Web Design

Oh no! Another web page has gone over to the enemy. The home page of The Royal Danish Library has a new design. They have thrown away their old beautiful design in order to do as other libraries and public institutions in Denmark have done: to put all information on the front page.
Before they had a simple design with an image from their collection of prints and about five of six clear main headlines that would lead you to more information. And now they have killed it! I really liked being welcomed by a new image every time I went there. Not a lot, just one. Now they had a jumble of text and images that makes me dizzy.

I think they do it in order to make the page more user friendly. You don’t have to peel your way into a labyrinth of pages, instead you try to find your way on the frontpage.
And I hate it. Way too much text crawling the surface, making it hard to get a quick overview.

It is an almost impossible task for a graphic designer to make it look pretty and simple when large institutions like The Royal Library want to put all their knowledge and information on one page. And even if they fill it with text it’s an illusion because you will still be led to other pages behind the front page.
The result is a collection of boxes that would make any five-year-old Lego collector envious. And a collection of boxes? Well, boxes are boxes, and it makes all the pages look rather alike.
On the top of the page they seem to like a band where all the not so sexy stuff (which you will find in the boxes) is listed. Listed and made into fold-down menus, that open and cover the boxes and makes even more visual mess.

Here are a couple of pages I use a lot but hate the look of: Library of Frederiksberg, The Royal Danish Theatre (when they went online with this I was really annoyed…but now, compared to the rest, it looks much better in my eyes. Sad, sad), All About Copenhagen. And now The Royal Library too. *Sniff*

Just in order to keep up the cosmic balance – here are some examples of beautiful and user friendly web pages: Glyptoteket, Apple, Louvre, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Call me old-fashioned…they just work for me.
/anna

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January 29, 2007. In the library, Rants. Leave a comment.

Back to normal. Snow is here

I have been quite worried about global warming lately. We’ve had blossoming cherry trees, spring flowers in the gardens and birds singing three months early compared to normal years. It’s been warm and rainy. But then came winter.
Last night when I biked home from my parents’ place I witnessed a strange and rare phenomenon. Earlier that day it had been raining and since the humidity was quite high the streets had stayed wet. When evening came the temperature dropped drastically and all the wet turned into ice. Streets and pavements, everything was like an ice rink. I biked slowly and enjoyed all the glistening. Fortunately I had my camera with me and was able to take some photos. It was hard catching it on the asphalt so here you see the beautiful ice flowers on a car.

Glazing on a car

Like all winter evenings some guys were playing ice hockey on my local ice rink. They seem to be quite good – but then I am impressed just by their ability to move fast and safe on the ice. This is what it looked like last night.

Ice hockey by night

When I woke this morning my bedroom had that clear light feeling to it that most northerners recognise. Only snow reflects light in that serene way. I had not been prepared for snow, but I went up, I shovelled it away from the pavement outside my house, and then I went for a walk to enjoy the whiteness. The ice rink looked like this in the morning.

Ice hockey by day

Here are a couple of snow pictures. The first one is but for the snow identical to one I took last spring. You can see that here.

Frederiksberg Have

Shadows on snow

Snowman

If you would like to see more you can scroll up the sidebar on the right to the Flickr box. I put it there today, and I will from now on be posting pictures on a regular basis.

/anna

January 27, 2007. Photos, The course of the year. 2 comments.

The Arbiters of Taste

In 2002 right wing Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that his government believed that ”human beings are made for personal choice. We don’t need experts and arbiters of taste to decide for us. (…) The people should not accept raised fingers from so-called experts who think they know best. Experts may be good enough to communicate facts. But when it comes to personal choice we are all experts”.
That started a debate about how lack of knowledge (experts) leads to obscurantism and that obscurantism leads to tyranny and conflict. And that was when the Prime Minister started to sack the experts in the administration.
A product of this debate was a television programme teasingly called The Arbiters of Taste in which a host and three ’judges’ discuss books, films, plays and other cultural events of current interest. The arbiters change but are all somehow connected with the cultural sphere; authors, filmmakers, musicians, artists, humanists, journalists etc.
Last night was expected with excitement by Marie and me since singer-songwriter, troubadour and object of my general dislike Lars Lilholt was to judge Peter Konwitschny’s staging of Wagner’s Lohengrin.

Lars Lilholt
I did not write on that photo. And I’m not going to translate…

And already here we reach one of the big problems of The Arbiters of Taste – that most of the arbiters are not experts on what they judge and some of them are not experts on anything but their own belly buttons. In this case Lars Lilholt who had never been to an opera before.
That resulted in this introductory semi-nonsense – and those half-sentences are not my invention:

You see I’m a novice, and now I go there, I sit down and then it takes me 20 minutes to realise that there are surtitles, I couldn’t find meaning, I thought it was strange stuff and the music you see… Wagner he’s… heavy right? and it just moves – I can’t find a melody. The first 20 minutes – and then I begin to discover that there is a text and then it grows, well in the beginning it reminded me of Monty Python – I thought: what is this? And then it just stayed with one and it has stayed with me and when we get to the 3rd act – now they have painted music for so long and then we get to a melody – and that was when my fur just stood up straight you know, when they began with *sings in English* “Here comes the bride daa da da daaaaaaa”, that one I knew you know, that is a hit and I had no idea it was Wagner and then…*sighs and looks like he’s had a revelation* then I just whistled to the music… And I wasn’t alone.

Now that is what I call intelligent and rewarding communication of ideas. And I really enjoyed the host’s disgusted face when listening to this – it looked a lot like Marie’s (when she occasionally took away her hands otherwise covering her face in contempt and embarrassment).

Lars Lilholt wasn’t alone. He was joined by author Shadi Bazeghi and historian Ulla Tofte. Ms Bazeghi was perhaps even more rewarding. She simply refused to talk about the staging since she had some serious stuff to tell this Wagner dude:

It was so badly written! It was nonsense! It made no sense!

I’m not kidding about the exclamation points. She was angry, that one. What I enjoyed most when she was speaking was when Lars Lilholt tried to calm her down (in some cosmic-peace-vein I suspect) by putting in things like “opera…opera is on acid” and “I don’t think you should put so much into the story“. Right about that one, Lars.
Ms Bazeghi continued:

The content is so outdated. And making some modern scenario with a bunch of middle aged men and women with pigtails playing teenagers in some class room doesn’t make it modern.

This is where Ms Bazeghi plainly told us that she hadn’t understood anything. She hadn’t even tried to put herself into it, she had just been bored and that had made her angry and unwilling.
Fortunately Ulla Tofte was there to save my evening. She was the only one who had actually thought just a little about the staging and she rejointed the ‘out of date’ hobbyhorse of her co-arbiter by saying that Konwitschny moving it in time made the characters much more recognisable to a modern audience. I couldn’t agree more. Besides Ms Tofte made great lines like:

Personally I felt that four and a half hours of Wagner is so much more exciting, scary and sensuous than all 24 episodes of 24 Hours.

What I especially fell for was that you for once had an active opera chorus that made the whole staging live, instead of what we usually see: some gospel choir-like group who have lost their voices, standing in a corner dressed in purple garbs booming every once in a while.

All in all the programme just made me think: are they trying to prove the Prime Minister’s point? That we will do better without these arbiters of taste? Or are they on the contrary trying to show him what society will be when we are out of experts? I am not sure.

For those of you speaking Danish, you can watch the show here.

/anna

January 27, 2007. Opera, Reviews, Television. 1 comment.

A Musical Year – January – “Akh! Isomilas ya gorem” from Pique Dame

My musical choice for the month of January is Liza’s aria “Akh! Isomilas ya gorem” from the third act of Tchaikovsky’s opera pique dame. As I’ve mentioned before, January is my second-to-least favourite month, I find it to be a bleak and desolate month, deathly pale in comparison to its bright and festive predecessor December, and Liza’s aria is perfect for this.

I first saw Pique Dame on February 22 2002 (I have no idea why I remember the date, but there you are) in Kasper Holten’s brilliant staging at the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen, and was immensely moved by it, and what I remember most vividly is the scene with Liza’s aria. It featured a miserable and worried Liza, waiting for her beloved Herman, standing on a bridge (such a great metaphor for the state of transition at which Liza finds herself at this point of the opera!) with water flowing underneath it while the snow fell around her, and I thought it captured so beautifully the atmosphere of Tchaikovsky’s music. The melody is very simple and a sorrowful beautiful and accurate depicts Liza’s state of mind and through an increasing allegro her growing fears that she has been abandoned, but the orchestration with the extensive use of the woodwind gives off a kind of folkloristic sound that places the anguished heroine geographically, the swirling scales of the oboes imitating the flow of the canal that libretto has Liza standing by, and the whirl of snowflakes in the cold St. Petersburg night. A haunting scene, especially of course, when one considers Liza’s fate in the opera.

I do have my reservations about Pique Dame, I tend to think that the fourth act, with its intense focus on an almost raving Herman and his obscure little cards, seems a little anticlimactic, but the opera has enough beautiful music and dramatic tension to make up for this, and the beginning of the third act with Liza standing by the canal is actually one of my favourite operatic moments. It’s such a perfect musical depiction of the cold, bone-chilling realization that one is about to be abandoned, and as such it reminds me of January.  Here is an English translation of the lyrics from “Akh! Isomilas ya gorem”, although I cannot take credit for myself – I couldn’t put two words together in Russian to save my life:

Oh! I am weary with sorrow… Night and day I think only of him and I worry…

Joy, where have you gone! Oh! I am weary and exhausted!Life promised me nothing but happiness,

Then came a cloud of storm.

All that I loved in the world,

My happiness and hopes were destroyed!

Oh, I am weary and worn!

Life promised me nothing but happiness.

I am worn and weary with suffering!

Anguish gnaws and consumes me….” 

(lyrics by Modest Tchaikovsky) 

/marie

PS: Hm. Self-destruction and the bone-chillling realization of abandonment. January really does bring out the worst in me, it would seem. Good thing the month’s almost over!

January 26, 2007. A Musical Year, Music, Opera, The course of the year. 2 comments.

A Literary Year – January – Tom Kristensen’s Havoc

After last year’s winter, which featured non-stop snow-falls from January to April (I am not kidding. It snowed on Palm Sunday last year), I thought I’d never be happy to see a snowflake again, but like Anna I was really getting concerned about the extremely mild temperatures we’ve been having; the blooming cherry trees and the March-like rain that’s been pouring down and soaking our Summer-shoe-clad feet this winter. Global warming indeed, and it scares me. However, a couple of days ago the first snow finally fell, the temperatures dropped to below zero, and we’ve been having a bit of winter. And thus I can finally get down to writing my entry for “Literary Year”/”Musical Year” – I simply haven’t been in the mood for it till now. (Or, well, actually I just haven’t gotten around to it until now. But I’ll blame the weather, because that sounds better). 

My literary choice for January is Tom Kristensen’s Havoc. This is the same novel that Anna spilled coffee all over, then lost to the force that is the biological process of moulding, and I keep forgetting to ask Anna if she ever got her new copy from that antiquarian bookstore, and whether she’s read it yet. Did you read it yet, Anna? In any case, as Anna pointed out, it seems strangely appropriate that this book of all books should eat itself up, because the main-theme of this very recommendable novel is in fact self destruction. Main character Ole Jastrau, a Copenhagen literature critic circa 1930, recognizing what he finds to be the meaningless of his existence, indulges in a reckless journey into Copenhagen night, an odyssey of disintegration of his own self, accompanied by a strange gallery of urban suspicious characters, and a whole lot of alcohol.  

I’ve been wondering why this of all novels would come to my mind when I considered which literary piece to illustrate the month of January on this blog, because unlike my choice for December, Havoc doesn’t deal with a particular month of the year, or a tendency towards depictions of snowy January landscapes or anything like that. But it does have that certain gloom and that aforementioned champagne-after taste of broken new year’s resolution that I tend to associate with January. More than that, it’s got a rambling flow that resembles stream of consciousness and a cynically accurate approach towards the potentially all-consuming power of decay.

 

The passage that I would like to quote here is from a significant scene in which Jastrau has gotten drunk and made a spectacle of himself at a dinner party and is taken home in a taxi by his embarrassed wife Johanne. Agitated and already well on his way in his downward spiral, Jastrau decides to make a final, fatal break with his own sanity and the world that could have saved him… I am quoting from the English translation of the novel by Carl Malmberg:

 Johanne drew her wrap closely about her so hat it no longer touched him. There was a space between them, but he could detect her body growing rigid. He did not look at her.But then it came.

Why did you turn those photographs around at home?’ she asked harshly.

And in his mind he saw himself as he had been there in the apartment – how, unable to rest because of dissipation and the whiskey in his system, he had paced back and forth through the rooms and suddenly felt himself tormented by the two faces, the photographs of his mother and his son, how he had had a feeling that they could see right through him, and then he had turned the pictures around.

So Johanne had noticed it.

And there she sat in the corner of the cab, pale as a corpse and unassailable. He sensed his powerlessness, and it made him desperate. Something had to happen. But he could not speak.

Suddenly he bent forward, rapped on the window in back of the driver, and signalled frantically for him to stop.‘What do you want? Have you gone completely crazy?’ Johanne cried out in bewilderment.

The taxi slowed and then came to a stop. Jastrau already had the door open so that the breeze came whistling in. And then, with one lea, he was out on the edge of the sidewalk.At a loss to know what was going on, the driver turned on the likght inside the cab.

(…)

Jastrau’s lips were trembling. He wished that his rash act could be undone. He wanted to get back into the cab. But that triumphant silence must be conquered. He had to win this battle, and he would. A stupid conquest. What did the cab drver think? And ten he reached into his pocket, grabbed his keys, tossed them into the cab. Out with his wallet too, and into the cab with it. Inexplicable. A silent, violent scene. And Johanne sat there in the feeble light staring straight ahead like a person who was dying.Without a word, Jastrau turned his back on her and began walking out Vesterbrogade. The glow from the ar lights, the broad, glistening, car track, the shadowy figures on the street corners, white legs flashing, women, and up aboive the roofs the blue-black night sky and some stars; he sensed the street as an extension of his soul, as a confirmation that something conclusive had occurred as an extraordinary, incomprehensibly calming influence. Behind him, he head the taxi start and get under way. It must be it, because there was not another car on the street at the moment. He would not turn around, but must simply keep walking. Then the taxi could catch up with him, draw up alongside the curb, and stop. And then they could talk to each other. The taxi had to come.

But the sound of the engine bacme fainter and fainter, and finally he had to turn around an look.

What he saw was the rear end of the cab. The taillight like ared cat’s eye in the distance. It turned a corner down near Vesterbro’s square and disappeared.

Disappeared.”

/marie

January 26, 2007. A Literary Year, Literature, The course of the year. 5 comments.

Their Mother is a Genius

5-year-old boy: Mommy, I want those chocolates!

7-year-old older brother: Uh-oh, Oliver. You cursed!

5-year-old boy: Did not!

7-year-old older brother: Did too! You said “I want!”

– Netto Supermarket, Nordre Frihanvs Gade, Copenhagen

overheard by

/marie

January 26, 2007. Overheard. Leave a comment.

Michael Cunningham: Specimen Days – review

Here follows another transcript of a book review I’ve done for the University Radio, translated here into English:

Mechanics, the machin-like, movements that happen automatically are death, and man’s struggle against the mechanic is the main theme in Michael Cunningham’s latest novel Specimen Days. The book consists of three short novels and through these three one is confronted with the past, present and the future of the human race and their relation to the machine. The human being is in all three stories represented by three individuals: A man, a woman, and an invalid child, who always bear variations of the names respectively Simon, Catherine, and Lucas, and all three stories take place in New York.

.

specimen days

The first story takes place in the late 19th hundred, just as the industrialisation has gotten a firm hold of the western world, and the story’s main character is the deformed 13-year-old Lucas who has just taken over his older brother Simon’s job in a factory, after Simon got killed in an accident – he simply got pulled into the machine and crushed. The monotone nature of the job makes the slightly mentally disturbed Lucas drowsy, and this is when he makes an important discovery: He hears a distinct sound coming from the machine:

 “He listened carefully. It might have been the squeak of an unoiled bearing, but it sounded more like a voice, a tiny voice, though its words were indistinguishable. It had the rhythm of a voice, the rise and fall and rise again suggesting intention rather than accident, the tone implying a certain urgency more human than mechanical, as if the sound were being made by some entity struggling to be heard.” 

Soon the eerie truth dawns on Lucas: It is a voice that he’s hearing from the machine, and it belongs to his dead brother: 

“Simon was imprisoned in the machine. It made sudden, dreadful sense. He was not in heaven or in the pillow; he was not in the grass or in the locket. His ghost had snagged on the machine’s inner working; the machine held it as a dog might hold a man’s coat in its haws after the man himself had escaped. Simon’s flesh had been stamped and expelled, but his invisible part remained, trapped among the gears and teeth.”  

Lucas realizes that his mother, who’s gone insane with grief after Simon’s death, is right when she claims that she can hear Simon singing when she plays her music box, and that this is the reason why she cannot let go of her dead son: She surrenders to the machine-like pseudo-beauty of the music box. The machines are passageways to the realm of the dead, in machines and the automatic Death is to be found, and its strength increases as the machines multiply and demands more and more victims. This is the unpleasant idea that transcends the novel, and the human being is struggling to break free from the machines. The most sinister vision is the one found in the second novel of the three, the one that takes place in the present; The Children’s Crusade in which Cat, a forensic psychiatrist, is struggling to get to the bottom of the case of a children’s group of terrorist, who, in their own twisted way, try to stop the count-down to the complete automation of the world. We find this automation one hundred and fifty years into the future, in the third part of the book, Like Beauty, in which the city of New York has been turned into an amusement park, completely devoid of human spontaneity. 

I have read Michael Cunningham’s previous novel The Hours numerous times, I love it dearly, and I was accordingly exuberant when I heard of this his latest edition, and I haven’t been disappointed. Specimen Days was a little hard to get through; it was particularly rough to have to take the painful step from the terrorised present into the last part of the book, the science-fiction, where everything seems so desolate, and where Simon the protagonist is not even a human being, but a very sophisticated robot. However, Cunningham’s loving approach to language and expression gives us a sense of hope when it’s attributed to a cyborg, and in the bleakness of the dystopia we catch a glimpse of hope for mankind when even one of its most cynical and nemesis-ridden creations has an experience of intense beauty, of togetherness, and of promise: 

“He dreamed that he stood in a high place. It was birght and windy. In the dream he could not determine whether he was on a mountain or abuilding. He knew only that he was standing on something solid and that the earth was far below. From where he stood he could see people walking across a plain. They were distant, and yet he could see them perfectly. There were men and women and children. They were all going in the same direction. They were leaving something behind. He could just barely make it out. It was a darkness, a bsens of gathering storm, far awat, shot through with flashes of light, green-tinted, unhealthy, small shivers an bursts of light that appeared and disappeared in the roil of cloudy darkness. (…) He hopes that they were going to something better. He imagined mountains and forests, rivers, a pure windswept cleanliness, but he could not see it. He could only see what was on their faces: hope and fear and determination, a furious ardency he could not put a name to.” 

This ardency is a main theme in Cunningham’s book, and as such it’s  is omnipresent in Specimen Days, and a very sympathetic, and subtly meta, point in the book is that Art is the ultimate expression of this ardency, this persistent will to live, to progress and move on. Art is represented in the novel by Walt Whitman, whom all the book’s main characters relate to in some way, the same way the three main characters of The Hours related to Virginia Woolf. Walt Whitman’s rambling poetic style bears significance in Specimen Days in that it represents the human, fallible beauty that remains, even when man has mechanized the world to the point of seemingly complete inanimation. “The smallest sprout shows there is really no death” and “Every atom belonging to you as good belongs to you” are some of the Whitman quotes that are repeated throughout the novel, and the main characters quote these sentences without fully understanding them, but that doesn’t matter, because as one of the characters from “The children’s crusade” states: You don’t get a message from poetry, you get a sense of beauty.  

Cunningham’s use of Walt Whitman is not quite as successful as his incorporation of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in The Hours. I think it’s a brilliant idea, this of Cunningham’s of using a beloved writer’s work as a point de depart. “A kind of sophisticated fan fiction with a lot of original characters” one might call it, if one wanted to put Cunningham down a little, but there’s really no reason for that, I think: In this post-modern (whatever that really means…) day and age where we reflect on literature as much as we do and set up and tear down canons of literature, I think it’s only natural that a writer should relate openly to already established works from their literary backgrounds. The problem in Specimen Days, if one was to point out a problem, is that Cunningham doesn’t seem to adopt Whitman’s voice as fully and well as he did with Woolf in The Hours, the literary style of which became a beautiful succession of and homage to the tradition of stream of consciousness. The Whitman quotations and references seem a little more superimposed in Specimen Days as regards composition and form, and The Hours remains my favourite Cunningham novel.

In the expression and thematics of the novel, however, Whitman’s elaborate idea of the beauty of world, untamed and stubborn like a sprout, is omnipresent, and it’s this persistent beauty that carries you through Cunningham’s at times deeply disturbing but always moving and consistent trilogy. Specimen Days is very recommendable.

/marie

January 25, 2007. Literature, Reviews. 1 comment.

The International Hammerhead Association Strikes Again

Former politician Jens Rohde has entered the fold. We welcome him in The International Hammerhead Association. He has always been obvious, and now it’s official. Look how happy he is. As are we all.

Jens Rohde

/anna on behalf of TIHA.

January 23, 2007. Hammersharks. Leave a comment.

0 % Avantgarde Jazz. Just like here…

These days Copenhagen is filled with ads for a Danish pop radio channel which made both me and Marie stop. While going somewhere… I stared at it from my bike, craning my neck while waiting for the green lights and Marie stopped to do on-the-spot running while out jogging. We were both completely paralyzed. Look:

avantgardejazz

The persons on it are the hosts. I love it and I am not through staring. The beards! The glasses! The hair! The spotlight with the smoke! The poses! The velvet jacket with the turtleneck! The expressions!

They enrich the cityscape which is great, since they totally polute the airwaves.

/anna

An update (I thought I was through. But I was not). They got this too:
Sømandsviser

The text goes: 0 % Sea Shanties.
Love that too. But not as much as the jazz one.

January 23, 2007. Music. Leave a comment.

Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic

So, last week I did a post on The Shining and this week I’d like to do a post on another iconic horror movie, namely Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 adaptation of Daphne de Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, which I watched for the first time a couple of months ago, and which made a deep impression on me as one of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen.

Don't Look Now

What fascinated me the most about this movie was the way scenes did not stand out to me while I was watching it. In that way it is different from any other horror movie I’ve seen, and as such I think it is somewhat problematic to even categorize the movie as “horror”. Contrary to most horror movies, that lend their strength largely from shock effect and whose plots consist of a building-up of a tension up until a certain point and then a release of that tension, there is such a singular flow in Don’t Look Now that blurrs the lines between past, present, and future.

The disruption of the timeline

And in a way that is much scarier than the trivial shock effect. It’s what we do all our lives; we seperate the present from the past and from the future, and thus we keep our own terminality at bay, I suppose. If we can count on a certain progression of events, generations passing generations, an order of things, a preceding b, then we are safe. Right from the beginning of this movie, however, this order gets mixed up: a child dies.

It’s remarkable, but probably not coincidental, that having children and the concept of parenthood plays such a predominant part in horror films. We are sickened when an alien bursts out John Hurt’s stomach in Alien like a perverted infant from a hellish caesarian section, we feel for Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist as she witnesses a kind of teenage rebellion gone wild through the demonic posession of her adolescent daughter, and there are at least half a dozen horror films out there that feature a woman suffering through the almost cancerous growth of a monstrous fetus and giving birth to a full-grown man. As much as we love our children, they’re the domineering little objects of our worst fears, and I guess nothing emphasizes the necessity of a predictable, steady progression of life as having children, which is of course why the idea of the death of a child is so scary to us; it disrupts our view of life as a straight line headed towards eternity, it brings us face to face with our own mortality.

It’s this face-to-faceness that constitutes Don’t Look Now I think, and it is within this mental space that main character John is trapped in the movie.

Restoration and the Sinking City

Of course it’s no coincidence that it is main character John who gets trapped this way. While his wife Laura remains open to the idea of a coexistence of life and death, listening to the psychic women’s claim that they have had apparitions of their deceased daughter, John seems to have problems with such a juxtaposition. He is a restorer by profession, his job is to restore that which is falling apart, to deny, in a way, the decay or mortality of the world, and it is ironic that John takes his wife with him to Venice while they’re struggling to recover after the loss of their daughter. Apart from being considered one of the most romantic sites and a popular destination for tourists, it’s difficult to find a city where the concepts of decay and mortality are more ubiquitous than in Venice. Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice main character von Aschenbach roamed the streets of the city, admiring the statue-like plasticity of a young boy all the while falling apart himself like a rottening fruit, and scientists are still trying to determine how this sinking city, resting unsteadily on bone-like piles, may be secured from getting consumed by the water constituting it. It is this menacing aspect of Venice, rather than a romantic idea of the city, that is explored in Don’t Look Now.

John has accepted a job in Venice, and throughout the course of the movie, we see him labouring indefatigably at restoring the architecture of the city, often seemingly using his work as an excuse to escape from what he perceives as his wife’s unhealthy coming to terms with their daughter’s death, her willing acceptance of death as part of their lives. He is in other words desperately trying to master terminality, to force life upon something dead.

The aged child

But as Freud and, before him, the folkloristic tradition of ghost stories have taught us, it is that which we try to repress that comes to haunt us, and of course John is not successful. Far from restoring through his work the sense of his life as a straight line that was threatened when he lost his child, John works himself closer and closer towards a confrontation with his own mortality. There are no straight lines in Venice: what is supposed to be constructive work almost has John killed as his scaffold gives way during the restoration of a church, John loses his way in the crooked Venetian streets, and Time is equally crooked – John sees his own future mourners passing by him as if they were part of the present.

But John continually refuses to accept this presence of death in his life, and thus it makes sense that what ultimately kills him is the mysterious dwarf that he encounters in a blind alley. The dwarf shakes his head sadly at John as he kills him, because it incorporates exactly the distorted timeline that John has been trying to escape. What John meets is the very epitome of his fears; he believes it to be a child, but the creature turns around and reveals itself to be wrinkled and old, it is an aged child, it is death and life co-existing, and it kills John.

The sex appeal of the inorganic

One of the reasons why this movie interested me so much was that at the time when I watched it, I was working on a presentation for one of my university classes about Mario Perniola’s The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic. The idea that philosopher Perniola presents in this book is that idea that the process of reification that our culture initiated along with Industrialisation might find its ultimate accomplishment in a kind of reification of what is traditionally considered to constitute our closest relation to biology, the most compressed form of our own timeliness as mortal creatures (rise – climax – fall), as well as the very precondition of human life: sexual intercourse. Thus, with the reification of the sexual act, Perniola states, we conquer biology. We reach a kind of superhuman level where the borders between time and space, between our own and our counterpart’s flesh, between genders, between the animate and the inanimate are annulled and we break free from timelieness.

This came to my mind while watching Don’t Look Now not because I saw in this movie a dramatization of Perniola’s idea, but because I saw in the movie the exact opposite of it, and in fact I think the movie helped me a great deal to understand what Perniola is trying to express in his extremely difficult and rather evasive book. The timeliness, the relation to biology that Roeg’s movie depicts is exactly what Perniola states that we might escape through a reification of the sexual act.

Interestingly, the sex scene in Don’t Look Now is a good example of this. Probably in accordance with the idea of Venice as a honeymoon kind of destination, John and Laura indulge in sexual intercourse during their stay in the city. The sex scene is remarkable in as much as it’s placed centrally in the movie, it’s very graphic, and it goes on forever. I’ve heard this mentioned as the greatest sex scene ever in a movie, and I guess I can see what one would mean by that, although not as far as “most sensual”, “sexiest”, or “most exciting sex scene” goes. What I liked so much about it was the way it depicted the terminality of the sexual act. Through the juxtaposition of images, we see John and Laura getting dressed at the same time as we see them undressing, and seperating at the same time as we see them penetrating each other. For mortality is very real and omnipresent in their lives, whether they are willing to accept this or not, and their sexual act is theoretically ended as soon as it’s begun, because the rise of excitement between them only predicts a corresponding fall. Which is exactly why I would never think of the scene as a particular exciting one, and I don’t believe that it was meant to be, either. Unlike most cinematic depictions of sexual intercourse, the sensation that is emphasized in this movie is the decline, rather than the increase of excitement.

Thus in Don’t Look Now what we find, one might say, is an exploration of the sex appeal of the organic. It’s a study, not of an elevated superhuman level devoid of time, but of the opposite; the compressed form of the concete human condition to which we are bound by biology, and within which time and timeliness is the predominant factor. John strives to conquer as a mortal creature within the biologic realms of life, and thus he fails and is trapped in a blind alley, face to face with his own death, the geriatric within the child, the fall entombed within the rise of his excitement.

I actually kind of screwed up that presentation I was to give on The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic, nerves and awe at the complexity of Perniola’s idea preventing me from communicating exactly what I felt I’d learned from the book, but in terms of personal enrichment (as opposed to academic achievement and success) I really feel that the book has opened my eyes to some interesting ideas, as I hope the above will show. Don’t Look Now as well as The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic, whether one agrees with me or not that their opposition creates a kind of connection between the two, are very recommendable.

/marie

January 21, 2007. Films. Leave a comment.

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