30 April 2009

Lou Reed's POEtry

Lou Reed recorded The Raven in 2003. It is a concept album; Reed took on the challenge of reworking the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Lou Reed's adaptation of The Raven is recited by the actor Willem Dafoe (click here for video). In addition, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson and others contributed to the project. With this post, I conclude the Poe-esque saga. Summer is in the air, and dance me to the end of...

The Tell-Tale Heart and James Mason

This is a very special short animation movie from 1953. The movie is based on a story of E.A. Poe of the same title. Ted Parmelee, the director, chose James Mason as a narrator. Mason yet again frightens us, while demonstrating perfect manners and irresistible charm. The narrator, who is removed from our view, is the real character of the story. Mason literally speaks this character into existence. A joint one-time collaboration between masters like Poe, Mason and Parmelee, this is an unrivalled achievement unlikely ever to be bested.

29 April 2009

Vincent and Price

Tim Burton's 6-minute film Vincent (1982) is a short stop-motion animation shot in black and white. Burton based it on the poem he had written as a tribute to Vincent Price (who, among others, acted in all those E.A. Poe adaptation movies from the 1960s). Vincent is a tale in rhyme about one Vincent Malloy; a boy who is seven years old and does what he is told and is considerate and nice and wants to be just like Vincent Price... That the narrator of the poem is none other than Vincent Price himself, makes this deliciously macabre little film nothing short of perfect.

28 April 2009

The Raven

Christopher Walken, a man of many endeavors, recorded his own reading of E.A. Poe's The Raven. Poe, without a doubt, would have found Price's rendition worthier than Walken's. This alone would serve as a good enough reason to give the theatrical reading by Price precedence over the chilled reading by Walken. There is, however, an ulterior motive, and it will be fully disclosed in the next post.

Please click here for the full text of the poem.

27 April 2009

Dancing with Christopher Walken

Christopher Walken in Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” (VH1 Best Video of All Time)

22 April 2009

Gloomy Sunday

Songs have curious histories, and often get lost in translations and revivals. But few are as misplaced and trivialized as Gloomy Sunday. Most of us will associate it with American songwriters and Billie Holiday. We recognize it instantly: “Sunday is gloomy, my hours are slumberless; dearest, the shadows I live with are numberless...”
Billie changed the lyrics, the role of the piano, and even made it happier, as the original song was not allowed to be broadcast.
I post here the original song, as first recorded in 1935 in Hungary. Within months, it conquered Europe more effectively than Hitler five years later. Before long, the song was labeled as a suicide song and banned from broadcasting. In the 1930s, Europeans were requesting bands to play Gloomy Sunday on the eve before they killed themselves, while the sheet music of Gloomy Sunday became a suicide note of choice. “The world has come to its end, hope has ceased to have a meaning. Cities are being wiped out, shrapnel is making music.”
Not the end of a love affair then: it was the very world that was coming to an end.

Complete lyrics of the original in English here.

21 April 2009

The Tale of Tales (Сказка сказок)

Yuri Norstein made this 27-minute stop-motion animation film in 1979. Consistently selected as "the best animated film of all time", the film remains surprisingly obscure. Norstein wanted to make a movie about his childhood memories of World War II in Russia. He remembered little more than a feeling: a smell of frost and snow, and a haunting melody of a tango (The Weary Sun, see my previous post), which in the 1940s was being played all the time in Russia.
Rather than just reconstructing this feeling in a film, Norstein structured the film itself as a fleeting collective memory of those who, like him, were little children in the 1940s. This is why creatures from Russian poetry, folk stories and even lullabies (such as сeренький волчoк, the little grey wolf) are no less real than mothers, soldiers and dancers. Go to sleep, batyushka, or the little grey wolf will carry you away into the woods...
Note how the wolf for a brief moment hums the tango, not the lullaby (at 7:25). Сказка сказок is all poetry, music and psychology. As a result, the film leaves you with a fleeting feeling - almost a memory; as if you yourself, in Norstein’s words, stood on the floor of a departed sea.

20 April 2009

Slavic Tango: Last Sunday

This haunting Polish tango was composed in 1936 by Jerzy Peterburski. Today it goes by its adopted Russian name Утомлённое Солнце (Weary Sun). The original title of Nikita Mikhalkov’s movie “Burnt by the Sun” (Утомлённые солнцем) is inspired by this song and carries an almost identical title. This is to mourn this past Sunday, but also to pave the way, and set the mood, for the Tale of Tales.

17 April 2009

Qianlong, Emperor of China: Tremble at my orders and obey

To the king of England (1793):

"You, O king, live far away across many seas. Yet, driven by the humble desire to share in the blessings of our culture, you have sent a delegation, which respectfully submitted your letter. [...]

Ruling over the vast world, I have but one end in view, and it is this: to govern to perfection and to fulfill the duties of the state. Rare and costly objects are of no interest to me. I have no use for your country's goods. Our Celestial Kingdom possesses all things in abundance and wants for nothing within its frontiers. Hence there is no need to bring in the wares of foreign barbarians to exchange for our own products. But since tea, silk and porcelain, products of the Celestial Kingdom, are absolute necessities for the peoples of Europe and for you yourself, the limited trade hitherto permitted in my province of Canton will continue. Mindful of the distance loneliness of your island, separated from the world by desert wastes of sea, I pardon your understandable ignorance of the customs of the Celestial Kingdom. Tremble at my orders and obey."

(From E. H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World)