Friday, August 28, 2015

Picasso and Dora: Take I

I love reading about the lives and work of artists. Here's another really good book of this type that I finished reading a few weeks ago: James Lord's Picasso and Dora: A Personal Memoir (New York: Fromm International, 1994; hardback published in 1993). 

Among the many real characters breathed back into life, there are three principals: James Lord (1922-2009), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Dora Maar (1907-1997). Not far behind is Françoise Gilot, who even now in 2015 is still very much alive and kicking at 93 (born November 26, 1921).

Dora Maar, one of Picasso's key -- and romantically doomed -- muses, has some of the best quips and observations in the book.

Of Picasso: "'He doesn't know how to stop making things,' she said. 'It must be terrible for him. Of course, it's terrible for us as well.'" (page 107).

Of Picasso: "'It's simple,' Dora said . . . 'He would submit to anything to be able to keep on painting, and he knows that what matters in the end is not whether people say good things or bad things about you. What matters is to be talked about.'" (page 118).

And: "'I felt so alone I got into a taxi and told the driver to take me out of Paris. The trees were like balloons ready to float up in the sunrise . . ." (page 149). 

Because it's based on Lord's notebooks and scribblings made at the time things were happening, Picasso and Dora has an exceptionally crisp and intimate feel.

(To be continued . . .) 

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Surrealism and Nella Fontaine Binckley (1860-1877-1951)

Nella Fontaine Binckley (1860-1877-1951), "The Last Analysis. Woman's Rights -- the total sum -- Right man and right income" (1906). Is this satire?  Is this social commentary? Either way, it's in the year 1906.

"A Tongue of Good Report. Tell not your wife of others' sins / Or of yours she'll get a notion; / For you should know that 'Ignorance / Is the mother of Devotion.'"
"Verily. No man, poor slave, can ever save Enough to pay the rent, Howe'er he strive, howe'er he thrive, Without his wife's consent."
"A wife not too clever / Is a joy forever" ~ Nella Fontaine Binckley (1906).
"All is Vanity. . . Of the wise men of Greece and of Gotham we hear, / Bur we know, if we're older than ten, / that since the first woman arrived on the sphere / There haven't been any wise men."

Today's Rune: Strength. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

History and San Francisco: The Artist Nella Fontaine Binckley (1860-1951)

Late in 2014, I started coming across references in biographies to various people living in San Francisco, which got me to thinking about the place after a hiatus of many years. Then, earlier this year (late in June), I was lucky enough to travel there to attend a library conference in the city, which is how I found a beautiful, historic place to stay: the Hotel Majestic, built in 1902 and survivor of the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires. My gratefulness for all of this is boundless.

On the astral plane (as it were), two people in particular led me back to San Francisco: Tina Modotti and Howard Thurman. I've posted about them elsewhere.*

Since my return, I came across a third person specifically connected to the place: the artist Nella (sometimes Ellie, Nellie or Ellen) Fontaine Binckley (1860-1951).  I came across her while researching her grandfather, Harvey Mitchell (1799-1866), who was also an artist.
Even from what little I've discovered about her so far, Nella was quite a character. Born in Washington, D.C., where her father (John Milton Binckley) worked for the U.S. Government, she studied art and eventually moved to San Francisco in the late 1800s, where she sketched and painted in Chinatown, among other places. She worked at a studio at 932 Sutter Street, which is right next to the "Hotel Vertigo" of Alfred Hitchcock fame. The Hotel Majestic is at 1500 Sutter Street, just six hilly blocks away. At the turn of the century, Nella went back to the East Coast and lived in Washington City, Philadelphia and Manhattan. She died at about age ninety-one in a fire in Washington, where she is buried (in Oak Hill Cemetery).

One of the great things about Nella is that, after 1900 or so, she somehow managed to convince people that she was born in 1877 rather than 1860. How fun is that?

Check out her California State Library authority card from 1911. 
Name in full: Nella Fontaine Binckley. 
Present address: "Caramella[?]," 525 Locust Ave., Germantown, Philadelphia, Pa.
Place of birth: Washington, D.C.
Date: Too remote to mention.
If married, to whom? No -- spinster.
Years spent in California: From 1898 to 1900. . . San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara.

The illustration at top by Nella Fontaine Binckley is from Smoke and Bubbles (1906). She was 46 at the time -- or was she 29? I love it!

Today's Rune: Wholeness.  
*Tina Modotti and Howard Thurman  links.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Volker Schlöndorff's 'Der Fangschuß' / 'Coup de grâce' (1976): Take II

Volker Schlöndorff's Der Fangschuß / Coup de grâce (1976) works on several levels. Visually, it's strong yet low-key, shot in black and white. Dramatically, conflict drives plot, albeit in a somewhat eerie way because it seems so matter-of-fact. There is intense but shifting tension between German Freikorps officer Erich von Lhomond (Matthias Habich) and Sophie de Reval (Margarethe von Trotta); and there are matters of war and revolution. The latter combo is starkly brought out by showing the German-Latvian "nationalists" based in a fortified estate vs. their Latvian-Bolshevik-allied challengers, traditionally the poorer workers and crafts-people based in and around Kratovice, the nearby village. The estate or chateau compound seems much like a Mexican or Spanish villa, with an almost Medieval social system being rent apart at the time of the story, post the Great War of 1914-1918 and into the 1920s.
Coup de grâce is based on a 1939 novel by Franco-Belgian writer Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987), but the movie is considerably more detailed in its depiction of warfare and daily life. 

What we see is a strange and disconcerting mix of protocol, decorum, regimentation, and gallows humor punctuated by bursts of emotion and violence -- the latter, however, is often carried out with what seems like no emotion at all, such as the routine killing of prisoners on both sides.
Valeska Gert as Tante Praskovia -- a bizarre character, as you may imagine by this image. Gert actually performed in the 1920s, so the time period covered by the film is something she'd personally experienced. Her role is as a sort of Cassandra, or slightly barmy yet keen observer.
The fate of Sophie's dog "Texas." 
Schlöndorff has made a series of intense, heavy-hitting films, ranging from Die Blechtrommel / The Tin Drum (1979) to Un amour de Swann / Swann in Love (1984), The Handmaid's Tale (1990) to Diplomatie / Diplomacy (2014). 

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.   

Saturday, August 15, 2015

María and Sophia: Assumption Day

Mary Maryam María Marie becomes perpetually now, on August 15, Our Lady Notre Dame Nuestra Señora, Paraclete universal.

"Can we see her whole, this heroine of a thousand faces, by revisiting earlier cultures with the eyes of the present? The mystery of Mary's continuing power calls out to our minds as well as our hearts; trying to see if the pieces fit together can be an education in understanding ourselves."

Sally Cunneen, In Search of Mary: The Woman and the Symbol (1996), Kindle edition, location 163. 
Through the centuries, artists have been drawn to a myriad of visions of Mary. 
Simultaneously on August 15, Holy Sophia remerges into the Pleroma.

Now, if you'd like to expound upon either the Paraclete or the Pleroma, please feel free to do so!  

Happy is Assumption Day for believers. Peace be with you and also in you. 

Today's Rune: Partnership.   

Friday, August 14, 2015

Volker Schlöndorff's 'Der Fangschuß' / 'Coup de grâce' (1976): Take I

Volker Schlöndorff's 1976 film Der Fangschuß / Coup de grâce (1976) is outstanding, a solid A bit of work. I just saw a crisp Criterion Collection DVD version of this great movie. Yes, there are subtitles -- the language spoken is mostly German, with some French tossed in. Learn something new -- not a big deal (especially if you're already German).

Take five other similarly-themed films, mix them together in a black & white cocktail and boom, there you have an idea of Schlöndorff's vision. The other films?

Jean-Luc Godard's Les carabiniers (1963).

David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965).  

Aleksandr Askoldov's Комиссар / Komissar / Commissar / The Commissar (1967/1988). 

Luchino Victoni's La caduta deglis dei / The Damned (1969).

Olivier Hisschbregel's Der Untergand / Downfall (2004).

Come on, now: how many films are you going to get to see that deal with the Latvian Wars of Independence, or any of the wars that convulsed the Baltic States after the Great War of 1914-1918? Bolsheviks! Germans! Latvians! 

(It could just as easily stand in for the Syrian Civil War today, or the nasty bit of business going in in Ukraine as of this post, or Somalia and Yemen). 

And there are strong women characters! 
But what could be more (almost comically) serious and stern as these two German officers? 

What a film! More details to follow.

Today's Rune: Initiation. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Woody Allen: 'Irrational Man' (2015)

Through the scrim of an entertaining little story, Woody Allen's Irrational Man (2015) covers the basics of existentialist philosophy. This movie is more dramatic than comedic, but given its setting in academia (specifically here, a fictional college in Rhode Island), there's plenty of fun to be made on that score. There always is.
Enter the Nutty Visiting Philosophy Professor (played with some restraint by Joaquin Phoenix, though seeing him in action often inspires chuckles no matter what he does or says). Take his ennui, combine with a yearning for Spain in another professor (Parker Posey, also smile-inducing), add a curiosity-driven student (Emma Stone), connect with a Dostoyevsky-inspired triggering moment, and presto -- that's the basic set-up. Let the fun begin. 
 Wanna get existential? You betcha!
An added bonus: connect cleverly embedded references in Woody Allen's Irrational Man with William Barrett's nonfiction work, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (Anchor Books, 1990; originally published by Doubleday in 1958). 

By the way, I still have a fifth avatar of this book, having given away four other copies over the years.
The beautiful thing about existentialism is that -- like the concept of karma -- it works with or without a religious framework. That is to say, you can be an agnostic, a Catholic, an atheist or whatever else, and its ideas still apply, so long as one believes in the core ideas of free will and choice. 

Today's Rune: Partnership.