As some of you may know I love watching the Tour de France. I have been doing so in my summer vacations since I was a child. I have pleasant memories of sitting indoors on sunny afternoons with my family yelling at riders trying not only to reach the fourth peak of the day but also to do it faster than their closest enemies.
And then there is the doping.
I was happily unaware of the extensive doping programmes until 1998 when the Festina scandal exploded. I believed in Miguel Indurain, Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich when they won the race and I believed in them for quite some time after the Festina scandal. I cheered for Bugno, Chiappucci, Virenque and Zülle and was sorely disappointed when the two latter turned out to have been doped.
My disappointment in doped riders have changed since. If I get disappointed it has more to do with my favourite riders not being allowed to race. It doesn’t relate to the doping itself anymore. What I want is not a clean race…I want drama.
This also means that I find Bjarne Riis’s confessions last week uninteresting. Of course he was doped when he won in 1996. I have known that since he said in an interview: “I have never been tested positive”. That was so pathetic – but the confession? Nah – I don’t care. I have found a short clip of his very long confession (in which he also says that he only admits because he has been forced to by fellow riders’ confessions). And it has subtitles.
Riis was doped as the rest of the riders, and he gave us one of the most interesting Tour de Frances ever with his continuos attacks on the summits of the Alps and the Pyrenees. Doped or not – this was epic.
Of course cycling is an unhealthy sport and of course doping is awful. But the fact is that I love the race because these men have sacrificed their health for my entertainment. It looks grim on paper (screen…), but there you have it. And now all there’s left for me is to dream about the happy years when the riders were doped and we didn’t know! I will never enjoy the race as much again since the clean race leaves us with two options:
1. A truly clean race with one slow, boring stage after the other
2. A fake clean race with drama and speed but with our knowledge that they are doped.
My weakness is that I prefer the latter.
And since I am already surfing immoral waters of double standards I have to admit that seeing Lance Armstrong admit an extensive use of drugs would be a great pleasure. What makes the Tour de France interesting is also to see the kings dethroned. Armstrong never allowed to be dethroned and his arrogance left me completely cold.
Just to close with a smile here is part one of a press conference of the Danish Team Easy On. For non-Danish speakers I can recommend to go to 4:45 to hear the list of drugs read out loud in English.
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.
Find the error in this picture.
Did you find it? Well…it’s the handbag!
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”:
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.
Way to go Poland! And welcome to the European Union!
Marie and I were at an Andreas Scholl concert today. A review will follow, but the big surprise of the day was our realisation that Andreas Scholl has multiple voice talents. Not only is he a marvellous countertenor and an ok barytone – he is also behind the voices of Stewie and Peter Griffin (e.a.) of Family Guy. He masters the American accent to perfection – and the British accent of Stewie. Don’t get confused about the woman, just press play.
Just kidding of course. But the resemblance between Seth Macfarlane, creator of Family Guy and Andreas Scholl is in some instances striking. Just a reminder:
And while we’re at it, I have to post this clip from Family Guy. I love Stewie.
We’re rude to the…the other people. 😀
To see more of Stewie drunk go here.
You know what we’ve been saying about hammerhead people? About how they are people whose eyes are really far apart? And you know how you’ve read our posts on the subject and thought to yourself ‘Oh, those crazy attachées. They do have some bizarre ideas and they really ought to get out more.’ (don’t try to deny it. You know you’ve had that thought.) Well, it looks like Seth MacFarland is with us! He understands! So there! Ha!
Genius! Uma Thurman is totally a hammerhead person. And there should totally be such a thing as an eye wrangler.
In fact, maybe that is what Ruggerone is really crying out for in this picture?
In any case, this is further proof that Seth MacFarlane needs to marry me ASAP. Marry me, Seth.
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.
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!
I daresay there’s a lot going on within Danish television drama these days! I was just working on a post on a new Danish crime series (Forbrydelsen – “The Crime”) that premiered just a few weeks ago, but I’ll be darned if a new drama series doesn’t air on that same channel (DR1) before I’ve even gotten around to proof-read! So now my review of the former will have to move over a little for Danish televison drama’s most recent creation: Concept-series Forestillinger by director Per Fly.
“6 uger” – “six weeks”: DR1 has aired the first two episodes of new six-parter Forestillinger
I’m always a little hesitant towards reviewing specifically Danish cultural phenomena here on this internationally oriented blog, written in English, but in this case I think it makes sense. Forestillinger is a truly interesting television creation, much more so than Danish Emmy award winners of recent years such as tedious, superficial frappucino-drama Nikolaj & Julie (winner in the category “Best Drama Series” at the Emmy Awards 2002), and as such it deserves all the attention it can get, even outside of Denmark. The concept of Forestillinger (a Danish word which may mean both “performances” and “conceptions”) is this: Throughout six episodes we are told the same story six times, from six different perspectives, the story of a director of theatre, whose actress girlfriend leaves him to have a short-lived affair with a young co-actor in the performance they’re all working on: A staging of Shakespeare’s poem Venus and Adonis. Depending on the perspective, we get a commentary by the character in question, and so far we’ve seen the story from young actor Jakob’s (episode 1) and the director’s girlfriend Tanja’s (episode 2) points of view. As one might imagine, given the fact that the series revolves around a group of theatrical artists who are romantically involved, the main-themes of the series are the performances in which we tend to participate, even when we’re only trying to live our lives and despite our intentions to pursue authenticity, and the conceptions and misconceptions that we form about each other in the process.
Forestillinger and intertextuality
Is this an innovate concept? Certainly not. All the world was a stage and all the men and women merely players even in the archaically hierarchic Elizabethan times, and Per Fly is not the first movie director to explore this idea either; Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard (1996) and Swedish Suzanne Oster’s highly neglected The Mozart Brothers from 1986 (about the schemes playing out during a controversial staging of Don Giovanni at the Stockholm Opera) revolve around the same kind of performative-reality logic. What I find to be particularly refreshing and, yes, innovative about Per Fly’s Forestillinger, however, is its clever use of intertextuality. Now, I’m a sucker for intertextuality, I’ll admit that openly. Hard-core humanities graduate, student of Comparative Literature, and amateur Jungian as I am, of course nothing could be more delicious to me than the idea that we are, in a sense, re-writing ourselves and our own plots over and over again. It’s a kind of guilty pleasure – the humanities graduate’s game of Tetris, one might call it, where there are only a limited number of forms and shapes and they all kind of fit together, and it looks really neat. But I do think that there’s something particularly ingenious about using intertextuality as the frame for a story about the performativity of our lives, and I believe that that is what Per Fly is doing with Forestillinger. And the intertextuality that he’s drawing on is that of the Tristan-Isolde-King Marke myth.
This particular reference is not something that I’ve thought of myself – I’m following a course on medieval literature at the university this semester and during class last week, the professor who’s giving the course, Jørgen Bruhn, mentioned the television series and proposed that the storyline might be inspired by the Tristan/Isolde legend, which we were discussing that particular day. “Hurry up and write an article about this before anyone else thinks of it!,” he urged us good-naturedly – and with that in mind I watched the first two episodes of the series yesterday, and I thought the Tristan/Isolde/Marke homage in the story was striking and most interesting.
Dejan Cukic as patron Marko
Marko, no less, is the name of the theatre director (played by Dejan Cukic) whose wife Tanja (Sonja Richter) leaves him and has an affair with a younger man, Jakob (Mads Wille), and it wouldn’t be too contrived, I think, to see this director-character, this theatre-patron, offering gentle guidance and stern reprimands to his subjects, the actors, as a monarchic figure. “If one were to mention a director who’d created innovation within Danish theatre for the last 10-15 years, that would be him…. The actors who appear in his performances always go one step further from what one has seen from them beforehand… He is the king” says an enthusiastic Jakob about Marko, awestruck at the thought of getting to work with this idolized man, shortly after having lingered adoringly on the subject of what he perceives to be the “major talent” of Marko’s beautiful girlfriend Tanja: “Was she in your class at Drama School?” Jakob is asked, and Jakob humbly sets the enquirer straight: “No, she was in the class ahead of me.”, before adding, beaming with pride: “We were together at school, too! We were. A couple of times. We did have a- a kind of affair. But then she got together with Marko at a point.”
The object of Jakob’s – and Marko’s? – affection: beautiful Tanja
Aaand this is where I happily reach Level 1 of my aforementioned little humanities graduate game of Tetris: this is intertextuality at its most appetizing; the stage is set beautifully for a Tristan-story. The essence of a Tristan-story is the story of a young man who idolizes a generous patron, only to become conflicted when he falls in love with his beautiful, aloof queen and initiates an affair with her. It’s the unruly force of Love contra the noble and sensible frame that is Society that is at play in such stories, and the King Arthur/Queen Guinevere/Lancelot legend as well as more recent works such as Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther and Schiller’s Don Carlos are examples of stories that are without doubt influenced by this ancient myth. Youthful, wide-eyed Jakob fills his Tristan-part perfectly: Very significantly we are treated to cameos of Jakob carefully running his electric shaver over his boyishly smooth chin, and taking directions from the older, full-bearded Marko, and beautiful Tanja, dressed in almost every scene in sensual shades of red, wavers fickle-heartedly between her bestowing husband and her adoring lover. Per Fly’s story about performativity is backed up by an ancient textual form with a full set of well-defined parts, ready for the participants to inhabit and perform.
And yet, this is not what they do, exactly, and this is where things get truly interesting, I think. Because more than just using the Tristan-myth, Per Fly challenges the myth within his drama series. Anna and I have sometimes discussed Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and agreed that King Marke and hand-maid Brangäne, with their frets and doubts and worries, are definitely the more sympathetic characters in the story: Tristan and Isolde are incarnated ideas more than actual persons, uncompromising and inhuman as they are in their ardent love and love-death for each other, and they’re difficult to relate to. However, in Per Fly’s Forestillinger thus far (one should keep in mind that I’ve only seen two of the series’ six episodes and thus only one third of the points of view that will be explored throughout its run), King Marke plays a much more conceptually defined and a lot less human character than your average Philip II or Albert, fretting pitifully about their ominous white hair or their wives’ kind gaze upon their lovers. What Per Fly’s Forestillinger proposes is the idea that if King Marke is Society, if he is Wisdom and Sovereign, then maybe he is, after all, the strongest character? Because in Forestillinger what we seem to be witnessing is a game initiated and controlled by Marke, rather than lost by him. “I was wondering if maybe you and Tanja could go over the scenes that the two of you share. I mean, outside of the rehearsal-schedule here at the theatre. Maybe you could meet up alone and then work on it a little… Here’s a key. Then you can just come and go as you please.” Says Marko to Jakob, thus obviously turning the parts upside down. This Marke doesn’t get sneaked around on, he stages the sneaking himself and pushes the two lovers into each others arms. Purposely? Well, Eva, an older, more experienced actress at the theatre as well as Marko’s ex-wife seems to think so, and she advises Tanja as she wants to return to Marko: “You need to figure out what part you want to play in Marko’s life,” she says “Actress or wife. You can’t be both. …You can’t believe him when he says he wants to quit the theatre. Theatre is his life.” and Jakob agrees wholeheartedly, after his boyish admiration has given way for his need for rebellion against Marke: “I’ve slept with Tanja. I love her like crazy… But you know that, don’t you? You’ve known all along. Isn’t that right? Don’t you feel anything? Don’t you feel threatened? …Or is this part of the plan? As long as you can do your fucking performance… You’re using us in your shitty performance!”
Troubled youth Jakob
At the end of the episode, in a desperate, shocking turn of events, Jakob ends up forcing Tanja into sleeping with him as the ultimate rebellion against the Tristan-part he’s been made to play by a calculating King Marke; the young knight defiling the Queen that he was supposed to adore and love. Except one can’t help feeling, claustrophobically, that maybe this was part of the plan, too, that maybe there is really no way of escaping King Marke’s sovereign.
“You’re a f*cking whore!”
What does all this mean, then? Well, the obvious interpretation would be that in Per Fly’s Tristan-story, Love is not the power that may threaten the confinements of Form, of Society, no, Society, our performative interaction with each other, threatens Love. Has King Marke, in Per Fly’s optics, become a powerful figure in modern society, or has he always been the strong one? Or is Jakob and Eva wrong, and King Marke actually a decent person, and another grey-haired victim of adultery? I guess I’ll have to wait and watch all the episodes these next four weeks before I can answer those questions. But I will definitely be watching. The series isn’t flawless, and as television reviewer Per Munch touches upon in newspaper Politiken today, Forestillinger continues a regrettable tendency within Danish television writing, where ad-lib-like idomaticality is pursued in favour of eloquence and verbal substance – although I do think that this idomaticality is actually used well in the series from time to time. For instance, when Jakob flung his seemingly common curse upon Tanja “You’re a fucking whore, Tanja!”, it actually did hold a kind of ambiguous substance: from Jakob’s elightened point-of-view Tanja might indeed be said to be acting as Marko’s whore. But all in all Forestillinger has definitely captured my interest as a rare piece of intertextual television and an exploration of the war between Passion and Comformity, and what the outcome of such a war might be in the year 2007. Hereby recommended.
The Youth House is down and I feel very sad about the whole business. A site filled with history and identity is no more.
Yet, today brought some hope and reconciliation. Just a small glimmer, but nice after violence, madness, fires and discussions without nuance.
The police started handing out pieces of the broken house. Pieces of bricks as memories of the place. What amazed me was the nice thought and that they actually handed out quite big pieces and whole bricks. A few days ago objects this size and weight were tossed at the same officers who were now handing them out to the demonstrators. A beautiful gesture full of trust…and they gave them plastic bags to carry the bricks in!
And yesterday I saw a woman on tv, Hanne Gaard Grønlund, who had crocheted cobblestones in wool for the protesters. She was now starting to crochet batons for the police.
You can see her on the show Den 11. time here (Click “Se programmet” and choose 6th of March, about two thirds into the programme).
Here is the pattern for the cobblestones.
And here is another one of her objects:
Maybe the world will be all right.
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.
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.
All good things come to those who wait – and I didn’t even have to wait as long as I had imagined! Here I was patiently (mmm yeah…) waiting for the M22 dvd of Le Nozze di Figaro from Salzburg which as the only one in the box set is not being sold separately until later this year.
No, I can’t afford that box, and no, no rich uncle from America gave it to me for Christmas.
But then came public television! Tonight the Danish national TV (DR2) broadcasted the production prime time! I know I have already spent my exclamation point quota twice in this post but when I first heard this it made me jump, so bear with me. This means that within a week DR2 sent two top quality operas – Monday La Traviata from Salzburg 2005 and now The Marriage of Figaro. Both with cutie pie Anna Netrebko. I hope that doesn’t mean they have spent their 2007 quota – of neither opera nor Netrebko.
My TV is not connected to an antenna since I refuse to pay for cable TV. But tonight I forced a signal out of that old black thing, and hey – the sound was good and the picture was….well ok. And I tell you it was interesting! Too tired right now, so there is a cliff hanger fer ya. Will review it later.
By way of compensation: heeeeere’s BO!
For a more extensive post on Mario Perniola and The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic, see this post .
I’ve got a presentation on Mario Perniola’s The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic in two days, which is very difficult stuff, and I’m a little stressed out about it, to tell you the truth. So what am I doing online, you ask? Well, I’m trying to lift my spirit by reminding myself of the value of a good education! And I’m doing this by repeatedly watching this absolutely awesome clip I found on youtube – a wonderful Sesame Street spoof on the song “Don’t take your guns to town” – here it is :
As Big Bird and Johnny Cash teach us in this little video, only tragic things come from strutting about in town, trying to show off accomplishments that you don’t really have. And what an important lesson that is. Personally, I’m going straight over to my desk right now to re-read those chapters in Perniola’s book I didn’t quite get after reading them just one time. There’s no way I’m going to take my ones to town and get laughed at by my fellow students on Friday.