Monday, October 05, 2015

'Pawn Sacrifice' (2014/2015): Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky

Edward M. Zwick's Pawn Sacrifice (2014/2015) delivers a dramatic rendering (with some comic touches) of the great but erratic chess player Bobby Fischer, culminating in his world championship match against Boris Spassky in 1972.

I love the cast of Pawn Sacrifice, which includes Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Lily Rabe, Robin Weigert and Evelyne Brochu, among others. Overall, the movie is fun and interesting, definitely lighter fare -- and hokier -- than the documentaries Red Army and Best of Enemies -- although all three compliment each other within the Cold War Zeitgeist and all three are worth watching. 
In Pawn Sacrifice, Fischer (played by Tobey Maguire) is depicted as a person existentially located somewhere between an anti-social and paranoid "idiot savant," chess prodigy, and enfant terrible -- fittingly compared to Mozart (although Wagner might be even more fitting). Stuhlbarg and Sarsgaard, pictured here, play Fischer's handlers, the one an eager promoter-patriot and the other a worldly Catholic priest and chess coach. 
Liev Schreiber makes Boris Spassky seem a whole lot cooler and classier than Bobby Fischer, albeit tightly contained by his Soviet "management team" (which he resents, but begrudgingly understands). In 1972, both players are "pawns" of the Cold War. 

Today's Rune: Wholeness. 

Saturday, October 03, 2015

'Best of Enemies' (2015): Buckley vs. Vidal

Best of Enemies (2015): a documentary film by Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon, centers on the 1968 televised debates between Gore Vidal ("liberal") and William F. Buckley, Jr. ("conservative"). This excellent work takes the participant-spectator to a place where the culture and history of those times as well as these times can be put in clearer perspective, regardless of one's personal or group worldview. This is done largely though the scrim of American network TV, but includes additional angles and mirrors. 

I loved this film on first look and aim to get my hands on a copy upon its November 3, 2015 DVD release, for further consideration.    
Best of Enemies: the news reporters, most gone now, good to see in action again, time regained if just for the duration of the film. And the witty antagonists, leading their factions, obsessed with each other and their zingers and their overall performances. Buckley permanently upset by his loss of control, Vidal having gotten under his skin; Vidal, upset by his ebbing influence in older age. A beautiful, funny and sad arc that leads to the always-unfolding now of continuing ideological conflicts of words, wars and colliding worlds. Wow.  

Today's Rune: Joy. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chimes at Midnight: Kraftwerk Late Show, Austin, Texas

It was weird listening this very morning to outdoor wind chimes dingling and tintinnabuluming as a result of a light air-breeze, sounding alternately like a bit of music echoing off a Jean Michel Jarre theme (Ryan's Daughter) or various phantom samples from a Kraftwerk track ("Computer Love," "Spacelab," etcetera).  

Indeed, life and art are often working together, hand in hand, through each other, in time, beyond space and by way of tingling memory responses triggered by music or comparable stimuli . .
I can write quite a lot about Kraftwerk's evening performance at Bass Concert Hall in Austin, Texas, this past Friday (September 25, 2015 A. D.), but it mostly comes down to transcending time -- funneling time and feeling and memory -- regaining two other Kraftwerk performances -- Brixton 1991 and Detroit 1998 -- heightened consciousness of our (via Marshall McLuhan) "electronic envelope," keen awareness of "the extensions of man" or humanness, our evolving nature as man-machine, human-machine -- total immersion, total realization . . . total immersion through pure art. 

I can now refer you to an excellent review of the daytime show by Wes Eichenwald here. He gets at the gist of things, giving me no reason to try to reinvent the electronic wheel for this particular post. 
Kraftwerk's music in Austin, with dazzling "retro future" interaction that included multi-lingual text (German, English, Russian, French, Spanish, Japanese . . .), numbers and Gestaltic iconography, was played more or less in this order:

 "Numbers;" "Computer World;" "Home Computer" and "It's More Fun to Compute;" "Computer Love;" "Pocket Calculator;" "The Man Machine;" "Spacelab;" "The Model;" "Neon Lights;" "Autobahn;" "Airwaves" . . . "Geiger Counter + Radioactivity;" "Ohm Sweet Ohm;" "Electric Café;" "Tour de France;" "Trans Europe Express" . . . (first encore) "The Robots;" (second encore) "Aerodynamik;" "Boom Boom Tschak" + "Techno Pop" + "Musique Non Stop" plus individual bows and a dandy Auf Wiedersehen.  

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Kraftwerk 2015: Austin. Meine erste Reaktion.

Road trip to Austin, Texas to catch the Kraftwerk 3-D concert on Friday, September 25, 2015, at the Bass Concert Hall off 23rd Street, 10:30 p.m. until well past midnight.

Brilliant, wonderful show and I wish I could see them again in Detroit or Philadelphia! 

Kraftwerk comes from the Mount Olympus of electronic music. One must pull out all the stops to see them. Orphic electronica!

Kraftwerk's remaining venues in the USA for this year are all coming up in October:

October 2nd: Philadelphia
October 3rd: Boston
October 5th: Detroit
Then Minneapolis and Kansas City.

In November, Kraftwerk is off to France, Monaco, and other European hot spots. Pictured above is a scanned copy of a packet for 3D glasses given out at the Austin late show. 

More on Kraftwerk coming down the tracks.

Today's Rune: Breakthrough. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour: Dallas

I didn't get to see the Rolling Stones play this year, and I'm geographically too far away from seeing Pope Francis in person on his visit, but I did do something a bit different. Twyla Tharp's 50th Anniversary Tour began in Dallas at the Winspear Opera House (AT&T Performing Arts Center) on September 18 and 19, 2015. I attended on the second night and was thrilled to see it.

I do not know much about the technical aspects of dance and its choreography, but I do know when I like something, and I found this event mesmerizing and great fun: spectacle, music and dance choreographed with both respect and a sense of humor.  
Twyla Tharp is quoted in the program with regards to her organizing principle: "Simply put, PRELUDES AND FUGUES is the world as it ought to be. YOWZIE as it is. The FANFARES celebrate both."

The night proceeded in this order:

[- FINIS -]

"Preludes and Fugues" revolved around piano music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. "Yowzie" was constructed around early blues/jazz songs by Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, and others. The whole second part of the night was wilder and more energetic than the first -- which was perfect, not least because audience members could bring "spirits" netted during the intermission to their seats, so long as they had lids on them. 

It was astonishingly pleasing to hear the pounding and thumping of bare feet on the stage, to see it all in person -- a much more exciting experience than seeing such things on a small glass screen.

The dress of the dancers contrasted between halves. For the Bach piano vibe, the men wore what looked to me like simple outfits from the time of the French Revolution or Napoleonic era. The women wore shorter outfits, more like flappers from the 1920s or pre-flappers from ancient times with colorful fabrics. The differences between the attire of the men and women was both anachronistic and cool. Much stranger were the outfits worn by both women and men after the intermission. Think bright, colorful ragtag clothes with the vibe of Billy Idol in "Dancing with Myself" -- sort of 70s punk meets 80s garish tones mixed within a hallucinated dreamscape. In other words: bizarre. Especially because the dancers moved around the stage to musical classics of the first half of the 20th century. Again, both anachronistic and cool.

Which all reminds me: it's good to stretch, get out of the same old, same old routines. My little synapses were firing away, taking it all in. A dash of pinot noir aided me.

Twyla Tharp is astonishing. She came out afterwards and spoke to a sizable subset of the overall audience, that portion which remained after the main performance. She fielded questions. Until this point, the only languages I'd heard around me (when seated elsewhere) were Portuguese, Russian, Italian and Queen's English. In the Q & A, American English was spoken.  

I've already written some about her earlier work with David Byrne on The Catherine Wheel project.  Let me add that Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (with Mark Reiter, 2006) is a useful and entertaining book, especially for the creatively inclined. For her 50th anniversary tour, you can access Twyla Tharp's NY Times blog here

This North American tour (or part thereof) proceeds next to the mountain states, the West Coast, Austin, New Orleans, Bloomington, Toronto, East Lansing, Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City. Can you dig? I'd see it again if I could. 

Today's Rune: Initiation. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Charles Gramlich: 'The Adventures of an Arkansawyer' (2014)

Charles Gramlich has done a wonderful thing: combined his earlier Days of Beer: The Memoirs of a Beer Drinkin' Man, originally in ebook format (Razored Zen Press, 2011), with a new, bigger section, "Adventures of an Arkansawyer," which is twice as long as the first part, in the form of a traditionally printed codex book entitled The Adventures of an Arkansawyer (Razored Zen Press, 2014). As much as I enjoyed Days of Beer as an ebook, I very much enjoyed it again as part of a larger, printed book. So, I'd say, why not purchase both and see what you think?  If you haven't already, that is . . . (More details of how to acquire a copy here).   

My initial response to Days of Beer can be found in another post.  In this one, I'll focus on the new material. The setting is laid out clearly: the Gramlich family farm in Arkansas, " a few miles south of the Arkansas River . . . The closest actual town was Charleston, Arkansas," with "a population of around 1,400 when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. The closest city was Fort Smith . . ." (page 63).

Now, in the new section, Charles focuses more on the family and farming milieu than on beer-drinking adventures. He does so in a warm and wry way, loving toward his family, through vignettes -- many of them comical and some more serious. These can be read both as stand-alone pieces, and as part of the larger tapestry. A reader unfamiliar with family farming will learn things about the kind of work it entails, and indeed, this thread also serves as a valuable reminder that many or most people on earth, until the Industrial Revolution, were farmers, probably working in somewhat similar ways. But there is also a time element at work here. 

The Adventures of an Arkansawyer, beyond the farming element, says much about American life in general during the period after the Second World War and before the complete communications revolution brought on by the internet, digitization and wireless mobile devices by the beginning of the 21st century. In that, it is a testimony to American social and limited technological life from the 1960s to the 1980s -- and not just in rural areas far away from the sea coasts. 

We also catch glimpses of why and how Charles became a writer. A big element in his development came through his avid reading, which was given a lot of extra fuel thanks to his sister Dolores, once she began working at a nearby library and could provide him access to an expanding trove of reading material. 

Charles, even as a child, had a vivid imagination and colorful (even visionary) dream life. There are probably several factors that worked together to propel this inner life. 
Closeup of stained glass, St. Mary's of the Valley, Hot Springs, Arkansas, by EDF, 2015
For one thing, outside of school, Charles was isolated from others around his age. He couldn't just bop down a sidewalk or street to hang out with a friend or friends his age, as in a cityscape or suburb. 

Secondly, the Gramlich family was Catholic and Charles was given a Catholic education. "My Catholic grade school," he writes, "had a small library of maybe a hundred and fifty volumes, mostly about saints. I read all of those" (page 179). I guarantee you that this process alone would have fueled Charles' imagination. Beyond that, in 1960, only two percent of the population of Arkansas was Catholic (even though Catholicism in Arkansas dates back to 1541), so the Gramlich family was distinctive in their religious culture. 

Third, Charles has anosmia (see page 74), and cannot detect or discern scents or odors. This is one of the five or six senses, right? Charles anosmia has led him to clever strategies of getting around this, which reminds me a lot of the wisdom of Huck Finn. Do you remember when Huck forgets his made-up name, George Jackson, and tricks Buck into spelling it out for him? (cf. Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884-1885, chapter 17). Charles may be the very (re)incarnation of Huck Finn -- who knows?

And really, truly finally for now, a salute to Charles Gramlich for his fine, fun and evocative memoir, The Adventures of an Arkansawyer.

p.s. Charles is now an Experimental Social Psychology Professor at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. How he got there is touched upon toward the end of the book. As you can imagine, that's an interesting story in its own right. 

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Nella Fontaine Binckley (1860-1951) Strikes Again, 1904-1909

Early in the 20th century, Nella Fontaine Binckley (1860-"1877"-1951) illustrated "clever books for clever people." The text to two of these books was credited to John William Sargent.

Pictured here: 

"To Womankind. 

Here's to all the women in all the earth . . . 
Bless their dear hearts, I love them all!" 

A glimpse of diversity well ahead of its time. Judging from the US Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, still ahead of its time. Kalamazoo, Michigan is referenced, along with "Tokio." 
This homage to San Francisco reflects Nella's time spent in California. We see a representative of Chinatown, streetcars, a sailing boat and flowers. The Great Earthquake struck there in 1906. Nella was living on the East Coast by then. 

Nella's books advertised in a 1906 edition of Publisher's Weekly: Toasts for the Times in Pictures and Rhymes and Smoke and Bubbles
I received examples of Nella's illustrations from New Zealand, via this jaunty envelope. Even now, life imitates art and vice versa!
Here's a rather desirous little ditty: 

"A Toast to a Brunette."

I'll drain this cup
of brown delight
To lips of dawn
and eyes of night,
And dream those lips
may speak some day
All that the eyes
have seemed to say.

Today's Rune: Partnership.