31 January 2010

The little foxes

This is the icy character of Regina Giddens (aka Bette Davis) from The Little Foxes, a film directed by William Wyler (1941). The screenplay was written by the same Lillian Hellman who wrote the original play in 1939.

29 January 2010

Bang bang (Knockin' on the heaven's door)

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), a song originally written by Sonny Bono for Cher (1966). Here it is arranged and performed by Nancy Sinatra (1966). Sinatra's arrangement remained relatively obscure until 2003, when it was used as the opening sequence theme in Quentin Taratino's film Kill Bill.
The second video features an unusual western scene from Pat Garrett and Billie the Kid, one of the later westerns shot by Sam Peckinpah (1973). The soundtrack for this film (including the song Knockin' On Heaven's Door) was created by Bob Dylan.

28 January 2010

A stone in my heart

In your typical western it doesn’t really matter on which side of the law the hero is. As long as he is an excellent gunslinger, he passes the test. Since Clint Eastwood, we like our heroes quiet and without a name.
What did you say your name was?
I didn’t say.

It is the bad guys who wear catchy names and speak funny lines.
But they too must be excellent gunslingers.
The setting is a lawless country. There are bad guys who kill innocents. There are good guys who chase the bad guys. And then there are shooting showdowns. No swords are involved, and no honor must be obeyed. The aim is to outsmart the opponent. Playing not by the book is the smartest thing the hero can do.
At first glance, it seems that Wild West could hardly be any further from honorable Eastern sword duels. Yet, this is not completely true. For there were, once, Indians. Before the lawless strangers arrived and took away the rules.
Battles ensued. Amidst these battles that were fought for the very survival of a race, the Indian chief Sitting Bull got off his horse, sat within shooting range of the cavalry with his 13-year-old warriors and smoked a pipe. All in order to show his fearlessness in the face of the battle that he knew could never be won. His world was being torn down by fearful, but many strangers.
Which Homer wrote the epic psalms of these battles?
In fact, it was Buffalo Bill with his Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The same Buffalo Bill who returned from a bloody campaign against Indians with a new show: Buffalo Bill shows his first scalp to Custer.
The same Buffalo Bill who showcast Sitting Bull, once captured, in his Wild West circus.
The genre of westerns took over from there. The fearful, but many strangers still looked to the untamed east for ideas. There could be no The Magnificent Seven, if there were no Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai first. Only, The Magnificent Seven are without swords, without the honesty of the villagers, without the honor of the samurai, without the rules of the game.
Then why is it exactly that Bruce Willis picks up the sword in Pulp Fiction?

[Depicted on the posted photograph are Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill]

27 January 2010

The Wild East

An unmatched duel scene from Harakiri (in Japanese: 切腹), a Japanese film directed by Masaki Kobayashi (1962). Begin watching at 3:00 or press here in order to watch the duel without the frills.

26 January 2010

Bang bang, Lucky Luke

Lucky Luke is a gunslinger who shoots faster than his own shadow (the matter is proven beyond reasonable doubt, since his shadow was shot down).
This comics series was created by Morris aka Maurice de Bevere, a Belgian artist, who joined forces in 1955 with René Goscinny, a French writer (who has such cards up his sleeve as Asterix and Iznogud, to name a few).
Lucky Luke used to smoke, but he very conscientiously quit in 1984. Since then, he chews on a straw, as he rides off into the sunset, singing.
I'm a poor lonesome cowboy, and a long way from home...

25 January 2010

The phony western

The title song from Johnny Guitar, an extravagant and theatrical gunslinger western in which cowboys vanish and die with the grace of ballerinas.
This is, as François Truffaut described, the beauty and the beast of westerns.
Directed by Nicholas Ray (1954).
Starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden.
Song performed by Peggy Lee.

22 January 2010

A Skeksis dinner

The banquet scene from Jim Henson's fantasy movie The Dark Crystal, 1982. The Skeksis are the evil lords of the world of the Dark Crystal, and here we see them indulging in a way that is true to their nature.

21 January 2010

I don't make the rules

A young Jack Nicholson just wants to order a plain omelette, tomatoes, two slices of toast and a coffee. A classic scene from Five Easy Pieces, 1970.

20 January 2010

The egg and the oyster

Two scenes from タンポポ (Tanpopo, "The Dandelion"), a movie in which food is the main character, the only thing that binds the various characters and scenes together. If you're lucky enough to know Japanese or German (the subtitles' language), you can watch the full movie, starting here.

19 January 2010

Pearls before swine

The two brothers Primo and Secondo have some trouble educating the American public in the delights of Italian cuisine. From Big Night, (1998), starring Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub. The silent waiter is played by Latin singing sensation Marc Anthony.

18 January 2010

Pee Wee's Big Breakfast

Pee Wee Herman makes his breakfast using a Rube Goldberg machine in Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985), Tim Burton's debut feature film.

15 January 2010

About to touch

We can't make out the man making a leap in Henri Cartier-Bresson's 1932 photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare. His foot is about to touch the water, and his jump seems to imitate the graceful grand jeté performed by the ballet dancer on the posters in the background. It's hard to look at this photographg without imagining the splash that must have followed it.
A much larger version of this photo is here.

14 January 2010

The earliest man

This is a statue that represents a warrior named Kroisos, although we do not know if Kroisos actually looked like this, nor do we know who made the statue. Kroisos' gravestone reads, "Stop and show pity beside the marker of Kroisos, dead, whom once in battle's front rank raging Ares destroyed."

The statue, which dates back to the 6th century BCE, was on his grave, and it's among the very first cases of a statue being made to present an ordinary man rather than a god or a king. There are many statues like this one, known as Kouroi, all of them walking toward us, left foot forward, and with a frozen smile on their faces, known as the Archaic smile.

The rock band Tin Machine, led by singer David Bowie, put a picture of four Kouroi on the cover of their 1991 CD "Tin Machine II". When the album was released in the United States, the penises of the Kouroi had to be airbrushed out of sight of the prudent American public.

13 January 2010

Here comes the cavalry

Red Cavalry Riding, by the painter Kazimir Malevich, who was ethnically Polish, born in Kiev, and a citizen of the Soviet Union. Malevich grew up in various Ukrainian villages with minimal exposure to art, but grew up to become one of the most important painters of his generation. He also made the decors for a play by Mayakovsky, no stranger to this blog.

12 January 2010

The Fall

Daedalus was the creator of the labyrinth in which reigned, imprisoned, the Minotaur. In order to keep their silence, Daedalus and his son Icarus were imprisoned on an island. Inventor that he was, Daedalus created two pairs of wings that would carry him and Icarus in flight from the island.
"Don't go too close to the water, or the splashing waves will make your wings wet and heavy," he warned Icarus, "and don't get too close to the sun, either, or its hot rays will melt the wax that holds the feathers together."
Yet Icarus, who was just a boy, delighted in flying and forgot these warnings completely. As he flew higher and higher, his wings fell away and they were lost to him. Icarus tumbled down into the sea. He drowned.
You will find Icarus in this painting (as created in 1558 by the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder). You may want to check the bigger version.

11 January 2010

Christina's World

Christina's World, a 1948 painting by Andrew Wyeth who died in 2009. Click here for a larger version. Christina Olson, a friend of Wyeth's, had an undiagnosed muscular deterioration that left her lower body paralyzed.

08 January 2010


It seems right to take my leave at the beginning. We began and we end with Dušan Vukotić. This is Surogat, a superb animated short for which Dušan Vukotić received an Academy Award (1961).
This week, I brought to you a selection of animated shorts that got my imagination going. An absolute winner on my list is Three Blue Blue Lakes of Colour Crimson. Surprisingly, it will be exactly Three Blue Blue Lakes of Colour Crimson that goes unmentioned in most other animation lists.
It will likely not surprise you that I will give you the Russian gems in a week, when it may be summer, or it may be morning, or it may be Sunday, or...

07 January 2010

Three blue blue lakes of colour crimson

This animation, an absolute personal favourite, comes from Armenia.
Three Blue Blue Lakes of Colour Crimson (in Russian: Три синих-синих озера малинового цвета) was created by Robert Saakyants (1981).

06 January 2010

Madame Tutli-Putli

Madame Tutli-Putli, together with everything that makes up her life, boards a night train. Two men who live in their trunks travel above her. She sits diagonally from an Asian child who studies a manual on How to handle your enemies. Opposite her, a tennis player offers obscene services.
As the train rides, the day descends into dark.
Madame Tutli-Putli is a highly praised and continuously awarded Canadian stop-motion animated film created by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski (2007). The short was in the making for five whole years.
The puppet of Madame Tutli-Putli was modelled on the actress Laurie Maher. In a revolutionary techological move, Maher's actual eyes were filmed and merged with the puppet. I very much hope that this technique does not make it into the animation for children. This is not the stuff of dreams. This is the stuff of nightmares.

05 January 2010


The Last Knit (originally Kutoja), a brilliant Finnish animated short created by Laura Neuvonen (2005).

04 January 2010

Cow on the Moon

Cow on the Moon (originally Krava na mjesecu), a Yugoslavian (Croatian) short animation directed by Dušan Vukotić (1959).

01 January 2010

Time wand

2009 certainly had a go at me.
I wish... that my future makes it possible to go back to 2009 and make things right again. And I certainly wish that no such time interventions will be wanted for 2010.
So bring it on, 2010.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.

These lines, and above video, are from Lorez Alexandria's take on Send In The Clowns (1977), a jazz standard written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1973 musical A Little Night Music. For complete lyrics (they are excellent) press here.