Lose the Handbag, Purple Boy!

Once again Eastern Europe waves the flag of homophobia. Last week Moscow gave us the beatings and arrests of not so gay gays and now Poland gives us: THE TELETUBBY PROBLEM.
Ewa Sowinska, spokesperson for children’s rights, will launch an investigation lead by psychologists to see if Tinky Winky of Teletubbies is in fact gay and if that is suitable television for children.

Tinky Winky
Find the error in this picture.

Did you find it? Well…it’s the handbag!
Tinky Wiiiinky…

A British radio programme asked their listeners if they could come up with other gayish children’s characters. They came up with Winnie the Pooh (just the name…) who has only male friends. May I just add that the same applies to Mole in The Wind in the Willows. I mean – look at them…sailing down the stream going for a “picnic”:

Ratty and Mole

And he even fraternises with Toad who occasionally wears women’s clothes, but perhaps Ewa Sowinska will let it pass on the grounds of his love for automobiles? Well, I wouldn’t be so sure.

Toad of Toad Hall

Way to go Poland! And welcome to the European Union!

/anna

May 29, 2007. Literature, Television. 7 comments.

Cindy Sherman and Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls

Having read Anna’s report from our trip to museum of art Louisiana last week, I thought I’d just do a post of my own, following up on Anna’s observations on Cindy Sherman.

Because seeing the Sherman exhibtion reminded me of the Tori Amos-album Stange Little Girls (2001) which I bought recently and like very much. It occured to me at Louisiana that Tori Amos is obviously very inspired by Sherman in this album, which features 12 cover tracks, covering songs by artists as diverse as Eminem and Lennon/McCartney.

Strange Little Girls - front cover

On the album, Amos presents an interesting new take on the concept of musical covering as she uses each track to present a different side of Woman as an expressive individual – and perhaps even different sides of herself as a woman artist. The songs are all centered around women and they are all originally written by male artists, and thus Amos uses the album as a way of exploring different male visions of women, and she does so playfully and freely, as if trying on different outfits in a fitting room. The homage to Cindy Sherman’s work  (whose artistic project of portraying women may be said to be similar) is quite evident, as Amos poses on the album booklet in a series of photos that recall Sherman’s staged photography:

Tori Amos - Strange Little Girls

From Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls

If the pictures stood by themselves, I would be tempted to dismiss them as sheer Sherman plagiatism, but appearing as they do as part of the album cover art, they merely serve to emphasize Strange Little Girls as Amos’s musical exploration of the artistic project that Sherman started, and I think that’s a very sympathetic idea.

Amos’s talent as a musician is indisputable, I think, and the tracks are all very interesting musically, ranging in genre from quite piano ballads to loud rock songs, much like Sherman’s photography which ranges from the fragmentary contemplative to the grotesque and shrill. My favourite tracks on the album are probably the beautiful, understated cover version of Tom Waits’s “Time”, which gains a whole new perspective with Amos’s delicate vocal replacing Waits’s hoarse one, and the almost deliriously rambling, disharmonic and multivoiced schizophrenic version of Neil Young’s otherwise very by-the-book ballad “Heart of Gold”. And her chillingly laid-back version of “I don’t like Mondays” haunted me for weeks after the Virginia Tech massacre and comes to my mind whenever I see Cho’s angry face on the news, the Elektra-like unquenchable thirst for revenge shining from his eyes.

A minor problem with Amos’s album is, however, that she does not achieve the diversity of expression that Sherman masters. While the genre of her cover tracks ranges, Amos’s women portraying gets a little monotonous, as the majority of the portraits present in some form a deranged and dangerous woman. She no doubt wishes to underline the tendency towards vagina-dentata-ish male fear of women, and while I think this is an important issue within our patriachal society, surely it does not reflect the attitude of the entire male population? Here, I think Sherman’s take on the male optics is more subtle and leaves more room for interpretation.

But the album’s spark and energy and Tori Amos’s fitting-room mentality towards a male-dominated society’s view on femininity, definitely makes Tori Amos’s music recommendable to anyone with an interest in Sherman’s project, and I think it is great, and much too rare, to see contemporary women musicians seriously exploring gender issues within their music. A much-needed break from Gwen Stefani’s scantily clad Hollaback Girls and Shakira’s allegedly truth-speaking hips. I haven’t yet heard Amos’s latest album American Doll Posse (which was released last month), but I understand that Amos continues her theme of women portraits, this time specifically criticising traditinal American sex roles; so it would seem that Sherman is indeed still very much alive and kicking. Good for her. And for all of us.

/marie

May 23, 2007. Art, Music, Reviews, Staged photos. 10 comments.

Cindy Sherman, Österlen, Birthday. A Flickr Update

I have been busy! Hence my long silence on this blog. But as recent additions to our flickr account show the last week has been full of good stuff.

Wednesday night Marie and I tempted the deluge and drove to the museum of modern art, Louisiana, North of Copenhagen to see works by the Queen of Staged Photos, Cindy Sherman. And what a great time we had! The exhibition was very large and included photos and videos from all of Sherman’s carrier. Most of them with a humorous edge, some of them disgusting and some of them combining those two strains. Besides from her recent clown portraits (sju jætter?) I think this exhibition showed what an extremely skilled artist Cindy Sherman is. Not only are her photographs technically amazing they also capture the spirit of an age and of the person (herself in disguise) she portrays. Marie and I stopped by every piece and talked and talked about them. Nothing was of little importance or dull. I think she is fantastic.

Cindy Sherman

As a curator to be I think the exhibition was very serene and nice and with a good selection of works. Some of the wall colours were odd but when it comes to hanging I think they did a good job. Look at this wall for example where Sherman’s Old Master photos have been arranged in a traditional hanging a’la Parisian Salon. Just the right thing to do if you ask me.

Old Masters, Sherman
I am completely taken by these. Sort of an acting out of a make-a-match memory game for art historians.

On Thursday I went with my family to Sweden to do some more painting in the vicarage my parents bought. We spent a whole four days there working hard. Here are some pictures.

Dining room

This is the dining room with me and my sister painting with grey (and me trying to make a straight line). Ever since entering a grey room in some friends’ house I have wished for some room of my own in grey. I think it is enchanting and with old furniture it just makes perfect sense.

After the dining room we painted the neighbouring living room. Yellow. A very difficult colour but beautiful together with grey and with the big white porcelain stove in the corner it looks great. Here again my sister and I painting.

Living room

Of course we weren’t alone – far from it. My brother, dad, uncle and brother-in-law made a great effort too as did my aunt and mom. This is my brother with his protective glasses. The staining annoyed him a good deal and when this wonderful pair turned up he just has to use them.

Glasses

When not painting we went on trips in the wonderful area, Österlen which is the Easternmost part of Scania (Skåne to the locals). They live on apples in this part of the country so at this time of year Österlen is one big blooming apple garden.

Apple blossom

Actually scenes from the Cherry Valley (apples…cherries…) in the adaptation of Astrid Lindgren’s The Brothers Lionheart were shot here and when driving through the scenery it is breathtaking.

The apples are used for cider and apple juice…and cakes.

Apple cake
Pie!

Besides from apple trees there are fields, woods and steep hills. And a waterfall just five minutes from where we are.

Waterfall

We left Sweden on Sunday and on Monday it was my birthday. And look at all the great stuff I got from my wonderful family:

Gifts

I have to admit I am ridiculously fond of presents and this year was perfect. I got what I wished for and I got what I had wished for but had forgotten again. Besides I had some more cake and a wonderful dinner with same wonderful family which just made the day perfect.

What a week!

/anna

May 22, 2007. Art, Photos, Reviews, Staged photos, The course of the year, Travels. 6 comments.

“But it wasn’t Stewie who was laughing at me. It was GOD!” – Amadeus on Family Guy

Just as I’m thinking I couldn’t possibly love Family Guy any more than I already did, they go and make an Amadeus-reference…! Wonderful! I love how “Heart & Soul” is the tune that Stewie plays when impersonating Peter. Mozart would totally have mocked Salieri with “Heart & Soul”, had he known that piece.

Em yrram, Seth MacFarlane! 

/marie

May 20, 2007. Films, Music, YouTube. 9 comments.

Nils Malmros: Lars-Ole 5C

One of my favourite movie directors is Danish director Nils Malmros. Most of his DVDs are released without foreign subtitling, something that irks me to no end, as they are – rightfully – internationally acclaimed (his movie Kundskabens træ [“Tree of Knowledge”] having received the Lübecker Nachrichten Audience Award in 1982, several of his movies having been shown at the Cannes Festival), and I would love to be able to share my love for them with the world. However, I figured that writing about the movies here on the blog might be a way of raising some curiosity about the movies and thus – perhaps –  a teeny tiny step towards an international edition of the DVDs. 

 

Lars-Ole 5C 

And so I will be reviewing a number of Nils Malmros-movies, starting with one of his first movies, Lars-Ole 5C (“Lars-Ole, 5th grade”) from 1973, and ending with his most recent production At kende sandheden (which has been given the international title Facing the Truth). I regret that I am unable to review his movies En mærkelig kærlighed [“A Strange Love”]  (1968 – Malmros’ first movie), Drenge [“Boys”] (1977), and Barbara (1997) as I have not been able to get hold of the films anywhere.

Lars-Ole 5.C was Nils Malmros’ first real success and a very important movie for the director. Five years earlier his movie En mærkelig kærlighed had been released and it had been a huge fiasco, the critics dismissing Nils Malmros as a bad impersonator of Francois Truffaut (by whom Nils Malmros was indeed very inspired, as he has stated openly several times). With Lars-Ole 5.C, however, Malmros started on a narrative style that has arguably become his signature as a director: The school-yard retrospective, that is, the capturing of a budding adult hurt, frustration and passion through the depiction of adolescent children manuvering their way through the micro-cosmos of the school yard, the school dance, the camp school – the limits of a child’s world. The movie was a success and took that year’s Bodil award (the Danish movie awards) in the category “Best Movie” and received some attention at the Cannes Film Festival. Shot entirely in humble black and white, Lars-Ole 5C is definitely a good movie in its own right, but seeing it, as I did, for the first time only after having seen Malmros’ later movies it is impossible not to regard it as a kind of study for these later works (Kundskabens træ in particular), and it is partly as such that I will be reviewing it here. 

Don José, 5th grade

In Lars-Ole 5C, we meet 12-year-old Lars-Ole (Søren Rasmussen), an average 5th grader who is in love, likely for the first time, in fourth grader Inger. Inger is, however, in love, and “going steady”, with Hanse, a friend of Lars-Ole’s. Distraught from jealousy Lars-Ole tells on Hanse who gets blamed and physically punished for a mischief, and Inger dismisses Lars-Ole as “mean”. At a school dance the still smitten Lars-Ole steals a dance from Inger during the rheinländer polka. That is really all there is to the story, but Nils Malmros tells it with a painstaking earnestness and an attention to detail that bears witness of an almost photographic memory when it comes to this tumultuous time of a person’s life, so that it is impossible not to get sucked into the story, remembering one’s own adolescent, and seeing the depiction of this particular adolescent as a monument over human sorrow and frustration.

Lars-Ole is a somewhat plain-looking boy and not remarkable in any other way than because of the passion that shines from his eyes that follow his beloved with the strained watchfulness of jealousy. Even his name is plain and common, and the movie title Lars-Ole, 5th grade will bear connotations of an almost comical commonness to the average Dane, harking of a clumsy hand-written characters on the torn cover of a much hated math book, and this wouldn’t have worked as well with a more exotic name like Hanse. This is hardly a coincidence: the poignantly plain young man, Lars-Ole, constitutes a type that is to be repeated throughout Malmros’ cinematography: The nice, but somewhat paralyzed male character who loses his great love to a more radiant, although often dubious, personality. A Don José, one might call him, losing his Carmen to the more interesting Escamilio, and it is obvious that Malmros has much sympathy for this kind of character. His name is Lars-Ole in this movie, it is Niels-Ole in another (Kundskabens træ), while he takes the form of a struggling Danish movie director in a third movie (Århus by night), and one might see him as Malmros’ alter ego – the character almost being Malmros name-sake in Kundskabens træ and sharing his profession in Århus by night 

Inger (Judith Nysom) getting something whispered in her ear, the image of aloof and esoteric feminitiy and delicacy in the eyes of a clumsy 12-year-old boy.

Ass-jokes, secret spatiality, and falling from grace

Lars-Ole’s main problem, as well as his fellow Don Josés’, is that he is still so very insecure about himself and so uncomfortable with his own sexuality. This youthful character trait is particularly evident in Lars-Ole who is still partly caught within a kind of untimely “anal phase” (as far as Ericsson’s study of a child’s psychological development goes), and he and his friends are preoccupied with farts and ass-jokes which they tell each other amidst much giggling whenever the grown-ups aren’t around, with all the excitement and passion of young lovers throwing gravel at their beloved’s windows at night. This is as far as the boys have come when it comes to sexuality, but it’s something that they have to go through. The physical frames in which this anal preoccupation takes place is also significant: Lars-Ole and his best friend John find and explore a secret room and hallway in the deserted part of an old factory where they start meeting to exchange their boyish pranks and jokes. Secret rooms, hallways and other such cave-like spatiality is a theme that Malmros returns to later on in his cinematography, in Århus by Night, and it works as an efficient symbol of young boys’ exploration of their own subconsciousness. 

The grown-ups in Lars-Ole’s life definitely constitute the super-ego to the id this secret spatiality provides, and while Lars-Ole comes from an attentive and caring home (personified by a loving mother), it is remarkable how poorly the adults tend to administrate the power they possess in their relation to the unruly boys. The boys’ school teacher, a grim-looking, elderly man, is a constant threat in their lives, his big, stern hands dealing the boys slaps by way of punishment. Corruptly so even; the teacher plays favourites and puts force into the blows he deals his pupils according to his personal preferences. Lars-Ole and his friends probably find their first impersonations of evil in this man, and the importance of the movie lies in the fact that the action takes place around the time when the children lose their ability to preserve their goodness and innocence and stand up to this evil. Lars-Ole ought to stand by his friends, but his sense of moral and ethics is weakened by his adolescent love for Inger and the jealousy he feels against Hanse because she is his girlfriend, and Lars-Ole fails to protect Hanse. This incapability embues the love-struck Lars-Ole’s story: He is similarly unable to make a difference as he finds out that his younger sister Marie is getting bullied by classmates, and he abuses his mother’s credit account at the local bakery in an attempt at buying himself friends with cakes and treats. 

Lars-Ole 5C

Cameradery betrayed – Malmros’s lense catches the easily overlooked hurtful glances between 12-year-olds.

School-yard lense

It is this dilemma that lends Lars-Ole 5c its strength and impact dramaturgically and makes it into more than just a story of puppy love, and Nils Malmros’s directing provides for the artistic expression of the dilemma. Malmros is famous for his ability to direct children, and the boy actors’ loud and limit-seeking behaviour appears almost uncannily natural, as if they weren’t acting at all, the film simply depicting a random group of boys (this is not the case). The camera follows Lars-Ole’s dark eyes and their painfully heavy, lingering and longing gaze, contrasting it by delicious capturing of pretty little elf-like Inger’s dancing movements and the coquette, swiftly sweet smiles. Unrequited love and human failure are by no means innovative themes for a filmmaker to take up, but the photography of Malmros’s movies prevents the movie from veering off into the contrived; Malmros has the ability to position the camera so that a single cameo may tell a thousand stories, and a haunting scene shows Lars-Ole from his younger sister’s perspective. Her older brother walks away from her and leaves her on the lurk, his frame becoming smaller and smaller from her point of view, flanked by the wall-like forms of her bullying classmates who are cornering her.  

The black-and-white photography gives the film a raw, somewhat primitive air, rather than an artsy one as is sometimes the case with anachronistic black-and-whites, and Lars-Ole 5C does have something stumbling and fragmentary to it that is not there in his later, more wholesome films. But there is something very appropriate about fragmentary in the formality of a movie about adolescent life, and all in all Lars-Ole 5C is a little masterpiece and definitely recommendable to anyone who has the courage to re-visit the optics of those years of constant insecurity, of pimples and awkward explorations, that most of us are more than happy to have put behind us. 

/marie

May 18, 2007. Films, Reviews. Leave a comment.

Overhea(r)d at the University

Professor (after several failed attempts): Well, looks like the overhead projector is officially not working.

Student: Do you want me to check with the auditorium next door and see if we can borrow theirs?

Professor: No, because they were just here a while ago, wanting to borrow this one.

Student, maliciously: …Do you want me to go tell them that they can have this one, then?

– Faculty of Humanities, Copenhagen University

Overheard by

/marie

May 16, 2007. Overheard. Leave a comment.

REPLAY Veronika at Basement, Copenhagen

If you happen to find yourself Copenhagen at the moment or during next week, you should definitely check out underground artist group Xofia’s latest staging REPLAY Veronika. I attended the performance last night and was very impressed with this thougtprovoking and inspired staging.

REPLAY Veronika 

The play was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake, the idea that a lapse in time could occur, setting history for a period of time, and thus suspending man’s free will momentarily. In REPLAY Veronika such a phenomenon occurs, resulting in the repetition of eight years (1999-2007), and main character Veronika is the only one in the world who preserves her free will and thus her ability to change her fate as of November 14 2007, the date that marks the occurence of the timequake.

The play queries the idea of a free will as Veronika, even when given the opportunity to change a less than desirable destiny, chooses to a large degree to follow the road already taken, and it does so in a fresh and sympathetically unresolved manner, leaving the ending open and inviting the audience to make a guess as to what will follow. It’s a kind of like a modern Everyman play, one might say, drawing on latter-day mythology in lieu of the lorn Christianity-inspired gallery of characters of medieval mystery plays. Veronika (Birgit Ulla Uldall-Ekman) with her mirroring surarium-name is Everywoman and the object of identification, God-like character Time (Sara Damgaard Andersen) embodies the much-worshipped media holding the remote control to a flat-screen monitor and effectively rewinds and fast-forwards, Lev (Bjørn Vikkelsø) is Veronika’s road-not-taken personified as the passionate, distant man in her life, contrasted by earthbound, button-down-shirted husband Jakob (Asger Kjær Pedersen),  and clingy girlfriend Lily (Stina Mølgaard Pedersen), while The Stranger (Ulf Rathjen Kring Hansen) is an anon.-angelic kind of helper, dressed very appropriately like a film-noir informant in a hat and cottoncoat. It’s hard not to identify with Veronika as the years flash by in the course of about 80 minutes, relating to her story as well as (re-)considering one’s own actions and choices of the 1999-2007 time-span.

The art direction is very effective; the stage settings show the inside of an apartment, ambiguously decorated so that it reflects both claustrophic conformity and wall-paper-tattering rebellion, and I especially love the aforementioned flat-screen monitor: The rewinding and fast-forwarding is a brilliantly tangible way of presenting the passing of time, and I have always been a total sucker for the use of multi-media in modern theatre. I think it’s such a great Michel-Foucault-“Des espaces autres” way of depicting the juxtaposition of spaces, and such a juxtaposition is naturally relevant in a performance on the subject of life choices and dimensional displacement.

REPLAY Veronika is, in other words, very recommendable! It opened on Friday the 11th and will be playing until May 20 at Basement, Vesterbro – a great site for theatre, literally underground. Make sure you get a programme when picking up your tickets; Xofia’s visual designer Søren Meisner (also in charge of the absolutely awesome web design at xofia.dk) has done a magnificent job with the layout, and his poster (the above picture) is a rare example of promotional art offering an interpretation of and thus interacting with the stage performance.

/marie

May 13, 2007. Art, Reviews, Theatre. 1 comment.

Schubert: Okay, for this I am SO sending the Erlkönig over tonight, beeyatch.

Five-year-old boy pointing to drawing of dog, excitedly: …And this is Schubert!!

– Charlottenlund Fort Restaurant, Charlottenlund

overheard by

/marie

May 12, 2007. Music, Overheard. Leave a comment.

Werther in Concert

My local library is really good when it comes to buying opera dvds. I often go there and leaf through the selection and find stuff I never knew I craved – but then there it is. Many I just pass visit after visit and then perhaps one day I decide to pick it up. One such dvd was this:

Werther. Hampson Graham

I first saw it some months ago and left it because the cover is plain ugly and because concert performances on dvd are just one more nail to the coffin of opera as an art form. But then later that day it returned to me. Because – what would the barytone Thomas Hampson be doing in an opera with a tenor hero? And embracing the heroine on the cover?

So when I stumbled upon it again last week I decided to bring it home with me.
It turned out to be musically stunning and acting-wise not bad at all.

The conductor Michel Plasson and I are not the best of friends…not that he knows. But I once witnessed him furiously screaming the text at a poor mezzo-soprano who couldn’t remember her part but who had also just been flown in to rescue the performance from cancellation. Not nice Monsieur P.
But I have to admit that with this Werther he does a remarkable job.

And then what I really wanted to share with you: the best love scene I can think of just now. And here performed by two singers, Thomas Hampson and Susan Graham, who are everything but 20-year-olds but who manage to put all the pain, vulnerability, and love into this encounter and make it one of the most touching scenes I have seen.

Have a look and try to ignore the impossible filming:

If you want to see what it all ends with then look here for Werther’s death.

The cast also includes delectable singers as Stéphane Degout as Albert and Sandrine Piau as Sophie.

And the barytone thing? It turns out Massenet revised his opera and turned Werther into a barytone in order to make him more brooding. Not sure I think that is the right thing to do – but Thomas Hampson is always welcome to do any of my favourite opera heroes!

/anna

May 11, 2007. In the library, Music, Opera, YouTube. 2 comments.

Cecilia Bartoli in Copenhagen

Monday Cecilia Bartoli visited Copenhagen and left a trail of happiness behind her.
She sang arias from her latest cd Opera Proibita which is a collection of beautifully silent pieces and brilliantly breathless virtuosity.
I have now witnessed three concerts with Cecilia Bartoli and I feel entitled to some conclusions about her performances. The thing about a Cecilia Bartoli concert is that it leaves you utterly exhilarated. Her joy in making music is so apparent that you are left with no choice but to follow her. Which means that being in a concert hall with her is a most wonderful experience. I recommend it to all!
This evening (as also the two other evenings I have spent with her) she delivered the pieces with energy and a complete control over her voice. It is like listening to the cd and then add her fantastic presence. That’s really all there is to say. Go here and listen to Disseratevi, o porte d’Averno. Then you will get a glimpse of what I’m talking about. We even got it twice!
The orchestra La Scintilla was brilliant too (heee – got it?) and worked very well both with and without La Bartoli.
Many thanks to Cecilia for sharing her passion so violently with the rest of us. Life-affirming!

Cecilia Bartoli

/anna

May 9, 2007. Music, Opera, Reviews. 3 comments.

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