Shadow and Light – Danny Ashkenasi (from the musical Speakeasy)
Today I will share some photos I have taken over the past few months that feature a play of light and shadow in a diverse variety. I’ll complement these images with songs about shadow and light, the first one actually called “Shadow and Light”, a song from my musical Speakeasy that I hadn’t yet shared on this blog before. A few of these pictures and tracks have been featured on Notes from a Composer before, a few will be included in an upcoming post. But most are unique to this post.
Above and to the right, twilight shadow and light reflections on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn near the Atlantic Mall (I particularly like how the actual clouds and blue skies align with the reflection of other clouds and sky in the building facade in the picture to the right).
Speaking of twilight in Brooklyn:
Twilight and Shadow – Howard Shore (LOTR)
Manhattan bubbles breaking the light from overcast skies:
I moved to New York City in 1986 yet sometimes I still enjoy it like a tourist. You know the old joke about telling the tourists from the New Yorkers by who is looking up? Well, I may be a New Yorker of more than 30 years but I still like looking up in awe, and sometimes I’ll start taking some “beauty shots” just for the fun of it. Two-Fisted Touristing in my home town. So it was while I walked up last evening past the Hearst Tower on 8th avenue and the corner of 56th Street. The remarkable building, the first “green” high-rise office building completed in New York, rising from the preserved facade of the 1920’s Hearst building, and winner of 2006’s Emporis Skyscraper Award (“best skyscraper in the world completed that year!”), always catches my eye. Today it caught the late afternoon sun nicely too, as did the surrounding buildings. So I took a few pics of the upper delights all around the intersection and posted them on Facebook.
21 Brazil Articles! – 22 Covers of “Brazil”! – 19 Brazilian Music Tracks! – Countless Brazil Photos!
When I started the Two-Fisted Touristing Brazil Series I did not anticipate that it would grow to 21 articles (including this final one) over four months. So, collected here are introductions and links to all of them (just click on the titles), the whole feijoida in other words (well, I can’t use “the whole enchilada”, that’s not a Brazilian dish; feijoada however is the national Brazilian dish – a delicious black bean stew with meat, rice and vegetables).
I will also collect here every version of the song “Brazil” I posted throughout the series, 21 in all, which constitutes just about every cover of “Brazil” you can find on Itunes (give or take a straggler or two). I’ll also include every recording of Brazilian music that I incorporated throughout the series. It’s all here. The Whole Feijoada!
Our final meal of feijoada on our final day in Brazil, 2012
The Brazil series officially started with a reposting of a visit to the amazing waterfalls of Foz do Iguaçu, with the added bonus of including the first of the “Brazil” recordings.
Brazil, where hearts were entertaining June We stood beneath an amber moon And softly murmured “someday soon” We kissed and clung together
Except that the famous lyrics we associate with the song will not be heard yet in this first recording that originally spread the famous melody around the world thanks to the Disney movie “Saludos Amigos”. Here we hear the song as originally sung in Portuguese and known in Brazil as “Aquarela do Brasil”. Maybe it’s because I grew up with the famous English version, but I actually prefer the consistent holding of long notes on one syllable on the opening and ending notes of each line, rather than how in the original these notes are often doubled by two syllables.
The article about the fascinating divide of black and brown waters of the Amazon by Manaus was updated with new, more detailed images acquired a few weeks after the original posting when Ed and I returned to Manaus and got an even closer view of the divide than we had our first time in 2012.
Pink Martini gets the honors of being the first English language version of Brazil I share, not only because of her fine vocals, but also because she delicately captures both a slow ballad and dance-able uptempo approach to the song. And when the children sing “la la la” in the end it manages to be totally endearing rather than cheesy.
This post dives deeply into Piranha infested waters. But it’s not we who get bitten, it’s the piranhas who become our dinner. We also take our boat through the enchanting floating forests of the Amazon.
Michael Kamen’s arrangement of “Brazil”, for the soundtrack of Terry Gilliam’s classic movie “Brazil”, which has nothing to do with the country but is a dystopian satire literally named after the song, envelopes the tune in a sumptuous carnival atmosphere:
BRAZIL (Bachianos Brazil Samba) – Michael Kamen
Here is also where the (my mother will lament “only”) example of Brazil’s leading classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos is included. That I am so much more familiar with Brazil’s popular music than Villa-Lobos specifically or the country’s classical music in general is probably to my discredit. I will however declare that this piece of absolute loveliness towers above just about all of the other Brazil series recordings in the whole feijoada.
Bachianas Brasilieras No 5 (Aria) – Heitor Villa-Lobos (Vocal: Heidi Grant Murphy)
The second Rio-centric piece wanders through the city streets, rich in religious, spiritual and mysterious significance, ending up with the most unusual way to experience Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue you are likely to find on the internet.
The Ritchie Family’s ridiculous Disco riff on Brazil (“You got me! You got me! YOU GOT ME!”) accompanies us along the way:
Brazil – Brazil Choir / Brazil String Orchestra / Quatuor Ébène / Richard Héry
The last day of our second trip to Brazil, August 2016, was spent traveling from Manaus, in the Amazon, to Campinas, just north of São Paulo, to catch our flight back to the United States. We had a four hour stopover in Brasília, the planned city capital of Brazil. Enough time to catch a bus and take some pictures of the nerve center of the city , the mall with all the government buildings, just as the sun was setting.
Brasília was founded in 1960, developed much like Washington D.C. in the States as a city designed to be the federal capital of Brazil, within a federal district distinct as a municipality from the rest of the country. The city structure is known as the Pilot Plan, in the shape of an airplane or bird with a wide wingspan. The centers of all three branches of government (Congress, President and Supreme Court) are located in the head, or cockpit, of Brasília’s bird, or plane. And that is where these twilight pictures were taken.
Ministerial buildings line up like domino pieces.
Statues and vendors in front of the National Cathedral
People from all over the planet come to Manaus to explore the Amazon. But where do the people from Manaus go on vacation? Presidente Figuerido, a resort town two hours north of Manaus and two degrees south of the equator. That is where Ed and I would climb 50 meters up a rainforest tree.
But before we go climb a tree, let’s take a look and dip in one of the many rainforest waterfalls that the region around Presidente Figuerido is known for. Unlike the falls of Iguaçu, these are accessible and relatively safe to utilize as a massive backscratcher.
The White Tree – Howard Shore (LOTR: Return of the King)
(Of course I can’t help myself from sprinkling this “tree” post with “tree” music. It’s what I do…)
The dip in the waterfall was our “reward” or bonus after our tree-climbing excursion. Three guides drove us from Manaus past Presidente Figuerido to a particular location in the rainforest where a designated tree – particularly high and sturdy – is used for a vertical journey up to the canopy.
To the right is “our” tree.
First one of the guides climbed up and attached the red cables – one for each of us – onto two sturdy branches about 50 meters above.
Dowland: The Lowest Trees Have Tops – Sting / Eden Karamazov
We were instructed in the proper technique using the cables and equipment to pull ourselves up – it’s quite the full body exercise, but easier if you are short and light – and then made our way to the canopy.
The Linden Tree – Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra
When Ed and I were exploring Corumba, the Brazilian city that is one of the gateways into the Pantanal (here and here), the city tourist pamphlet led us to the Izulina Xavier Sculpture Museum. We arrived at a fancifully sculpted gate with a view to a front garden bedecked with folkloric sculptures of Saint Francis and attending animals.
We had found the home of Izulina Xavier. But there was no sign indicating it was a museum.
Maybe it was an art school? Outside the gates the sidewalk had been turned into Corumba’s version of the Hollywood walk of fame, with each tile apparently a message or note of thanks from students from all over the world who had taken classes with Ms. Xavier.
A couple even were in German:
We would learn that yes, this was the home of Izulina Xavier, and at one point not long ago it was open to the public. Up to two buses of tourists would arrive each day to take guided tours. And many tourists and locals took art classes with the Maestra, including making those sidewalk tiles that colorfully create a threshold to her estate.
But now everything was quiet around the home and the sculptures we could see from the street. No sign explaining where we were, let alone a plaque with opening hours or any other official explanation.
After exploring the gate for a bit, we wondered whether that glimpse from outside was all we could expect anymore. We were about to leave. But then I said, “Let’s just ring the doorbell. Maybe someone can at least tell us what’s up.” We rang, and then rang again, and then rang again. I suppose that was a bit obnoxious of us, but our curiosity and interest were for once stronger than our reticence.
A woman came to the glass door, looked at us quizzically for a moment, and then came out to the street gate to speak with Ed. She said she was the maid. And that there were no opening hours for the museum. We asked whether it was nonetheless possible to take a tour. Which again, was rather uncharacteristically bold of us. I was thinking of the 18th century English practice of granting travelers tours of grand private country estates, as when the housekeeper of Pemberly proudly shows Elizabeth Bennett and the Gardiners around Pemberly in “Pride and Prejudice”. Never mind that we were now requesting an impromptu tour a private grounds in a small frontier town in Western Brazil in 2016, and are not characters in a Jane Austen novel following the customs of Regency England.
The maid blinked. She would not open up the indoor museum, but she would get the gardener to show us around the back yard sculpture garden. She went back inside and five minutes later returned with the gardener. The gate was opened and we followed him and her through the front garden to a pathway at the right. We were granted entrance into an enchanting world.
A little research would later tell us a bit more about Izulina Xavier. How she came to Corumba when she got married at 19. How she raised a large family (a picture of a big sculptural mural depicting her family can be seen further below) inside the very estate we were now entering. She always loved the sculptural arts and turned to them full time in her 50s when her children were all grown up. She took to concrete as her preferred material. Her proudest achievement is the Christ King of the Pantanal, of which she said: “it has a very great meaning for me, a personal and professional achievement, because it is a very big piece, in which I took nine months to do it, but in the end everything went well and it was very beautiful.” (Thank you, Google Translate)
We have entered dark times. This week has ushered in a calamity that threatens many ills and horrors. For me personally, the worst horror is the reversal in progress against the very real and already active threat of Climate Change. This cravenly ignorant going backwards at the very worst possible time, when we have only few years left to reduce climate warming emissions before an irreversible threshold is met, that is the ultimate future destroying calamity in the many, too many calamities that this week’s election in my home nation have visited upon us.
There is grief and despair far beyond the usual dismay at political misfortune, just as the elected (but not majority winning) candidate goes far beyond, or reaches depths far below, the usual political malefactor.
“Light” song #2:
I didn’t think I would address it here. It’s not really what I thought I do here at Notes from a Composer, and for now I will say no more but to explain the small inspiration for this post; that when Ed and I came home from seeing the transcendent movie Arrival (featuring the magnificentlyalien music from Jóhann Jóhannsson), a movie which, the more I consider it, is likely to stand as an unexpected and welcome response to recent events, we walked out of the subway stop onto the lights of Bergen Street in Brooklyn, and felt inspired to take some pictures.
Maybe the congregation of small lights shining in the dark, the smudges of green leaves within the black sky, can be an image, evoke a metaphor, that might serve as a bit of a balm today. It gives me a little comfort. And so I’ll also share some songs of “light” that may also serve as a balm or even as some inspiration in these days too.
As my Quaker husband has taught me to say: “I hold you in the light”.
Soon after posting that piece, a Berlin friend of mine drew my attention to one of the earliest known gay anthems, also from the early German Weimar era: “Das Lila Lied”, “The Lavender Song”, written for performance in the Berlin Cabaret scene in 1920 with lyrics by Kurt Schwabach and music by Misha Spoliansky, and first recorded 1921 by the Marek Weber Orchestra.
Different that the Others
What immediately struck me was the prominent use of the phrase “Anders als die Andren” in the first line of the refrain – the song could just as well be called “Anders als die Andern” as much as “Das Lila Lied” – as if the lyrics were directly inspired by the movie of that name and that subject, which had made quite an impression in 1919, and was banned from cinemas by 1920.
According to Wikipedia, the song was written after the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Science) under Magnus Hirschfeld made worldwide news with its “First International Conference for Sexual Reform” which called for regulations on sexual behavior to be based on science instead of religion or other unscientific tradition.
Of course Magnus Hirshfeld was also one of the co-creators of “Anders als die Andern”, so I think it possible the phrase was even coined as well as popularized by Hirshfeld himself. At the very least, from the evidence of the movie and the song, it was widely used to draw sympathetic attention to the plight of the homosexual in society.
Below are the full lyrics of the song and an English translation. The recording above only includes the lyrics from the refrain, not the verses. So far I haven’t found a recording that includes the verses, but we can feel certain that they were sung live in Berlin Cabarets of the 1920’s. The video above also includes great glimpses into Gay life of 1920’s Berlin, the time of “Cabaret“, before the Nazis destroyed the new social freedoms of the Post-WW1 era.
The Handmaiden – Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo – Baby Bump – Where Are You Going, Habibi? – Different from the Others
Between writing my second piece on the Queer Baker’s dozen of LGBT films I saw at the NewFest Film Festival and starting this piece, I saw “The Handmaiden”, one of the best movies of the year. And with “Paris 05:59: Theo and Hugo” being my favorite film from NewFest, I expect I had the pleasure of seeing the most sexually explicit lesbian movie and the most sexually explicit gay movie of this year (or maybe any year), as well as the two films that treat queer sexuality with the greatest narrative finesse.
OK, now that I got your attention with promises of hot yet artistic cinematic lesbian and gay sex, let me shoehorn in the other Newfest movies I saw that bear discussing too; we’ll get to the steamy stuff soon enough…
The four festival films left all hail from Europe – the North and South American selections I saw being already discussed. Let’s start with the wildly weird “Baby Bump” from Poland, about an eleven year boy struggling with bullying, drug dealing, his suffocating mother and puberty induced body horror. Only half the dialog – the characters’ interactions – is in Polish, the other half is in the stylized English of an old-time instructional health film, as spoken by the mischievous cartoon mouse that appears to represent the boys’ Id. Kuba Czekaj’s feature is aggressively arty, avant-garde, absurd, amusing and alienating (driving me to aggressive alliteration). There is a plot or something of a narrative thread in there, but very much playing second fiddle to the surreal experimental extravagance.
Having grown up in Germany I of course would seek out the German entries in the NewFest festival. There were only two, separated by 97 years. “Where Are You Going, Habibi?” (“Wo Willst Du Hin, Habibi”) is a good-natured comedy about an ethnic Turkish Berliner, comfortable with his homosexuality but not out to his family, who unwisely develops a mad crush on a blue-eyed blond ne’er-do-well, who is not only heterosexual, but also a small time criminal. No good can come out of it, except maybe, eventually, an unlikely friendship. This low-budget effort by Tor Iben humorously and sensitively navigates the expected and unexpected plot twists.
96 years earlier, German cinema produced what is believed to be the first sympathetic portrayal of homosexual life in movies: “Anders als die Andern” AKA “Different from the Others“. It was co-created 1919 by the head of the Institute for Sexual Science, Magnus Hirshfeld (who also plays a supporting role) as an “Aufklärungsfilm” (which literally means Explanation Film), an agitprop narrative designed to shed a sympathetic light on homosexuality and agitate against Paragraph 175, the German law which criminalized gay sex. In 1920 German authorities banned the movie, and the Nazis, who would exploit Paragraph 175 to devastating effects for homosexuals, later destroyed every known print. However, about 40 minutes worth of footage would be found in the Ukrainian print of an anthology film of the late 1920s into which Magnus Hirshfeld had edited in parts of “Different than the Others”. This found footage became the basis of a handsomely restored print screened at Newfest with superb live piano accompaniment (the excellent documentary “Paragraph 175” was also screened again).
At least a third of the footage of the original version remains lost, but detailed logs from censorship offices of the Weimar and Nazi bureaucracy allowed the restorers to reconstruct the narrative fully, utilizing extra title cards as well as still photographs from the set and archival photographs from Hirschfeld’s studies.
“Different than the Others” tells the story of a famous concert violinist who falls in love with his young student. A shady character blackmails the violinist, causing a rupture in the lovers’ relationship. The hero finally resists the blackmailer and exposes him to the police, but in the process he is accused of breaking Paragraph 175. The scandal ruins his career and isolates him socially. Finally he commits suicide. The surviving footage focuses mostly on the triangle relationship of violinist, student and blackmailer, and includes some spectacular scenes of queer dance halls of 1919 Berlin, with men dancing with men, women dancing with women, in all variety of genderfluid costumes, as well as a touching flashback segment of the violinist as a young man falling in love with his boarding school friend. The descriptions of the lost footage reveals the wider scope of the original movie, showing how both protagonists’ families deal differently with their sons’ homosexuality, the men’s doomed attempts at heterosexuality, and a prologue and epilogue connecting the hero to the fate of many (famous) homosexuals throughout history.
As Halloween falls on a Monday this year, I think it makes sense to call this a long Halloween Weekend. Much costumed celebrating and ghoulish goings-on will have already begun yesterday and continue through today and Sunday into the official Day of Frights and Jack-O-Lanterns, October 31.
Notes from a Composer has only been around a year and a half, but a few Halloween themes or otherwise shiver inducing articles have been posted already, enough to collect them here as a tricky treat.
The promised third and final part of Newfest’sLGBT movies will be posted soon, and the final installments of the Brazil series are on their way too, but for now let’s shoehorn some seasonal scares:
We’ll start with the one about seeing the modern horror classic movie “Halloween” at the age of 11, me in abject terror, while my father was more afraid of the other patrons in the Upper West Side cinema:
Next let’s dive into “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“, one of my chamber musicals, which you can read and listen to in total on its own page on this blog. My introduction to this tale, the original roommate from hell story, was made through my own personal roommate from hell:
Akron – I Love You Both – Women Who Kill – Don’t Call Me Son – The Cult – The Nest – (and a Lazy Eye addendum)
I experienced a marathon weekend of new LGBT movies from around the world – a “baker’s dozen”, 13, at NewFest, New York’s LGBT film festival. I wrote about three of them, plus “Moonlight”, previously, let’s dive into the others here, shall we?
We’ll be traveling far and wide through space (Europe and South America) and time (1919 and 2040), but let’s start here and now in Ohio with the romantic drama of young gay lovers facing unexpected obstacles: “Akron“. It’s refreshing to see a love story between two male college students where the conflict is not their coming out or their ethnic differences. No, their families are both fully accepting and supportive of their sexuality and relationship. No trouble there … that is, until a family secret worthy of Sophocles (which is telegraphed early on in the movie but which I won’t spoil here) is revealed one by one to the characters and one by one, parents and sons alike deal with the bombshell in ways that are not admirable, but believable, threatening everybody’s love and happiness.
“I Love You Both” is another US indie about a twentysomething couple, in this case brother/sister twins Donny and Krystal, played by real life twins Doug and Kristin Archibald, who also wrote the screenplay (while Doug directed). The IMDb synopsis, “Krystal and her twin brother/roommate confront twenty-eight years of their codependency when they start dating the same guy”, deftly describes this often drolly funny, sometimes wistfully deadpan effort. In the Q & A after the screening Krystal Archibald explained the “I” in the title could refer to either of the siblings, or even their mother, but copped to push back from many audience members who came into the film expecting the bisexual love object of the twins to be the one saying “I love you both”, expressing their disappointment that the movie never actually explored that scenario nor developed the bisexual male love object as a fully fleshed out character. I felt disappointed at the end of the screening too, yet the problem with that disappointment is that I wanted the film to be something other than the film actually was setting out to be. But is it wrong to expect a movie called “I Love You Both” to more overtly explore a bisexual love triangle from the actual bisexual’s perspective? The working title for the film was “Quarterlife Crisis”, which describes the film we saw much more accurately, but may not be as enticing a title for audiences. Perhaps another title option can still be found, one that evokes the offbeat humor and low-key tenderness of the film without being off-putting or misdirecting.
Perhaps I protest too much about the whole male bisexual thing, but it does bother me how of the whole LGBTQ spectrum male bisexuality seems to be the least explored in the arts. Only three films in the NewFest schedule specifically billed themselves as dealing with male bisexuality, and I was only able to include two in our schedule. And it appears that the one I missed, “Hunky Dory”, may have been the one of the three that dealt with bisexuality most centrally. I’ll look for it in limited release or V.O.D., I hope soon.
Meanwhile I was grateful that “Lazy Eye“, discussed in the previous post, included a fun little affirmative shout-out to bisexuality, when one of the men (in a flashback to 15 years ago) tells the other he is bisexual, whereupon he is challenged to reveal how many women he had slept with. “Five, but what does that matter?” is his response. Oh how I remember how male bisexuality was challenged 10-20 years ago as even being a real thing, let alone accepted, so that little dialog exchange resonated for me. Things are better nowadays regarding acknowledging and accepting male bisexuality, but not yet better enough.
There were plenty Lesbian narrative features to choose from in the festival, so the fact that I saw only one is a definite slap on my wrist, I suppose (although for what it’s worth, if not for unfortunate scheduling overlaps I would have seen two, as the mumblecore comedy “Suicide Kale” caught my fancy but like “Hunky Dory” couldn’t fit the itinerary). The one I did see was a doozy: “Women Who Kill“, a comedy/suspense satire which might also be called “Park Slope Murder Mystery” in a nod to Woody Allen’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery”, except in quality it comes closer to Allen’s stronger mid-to late efforts than that amiable yet shambling trifle. I guffawed plenty early on as the film satirizes true crime podcasting and Lesbian relationships in equal measures.
Women Who Kill
By the end of the movie, darker and more suspenseful elements outweigh laughs. But the mere fact that the Hitchcockian climax takes place on the roof garden of a Food Co-op confirms that director-writer-star Ingrid Jungermann keeps her tongue firmly in Lesbian cheek throughout.
Because almost all of the many male-on-male centered movies I saw in the festival had almost no women in each capacity audience, I expected to be the only dude in the screening for “Women Who Kill”. But I was wrong, it turned out to be about a 2-1 female-male ratio, for what that’s worth.
Me getting the NewFest 2016 rainbow logo treatment
Moonlight – The Pass – Esteros – Lazy Eye
I am “recovering” from watching 14 LGBTQ themed movies over the course of four and a half days. Not “recovering” in a bad way, only in as much as after seeing 14 movies in quick succession, all of which ranged from pretty good to masterpiece, and more importantly, many of which were powerfully affecting, my emotions and subconscious are a little overloaded and I am in desperate need of more sleep time to process all those narratives.
Thirteen of these films were presented as part of the NewFest LGBT Film Festival of New York City. Ed and I renewed our membership with the festival and decided to take in as many films that interested us that we could. And then there’s “Moonlight”, also LGBT themed, and the currently best reviewed movie of the season, which opened this weekend while the festival was in full swing. When I realized I would be writing about all the movies I’d be seeing at the festival, I knew I’d want to include “Moonlight” too.
Most of the NewFest films I saw will get little fanfare, which is why I hope writing about them on my little blog may help direct some attention to new indie and foreign LGBTQ movies. “Moonlight” is getting plenty of attention, but it may be in danger of getting marginalized the way movies about the African-American experience, or movies about LGBT people, or movies about drug addiction often do. That would be a shame and a loss to anyone who loves to see a great movie. I don’t think of myself as a critic, and frankly, there is not much I can add to A. O. Scott’s New York Times “Moonlight” review (really, if you will read just one review of this film, or any film this year, read that one). When I left the theater Friday afternoon, I tweated:
A. O. Scott calls “Moonlight” an “almost unbearably personal film”, an “urgent social document”, and “a poem written in light, music and vivid human faces”. It is real and poetic, specific and universal in almost alchemical ways as it tells the story of one man in three time frames, as a child, a youth and young man. To me these three sections transcended “mere” narrative acts and became three musical movements, such was the ineffable impression the use of light, cinematography, dialog, acting and score left on me.
To help get you in the mood for this exquisite movie, listen to its main theme, the central character’s “leitmotif”, as heard briefly early on in each of the three segments of his life (titled with the name he is mostly known by each time) and subtly altered for each iteration:
Little’s Theme – Nicholas Britell
Chiron’s Theme – Nicholas Britell
Black’s Theme – Nicholas Britell
Unexpectedly, although so very different in many ways, “Moonlight” would have some key thematic and structural commonalities with “The Pass“, the Opening Night film of NewFest’s 2016 LGBT Film Festival. In addition to the theme of a man trying to deal with his homosexuality in a difficult environment, in the case of “The Pass” a star soccer player, both movies are based on plays and take on a distinct three act structure, each act separated by time lapses of 5 or more years. There are marked differences in how both films adapt the plays they are based on. According to A. O. Scott, in “Moonlight” “Mr. McCraney’s play is a layered and fractured collage of voices, and … (the director/adapter) Mr. Jenkins has adjusted the shape to the linear demands of narrative filmmaking” in creating three separate segments in three distinct time frames. “The Pass” presents three crucial moments in the life of soccer player Jason (Russell Tovey, Johnathan Groff’ boss/lover in HBO’s “Looking”) in uninterrupted real time within three contained spaces, very much like the play it is based on. But it is filmed and performed with such verve that it doesn’t feel “stagey”. As the playwright/screenwriter John Donnelly suggested during the Q & A that followed the NewFest premiere, “opening up” the play (as often happens when stage drama is adapted for the screen) may have sapped the narrative of its suspense and claustrophobic intensity. When a single cinematic “opening up” does occur at the end via a crucial flashback, the effect is devastatingly heartbreaking. “The Pass” haunted me with the tragic implications of its conclusion as much as the final image of grace in “Moonlight” filled me with the balm of hope.
Russell Tovey (far right) with NewFest directors plus the director and screenwriter of “The Pass” at the NewFest Opening Night.
But coming to terms with one’s sexuality and a three act structure are not the only major elements “Moonlight” and “The Pass” have in common. Both films and two others I saw at NewFest feature the protagonist’s momentous reunion with the “love-of-his-life” after a long time apart, and for three of these films the last time this long lost lover was seen was when they were youths: 19, or around 16, or around 13 respectively.
Between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro lie some of the most fabulous coastline views on Earth – (including that “Twilight” honeymoon spot)
Brazil (Alternate Take) – Antônio Carlos Jobim
Robert Pattinson and Kirsten Stewart on location in Casa em Paraty
It’s always fun when a movie shows you some impressive, exotic location and you realize “Wait, I recognize that place, we’ve been there!” ( Of course it’s even better when you can go “Wait, I know that place, I live there!”) Such was the case when Ed and I popped the wedding video of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn Part 1, into the DVD player. The secret island honeymoon getaway for glamorous eternally teenage vampire Edward and his winsome bride Bella had a natural coastline character that we recognized as undeniably Brazilian. A little internet digging revealed that the vacation resort Hollywood rented to stand in for the island hideaway responsible for bed-busting and feather-flying vampire-on-human deflowering was an exclusive holiday rental called Casa em Paraty.
Casa em Paraty is actually not on an island, as suggested by the movie, but along the shore of a lagoon that points deeply inland like a large maritime index finger, south of the town of Paraty along the coastline between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Ed and I explored this same coastline for several days during the first days of our first tour of Brazil together in 2012. It is a fantastically evocative landscape, with verdant mountains undulating to one side, and green islands protruding out of the waters like forested bubbles.
We drove from São Paulo over a mountain road towards the coast. Our first view of the coastline was of the city of Caraguatuba below and the island of Ihlabela across the straight.
Ilhabela is very popular with Paulistas (São Paulo city dwellers) during the summer holidays. But we arrived in August, which is winter in Brazil, so we practically had the island to ourselves.
Ilhabela was formed by volcanoes. The long cooled top of the main volcano dominates the center of the island.
Many exotic plants would capture our camera’s eye. I’ll share just one plant picture, this particularly beautiful banana tree. The banana berries (yes, bananas are members of the berry family of fruits) are bunched like a crown atop, while the massive flower hangs pendulous and heavy below.
However the birds that dominate Brazil’s landscape more ubiquitously than any other are the vultures. We would see them all over Brazil. And this picture capturing a vulture in its full Far-Side like essence was one of the first we took on the island of Ihlabela. A few more unexpected vulture sightings would will be included later in this piece. But let me just reiterate, just because I didn’t include vulture pics in the other Brazil posts on this blog doesn’t mean we didn’t see them all over, flying around the Sugarloaf, in the Amazon, the Lençoís, everywhere.
Ilhabela is famous for its many waterfalls. That is Ed hiding behind the curtain spray of one of them. Further downstream of that fall the waters created a natural water slide, scooping out a track through the stones. That’s Ed at right zooming down …
… and being deposited into the pond below. It was a fast and bumpy ride. It’s not like nature scooped out a perfectly smooth and safe path in the hard rock following the safety regulations of US water parks. Both Ed and I wound up with a few scrapes and bruises. But no regrets, it was wild and fun.
Why have Ed and I traveled twice to Brazil, exploring different parts of the country for the whole month of August in 2012 and 2016? We do love to travel and explore the world when we can, but even so, the Brazil vacations are a particularly grand commitment of time and resources for us. The answer lies in Ed’s history with Brazil. In the early 1980’s he spent three years in Brazil, working in a program similar to the Peace Corps.
I asked Ed to write the main part of today’s blog post, his memories of the time he spent in the countryside near the small town of Orobó in the State of Pernambuco. About three hours East of Pernambuco’s capitol Recife (and about an hour West of Caruaru, see map). In 2012 we returned to the area and searched for Ed’s old home driving our progressively more mud-speckled rental car on dirt roads through puddles and over precariously steep slopes in the picturesquely hilly countryside. The pictures I took then will annotate Ed’s tale.
Pernambuco is the the Northeastern bulge of Brazil
As will three versions of the popular Brazilian tune “Último Pau de Arara” (written by Jose Palmeira Guimaraes, Manuel Jose Do Espirito Santo and Marcos Cavalcanti De Albuquerque in the 1950’s). Pau de Arara literally means “the parrot’s perch” and refers to the unfixed benches on the open backs of trucks rural Pernambucanos would travel on to get to faraway cities. Eventually the trucks themselves acquired the name Pau de Arara. The song title refers to final truck taking the last people ever to leave the country, there will be no truck after; the singer will take it only if the rains fail, the crops and cow die and there is no choice but to leave the farm:
I hope that rain comes right away
I hope so, my God,
I only will leave my Cariri (city)
when the last pau-de-arara arrives
Brazil culture abounds with references of migration out of Pernambuco (for example the song Sampa about São Paulo). “Último Pau de Arara” is one of the most famous. I will include three versions of the song, the first a lively traditional rendition, the second a stark torch singer version, and the third a guitar-centric instrumental.
Último Pau de Arara – Ary Lobo
And now, without further ado, Edward Elder’s article:
I lived in Brazil as a volunteer for the Mennonite Central Committee from January 1983 to December of 1985. We began in Brazil with 3 months of language training in Recife. While not as obviously lovely as neighboring Olinda, Recife is considered the Venice of Brazil for the many rivers and canals that cut through it. It has some truly wonderful beaches, even if there is some risk of being bitten by a shark. I never actually heard of anyone being attacked while I was there, but there are plenty of signs up now.
After getting some facility with the language, I moved with another volunteer to the town of Orobó, which is about 100 km from Recife. At the time this would take about 3 hours, either by bus or cômbe (small van), because the roads were so filled with potholes. On Danny and my first trip to Brazil in 2012, we made that trip and the roads at least had not changed much. At least the road to Orobó had not changed. The road to Caruaru on the other hand was fantastic, beautiful and smooth.
Ed tried to find the road he used to take out of Orobó to get to his farm house, a 45 minute walk from town. But Orobó had changed too much since 1985.
This man remembered all the volunteers who came with the Mennonite Central Committee. He recalled that Ed had trained his wife in public health.
The Mennonite’s had asked for a volunteer to help train people from the countryside in basic medical services to help expand the reach of Brazil’s marvelous (on paper) health care system. Each town should have a Basic Health Unit, with larger city’s having Intermediate Health Facilities and the major city’s having state of the art Tertiary Health Units. When I got there, I found that there had been a bit of a miscommunication and no one in Orobó had known this is what I was going to do. So, my partner and I moved to a small house in the countryside and began doing our volunteer work as best we could. He was there to help with rural agricultural development, having grown up on a farm in Ohio. Of course farming in the agreste (fertile land) of Brazil is very different from farming on Ohio. And I was to train women in health care, having a year of training in health education from The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. And the book “Where There is No Doctor”.
Orobó’s cemetery. Thirty years ago Ed helped bury two of his neighbors, carrying the coffins all the way from the country to town (remember, that was at least a 45 minute walk).
We believe this is the grave of one of the neighbors Ed helped bury. She was a woman who died at 80 of severe burns after falling onto the hearth fire. She refused to be taken to the hospital, and perhaps it would not have helped. Ed did what he could for her until she passed.
Looking back on Orobó as we make our way to find Ed’s old country home.