alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I meant to write about this film after Kestrell and I watched it together several months ago, but was distracted by Life. But now seems like a more important time than ever to talk about the power of Art to inspire Deeds.

As you might have guessed from the title, the plot is loosely based on The Scarlet Pimpernel. But instead of Revolutionary France, we are in Nazi Germany. Leslie Howard (who also produced and directed the film) stars as Horatio Smith, an English archaeology professor who is using the cover of an archaeological dig in Germany to rescue “intellectuals” and smuggle them to safety. (Heroic archaeologist versus Nazis – was this an influence on Indiana Jones?)

It’s an exciting and suspenseful adventure film. You could call it a propaganda film, which is accurate, but misleading. The characters are moral, but not preachy. There is a bit of speechifying at the end, but as [livejournal.com profile] sovay points out:
…this is no comfortable re-enactment of settled history. The film is set in 1939, made in 1940—Britain is under the Blitz, America is not yet even in the war; there are no hindsight assurances. So it must be prophecy … sympathetic magic, summoning. Imago. And Howard's ghost is still speaking out of that dark.
But the real reason that I feel compelled to write about Pimpernel Smith today is to point out the inspiring effect it had on one person in particular. Quoting Wikipedia:
When Pimpernel Smith reached Sweden in November 1943, the Swedish Film Censorship Board decided to ban it from public viewing, as it was feared that such a critical portrayal of Nazi Germany could harm Sweden's relationship with Germany and thus jeopardise the country's neutrality in the Second World War. Raoul Wallenberg did, however, manage to see it at a private screening, together with his half-sister, Nina Lagergren.[11]

She later recalled that on their way home after the screening, "he told me this was the kind of thing he would like to do."[12] Since 1941, Wallenberg had made frequent trips to Hungary, and knew how oppressed the Hungarian Jews were. He travelled as a representative and later joint owner of an export-import company that was trading with central Europe and was owned by a Hungarian Jew.

Following the mass deportations that had started in April 1944, Wallenberg was sent to Budapest in August 1944, as First Secretary to the Swedish legation, assigned under secret agreement between the US and Swedish governments to organise a rescue programme for the Jews. By issuing "protective passports", which identified the bearer as Swedish, and housing them in 32 buildings that he rented and declared Swedish territory, he managed to rescue tens of thousands from the German death camps.

Tens of thousands saved. Leslie Howard didn’t live long enough to hear about it, but I’m sure it would have pleased him.

Pimpernel Smith is available on Youtube. I highly recommend it.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
[livejournal.com profile] teenybuffalo and I saw this at the Boston Public Library today. It's pretty nifty in person, but in some ways better on-line, because you can zoom way in and linger over the details.
http://maps.bpl.org/id/19828

Hamilton

Jan. 31st, 2016 01:50 am
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I finally got around to listening to Hamilton. Yeah, it really is all that. If you want an overview of what the show is, and why everyone is talking about it, Siderea did an excellent write up.

Having listened to the music, I began a cursory read of some of the associated meta-text; news articles, interviews, and such. In so doing, I’ve come up with one insight that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

The composer and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, reminds me of no one so much as the young Orson Welles, with one crucial difference. Like Welles, Miranda is brilliant, driven, and egotistical. However, unlike Welles, he understands that theater is not a zero-sum game.

Welles always had to be the lone genius. Though he surrounded himself with talented people, he always denigrated them, or played power games to assert his dominance. Karmically, this resulted in relatively untalented people exerting power and dominance games over Welles, greatly reducing the amount of art he was able to complete.

Miranda, by contrast, doesn’t seem to play power games at all, as far as I can tell. He understands that when everyone is working to make the best possible show, that results in the most personal gain for everyone involved.

What it was is an environment where everybody felt they could do their best. That sounds simple. But all of us have been in environments where we didn't feel like that. We felt like our best was going to threaten somebody else, or we were stifled in some way. But Hamilton was a carefully crafted environment where everyone felt like we could come in and dump all of our toys out in the center of the floor.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
While visiting Rick and Libby in Chicago, they took me out to see Facing Angela, a play written by a friend of theirs, Scott Barsotti. They warned me up front that Scott writes disturbing plays about the nature of identity, and this certainly qualified. I didn't actually *like* it, but I have a lot to say about it, so it's successful art in that sense, at any rate.

First, here's the official blurb:
Angela has lost her face. Acquiring a new face alters more than skin and tissue, cutting into Angela's relationship with her husband, Wes, and mutating her sense of self. As Angela re-constructs, re-invents, and re-defines her identity, Wes ceases to recognize the woman he loves, and doubts whether he really knows himself either. This re-imagining of Barsotti's 2003 play, explored over the course of the season with the cast and company, will delve deep into how we recognize ourselves and those we go to bed with, and the collateral damage of transformative change.
Though the blurb doesn't mention this, Angela suffers from a chronic skin condition, and subsequent body-image issues and persistent low self-esteem. Her husband does his best to be a supportive partner, but (spoiler) ultimately fails.

I had what I expect is an atypical reaction to this play. I am myself married to a woman with chronic medical issues and subsequent self-esteem problems. If her problems had been worse, and I had been stupider, "Facing Angela" could have been our story. Thankfully, rather than psychodrama, we live in a screwball comedy :-) But it made the story very personal for me, and made me frequently want to smack the characters: "*NO*, you idiot! You're doing it wrong!"

This identification also made me sensitized to all the things the playwright *didn't* show. Does Wes have a job? Does Angela? Where does their health insurance come from (and is that putting extra strain on their relationship)? Do they have any friends? Does Angela have *anything* positive in her life, even a hobby, or does she literally spend *all* her time in self-loathing?

As depicted in this play, Wes and Angela are each other's only emotional support. That is a doomed scenario. It's not that great an arrangement with fully healthy people, but it can't possibly work when low self-esteem is a big factor in the mix. If person X has low self-esteem, then no single person Y can counter that by affirmations. From the point of view of person X, Y can -- must -- be written off as an anomaly, and their affirmations as, at best mistakes, at worst, outright deception. "Since I clearly have no value, then this person who *claims* to value me must be mistaken or lying." And this reaction, naturally, erodes person Y's self-esteem in turn. It's only through socialization, through showing that *many* people find value in person X, that their self-esteem issues can be ameliorated. (Partially at least. It seems to be like alcoholism; one can be in recovery, but never quite 'cured'.)

I had some very interesting conversations with Rick and Libby afterwards. I complained at one point that I don't like stories that are so negative. Rick argued that my response to that negativity was to figure out what the character's were doing wrong, thus engaging deeply with the text, and thus fulfilling the goal of the Artist in communicating ideas. As a counter-example, he posited that "You have to watch a lot of Thin Man movies before you realize what a healthy relationship Nick and Nora have, and start to wonder why." I wanted to reflexively argue against that, but then realized than my own history suggested he was right. Early in my romantic relationship with Kestrell, I successfully communicated an important-but-complex point to her by comparing a problem we were having to a problem Buffy and Riley were going through (it was early season 5 of BtVS when this happened). Art that shows characters making dumb decisions demonstrably *can* help people to "not be that guy".

Having spent a lot of time complaining about various aspects of the writing, I'd like to mention that the production was excellent. Excellent acting. Set and costumes were simple but effective. Makeup was brilliant, and far more impactful than in most plays. The sound design *hurt*, but I think in ways that were intentional. [Sidenote: the Athenaum has the creepiest bathroom acoustics I've ever encountered. Seriously Lovecraftian gurgling.] The writer and director do a bunch of fascinating things with identity and the uncanny valley. I can't precisely *recommend* the show, but I hope I've given you an idea of whether or not you would like it.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I finally got around to reading a book I got for Christmas last year: _Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer_. It contains correspondence between the two of them from 1968 through early 1970, as well as many envelopes with Gorey illustrations on them. Primarily of interest to Gorey fanatics only, but it did spark some thoughts I felt worth sharing.

During the time covered by this book, Edward Gorey was doing a lot of commercial illustration work to earn money, in between working n his own books. He and Neumeyer both hoped that their collaboration will lead to great fame and fortune for them both, and they speak of dozens of potential joint projects.

From the standpoint of the 21st century, this looks weirdly misguided. The collaborations between the two, while reasonably successful, stopped after three books, and never amounted to anything much. Gorey went on to earn enduring fame and fortune in his own right; Neumeyer pretty much didn't. What really struck me, however, was that, by this time, about half of Gorey's best work, that would earn him that fame and fortune, was already *done*. Mostly for small specialist publishers, and not all of it even still in print, but done nonetheless.

Perhaps this sort of thing is what keeps the great artists humble. Knowing that the same piece of work can be ignored by everyone or broadly hailed as a work of genius, just with the passage of time.
alexxkay: (Default)
Keeping up with the garden is a lot of work. If I'm diligent and thorough, about half the fruit actually reaches ripeness. No amount of care can save more than that from fatal imperfections due to circumstances beyond my control. Fruit that looked perfect at first glance may reveal nasty chunks of rot when looked at more closely in a second pass. It's frustrating, but something you just have to live with.

Feels a lot like building game systems. Or probably any creative endeavor. People enjoy the sweetness, but they don't usually realize how much ended up in the compost heap.
alexxkay: (Default)
Whoa.

I don't know where to begin. I don't know *how* to begin. That was... whoa.

None of the descriptions I have seen have done this show justice. Which is probably a combination of inevitabilty and spoiler avoidance. This show is far better experienced than described. And it is eminently worth experiencing. With some caveats.

Firstly, don't go if you demand your entertainment be linear, or susceptible to easy interpretation. Don't expect Shakespeare's "Macbeth"; this tale has roots there, but is far more weird, allusive, and symbolic. In fact, I would hesitate to even call this Theater, though it is most certainly Art.

Don't go if you're disabled. The show is a feast for all the senses except taste (maybe even that, if you buy a drink at the bar. To be blind or deaf would be to miss a huge amount of the show. Mobility impairments would also be a problem. The show runs three hours, and you will spend the vast majority of that time standing, walking, climbing stairs, and occasionally running. (There is an elevator, but this show is really not about accessibility, in any sense.)

If these vague warnings intrigue, rather than scare you away, then by all means, go. It's running through January 3, six nights a week, so there are plenty of opportunities. (No matinees; this is a night-time show.) Tickets are pretty affordable, at $25.

I think I'll stop here. I recommend not researching further; much of the value here is the joy of discovery. I will probably go again, as I know I didn't discover nearly everything my first time through.

ETA (from comments): I would guess that the space was about 70 degrees; slightly chillier than my 'at rest' comfort zone, but perfectly ok given the amount of activity I was doing. Just after handing my coat to the coat check ($1), I was chilly for a bit, as people were still coming in and bringing outside air with them, but that was no more than a few minutes.

Dress... to be comfortable, with the knowledge that you'll be on your feet for most of three hours, and moving around a lot. Some of the audience were wearing fancy-night-out clothes, but most weren't. I wouldn't wear anything with frills that might get caught on random objects.

ETA: If you go with other people, I recommend not attempting to stay with them during the show. It'll slow you down, and you're not supposed to talk, anyways. Splitting up also gives better coverage of an experience too big for one person to see all of in one show! You can share stories after :)
alexxkay: (Default)
It's not every day that I become aware of an entirely new art form. Well, new to me. The command of techniques and artistry on display here implies that this form has actually been around a while. 'Drawing' in sand, as a real-time performance, creating, changing, and manipulating images on the fly. Check it out. (Sadly for my vision-impaired friends, the appeal here is entirely visual, and not easy to describe.)
alexxkay: (Default)
Go play Passage. It's short, and worth it. Works on Windows, Mac, or Unix.

(Sadly, this game really relies upon visuals to work. [livejournal.com profile] kestrell (and other blind readers of this blog) can read some discussion of it here and here. Others may also want to follow those links, but I *strongly* recommend playing the game first.)
alexxkay: (Default)
Go play Passage. It's short, and worth it. Works on Windows, Mac, or Unix.

(Sadly, this game really relies upon visuals to work. [livejournal.com profile] kestrell (and other blind readers of this blog) can read some discussion of it here and here. Others may also want to follow those links, but I *strongly* recommend playing the game first.)
alexxkay: (Default)
No, no, get your mind out of the gutter! :-) It's a picture of Wonder Woman and some cute kittens, as drawn by Steve "the Dude" Rude, clearly channeling Norman Rockwell. Now availabe for purchase as a print. Or, if you have 15 grand to spare, you can own the original... I know a few Wonder Woman fans read this, and figured they would want to know.



Seen in a comment on [livejournal.com profile] james_nicoll's LJ.
alexxkay: (Default)
No, no, get your mind out of the gutter! :-) It's a picture of Wonder Woman and some cute kittens, as drawn by Steve "the Dude" Rude, clearly channeling Norman Rockwell. Now availabe for purchase as a print. Or, if you have 15 grand to spare, you can own the original... I know a few Wonder Woman fans read this, and figured they would want to know.



Seen in a comment on [livejournal.com profile] james_nicoll's LJ.

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