Ode to Mikael Bertelsen and The 11th Hour

Mikael Bertelsen

I have long been wanting to write an ode to Mikael Bertelsen but I have been a bit hesitant since he is Danish, does Danish television and speaks in Danish most of the time. Which means he’s not that easy to share with the non-Danish readers of this blog. But, fair is fair and he has made me return to television after some years of living perfectly well without it. Mikael Bertelsen hosts the late night show The 11th Hour, Monday-Wednesday at 11 PM on Danish national TV. It’s a classic talk show, kind of old-school: no music, no audience, no ladies in bikini (Italian readers will know what I’m talking about). The high quality of the show depends on Bertelsen’s profound and somewhat naive interest in his guests mixed with a sphinx-clad sense of humour. To cite Mrs Fairfax in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre:

I don’t know – it is not easy to describe – (…) but you feel it when he speaks to you; you cannot be always sure whether he is in jest or earnest, whether he is pleased or the contrary; you don’t thoroughly understand him, in short – at least, I don’t(…)“.

Bertelsen’s guests come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes they are of current interest (like when he interviewed a crook who had just had his verdict after a very well-covered trial) but mostly not, mostly they are people who you would not expect to see on a television show. It can seem random but Bertelsen always manages to make some kind of link to current events from an odd angle or to just portray some small, more or less strange corner of society in an interesting way.

A typical show was like the one on the 10th of April. The first part of the show had translator of Homer and Ovid and professor of classical philology Otto Steen Due joining Bertelsen to answer some questions Bertelsen had received from the Danish woman’s magazine Bazar. Questions like:

1. What was your most horrible attempt at scoring someone?
2. What was your best score?
3. What would you prefer to be: ugly and funny OR hot and boring?

Since Otte Steen Due has recently translated Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (“The Art of Love” or Handbook in Whoring (“Håndbog i hor”) as Due subtitled it…) into Danish Bertelsen felt that Due could perhaps help him answering the questions via the expert Ovid. The result was that this archetypical Latin professor in the most dry-humoroured fashion spoke as a medium for Ovid.

Otto Steen Due. . Ovid

Next Bertelsen went on the streets of Copenhagen to ask what people thought about a recent political reform. There he met a young guy whom he followed to an apartment where a group of male high school students were gathered to do some homework. Bertelsen thought that the apartment was very untidy and decided to do the dishes. So he did. He even went to the supermarket to cash the deposit for the large amount of empty beer bottles on the kitchen floor. On his way to the supermarket he asked other people about the political reform and then returned to the bachelor flat to do the last tidying.

The show ended, as always, with the guest saying good night to the viewers. Otto Steen Due said good night in Latin.

Other guests have been artist Olafur Eliasson (two nights in a row since Bertelsen felt he didn’t do a good interview the first time), an expert on animal behaviour who interviewed a dog, film director David Lynch (in English here) joined by a man in trance, and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes who played a couple of pieces and shared with the viewers that he likes sausages.

The show is wonderful because of Mikael Bertelsen’s talent of leading the viewers through the chaos of ideas he himself purposely created. The style is serious with a well hid but ever present Cheshire Cat smile. He is not out to get someone (like in this other show he did where he for example managed to add “you right-wing son of a bitch” after every question he posed to a right-wing extremist politician) which makes most of the guests join him in the Cheshire Cat smile. The result is a surprising cocktail. It is (almost) the only TV show communicating literature, art, music, film, and curiosities in general on Danish television and it manages to do it with political edge, poetry, and humour.

I love it and I am addicted to Mikael Bertelsen. May he always stay with us!

/anna

April 15, 2007. Odes, Television. 1 comment.

Ode to Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash 

As Anna revealed recently, we have lately, after seeing the movie Walk the Line developed a love for the music of Johnny Cash, and while Anna elaborated on her girlcrush on the portrayer of June Carter’s part, Reese Witherspoon (a girlcrush that I totally share, mind you), we both feel that Johnny Cash has earned an ode, too. So I’ve decided to take it upon me to write a tribute to this long legged guitar pickin’ man. Let me start out by saying that like Anna, I was completely taken aback by the impact Mr. Cash’s music has had on me. As readers of this blog will know, I’m an avid opera lover,  and I cannot remember the last time I found myself surrendering so completely to a non-operatic composer, and of course I’ve been scratching my head with puzzlement, trying to figure out why it is that Mr. Johnny Cash has managed to win me over the way he has. 

His music is catchy, to be sure, but so is the music of lots of other artists. Mr. Cash was talented, yes, but so are a lot of other contemporary musicians, and I have been hauled by various well-meaning boyfriends through endless lines of CDs with highly estimated names such as Godspeed You Black Emperor, Captain Beefheart, Neil Young and whathaveyou, none of which ever managed to make any lasting impression on me.  

Get rhythm when you get the blues 

The only thing I’m able to chalk it down to is that overwhelming, life-assuring, triumphant openness to the joy of music that I find in his music. Performing throughout his career songs as completely different as the arch-American, folk-y country song “The Wreck of the Old 97” and the dark, urban, metrosexual “Own Personal Jesus”, Johnny Cash always seemed to be willing to go, open-mindedly, wherever the music led him, and this openness is the most important factor to me in all his works.

Because it’s always there, that bubbling curiosity that playful exploration. His songs are most often introduced with a few, very simple notes played by the bass in a steady, predictable pace and rhythm. But then, through his composition, through his guitar solos and the epically dynamic progression of his stanzas, he lets each of the songs develop their own personal style and expression. An example is the song “Walk the line”:  At first glance a pretty dull composition, almost like a finger exercise for a child; no bridge or any real chorus, just the same eight bars repeated five times in different keys.  Upon studying the song a little closer, however, one will find, that this is the point exactly: It is indeed an exercise! As the lyrics betray, the song is about a man’s love for a woman, and how this love makes him want to struggle to become a better man, and it is this struggle that we find in the simplistic song. Rather than going off into extremities, rather than throwing himself into daring and sophisticated bridges and choruses, the persona of the song keeps to his straight and narrow path, and practises his eight little bars with the obedience of a child at lessons, practising his finger exercises and scales.

I love that! And it’s everywhere in his songs, at least the way I see it. You can hear the train’s puff-puffing in “Folsom Prison Blues”, you can hear the shoeshine boy’s rhythmic movements in “Get rhythm”, and the manic tempo and high notes of “Cocaine Blues” urgently mimic the reckless state of mind of the cocaine addict. It’s music at its finest, I think: It takes over when words fail you and expresses so much more than words ever could. 

“…I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die”

That being said, however, I really love Johnny Cash’s lyrics, too. They hold a musicality that allows the lyrics to blend beautifully with the music, and with a ruthless, almost brutal honesty that becomes particularly moving in the songs in which Cash speaks on behalf of the desperado. The inmate’s painful recollection of his own cold-blooded murder of a man in Reno in “Folsom Prison Blues”, his own fate contrasted by the carefree, innocent travellers in the dining car of the passing train, the wife-murderer’s outcry to the Lord in “Cocaine Blues” and his breathless, minute recollection of his trial; all this becomes so incredibly moving through Cash’s scarce and coarse lyrics. And the fact that Cash did special concerts in prisons, wanting to raise a debate about the wretched conditions in American prisons only makes his lyrical tributes to the desperados more sympathetic.

Hotter than a pepper sprout

Which brings me to the last part of this little ode. Because apart from Cash’s artistic achievements, he just seemed like a really likeable person. He was quirky (those weird movements with his chin! The pacing back and forth on the stage! That deep voice!), and charismatic, he had a sense of humour (“A boy named Sue” – ‘Nuff said.), and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m totally crushing on the guy. Add to this the story of his own personal suffering: Addicted to narcotics and booze, arrested and going broke, then sobering up and getting his life back on track – he really was all those things he sung about. A desperado, and then an obedient child doing finger exercises.

And then of course, he was in love. And as Anna’s and my own dreamy facial expressions when we’re watching the proposal scene in Walk the Line will testify, it is just impossible not to be moved by such a strong-lived love as the one between Johnny Cash and June Carter. Anna sent me this link yesterday of a you-tubed interview with Johnny and June from 1980, and I cannot believe what an adorable couple they made.

   Johnny and June

*Sigh*. May they both rest in peace. Thank you for the music.

/marie

October 7, 2006. Fandom, Music, Odes. 11 comments.

Ode to Reese Witherspoon

This is somewhat strange. Something has happened. I…I actually like country music it turns out. Or let’s keep it down a little: I like Johnny Cash. Ever since Marie wrote that post about how she imagines Siegfried singing Ring of Fire as an intermezzo before awakening Brünnhilde he has been haunting me. I have been listening to Ring of Fire a 1000 times and every time I smile and see Siegfried getting his old guitar.

Tonight I watched Walk the Line which is a marvellous film and of course that just spurred my interest. It is like the Three Tenors of country music. You know a lot of people began listening to opera because of the Three Tenors and now I am listening to Johnny Cash because of Walk the Line.
Besides from the great music the film is mainly wonderful because of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon playing Johnny Cash and June Carter (the love of his life). I think I have only seen Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator where he’s a lethal crybaby (which he does remarkably well), but his portrayal of Cash was heart wringing and I am amazed that he sings so well. And of course he was totally hot too.
Phoenix

But now for a regular ode. Reese Witherspoon is the best! I first noticed her in Pleasantville from 1998 but not until Vanity Fair from 2004 did I truly realise my love for this actress. When I one afternoon kept talking about the wonderful Becky Sharp played by Witherspoon a friend of mine said something I thought I should never have heard come from her lips: “But she was great in Legally Blonde too”. Legally f*** Blonde?! I had forgotten, or maybe even suppressed Legally Blonde that I once watched on my way home from New York one autumn some years ago. Terrible movie – but there she was again, and she was quite delicious and cute and GOOD!

As June Carter she has all the spunk, humour and seriousness you would want from an actress portraying a country singer rescuing another human being from complete self destruction. And topping that with a marvellous voice just made me adore her even more. I want to be her! Look at her – and love her:

And one from Vanity Fair (don’t mind the troll next to her – he’s just another one of Becky Sharp’s tricks):
Becky Sharp

/anna

September 20, 2006. Fandom, Films, Music, Odes. 2 comments.

Ode to Lady Dedlock

So, Anna is going to be at the countryside and away from the internet for three weeks. And you all know what that means, don’t you? That’s right: I can post anything I like, even the most dorky entries, here at the blog for the next 21 days, and Anna has absolutely no say in the matter. Heh heh heh heh heh *evil snicker*…

So, I’ve decided that my first dorky entry in absentia Annæ should be a tribute to a favourite actress of mine; Gillian Anderson.

You see, the names of the nominees for this year’s Emmy Awards were published a couple of days, and I’d just like to take this time to say how thrilled I am that Gillian Anderson is nominated in the category “Best Lead Actress in a Miniseries” for her part as Lady Dedlock in the BBC-production of Dickens’ Bleak House. Gillian Anderson is a brilliant actress and terribly underrated and not used nearly as much as she ought to be, in my opinion. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve got a lead in a long-running and highly popular TV-series, as GA did on The X-Files, and you do as brilliant a job as she did on this show: People tend to have difficulties seperating the actor from the part, and thus the actor’s appearance in other parts will often be considered a distraction and a miscast. However, as GA proved in Bleak House she is more than capable of handling other parts than that of Agent Dana Scully, and I’m pleased to see that the Emmy commitee has not been blind to this fact.

And then I’m also just really pleased to see that the brilliance that was Bleak House has not gone by unnoticed! What a great series it was. Anna and I watched it together, and enjoyed it very much, to the point where we would be text-messaging each other messages reading: “Guuuuppy!” or “Eeeeeesther!”. fondly recalling our favourite characters and scenes in the series. Bleak House deserves at least one Emmy award, so that’s another reason why I’m rooting for Gilly. Who knows, maybe an award would encourage the BBC to continue their line of beautifully produced tv-series based on classics. For instance, oh, I don’t know, perhaps a new production of Jane Eyre? Hmm? *bats eyelashes at the BBC*

So, who are Gillian Anderson’s competition, you ask? Well… that’s the one problem. The other three nominees are Helen Mirren, Annette Benning, and Kathy Bates. And as everybody knows when you look up the word “award winner” in a dictionary, you will find these three names listed. So, yeah. Tough competition. But I remain optimistic! Gillian Anderson and Bleak House deserve this award. And Gillian has done it before: in 1997 she won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. So, rock on, Gilly! You can do it!

 /marie

Lady Dedlock

Lady Dedlock, as we know her, staring out into eternity; bored with the weather, bored with her life, bored with herself. Well, Honoria, darling, for what it’s worth, the rest of us are anything but bored with your story. Thanks to BBC and Gillian Anderson.

July 8, 2006. Fandom, Odes, Television. 2 comments.

Ode to lakritsi

Marie and I have developed a love for Finnish liquorice: lakritsi.
The best word ever by the way. Finnish is wonderful!
It comes in two variants – sweet (what every one else than Scandinavians and Finns would call normal liquorice) and the salty version loved by all north of Germany and Danes in particular I am sure (since we take the no. 1 world prize in candy eating. Is that good?!).

lakritsi 

We became so enthusiastic about this product that we decided to become the little stereotyped black person on the wrapping. We tried hard and I think we succeeded fairly well. I have the mouth and Marie has the happy face that used to characterise commercials before the world went to pieces. As such she is in accordance with the very old fashioned style of Fazer’s design. Nice!

love of lakritsi 

All that we need now is to eat enough liquorice to become black. That should be no problem as we are already quite black on the inside. And besides…we need some substitute now that the Ring is definitely over and the theatre has decided to burn the sets. We just KNOW that they do it to look like Brünnhilde. Poor men…it wont do the trick.
/anna

May 29, 2006. Odes, Photos. 2 comments.