Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Rabbi's Hat

This picture from the Girona Jewish Museum apparently depicts a Jewish wedding. The rabbi is wearing a bishop's mitre. Did rabbis ever wear such headgear? If not, how come this picture? Was it done by a non-Jew who thought that's what clerics wear? What seem to be crosses on the hat makes that seem more likely. In which case, how did the picture happen?

I have something of an interest in the story of Jewish hats (we didn't always keep our heads covered, not before the 14th century) and am also intrigued by ecclesiastical headgear. So I'd really like to know the answer to this.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review of 'Woman in Gold'

I didn't think much of this. First, I was bored much of the time. Lots of courtroom scenes, without much drama. I never really engaged with any of the characters or their dilemmas, in so far as they had any.

But mainly I think the effort to restore Nazi-looted art to its owners leaves me cold. Valuable paintings are a form of money. That Manet or Van Gogh isn't worth squillions because that is its intrinsic value, but because it’s scarce and monetary value can be attached to it. So everyone who owns a valuable painting is by definition part of the super-rich.

In this story the happy ending is that the Klimpt paintings are transferred from a public gallery in Vienna to a privately owned gallery in New York, where they are on public display. The heroine realises that the return of the paintings doesn't resolve her sense of loss of world and family, her guilt at fleeing and leaving her parents behind – she still has to live with that. Well, guess what? Other holocaust victims have to live with that too, only they weren't ever rich, so they didn't either have to deal with losing their valuable art, or have any prospect of getting it back.

And a small quibble. In the apartment, at Maria’ wedding (and what sort of name is that for a Jewish girl anyway?) the exquisitely bourgeois Viennese Jews dance a hora. Would they have, or is this just the film trying to connect them with the European Jewish world as imagined by an American audience?

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Review of ‘The Grand Seduction’

This film is very much in the tradition of small-community-conspires-to-deceive-outsider movies, as established by ‘Whisky Galore’ and refined by ‘Local Hero’. This is not nearly as good as the fore-runners. Apparently it’s a Canadian remake of an earlier Canadian film, which rather begs the question why bother? This one has Brendan Gleeson, but the other one looks like it might have been better. Oh, wait a minute, it was in French...presumably this was remade for the US market.

It’s watchable enough, though the deceived outside barely escapes the too-stupid-to-live designation in noticing what is going on. There is a vague sense that someone has cut all the more interesting parts out of the film. The enigmatic post-mistress who provides the love interest for the deceived outsider is barely a character at all. Nevertheless, at one point she raises the question as to whether the town will really benefit from having a petroleum waste reprocessing place – an issue which is never mentioned again, or even considered by any of the other inhabitants of this pristinely beautiful harbour.

Part of the process of the town being able to secure the oil company’s decision to locate its reprocessing plant there involves a personal bribe to one of the executives. This is presented as a technical challenge, and thus forms part of the plot (will the local bank manager be able to get this approved as a loan, or will he just steal the money from his own bank?) but it is not presented as a moral or a political element at all. It’s not even reflected on much by the characters – it’s just one more hurdle, like pretending to understand and like cricket.

Technical note: watched on telly via HDMI cable from laptop, because the film was downloaded.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review of ‘X+Y’

A film about maths nerds and autism, rather well done; had to choke back the odd tear. The protagonist is a maths prodigy and ends up competing in the International Mathematics Olympiad. Nice depictions of relationships between nerds, male and female nerds, and savants and their parents. A few actors usually seen in Mike Leigh films (Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, and I think Rafe Spall) give great performances. 

Nice footage of Taipei; small autobiographical note, I spent some time there during the Ovum Asia Pacific tour a few years ago and found it a surprisingly pleasant place. Several of the places I visited (the big park, the night market) were in the film and it was nice to see them again.

Review of “Dear White People”

A film about racial politics on US campuses, with particular reference to a recent fad for rich white students to organise ‘blackface’ parties and the offence that it caused to African-American students.

Interesting, sharply shot and edited, and with some good conflicted characters, interesting scenario, and some good dialogue. Clearly shows, as if such a thing were necessary, that America is not any kind of ‘post-racial’, just differently racial.

But less than satisfactory for me, and lots of it frankly incomprehensible. I couldn’t understand much of the material about the American university culture (I don’t even know what a sophomore is), or pick up some of the nuances of American racial politics and/or African-American culture, or teen culture – what’s all that stuff about hair-styles really about? I don’t know or care enough to find out.

And I’m a bit mystified by having two of the main protagonists be the son of the white college president and of the black college dean respectively. I don’t know what the two roles mean (are they two halves of the Vice-Chancellor role, maybe?). And is the fact that one boy is white and the other black all that matters here? What about all the other people who aren’t from privileged backgrounds? Well, this is supposed to be an Ivy League university, so maybe they’re just not in the story, unless I missed something.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Review of 'Cuban Fury'

Very disappointed that this was not a searing account of armed struggle in the Cuban Revolution, as I had been led to believe. There were no Cubans in this film at all, and very little fury, though the Brits in it were occasionally a bit peeved.

It turned out to be a mildly amusing romcom with salsa dancing, office rivalry between men over the hot new boss, a bit of slapstick, and some good character acting, particularly Ian McShane as the seedy salsa coach. Not memorable, but not awful to watch either.

I note that the boss didn't need to be American at all. She's learning to salsa like everyone else. It's not part of her latino heritage or anything like that. So presumably British film-makers are back to the old device of putting in an American character in the hope that they can increase US sales. Ho hum...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review of 'Saturday Night Fever'

Rewatched a few weeks ago, on telly via laptop and informal distribution; tried to watch via Chromecast but found the streaming couldn't handle an HD film.

Of course it's a great soundtrack, and very evocative of the period. And some of the social observation (particularly the social climbing of Stephanie, the dance partner who has relocated to Manhattan through her job and philandering boss).

I'd forgotten how nasty it was, though - apart from the ethic gang wars and the dead end jobs, and the boys' attitude to women in general, there are two rapes, neither of which seem to be taken very seriously.

Review of 'Strangers on a Train'

Watched this at a little arthouse cinema in Girona - very comfortable seats, but hard-to-hear soundtrack. I presume the mainly Catalan audience were reading the subtitles and didn't much care.

A classic suspense thriller, perfectly made, though some aspects of the plot don't stand up to much scrutiny. I especially enjoyed it because I'd recently listened to the rather good radio play 'Strangers on a Film', about the tension between Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler, whose name appears on the credits but didn't really write the screenplay.

In the play Hitchcock and Chandler argue about whether it's important for the plot and the characters to make sense; Hitchcock says that's not important in a film, which is a different medium from print. Seeing the movie I can see that he was undoubtedly right. Lots of the plot doesn't make much sense but it doesn't matter.

Small other note in passing; watching it I found it hard to know exactly when it was set. It looked like the 1930's, and only the small poster inviting travellers to visit New York to see the UN was a give-away that it was post-war. No sign in the film that anyone is a veteran, or that the war even had happened. It was made in the early 1950's, which really did look like a vanished world. Interesting how 'grown-up' the actors/characters look, even though they are much younger than me.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review of "R100".

A Japanese shop worker whose wife is in a coma signs up to a mysterious S&M agency (‘Bondage Corp.’) to provide him with surprise dominatrix attacks in public places, which appears to be the only way he can obtain some sort of ecstasy.

At first it goes well, and we see him reaching this state in a wide range of places – a coffee bar, a sushi counter, the street, even a children’s playground. But the agency increasingly crosses the boundaries between those domains where the protagonist thinks interaction with the dominatrices are appropriate. He’s happy to be attacked in proper ‘public’ – he’s obviously got a thing about being humiliated in front of strangers, but not in his house (where his seven-year old son is cared for by his retired father-in-law) his place of employment, or the hospital room where he sits by the bed of his unconscious wife.

He seeks to have the contract cancelled but is told that he can’t. He goes to the police, but of course they are not interested in what perverts get up to, or enforcing some incomprehensible distinction between acceptable and unacceptable humiliation.

Then he accidentally kills one of the women who has him tied up at home on a waterproof sheet so that she can spit at him. From here on the film moves into pastiche thriller. The CEO of Bondage Corp, a large blonde latex-clad American, flies in the corporate jet to supervise the company’s revenge. Lots of madcap car chases and cartoon violence, as an army of leather-wearing ninja women attempt to storm the father-in-law’s house in the forest while the protagonist holds them off with a box of hand-grenades that he has found.

There are some additional surreal touches. We see a group of people discussing what the film is about between scenes. We see the film-maker watching his movie in a private screening. The characters keep wondering whether they've just felt a minor tremor that might signal an earthquake, though it never materialises. It’s silly, not very erotic, and a not particularly profound exploration of the psychological dimensions of S&M fantasies. Probably better than ‘Fifty Shades’, though.