Reading with a critical eye

After my recent visit to Royal Academy of Arts, I wrote to their magazine:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I recently became a friend of RA and on the day, I visited one of the exhibitions: Radical Geometry. I found the exhibition fascinating, a real eye opener to the art movement in South America between 30’s and 70’s.

After the exhibition, I felt the need to read the article in RA magazine. I was very surprised to find a fundamental error when I read the following description:

“Uruguay was known as the ‘Switzerland of South America’ in the 1940’s and ’50s because of its tradition of liberalism (it was one of the first countries in the continent to give women the vote, separate church from state and recognise divorce).”

The fact is in Switzerland women were only allowed to vote (on the federal level) in 1971. You might find the situation ridiculous, compared with the female votes in the rest of Europe. Even in People’s Republic of China, women have been granted rights to vote since Chairman Mao came to power in 1949. Switzerland is not a great example for liberalism when it comes to female votes. Therefore, I would like to suggest more thorough research carrying out before an article could be published.

I have found a few links below for your information. You might need to let the curators know about this fact as well.

http://history-switzerland.geschichte-schweiz.ch/chronology-womens-right-vote-switzerland.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/7/newsid_2738000/2738475.stm

http://www.swissworld.org/en/people/women/the_right_to_vote/

Kind regards,

A friend of RA

Argo

I subscribe to Sight and Sound, a film magazine published by British Film Institute. In the past three months since I started a new job, I have hardly found time to read them. The articles aren’t written in a style that is easy to read.  Even if I had, I doubted very much that I’d go see a film directed by Ben Affleck. Ben never made a huge impression on me in the past regarding his acting. To me, the media attention seemed to focus more on his private life and his toupe:-)

A friend of mine mentioned this film 2 days ago. The recommendation coming from a film lover is always better than reading films reviews written by some pretentious experts.  I went to see it yesterday evening at Odeon Covent Garden. It’s in Shaftsbery Avenue. Didn’t want to go to the big cinemas in Leicester Square because I don’t like the audience (too young, noisy, eat smelly snacks). But it turned out a big mistake this time. I had to pay the full price, but Argo was showed in a tiny room (screen is still big, though). The moment I walked in, OMG, I could smell the stench of the petrol (or some sort of industrial spirit). I  moved to the far end, but no escape of that smell, think about paying 12 pounds?!

But the film was indeed a hit! A big thumb up for Ben’s directing, although he still looked pretty wooden in the film (my view only, sorry for saying this, Ben’s fans wouldn’t like it).  He just terribly lacks of the on screen persona.  Or, maybe the real life CIA agents have to look so uncharismatic? This is a film after all. With all that heightened drama, I’d like to see someone like Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men).

Having said that, I cannot deny my sheer pleasure. I love thrillers that involve bank heists, espionage, hostage crisis – I want to see how they can get out! There was a bank rubbery happened in Berlin not long ago. A 100ft tunnel was dug up from under a park park into a bank’s safe deposit room. One of the oldest tricks in that trade!

I read a few articles on the internet regarding Operation Argo this morning. There are some interesting facts about how true Argo has portrayed.

1. Tony Mendes did not actually need to do much of the persuading for those diplomats to agree on Operation Argo. They actually embraced the idea, although sounded crazy, other ideas were more stupid and none of them would have worked.

2. The operation went as smoothly as silk at the airport. Not much high drama there. But it was undoubtedly the climax in the film. And the scene that shredded documents been patched together was somehow true, but patching the threaded pieces to get a photo of one of the diplomats – that did not happen. However, it was a clever idea to use that fact and put some imagination into it – that would make the airport scene so dramatic! Ok…the police cars chasing Swiss air flight,  that is typical Hollywood style. They could easily stop the airplane to take off by calling the air traffic controller and demand them to stay where they were. Then…what would happen? If I was the director, one of them would demand the pilot to take off telling him the truth that they have to go! That might also work.

3. The word ‘Argau’ was painted on the aircraft. Argau is a region in Switzerland. One of the diplomats punched Tony Mendez’s arm and said: “You guys arranged everything, don’t you” what a coincidence!

If the film was 100% true to the actual event, it wouldn’t make a great thriller in the cinema. This is a motion picture, not a documentary about American hostage crisis in Iran.

Finally, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston are great supporting actors in Argo.  The film has a grainy quality that gives a documentary style. That is another great feature of this film.

Argo wins Best Picture at the 2013 BAFTA Awards. Ben Affleck Best Director, well deserved awards for a rising talented Auteur!

Read more:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2007/04/feat_cia/all/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/10/12/argo_true_story_the_facts_and_fiction_behind_the_ben_affleck_movie.html

Made in Dagenham

Image

Hang on a minute! I am only talking about a British film!!! Is it really about sex?

Not at all!……well, not the kind of sex you are thinking of. Now, I have to admit that I made the same assumption when I saw the poster.

Made in Dagenham was released in Germany as ‘ We Want Sex’…as to how this slogan came from? Click the following link to see the trailer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9_2EAgmIqA

When I rented this film on lovefilm, I genuinely thought it was just a feel good comedy with some sex innuendo. (I was thinking of one of those ‘carry on’ films).

As a matter of fact, it is far more than some kind of jokes which are allegedly based on a true story. It is about Equal Pay.

Dagenham is in Essex. All I knew about this place was there is a Ford factory in the area. What I did not know was the scale of the factory plant in the 60’s. Among thousands of work force, there were only 187 female workers.

But…these 187 sewing machinists made the history! They called a strike which led to a new legislation in the UK and consequently changed the conditions in some other European countries about equal pay for women.

Watch out! Essex girls are quick-witted and sharp tongued. Don’t mess up with them! They stick to their guns!!!

The film indeed sexed up a bit to appeal to the audience and the cast might look a bit more glamorous than the strikers in real life. However, this is still what I’d call a serious film about a very serious issue. And this is a good motion film should be.

A film about grim strikers? Who would like to see it?! So why not made it into a touching and uplifting film with a sense of humour and naughtiness?

Lucrezia Borgia

Lucrezia Borgia and Gennaro

I love Donizetti’s melodramas. They are light-hearted, compared with those heavy weight opera rivals. And the music is often expressive, vivid – emotional, romantic, ever so delightful, never a dull moment through out.

Last night, I watched Lucrezia Borgia again on Sky Art.

Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso d'Este

Sex, blood, love, poison – gruesome yet passionate. This is Lucrezia Borgia, Donnizetti’s masterpiece about one of the most influential families in Renaissance Italy.

It was marvelous to be able to see so many close-ups on screen. Opera is a performing art. It’s not just about singing. The expressions are vital to the roles. Missing out such details can be such a shame.

A few days ago, I was sitting at ENO (English National Opera) with a friend, probably an opera virgin, who got two tickets from a friend of hers with a very small price to pay. The result was we were sitting at the back of the theatre. Nevertheless, I was extremely grateful. Without her, I wouldn’t have come to this show as I hardly knew anything about Lucrezia Borgia.

It turned out that Lucrezia Borgia had not been made into production in London in the last 30 years! And this was the world’s first ever opera broadcast live on 3D.

The main reason I wasn’t keen to see operas at ENO was I had twice bad experience there. First of all, they  sang operas in English and I believe this will hamper the originality – the language itself has its beauty, although I might not be able to understand the words. Then they tried to modernise the operas by injecting some contemporary ideas into the stage design and costumes. That was horrible, too.

Lucrezia Borgia Film

But Lucrezia Borgia took me by surprise. Director Mike Figgis stick to the tradition and in the same time collaborated with a special commissioned film (he directed himself with a different cast) which gave audience a multi-dimensional experience. The film portrayed  Lucrezia’s early life and this added depth to what was shown on the stage. Audience in the theatre might not be able to fully appreciate the innovation of 3D technology. However, it was brave to bring new elements and present them to a wider audience – think about how many people who could not afford the tickets and those who have not got the opportunity to travel to London. What about the younger generation who grew up with latest gadgets and technologies?

The exquisite costumes and stage setting truly captured the grandeur of the Renaissance period in Italy. Not to mention a wonderful cast – Claire Rutter (Lucrezia Borgia, Soprano); Michael Fabiano (Gennaro, Tenor); Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini, Soprano); Alastair Miles (Alfonso d’Este, Baritone).  Without a doubt, Claire took the stage by storm with her huge stage presence. She sang effortlessly throughout the opera. Towards the end, she pulled off that critical 15 minute long performance with her incredible skills and powerful voice.

God save the King – The King’s Speech

The King's Speech

How many of us went through absolute ordeals in places like – lecture halls, board rooms, business meetings, school plays, even just been asked to say a few words on behalf of the department to a leaving colleague.  Not all of us could get words out easily and be eloquent to deliver a speech, a presentation, a show.

It was a nerve racking experience when I gave the first lesson at a primary school in China. I spent long time doing the preparation. I wrote down everything I was going to say and locked myself in my tiny cell at home. I practised, practised, day and night. I practised on my brother and his best friend (our neighbour).  I thought I’d be fine.  But when the day came, I felt sick thinking about having to speak to 56 little kids sitting there and I knew none of them. Plus, my teacher was going to sit at the back marking my performance.

I stared at those innocent little faces and they stared at me with curiosity and anticipation. I did not know how I finished the lesson. But I remember the first few minutes, I was struggling to get words out – I had the most dreadful thought: I CANNOT REMEMBER A THING!

Once I calmed down, smiled and got my first sentence out (nervously), I did not stop talking until the time was up.

King George VI of Britain had a stammer.

I did not know this until recently I came across that part of British history.

During Christmas festive period, JF and I watched the new episodes of Upstairs and Downstairs. Must say they aren’t as good as old series. But good enough to see them back to the screen with a sentimental touch. One episode we saw Wallace Simpson was invited to the party. I told JF that British public did not seem to like that Simpson woman.

So we started a conversation about what happened to the monarch during that time. I was very surprised to find out how little JF actually knew  that part of history. Being a Chinese, I know much more about the romance between the King and the twice divorced American commoner, a socialite. However, neither of us knew much about prince Edward’s brother Bertie apart from the fact that he became the King George VI after Edward abdicated in order to marry Mrs Simpson.

“The 2nd world war was all about Winston Churchill and his victories. The royal family was faded to the background…” JF shrugged.

The King’s Speech focuses on one predicament of  King George VI – Bertie’s stammer. He was tongue tight when he was asked to speak in public, even just read out a script, he failed pathetically. And I believe I was not the only one who genuinely felt the horror, the embarrassment and the humiliation written on Colin Firth’s face. Colin deserves an Oscar for his leading role in this film!

Perhaps most of us could relate ourselves to Bertie. After all, under his regal skin, he was only human. Perhaps it was even worse off than all of us because he had no escape – he was not allowed to shy away from his royal duties to his people. We could change our professions (wittily as Lionel, the speech therapist suggested to the Bertie’s wife, Queen Elizabeth). Bertie had no choices.

It was a long project for David Seidler, who began his thorough research during his university study. The Queen Mother asked him not to get the script published when she was still alive as ‘the memories of these events are still too painful”. What made this film more credible is Lionel Logue’s notes and diaries which had survived.  They became valuable resources to be consulted when the film finally went to the production.

It is a magnificent film to bring us to a King’s journey of conquering his utmost  fear. Brilliantly directly, smartly scripted with that unmistakable British sense of humour and superbly acted by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter.

This could be the film of the year!

P.S. Colin Firth won the best actor at the Golden Globe 2011, the best actor at the Bafta and the Oscar 2011. The King’s Speech was the best film at the Oscar.

 

The show must go on – On Tour (Tournée)

On Tour

Honestly, I was a bit stunned by the body shapes of some actresses in On Tour. I somehow associated burlesque with Dita Von Teese – doesn’t she look gorgeous?! The hour glass figure, the pussy cat pose, the saucy corsage and stockings…….

It’s the burlesque season of the year! There are two films coming out – one (On Tour) is directed by French actor Mathieu Amalric, who is also the leading actor in the film. The other (Burlesque) is a Hollywood blockbuster – Cher and Christina Aguilera are the leading actresses.

No doubt the Hollywood version will be full of cliches –  I don’t listen to Christina’s songs. And I found Cher’s face a bit scary – she’s done too much on her face.

On Tour is different.

Mathieu Amalric

I have seen Amalric in quite a few films in recent years (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace, Meserine). He has a face that I found impossible to forget – not exactly handsome, but rather quirky, dark and intellectual (strange combination!). It’s a face that can convey unspoken languages and thoughts.

One of my favourite scenes is the flirtation between him and the woman who works at the petrol station. He did effortlessly with his charm and a few simple lines – none of those can you hear in most mainstream Hollywood films. Honestly, I think most scripts from tinsel town made my skin crawl – people don’t talk like that in real life!

All the women who performed burlesque in the film are credible – they are actual burlesque dancers.   The film was shot in a naturalistic documentary style. It might sometimes appear dull for audience who want actions and high power entertainment. However, if you are a fan of French cinema, you will only be drawn by Amalric’s talent – this film gives you more of an insight into burlesque artists off stage every day life.

With On Tour, Amalric won the Best Director Award at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Gainsbourg (Vie Héroïque)

I knew so little about Gainsbourg before I watched the film.  That was partly because China went through a period of time when western music was banned. Anything that promoted  ‘capitalism’ news, music, films, books. If there was any left for the general public, we knew it was cut and edited. Any intimate scenes in a western film were gone. We saw a man and a woman move their lips towards each other, then ‘cut!’, next scene got nothing to do with bodily contact. So abrupt, it must have been really upsetting and frustrating for some of the audience. I was too young to understand. I thought kisses were supposed to be like that.

Years ago, I saw a documentary about him. It was Gainsbourg live on stage singing a French song that I did not know a word. My first impression: who was that ugly singer? He was sweaty…all that sweats made him look morbid. I switched the channel.

“He was famous.” JF said.

Famous is probably an understatement for such a legend.

But I know so much about his daughter – Charlotte Gainsbourg. I don’t know exactly why I like her so much. She is certainly not a glamorous movie star in Hollywood standard – they most probably will tell her that she needs to get a boob job, then a jaw job to follow before they even think to give her a role.

I know Jane Birkin is her mother, who was the father? Serge Gainsbour, I later discovered on the internet. I googled his songs. “Je t’aime… moi non plus” Oh, yes, the song is so familiar to me. I must have heard so many times on the radio …I only knew it’s a love song. The versions I heard in China weren’t original. They were the ‘clean’ versions, just the music, no words, no deep breathes. I didn’t even know who wrote the music!

“It made to the top 1 in Britain, but of course, not many people understood French…” JF chuckled.

“Je vais et je viens, entre tes reins” (“I go and I come, in between your loins”)

“Tu es la vague, moi l’île nue” (“You are the wave, I the naked island”)

“L’amour physique est sans issue” (“Physical love is pointless”)

(Source: Wikipedia)

Gainsbourg is a wonderful film that brought an ignorant audience like me into his versatile music world with a fantasy-like style and surreal touch. It’s sexy, sentimental, outrageous, beautiful, touching, full of imagination. Joann Sfar captured the spirits of the hero, he created a modern legend.

It was phenomenal how a man with less than unconventional good look conquered the likes of Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot, who had a passionate love affair with Serge. He wrote the song Je t’aime… moi non plus for Bardot. It was a song to express desperation in physical love. It wasn’t released by the time as Bardot’s husband was furious about it. Two years later, Serge collaborated with Jane Birkin (his lover back then). It made an instant hit in Britain. The song was banned in some countries due to its sexual content

Joann Sfar tells a story introducing La Gueule (The Mug), a larger than life character to represent Gainsbourg’s alter ego. Rather than telling plain facts, he chose to present our hero in a comic book fair tale style to celebrate a legend.

Needless to say, another success of the film was the cast – Eric Elmosino bares an uncanny resemblance to Gainsbourg and so does Laetitial Casta to Brigitte Bardot. One of the highlights includes the sexy goddess making a grand entrance in her thigh high leather boots (made a comeback in last winter’s fashion) with a poodle on leash and her sensational singing and dancing ‘Comic Strip’  with just a white sheet around her nude body. Lucy Gordon gave her credible performance to  a shy and fragile Jane Birkin. “Her French accent is excellent, sounds just like Jane Birkin!” JF commented.

The choice of music covers probably the best of Serge’s work. I was amazed by the range of music styles – classical, pop, techno, rock, funk,  raeggae……Was the film really two hours long?