16.11.20

"In De Uren Van De Middag" by Rob de Nijs (1973)


Now, this is me trying to learn the language and to find out more about the place where I live - for some reason, it seems that memorising the music lyrics works out just fine as a learning tool for me. I am seriously studying the lyrics, trying to understand them without translation and listening the sound of the language. The obstacle here is that traditionally many of Dutch artists were dismissing the native language and insisting on English - so it helps to search out for the ones who had stuck to their guns and decidedly created music in Dutch, like this guy. I have rare experience to hear a music icon as Rob de Nijs for the very first time and to soak in his music without any previous knowledge or prejudice. Previously I heard his 1964. album "Dit Is Rob De Nijs" which was very pleasant slice of 1960s pop but nothing special - kind of Dutch Cliff Richards. 



It took me some time to continue with his second album "In De Uren Van De Middag" (In the afternoon hours, yay I don't need a dictionary) that for some reason didn't register with me on the initial listening, but suddenly yesterday was just a perfect day or maybe I was simply more focused and suddenly everything clicked and I found myself enjoying the album immensely, reading the lyrics and basically getting it for the first time properly. First of all, this is not just another copy of some American star but a genuinely brilliant collection of original songs by Boudewijn De Groot who completely sidestepped the banal stereotypes and created quite inspired bunch of songs with characters from the history like "Jan Klaassen De Trompetter", "Malle Babbe", "Dag Zuster Ursula" and "Leonardo"  (about you-know-whom) - it sounds ambitious but its actually surprisingly engaging because its combined with a very gentle, country-pop from the early 1970s (I would dare to compare it with John Denver or Jim Croce perhaps) and music is intoxicating even without understanding the lyrics - once I got my head around translations, however, the album was constantly played on replay. 



Title "In De Uren Van De Middag"  comes from the opening line of the closing song "Meisje In Engeland" which is all about gentle goodbye to a girl who has moved on with her life and its actually very beautiful song, in fact the whole collection is so strong that is almost impossible to recommend one song instead of another, because it looks as one of those classic albums where true gems shine better after repeated listening, when we can focus behind obvious hits and pay more attention to the rest. I kind of suspect that the album works so well because the best songs were carefully arranged somewhere halfway trough the collection, not at the predictable way at the start - just when the listener starts really enjoying the music, you have five massive classics positioned one after the other ("De Avond" just one of the many) so it feels as the whole album just gets better and better. I absolutely love this. 




Photo of the Day

 


14.11.20

"The Crown - Season One" (2016)

Well, I'll be darned - I have just found a TV show that actually appeals a lot to me - and I am usually not interested in TV shows at all, because for some reason I refuse to be sucked into a vortex and dislike anything with a hype. But curiosity made me have "just a peek" and now I treat myself with a episode each night, enjoying it thoroughly and even later visiting youtube  to see real faces and events described here.


The story is about - guess what - British royal family Windsor and it starts in late 1940s when young princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy) is supposedly still many years from replacing her father on a throne. What nobody knows is that the king is deadly ill with a lung cancer and he hides this from everyone, including his own family - only prime minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) knows this, because he is told about everything. We follow courtly intrigues, whispers behind the fans, we witness the animosity and the hostility, court protocols that must be respected and often cumbersome traditions that Elizabeth must overcome while trying to do the right thing and please everybody. The whole show is filmed like the most glamorous MGM extravaganza with seemingly unlimited budget, everything looks genuinely sumptuous and we have pleasure of glancing into completely another world where royals never dress themselves up and even as they talk in private, the servants are here to collect discarded shoes and to help with the clothes - of course, royals don't really do anything, it is the cabinet with ministers who is making decisions while King is duck hunting and even than, servants are carrying and re-filling his gun. Men spend their afternoons drinking and laughing in a gentlemen's clubs, while ladies all look extremely bored and long-suffering under all those pearls and hats. There is a definitely a feeling of a gilded cage and a certain sinister claustrophobia here, because nobody is ever alone and there are no such things as secrets - even when princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) is phoning her sister for a completely private conversation, Winston Churchill is immediately notified and he is listening on the other side. You see, there is no such thing as privacy - everything Windsors do is of a great national importance and neither Elizabeth, nor her handsome new husband (Matt Smith) can't do whatever they want, they must respect the tradition and listen what the cabinet suggest - Elizabeth will sometimes put her foot down, but most of the time she will find the way to balance both what is expected from her with what she wants. 



Sure, I understand this is a fictionalised account and not really exactly what happened but its done with great attention, care and respect towards Windsors - I can't imagine anyone in Buckingham palace being offended with episodes I have seen so far, because family is shown as basically close-knit, strong and powerful. Yes, they privately despise king's older brother Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings) who abdicated so he could marry commoner Wallis Simpson (Lia Williams) but he is shown as a bitter, vindictive man reduced to beg finances from the family he left behind and accepting embarrassing photo interviews from magazines who are paying for visiting his home - incapable of doing any real work, Duke simply wants money to continue living exclusive high life or as Wallis said to one journalist "we love to entertain". On the other hand, we are also informed how ministers circle around elderly Churchill like vultures but nobody dares to say anything to his face - they find him too old to make any decisions but he is way too clever and powerful figure to just be swept aside. The fact this is a TV show about real, historical characters and the things that actually happened (like great smog of 1952.) makes this hugely attractive and watchable, I am really excited with everything and I think its brilliant. Of course, I understand this should be taken as a real proof that things really happened this way, but it goes a long way to explain at least what happened and it shows Queen Elizabeth as a human who is actually likeable and not just intimidating. (I have seen her once, in real life, when I lived in London). 




13.11.20

"Da L' Se Sjećaš" by Krunoslav Kićo Slabinac (1986)

Sad news - Kićo has passed away today at respectable age of 70+ and I got inspired to re-visit this mid-1980s LP that I don't remember ever listening before. It is actually not really a "new album" but a collection of his biggest hits up to that point, re-recorded again as it was a practice in 1980s - I never understood the logic behind it, because radio and listeners always preferred hits in their original versions, but many artists were doing this, perhaps in attempt to modernise their old music. Like many of the singers of his generations, Kićo started as a young rocker with a genuine band, just to embrace mainstream pop festivals and "schlager" music, which brought him to wider audiences and he successfully juggled genres as highly popular host on TV shows - a genuine charmer, Kićo could do anything, from Elvis to standard traditional folk material and Christmas music - in fact, his 1983. Christmas LP came as a brave statement at the time when this was not accepted in the country.

Hrvoje Hegedušić and his team of studio musicians have wrapped all these re-recordings in a mid-1980s sound, so you can expect a lot of synthesisers but to be honest, this didn't bring anything new or fresh to original songs that were already well-known in original versions. Kićo peaked commercially in the 1970s and subsequently merged in the background together with most of the artists from that particular generation, while new, angry young artists took the spotlight. As this albums shows, he still had that attractive voice but he also mellowed perhaps too much for his own good and all these generic ballads didn't really create any excitement - naturally, nothing wrong with the music here, these are all pop classics from a specific era, but if you want to hear "Zbog Jedne Divne Crne Žene", "Plavuša" or any of these songs, you would be better off with original singles - to my ears the cold, 1980s production just sounds aseptic and sterile. 


Just like Dalibor Brun and Darko Domijan, Kićo was one of those people who knowingly and decidedly swapped youthful energy and enthusiasm for middle-aged conformability and large part of his work was focused on pleasing mainstream audiences - this collection focuses on his pop festival incarnation, but he also showed great affinity for traditional folk music. 

7.11.20

Old SF movies

Recently I treated myself with some very good old SF movies, kind of things I would usually watch with my parents on a Sunday afternoon after the lunch, when our bellies are full and the house still smells on food - we would enjoy a dessert and watch some family movie together. Both of these old classics were mildly scary but in a good way, since we all understand this is just a campy fun and viewer can easily slip to WC without missing a beat.


"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" from 1956. was remade twice more and this is actually the first time that I have seen the original that in my opinion completely eclipses the newer version away. As a kid I saw 1978. movie with Donald Sutherland (which was not bad at all) and Nicole Kidman was in 2007. movie but this old, black & white 1956 felt like a real deal to me, definitely because I absolutely love old black & white movies and there was something in it that reminded me on "Twilight Zone" and all those fantastic, classic TV shows - kind of small budgeted but it didn't matter, the story was gripping and captivating even without any supersonic special effects. Kevin McCarthy was perfect as a doctor caught into surreal experience where the small town gets invaded by Alien seed growing into human replicas. The role of his girlfriend Dana Wynter was very typical of the times - she was here to be beautiful and decorative distraction, but the moment when the things starts cooking, she is just a weak nuisance who can't run, hide or do anything physical. And this is perhaps the biggest difference between the movies than and now - nowadays we would just accept as natural that the girlfriend could fight, run, drive the car or do anything that main protagonist can do but back in the 1950s women were supposed to be fragile and delicate. I actually wanted Kevin to drop annoying girlfriend and let her die, because she was just whimpering and creating troubles instead of being helpful. 



"The Blob" was made just two years later but it feels like something out of the 1960s because it has a stunning colours, usually found in glamorous MGM musicals. From the first moment we hear fantastic, catchy title song (composed by young Burt Bacharach, of all people) we know this is going to be something fun, nothing scary or serious. Young Steve McQueen is the main character and he is all about cars, girls and saying "yes, sir!" to local policemen who threats him with telling his father that he drives to fast, backwards or whatever. His girlfriend is not so annoying, but she is also not very important either - when Steve goes to check what is going on and where is this strange noise coming from, she stays in the car, therefore when police later ask her did she see anything, of course she didn't, because she was a good 1950s girl and was not even looking. The alien creature is of course a blob that just rolls along and I am not exactly sure why is everybody screaming, since my first reaction would be to come close and inspect what is this strange mass wobbling around - but hey, this is a campy movie so the nurse screams terrified because a blob/pencil/trash bin is coming close to her. It was great fun but nowhere close to excitement of Body snatchers which I really loved and could watch it again. I don't have desire to re-watch "The Blob" again.

30.10.20

"Tales from the Green Valley" BBC documentary (2005)

So now I am going backwards and this show was actually made before "Victorian Farm" and it was equally pleasure to watch group of historians finding their way in a 17th century farm. What is different is that initially the group was slightly bigger but producers obviously later decided that Ruth Goodman, Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn works the best as a team - Stuart Peachey and Chloe Spencer are also present here and to be honest, in my opinion each member of the group has something interesting to say. 

In this particular season we see the way farmers used to live & work in a 17th century - just like in a "Victorian Farm", everything is all about the time of the year, crops, tending the livestock and land cultivating. While Ruth and Chloe gather fruits and veggies, guys are taking care of the building the outhouse, covering the rooftops with straw, ploughing the fields with ox, etc - as expected, a lot of hard physical labour and every time they sit by the dinner they seem to be grateful to have whatever greasy intestines are served. What is interesting is that everything is recycled here - in modern times we are used to a completely different lifestyle where things are discarded and easily purchased time and time again, but in the 17th century farm one would recycle even his own urine (to use for washing and stains removal). Animal fat was made into a soap, rags were used for fire lighting, chicken bones and human waste re-cycled as fertilisers. Absolutely nothing was thrown away. There was a very interesting process of hedge laying which was artificial fence between the fields but built from living parts of the bushes and branches in a way that they would continue to live and grown - one of those completely forgotten professions that used to exist centuries ago. And naturally, they ate in a seasons, so all the fresh fruit and vegetables were consumed in the right time of the year, unless something like Pears were collected and stored in the attic for later. There is a certain voyeurism about the whole thing - after all, we are comfortable in a nice apartments with central heating while the guys are building the pig house with bare hands - but it was very, very interesting. I have actually binged on this.

24.10.20

"Victorian Farm" BBC (2009)


Lo and behold, I have stumbled upon this documentary on youtube and it has completely captivated me, proving again that I can really do without any paying web sites with their streaming movies & programs - good ol' youtube is still a cornucopia of goodies that one just needs to discover. 

One way or the other, I found "Victorian Farm" and this is something completely up my alley - a historical program about daily life of ordinary people. Not just kings, queens and their battles but what actual people ate, how did they sleep and lived centuries ago. This particular program is in fact second part of BBC historical farm series where a group of historians and archaeologists play the parts of ordinary people on a farms in a British countryside, using only and exclusively gadgets, utensils and clothes available at that particular times. So no telephones, lighters, gloves, tennis shoes, sun lotion, sport jackets or anything that was not in the picture at that time. It is not really important, but the program was created this way:


"Tales from the Green Valley" (2005)

"Victorian Farm" (2009)

"Edwardian Farm" (2011)

"Wartime Farm" (2012)

"Tudor Monastery Farm" (2013)

 



Since each program is completely self-contained, it is not really important to watch them in any particular order, in fact I have devoured "Victorian Farm" and than found out about other series. As the title says, Victorian Farm is set in 19th century and joyful trio of Alex Langlands, Peter Ginn and Ruth Goodman are dropped in a miraculously preserved (but still completely neglected) Victorian farm in Shropshire, situated on a land owned by The Acton family who are around since the the twelfth century - Actons just come for a occasional visit to check how the things are going and to show the guys how to use certain Victorian machines but for the most part Alex, Peter and Ruth are left on their own. Dear reader, this was completely and utterly fascinating: they had to often look into old books popular amongst people back than, like "The Book of the Farm" and such, with detailed instruction how and what to do in certain situations. Both guys are super handy (and persistent) with all this hard physical work, while Ruth is just unbelievably skilful indoors and knows hundreds of little household tricks useful in the kitchen, etc. I mean, today we made our lives easier with all sorts of appliances, buttons and electricity but these people had no electricity whatsoever and their whole day was one of hard work. For example, when Ruth was doing the laundry, this was going on for several days - today the housewives just push the button. Also what was fascinating was that their whole existence was focused on food, livestock and seasons of the year - one had to wake up early, take a good care of the animals (first build a warm place for them, using materials available in the forrest and in the fields), make sure they are healthy and well fed and than hope that for the rest of the year everything will go as planned. There are lots of forgotten skills that local people are willing to show, like basket weaving, cheese making, etc, etc - I have binged on the whole series with a glee and now already started "Tales from the Green Valley". 




20.10.20

Banksy and Moco Museum

It might appear a bit decadent to visit museums at this times when everything around us is doom and gloom but on the other hand, it is exactly the right time - there are absolutely no people around so museums are actually genuinely enjoyable and on the other hand, this is one of the best ways to lift my mood a bit and to pamper myself. The streets are deserted and empty, everything is grey and miserable, I might as well enjoy something nice before the whole world goes downhill. 


Moco Museum is here in the centre, literary around the corner from me - naturally, it never occurred to me to go there because its here - if I had to travel, I would have probably seen it long time ago already. It is a lovely old building and has a famous collection of modern and contemporary art - not something I would normally be drawn to, but hey, we all change and our perspectives mature. As a young man, I couldn't care less for the modern art but eventually I came to accept and even enjoy some of it. Like with everything else, when it comes to art, I react completely viscerally and things either move or repel me, there is no middle ground. Most of it is just a pleasant distraction, but every now and than something really catches my attention.



It was a old childhood friend who was constantly going on about Banksy that reminded me, hey, the collection of his works is in Moco Museum and its really close to my work. I was vaguely familiar with his name and notoriety but for this visit I did the homework and read more about him, sounds like really interesting person and contrary to majority of people who would do anything for fame, this one actually hides from it and enjoys working from anonymity. Yeah, I know, it sound silly that I paid quite expensive ticket to see street art but hey, this is a collection and quite large one. There were other artists represented (Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Basquiat amongst others) but honestly, all I saw was Banksy and I was super impressed with his ideas - in fact, I don't remember when was the last time I was so taken with any artist. Sure, the technique has nothing to do with the masters from centuries ago who were in a completely different league, but in Banksy's art I see how the art grows, metamorphoses and changes with time - we are in digital era, after all, so it looks and feels different. With Banksy, its all about the message, a symbol, an idea. For example, there was a bust called "Cardinal Sin" - it is a bust of a cardinal where his face was replaced with tiles from a bathroom floor - obvious dig at clergy and their abuse of children, where their identity is always protected by the institution. I thought that was brilliant. Or a large painting describing group of peace-loving policemen - in fact this was about 1985. Battle of the Beanfield when UK policemen savagely beat up and arrested a group of New Age hippies who were on their way to a Stonehenge festival. Every single of his works has an interesting story or at least a thought behind it, I really thought he was brilliant. Couldn't care less for others. OK there was an interesting work by artist who goes with the initials JR and his The Gun Chronicles: A Story of America was actually magnificent collage with two groups (pro and anti-weapons) clashing against each other. 




4.10.20

"I Am Woman" by Unjoo Moon (2019)

Recently I complained about Shirley Jackson biopic that took too much freedom in describing its subject as a deranged, psychotic woman who spends most of the movie possessed by hallucinations or on the floor - while the movie was completely fictional, at least it was brave enough to move in different direction and the actors were visibly thrilled with chance to be unlikeable. Going in completely opposite direction, Helen Reddy biopic is sweetly toothless but ultimately safe (and therefore probably far more accessible to wide audiences) - it is very pleasant, but contrary to its subject, it does not create even a small ripple. It feels as a feel-good, Sunday afternoon TV movie.

Of course I am familiar with real Helen Reddy. I am old enough to remember that song and thanks to wonders like Spotify her complete back catalogue is now accessible more than ever before. Like majority of early 1970s stars, she eventually fell out of fashion but for a while she was unstoppable and rightly so - even to this day I find everything about her (her music, her voice, even her looks) very appealing and to me she belongs in that sacred trio Karen Carpenter-Helen Reddy-Anne Murray who marked the sound of the decade, their smooth, calm voices coming as a reaction to excesses of Woodstock.Yes, all three of them were considered hopelessly uncool because they were commercially successful - this is also era of the sweaty rock stars waving their guitars and being all very macho and serious - even though Janis Joplin broke the ice and showed that white girls can be as wild as the guys, nobody really followed in her footsteps. Judged by the prism of ageism, sexism and prejudiced snickering, girls had to find their own way - Reddy did it by sheer force of talent, intelligence and as we can see, a good timing.


It starts quite interesting: Reddy is 24 years old single mother who arrives in New York with her little daughter, as a winner of some Australian talent show and her prize is recording contract with U.S. company. Record executive is quick to dismiss wide-eyed Australian and told her they have absolutely no interest in girl singers because boys rock bands are all the rage - enjoy your stay and go back to Australia, see you later - they can't even be bothered to audition her or to even listen her voice. Reduced to perform in dingy lounges just to live hand to mouth, Reddy befriends witty journalist Lilian Roxon who is herself writing the very first Rock encyclopedia and two women witness the rise of feminist movement. For the sake of movie, Reddy is pushed around, her nostrils flaring from scene to scene, director hammering down the point that as a woman she is useless and pointless in a man's world (makes you wonder how any female artist did it, God knows they were around) - until eventually she gets a major break and becomes a superstar.



At this point the movie loses credibility for me. And here is why - it seems that director Unjoo Moon and her scriptwriters thought it would be good idea to explore this story trough the subject of feminist movement and how important was that millions of women found their voices trough Helen Reddy's music. So they approached the biopic with utmost respect and gingerly tiptoed around its subject who ends up more as idea than real person - people around her (Roxon, her husband, everybody else) are creatures of flesh and blood, while Reddy herself have surprisingly little to say - for the most of the movie she is surprisingly meek, mild and submissive. In fact, when the success finally comes, we see her as unhappy and moody but are never told why on Earth she is miserable now, after all isn't this what she always wanted? Earlier, we were treated with scenes of marital arguments between Reddy and her manager husband (quite good Evan Peters) where Reddy fiercely rejects the role of housewife and insist on fulfilling her professional ambitions - but once she is a major superstar, it looks like everybody else enjoys her success more than her. I believe the problem here was that movie was made about the real, living person and producers simply didn't know how to approach this without making Reddy a cardboard, quietly suffering wife who happens to sing a feminist anthem while privately living as a doormat. Movie also suggest that for all her strength, intelligence and talent, Reddy was creation of her manager husband who is chiefly responsible for her break - he was the one who aggressively bulldozed the way for her and without him she would still be at her kitchen table - once he is out of the picture, her career completely dwindles away and its just suggested "I don't sing anymore" - in reality, Reddy was middle-aged, strong and intelligent woman in a business that fed on young, nubile starlets and her moment in the spotlight had passed. 



For the sake of script, the movie suddenly changes focus and instead of explaining what Reddy meant to women and how she became personally involved with the movement, it became all about her failed marriage. Kind of "A Star Is Born" train wreck that we expected all along, because he is basically a Pygmalion who will build his wife as a major superstar but wants her to stay put. Before you know it, it becomes kitchen sink melodrama and its all about Reddy's private life, not about her music or what she meant. Tilda Cobham-Hervey is approximation of the real thing but never really close - she is too meek and mild, where real Reddy was charismatic and powerful. Even the voice for the soundtrack is not real but again a certain Chelsea Cullen who copies Reddy sound - it comes as very vague portrayal of Helen Reddy as idea more than a real person. I guess now I have to find her autobiography. 

30.9.20

“A Night at the Louvre: Leonardo da Vinci” by Pierre-Hubert Martin (2020)

This documentary was created in honour of 500-year anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci and its quite spectacular stroll trough the empty halls of Louvre, narrated by two curators who carefully discuss each piece of art.

Since I have cinema card membership with unlimited access to cinema, I decided to use it more frequently and instead of asking around who wants to come with me, I decided what the hell, I'll just go on my own. First thing, a documentary that intrigued me for some time already. It was showing as matinee in my favourite cinema, so I didn't mind waking up, dressing up and walking trough the rainy streets, somehow expecting there will be nobody except me - WRONG - cinema was full of little old ladies who seems to all know each other and suddenly I start suspecting what is going on here, what does this say about me. 

As expected, documentary was visually stunning. I have never been to Louvre so this was like a dream come true, to see camera slowly circling around Louvre Pyramid, than approaching the stairway where on the top there is a winged Nike of Samothrace - and than we hear the voices gently reminding us that museum will close soon and all the visitors are expected to depart. A glance trough empty halls, than the lights go off, one by one. Finally all this beauty rests from the inquisitive eyes. And here is where our documentary starts. Two curators are slowly walking trough the collection of Da Vinci works, explaining what it is, how it came to be, etc. 



This is also where I fell asleep. Not because the subject was boring (though, more about it later) but because the walk trough empty and cold, wet streets was a bit exhausting and suddenly I was so comfortable and warm inside the cinema. Eventually I did woke up and started to pay attention to what curators had to say. Both Vincent Delieuvin and Louis Frank were carefully describing what we see, how it came to be and all that Jazz but at one point I started having this strange feeling that this is just lots of empty talk. One can't rationalise art and explain how the process of creation came to be. Da Vinci lived in a completely different world, very different from ours and his reality was so much unlike ours that we simply can't possibly explain how or why this particular piece of art was created. Even if we know what he ate for breakfast, it still don't explain how come he sketched those beautiful, androgynous faces, what went trough his mind. This, I believe is our basic problem with trying to explain or rationalise art - we should just admire it for what it is and what it stir inside of us, how it touches our souls across the centuries (which is quite something), not pointing at the technical details or whatnot, because frankly, its just a guesswork and lots of empty talk - sometimes people work with what they have, out of sheer necessity or laziness, or because they couldn't get the other tools. My main problem with all the monologues these two young men kept on and on, was that Leonardo is such a mystery for us - 500 years is a long time and from our perspective he might as well come from another planet - we can't possibly know what went on trough his mind and his dreams (nightmares?), what were his views on the religion (one of the major points at the time), where he saw the faces that inspired him, what appeal or repelled him, in short we can't possibly explain anything about a person who died five centuries ago. We have these spectacular pieces of art (I think that I recognised some sketches that were apparently done as preparation for the paintings) and they are still here, immortal in their beauty but why not focusing on how exquisite they are instead of trying to explain and rationalise what went on behind the process of creation. Loved seeing Louvre in all this glory and beauty, I seriously started considering visiting my own Rijksmuseum early one morning while the visitors are still rare. 

24.9.20

"Shirley" by Josephine Decker (2020)

After watching this movie, I left the cinema convinced more than ever that biopics are bad idea. What purpose do they serve except giving a completely twisted, distorted and simplified version of person's lives - often filtered trough director's perspective and more attention has been focused on a crazy camera angles, sound and lighting than to a simple fact is this actually at least close to the truth. Take Shirley Jackson - a brilliant but now forgotten American novelist who is remembered for her two quintessential horror masterpieces "The Haunting of Hill House" and "We Have Always Lived in the Castle". (A friend of mine claims she is not forgotten and is very well known - besides me, this is the only person I ever heard mentioning Jackson) Jackson died more than 50 years ago, her children are now old people and grandparents themselves. Almost nothing is know about her - writers are notoriously private creatures - but if carefully looking over the old photographs and her writings, we can get impression of a witty person with a wicked sense of humour who was also carrying a burden of family, motherhood (she was raising four children) and writing career. Probably spread too thin on various sides, Jackson was a wife during 1950s when bread winners were husbands - it was socially accepted that women will stay at home with the family and act the part. By all accounts, Jackson didn't really fit into this Stepford mentality and not only that she was actually earning more money & publicity than her husband, she was very probably ostracised as author of disturbing fiction - not your typical white gloves Sunday Tea lady - and as a result of too much smoking, drinking and everything, she died at the age of 48. Had she lived longer, she would see the emergence of feminism and might have been celebrated as ice breaking author, unfortunately it seems life was not fair to her. 


Now, how to make a movie about somebody half-forgotten as Shirley Jackson? Director Josephine Decker goes for book "Shirley" by Susan Scarf Merrell, which is a interesting but completely fictional story that uses names of real people (Jackson and her husband) and than goes into wild speculation what went on behind closed doors. Inspired by Jackson's writing, the book imagines that she might have half-mad herself and waves a plot not unlike "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" where older couple sadistically manipulates younger for the sheer sake of gleeful fun. As biopic, movie could go to completely different direction and perhaps go for a unconventional woman who was trying to keep her head above the water in conservative 1950s society - instead, we get a complete fiction with hallucinatory and disorienting scenes, where half of the movie feels like a nightmare. As malevolent couple, both Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg are excellent, but I couldn't help thinking how this is a very good showcase for acting skills - there is lot of head shaking, twitching, falling on the floor, yelling and everything one would expect from a complete lunatic who happens to also be a famous writer. Artistic creativity is explained as possession, where Jackson furiously writes (and throws discarded pages on the floor) and has to be forced to dress up for dinner downstairs. Husband is evil manipulator who guides her for the sake of financial success but is very probably a philanderer. For the sake of the story, there is a young couple invited as a live-in help (fictional Rose and Fred) who are helpless victims of older couple's mind games - sometimes you even wonder are they real or just a clever reflection of Shirley and her husband - what bothered me is that there was not a single positive character in the whole movie, all four of them are like Chess figures, all of them have their own agenda and secret reasons - when Jackson and her husband finally got tired of young couple, they just dump them. 


OK so this is a completely fictional account of something that never happened. Its a psychological drama that simply uses names of the people who actually lived. You could simply use names like Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Alfred Hitler and Eva Braun, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers - it does not matter because its fictional and used simply for the sake of entertainment. But its presented as a biopic. And this is what upset me. I am a reader and have my own opinion of Shirley Jackson - she was a genius, very, very talented lady who lived in different times. I even like the way she looked, obviously interesting and unconventional person who didn't fit into white glove expectations of ladies who lunch. the movie portrays her as a madwoman from the attic, manipulated by evil husband and there is absolutely no reason why these two people even live together - in the movie they are childless, he simply needs a live-in help to cope with a wife who don't want to get up from the bed. In reality Shirley Jackson raised four children. I mean, hey, what is going on in here? Why even using these names? Thousand of people will leave the cinema believing Shirley Jackson was some epileptic who was constantly rolling on the floor and hallucinating. Please, if you create a biopic, at least approach it with respect and do not make Twin Peaks out of someone's life. It really makes me question the whole idea of biopics and the entertainment value of "artistic vision" that convinces audience that Sharon Tate lived happily ever after and Shirley Jackson was in fact a madwoman. 

20.9.20

"The Adventures of Robin Hood" by Michael Curtiz (1938)


The reality around me is so gloomy that it takes superhuman efforts to stay positive and find some beauty, joy and comfort in everyday life. Almost everything I do these days feels as a intentional self-delusion and distraction: even my quiet walks in a favourite part of town (which I just recently discovered) feels sour because I could never live there, not even under the stairs like Harry Potter. With my finances, I could probably afford only a door handle. One side, not two. On top of Corona and political pressure, now it looks as I might stay jobless so the shadow of uncertainty looms over everything I do. In order to cheer myself up a bit, I decided to watch this old classic last night and it was a perfect choice.

I am sure that I have probably seen "The Adventures of Robin Hood" before, but curiously I don't actually have any particular memories - just a vague feeling that this is something that would have played on our black & white TV Sunday afternoon as the whole family relaxed after the lunch, a perfect family entertainment. The conviction that I know all there is to know about Robin Hood (even though its probably a myth) kept me from approaching this movie earlier and to my biggest joy, it was like I experience it for the first time.



In all honesty, it should probably be seen on a cinema screen - as originally created - because even though its made in 1938, its in a luscious
Technicolor and designed to impress the audiences with a complete package - not only it has great, fun story but spectacular costumes, actors, colours and sword fights. If I ever have a family, my children would watch this on a Sunday afternoon, its the kind of innocent, clean entertainment everybody should aspire to. Not a trace of sarcasm, irony or a double entendre - it feels as a movie some seven year old would enjoy with a pure heart. From the start we know who is good and who is bad, in its simplicity it almost feels like Disney - but Disney would come to this subject decades later, this is the real thing.

At this point I won't go into a story - often told and filmed as cinematic success even before this version, with earlier Douglas Fairbanks as Sir Robin of Locksley - it took some courage from Warner Bros to dare bringing such an old warhorse to the screen again but they actually went full blast, with a sensational production, the best tools in the business and created a cinematic extravaganza that blew all the other similar movies out of the water. They saved no expense on big production, best actors, scenery, stunt men, sword fighting instructors and even got Erich Wolfgang Korngold to compose music for the movie - because he was busy in Hollywood, Korngold avoided Nazi prosecution in his own Vienna and this lucky accident probably saved his life. 


My own reaction on the movie was just perfect: I needed escapism, a fantasy that would take me away from this reality and I probably couldn't select better than
"The Adventures of Robin Hood" - even though I am familiar with the story, its been long enough to watch it again like for the first time and many times I bursted laughing out loud with a joy. When Robin and Lady Marian finally kiss on her balcony, I melted and sighed like a totally besotted teenage girl. I took it all without any reservations or prejudice, simply loving it for what it is - a wonderful movie classic for all ages. Came for Olivia de Havilland, stayed because I genuinely loved the movie. 

10.9.20

"Pinocchio" by Matteo Garrone (2019)


Well, of course, who else but Italians will come with by far the best movie version of a classic Italian children's story. Disney had a soft and gentle perspective, with lots of music and clowning but this one is million times better and closer to a spirit of the cautionary tale that "Pinocchio" basically is - because its not about hundreds of other cute Disney tricks and gimmicks but about obedience to a parents and how evil and horrible the world outside can be if you don't follow your orders and don't go to the school. If you don't do as you were told, if you escape the school and join the other stupid kids (who are obviously having fun), you will be either kidnapped, robbed or hung from a tree. Or turn into a monkey and sold to a circus. In fact, more you think of it, Carlo Collodi story has a lot in common with scary Brothers Grimm world where children are deserted in a dark forrest or evil stepmothers are made to dance to death in a cursed shoes, etc. 

So yes, occasionally its creepy but also beautiful to watch - I dare to say that this is 100% European sensitivity that is based on beautiful aesthetics with dark undertones - I was painfully aware that American director would stuff this very same story with saccharin pink clouds and cutesy details (just see what they did to "Wrinkle in Time"), never ending moralising, life affirming lessons hammered into a script and probably Oprah Winfrey somewhere or the other - not here. You get the point by watching the movie, you understand that parents love their children and children love them back without Oprah telling you so. And this is the main difference between European and American film making - it seems to me that Americans find it necessary to dumb down their scripts and literary explain everything letter by letter to their audience, where European artists don't do that. Director Matteo Garrone created very magical experience without compromising the spirit of the story at all - no need for moralising or explaining to us that Pinocchio is a bad boy. In fact, he is not bad at all, he is just not experienced and very sweet in his naivety. When The Cat and Fox swindle him for his golden coins, its not because he is a bad boy, its because he was just recently created from a piece of wood and he sweetly believes everyone. When "the bad boys" convince him to run away from the school and joins them in a magic Toyland, Pinocchio at first looks as a outsider - because he is - while the rest of the boys are screaming, running around and going wild, he is at first just shy observer - whatever happens to him, we understand that he is a good hearted boy who just falls in the troubles because of his trust. Again, in some other hands this could have been very annoying disaster but Italians did it perfectly, without going into a long monologues and explanations - we simply watch and understand this. As a piece of movie it was perfectly suitable for both children and adults - visually it was absolutely unforgettable and beautiful to watch. Excellent. 

"A Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)


Edgar Rice Burroughs and I share the same day of birth. My little claim to immortality.
I know him - as the rest of the world - from his "Tarzan" novels but this came a little bit later. Initially, Burroughs became famous because "A Princess of Mars" was serialised chapter by chapter in The All-Story magazine way back in 1911. and even than was printed under the title "Under the Moons of Mars". This was a young, 30-something unknown author who is just finding his footing in a publishing world and he still needs to find his style - afraid that his potential business customers might find this moonlighting trivial, he sings the novel as "Normal Bean" and of course during the printing he was misspelled as "Norman". In any case, the unusual Martian story served its purpose and Burroughs eventually became very famous - just a few years later he will be celebrated world wide because of "Tarzan" and than his Martian adventure (originally a pulp fiction) will be published as a "real" novel. 


I needed a break from exhausting and demanding "Sapiens" and intuitively knew that if I really want a good escapism, where my mind will go to completely different world and adventures, Burroughs is my man. My first contact with "Tarzan" was decades ago and not so long ago I re-visited first few novels again with greatest pleasure. It is what it is - no deep philosophy here, just a perfect - a dare to say brilliant - adventure story designed to keep a reader going on. Many current celebrated authors don't have this talent and their hefty volumes are just pretentious and pointless. I truly admire someone like Burroughs (or Willa Cather) who know how to tailor the novel in order to keep our interest and trim it down to essentials. They might be in a completely different genres but they both impressed me very much and their novels were small and slim little volumes rich with imagination and genius inside. I have been a passionate reader my whole life and never shied away from big volumes, but slowly came to appreciate economy with words and talent to entertain without becoming a nuisance. In fact, at this late stage in the game, I started selecting books by their weight. The heavy bricks simply don't appeal to me anymore and they seem as a difficult task. I am reading for a pleasure and joy of it, not because I need a door stopper.


Back to Burroughs - apparently this was one of the very first inter-planetary stories and if things appear as a cliché today, well its because they all started here. Everything from Flash Gordon to Carl Sagan was inspired by this novel and I just wonder how come that Hollywood did not milk it better than they did. The story is based on assumption that life on Mars is like some giant desert planet (and imagine, Frank Herbert is still 50 years in the future) where various warrior tribes are fighting tooth and nail amongst themselves. Our main hero is John Carter (from the description basically a twin to later Tarzan) who is strong, handsome, clever and knows how to fight - he is also somehow catapulted from planet Earth to a Mars (without too much explanation or details, he just wakes up there and you take it or leave it) and now has to find his way in a strange, new and brutal world where everything is topsy-turvy and nobody cares for such things as compassion, affections or gentleness. In fact, the tribe of Green Martians that initially caught him is much more into fights and physical strength - they couldn't care less for some soft human and accept him only after he kills a few warriors, than he is fine. From there the story really gets very interesting - in a old fashioned way, of course - there is a Mam'selle in a distress (hence the title of the novel), Carter fights and jumps and protects her across the planet. Honestly, the story meanders all over the place but Burroughs keeps it interesting - its a little bit like memoirs of Marco Polo, than little bit like some concentration camp story (because Carter is basically a prisoner most of the time), than it gets very twisted into court intrigues (Green Martian woman Sarkoja is a character straight from Byzantine Empire) - you can tell that his imagination was running wild and he was throwing everything and the kitchen sink in the story, but funny thing is - it actually worked - almost the whole idea of "Star Wars" worlds with different races and creatures is based on this novel. 
It was very, very easy read and I actually read it for the sheer joy or escapism, finished it in a few days.