How a genre and boundary bursting Swedish movie brought back to mind a certain LGBTQ friendly First Grade Opera Tune
I just saw the movie “Border”, Sweden’s entry for this year’s Foreign Film Oscar, and let me say, right off the bat, I recommend this strange, affecting, disturbing, adult, startlingly real seeming fantasy (a make-up nomination and Oscar win is even more likely than for foreign film). But this isn’t a review, for that I suggest you read this one. However certain major spoilers for the movie may follow, although I’ll reveal little of the plot.
“Border” moved me to share a particular first grade opera song, one that was written back in 2003, whose kicky hook entered my thoughts unbidden during one of the films more romantic moments.
This song is called “Troll Affection”.
It’s been fifteen years, and the plot of that particular first grade opera is rather hazy. I remember there was a wizard, a troll, and two other fantastical characters – a fairy and a giant? Anyway, part of the plot revolved around the wizard having a thing for trolls, which he expressed in the rollicking song “Troll Affection”.
Frankly, the words and tune of most of the song are a bit hap-hazard, as some but not most songs written by first graders can turn out to be (yes, they create the words and tunes themselves, I’m merely the scribe and mentor). However it does have a kicky hook when the wizard repeatedly sings “Troll Affection”, followed by four foot stomps the first graders insisted be added to the score.
I just recorded this “Troll Affection” hook quickly with my phone to give you a taste:
Ed and I were watching the marvelous, heart-grabbing “First Man” in the next to uppermost row in the huge Upper West Side Imax theater, when we reached the point in the narrative where Neil Armstrong is commanding the Gemini mission involving one space ship docking unto another in outer space for the first time in history, a crucial step toward making a future moon landing possible.
And Justin Hurwitz’s score suddenly took on a symphonically murmuring quality that reminded me very distinctly of something very musically familiar…
A slow build up with tremolos, with rising snippets of phrases foreshadowing a more elaborate, elegant melody to come.
I thought, are we heading where we appear to be heading?
And then, when the docking between the two rocket crafts is successfully accomplished, and a gently celebratory harp rhythm in three quarter time is struck…
I was sure. And smiled in eager anticipation.
The main melodic theme from “First Man”, so far in the movie heard mainly in 4/4 time and in wistful strains, is now joyously played as a waltz. But it was hearing the chirping of two flutes in harmonic thirds, while the rocket ships are shown turning in graceful circles, that had me guffaw appreciatively, and break movie going etiquette by whispering in Ed’s ear: “They are riffing on The Blue Danube!”
Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube Waltz” is nowadays inextricably associated with Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 – A Space Odyssey”. The only classical music piece even more reframed from its original meaning as a musical paean to space travel (also thanks to Kubrick’s “2001”) is “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, by that other Strauss, Richard.
Don’t believe me that the “Docking Waltz” from “First Man” pays clever homage to “2001’s” use of “The Blue Danube Waltz”, albeit with more liberal use of the theremin? Go ahead and listen to it above, and then compare it with the two clips from “2001 – A Space Odyssey”. “2001” even includes two space ships in a docking maneuver also filmed as a slow-turning waltz.
Have I decided to add cartoonist to my jack-of-the-arts-box?
No. I am quite aware that my drawing skills are more on the feeble side.
These sketches are for practical reasons, which however are leading to an artistic pursuit.
Several weeks a go I posted a tease regarding a revival of my Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“. Today I am sharing some sketches that are just a few of the over 160 drawings I have made related to this return to Poe’s story of the madman, the pale blue eye, and the hideous heart.
And why did I go through the trouble of sketching over 160 drawings when, let me reiterate this again, I am not planning a cartoon or graphic novel of The Tell-Tale Heart?
No, these drawings are actually not meant for public consumption (although I guess I just made some of them available for public consumption with this blog post). They are mainly a means to an end. Ah, but what end?
Can you guess….?
Tell tale glimpses into a specifically horrific future for “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre”…
but also some less comforting, chiseled objectification
Continuing my fascination with sensual statuary in Paris, the greatest concentration of such aesthetically, artistically, and, let’s admit it, amorously pleasing statues in Paris, and thus likely the world, might be found in the Musée D’Orsay. Originally built as a train station for the World’s Fair that birthed the Eiffel Tower, it was turned soon after into a museum of modern art, now showcasing mostly late 19th and early 20th century works.
Once again we find statues with varying degrees of overt and implied sensuality, with nudity that runs the gamut from formal to tender, from subtle to sensational, from exquisite to exploitative (sometimes all at once).
Above, a depiction of Sappho, passively asleep, girly and demure, her breast nearly exposed. Not my idea of Sappho, although I guess she napped sitting on a chair too on occasion…
Above and below, marble centerfolds. The passive (unconscious?) female body displayed for ravishing.
For gender objectification parity here the male body in the same passive surrender to the (male?) gaze:
There is surely something more to be discussed than sleep habits when sculptures of bodies in the most obviously erotically alluring and passive poses also render those figures with their eyes closed.
But I guess having these figures look at the viewer with eyes open might have been a step too far for 19th century society. Whereas the overt physical display coupled with their vulnerability and lack of agency may make these sculptures less innocent in the 21st century than they seemed in the 20th.
UPDATE: Lone Star Lyric has postponed their production of “Witches” to June, 2019
However, my Nov 3 talk at the Round Top Theater Forum will include numerous performed excerpts -songs and scenes – from the musical.
Looking for something fun and fierce and feminine to do this Halloween? In Houston?
My musical “Witches” is receiving its Texas debut at the Lone Star Lyric, starring Kelli Estes and Sonja Bruzauskas as the witches Margaret and Leona getting ready for their ninth and final life, and looking back at 8 lives lived as Eve, Lilith, Lady Macbeth, Snow White’s Stepqueen, Hansel and Gretel’s …uh…host, with a heavy emphasis on what they went through as modern day women of the 20th and 21st century.
“Witches” has been performed dozens of times all over Germany, three different productions in Berlin alone as well as in Austria and Finland (in Finnish!). The English translation has been produced twice in New York City. And next is Houston.
Performances will be the last weekend of October. I’ll be there, as well as the following weekend at the Roundtop Theater Forum, giving a little talk while Kelli and Sonja perform songs from “Witches”.
So if you’re in Houston this Halloween weekend, do join us for some Black Sabbath serenading.
Currently at the Rubin Museum in New York City, there is an exhibit curated by the public’s hopes and fears.
One is invited to fill out a red tabbed card, completing the phrase “I’m anxious about…” and hang it on a peg on a red wall overfilling with other responses. Conversely there are blue tabbed cards with the phrase “I’m hopeful because…” to be answered and hung on the blue wall to the left of the red one.
Life is fucked up
I passed all my classes
I filled out two cards for the red side, and one for the blue side. Perhaps you can detect my contributions.
I have to pee
The November election
My confidence carries me each day
Apropos Song #1 – Shout (Tears for Fears)
It’s a lovely day in NYC
Amazon messed up my order
Black Lives Matter
Someone dear to me won’t see me, but…
I find myself being good enough more often than not
I am scared of the unknown future
I live to see another day
Time is limited
I am learning how to live for myself
of the impact of the present negativity on the lives of children
God is everywhere! So smile, everything will be alright
I don’t know if statistically there are more nude statues there than in other European cultural capitals, or if the nude statues of Paris are particularly more sensual than elsewhere, or if it is just the particular perspective of a 51 year old queer man that drew these nude sensual statues to his (OK, my) camera’s attention, and maybe it says less about Paris and more about my own sensibilities, or predilections, that I not only directed my camera towards these nude statues but maybe also teased out more sensuality from them in the way I photographed them than the sculptors intended.
Or maybe it’s everything above, the nude sculptures of Paris, their sculptors’ overt or hidden intentions, my prurient perspective and, occasionally, my camera’s angles too.
Sensual Classic #1 – Beethoven: Romance, Opus 50
(You know those compilations of classical music sold like greatest hits albums? Especially the ones called “Sensual Classics”, like that one cd with a picture of two soulfully shirtless men Ed purchased at a Gay bookstore in the ’90s? I might as well accompany my Sensual Sculpture post(s) with music from that cd, pre-approved by the Sensual Classics series, selecting the choice classical tracks to make out to.)
Sometimes a nude is just a nude. Like these two nudes on the Arc de Triomphe.
There’s nudity in Napoleon’s vainglorious memorial, but not much sensuality.
But the nudes holding up the street lamps around the Paris opera house are undeniably posed to be sensually alluring. Their closed eyed passivity makes them seem to me akin to three dimensional pin-ups. Less works of art than obvious sops to an objectifying male gaze.
But still alluringly sensual, even if socio-politically problematic. Luckily better art more deserving of our sensual fascinations lies ahead.
The breasts of the golden angel on top of the Fontaine du Chatelet may be as exposed as the street lamp maidens, but the figure’s position and gesture gives her more agency. The sensuality resides less with the nudity than in how the sunlight plays with the gold.
And because I am an equal opportunity (or all gender) ogler, let’s follow up the golden disrobed female angel with the golden naked male angel on top of the column at the Place de la Bastille, which is where another, more recently built opera house also happens to stand.
Most of the nudes displayed statuesquely in the streets of Paris are at least a hundred years old and classically trained, so to speak. But there are exceptions in a more modern, 20th century vein, like this large languorous figure near Arts and Metiers.
There’s nothing overtly sexual about these male nudes hard at work on one of the Seine bridges, but it can’t be denied how their virile musculature is on dynamic display. Watching half-dressed men at hard physical labor is a whole class of soft-core erotica all by itself, after all.
There is lots of sensual nudity, sculptural and painterly, at display inside the Louvre museum (which I will get to in another post, surely). The outside facade however is mostly rather stately and prim.
Still, if you are into naked hunky men tied up in bonds, those can be found near certain windows.
But for a more delicate sensuality, these particular figures caught my eye, holding hands, breasts barely draped, looking off into the far distance wistfully. There seemed to be a sad, sweet, sensual story there.
Between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde is the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden), where you will find a surfeit of nude statues of all kinds, most posed with sensual flair, even if their subject matter may have little to do with sexuality.
(Parenthetically, I love how birds will insert themselves into a statues’ presentation. A droll visual disruption.)
The EIFFEL TOWER, as seen from many different Paris neighborhoods, constitutes the official kick off to a whole lot of Paris infused blog posts (even if it is actually the third of such blog posts – I’ll just call those firsttwo “Paris teaser posts”).
The first two views of the Eiffel Tower will be teasers too. As seen from the balcony of our guest apartment in the 10th arrondissement:
And at night…
And for musical accompaniment, I will include music and lyrics of two of my favorite songs with Paris in the title. The first, as sung by the divine Ella Fitzgerald:
I Love Paris – Cole Porter
Place de la Concorde
Every time I look down on this timeless town Whether blue or gray be her skies Whether loud be her cheers or whether soft be her tears More and more do I realize that
Jardin du Luxembourg
I love Paris in the springtime I love Paris in the fall
Jardin des Touleries
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles
Along the Seine, with a copy of Lady Liberty (West Side)
I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
The Seine, further East, near Notre Dame
Every moment of the year
The Russian Church, as seen from the Seine, with the Eiffel Tower
Yep that’s me. And that’s the Mona Lisa. And this is a little tale of how I spent some time with her.
It starts with a trip to Paris. And a whole day set aside for the Louvre, the immense museum that once was the king’s palace, until Louis XIV thought it just too dinky and built Versailles instead…
We entered the Louvre from the Paris Metro to gaze at the pyramids rising both above and below the new central entrance I M Pei designed for the Louvre in 1983.
Once we passed security and ticketing we made our way into the vast halls of the Louvre.
So much to see, but we were determined to make the Mona Lisa our first stop. From the flow of other tourists beside us, we were clearly not the only ones making the bee’s line to Mona.
It would mean blithely jogging past two magnificent Michelangelos, not realizing these were two magnificent Michelangelos until we got to them later in the day. I’ll spend some quality time with them here as well on another blog post another time…
But right now, gotta boogie on to Mona Lisa…
No time to linger, M L is calling!
(Man this place is huge!) ….
Finally we entered the hall which houses Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
The Mona Lisa is one of the smaller paintings in the hall, and unlike all the others which depict dramatic events peopled with theatrically emotive characters, contents itself with depicting a singular figure from the waist up, sporting a famously enigmatic smile.
A separate wall has been installed just for it in the center of the hall.
A large area in the center of this section of the hall has been cordoned off to handle the crowds. From the size of this area and the expected numbers it could hold, I could tell this was (as a guide also confirmed) a less crowded day than normal at the Louvre.
Nonetheless, I would have to patiently make my way through enough of a crowd to get close to M L.
A pioneer of modern dance. A preserved treasure of early film.
Ed and I are spending two weeks in Paris (don’t feel sorry for me) and Monday we went to the Pompidou museum, where this little treasure of dance and cinema struck me as particularly noteworthy.
Isadora Duncan is the early pioneer of modern dance. And here she can be seen performing the Serpentine Dance. Individually hand-painted cells mimic the changing colored lights on her swirling dress:
I looked on YouTube to see if this film snippet was widely available. Not by itself and not attributed to Duncan. It is incorporated in someone’s video about a different dancer. But I will venture the curators of the Pompidou museum got it right when crediting Isadora Duncan.
And since this film is being shown in a temporary exhibit at the Pompidou in Paris, and I am temporarily in Paris, let me share a few views of Paris from atop the Pompidou.
Much more from the Pompidou, and Paris, and France to come. Consider this a prologue, an amuse-bouche, before the inevitable blog barrage.
Theme from Miss Marple – Ron Goodwin and his Orchestra
A while back I promised there would be a series of Happy Tunes for Dark Times to highlight what I consider sure fire musical mood boosters.
What with ever escalation Twitter Tantrums, continued government sanctioned child kidnapping, greater environmental desecrations, ever more obvious indicators of treason, the slow steady erosion of democracy and and and devolving unabated, it might be excused that I have taken this long to muster the will for a second installment of “Happy Tunes” (or it might rather be emphasized what have I been waiting for dammit?!?), although my Mamma Mia-post(s) might rightly be seen as the actual second installment.
Anyway, today I want to share what to me is the number one unassailable Happiest Tune on Earth. The Theme Song for the 1960’s Miss Marple movies starring Margaret Rutherford. More than any other piece of music, this one has the power to ALWAYS make me feel chipper and invariably want to dance some sort of happy dance.
Those bright strings! That jaunty harpsichord! Those chirping flutes! It’s all so very cheery and 1960s and English and the perfect theme song for the merry murder sleuthing of the Miss Marple movies.
I particularly enjoy how the strings and the harpsichord keep exchanging places as lead melody and echoing obligatos in both the main theme and the bridge sections of the piece. When I am moved to do a little happy dance to this music, I can’t help but mime playing the harpsichord, at whatever angle my hand just happens to be at the moment.
The joyous nature of the piece truly can’t be denied, yet I should possibly concede that it being my absolute favorite #1 mood picker upper may not be a just about musical momentum but also may have a little something to do with a deeply anchored personal connection to my childhood. But isn’t that the way dearly treasured art tends to work for us mere mortals?
This Sunday I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and found myself in front of their monumental Jackson Pollock “Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)”. And once again I had that hallucinogenic experience I often have in front of Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings, and which I only have in front of Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings.
I’ve never ingested LSD but I imagine this is the closest I’ll ever get to an actual acid trip.
It is not an experience I get from looking at reproductions of Jackson Pollock paintings. Perhaps because these can not duplicate the dimensions of the original. Or perhaps the tactile nature of the paint on canvass needs to be experienced in person too.
I am not sure I can adequately describe the experience, or why it only happens to me in front of a Jackson Pollock drip painting. But here it is:
I sit or stand in front of the painting and examine it like any other abstract work of art. The eye inevitably wanders along the swoops and arcs and patterns of paint on the canvas.
But eventually my gaze rests and finds a spot in the painting to focus on.
My birthday present – my quite extravagant birthday present to myself – was tickets to the two-part all day performance of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at the Lyric Theatre in New York. And since today is Harry Potter’s birthday, as well as his creator J. K. Rowling’s birthday, I thought this is a good day to share some impressions.
And yes, I will “hashtag Keep the Secrets”, although I do wonder where the Magical Powers That Be draw the line. Is sharing evocative details from the Lyric theater’s wizarding-world-related renovation violating the Unbreakable Vow? Will Ministry of Magic aurors swoop down on me, confringo-ing my blogpost (or rather, considering my location, will I be busted by MACUSA agents)?
I write not to reveal story secrets but to praise the stagecraft, of which the enveloping atmosphere of the Lyric is one winning element. Of the story, I’ll just posit that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is not, as marketers will have you accept, “the 8th book” or even “the 8th part” in the Harry Potter literary saga. The seven Harry Potter books are their own contained galaxy, and the movies, the original adaptations and the Fantastic Beast films, as well as the play and its published script, occupy their own wonderful galaxies within the same universe. At least that’s the perspective I believe allows for the greatest appreciation of all the “content” the Wizarding World provides.
Case in point, without giving away too much, I’ll just say two words: Time Management. I read the script of “Cursed Child” as soon as it was published, nearly two years before I would see it performed on stage. Early on it became clear the use of time, both as a plot device and a story structure device, would be quite different from what was experienced in the original books. Reading this on a page, in a hard covered book, I felt my internal resistance grow. But then I took a breath, reminded myself that this isn’t a book, it is the script of a play, and just like the movies it must tell its story in its own way to suit the art form. The Harry Potter movies changed the stories at times to work as cinema, and these were direct adaptations of the original books. The Harry Potter play is not an adaptation of the books, as it takes place when Harry, Ron and Hermione are middle aged adults. As such it can fly even freer than the movie adaptations, and thus imagines a tale that is designed to resonate as a theatrical experience first and foremost. The story and the telling of the story are made powerful because of the special properties of live theater.
So I may have been concerned that certain tropes of “Time Management” familiar from other corners of fantasy culture but heretofore not part of the Harry Potter world become a major part of this story. But it turns out their unique inclusion in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, unique to Harry Potter and unique even to the stage as a storytelling device (as far as I know), is a vital inextricable part of the production’s dramatic power.
The walls of the Lyric Theatre’s foyer are painted with Patronuses – magical protective animals of light – which hide quotes from the Harry Potter novels in their designs.
The story and its relationship to time serves to put the characters we’ve know as children, and now also their children, into a variety of extreme circumstances that forces us to see them in new fascinating, ever evolving ways. (And if I explained more precisely how that is I would definitely not be hashtag keeping the secrets anymore.) It also allows for some intense intimate scenes between characters. Some of the most affecting moments are when two characters are simply talking to each other. Words, acting, the drama of a relationship, those universal touchstones of the best plays are also what distinguishes “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.
But what about the magic? The special effects?
Well, yes, of course that is a big brilliant part of the play. But believe me, this production would not have been embraced by the West End and Broadway communities (showered with 9 Olivier and 6 Tony Awards) if the words, acting, drama weren’t as potent as the magical effects.