Thursday, June 22, 2017

NYC Day 5: Sleep. Glorious Sleep, and A Fort Tryon Park Evening Walk

Holy Moly! Look at the line-up below of the many choices available to me on this, my fifth day in New York City. And exactly how many of them you may well ask, did I get to? The answer dear reader is... None. Nada. Nil.

Last night, I didn't get to bed until 1.45am, and that late night, coupled with the still lingering effects of jet lag, pushed me to stay in and rest. I don't know about you, but the older I get, the longer it takes for me to recover from jet lag and the effects of extended travel. To recap, I arrived in New York City late on Friday last, after some 32 hours of travel, either in airport transit lounges, in the air, or in trains or taxi's getting too and from my places of accommodation. Thirty-two hours!

So today, after rising late, I was again in bed just after midday for another five hours of much needed sleep recovery. The great thing about being in one city for an extended stay, as I am, is that I can afford to relax and recuperate, without feeling like I am wasting my precious days sleeping! I don't leave New York until early in September, so why worry. I have more than enough time to do all that I have planned to do.

Beside, it is obvious when you look through the list below, that there was no way I was ever going to attend more than one or two of the events listed anyway. And my daily diary for the next couple of months looks very similar. In the end I settle for a leisurely walk to Fort Tryon Park, which is less than ten minutes from the apartment at which I am staying, and watched the sun set over the Hudson River, from Manhattan's highest natural land feature. The photos illustrating this post are of the gardens at the Park.

Jazz+Wednesdays @ The American Folk Art Museum
2.00pm—3:00pm. During the run of the exhibitions Eugen Gabritschevsky: Theater of the Imperceptible and Carlo Zinelli (1916–1974), the Bill Wurtzel trio will perform music that celebrates the creativity and expressiveness of the human mind. Limited seating available.

FREE: Spiral Music Series @ THE RUBIN MUSEUM, 150, West 17th Street.
6:00—9:00pm. Koto, Shamisen, and Flute music from Japan, with Sumie Kaneko + Haruna Fukazawa…

12pm - 2pm | Brookfield Winter Garden. STORYTELLING STATION by En Garde Arts
1pm - 2:30pm | 192 Front Street. TOUR: THE OTHER SIDE OF WALL STREET PRELUDE by Black Gotham Experience 7:00PM—

Free Cap Night

Wednesday Night Poetry Slam
9:00 PM. $10.00 - $20.00. At 236, E. 3rd Street
Hosted by Jive Poetic! Line forms outside a half hour before doors open at 9:00pm.

9:00pm—1:00am. Kennedy Administration
Club Groove, 125 MacDougal Street.

FREE: SUMMERSTAGE: Fête de la Musique: Wax Tailor / Her / Ayo / Ala.Ni
5:00 pm - 10:00 pm. Rumsey Playfield, Central Park. An evening of French contemporary talent and genres ranging from hip-hop to soul and pop.
2pm - 2:40pm | Intersection of Broad and Wall St. THANK YOU FOR COMING: PLAY by Faye Driscoll
5PM - 6PM | South St. Seaport Museum. MEMOIRS OF A UNICORN. By Marjani Forté-Saunders
5pm - 6:30pm and 7pm - 9pm | 192 Front Street. TOUR: CAESAR’S REBELLION Pts 1 & 2 by Black Gotham Experience
8:00pm - 11pm | Pier A Harbor House. RIVER TO RIVER LIVING ROOMS by The Dance Cartel.

MOMA Member After Hours
6:30–8:00 p.m. Enjoy private access to Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, and Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends after the Museum has closed to the public. MoMA educators will be on hand to share insight on the works on view. Please use the Ronald S. and Jo Carole Lauder Building entrance, east of the main Museum entrance on 53 Street and present your membership card upon arrival. Member guest admission tickets can be purchased at Member Services. More Information… | More After Hours Info…

- o0o -
Click images to see full sized. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

NYC Day 3: Sleep Deprived, and An Evening With Paula Cole

I had good intentions for my third day in New York, but only one of those come to fruition. Due to the ongoing effects of jet lag, I only got four and a half hours sleep the previous night, and I was in no shape to hit the streets of the city. By midday I was back in bed, and thankfully caught up on much of the sleep I missed out on during the night. I was up and about again by five in the afternoon, and felt more than ready to attend my first major gig of the visit--Paula Cole at City Winery.

I have dubbed this visit, my New York City Art & Music Tour, due to the numerous gigs I have pre-booked, and also due to the memberships I have taken out with the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum. You can expect therefore plenty of art and gig reviews in subsequent posts. But on to Paula Cole.

Paula Cole was performing a selection of music by John Lennon and Joni Mitchell, which I take is a departure from doing her own material. Cole first came to my attention when I saw her performing as the back up singer for Peter Gabriel during his ‘Secret World’ concert tour. I should point out that I did not actually attend any of those shows, I had seen a clip on an Australian late night music show called Rage, which was taken from the DVD of the tour.

Last night's show was a delight from beginning to end. Paula performed with a three piece ensemble before a very appreciative audience. Unfortunately I didn't quite get all the names of the musicians, but Max Weinstein was on drums. The young guitarist's name sounded like Milay Sohar, but my spelling of his name is more of a guess than anything, and I completely missed the bass players name. Sorry about that gentlemen. Towards the end of the show she introduced Janie Barnett, a fellow singer who added extra backing vocals to Joni Mitchell's Free Man In Paris, and Big Yellow Taxi, as well as to John Lennon's Instant Karma.

Paula Cole was in great form, and she sang Joni Mitchell songs with the voice of the 40-year-old Joni. These songs were pitch perfect, and if you closed your eyes you may well have thought that Joni Mitchell herself was on stage. Her interpretations of John Lennon's best loved songs was also great to hear. I thought her selection of Lennon's very personal song, Mother was a very brave choice by Paula, and while I'm not sure she pulled it off as well as she would have liked, it certainly kept me riveted to my seat to see how she would approach it.

The night started off slowly and quietly with Joni Mitchell's Blue and Night Ride Home, and continued in a muted tone with Lennon's Love, Julia, and another Joni Mitchell song Little Green, about the daughter she gave up for adoption very early in her career. The show really hit its straps when Paula and the band ripped into Lennon's, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and Come Together.

Here's the full set list:
Blue (Mitchell)
A Case Of You (Mitchell)
Love (Lennon)
Julia (Lennon)
Little Green (Mitchell)
Mother (Lennon)
Beautiful Boy (Lennon)
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (Lennon)
Come Together (Lennon)
Night Ride Home/Give Peace a Chance (Mitchell/Lennon)
Strawberry Fields (Lennon)
Free Man In Paris (Mitchell)
Big Yellow Taxi (Mitchell)
Instant Karma (Lennon)

Across The Universe (Lennon)
Both Sides Now (Mitchell)
Imagine (Lennon)

More Information
Online at...

Back In The U.S., Back In The U.S.S.A.

Above: The Met Breuer on Madison Avenue

My apologies to Lennon & McCartney for stealing their song title and hacking it to suit my purposes, but here I am again, three days into a three month extended stay in America -- most of which I will spend in New York City. The trip from Australia to New York went smoothly enough, but after 32 hours of air travel, extended transit stops and time spent traveling between accommodations and airports, you can be sure I was more than happy to collapse into bed once I arrived at the Washington Heights apartment at which I will be staying.

I spent the first day close to home base, and did little more than walk to a local AT&T store where I swapped my Australian SIM card for an AT&T GoPhone SIM ($54.43). This gives me unlimited data (6Gb high speed/shaped after that), as well as unlimited local and international phone calls each month.

I had dinner (quesadilla and a beer; $22.00) at my local 'go to' nosh house, the Hudson View Restaurant at the corner of 181st and Fort Washington Avenue, before finishing my day with some grocery shopping ($78.17) at Frank's Gourmet Market on W 187th street -- though I'm not too sure about the 'Gourmet' designation. Now that I think of it, the Hudson View does not exactly live up to its name either, but I guess that's marketing for you.

Marsden Hartley’s Maine @ The Met Breuer
The following day, Sunday, after buying an MTA Pass ($121.00) giving me unlimited travel for the next 30 days, I rode an M4 bus as far as East 75th street, and went to the Met Breuer to see the Marsden Hartley exhibition that finished that same day. It was a large collection from this American artist who spent his final years in his home state, Maine -- hence the title of the show, Marsden Hartley's Maine.

The exhibition featured many oil paintings and a smattering of other media from this local artist. I myself had never heard of Hartley until I read about him on the Met Museum website in preparation for this visit. For the most part I found his work engaging, with its strong masculine themes, bold and colorful flourishes, and dark, foreboding land and seascapes.

Here are a few images from the exhibition and the location:

Entrance and ticketing counter

Marsden Hartley's Maine (Note: exhibition now closed)

Above: The Lighthouse; Marsden Hartley

Above: Canuck Yankee Lumberjack at Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Above: Flaming American (Swim Champ); Marsden Hartley.

Above: Lobster Fishermen

Knotting Rope; Marsden Hartley.

Above: Information panels.

Above: The Wave; Marsden Hartley

The Met Breuer
Corner E 75th & Madison Avenue
*Prices: Students, $12; Senior $17; Adult $25 ; children under 12 free
*Suggested prices only.

Dear Reader, you may notice strange formatting for this and subsequent blog posts. Sadly, using my aging iPad 2 to update this blog is not turning out to be the exciting and innovative experience I was hoping it would be. However, under the circumstances, right now it is the best I can do.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

TED On Tuesday: Strangers In The Night?

Screen shot only. See video embedded below.

As someone who has a tendency to travel for extended periods away from home on my own, that is as a solo traveller, I have learned to be comfortable in my own skin, and with my own company. However, one thing I have always tried to do is connect in some way, no matter how small or brief that encounter may be, with the local people in whose city or town I find myself.

Talking to complete strangers is not always easy. Often I find I would like the conversations to go on much longer, but for any number of reasons this is not always possible. Also, I would love to be invited back to someone’s home to meet family and friends, to get to know more about the people and their country, but this has only happened to me once. And it may surprise you to know, dear reader, that this was during one of my extended visits to New York City.

With this in mind, I must say I was delighted to watch Kio Stark’s TED talk, Why You Should Talk To Strangers, which she delivered in February 2016 at TED2016.
Kio Stark has always talked to strangers. She started documenting her experiences when she realized that not everyone shares this predilection. She's done extensive research into the emotional and political dimensions of stranger interactions and the complex dynamics how people relate to each other in public places.
“When you talk to strangers, you're making beautiful interruptions into the expected narrative of your daily life — and theirs," she says.

In this insightful talk, Stark explores the benefits of pushing past our discomfort when it comes to talking to strangers and embracing those fleeting but profoundly beautiful moments of genuine connection.

Stark is the author of the TED Book When Strangers Meet, in which she argues for the pleasures and transformative possibilities of talking to people you don’t know. Her novel Follow Me Down began as a series of true vignettes about strangers placed in the fictional context of a woman unraveling the eerie history of a lost letter misdelivered to her door.

More Information: Online: | Twitter: @kiostark
- o0o -
Love Letters to Strangers
As a bonus, I offer this short presentation from Hannah Brencher. Hannah's mother always wrote her letters. So when Hannah felt herself bottom into depression after college, she did what felt natural — she began writing love letters intended for strangers and tucking them away in libraries and cafes across New York City, for people to randomly discover. Through her blog she began offering to write a letter to anyone who needed one. 

From such humble beginnings, over the course of the next year, Hannah wrote and mailed out more than 400 hand-written letters. Truly it is said, From little things, big things grow, and indeed Hannah’s letter writing initiative has grown to become a global initiative, The World Needs More Love Letters, which rushes handwritten letters to those in need of a boost.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Music Mashup #1

One of the great things about music, any genre of music, is its ability to cross boundaries, breaking down walls, prejudices, and long-held misperceptions about other cultures as it goes. Today I am featuring three videos from performers who are working across genres mashing up traditional instruments with contemporary rock tunes. I love the hybrid sound that results from these performances. It makes me realise that there are many ways of approaching traditional instruments and many ways too, or reinterpreting songs that have become classics in their original form. 

In the videos below, Stary Olsa, are a group out of Belorussia, who play a mix of traditional and contemporary music on medieval instruments, many of which they have made themselves. They cover Metallica’s song, One. Meanwhile the young Korean gayageum player, Luna Lee, performs and instrumental version of B.B. King’s, The Thrill Is Gone. Lee has been garnering much attention for her reworking of many modern rock and blues songs, and has even appeared at a SXSW Showcase. My third selection features the American mountain dulcimer player, Sam Edelstein playing one of the first big hits for the Rolling Stones, their 1966 classic, 19th Nervous Breakdown. Sam lives in Connecticut, and has won awards for his dulcimer playing.

I don’t know if the original bands or musicians have seen these videos, and if they have, what they think about them, but I’d like to think they are more than happy with the musicians below who have found ways to reimagine the original songs and share their interpretations with the rest of the music world. 

Stary Olsa (Medieval Instruments): One, by Metallica
Stary Olsa, first came to my attention last year after I saw their very successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. The group, from Belorussia, had set a goal of $7000 to fund an album of rock songs performed on traditional Medieval instruments. The campaign was so successful (they raised $29,890), that Stary Olsa were also able to undertake their first tour of the United States.

Stary Olsa have also covered AC/DCs Highway To Hell, Deep Purple’s Child In Time, and many other contemporary rocks songs, many of which were released on their 12th studio album—the one funded by their Kickstarter.

Here are Stary Olsa performing Metallica’s One, on the Belarusian television show Legends:

More Information: StaryOlsa.Com | YouTube | Facebook | Twitter
- o0o -

Luna Lee (Korean Gayageum): The Thrill Is Gone, by B.B. King
I don’t know how old the Korean performer, Luna Lee is, but she looks too young to be playing the traditional Asian instrument called a gayageum so expertly and fluidly. Clearly she has been learning the instrument since she was a young child.

Luna Lee has filmed many videos of herself reinterpreting a wide range of contemporary rock music, as well as classic blues songs. Looking at the many videos on her YouTube channel, it is obvious that she, or someone in her inner circle of support, is very adept at producing quite complex video productions which often include multiple windows when she multitracks on numerous songs. Here is Luna Lee performing to a  backing track, B.B. King’s The Thrill Is Gone:

- o0o -
Sam Edelstein (Mountain Dulcimer): 19th Nervous Breakdown, by The Rolling Stones)
To quote directly from Sam Edelstein’s Facebook page:
I believe that dulcimers are among the world's coolest musical instruments. People deserve to know about dulcimers, the way that people already know about harmonicas, ukuleles, and xylophones (to name a few examples).
Even though dulcimers are used primarily for folk music here in the US, they're great for many other kinds of music. In fact, they're natural rock & roll instruments. (Cyndi Lauper and Joni Mitchell perform on mountain dulcimer, and I once saw one in a Rolling Stones exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!)
I believe in exposing people to interesting and surprising music on dulcimers.

- o0o -
And as an added bonus, here is Luna Lee again, this time multi-tracking to Sultans Of Swing, by Dire Straits.

Thanks to the always interesting Open Culture website for bringing Sam Edelstein, and Luna Lee to my attention.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Let's Not Travel To Tick Things Off Lists...

Let's not travel to tick things 
off lists 
or collect half-hearted semi-treasures 
to be placed in dusty drawers 
in empty rooms.

Rather, we'll travel to find grounds 
and rooftops 
and tiny hidden parks, 
where we'll sit and dismiss 
the passing time, 
spun in the city's web 
'til we've surrendered, 
content to be spent 
and consumed. 

I need to feel a place 
while I'm in it.
~ Victoria Erickson

Friday, June 9, 2017

Using Online Cloud Backup Services

I have just spent an hour or two going through thousands of images stored in my Google Photos Cloud account. Some of these go back to 2011.

Now, if you are a traveller like me and travel light, which in my case means with an iPad, and you automatically backup up photos and other documents to the ‘cloud’, you will know how useful this feature can be. Having access to images, documents and other files stored in the cloud, no matter how far away you may be from home, is fast becoming an essential service for the convenience it offers to travellers of all descriptions—especially tourists and business people.

I’m a good example. For instance, I always take screenshots of receipts, concert tickets, booking information, flight itineraries, and sometimes even screenshots of information when I am online checking my bank statements. Of course I always try to remember to delete the most personal information after I have made use of it (Of course you do, Jim!)


On reviewing the photos and screenshots in my Google Photos account today, I was shocked to find all sorts of personal information, such as passwords, bank statements, credit card numbers, passport details, security codes, my home address, email accounts, and much more ‘safely’ backed up to the Cloud. 

The implications of this are obvious. We assume that these types of backup services are safe and secure from hackers and snoopers, and that may very well be the case. But if I had lost, or had my smartphone or iPad stolen, an enterprising and knowledgable person would find it simple enough to scroll through my Google Photos account on the off chance that personal information had found its way there. And in my case, they would have found plenty!

“But wait,” you say, “Surely everyone needs an email address and passwords to sign into their online accounts.”

Well, yes, but the helpful engineers at Google have a solution for that. They have designed their software to automatically save our sign-in details (after asking permission first), thus make the log-in process quick and painless, and if you are anything like me, you will have happily agreed to this time saving feature. Needless to say, any enterprising snooper will also be grateful to you for implementing these shortcuts!

One way of protecting ourselves from this type of deliberate or even inadvertent snooping is to log out of every application after we have finished using it. But of course, we all know how irritating it is to log into a service every time we want to access it.

So what’s a hard-pressed traveller to do?

Screenshot of files backed up to Google Drive

Well, you could disable all automatic backups to your cloud service providers, but that is not always the ideal option. If you do continue to use cloud services, the smart thing to do is make sure you sign out of your accounts like Google (and all other apps and programs) once you have finished doing whatever it was you were engaged in at the time. This is a better option than not using backup services at all. And if you can’t be bothered doing even that, then for goodness sake, at least check the files and photos stored with your cloud service provider on a regular basis, and delete those files that contain your personal notes, documents, screenshots and other private information.

While you are at it, check through Google Drive, the other Cloud backup service that may be storing important documents and information you would rather not share with the rest of the world.

And when you have finished doing that, you may also need to check your Dropbox and Apple iCloud accounts, or any other of the dozens of backup services now available, which is exactly what I am going to do now.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

S.A. Weekender #9: Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Ramsay Art Prize, Fine Dining...

What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a cabaret, old chum
Come to the cabaret!

Who could ever forget Liza Minelli’s rousing performance of this song in the 1972 Bob Fosse directed film, Cabaret? I’m sure that song will be heard more than once when Adelaide’s annual Cabaret Festival kicks off tomorrow night for two weeks of music, dance, comedy, and raunchy in your face theatre. All presented by some of the best practitioners from around the world. 

Conceived by Adelaide arts identity and founding father of the Adelaide Fringe Festival, Frank Ford, the Festival emerged during a period of change and uncertainty. During the late 1990s the number of big stage musicals was in decline across the country forcing many talented performers out of work. At the same time, Frank Ford, had become concerned about the flood of visiting comedians in the Fringe program. ‘The Fringe was intended to be a national showcase for new talent in Australia but it was being upstaged by these comedians who were stopping on route to the Melbourne Comedy estival,’ Frank says. 

Australians have a great tradition of musical theatre and political satire and both form a large part of the cabaret genre. And so the idea for a new festival was born. Frank approached then Arts Minister, Diana Laidlaw who committed funding to establish the first cabaret festival at Adelaide’s creative heart, the Adelaide Festival Centre.

The first Festival took place in May 2001 and featured Australian Jazz maestro James Morrison, musical satirist Phil Scott, and Australian musical theatre star Caroline O’Connor who was a late replacement for the legendary Nina Simone. A critical and commercial success, the state government committed to a further three years funding. “I loved that we started something from scratch where there was no existing audience and found 48,000 attendances by the second year,” said the inaugural Festival Director, Julia Holt.

Now in its 17th year and the biggest festival of its kind, Adelaide Festival Centre's Adelaide Cabaret Festival has continued to attract truly outstanding artists from around the country and the world. The Festival not only highlights the big names but makes them, too.

Past Festivals have featured the likes of Dame Edna Everage (AUS), Dita Von Teese (USA), Lea Salonga (PHIL), Cassandra Wilson (USA), Olivia Newton-John (AUS), Molly Ringwald (USA), Lenny Henry (UK), Mary Wilson (USA), Tim Minchin (AUS), Natalie Cole (USA), Paul Kelly (AUS), Bernadette Peters (USA), Eddie Perfect (AUS), Rhonda Burchmore (AUS), Caroline Nin (FRA), Michael Feinstein (USA), Mandy Patinkin (USA) and Anthony Warlow (AUS), just to name a few.

Here’s Liza Minelli in a clip from Cabaret, performing that now classic song. The video also includes the lyrics, so lubricate your tonsils and song along. Liza won’t mind — but the neighbours might!

More Information

2017 Ramsay Art Prize winner Sarah Contos with: Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye, 2016.
Art Gallery of South Australia, 2017 photo: Saul Steed.

2017 Ramsay Art Prize 
Congratulations to Sarah Contos, winner of the inaugural $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize, Australia’s richest prize for young contemporary artists. Presented by the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Ramsay Art Prize aims to support and encourage contemporary Australian artists to make their best work at a pivotal moment in their career.

The winning work of art is titled Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye and brings together personal remnants of Contos’ practice from the last four years, resulting in a colossal quilt that she describes as her most ambitious work to date.

Chosen from more than 450 entries from across the country, and selected by a panel of international and national contemporary art experts, Contos’ 2017 Ramsay Art Prize entry now becomes part of the Art Gallery of South Australia’s collection.

All selected works can now be seen in a major exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The exhibition runs through August 27, 2017. You can take a quick look at the other finalists from this years competition here…

More Information

Hains & Co. brings us Nashville Hot Chicken
According to the reviewers at CityMag: "The Hains & Co. kitchen has taken a turn towards Tennessee and is your new favourite spot for fried chicken."
Hains & Co., the West End’s premier whisky and gin drinkery (located a very convenient distance from CityMag HQ) has long been known for their Break Even Bottle (three cheers for drunken socialism), and for being the one salve for the souls in need of spirits on public holidays. Recently they’ve added another card to their deck and have fired up the kitchen out back, letting chef Drew Aitken bring his Alabaman flair to the venue.
“I used to run a catering company out of there. We did some of our own food, but I closed the catering company at the end of October last year,” says Hains & Co. owner Marcus Motteram.
“We’ve been doing our own food still, but wanted to have something more focussed, so it’s Southern American.”
Read the full article here…

If You Go
Hains & Co. 
23, Gilbert Place, Adelaide
Ph: (08) 8410 7088

Opening Times
Sunday to Friday: 4:00pm - late
Saturday: 6:00pm - late
Note: Closed Mondays

Ten of SA’s Best Regional Restaurants
Speaking of food and restaurants, the latest issue of SA Motor, the magazine of the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia has a very tempting feature by David Day, in which he lists his selection for the ten best regional restaurants in the state. Among his choices are The Current Shed, McLaren Vale (“The lime tart – made from fruit from the orchard – with fresh coconut is a notable signature and a must-try.”); The Lane Vineyard in Hahndorf (“Chef James Brinklow shows great culinary poise, embracing prime local produce to conjure dishes of flair with an element of surprise.”); and The Loxton Hotel, Loxton (“shines as a star Riverland dining attraction”). Read the full article here…

Not Only, But Also…

Adelaide Cabaret Festival: June 9-24, 2017

In The Saddle — On The Wall
A Kimberley Aboriginal Artists touring exhibition
Flinders University City Gallery at the State Library of South Australia
Now through June 25, 2017

Tuesday—Friday: 11:00am—5:00pm 
Saturday & Sunday: 12:00—4:00pm

Raggers and Radicals: Student Activity and Activism from 1880
Level One, Barr Smith Library 
Adelaide University, North Terrace
Now through June 30

At the Art Gallery of South Australia
North Terrace, Adelaide
Now through July 2, 2017

YIDAKI: Didjeridu and The Sound of Australia
At the South Australian Museum
Now through July 16, 2017

Kings, Queens & Courtiers
At the David Roche Foundation House Museum
Now through July, 2017

Now Get Out of The House!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

At The Movies: Martin Scorsese’s Silence

Well, it has taken me much longer than anticipated, but recently I finally caught up with Martin Scorsese’s latest epic, Silence. A quick online search reveals that the film has elicited mixed reviews from a wide range of viewers—both regular filmgoers and film critics—so today I thought I would add my own two cents worth to the discussion. But first, a brief synopsis:

In 17th Century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests Garupe (Adam Driver), and Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), travel to Japan in search of their mentor and teacher, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). The Catholic Church has lost touch with Ferreira, and what is worse, rumour has it that while under duress, Ferreira has committed apostasy (that is, renounced his religious beliefs).

This is the third major film from Martin Scorsese that examines aspects of different religions. The first was his 1988 adaptation of the Nikos Kazantzakis novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, and the second was the 1997 film Kundun, which is based on the life and writings of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Of course, if you have been following Scorsese’s career from the beginning, you might remember the open scenes of his breakthrough film Mean Streets (1973), which begins with Harvey Keitel’s character, Charlie, in church holding his hand over a burning candle, while ruminating on Catholic guilt and redemption, a theme that crops up throughout the film. But back to Silence.

The two young priests refuse to believe that Father Ferreira’s apostasy was due to the torture and abuse he received at the hands of his Japanese authorities. They are convinced that their mentor would never apostatise no matter how severe the suffering he was forced to undergo. Firmly convicted of this belief, the two men make the perilous journey to Japan to search for Ferreira and to continue spreading the Catholic view of the Gospels to the Japanese peasants they encounter. 

Things progress well enough for a while, but with the Japanese authorities closing in on their hiding place, the two priests separate in the hope they might evade their pursuers at least for a while longer. At this point in the film Adam Driver/Garupe disappears for pretty much the rest of the movie and attention is focused on Andrew Garfield/Rodrigues.

A powerful moment between Andrew Garfield/Rodrigues and a villager played by Shin'ya Tsukamoto.

To begin with, I was not convinced that Andrew Garfield—who carried two-thirds of the film on his shoulders—was up to the task, but as the film progressed, I was drawn further and further into what became a very powerful, and believable performance. Of course, he is soon captured by the authorities and before long his own faith is tested in ways that he (and we the audience), never imagined possible.

To my surprise, apart from the opening scenes filmed in the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Macau, China, the rest of the film shoot took place on various locations on the island of Taiwan. The cinematography is stunning throughout, and as you might expect from a master storyteller like Scorsese, he is in complete control of his actors and the story he wants to tell. 

Since I am not a practising (or lapsed Catholic), and indeed since I hold no religious affiliations whatsoever, I did feel somewhat removed from the emotional heart of this film. I was certainly able to appreciate the film on an intellectual level, but at certain points during the film I could not escape the voice in my head that insisted on reminding me about the cultural imperialism of the Catholic Church, and its often brutal proselytising among other cultures that were, and have been perfectly happy with their own homegrown religious practices. Of course, this ‘going out into the world to convert the heathen’ was not confined to the Catholic Church. The proselytising of today’s Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and representatives of other faiths shows that while the language may be different, the aims are still the same.

The wonderful Issei Ogata in his role as the old samurai.

However there are other lessons to engage the non-believer and agnostic in Silence. Reflecting on the film and the nature of belief, I couldn't help thinking about the current crisis plaguing Europe and other parts of the Western world. I am referring to the rise of Islamic extremism, and the ongoing ‘war on terror’ that Western governments and their extensive security forces, are no closer to winning today than they were following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, or for that matter since the terrorist attacks on New York City, and elsewhere in America on September 11, 2001.

It seems to me that just as the Jesuit priests of the 17th Century were prepared to face the harshest conditions imaginable, as well as the trials and tribulations meted out to them by local authorities intent on protecting their own positions of power, so too are the foot-soldiers of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Moro Islamists in the Philippines, Indonesia’s Jemaah lslamiyah, and other murderous Islamic splinter groups. 

It also seems to me that just as the Jesuit priests in Silence refused to renounce their faith in the Catholic Church and their God, so too are hundreds of Islamic fundamentalists confined to prison systems around the world refusing to renounce their own beliefs and faith in the tenets of Islam, as interpreted by their local religious leaders. Should we be surprised at their dedication to their various causes? Should we applaud the commitment to their faith? Or should we inflict so much suffering and pain on them that they are forced to recant and deny their own Gods?

And yes, dear reader, I am well aware that the vast majority of the world’s Christians are not strapping suicide vests to themselves and blowing up concert goers in Manchester and Paris, or gunning down diners relaxing in restaurants and cafés, or driving cars and trucks at high speed through suburban streets running down pedestrians. However, I am also aware that a study of Christianity reveals a history of murderous inquisitions, bloody Crusades, and death by stoning, beheading, fire and more.

A still from the crucifixion scene.

While it may seem that I have trodden a path well away from the one I started out on, that is, a review of the film, Silence, I am not so sure. After all, the film explores the nature of faith, belief and God, and the consequences of sticking to those beliefs—or not as the case may be—no matter what. It should be said that the film also examines the nature of love, betrayal and forgiveness.  

Despite its length (160 minutes), Silence is a film that can bear repeated viewings, not only for the excellent acting, stunning locations and beautiful cinematography, but also for the opportunity it gives the viewer for reflection and contemplation. There is much to appreciate in Silence, and I am delighted that I had a chance to see the film in a cinema with a big screen, which allowed me to appreciate its scope and grandeur even more.

If you haven’t seen the film, here is the official trailer to help wet your appetite.

More Information

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

TED on Tuesday: OK? Go!

OK Go: How to Find a Wonderful Idea
If you are a popular music fan that has been paying any sort of attention to the music scene over the past 10 or 12 years, you must surely have heard of the American rock group, OK Go. If you haven’t you are in for a delightful surprise. OK Go came to prominence after the 2006 video for their song Here It Goes Again, in which the band performed a complex routine on motorised treadmills, went viral with the help of YouTube, and other video sharing sites. 

Seemingly defying all odds and bets that the band could would not be able to top the hype generated by that video, OK Go have in fact gone on make many more innovative and genre defying videos that have set the benchmark so high that other bands have simply given up trying to match them. The only exception I can think of to that statement is the always innovative Icelandic artist, Björk.
Where does OK Go come up with ideas like dancing in zero gravity, performing in ultra slow motion or constructing a warehouse-sized Rube Goldberg machine for their music videos? In between live performances of "This Too Shall Pass" and "The One Moment," lead singer and director Damian Kulash takes us inside the band's creative process, showing us how to look for wonder and surprise.

The above talk, begins with OK Go performing This Too Shall Pass on stage while the video for the song plays in the background. But how, you may be asking, was this massive Rube Goldberg machine built and engineered? The answer my friend, is … in the video below. Adam Sadowsky takes us through the process, after his team at Syyn Labs were given the task of building it. He tells the story of the effort and engineering behind their labyrinthine creation that quickly became another YouTube sensation for the band.

The team spent months setting up the set in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse. The Rube Goldberg machine involved 89 distinct interactions, and required 85 takes (of which only three were completely successful). Two pianos and 10 television sets were destroyed during the shoot—and some of these trashed items can be seen lining a wall in the warehouse.

Having watched the video numerous times before watching this TED talk, I could never understand why it was that the band members wore clothing covered in paint. After listening to Adam’s presentation, the penny dropped so to speak, and I realised that this was as a result of previous unsuccessful attempts to film a flawless video. Anyway, the president of Syyn Labs, Adam Sadowsky explains all. Oh, and the finished video for the song is included at the end of Adam’s all too brief presentation.

About OK Go
Singer and video director Damian Kulash, Jr. and bassist Tim Nordwind met at summer camp in 1987, and a decade later they formed OK Go. With Dan Konopka as drummer and Andy Ross as guitarist and resident computer programmer, they've built a unique career at the intersection of music, visual art, technology, and science. They're among an emerging class of artists whose 21st-century brand of experimental creativity dissolves the traditional boundaries between disciplines.
"When our band started, music and art were actually different things," says Kulash. "Musicians made plastic discs and artists made objects for galleries. Now we all make ones and zeros, so the categorical distinctions don’t make much sense anymore."
Here is the video for The One Moment, the second song OK Go performed on stage during their TED presentation. 

And finally, in case you are not among the millions of people who have seen Here It Goes Again, the video that started it all for OK Go, why not take a look at it now? Enjoy.

Online: | Twitter: @okgo | Facebook: 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...