1960s, actors, Are You Not Entertained?, authors, biography, culture, directors, documentary, Film Spotlight, movies, music, Read This

Are You Not Entertained?

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I was. Here continues a monthly series featuring the music, the books, and the movies that occupied my time.  

MUSIC

Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos epitomized the Baroque period. Introduced to them twenty years ago, and despite my leaning toward the passionate Russian romantics, I learned to appreciate the symmetrical beauty of Bach’s piano works. In the 1950s and 60s, no one denied Glenn Gould the title of genius when performing them. A quirky man in a world of his own, humming on his own recordings, I highly recommend the unusual, artistic film of 32 vignettes by Director François Girard (The Red Violin) and Colm Feore starring as Gould.

And then, for a musical treat, I got a kick out watching an old television program which featured some fabulous icons–Leonard Bernstein, Glenn Gould, and Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky. You can watch Glenn Gould play around the 18:00-minute mark.

BOOKS 

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It’s been all about Steve McQueen in my house this past month. For the winter project, I’ve immersed myself in Marshall Terrill’s biography. As a cultural icon of the 1960s and 70s, I was reminded how free-flowing the sex, drugs, fast cars, and fashion mattered. McQueen loved it all and was an international star, commanding at his zenith almost a million dollars a film. In 1980, he died at the age of 50 of Mesothelioma from his days as a Marine, scraping asbestos off the walls of a ship. Did I like Steve McQueen after reading all about him? Not particularly, but he was cool to watch on the screen, and the biography was fast and fun, just like the man. 4/5.

MOVIES (TV)

st-vinyl-vol-1-front-cover_3000Stranger Things, the Netflix series starred a shrilled, hyperventilating Winona Rider, an ensemble of geeky pre-teens, stereotypical high schoolers, and two actors whose characters were interesting: Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and the fantastic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) who reminded me of a young Natalie Portman. Nostalgic, dripping with Steven Spielberg tricks, it is my new guilty pleasure. 4/5

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Controversial director, Roman Polanski, has a gift for making beautiful films, and this political thriller is no exception. You may think you are on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, but not so. The sand dunes, bulbous gray clouds, and windy spray was located on the North Sea island of Sylt. The Ghost Writer matched style with substance. Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan lead a fine ensemble cast with enough twists and turns to keep you engaged. And that closing shot is one of the best I’ve seen in a while.   4/5.

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Quiz Show(1994). Directed by Robert Redford. Stars Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Paul Scofield. It’s funny. It’s smart. Based on true events, Ralph Fiennes plays Charlie Van Dorena WASP, a professor of literature, whose ivy-league-Brahmin-of-a-father has basked in fame and respect for decades and junior sets out to make a name for himself. Unfortunately, his moral dilemma piques the journalistic interest of a brilliant investigative reporter played by Rob Morrow. The acting is outstanding and Paul Attanasio‘s adapted screenplay is an English major’s dream. Who wouldn’t want to sit at the family picnic table with academian greats and listen to them recite Hawthorne and Shakespeare while munching on corn on the cob? Okay, well, I would. Robert Redford warns us of television’s manipulative power, run by executives, who will do anything for ratings. Sound familiar?  Mark Van Doren: Cheating on a quiz show? That’s sort of like plagiarizing a comic strip.”  4.5/5. 

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For the Love of Spock (2016). Even if you aren’t a Star Trek fan, I forgive you; everyone should watch this outstanding documentary for the cultural-historical relevance (breaking television boundaries with interracial mixing and science fiction influencing the leading scientists of today) and insight as to why Star Trek fans are a loyal bunch. On Netflix, it’s perfect entertainment during a work week evening when you are loafing on the couch with not much going on. Nimoy’s son chronicles his father’s life with balance and grace. I vividly remember as a girl lying on the floor in front of the TV mesmerized during all 79 episodes. Then came the movies. That’s a lot of emotional bonding and why creator Gene Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy are tops in my book. 4.5/5 

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The Innocents (2016). At first, I wondered if this was a remake of the 1961 Jack Clayton film with the same title starring Deborah Kerr during Victorian England. Looks great! However, this is not the case. This French film directed by Anna Fontaine is about a young French Red Cross doctor (Lou de Laâge) who is sent in 1945 Poland to assist the survivors of the German camps and discovers several nuns in advanced states of pregnancy during a visit to a nearby convent. It is a fantastic based-on-true-events effort by Fontaine.  My only criticism is the space between the doctor and the nuns. The nuns remain “others” and in spite of the intimacy of delivering baby after baby; the nuns remain foreign entities other than a couple of brief conversations. On the plus side, I thought it a good call in the script to avoid flashbacks of the rapes. 4/5.

 A Man Called Ove (2016) This Swedish gem directed by Hannes Holms and his screenplay adapted from Fredrik Backman‘s novel of the same name was a surprise treat. This dark comedy affected me to tears which I wasn’t expecting. The grumpy old man, Ove, (Rolf Lassgård) who can’t come to terms with his wife’s death, discovers there’s still meaning in life. He seems like the dull model of mediocrity, but his love story told through flashbacks about his beautiful wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) provides depth and surprises. The grumpy old man stereotype turns into a complex character when the people in his present like the Middle Eastern young wife (Bahar Pars) who helps him realize that life has a purpose even when you think you’re done with it. Touching and beautiful. 4.5/5.

 

actors, authors, books, directors, history, History in Films, movies

History in Films: Polanski and The Pianist

Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) was his comeback film that earned top awards at Cannes, Best Director at the Oscars, Best Adapted Screenplay by Sir Ronald Harwood, and a Best Actor award for Adrien Brody. What did the pianist play that saved his life? Chopin’s Nocturne No.1 in C# Minor, although in the film, Brody’s character, famous Polish pianist and composer, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopin’s Ballade No.1 in G Minor, (Op. 23, No. 1).

Adrien Brody played most of the piano throughout the film leaving only the truly complicated parts to a handover. These trivialities are not meant to deprive the historical obvious: how could Szpilman who had been in hiding for years suddenly be made to play Chopin with rusty fingers in the cold of winter? But it happened. The ray of light from the cracked window shining down on Adrien Brody as he played giving him an angelic glow and perhaps influenced the Nazi who spared his life for he recognized such talent was a gift from God and saw the man and not a Jew.

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What I respect about Roman Polanski’s film is the care and accuracy he took creating a historical film that remained true to Szpilman’s memoir and details added from Roman Polanski’s personal history.

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The “Special Features” disc that came along with the film was educational and fascinating. I learned Polanski’s father was shipped to Mauthausen-Gusen in Austria, where he survived the war, and his mother to Auschwitz where she was murdered. Polanski recalled a memory from a young age in occupied Poland when his father was walking on the sidewalk and a Nazi soldier punched his father and told him to walk where he belonged, in the gutter. Polanski inserted this memory into the film and it’s one of many details that create the suspense and horror of Warsaw Poland’s infamous ghetto from 1940-1943, where approximately 300,000 Polish Jews were imprisoned behind brick walls before being transferred to death camps like Treblinka.  Sir Ronald Harwood adapted the screenplay and gives credit to Roman Polanski for tapering the script to include the details that married two survivor’s accounts making the film doubly poignant.

Speaking of Personal Histories

I respect Roman Polanski’s talent as a director. Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson was magnificent. I thought Rosemary’s Baby was horrifying. The Pianist will be his masterpiece. I feel the man’s personal history is more incredulous than any story he has put on the screen. Ghastly childhood. Ghastly end to his marriage with Sharon Tate. Ghastly charges and indictment on seducing a teenager. It’s a paparazzi heaven.

My question to you all is: Does it matter? Can you remove the scandals from the man and judge him on his work? Are we qualified to judge the good he’s done by artfully bringing to light a story of the human condition in Wladyslaw Szpilman? Do we disfavorably weigh and discredit Polanski because of his past? Is there any another man in Hollywood who creates such ambivalence?

I think you should view the film. It’s more important than the man who created it. Better yet, read the memoir.