IMO: Vivaldi’s Winter, The Four Seasons

Except for a small lamp, I am sitting in the dark and face the computer screen. It is four in the morning. I’m grading college English composition papers where students compared and contrasted Ulysses S. Grant to Robert E. Lee. After the fifteenth one, my mind wandered and entered that zone where it splits–one side hears music while the other grades. I lose myself. On Pandora, Vivaldi’s “Winter” from Four Seasons begins.

It occurred to me that it has been twenty years since I last listened to Vivaldi’s “Winter.” It was four in the morning. I lived in the wasteland of Illinois during winter. Icy, bitter below-zero cold. The stars flickered, the air crackled, and the sun rose and changed the black into a powder blue sky. The sun teased, but the hope of warmth would not come that day.

I drove ninety minutes from my hometown to Illinois State University. My teenage kids still slept. They would get themselves up and eat breakfast and cross the street to school without my orchestration. Excited was I to be in college, and I fell in love with academia. I was in my thirties at the time and amazed by how little I knew about everything–history, literature, classical music, art, architecture, foreign languages, philosophy, and geography. I was starving and ate it up.

There is nothing to look at during the winter in central Illinois. The corn fields have been harvested. The expanse and flatness and dingy colors combined with the cold temperatures–well, that’s why I live in Arizona now. Two decades ago, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played in the car. The first cup of coffee had worn off, and I was in that lull where one part of me heard the music while another part drove.

How wonderful then, today at four in the morning, that a time warp occurred. “Winter” by Vivaldi began on Pandora and triggered that long ride to campus. I was that non-traditional student traveling distances to learn. This morning, I am the instructor on the other side of the desk, that is, the other side of the computer who grades the paper I once wrote. Tied by Vivaldi, the music became a mirror, and I sat on both sides and said “Hello.”

Are you not entertained? Films & TV

Here is what I have seen lately. Did you like these, too? 

FILMS     

First Man (2018) I like all director Damien Chazelle’s films and several times I have enjoyed watching Ryan Gosling on the screen. There was a lot to appreciate in First Man, the story behind NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969. The acting of Claire Foy and the entire ensemble cast including (Kyle Chandler, Pablo Schreiber, Corey Stoll, and Jason Clarke) combined with the launching of Apollo 11, all shots on the moon from the first imprint to the epic “A small step for man; a giant leap for mankind,” the absence of sound, the contrast of heat and ice, the sacrifices of the pilots, and the tragedy of the daughter all took my breath away. The only issue I had with the film was Ryan Gosling’s performance. Yes, Neil Armstrong was a cool cucumber under crazy twisty-turvy situations. Gosling interpreted Armstrong by standing devoid of emotion for two hours. Despite the weeping scene at the beginning, Gosling performance was much like Officer K in Blade Runner 2. Maybe you liked how Ryan played the engineer, the emotionally distant husband and father, Neil Armstrong? Regardless, the movie made feel like I was an astronaut with the shaky camera making me dizzy at times, and I suspect that was Damien Chazelle’s intention. I like visceral films. It was well worth the price of admission.  4.2/5

  Look Who’s Back (2015) is a satirical, black comedy from the best-selling book by Timur Vermes, published in 2012 by Eichborn Verlag. Hitler comes back through some cosmic time hole and wakes up in present-day Berlin. The gag is people around him think he’s an actor in costume. People think it is some type of joke and amuse Adolf (Oliver Masucci) asking at times, “Don’t you ever break character?”  Hitler is introduced on a comedy show and he goes viral. As his confidence grows, his rhetoric turns dark but those around him are enjoying the advance in their careers and tolerate the kinks in his personality because they want to milk the cash cow. There are a couple of obstacles. One lone studio colleague points out the crass, despicable raising of another Hitler to popularity, but he is ignored by ambitious Katja (Katja Riemann) — she is omnipresent in all German or Holocaust movies, doesn’t it seem? Fabian (Fabian Busch), a character who accompanies Hitler throughout the film,  brings him home to visit his girlfriend’s family. The Grandmother recognizes Hitler and screams at him with hatred to leave. Hitler is unperturbed and discounts her behavior as a hag who is a Jew. Fabian realizes, finally, that this befuddled man is really Hitler. Fabian tries to take matters in his own hands with predictable results that still shock. The seductive power of the media is the heart of this satire and serves as a powerful reminder of letting history repeat itself. Who would helm the fourth Reich? That character Christoph, the media mogul, in a scene mimicking Downfall when Hitler closes the door and yells at his minions while everyone in the office listens in shock is suggestive. 4.2/5

Fugitive Pieces (2007) focuses on the imprint from the Holocaust on a boy (Robbie Kay), raised by Athos, (Rade Šerbedžija, Harry Potter, Downton Abbey) a teacher from Greece. He sells his home and moves to Toronto. The boy becomes a man with an excellent acting performance given by Stephen Dillane (The Hours, Stannis in GoT) with lasting issues like the incapability of intimacy with amiable, exciting Alex (Rosamund Pike). Eventually, the serious intellectual Bella (Nina Dobrev) understands the depths of his loss and saves him. The film is beautiful; the passion and poetry of love is the cause of his blossoming. It was rewarding to watch him overcome his personal demons. For some, it might move too slow, but engaged was I from beginning to end. It’s one of the better Holocaust films and stories about love that I have seen in ages. Highly recommended. 4.5/5  

Did there need to be the fourth rendition of A Star is Born? Regardless of how you feel about remakes and the challenge it sets to create a fresh approach which will rise above the nostalgic emotional connection of its predecessor, I’m happy for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga who expanded their talents to give directing and acting a go. They created a convincing chemistry not seen since Walk the Line (2005). Cooper sounded like Kris Kristofferson and looked like a younger version of Jeff Bridges playing his Oscar-winning role in Crazy Heart. Throw in another cowboy, The Stranger, from The Big Lebowski, actor Sam Elliot, who sure felt like the real-life brother of Bradley Cooper, and it all felt cozy including the usual dysfunctional topics that plague the Rock and Roll family. On Gaga’s side, she was beautiful sans makeup and outlandish costumes. Her on-screen father Andrew Dice Clay surprised me with his portrayal of the NY/NJ blue-collar father. Was Cooper’s direction a tender-footed misstep? The editing spotty at times? What of Lady Gaga’s voice? I don’t think she sits with Barbara Streisand or Judy Garland, but her presence is impossible to discount as she is the diva of today. All in all, it was more entertaining than distracting.  4/5 

TELEVISION 

Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong in my eyes. It takes a lot of talent to deliver fast, intellectually difficult monologues and manic-depressive facial expressions like an opera singer’s trill, and that’s what he does. His Shakespearean background combined with sardonic humor–well, no one does it better. I thought he was magnificent in the dark comedy Patrick Melrose, a five-part television series based on the novels by Edward St. Aubyn. Patrick Melrose (Benedict Cumberbatch) is from a privileged but traumatic childhood stemming from abusive parents (Hugo Weaving & Jennifer Jason Leigh). As a boy, the story is set in the South of France. In his 1980s, Patrick is in his twenties and hooked hard on alcohol and drugs with an NYC backdrop. The story ends with his attempt at recovery back home in Britain. If you like your stories dark and sassy with great performances, you shouldn’t miss this. 4.8/5

Philip K. Dick books and adaptations

I may have seen Blade Runner several times as well as Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and binge-watched Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, but I can’t say I have picked up any Philip K. Dick’s books and read them which seemed like a huge blind spot to me, so I bought a few and read them. What I admire about his futuristic writing was his ability to create stories that defined Science Fiction, but more importantly, his imaginings included the ancient questions. Why are we here? What is reality and how do we define it? How to live? Why live?

The morality of life and how we interact with one another has been philosophized and dramatized since the Greeks stepped on the stage and Hamlet soliloquized “To Be or not to be.” So it’s fascinating when eternal questions are applied to the future. To me, this is the value of Dick. His writing style is blunt and minimalistic. The books that created the most empathy were my favorites (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) while other characters were too dark for me to enjoy (A Scanner Darkly). Philip K. Dick’s short stories from the 1950s, and his 60s and 70s experiences with drugs as well as his predictions of the future influenced a host of directors, writers, and the audience for decades–certainly my entire lifetime–affecting my notions of the future and scaring me in the process. Only a few film adaptations can translate the unsettling world of Dick’s stories with satisfaction; the world presented in a Philip K. Dick story satirizes society and keeps me skeptical of the promises of technological progress while making the crazy world of today bearable when compared to the future. That’s Science Fiction.

I’ve come to believe it’s better to read Dick than watch a film adaptation, albeit the adaptations have moments of innovation and worthy scenes. What are your favorite movie scenes? I want to buy more of his books. Which stories resonate with you?

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