genre painting now recognised as one of his best, first exhibited at the Victorian Art Society in 1895, remained unsold until 1943.

In 1901 he was given a commission under the Gilbee bequest to paint a historical picture of "The Landing of Captain Cook" for the Melbourne gallery. One of the conditions of the bequest was that the picture must be painted overseas and Fox accordingly left for London. He explained his decision to base himself in the European art world in a 1903 letter to Frederick McCubbin: “I am quite certain that the only way is to exhibit alongside the best of the work here, and that one man shows, and colonial or Australian exhibitions in London are of very little good." Both the Royal Academy and the Salon were bastions of establishment art, remote from the modernism of Braque, Picasso and the School of Paris, and Fox's biographer, art historian Ruth Zubans, describes the Salon as celebrating elegance and femininity ...filtered through Impressionist experience and academic training.”

Fox enjoyed considerable success in Paris and London, becoming in 1894 the first Australian to be awarded a third-class gold medal at the Salon for “Portrait of my Cousin” (now in the National Gallery of Victoria). In 1905 he married Ethel Carrick, an artist of ability. They toured Italy and Spain, then in 1908 settled in Paris, where he was elected an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He returned to Melbourne on a visit in that year and held a successful one-man show at the Guildhall gallery. Two years later he became a full member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, the first Australian artist to attain that honour. He was exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy. In 1912 he was elected a member of the International Society of Painters and in the same year spent some time painting in Spain and Algeria.

In 1913 he returned to Australia, marking the occasion with an exhibition of some seventy works. The show was reported with enthusiasm in the local press, the Melbourne Argus writing: “With light and atmosphere always the ruling motive, there is revealed in his themes something of the infinite beauty discoverable in everyday things...”. The writer might have had in mind this charming and typical work titled “The Arbour”.

A final aspect of Fox’s oeuvre worth noting are his official commissions. "The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay", the most important of these works, holds more than a hint of his teacher Gérôme; and every Australian might be surprised to find that Fox made a copy of Nathaniel Dance's Portrait of Captain Cook, an icon probably so ubiquitous as to have sunk unnoticed but ever-present into the national psyche. Fox died of cancer in a Fitzroy hospital on 8 October 1915. His wife survived him by 36 years, but there were no children. His nephew Leonard Phillips Fox was a prolific writer and pamphleteer for Communist and humanitarian causes.

When compared with Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder, Fox shows more fascination with the “effects of dappled light” than to the “sunny vistas” one finds in the other two painters’ Heidelberg paintings. He is described as an artist who “remained committed to a late nineteenth century aesthetic that paid homage to Impressionism while retaining the tonal values of academic realism.”

“The ferry” (1910-1911) is the artist’s masterpiece. It was developed from rapid sketches that Fox painted outdoors at Trouville, a favourite beach resort in the north of France, and was completed in his Paris studio the following winter. Fox positions the viewer as if peering down to the elegant boating party and immerses us in a sumptuous, genteel world of vibrant colours, luscious fabric textures and warm summer atmosphere. Originally exhibited in Paris and London, “The ferry” also influenced a younger generation of Australian modernist artists when it was exhibited in Sydney in 1913.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


“Let none weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men.” - Quintus Ennius

For Music Saturday a masterwork by Giuseppe Verdi, his incomparable “Messa da Requiem” (Requiem Mass). A Requiem Mass, also known as Mass for the dead (Latin: Missa pro defunctis) or Mass of the dead (Latin: Missa defunctorum), is a Mass in the Catholic Church offered for the repose of the soul or souls of one or more deceased persons, using a particular form of the Roman Missal. It is frequently, but not necessarily, celebrated in the context of a funeral.

Musical settings of the propers of the Requiem Mass are also called Requiems, and the term has subsequently been applied to other musical compositions associated with death and mourning, even when they lack religious or liturgical relevance. The term is also used for similar ceremonies outside the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the Anglo-Catholic branch of Anglicanism and in certain Lutheran churches. A comparable service, with a wholly different ritual form and texts, exists in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as in the Methodist Church.

The Mass and its settings draw their name from the introit of the liturgy, which begins with the words “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord). The Roman Missal as revised in 1970 employs this phrase as the first entrance antiphon among the formulas for Masses for the dead, and it remains in use to this day.

The full text of the Requiem Mass in Latin and English can be found here:

The Messa da Requiem for four soloists, double choir and orchestra by Giuseppe Verdi was composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist whom Verdi admired. The first performance, at the San Marco church in Milan on 22 May 1874, marked the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death. The work was at one time called the Manzoni Requiem. Although originally composed for liturgical purposes, in modern days it is rarely performed in liturgy, but rather in concert form of around 85–90 minutes in length. Musicologist David Rosen calls it: “Probably the most frequently performed major choral work composed since the compilation of Mozart’s Requiem.”

After Gioachino Rossini’s death in 1868, Verdi suggested that a number of Italian composers collaborate on a Requiem in Rossini’s honour. He began the effort by submitting the concluding movement, the “Libera me”. During the next year a “Messa per Rossini” was compiled by Verdi and twelve other famous Italian composers of the time. The premiere was scheduled for 13 November 1869, the first anniversary of Rossini’s death.

However, on 4 November, nine days before the premiere, the organising committee abandoned it. Verdi blamed this on the scheduled conductor, Angelo Mariani. He pointed to Mariani’s lack of enthusiasm for the project, even though he had been part of the organising committee from the start, and it marked the beginning of the end of their friendship. The piece fell into oblivion until 1988, when Helmuth Rilling premiered the complete “Messa per Rossini” in Stuttgart, Germany.

In the meantime, Verdi kept toying with his “Libera me”, frustrated that the combined commemoration of Rossini’s life would not be performed in his lifetime. On 22 May 1873, the Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni, whom Verdi had admired all his adult life and met in 1868, died. Upon hearing of his death, Verdi resolved to complete a Requiem (this time entirely of his own writing) for Manzoni. Verdi travelled to Paris in June, where he commenced work on the Requiem, giving it the form we know today. It included a revised version of the “Libera me” originally composed for Rossini.

Here is a great and dramatic performance of the Requiem with Herbert von Karajan conducting La Scala Orchestra and Chorus of Milano with Luciano Pavarotti, Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto and Nikolai Ghiaurov.
0:00:32 Requiem
0:08:43 Dies Irae
0:10:55 Tuba Mirum
0:12:58 Mors Stupebit
0:14:19 Liber Scriptus
0:19:23 Quid Sum Miser
0:23:13 Rex Tremendae
0:26:44 Recordare
0:31:05 Ingemisco
0:34:45 Confutatis
0:40:24 Lacrymosa
0:46:05 Offertorio
0:56:53 Sanctus
0:59:51 Agnus Dei
1:04:32 Lux Aeterna
1:10:45 Libera Me

Thursday, 22 January 2015


“God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, surfeit and hunger.” – Heraclitus

We have been experiencing some quite hot weather in Melbourne, so on the menu we have had cooling foods. Lots of salads, cheese and vegetable sandwiches, jellies, sorbets and yoghurt! Yoghurt is such a versatile food and it can contribute positively to a healthful diet, assist in gastrointestinal health and substitute as a low calorie alternative to many high calorie foods (e.g. salad dressing, mayonnaise, cream, custard, etc).

The recipe below is a very rapidly prepared dessert that tastes delicious, is cooling and healthful as well.

Ripe, Summer stone fruits in season, stoned and chopped into cubes
Vanilla low fat yoghurt (other flavours or plain, according to taste)
Blackberry jam (if you’ve saved some from last Autumn that you’ve made yourself you get extra brownie points!)
Quantities as you please, depending on the number of cups you wish to make.

Place a couple of heaped tablespoons of fruit cubes in a serving cup.
Add enough yoghurt to cover the fruit and top with a tablespoon of blackberry jam.
Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


“Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling.

Word for Thesaurus Thursday today is:

Kafkaesque |ˌkäfkəˈesk| adjective
characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.

Franz Kafka was born July 3rd, 1883, Prague, Czech Republic and died June 3rd, 1924, Kierling, near Vienna, Austria. He was a German-language writer of visionary and often confronting fiction, whose posthumously published novels - especially Der Prozess (1925; The Trial) and Das Schloss (1926; The Castle)—express the anxieties and alienation of 20th-century man.

In The Trial the hero, Joseph K, is an able and conscientious bank official who is awakened by bailiffs intent on arresting him. The investigation in the magistrate’s court turns into a farce, the charge against him never defined. Joseph K. tries desperately to a search for inaccessible courts and for an acquittal from his unknown offence. It is Kafka’s blackest work with evil omnipresent and an acquittal or a redemption impossible. The frenzied effort of Joseph K to attain these indicates man's real impotence in the face of the demands of modern society.

The Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung, also sometimes translated as The Transformation) is a novella, first published in 1915. It has been cited as one of the seminal works of fiction of the 20th century and is studied in colleges and universities across the Western world. The story begins with a travelling salesman, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed (metamorphosed) into a large, monstrous insect-like creature. The cause of Samsa’s transformation is never revealed, and Kafka himself never gave an explanation. The rest of Kafka’s novella deals with Gregor’s attempts to adjust to his new condition as he deals with being burdensome to his parents and sister, who are repulsed by the horrible, verminous creature Gregor has become.

The Castle (German: Das Schloss, later also Das Schloß) is a novel published in 1926. In it a protagonist, known only as K., struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities of a castle who govern the village for unknown reasons. Kafka died before finishing the work, but suggested it would end with K. dying in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his “legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there”. Dark and at times surreal, The Castle is often understood to be about alienation, bureaucracy, the seemingly endless frustrations of man’s attempts to stand against the system, and the futile and hopeless pursuit of an unobtainable goal.

You may be interested in a film by Steven Soderbergh, Kafka (1991), that is a curious beast -a mixture of fiction and biography of Kafka’s life, starring Jeremy Irons; and Orson Welles’ TheTrial 1962, which is a film version of Kafka’s dark masterpiece.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” - Oscar Wilde

Doing some cleaning up in my study yesterday I came across a volume of poems by ancient Roman poet Catullus. His explicit writing style has shocked many readers and hence his poems have often been bowdlerised, edited, expurgated or even completely forbidden for many years in many countries. This concept of “forbidden literature” occupies my blog today and what better place to start with than the Vatican Library? The Vatican is an independent country (the smallest in the world, in fact) and it is there that the Pope has absolute temporal rule but also rules spiritually over millions upon millions of Roman Catholics the world over.

The Pope is of course the spiritual head of the Catholic Church, but he also has to manage the Vatican and its affairs like any other Head of State does. The Vatican Bank has millions upon millions of dollars in funds as befits an organisation with worldwide interests and the Pope is its nominal owner. The Pope is also the nominal owner of the Vatican Library. This, unlike the Vatican Bank, is a place that fascinates me and induces bouts of intellectual salivation in my brain. It is one of the richest libraries in the world as well as one of the oldest! It has accumulated works on its shelves from the fourth century AD, recording not only details of its own history but also those of heretical Christians and Gnostic sects. Although it officially claims that everything before the ninth century was lost “for reasons not entirely known”, the majority of the material still exists. However, access to much of this material is strictly controlled.

In fact the Vatican Archives contain one of the richest storehouses of “forbidden literature” in the world. There is more satanic, occult, pornographic and heretical works here than in any other library in the world. While some of the collections of the Vatican Library have been open to the public since the fifteenth century, the cardinal in charge of the institution ensures that all of the “forbidden literature” is kept hidden.

The Papal Inquisition brought many new titles into the secret collection, but it was the creation of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum that gave the biggest boost to the Vatican Library’s secret section. Under the Index, copies of any heretical, satanic, occult or pornographic works discovered were immediately lodged with the Pope’s librarians “for the record”. The situation has been that even legitimate Catholic scholars find access to many of these classified books difficult. Control is achieved through not indexing material because it is obvious that you cannot request what you do not know exists.

On another side of the library are the archives of Papal and Church papers. It takes real confidence in your power to keep buried what you do not want others to know, and call your repository of suppressed papers and documents the “Vatican Secret Archives”. Headed up by a cardinal in the same way that the Vatican Library is, the Secret Archives are home to everything the Church wants kept in the dark, including Nazi collaboration and scandals dating back to the earliest periods in its history. Vast, purposefully disorganised and running to more than 24 miles of shelves, the Archives are only open to those with direct approval from the Pope.

Throughout history, fiction has always been scrutinised by censors. Whether it be themes of politics, religion, or it just has a lot of sex in it, people the world over have objected to a book and have reacted against an author at one time or another. But, in today’s society we can now read about complex themes of heavy handed governments, violence, and drugs without the fear of being tapped on the shoulder by the censor. Here is an example of what in the past (or in some cases even today in some countries!) is considered “unwholesome” or “unsuitable” for general consumption by the reading public.
Brave New World By Aldous Huxley (1932);
The Grapes Of Wrath By John Steinbeck (1939);
Tropic Of Cancer By Henry Miller (1934);
Slaughterhouse-Five By Kurt Vonnegut (1969);
The Satanic Verses By Salman Rushdie (1988);
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower By Stephen Chobsky (1999);
Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe (1958);
American Psycho By Brett Easton Ellis (1991);
The Metamorphosis By Franz Kafka (1915);
Lolita By Vladimir Nabokov (1955).

Many more such “banned books” exist and the Wikipedia list with places where they are banned and the reason why they are banned is quite interesting to read.

Monday, 19 January 2015


“Yesterday is but today’s memory, tomorrow is today’s dream.” Kahlil Gibran

For Literary Tuesday, I am giving you a poem by the Italian poet Vittorio Sereni (my free translation):

Your Memory Within me

Your memory within me is only a rustle
Of bicycles which go quietly,
There, where the height of noon
Descends to the most flaming of evenings,
Between houses and gates
And the sighing slopes
Of windows open to the Summer.
Alone and distant within me is the sound
Of the lament of trains leaving,
Of souls as they depart.
And there, light as a wisp of smoke carried by the wind,
You vanish in the twilight.

Vittorio Sereni (1913-1983)

And the original (please feel free to emend my translation):

In me il tuo ricordo

In me il tuo ricordo è un fruscío
solo di velocipedi che vanno
quietamente là dove l’ altezza
del meriggio discende
al piú fiammante vespero
tra cancelli e case
e sospirosi declivi
di finestre riaperte sull’ estate.
Solo, di me, distante
dura un lamento di treni,
d’ anime che se ne vanno.

E là leggiera te ne vai sul vento
ti perdi nella sera.

               (Out of “Poesie” published in Florence in 1942).

Vittorio Sereni was born in Luino, Italy on the 27th of July 1913. He lived in Brescia and then in Milan where he graduated in Italian literature in 1936. 
During his university years he joined a group of young intellectuals who acknowledged the philosopher Antonio Banfi as their “guiding light”. 
Sereni was one of the founders of the review Corrente (in 1938) and he also collaborated with Campo di Marte and Frontespizio. In 1941 he published his first book of poetry, entitled “Frontiera”. He was called up by the army and he was first sent to Greece and then to Sicily. Taken prisoner on the 24th of July 1943 he spent two years in prisoner of war camps in Algeria and Morocco.

From these experiences he drew both material and inspiration for his second book of verse, published in 1947 with the explicative title of “Diario D’ Algeria”. 
After the war he worked as a teacher, at the same time collaborating with the paper Milano Sera as a literary critic. In 1952 he joined the Pirelli Company. Only a few years later he joined the Mondadori Publishing House as literary director, an appointment he held until his death on the 10th of February 1983.

He published Gli Strumenti Umani (1965) and his last collection entitled Stella Variabile appeared in 1981. 
Vittorio Sereni is acknowledged as being the founder of the current of poets that calls itself Linea Lombarda, taking its name from an anthology of poems by Luciano Anceschi published in 1952. This group proposed to “once more find certain threads interrupted or concealed, to reconstruct ties lost” in this way trying to retrieve the relationship between poetry and reality.

Biography and poems - Italian page