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Tag: cinema

The Genghis Khan way: Russia’s neo-imperialism

Wednesday, 22 January, 2014 0 Comments

On Monday, in a Neue Zürcher Zeitung article titled “The Third Empire,” Ulrich Schmid looked at how the Russian culture scene is being exploited by Putin’s authoritarian state for its imperialistic propaganda goals. “Largely unnoticed by the world press, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was awarded the ‘Imperial Culture’ prize in January 2012 for his ‘resistance to Western expansion’. The patrons of the honour were the Russian writer’s guild, the Russian literature foundation and several Orthodox organizations.”

Schmid notes as well that the steppes of Russian cinema have been experiencing something of a Mongolian invasion of late. Films such as Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007), The Secret of Genghis Khan (2009) and The Horde (2012) have been big hits. All of them portray the image of strong ruler who created a gigantic empire thanks to his unconditional demand for discipline. The not-so-subtle message is that Mongolian harshness and the Russian capacity to endure suffering are the perfect platform for empire building. This interpretation of history, writes Schmid, hews close to the ideology of Eurasianism. Seen through that prism, the Western model of the market economy plus representative democracy appears alien to a Russia that was, in parts, dominated by the Mongols for more than 300 years. Eurasianism claims that Russian culture is different its European counterpart due to this Asian impact and that Russia, therefore, must follow a separate path. The popular enthusiasm for all things Mongol plays into Putin’s hands as he’d like to create a Eurasian Union, which in terms of economic power and political weight, would act as a counterbalance to the European Union.

He’s got big dreams, that Vlad.

The Horde

Frank Castorf stole Ken Russell’s crocodile for his Götterdämmerung

Wednesday, 7 August, 2013 0 Comments

Before we come to Frank Castorf, a spoiled-brat German “avant-garde” theatre director, let’s journey back in time to San Francisco and the Haight-Ashbury district. It was there that the Rainy Day team had a truly surreal experience, but we’re not talking here about the Haight of the 1960s when the LSD was dropping, but the Haight of the late 1980s, before gentrification began to take its toll.

The scene was the legendary Red Vic Movie House, at the corner of Haight and Belvedere. Typical of the post-1960s vibe that still resonated, the cinema was run by a “collective” and, this was truly memorable, movie goers sat together on lumpy couches. Lenin would have loved it, no doubt. The film on this particular evening was a 1971 classic from the repertoire of a true avant-garde director, the great Ken Russell, and it was the none other than the scandalous and lurid The Devils. As Father Urbain Grandier, Oliver Reed, was outstanding: charismatic, seductive, heretical. In this disquieting/hilarious scene, he attacks the quacks who are treating plague victims with horrible “cures”, including “dried vipers” and “a crocodile”, which beast Father Grandier duly flings into the fire. The same crocodile turned up recently in Bayreuth in Frank Castorf’s incoherent Ring cycle. More on that here tomorrow.

Rewriting the Mona Lisa

Tuesday, 14 May, 2013 0 Comments

The Great Gatsby “How I rewrote ‘The Great Gatsby'” was the Telegraph headline yesterday. That did not bode well as everyone knows rewriting The Great Gatsby is as just as impossible as repainting the Mona Lisa. Of course, online versions of newspapers have to lure readers and so-called “link bait”, while blatantly dishonest, is part of the journalism trade today. The hooked reader then discovers that the headline changes to “Craig Pearce, co-writer of Baz Lurhmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, reveals all.” That’s slightly less bombastic, but Gatsby fans will be alarmed to read that, “At the end of our first months working in Australia, our screenplay was four hours long.” If the author of Gatsby could create a masterpiece with just 180 pages of prose, what is the need for four hours of screenplay?

Pearce gives the game away when he writes, “One of the things that makes Gatsby so potent is Fitzgerald’s gorgeous, poetic prose, and it’s very hard to recreate that cinematically.” The “very hard” there is one of the great understatements of our time because the more fitting term would be “impossible”. No one can film this:

“The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light.”

Now, just because the ethereal beauty of these words cannot be filmed it does not mean that Baz Luhrmann was wrong to attempt to capture what they say for the screen. “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” wrote Robert Browning and it is very brave of Luhrmann to risk the opprobrium that will appear here on Friday if it turns out that he mistook the rewriting of Craig Pearce for the impressionistic painting of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Asterix and Obelix have left the édifice

Wednesday, 19 December, 2012 0 Comments

First out was Christian (Asterix) Clavier. He decamped to London in October. Now, Gérard (Obelix) Depardieu has followed. He’s picked Belgium. Although unvanquished by Caesar’s legions, the two heroes of Gaul have been put to flight by François Hollande’s draconian 75 per cent top marginal income tax rate, increased capital gains tax and enhanced wealth […]

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