30 June 2009


This is Eyen, a short animated clip by Jean-Luc Chansay (2001). It all began with a track, also called Eyen, by a British band called Plaid. Chansay loved it and for that reason began animating its sound. In the process, he used line drawings made by his five-year-old daughter and metal sculptures made by his partner. What came out is a magical sound animation.

29 June 2009

27 June 2009


tamara is dead;
wrote it down for me they did
from a safe distance

statue arising
haiku ties halting my strike;
movement arrested

Sto te nema


niko kao ti.

26 June 2009


"... and those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." (Friederich Nietzsche)

This is a sequence from Le Bal, a French/Algerian film by Ettore Scola adapted from a theatre play (1983).
It begins in a dimly lit dance hall. The first to enter are women, one by one. Then the men enter and they settle at the bar. The selection of dancing partners ensues.
Women attract.
Men select.
The former, an art form.
The latter, a lottery.
We are then treated to a series of vignettes in music and dance over a period of fifty years, each vignette ending with a photo still. Finally, each character departs as alone and anonymously as they entered the dance hall.
The entire film takes place in the dance hall. Not a single word of spoken dialogue takes place.
In Europe, such social games between adult strangers are extinct.
Borges was right about tango, though. In Argentina, tango ballrooms remain packed with courageous men, seeking adventure and seeking to dance the tales of their forefathers with a mother, a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter.

25 June 2009

Except tango

The dancing sequence is taken from Tango, an acclaimed film by Carlos Saura (1996).
This film is the ultimate tango film.
At the same time, tango is imaginatively used to narrate the story of Argentina and its past.
Everything is subject to change in Argentina, except tango.
At least, this is what is believed in Argentina.
The past, to quote Borges, is indescructible; sooner or later everything returns, and one of the things that comes back is the effort to destroy the past.
In Argentina, collective memory dances.

24 June 2009

Tango: a sad thought that is danced

Tango summons a place and a time lost to us. It is a musical narrative of days long gone when tango belonged to compadritos, dark streets and whorehouses. Borges recounts in his History of the Tango (1955) how tango began in brothels as a dance of brave men, outlaws and thugs, who gamble on their lives and make bets with their knives.
You are listening to El Tango by Borges and Piazzolla. The complete poem, in Spanish, can be found here. I could, for the time being, only find the English translation of a part of the poem:

„Where could they be?“ asks the elegy
of those who have disappeared, as if there were
a zone in which Yesterday could be
Today, Still, and Yet.

Where, I repeat, is that underworld
that was created, in dusty dirt alleyways
or in lost villages,
by those who lived with knives and courage?

They are in the music, in the persistent
strumming of the guitar,
that narrates, through a gay milonga,
the innocent festival of courage.

That outburst, the tango, that devilry,
defies the busy years;
made of dust and time, men do not endure
as long as the light tune
that is simply time. The tango creates
a shady, unreal past that in some way is true,
an impossible memory of having died
fighting, on a corner in the slums.

It is this tango of knives and brothels that Borges longed for. This is also the tango imagined in his short story, Man on Pink Corner:
"... milonga ran like grass fire from one end of the room to the other. Francisco Real danced straight-faced, but without any daylight between him and her."

23 June 2009

Tango poems

This is Milonga para Jacinto Chiclana, taken from El Tango (1965), an album of tangos, milongas and musical poems by Jorge Luis Borges (lyrics) and Astor Piazzolla (music).
The poem of the posted piece, in English translation, can be found here.
Tango is a fusion of habanera, milonga, condombe and every other musical style known to man in late nineteenth-century Buenos Aires. Once tango came to be, it returned to every culture, as a dance of eros, as a dance of tanatos, as a dance of brothels, as a dance of grieving husbands, as a dance of elements, as an elemental dance.
"Tango," wrote Borges, "encloses, as does all that which is truthful, a secret."

22 June 2009


Tango, a highly acclaimed and awarded short animation film by Zbigniev Rybczynski (1982). The host will probably soon remove this video, as the copyright police seems to be tracking it down regularly. If so, try your luck at one of the Chinese hosts, such as for example this one.

19 June 2009

Tell tale faces and all that jazz

You are watching Leonid Utesov, performing his widely beloved song At the Black Sea (У чёрного моря), dedicated to Odessa. The scene is taken from a Russian television series called Liquidation (2008).
The year is 1946.
A year has passed since Stalin prohibited jazz as “music of the capitalists”. Saxophone is also banned. A saxophone solo in Ravel’s Bolero is played on the bassoon now.
Mayakovsky is dead for a long time already.
Kozin was arrested and imprisoned two years ago, among others for homosexuality.
But Aleksandrinov... he continues to make, unhindered, his musical comedies with “weak ideological content”. It helps that he had signed a confession of there being no idea whatsoever in his films.
Leonid Utesov continues, unhindered, to play... jazz... with his Thea Jazz band.
This is of course very naughty, as jazz is very, very banned in 1946.
Yet, Jolly Fellows was originally entitled Jazz Comedy.
Then, its credits showcased caricatures of Charle Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, all shamelessly Western stars, to the accompaniment of Dunayevsky's jazz.
Despite all that banned jazz, Jolly Fellows went on to conquer the audience in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block. The same audience that applauded Stalin, until it was given permission, exhausted, to stop.
"Who organised this standing ovation?" Stalin is reported to have been asking when Russian artists would receive an ovation.
In this scene, it is the audience - acting as a chorus, acting as a musical mirror - that deserves a standing ovation.
The year is 1946.
The war just ended.
Stilyagi will soon appear.
It will take 15 years, before saxophone is played in Bolero again.

18 June 2009

Soviet musical

The photograph and the scene are both taken from Jolly Fellows (Весёлые ребята), the first Soviet musical (1934). The film was directed by Grigory Aleksandrov. The music was composed by Isaak Dunayevsky. Leonid Utesov, the leading figure in Soviet jazz at that time, appeared in the lead role together with his Thea(ter) Jazz band.
To see the complete movie, click here. The opening credits are a classic and the opening scene no less.
Stalin reportedly found Jolly Fellows “a very happy film” and felt, after viewing, as though “on holiday for a month.”

17 June 2009

Past one o'clock...

Past one o’clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver in the night.
I’m in no hurry; and with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake and trouble you.
As they say, the incident is closed.
Love’s boat has smashed against the daily grind.
Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
To balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts.
Behold what quiet settles on the world.
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises and addresses
The ages, history, and all creation.

This is the last poem Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote (1930). Two days later, he committed suicide.

16 June 2009

Today he moves to jazz, tomorrow against Russia

From Stilyagi, a recent Russian musical by Valery Todorovsky (2008). The title above is a famous phrase by Krushchev.
Stilyagi is pop culture movement that began in 1950s Russia.

15 June 2009

Of Stalin and tenor voices

Druzhba (orig. Дружба, transl. Company), a 1938 song by Vadim Kozin (orig. Вадим Козин). A song not of Stalin, because, as Kozin himself explained, songs of Stalin are badly suited for tenor voices.

13 June 2009

Night train dancing

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… JAMES BROWN, doing the Night Train Dance! In passing, learn dance moves (including the old james brown) from… none other than… JAMES BROWN! And now that you are in a funky mood, send in songs you listen to while riding trains...

12 June 2009

Moving pictures

“Cinematic art at its purest,” is how Slavoj Žižek, a renowned philosopher and psychoanalyst, describes this scene.
The scene, here featured in The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema, is taken from Possessed, a 1931 film by Clarence Brown. To view complete scene without comments, click here (from 3:42 until 6:39).
The film stars Joan Crawford, who plays the part of an ordinary girl living an ordinary life in an ordinary little town.
Her desires are equally ordinary: she desires escape.
One day she finds herself facing a slowly passing train. As she gazes upon it, the windows turn into screens and the screens turn into moving pictures.
Enchanted, she strains to see a couple dance into the first, into the second, into the third frame… Until the train stops and she is faced with a man leaning out of the train, a creature of fiction gazing at smallville.
“Looking in? Wrong way. Get in and look out.”
“Get in where?” she asks.
“Oh, anywhere. Just in. Only two kinds of people. The ones in and the ones out.”

11 June 2009

Stills from life

Stills taken from real life gone terribly surreal.
Still one.
A woman, seemingly ahead of an approaching train, is in fact running ahead of the snipers' bullets in Sarajevo (1993). The photograph was taken by Roger Richards.
“One is not advised to wear strong colours. Avoid red at all costs. The sniper is like a bull. Motley colours are also a bad choice. The sniper is a fool by definition and every fool loves motley colours. Wear grey, brown, burgundy.”
From Sarajevo for Beginners by Ozren Kebo.
Still two.
A train wreck at Gare Montparnasse in Paris (1895).
Mima Tulić Kerken and the passengers, against all odds, survive.

10 June 2009

Letter from an unknown passenger

In this brilliant scene, everything but the male passenger is deceptive. Years later the man will receive a letter from an unknown woman. The letter will begin in the following way:
'To you, who have never known me.
My boy died yesterday.'
The man from the train will then read about the life of a woman, in which he had unknowingly played the decisive part. More, he was the very heart of that life.
When he will have read her last words, shadows of what was once a memory will rise in him. The letter will fall from his hands.
The scene is from Letter from an unknown woman (1948), a film directed by Max Ophüls and based on a short story of the same name (1922) by Stefan Zweig. The short story (with the complete letter) can be found here.

09 June 2009

En route to Openings

This is a sequence of the magical opening scene of Shanghai Express (see from 1:13 until 1:46), a 1932 film by Josef von Sternberg.
A puffing old steam locomotive, en route to Shanghai, rides down a narrow market street in a fictitious China and makes its way, unhindered and unstoppable, through a curtain of hanging lampshades and banners. Market stalls and people are moving sideways out of its path. Hens and chickens are fleeing before it. Now we, stifled by the locomotive’s steam and bedazzled by its bright light, also move to create a passage for it.
By way of this post we are also introducing a new regular feature, Openings. Every Tuesday, Dare Varka will bring you the greatest opening sentences of world literature (see the side bar).

08 June 2009

Take the C train

Train Song, Vashti Bunyan's single from 1966. All aboard!

06 June 2009

Unidentified year between 1941 and 1945

My Bosnian granddad Dimitrije (Diko) survived both world wars. This is at least in part because he had a very precise procedure for identifying the enemy.
“Don’t trust anybody who wants to take your cow,” remains the favorite saying of my father. This wisdom is passed down through the generations with the same importance as the Godfather’s formula for identifying the traitor.
Partisans were the ones who eventually took Diko’s cow. They issued a signed declaration for it and Diko kept it until the day he died.
This is where this post ought to have ended.
Then something happened.
Nothing much was ever known about Jovanka, my Bosnian grandmom. Apart from her name, surname and birth place, all we ever knew about her was her father’s first name. She disappeared in the second world war and no living person could ever give me a satisfactory description of her. For me, Jovanka was a mysterious lady vanishes.
Then something happened.
I dug into the sea of information on the internet to find a copy of that precious Diko’s certificate for his cow.
I found Diko immediately. Listed under “name of father” of one Savo, a victim at the Croatian (NDH) concentration camp Jesenovac in Yugoslavia.
Savo the Partisan, the beloved hero of my bedtime stories, who overpowered the dragons, befriended them, drank fire rakija with them and forgot, every single time, all about the princess he came to save.
I never knew.
Six names above the space allotted to Savo lie the letters of her name.

05 June 2009


This curious scene is taken from Sweet Movie (1974), a film by Yugoslav director Dušan Makavejev. The film was banned in most countries and remains banned in some.
Makavejev himself explained that the film was the most accepted in “the countries that start with an i”. In Italy above all, where Pier Paolo Pasolini himself made a local version.
Yugoslavia sent Makavejev into exile already in 1971, after he had made WR: Mysteries of the Organism.
“This is not a theatre, comrade Makavejev.”
“Certainly not,” responded Makavejev. “ [I]n movies it is all the same country. The country of movies. It's the country of dreams.”
That face at the head of the boat belongs to Karl Marx. The boat itself is called Survival. The boy riding a bicycle wears a Bandiera Rossa beret. “Potemkin” is written across it.
At this particular moment in time, the boat is in Amsterdam.
Wanderers of land and sea…
Belgrade has survived 30 wars to date (that we know of).
Bosnians stopped counting their wars long ago.
Every ancestor of mine in living memory was displaced by some war or other.
For an idea we leave
Our beloved
Our country is the whole world

04 June 2009


This was a promotional video for the song Maljčiki (1981) by the legendary Yugoslav band Idoli. The album was produced by the now widely acclaimed Goran Bregović.
The mock socio-realistic lyrics and the Soviet propagandist iconography in the video were not missed by the Soviets, who managed to get the song and the video banned from some television and radio stations in Yugoslavia.
Josip Broz Tito had died less than a year before.

03 June 2009


Uzbudljiva ljubavna prica (Exciting love story in English) is an award-winning 6-minute animated short made in 1989 by Borivoj Dovnikovic Bordo from Yugoslavia.
Miki and Gloria glimpse each other through eight delineated worlds and eventually manage to eliminate the demarcations between the worlds.
It’s astounding, if bitter, that this short would come to be in Yugoslavia at a time when the destruction of its worlds rather than of its demarcations was about to begin.

02 June 2009


Milan Mladenović who died at the end of 1994 never saw his last album released. Angel’s Breath was recorded in the spring of 1994 by Milan and Mitar Subotić - Suba in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
The tracks captured Milan’s chilling lyrics, Suba’s instrumentals and the echos of the apocalyptic world of 1994 Serbia in which Milan lived like a ghost. For no song is this more true than for Crv (Worm in English), where Milan hisses at his countrymen:
"Blind and deaf, you selfish people. Making noise with no order or sense. With no why and no because, with no who for and no how. Without the question that perhaps might dry the proud smile on a tearless face, on the face that has never turned a face.
You mute performers of your ritual dance. You, happy in trance, in the world that exists only in the heads of the people that have no scruples, people that possess no mercy, people that have no memory. You who know no splashes of sound, color and smell… You people possessing no sense.
A scar, a case and a worm. A face and hair and blood.
You people possessing no mercy."
Milan’s last will and testament.

01 June 2009

10 minutes in a life

10 Minutes (2002), an awarded Bosnian short film directed by Ahmed Imamović. This ten minute film is set in 1994 in Sarajevo and Rome, contrasting ten minutes in the lives of a Bosnian boy and a Japanese tourist. The part of the film set in Sarajevo is shot in an astounding single take (from 2:26 until 8:31).