“Born in China,” directed by Chuan Lu for Disney Nature (obviously intended for large markets in both the US and China) takes us, for the most part, to the high mountain plateaus of western China, just north of Tibet, and very much giving the look of being on another planet. In fact, traveling to China, for most Americans, would probably be as close as it gets to space travel to an alien world.
John Krasinski narrates intersecting morality tales of five wild animal characters, covering a spring to the following spring, a marathon effort to film (the filmmakers show how they did it in the epilogue during the closing credits of a 76 minute feature).
He actually starts with cranes in the lowlands, before moving on to the Tibetan antelope (chiru), a panda with her daughter, a snow leopard with her two cubs, and a young rebellious male in a close-knit sub nose red monkey family.
The female snow leopard lives in the most alien-looking landscape, right out of one of Clive Barker’s Imajica dominions (the Fourth, probably). In an early scene she faces off a competitor for hunting territory and prevails. But later he hurts her paw in a chase and is less able to hunt, as her two kids are just getting old enough to start hunting for themselves. Out of desperation, she takes on a herd of chiru and apparently reaches the end of her career.
The little boy monkey is jealous of the birth of a baby sister, and with the gender-based social discipline of the family structure that rather resembles Islamic polygamy. (The film does not say what happens to the unattached males, but it probably is not pretty.) Failure to protect younger siblings can leave then vulnerable to their one enemy, a huge hawk that snoops down and takes his sacrifice. A bird eating a primate, very bizarre.
The monkey community lives on the verge of civilization. We understand how animals live in a world of survival of the fittest, but social organization, however authoritarian in moral tone, that assigns risks and responsibilities within the herd or extended family, is a step toward more complex social and political organization, as in human society. This is what we would probably find on other planets.
The New York Philharmonic and pianist Johnathan Biss presented one of the segments of Biss’s project of commissioning contemporary composers to invent new piano concerti inspired by the five Beethoven piano concerti. The concert was conducted by Courtney Lewis.
The concert presented Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat, Op. 19, which was apparently the first composed and started at a young age. The starting point of inspiration was the more contrapuntal and even sometimes dissonant cadenza that Beethoven composed twenty years later. Otherwise, the work is “not one of Beethoven’s best”.
The Beethoven opened the second half of the concert. Biss, to my ear, seemed in accelerate his tempi during certain phrases in the first movement, an odd effect.
The inspired (I won’t say derivative) contemporary piece (performed first, before the intermission) is the 23-minute Piano Concerto #3 in B-flat by Timo Andres (B. 1985). The subtitle is “The Blind Banister”, a curious metaphor, of a stairway railing looking into an abyss, across a gulf, without light – danger for elderly people alone. The gulf was, though, what the decades-spanning special dissonances in the cadenza inspire.
I ought to do more guest posting myself (or invite it), but Biss explains his own understanding of the piece here, and this leads naturally do a discussion of how composers get works commissioned today, what audiences will pay to hear (and sponsor), and it’s all potentially sensitive.
The work comprises three movements: “Sliding Scale” (slow), “Ringing Weights”, leading to a cadenza, and then a “Coda: Teneramente”. The opening emphasizes descending scales in drop-rolls in the piano, somewhat lushly harmonized, even sounding familiar to me. The middle section becomes more Parisian to my ears, in fact reminding me of the day I spent in Lourdes, France on May Day 2001, as young males danced a healing ritual. The work slows down and will finally end loudly (unusual for Andres, who considers quiet endings a usually necessary courtesy for listeners).
The NY Philharmonic program notes for the new work are here.
I had the mistaken impression that the work had been called “The Blind Barrister”, which would be a curious idea indeed, given Brexit. (Oops? England?)
The concert had opened with excerpts from Hector Berlioz’s Dramatic Symphony, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17, after Shakespeare’s Tragedy. The excerpts (14 min) seem to contain the love theme that starts the slow movement, and the Queen Mab Scherzo. The very ending was a loud chord and one soft grace note (like the Dvorak New World, which I have always found very curious). I’m not a fan of excepting from works purporting to be sonata-like “symphonies” In fact, I had heard the Montreal Symphony play the complete work (with chorus) in Minneapolis around 2002 when I got a comp ticket while working for the Minnesota Orchestra. I remember the happy ending, as the feuding families reconcile. Not so in the two movies (especially Ziffereli’s) that I have seen , one while working as a substitute teacher. In fact, when the play is taught in high school, teachers have to explain that it was legal (even expected) for women to fall in love and marry much younger than it is today.
The concert concluded with the 20-minute tone poem “In the South (Alassio)”, Op. 50, by Sir Edward Elgar. That refers to the Italian Riviera. There is some nice octave work in the brass with some dissonance in the development. I have a Chandos recording of this with Thomson.
James Oestereich reviews the concert for the New York Timeshere.
“Summer of 8” (directed and written by Ryan Schwartz) is a low-keyed coming-of-age youth drama, that doesn’t try to get funny (compare to “10 Rules for Sleeping Around”) and doesn’t seem that ambitious.
I was led to the film by seeing pianist-actor Michael Grant (“Fair Haven”) in the cast. Here, he plays Aiden, one of eight 18-year-olds spending the last day of summer at Newport Beach, CA, before going off their mostly separate ways to college.
The film is framed by the lead character, alpha male Jesse, Carter Jenkins (who played the teen raising a pet dinosaur in the NBC series “Surface” ten years ago), writing a letter to his perfect dad, who we learn toward the end of the film, had passed away during Jesse’s boyhood.
The film starts in the day time and passes into an all-nighter, leading to some drugs and a little sex. But the daytime conversations early in the film get interesting. The men are rated as to their attractiveness, which typically puts heterosexual men at peril. Aiden is an 8.5 and I guess Jesse is the 10, but poor little Oscar (Matt Shively) is a 3, but Bobby (Nick Marini) seems to be in Jesse’s class.
College, as a college professor said in an opening episode of “Jack and Bobby” on TheWB in the middle 2000’s, is where adult life starts. The kids here are starting to ponder the fact that their lives so far have been about them as individuals, competing in school; they have no concept of what marriage and raising their own families would be like.
Orion Pictures has returned as a distributor for the theatrical release.
“Battle for America” (2010), directed by Stephen L. Bannon, and primarily narrated by Dick Morris (along with Lou Dobbs and Ann Coulter), is one of the three Bannon films offered by Citizens United in a three-DVD set that as of this time seems sold directly by CU (six weeks ago, I could not find it on Amazon but it’s there now). But the films could generate some interest now given the inauguration of Donald Trump and his elevation of Steve Bannon in the early days of his administration (maybe to author the failed travel bans). But this film was put out before the 2010 Congressional “mid term exam”. (Yup, a mid term and a final.)
It starts out by showing the inauguration of Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2009 before going into a monotone rant centered around the Left’s plan to turn America into a European socialist state taking 40% of the economic GDP instead of 30% as in the US (as is claimed). It starts calling the 2009 Democratic Congress “imperial” (like Haydn’s 53rd Symphony, as in my old recording of it by Stokowski).
Right off the bat, it asks if providing health care is allowed as an enumerated power in the Constitution. Playing devil’s advocate, someone asks if building an Interstate highway system was (as during Eisenhower).
It calls Washington the “Village of the Damned” (then “Why We Fight”). The film also shows some old clips from Hollywood Biblical spectacles for illustration.
The narrative purports to support individual freedom and individualism (Ayn Rand style), but seems willing to allow churches and families to barge into the private lives of those who don’t conform to gender norms.
To its credit, the film does correctly characterize collusion between government and shadier aspects of Wall Street, leading to the 2008 financial crisis.
“To replace self-reliance with reliance on government”. Yes, a good buzzphrase, looking toward the nanny state regulating soft drinks. True, an aging population that doesn’t reproduce itself will have trouble supporting itself.
On health care, yes, the film argues the conservative case against government health care (not the least of which is waiting lists). But we have a choice, based on moral hazard: we cover everyone, we depend on private volunteerism to cover people who can’t pay for themselves, or we let people die (which contradicts conservative “right to life” goals). The film threatens to zero-fund health care (“Obmacare”) if it passes.
The film says “the greatest threat to national security is the national debt”. This was one year before the debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011, when the US credit rating went down.
The last section is called “How We Win”. Well, “The Tea Parties”, of course. Then, “Floodtide”.
“Reward people who carry the water rather than drink the water”. Like Ronald Reagan, the true Aquarian. The film has a shot from “Titanic” with the newspaper byline, “Women and children first.”
Newt Gingrich talks a lot, but he’s more effective when the talks about electromagnetic pulse, which doesn’t get mentioned here.
The film throws around the term “The Last Best Hope”, but that’s the name of a film by the Nuclear Threat Initiative!
Oh, there is no such thing as a conservative Democrat (like Sam Nunn).
Morris mentions Barney Frank, to run the banking system, as “involved in a gay prostitution scandal;” back in 1989.
At then end the film shows some building fires (like in “Backdraft”). But the film then says, “We don’t have to risk our lives” like conscripted soldiers.
“Seed: The Untold Story”, by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, documents the activities of seed archivists, who aim to preserve samples of natural seed stock that is being lost by mega-agriculture.
The film starts in Maine, with an elderly man who sees himself as a kind of Noah, maintaining his own seed bank as a personal (and individually controlled) legacy for the world. It then, with some animation, gives some history of activities by civilizations to preserve their seed genetic bases, including a “civilization restart” bank in northern Norway. Destroying seed banks has been an aim of military campaigns, as the Soviet Union maintained one around St. Petersburg during WWII. The film also shows major conservation activities in New Mexico and Kauai, Hawaii.
It was eye-opening for me that the loss of genetic diversity among our plant food supply could threaten civilization itself.
With Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, Jane Goodall, Winona LaDuke, and Raj Patel.
I remember those essay botany tests in undergraduate college (around 1965) all too well.
The film (from Collective Eye) was shown on PBS Independent Cuts on April 17, 2017; the original length of 94 minutes was cut to about 53; I would rather see PBS offer a 90-minute slot and show the entire original film.
“Love v. Kentucky” (2017), directed by Alex Schuman, documents the litigation by six same-sex couples in Kentucky and the role these cases would play in the final Obergefell v. Hodges opinion at the US Supreme Court in 2015, making recognition of same-sex marriages among all states the laws of the land.
The couples were often elderly. At least one or two had raised children, and one had survived non-Hodgkins lymphoma of one husband, with the other shaving in sympathy. One of the couples was Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza (USA Today story).
The state tried to use arguments based on “tradition” (Robert Schuler’s old idea from the “Hour of Power” at the Crystal Cathedral in CA back in the 80s), which amounted to nothing. Then the state tried to make a connection to the need for reliable procreation.
But there was little said about how heterosexual couples were “injured”, other than the fact that their social supports didn’t stand out or identify them (as reproductively heterosexual) as clearly once gay marriage was legal.
The film doesn’t get to the narrative of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who went to jail for refusing to sign her name to same-sex marriage certificates, until the end. The governor pushed through a law saying that clerks don’t have to sign their own names to certificates if their religious beliefs are affronted (by lawful duties in their public employment which normally uses their names). NBC News has a good summary of the story here.
The justices in Kentucky noted how quickly same-sex marriage had evolved in public opinion. In 2006, neighboring Virginia had tried to shut down same-sex marriage (and even civil union) with the Marshall-Newman amendment.
In the 1970s, I once reported to a manager whose last name was “Husbands”.
The plot centers around the wedding of Theseus, the Duke of Athens to the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta. (I once got a musical composition mailed to me on a huge cardboard postcard from a high school friend, a heterosexual cis-male who would marry “normally” and have a family, who nevertheless signed the card as Hippolyta, and unfortunately I’ve lost it; it comprised some Irish folk songs, maybe like those in Stanford symphonies.) Around this event there are various other love rectangles, all manipulated by wood fairies (or maybe the “wood spirits” of “Twin Peaks” from David Lynch), and a particular gremlin named Puck. The most important of these starts with the insistence by Egeus that his daughter Hermia accept an arranged marriage to Demetrius, when she loves Lysander. The penalty for refusal would be either death of life in an convent as a nun, barren without children (Shakespeare’s language makes a lot of this).
Puck is the star of the show. He has forfeited bipedalism, and gimps on all fours like most other primates. Unfortunately, he seems to have surrendered chest hair to tattoos. He puts magic potions on people’s eyelids, which makes them fall in love with the next person they see. This is a way to influence the outcomes of all these love triangles, arranged as in a 50s situation comedy. It’s like the idea that you glance at someone whose trappings stimulate your fantasies, until someone else comes along. (Remember the idea of the “catch of the month” of bab boy Shane Lyons in “Judas Kiss”?)
Critics have often noted that the play hints of feminism, gender ambiguity, and loss of individualism. There are a few homoerotic moments involving Puck and one moment between rivals Demetrius and Lysander (who is much more “masculine” in a conventional sense). And a few times Lysander “gets it”. Lysander is forced to wear some awkward-looking leg garters; stage actors go through a lot, every night.
The cast includes Catherine Gilbert as Hermia, Will MacLeod as Lysander, Mytheos Holt as Demetrius, Ilyan Rose-Davlia as Helena, Eleanor Tapscott as Oberon, and Gary Bernard DiNardo as Puck.
The background music included some of Grieg’s Peer Gynt as well as some typical Renaissance. I didn’t hear the Mendelssohn.
The arranged marriage idea reminds me of the 1954 Sigmund Romberg musical and MGM film, “The Student Prince“. I also recall that the 1954 Fox spectacle “Demetrius and the Gladiators” was a sequel to “The Robe” and was maybe the second CinemaScope picture. Finally, in noting movies based on earlier English literature, I wanted to note the curious and moving 1944 film “A Canterbury Tale” by Powell and Pressburger.
“The Case for Christ”, directed by Jon Gunn, is based on journalist Lee Strobel’s own autobiographical book.
Lee (Mike Vogel), a graduate of the University of Missouri journalism school, in 1980 was working as a high profile crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune. His wife Leslie (Erika Christiansen) congratulates him as a “published author” for “Reckless Homicide? Ford’s Pinto Trial” (I had owned a Pinto myself in the mid 1970s in New Jersey). Remember, this was in the days just before the PC (like the TRS80) as available, and writers still used typewriters. Self-proclaimed atheists, they seem to be doing a good job as parents of a young daughter. Vogel is also working on a complicated story about a shooting of a policeman, with informants and other crooked cops and fall guys – which will turn into a major subplot worthy of the Innocence Project (or maybe of Andrew Jenks’s new series “Unlocking the Truth”, Oct. 29).
One evening at a restaurant, daughter Alison (Haley Rosenwasser) nearly chokes on a cookie in a restaurant. The movie doesn’t explain why the parents didn’t know the Heimlich maneuver (there’s an example of it in my first “Tribunal and Rapture” novel document where a Christ-like young man rescues a child at a Texas barbecue). But a nurse Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell) appears and saves the child with the maneuver. Leslie believes, with a little prodding from Alfie, that this is a miracle from God, and begins to attend church and is baptized.
Lee goes on a journalistic voyage to look at the real evidence for Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross and his Resurrection. One of the most interest aspects of the evidence is the number of eyewitnesses (up to the time of Pentecost), and of the ability to track actual original handwritten documents almost to the time of Pentecost. (The movie points out that the Koran would not be written for another 500 years.) He e travels to California to talk to a med school professor about the evidence that Christ really died. In the meantime, his marriage almost falls apart. At times, the film takes on the adventurousness of an Irving Wallace novel (like “The Plot” or “The Prize”).
What he winds up is a journalistic “proof beyond reasonable doubt” based on witness testimony that Jesus rose from the dead.
Vogel would eventually become a pastor and major best-selling author of Christian books. ‘
Had I lived at the time of Christ and been one of the 500 witnesses, the experience would have defined my own intellectual world. That still fits in to my modern idea of cosmology.
The movie seems to be more about whether faith must become personal. But what I find difficult is the faith required to accept the vulnerability involved in really serving other people with their “real needs” and letting them be important. That takes real hands on skill, not intellect. It gets personal. It’s more subtle than the collective faith you see in praise services.
But what I want to see is someone live up to the ideal that Christ created – whether another young Clark Kent (even “alien”) or a filmmaker like the second (reincarnated) Danny of “Judas Kiss”.
“Fire at Sea” (“Fuoco Ammare”, directed by Gianfranco Rosi) is a compelling is somewhat loosely structured two-hour docudrama portraying life on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, actually closer to Africa than to Italy, of which it is legally a part – as the military, medical people, and ordinary townspeople deal with the nightly arrival of migrants from Africa.
Many of the migrants arrive seriously ill from exposure to diesel fuel on the boats, which mixed with sea water and can produce disfiguring chemical burns. Most of the burn victims are women (and children), because they tend to sit in the lower portions of the boats as the men surround them to “protect” them.
The migrants describe having come from as far away as Nigeria (through Niger), fleeing Boko Haram, and then being chased out of Libya.
The Italian Navy patrols the waters and does take their distress calls. The townspeople are used to being expected to help them.
A major subplot of the film concerns the 12 year old boy Samuele, who enjoys playing with his slingshot. His dad wants him to learn to be more helpful to other people, including the migrants. For example, Samuele gets seasick when he walks on the pontoon, but his father lectures him about toughening his stomach. At one point he has an exam with a doctor who simply finds hypochondria and anxiety, as well as a “lazy eye” which is slowly improving. In a climactic scene near the end, Samuele goes out into the woods alone at night to encounter a bluebird in the bush.
The DVD contains a brief commentary by the director in English, a QA at the New York Film Festival, and a 30-minute interview with Dr. Pietro Bartolo, who describes some changes to the film before the Berlin Silver Bear festival (to make the people seem more sympathetic), and then describes the medical horrors of the boatlift. One pregnant woman’s water broke, and she could not deliver the baby for two days, but the baby girl turned out OK. Bartolo says that Europe needs migrants, and he believes these migrants pose no security threat and take the jobs White Europeans don’t want or can’t do. He comments on white Europe’s low birthrate and aging population, and economic need for immigrants.
PBS American Experience is airing a three-night six hour film “The Great War”, giving a chronicle of the history of World War I. It is directed by Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak and Rob Rapley. It is produced by Mark Samuels. Oliver Platt narrates. It should not be confused with Ken Burns’s “The War” about World War II. Writer Alan Axelrod often speaks. The series airs April 10-12, 2017 on PBS stations.
The documentary opens with a portrayal of Woodrow Wilson, as a somewhat frail and pious man who would be devastated by the loss of his wife. But sometimes his judgment, even early, seemed dated by today’s standards, as he reimplemented segregation among federal employees. He was the only Democrat born in a Confederate state (in Staunton, VA) and knew what it was like to “lose a war”.
In the early days of WWI, American companies made money selling ammunition and supplies to Britain. It would gradually become more difficult for America to remain neutral.
The war quickly became horrible, with the destruction in Belgium and France, leading to civilian refugees.
Some young men in upper classes felt obligated to volunteer to fight for France, to prove they could become ballsy and prove themselves by taking risks for the causes of others. Eventually, there were summer military camps.
The documentary covers the sinking of the Lusitania. In early 1917, more American ships were sunk, and intelligence showed possible German plots to get Mexico and Japan to go to war with the US, and a German “terrorist” tried a home invasion at the estate of J.P. Morgan.
Wilson entered the War on the basis of an ideology, to “make the world safe for democracy”.
People got their news from songs composed in a Chelsea mill of composers, whose songs giving ews from Europe got published the same day. “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.” There was irony that classical music was based on German composers, and it gradually became shunned.
The draft would be sold as a kind of volunteerism, “Selective Service”, from which the government would cull who would actually serve. (Technically I “volunteered” for the draft in 1968.) The Army remained segregated by race. Native Americans were regarded as “white”. But the authorities feared that blacks with weapons could turn on them.
There were conscientious objectors and “slackers”. But 680,000 men were finally drafted on the first day of official conscription in July 1917.
To sell the war, “Chief of Public Information” (propaganda) George Creel recruited the “four minute men” and “gave them the words” to sell patriotic messages at projectionist breaks in movie theaters, at circuses and other public venues.
Basic training in those days comprised 14 hour days of training.
Wilson wanted the men to fight in separate forces from the French, who were waiting for the Americans to rescue them. The Germans transferred more men to the West after Russia pulled out, as Bolshevism and Lenin gained attention for a new socialist world order.
Alice Paul led the American “Suffragettes” and eventually Wilson agreed surreptitiously to support female suffrage.
J. Edgar Hoover led the effort to mobilize the food effort, and Americans started watching each other on the home front, over loyalty, even the informal rationing of food, and the quasi-compulsory purchase of war bonds. Conformity was enforced by groups like “The American Protective League”. The vigilantism sounds shocking. But it helps explain the authoritarian attitudes of the generation I grew up in.
In a major incident, an African American soldier achieved great valor sacrificing himself on the battlefield.
The earlier Espionage Act was followed by Sedition Act in 1918, which wounds today like a shocking and unbelievable encroachment of the First Amendment, as people could be jailed for the most innocuous complaints against personal hardships, let alone the draft.
The last part continued to show the enormous carnage and sacrifice of American “doughboys” who overcame the Germans in the fall of 1918. The Germans agreed to Armistice because they feared more Americans and believed Wilson.
The film only briefly covers the catastrophic Spanish flu pandemic in 1918; but young soldiers found that their robust immune systems did them in, as their lungs filled up quickly and could die within hours.
The documentary continued to portray the aggressive attempts to find civilian “slackers” (draft dodgers). After the Armistice, conscientious objectors could be brutally treated at Leavenworth. A labor leader, Eugene Debs, stayed in jail over sedition. The government appeared determined to punish those who had refused to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. My own view is to see sacrifice as just that, not always honorable.
Wilson (who crafted “The 14 Points”) once noted that statesmen would have to start thinking about people as people rather than as components of countries or nation-states. Yet Wilson was willing to compel a whole generation of young men to sacrifice themselves for what seemed like an ideological and abstract goal set by others, for the future. He would not tolerate others criticizing his zeal, even after his sudden change to get into the War. Wilson’s story probably helps us understand authoritarian intolerance of free speech today.
Returning black soldiers were feared and treated badly, and Wilson would do little about it.