Monday, 24 November 2014

MOVIE MONDAY - IN HER SHOES

"Before you criticise someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes" – Anonymous

I had a pleasant and an unpleasant surprise this weekend as far as movies go. A couple of acquaintances of ours had recommended the 2005 film “Elizabethtown” as a good movie to watch. I did and I was not terribly impressed. Supposedly it was touted to be a wonderful “road movie” but I found it trite and annoying with sub-standard performances by the leads, Orlando Bloom (who spent most of the movie looking like a stunned mullet) and Kirsten Dunst (who was cloyingly, annoyingly, saccharine sweet throughout). Susan Sarandon was at a loss on how to deal with her role and must have been quite embarrassed with the result when she looked at the finished product. This was Hollywood at its sentimental worst and Cameron Crowe’s direction was pedestrian to the point of hobbling. The plot predictable, the characters worn and uninteresting and the whole movie trying: Trying to be funny, trying to be profound, trying to be original, trying to be witty, trying to be sad, trying to be poignant and never getting past the trying part.


On the other hand, the pleasant surprise was a movie that I had thought was going to be mushy and a typical “chick flick” was very good and a pleasure to watch. This second movies was Curtis Hanson’s “In Her Shoes” (2005) with Cameron Diaz, Toni Colette, Anson Mount and Shirley Maclaine.  Firstly, let me say that this was typical Hollywood too, but also was a movie that attempted to inject some character into its characters and tried to make the plot a little three-dimensional.


The plot revolves around two sisters, Maggie (Cameron Diaz), the almost illiterate, bubbly, party girl and Rose (Toni Colette) who is plain but intellectually brilliant. Maggie is unemployed, a petty thief, promiscuous and superficial while Rose is a lawyer, organised, busy and has a problem with attracting men. Add to that the tragic loss of the women’s mother while they were still girls, a stormy relationship with their stepmother and conflict over the man that Rose finally manages to get into her bed. The sisters’ relationship breaks down and Maggie disappears, going to Florida to visit (read ‘sponge off’) her recently discovered grandmother (Shirley Maclaine) that neither of the sisters knew was still alive.


This is a movie about self-discovery, as much as it is about the relationship between the two sisters. The screenplay is well adapted from the best seller by Jennifer Weiner and the direction is excellent. The actors revel in their roles and Toni Colette once again proves her mettle in this difficult role where she needs to express an inner warmth and beauty that her external very unglamorous appearance has to radiate. Cameron Diaz has been well cast as the flighty Maggie and there are also some very good supporting role performances throughout.


As far as the shoes in the title are concerned, there is a very obvious sexual symbolism in that the two sisters wear the same size shoes, and also the fact that Maggie constantly wears her sister’s shoes. The fact that the grandmother also wears the same size shoe is significant and through the story, the women in the family have to be in each other’s shoes in order to experience life from that perspective.


Chick flick? Yes, it was. Did I enjoy it as a guy? I sure did. Why? Because of a good plot and screenplay, great characterisation with believable characters, excellent direction and good development. Yes, there are flaws, yes the film is slightly longer than optimal, yes the male characters are a little underdeveloped, but overall, I would recommend it highly. If you haven’t seen it, well worth getting hold of the DVD and seeing it (don’t be misled by the rubbishy blurb on the cover).

ART SUNDAY - LAUTREC

“The world worries about disability more than disabled people do.” - Warwick Davis

Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec Monfa (24 November 1864 – 9 September 1901) was born in Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France, the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec. An aristocratic family (descendants of the Counts of Toulouse) that had recently fallen on hard times, the Toulouse-Lautrecs were feeling the effects of the in-breeding of past generations; the Comte and Comtesse themselves were first cousins, and Henri suffered from a number of congenital health conditions attributed to this tradition of inbreeding. A younger brother was born to the family on 28 August 1867, but died the following year.

At the age of 13 Henri fractured his left thigh bone, and at 14, the right. The breaks did not heal properly. Modern physicians attribute this to an unknown genetic disorder, possibly pycnodysostosis (also sometimes known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome), or a variant disorder along the lines of osteopetrosis, achondroplasia, or osteogenesis imperfecta. Rickets aggravated with praecox virilism has also been suggested. His legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was only 1.54 m tall, having developed an adult-sized torso, while retaining his child-sized legs, which were 0.70 m long..

Physically unable to participate in most of the activities typically enjoyed by men of his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in his art. He became an important Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator, and lithographer; and recorded in his works many details of the late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec also contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine ‘Le Rire’ during the mid-1890s.

Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, an area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and for being the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. Tucked deep into Montmartre was the garden of Monsieur Père Foret where Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of pleasant plein-air paintings of Carmen Gaudin, the same red-head model who appears in ‘The Laundress’ (1888). When the nearby Moulin Rouge cabaret opened its doors, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. Thereafter, the cabaret reserved a seat for him, and displayed his paintings.

Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singer Yvette Guilbert; the dancer Louise Weber, known as the outrageous La Goulue (“The Glutton”), who created the “French Can-Can”; and the much more subtle dancer Jane Avril. Toulouse-Lautrec spent much time in brothels, where he was accepted by the prostitutes and madams to such an extent that he often moved in, and lived in a brothel for weeks at a time. He shared the lives of the women who made him their confidant, painting and drawing them at work and at leisure. Lautrec recorded their intimate relationships, which were often lesbian. A favourite model was a red-haired prostitute called Rosa la Rouge from whom he allegedly contracted syphilis.

Toulouse-Lautrec gave painting lessons to Suzanne Valadon, one of his models (and possibly his mistress as well). An alcoholic for most of his adult life, Toulouse-Lautrec was placed in a sanatorium shortly before his death. He died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate in Malrome, fewer than three months before his 37th birthday. He is buried in Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometers from the Chateau of Malrome, where he died. Toulouse-Lautrec's last words reportedly were: “Le vieux con!” (old fool!). The invention of the ‘Tremblement de Terre’ is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec, and this is a potent mixture containing half absinthe and half cognac. Habitual absinthe drinking is associated with a host of medical conditions.

Throughout his career, which spanned less than 20 years, Toulouse-Lautrec created 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, some ceramic and stained glass work, and an unknown number of lost works. Toulouse-Lautrec is known along with Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin as one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period. His debt to the Impressionists, in particular the more figurative painters Manet and Degas, is apparent. In the works of Toulouse-Lautrec can be seen many parallels to Manet’s bored barmaid at ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ and the behind-the-scenes ballet dancers of Degas.

He excelled at capturing people in their working environment, with the colour and the movement of the gaudy night-life present, but the glamour stripped away. He was masterly at capturing crowd scenes in which the figures are highly individualised. At the time that they were painted, the individual figures in his larger paintings could be identified by silhouette alone, and the names of many of these characters have been recorded. His treatment of his subject matter, whether as portraits, scenes of Parisian night-life, or intimate studies, has been described as both sympathetic and dispassionate.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s skilled depiction of people relied on his painterly style which is highly linear and gives great emphasis to contour. He often applied the paint in long, thin brushstrokes which often leave much of the board on which they are painted showing through. Many of his works may best be described as drawings in coloured paint. After Toulouse-Lautrec’s death, his mother, the Comtesse Adele Toulouse-Lautrec, and Maurice Joyant, his art dealer, promoted his art. His mother contributed funds for a museum to be built in Albi, his birthplace, to house his works. As of 2005, his paintings had sold for as much as US$14.5 million.

The painting above is “Abandonment – The Two Friends” of 1895. It is oil on cardboard and is in a private collection.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

MUSIC SATURDAY - ODE TO ST CECILIA


“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

Saint Cecilia (Latin: Sancta Caecilia) is the patroness of musicians. It is written that as the musicians played at her wedding she “sang in her heart to the Lord”. Her feast day is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches on November 22. She is one of seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Cecilia is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs, even if the familiar stories about her are apparently not founded on authentic material. It was long supposed that she was a noble lady of Rome who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and a Roman soldier Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230, under the Emperor Alexander Severus. The research of Giovanni Battista de Rossi agrees with the statement of Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 600) that she perished in Sicily under Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180.

According to the story, when the time came for her marriage to be consummated, Cecilia told Valerian that she had an angel of the Lord watching over her who would punish him if he dared to violate her virginity but who would love him if he could respect her maidenhood. When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia replied that he would see the angel if he would go to the third milestone on the Via Appia (the Appian Way) and be baptised by Pope Urbanus.

The martyrdom of Cecilia is said to have followed that of Valerian and his brother by the prefect Turcius Almachius. The legend about Cecilia’s death says that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church. The Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere is reputedly built on the site of the house in which she lived. The original church was constructed in the fourth century; her remains were placed there in the ninth century and the church was rebuilt in 1599.

“Hail! Bright Cecilia” (Z.328), also known as “Ode to St. Cecilia”, was composed by Henry Purcell to a text by the Irishman Nicholas Brady in 1692 in honour of the feast day of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. Annual celebrations of this saint's feast day (22 November) began in 1683, organised by the Musical Society of London, a group of musicians and music lovers. Purcell had already written Cecilian pieces in previous years, but this Ode remains the best known.

The first performance was a great success, and received an encore. Brady’s poem was derived from John Dryden’s “A Song for St Cecilia’s Day” in 1687, which suggested that Cecilia invented the organ. With a text full of references to musical instruments, the work requires a wide variety of vocal soloists and obbligato instruments. Brady extols the birth and personality of musical instruments and voices, and Purcell treats these personalities as if they were dramatic characters.

The airs employ a variety of dance forms. “Hark, Each Tree” is a sarabande on a ground. It is a duet on a ground-bass between, vocally, soprano and bass, and instrumentally, between recorders and violins (“box and fir” are the woods used in the making of these instruments). “With That Sublime Celestial Lay” and “Wond’rous Machine” are in praise of the organ. “Thou Tun’st this World” is set as a minuet. “In vain the am’rous Flute” is set to a passacaglia bass.

In spite of Brady’s conceit of the speaking forest (it should be remembered that English organs of the period typically had wooden pipes), Purcell scored the warlike music for two brass trumpets and copper kettle drums instead of fife and (field) drum. The orchestra also includes two recorders (called flutes) with a bass flute, two oboes (called hautboys), strings and basso continuo. Purcell is one of several composers who have written music in honour of Cecilia.

Here is Purcell’s “Ode to St. Cecilia”, 1692, with Lucy Crowe, soprano; Anders J. Dahlin, tenor; David Bates, countertenor; Neil Baker, baritone; Luca Tittoto, bass; Richard Croft, tenor; Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble directed by Nicolas Jenkins and Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble directed by Marc Minkowski.

The illustration is “St Cecilia” by Jacques Blanchard (1600–1638), painted in the first half of the 17th century, now in the Hermitage Museum.

Friday, 21 November 2014

FOOD FRIDAY - GRILLED TURKEY BREASTS

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” - William Blake

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia, but I think this is a great North American tradition that could well be imported into our country. It certainly is more deserving of import rather than say, Valentine’s Day or Halloween – both of which have been well and truly ingrained themselves into Australian society, especially so with the younger generations.

Here is a rather non-traditional Thanksgiving recipe that we shall be having at home, simply because we like it! I also think that it is worthwhile stopping every now and then and taking stock of all the things we have and we take for granted, and being thankful for them…

Grilled Turkey Breast Fillets
Ingredients
120 g unsalted butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
Salt, to taste
240 mL white vinegar
480 mL chicken stock
Cracked black peppercorns, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 kg turkey breast, cut into 10 cm pieces and pounded into ½ cm thick medallions
40 mL olive oil

Method
Make the sauce:  Melt half of the butter in a 30 cm skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped shallots and salt; cook until golden. Add vinegar and bring to a boil; reduce by half. Add the stock and cook until liquid is reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining butter and cracked peppercorns until butter is melted; set sauce aside and keep warm.

Prepare Turkey:  Heat a charcoal grill. Brush turkey with oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill, flipping once, until browned and cooked through, 3–4 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with some of the sauce; serve with remaining sauce on the side. Accompany the turkey with mashed potato, roast pumpkin, roast parsnip, mushy peas, steamed green beans and a fresh seasonal salad.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving or any other similar tradition? What are some of your favourite recipes for the occasion? Use the Mr Linky tool to share your recipes:

THE SUNDOWNERS


“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” - George Bernard Shaw

I am re-reading a novel that I first read when I was in High School and had pushed out of my mind until last week when I picked it up after rummaging around my bookshelves and decided to read it again. It is “The Sundowners” by Australian author, Jon Cleary. It has given me immense pleasure and I have appreciated much more than on first reading.

Jon StephenCleary was born in 1917 in Sydney, New South Wales, into a working class family as the eldest of seven children. He joined the army in 1940 and served in the Middle East and New Guinea where he started writing seriously publishing several short stories and a radio play, “Safe Horizons” which won awards. He worked as a journalist in London (1948-49) and in New York from (1949 to 1951). His most famous novel, “The Sundowners”, was published in 1951, and sold more than three million copies.

The book was based on stories Cleary had been told by his father, who ran away to Queensland when he was a teenager. Additional research was provided by C.E.W. Bean's “On the Wool Track”. Cleary wrote the novel in long-hand during the evenings after work while he was living in New York working as a journalist, with the manuscript typed out by his wife Joy. The novel was a large success, eventually selling over three million copies, and was well reviewed overseas. It was his second book to be published in the USA.

The story is set in the 1920s, and tells of a drover, Paddy Carmody. He travels from job to job in a horse-drawn wagon with his wife, Ida, and son, Sean. Paddy refuses to settle down and does not want to give up drifting in the Australian bush, which creates conflicts with his wife. In 1960 Fred Zinnemann directed a first-ratefilm based on the book, staring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. It was shot on location by Jack Hildyard.

Jon Cleary’s last novel was “Four-Cornered Circle” (2007). He won numerous awards and some of his other works have been made into TV series or films. During his lifetime, Cleary was one of the most popular Australian authors of all time. According to Murray Waldren, “his own assessment was that he lacked a poetic eye but had an eye for colour and composition and was strong on narrative and dialogue. And he took pride in the research underpinning his works”. Cleary died on 19 July 2010, aged 92.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

POETRY JAM - IDENTITY

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” - Oscar Wilde

How many times in our lives it is necessary for us to conceal what is in our mind, what is in our heart, what we really feel in our soul, and present to the world a picture that is acceptable for the circumstances… Our public mask whether a cheerful one, whether one of well-measured composure, or one of self-assured competence is one that may hide below it pain, bitterness, disappointment, disillusionment, grief, loss, despair…

Below is my contribution to the Poetry Jam poetry meme, where the theme this week is “Identity”.

I Am What I Am

You ask of me to bare myself –
Remove my public mask
Reveal my hidden side,
Shed my chameleon cloak.

You ask of me to doff an armour
I have worn so long, it feels like second skin;
To cast off artifice, duplicity,
Discard my cultivated image.

You ask of me to trim my tresses,
Make you a gift of my vulnerability;
Be rid of my convenient nebulosity
Appear before you naked, like the truth.

The mask removed reveals a second mask beneath it;
My armour shed, reveals a hardened carapace below it;
Stripped of my shifting colours,
I simply show you my camouflage even better.

I am that which I am; what I am, I am not,
I am what you have made me, not what I truly am.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

WEBER & DAGUERRE IN HAITI WITH MICKEY

“The long unmeasured pulse of time moves everything. There is nothing hidden that it cannot bring to light, nothing once known that may not become unknown.” – Sophocles

Haiti - Vertieres’ Day. Latvia - Independence Day (since 1918). Morocco - Independence Day. Oman - National Day.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Carl Maria von Weber, composer (1786);
Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, pioneer photographer (1789);
W.S. Gilbert, writer of Gilbert and Sullivan fame (1836);
Amelita Galli-Gurci, soprano (1889);
Eugene Ormandy, conductor (1899);
George H. Gallup, of poll fame (1901);
Alan B. Sheppard, US astronaut (1923);
Mickey Mouse, cartoon brainchild of Walt Disney (1928);
Margaret Attwood, writer (1939);
Brenda Vaccaro, US actress (1939);
David Hemmings, actor (1941);
Linda Evans, US actress (1942).

The wild asparagus, Asparagus officinalis, is the plant for birthdays falling on this day.  The name could be related to the Greek word aspartos = “not sown, growing wild”.  It is also known as sparrow-grass or sporage, the long Greek word being anglicised so that the Anglo-Saxon tongue would not trip and fall over itself!  The shoots of the plant have been eaten from ancient times and many of the ancient writers (Pliny and Cato for example) wax lyrically over the virtues of this vegetable.  The Elizabethans considered it an aphrodisiac.  Herbalists prescribed asparagus boiled in broth as a laxative and boiled in white wine as a diuretic.  The asparagus symbolises beauty complemented by brains.  It is under the astrological dominion of Jupiter.

Haiti won independence from France in The Battle of Vertières, on November 18th, 1803. The site is now part of an historical monument in the northern city of Cap Haitien. A national holiday, The Battle of Vertières Day is celebrated each year on November 18th. In 2011 a crowd of over 200,000 Haitians gathered to celebrate and hear Haitian President Michel Martelly deliver a speech at the monument site. The Battle of Vertières marked the first time in recorded history that slaves successfully led a revolution for their freedom. Less than two months after the battle, Haiti became the first black independent republic.

The Republic of Latvia was founded on 18 November 1918. However, its de facto independence was interrupted at the outset of World War II. In 1940, the country was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, and re-occupied by the Soviets in 1944 to form the Latvian SSR for the next fifty years. The peaceful Singing Revolution, starting in 1987, called for Baltic emancipation of Soviet rule. It ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence on 21 August 1991.

Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (1786–1826,) was a German composer who is considered to be the founder of German romantic opera. He wrote 10 operas, including Der Freischütz (1821) and Oberon (1826). Among his instrumental works is the popular Invitation to the Dance (1819).

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (18 November 1787 – 10 July 1851) was a French artist and photographer, recognised for his invention of the daguerreotype process of photography. He became known as one of the fathers of photography. Though he is most famous for his contributions to photography, he was also an accomplished painter and a developer of the diorama theatre. Daguerre’s name is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel tower.

Monday, 17 November 2014

MOVIE MONDAY - JEUX D' ENFANTS

"Can there be a love, which does not make demands on its object?" - Confucius

A French movie for Movie Monday, today: “Jeux D’ Enfants” by Yann Samuell (2003), its English title being “Love me if you Dare”. This is an odd film, but nevertheless one that I watched with great interest and in the end with great satisfaction, as well. If you have seen “Amélie” or “L’ Auberge Espagnole”, then this is film is like them, but nothing like them. It was described on the DVD packaging as a “Romantic Comedy”, but I beg to differ – it’s neither comedy, nor terribly romantic, yet there are scenes in it that make you laugh right out loud and other scenes that remind one of “Romeo and Juliet”…

But what is it about? Julien and Sophie are the hero and heroine of this film, he a typical French boy, and she a “dirty Pollack” as she is called by the other school children. Their friendship begins in childhood where they play a game of dares revolving around handing each other a biscuit tin in the shape of a colourful merry-go-round, only to be claimed if the dare is successfully completed.  The dares become more outrageous and dangerous as the children grow to adolescents and then to adults. Love and sex intrude in unexpected ways and the relationship between Julien and Sophie becomes more complex, more destructive – for themselves as well as for the people around them.

The characters of the film are hardly likeable, and yet they are irresistible in their raw energy and vitality. In them we recognise parts of ourselves that we actively bury deep inside us lest they manifest themselves and destroy us. And yet it these hidden parts of ourselves that drive us and motivate us, and it is these self-destructive forces within us that move some of us to the ultimate love experience that transcends death itself. Both Julien and Sophie are struggling with difficult home situations, and it is their families that force them to seek each other out and find in each other support but also a challenge to deal with their relatives (selfishly, but that is how one preserves oneself!).

The film is tremendously creative, visually rich and full of life and passion. It is an allegory of love, a film that analyses relationships that teeter between love and hate, that balance on the razor’s edge of insecurity, it is about people in love who constantly test each other’s love, that dare each other to prove their love no matter what. The ending itself (although predictable) is not what it seems and it this ending that puts the whole film into perspective in terms of the allegory hat I mentioned earlier.

Guillaume Canet (Julien) and Marion Cotillard (Sophie) are perfectly cast and play superbly under the expert direction of Yann Samuell. The soundtrack is memorable as it includes several renditions of “La Vie en Rose”, which is perfect for the film. Watch it, it's well worth it!