Tag Archives: Arts

Trump’s tribe and an absence of poetry

Av David Shankbone - Eget verk, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19129941

Harvey Keitel. Photo by David Shankbone via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

“I do not recognize any poetry in Mr. Trump. In the poetry of things, in any of the arts—and the art, if you will, of the theatre of war—there is the unknown, not just the intellect at work. There’s intuition, instinct, being touched with deeper realities. Which is why we turn to the arts.”

— Harvey Keitel – actor, former US Marine

 

 

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
October 1, 2016

When did the men in America – white men in particular – lose their sense of poetry? When did they stop being aware of the ebb and flow of life all around them, and lose that spark that separates those who are merely alive from those who are actually living? When did they stop trying to understand and instead settle on violence, brutality, and a nasty churlishness towards others as the way to rescue themselves?

I had these thoughts after reading actor Harvey Keitel’s comments about Donald Trump — that he lacked poetry and intuition and instinct and a sense of deeper realities. Of all the comments that I have read about Trump, this one captured the essence of the man. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker’s comment about Oakland, there is no there, there. He is the rich man’s version of Sinclair Lewis’s Babbit.

Of all the many things that bother me about Trump, the one that bothers me the most is how he has refused to pay hundreds of men and women who worked for him. This tawdry cheapness offends me in a way I find difficult to explain. My sense of indignation is compounded by the relish with which Trump boasts about it. “That’s business.”

One man, however, is really not enough to worry about, even when that man is running for president of the United States. It is the tens of millions of men – particularly white men – who seem so devoted to him and his repugnant ideals that are the real cause for concern. An ABC/Washington Post poll this week show that Trump had a 59-point lead over Clinton among white men without a college education. College-educated men preferred him over Clinton by 11 points.

How did they come to feel so threatened? There’s always the sociological explanation I suppose, that our culture was once dominated by white men, who now find themselves increasingly just another American ethnic group. The world is changing all around them and their places in politics, business, the community, even the church, no longer are “a sure thing” just by dint of their sex at birth.

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It is the fervor, however, with which these men have turned towards Trump, that leaves you a little stunned. Even among men of lower economic means, who immediately understand, indeed live, the widening gap between rich and poor in this country. One is left wondering why they invest their demands for change in a man is so obviously a charlatan and a fraud, and who showed no care for them or their kind throughout his life, who has, in fact, as I noted above, relished cheating them out of their just due.

There is also an underlying sexism that cannot be ignored. While it is true that Hillary Clinton may not be the most ideal woman to run for president of the United States, it’s hard to escape the sense that it really doesn’t matter. It’s the sex of the candidate as much as the person that is seen as the problem.

It is as if the large majority of white men in America have given up on being in touch with the deeper realities in life. Instead they have put all their eggs in the basket of Donald Trump, and as a result are obligated to renounce the reality of life around them. In their desire for change … no, not change, but a return to a place where they felt secure or, less afraid of what the future held … they rush to deny the truth about the man they have chosen to lead them. Accepting that truth may tell them too much about themselves.

It is here where I find myself falling back on Keitel’s thoughts about Trump. For his words do not fit just Trump, they also fit his followers. There is no poetry among them. There is only anger, the refusal to see the world as it really is, and a simmering violence lurking just below the surface. No poetry could exist there. It is an empty place, devoid of life.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

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Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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WES CRAVEN: the scream of our times

 

Lance Duerfahrd, Purdue University

Wes Craven in 2010. Photo by Bob Bekian  Creative Commons

Wes Craven, director, actor, producer, writer, and  bird-watching member of the Audubon Society .2010 photo by Bob Bekian Creative Commons

Only an obituary as messy as an autopsy could honor the passing of Wes Craven, the slasher-film maven who  died on August 30 at age 76. Blood flows generously in Craven’s films, which tread a delicate line between visceral impact and franchise-worthy digestibility.

He will be remembered as the director who created not only iconic horror films, but also horror icons (A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger and Scream’s Ghostface Killer) – faces as readily identifiable to us as those of Buster Keaton and Abraham Lincoln. Ultimately, Craven forged the figures seen on the pennies and dimes of contemporary horror currency.

He did so by creating deceptively simple scenarios that tapped into universal fears. Craven became the master of the sequel because he realized that a monster isn’t something that merely appears once. It is something that must reappear.

Is it any coincidence that Craven’s figures have become denizens of the real world in its moments of turmoil? Every Halloween provides a further sequel for Freddy Krueger, and the mask of Ghostface Killer has emerged alongside the Guy Fawkes mask featured in V for Vendetta as the literal face of social protest.

The director’s early films, like Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, display a low-budget ingenuity. Featuring mostly unknown actors, the protagonists often inch painfully toward death in natural settings.

For example, in The Hills Have Eyes – a minimalist exploitational gem – a suburban family’s car and trailer break down in the Nevada desert not far from the US government’s nuclear testing grounds. They’re subsequently tormented by a group of mutant savages.

Craven offsets the endlessness of the desert with the cramped space of the marooned camper, into which sex and violence will be compressed.

In The Hills Have Eyes, Craven’s aesthetic can be tied to a number of contemporaries and successors.

Sporting necklaces made of teeth and small bursts of animal fur around their lapels, the hill-dwelling savages prefigure the simultaneously prehistoric and post-apocalyptic look of George Miller’s Road Warrior and Fury Road. Craven gives us a bike gang worthy of a nuclear test site: too savage even to own motorcycles, they retain only the hierarchy and mannerisms of a gang. (Meanwhile, the mutants speak of cannibalism in disturbingly colloquial ways, yelling over their shoulders to their wives as they exit the cave, “Keep yer eye on the young tenderloin baby!”)

The film also contains all the suburban antagonism and frenetic torture of the isolated group seen in director John Boorman’s Deliverance, freed of the river’s softening lyricism.

Finally, Craven gets immense mileage out of the disturbing geological quality of actor Michael Berryman’s skull, whose rock-formation head is the horror film’s retort to the thoughtful pate of sitcom star Peter Boyle.

Craven’s more renowned films derive their power from the low-budget aesthetic of his early work.

Nightmare on Elm Street emerges from an unnervingly simple premise: the possibility that we are dreaming the same nightmare. It taps into the terror not only of dreaming but of falling asleep.

Whereas the characters in Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers feared sleep because of what they would be upon waking (living replicas of themselves), the inhabitants of Elm Street fear something more immediate: what happens to them in their dreams, and the possibility of never waking up.

Craven’s film is suffused with cheap-looking – but effective – scenarios of helplessness: a set of stairs in which the running victim’s feet sink, or the way Freddy’s face slowly presses through the wall (clearly replaced with spandex) above the heroine’s bed.

Unlike big budget horror flicks infused with special effects like World War Z or I am Legend, Craven brazenly offers terror more homemade-looking than slick, a world in which the sound of iron claws against metal pipe does the trick. His genius was to realize that a horrible danger can seem real even if the bearer of the threat might be unconvincing. 

But Craven’s real legacy extends beyond cinema. Every Halloween witnesses an endless series of 4’9″ Freddy Kruegers stand holding an outstretched bucket of candy.

Scream’s Ghostface Killer has likewise seeped off the screen into cultural spaces as diverse as rap music (Ghostface Killah) and social protest. Is the ubiquity of the ghostface mask at the Occupy protests merely a part of the protesters’ desire for anonymity, or was this a mask that somehow embodied a fitting look of frozen horror?

A recent photo of Belgian demonstrators depicts a protester in a ghostface mask picking up a paving stone as tear gas grenades explode all around him. This photo brings out the sadistic pleasure, but also the look of concern (even worry) in the features of that iconic mask. It’s not clear whether the figure is screaming or laughing – and perhaps the real world crisis offers a context for both to appear at once.

In Ghostface Killer, Craven bestowed upon us a deeply contradictory face – a contorted and slightly terrifying expression that seems to be witnessing horror, and whose jaw is melting in the process.

Perhaps Scream has bequeathed a reaction shot to the world’s persistent inequalities. And for the now-deceased director who conceived this mask, the eyes in the hills are surely weeping.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

Lance Duerfahrd is Director of Film & Video Studies at Purdue UniversityThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us, with a subscription (click here), a donation, and/or by spreading the word.

 

 

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Chill, jazz critics: Whiplash is a horror flick

NICOLAS PILLAI, Birmingham City University 
January, 2015

Whiplash movie, publicity photo via Facebook

Whiplash movie, publicity photo via Facebook

Amid Golden Globe recognition and Oscar buzz, Damien Chazelle’s film about a young jazz student and his abusive teacher is pulling in viewers who would normally run screaming from the words “drum solo”. The exhilaration of the last ten minutes, a performance of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, has encouraged a new audience to investigate the jazz pantheon.

Despite this, there is a growing feeling in the jazz world that Whiplash is hurting the music. It’s been variously criticised for being joyless, for getting the music and its history wrong and for eliding the contribution of black jazz players. Some writers have been using “melodrama” as a dirty word.But these criticisms miss something that the general public instinctively understand. Whiplash is not solely concerned with jazz. It is as much a study of alienation and abuse. And so its inheritance is not from jazz history – but from a sub-genre of expressionistic films about obsession and losing one’s humanity. Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull are the real antecedents of Whiplash.

In popular culture, jazz has usually been characterised by emphasis on the physicality of its performers. The heroes of the bebop era were immortalised by the chiaroscuro photography of Gjon Mili and Herman Leonard. But unlike previous jazz films such as ‘Round Midnight (1986) or Bird (1988), Whiplash largely avoids the modernist compositions of jazz photographers, which romanticise the creative process.

In contrast, young student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is framed in confined surroundings, his movements dictated by the hands of the tyrannical conductor, Terence Fletcher (J K Simmons). The camera is entranced by Simmons’s large flat hands, circling them as they count in the band, cutting to them each time he halts the music with an angry fist. Neiman and Fletcher, pupil and master, become orbiting bodies, their relationship visualised in single shots that whip-pan between them.

Whiplash is also unusual for a film featuring jazz in that it does not glorify improvisation. Indeed, improvisation is irrelevant. For the young musicians of Shaffer Conservatory, success is a matter of fighting dirty in order to gain acceptance. Conforming to Fletcher’s demands is the devil’s bargain that may lead to a gig with the Lincoln Centre Orchestra.

A common trope of the musician biopic is the suggestion that talent is inherent. But in Whiplash, achievement is the result of agonising work, an incremental and painstaking mastery of discipline. I can’t bring to mind another film with as many shots of musical notation. Neiman’s success – if we can call it that – is pictured in visceral terms, in lingering close-ups of bodily fluids: blood, sweat and a single tear.

Traditionally in jazz films, the conductor or bandleader has represented commercial forces that restrain creativity. Simmons’s performance inverts this convention by making Terence Fletcher monstrous, a seething whipcord of hatred and humiliation.

The film delights in offering us glimpses into Fletcher’s interiority, only to snatch them away. Neiman unexpectedly finds Fletcher sitting in at a jazz club. Those large hands – so devastating when pointing, slapping, balling into a fist – tenderly pick out a piano solo. We are fooled for a moment into thinking that we have seen the “real” Fletcher. And then those big reptilian eyes slide over the room until they find Neiman.

In a critique of the film, The New Yorker’s Richard Brody suggests that it exposes its fraudulent jazz credentials by exalting (white) drummer Buddy Rich and by getting a Charlie Parker anecdote wrong.

Brody overlooks the film’s commentary on the role of myth and anecdote in jazz and the way that each generation appropriates these myths to their own end. Fletcher has even crafted his own fable of genius around a deceased former student of his, Sean Casey. Similarly, Fletcher’s unrelenting deluge of homophobic and racist insults, not to mention his casual sexism, vocalise a set of anxieties which have structured the Hollywood jazz film since its inception.

So Whiplash is not principally concerned with the dynamics of a jazz ensemble, or of connection with an audience. It is about the agony of the individual. At a family dinner, Neiman mocks the idea of team sports or of even having friends. Characters constantly wear earphones, isolated in their musical obsession. The film is bathed in a sickly orange-yellow, unsettling and unhinged. There is a consistent interest in textures seen in lingering close-up – the tension of a drumskin; the smoothness of a cymbal; the veins, scars and pores of our protagonists.

The film poster for Whiplash recalls Saul Bass’s work for Hitchcock and this is entirely appropriate. Audiences know what jazz critics do not – that this is a horror film. Look at the fire in Fletcher’s eyes during Neiman’s final solo and the expressionistic flickering of lights as the camera crash-zooms. This is the moment when one psychopath creates his successor.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

image-20150120-24424-qc0jrw

Nicolas Pillai is a Researcher in Jazz and Visual Culture at Birmingham City University. 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Advent, John Mason Neale, and a winter hymn

The first O come, O come Emmanuel published with the first line by which the hymn is known today was published in 1861, in the first Hymns ancient and modern. The two pages shown here are copies of pages from the Open Library electronic edition for the first edition “of the the most popular of all English hymnals.”

The first O come, O come Emmanuel published with the first line by which the hymn is known today was published in 1861, in the first Hymns ancient and modern. The two pages shown here are copies of pages from the Open Library electronic edition for the first edition “of the the most popular of all English hymnals.”

 The period Christians call Advent begins Sunday November 30. In countries with Christian populations pop music increasingly gives way to religious hymns, leading up to Christmas. Michael Sasges gave thought to one of the season’s most evocative pieces, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Here’s an excerpt of his story about  John Mason Neale — On reading and writing our winters away:

This is a “begat” story, its subjects a winter hymn and its creator, a man who passed his adult years in that figurative winter that is the lot of the chronically ill and perpetually defiant.

The hymn is O come, O come, Emmanuel, in Latin Veni, Veni, Emmanuel. It is a winter song because it is only, or mostly, performed and heard by the Christian faithful during that part of the liturgical year they call Advent. 

The last Sunday of November or the first Sunday of December is inevitably the first Sunday of Advent. This year, 2014, the first Sunday of Advent is the last Sunday of November.

Emmanuel is an expression of longing, spiritual longing. If there be an equivalent expression of material longing, it might be Walt Whitman’s Soon Shall the Winter’s Foil be Here.

The man who nominated O come, O come, Emmanuel for inclusion in the English-language hymnology was John Mason Neale (1818 – 1866).

He was a “divine and author,” in the words of a 19th century Dictionary of National Biography, or “Church of England clergyman and author,” in the words of the DNB Internet edition. … continue reading (no charge*).

 

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, Facts and Opinions performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes. We appreciate and need your support: please click here to purchase a $1 day pass, or subscribe.   Sign up using the form on the right side of our Frontlines blog to receive posts by email. Contact us at Editor AT factsandopinions.com.

 

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Vera Lynn: “It was simply my duty to keep on singing.”

Vera Lynn singing for workers in a UK munitions factory in 1941. Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London.

Vera Lynn singing for workers in a UK munitions factory in 1941. Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London.

Vera Lynn achieved international fame with the songs she made popular on the radio during the Second World War. Arts columnist Brian Brennan reports in his new time capsule piece that she wanted to try other kinds of music after the war. But the fans wouldn’t hear of it. An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column, There’ll Always Be An England: Vera Lynn:

For thousands of Allied soldiers who served in the Second World War, Vera Lynn was the most popular singer on the radio. No matter that Bing Crosby and Judy Garland sold more records. Lynn was the troops’ favourite because, as one wounded soldier said at the time, “She makes you think of your wife, not of her.”

When I interviewed her in 1983, this beloved Sweetheart of the Forces was 66 years old, still singing the old wartime favourites, and still making old soldiers think fondly of their wartime brides. She was in Calgary to perform the first major concert at the Saddledome, a hockey arena built both for the 1988 Winter Olympics and as a new home rink for the NHL’s Calgary Flames.

“At school they thought I had a terrible voice,” Lynn told me. “But they always put me up in front because I opened my mouth so nice and wide.” Encouraged by her father, a London plumber, and her mother, a dressmaker, she gave her first public performances in working men’s clubs at age seven. … log in to read There’ll Always Be An England: Vera Lynn (paywall*)

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

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Man Booker Prize: Colonization’s Long Shadow

Photo by Mosman Library via Flickr, Creative Commons

If the Man Booker Prize has a theme, it may be the complicated relationships between cultures and countries that are linked by a power dynamic located in the violence of colonization, says Peter Carey — revealing the long shadow of cultural imperialism. Photo of Richard Flanagan at a book reading, in New South Wales, by the Mosman Library via Flickr. Creative Commons

By Preti Taneja, University of Cambridge
October 17, 2014 

Richard Flanagan is the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize with his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Giving his acceptance speech he said, “In Australia the Man Booker is seen as something of a chicken raffle. I just did not expect to end up the chicken.”

It’s a win that will probably find favour with Peter Carey, another Australian, and one of just three writers in the history of the Booker Prize to win it twice. The criteria for entering used to be books by “a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland”; this year it was opened to all English language writers (including, of course, Americans) for the first time. Carey said recently that in changing the rules, a “particular cultural flavour” represented by Commonwealth literature was at risk of being lost.

Looked at another way, Carey’s statement suggests a certain kind of book usually wins, one that deals with the patchwork fabric of the Commonwealth; the complicated relationships between cultures and countries that are linked by a power dynamic located in the violence of colonisation.

That a UK-based prize – and one so powerful in the world’s literary marketplace – might be pulled by this undertow only reinforces the long shadow of cultural imperialism.

Flanagan’s novel, written with a devastating lyricism, lives up to this “type” entirely: it is the only shortlisted book by a Commonwealth writer, and tells the story of surgeon Dorrigo Evans, held in a Japanese POW camp while working on the construction of the Thailand-Burma “death” railway.

The vestiges of empire are everywhere: on the tortured bodies of the characters, in their voices, their memories, brought to life in the burning landscapes they move through.

In a piece for the Guardian on the morning before the announcement, Carey admitted that Flanagan’s novel was the only shortlisted book he had read: “Richard Flanagan clearly has to win. He’s our man. He’s a serious guy who can really, really write.”

No comment on whether his being “our man” is because he’s Commonwealth, or Australian.

So what of American writers, who, some say, are less concerned with the “others” beyond their own borders? Do they deal more in the strange minutiae of American life, are they more interested in examining the dystopia of the American dream than the world outside?

Though Karen Joy Fowler’s Booker-nominated We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves seems to fit the American bill, it actually adheres to the “flavour” of Commonwealth literary culture.

Yes, her novel goes down the rabbit-hole of American family life, via some familiar tropes of American campus novels and independent cinema’s loose groups of friends. But it does so to explore themes of world importance.

The novel is unafraid to investigate who the real “others” to humanity are; how they are treated; whether they can or should remain enslaved. It is a book of siblings and scientific ethics, of gender and patriarchy; it is absolutely haunting and amazingly fresh.

Long after its covers are closed, it demands that we think about who we are, and what role in the world we want to play.

Writers don’t have to tackle such themes explicitly to win the prize. Hilary Mantel, another two-time winner with the novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, does not offer her readers contemporary history or scientific experiment. She achieves that “Commonwealth” sense of investigating identity through her precise choice of tense and perspective.

Her writing offers readers the chance to live in an eternally present moment from a history that formed our world. In making this choice she allows us to explore something about our own cultural DNA, to experience a time when the idea of dominance over the other, particularly a sense of British superiority over parts of the world, was being formed and consolidated.

The Booker committee emphasises that its criteria is wide, that it seeks to recognise “the best in English language fiction”. This year’s shortlisted books J by Howard Jacobson and How to be Both by Ali Smith are also on the list for the Goldsmith’s prize, given to “fiction that breaks the mould”.

The mould might be stylistic or thematic, or it might simply be the feeling that every reader gets of having read something similar before.

So what flavours should a prize-winning book contain? Flanagan’s novel answers this question through its steady depictions of violence, its careful attention to the idea that all sides are victims in terrible acts of war.

“How to be both” is absolutely the underlying theme here – and I’m with Ali Smith when she says: “Work that engages you sensorily, intellectually, to the heart. That will do it for me.”

Creative Commons

Preti, the AHRC/ BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker 2014 at University of Cambridge, is the editor of Visual Verse, an online anthology of art and words, whose patrons include Bernadine Evaristo, Andrew Motion and Ali Smith. www.visualverse.org

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Further reading:

Man Booker Prize: Richard Flanagan wins for wartime love story: The BBC

AC Grayling, chair of the judges, said it was a “remarkable love story as well as a story about human suffering and comradeship”. Flanagan’s novel is set during the construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in World War Two.

Column: Judging the Man Booker Prize. By Dinah Birch, The Conversation

This year’s run-up to the naming of the Man Booker Prize winner has just begun, with the announcement of the 13 novels that make up the longlist. They will soon be dissected and analysed by readers and critics all over the world. For the first time, the prize has been open to writers of any nationality, as long as their work was originally in English and was published in the United Kingdom.

 

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