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June 29, 2006

Fuji, 1974

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A 2002 addition to the National Film Registry and one of Robert Breer's longest duration, rotoscope animation films, Fuji transforms a seemingly mundane state of transience - a tourist's eye view from a window seat of a train passing through an area overlooking Mount Fuji - into an imaginative, transfixing, and lyrical free-association of everyday objects and structural geometries into metamorphic, kinetic art. A bookending live action footage of a smiling, bespectacled (presumably) Western tourist set against the familiar cadence of an accelerating train revving up as it leaves the station sets the mesmerizing tone for the film's abstract panoramic survey of an Ozu-esque Japanese landscape of electrical power lines, passing trains, railroad tracks, and the gentle slope of obliquely peaked, uniform rooflines as Breer distills the essential geometry of Mount Fuji into a collage of acute angles and converging (and bifurcating) lines that, through the interlacing of images, seemingly propels the static into motion and morphs the iconic Japanese landmark (and familiar art subject) into equally identifiable representations of contemporary Japanese culture: a series of alternating V-shapes form the fluttering of wings, a triangle framed against two poles transform into an architectural pagoda, a rotation of coincident lines through the vertex mimic the steady, precise sweep of windmills and clock hands, and even a right angle L-shape (perhaps a prefiguration of LMNO) traces the outline of factory buildings that intermittently dot the industrial landscape (where the smokestacks, in turn, evoke the image of a burning cigarette) or demarcates the floor of an art exhibition gallery room. This abstraction of figures into essential outlines is also illustrated in the rotoscoped images of human figures, where the actions of an observer is visually repeated in the interlaced images of the train conductor - turning the head, leaning over, pulling away, and advancing toward the foreground - with the observer, in turn, alternately transfigured as a man in a suit, in uniform, in traditional kimono, and even subsequently, as a woman: the fluidity of movement created by the continuity of the amorphous figure's corresponding gestures and mannerisms. As in Breer's earlier Form Phases series (in particular, the ingeniously crafted Form Phases IV), Breer organically transforms linear geometries into dimensional shapes, while alternately collapsing forms into singularity to create a kind of moving art that integrates both practical aesthetics of traditional canvas painting and kinetic sculpture. In continually redefining the notion of space and substance, motion and stasis, object and art, Fuji wryly diverges from the hackneyed, exoticized sightseeing travelogue and instead converges towards a transformative and infinitely more fascinating journey of the imagination.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 29, 2006 | | Comments (6) | Filed under 2006, Robert Breer


June 27, 2006

Private, 2004

private.gifThe premise of a creating a film based on true events - particularly one for a deeply polarizing issue - can sometimes be a conveniently coded minefield for agitprop filmmaking, so it is particularly refreshing to see that Saverio Costanzo's Private manages to strike a bracing, yet thoughtful and delicate balance between sympathy and outrage for the complicated and seemingly inextricably morass that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Set in an upper middle-class Palestinian household situated between an Israeli settlement and a Palestinian village, the film opens with the immediacy of vérité-styled camerawork as the family of Mohammed (Mohammed Bakri), a gentle and unassuming English professor, is thrown into upheaval after a group of Israeli soldiers commandeer their home as a covert base of operations for monitoring insurgency at the nearby village. Arguing that life as dispossessed refugees is akin to surrendering to the will of transgressors, Mohammed rejects his family's entreaties to abandon their house to the soldiers and instead chooses to defy their order by remaining at home as an act of civil disobedience. Unable to force out the family, the unit commander (Lior Miller) decides to confine the family's activities to the first floor, locking them up in the living room each evening (presumably to control their movement within the household, but also, perhaps partly out of safety, as the darkness often brings its own share of enemy crossfire), while appropriating the second floor of their home as a outpost lookout and sleeping quarters for his troop. However, as the family attempts to retain some semblance of dignity and a continuation of a normal life of work, school, neighborly visits, family dinners, and housekeeping chores under their shadow of their private occupation, their children begin to retreat into their own means of figurative escape from their existential limbo of captivity, an alienating retreat into the inner workings of young, fevered imaginations and impassioned human hearts that can interchangeably sow the seed of vengeance or reconciliation, desperation or tolerance, myopia or illumination.

While the immediate attribution to the Israeli occupation is inevitable, perhaps what is most remarkable about the film is its ability to transcend this localized regionalization of conflict and converge towards a relevant, broader allegory for the psychology of dispossession and disempowerment that exists behind every form of imposed occupation - from colonialism to postwar reconstruction - that has haunted modern day consciousness with the global reality of destabilizing, inescapable terrorism. In addition to the hand-held, vérité camerawork that visually reflects the family's sense of imbalance, turmoil, and uncertainty at their private occupation (and the shifting of battle grounds that will invariably steer the deadly warfront ever closer into sanctity of their own home), the recurring sequences illustrating the son's fascination with booby traps and televised coverage of militant insurgency, and the eldest daughter Samiah's (Arin Omary) idiosyncratic observation of the soldiers from a crack deliberately left open between wardrobe doors in the hallway of the second floor perhaps best exemplify the nature of occupation, as their acts of defiance no longer reflect their emotional solidarity with their father's idealistic radicalization, but have instead metastasized into other - and potentially more self-destructive - forms of personal resistance. Within this context, the young woman's recurring surveillance of the soldiers' leisure activities through angular, sub-framed, "keyhole" glimpses of information can be seen, not only as visual representations of the rigid confinement of occupation, but also as a metaphoric representation of its moral legacy: the upended perspective of dispossessed natives looking out into the self-appropriated privilege of outsiders, where the observer's gaze from the darkness of (imposed) underprivilege is both implicitly defiant and curious, entitled and transgressive, familiar and out of reach.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 27, 2006 | | Filed under 2006


June 24, 2006

Summer Project: Vinyl Archiving

demystification.gifMy summer project this year is to digitally convert roughly 600 LPs/12" EPs and another 300 or so 45s/7" EPs (and another ten 10" EPs) into mp3s, so I'm pleased to say that after a two month backorder, a delivery theft, followed by another two month wait for a backordered replacement, the Ion ittusb turntable is finally hooked up on my imac and ready to burn. After not having listened to these records for some 15-20 years or so, I was particularly anxious to hear these singles again (having grown up in the New York hardcore scene in the mid eighties, I knew these records would tend to be on the hard edge, Loud Fast Rules! side). Anyway, there aren't any predictable NYHC tracks on this batch of conversions, more like complementary music that I was listening to at the time, and I have to admit, the trip down memory lane was liberating.

Promenade Immortelle (Poison Girls) - Vi Subversa's vocals is something akin to Marianne Faithful crossed with Johnny Rotten, it's indescribably soulful. This, along with Reality Attack are my favorite Poison Girls songs, but this one is epic in its composition ...it breaks the heart.

You (Au Pairs) - I had forgotten how extraordinary the Au Pairs were in their arrangements, quite rare for a post-punk band. I love several of their songs, but You was the first of their songs to get my attention. As it turns out, a CD anthology of their work has been released earlier this month.

Demystification (Zounds) - There was no other Crass label band quite like Zounds, and this single especially shows their melodic sensibilities. Apparently, The Curse of Zounds CD includes this track (the original vinyl album didn't) which, along with with Fear, makes the CD an essential buy for me.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 24, 2006 | | Comments (8) | Filed under 2006, Quick Notes


June 23, 2006

All the Fine Promises, 2003

fine_promises.gifChanneling the understated and incisive relational observations of Eric Rohmer, refracted through the magical realist convergences of Raul Ruiz's voluptuous living memories, and bifurcated through Hong Sang-soo's situational parallelisms, All the Fine Promises is a gorgeously rendered, lyrical encapsulation of Jean-Paul Civeyrac's aesthetic modulations between physicality and sensuality, dreams and reality, memory and desire. Ostensibly a muted, and seemingly mundane tale of a sensitive, hopeless romantic cellist named Marianne (Jeanne Balibar) who, already melancholic over her mother's (Eva Truffaut) recent death and the somber task of having to disposition her parents' home and personal effects, is further emotionally strained by the uncertainty over the course of her relationship with her callous and flighty occasional lover Etienne (Renaud Bécard), the film is also a thoughtful exposition on the nature - and myth - of romantic love and the process of grief, healing, and reconciliation. Consumed with the idea that her late father (Pierre Léon) had a former mistress, Béatrice (Bulle Ogier) whom he would refer to in his private correspondences as his one true love, and in particular, her father's unfinished gesture to bequeath a box of personal memorabilia to the unknown woman upon his death from terminal illness (a final wish that her mother, not surprisingly, never carried out during her lifetime) Marianne decides to leave Paris and embark on an impulsive - and inevitably, transformative - trip to the country to fulfill her father's dying request.

The lyricality of the film's opening sequence, as Marianne passes an admiring note to Etienne from across the stage floor during an orchestra performance, even as he continues to make flirtatious, eye contact with an attractive (and attentive) flautist (Raphaële Godin), provides an ingenious foreshadowing to the intrinsic musicality of the film's narrative structure, with the passing of the love note serving as a figurative overture to the nascent development of their relationship. Variations in the recurring motif of unreturned messages left on cell phone voicemails - first, by Marianne, then subsequently, Etienne - further reflect the stanza-chorus structure of the film. This interconnection of musicality and narrative structure - an integral element within Anne Wiazemsky's novel Hymnes à l'amour from which the film is based, proves to be particularly relevant within the context of the ironic leitmotif of Edith Piaf's Hymn to Love, a soulful ballad of unabashed romantic melancholy that not only directly represents the memory of her father (Hymn to Love had been his favorite song), but also serves as an oneiric device for Marianne's haunted dreams that interweave the past and present as refigurations of her own unreconciled existential limbo of unrequited love and perpetual longing. Appropriated by both Marianne's mother and father as their own private "hymns of love" for their respective, numerous affairs (as well as their own affection for each other) to evoke the sentiment of their newfound (and perhaps, even rekindled) love - a clandestine, knowingly shared public articulation of their (fleeting) connections of romanticized love affairs - the idea of a commemorative love song is reduced to the banality of insincere affection, self-absorption, emotional inertia, and meaningless infidelity. Moreover, the juxtaposition of casually embarked relationships and doomed love (in particular, the accidental death of the mother's lover, François' (Renaud Legrand) after a cocktail party at the couple's home, and the father's threat of suicide after Béatrice leaves him) underscores the paradox of Marianne's (and in turn, her parents') delusive romanticism (note that the premise of François' car accidentally crashing into the sea serves as a seemingly interconnected false memory on the loss of an idealized love in Civeyrac's subsequent film À travers la forêt). Culminating in a metaphoric shedding of the skin as Marianne exchanges outerwear with a fellow passenger to avoid detection as she disembarks from the train, her complete metamorphosis can be seen in her emergence into the proverbial light, where the idea of profound love is no longer measured by the idealized weight of suffering or tragic (if hollow) gestures, but in the collective embrace of memories and shared loss.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 23, 2006 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2006, Jean-Paul Civeyrac


June 19, 2006

Journeys from Berlin, 1980

journeys_berlin.gifWhen Yvonne Rainer began developing her exposition on such seemingly disconnected themes as terrorism, alienation, division, and psychoanalysis in the early 1970s as a result of her first-hand experience as an expatriate - and in particular, an American - artist in (West) Berlin, the idea of domestic terrorism and the specter of 9/11 had not yet permeated the collective consciousness of American society. However, it is precisely within this contemporary culture of a pre-emptive war on terror, suicide civilian attacks, and increasing isolationism that her characteristically idiosyncratic and deeply personal film, Journeys from Berlin can be seen as a curiously prescient, incisive, unabashedly cerebral, and relevant film on the nature and psychology of violence, isolation, trauma, and repression. Opening to the sound of an urban couple's (Vitto Acconci and Amy Taubin) off-screen conversation about the woman's ongoing research on the infamous Baader-Meinhof gang juxtaposed against a scrolling text describing the political climate of 1960s Cold War era (West) Germany as the Federal Criminal Investigation Bureau sought to contain the influence of the opposition deemed a threat to government stability on the general public through active surveillance and aggressive prosecution of radicals and dissidents, even as the East German government (under the aegis of the Soviet Union) sought to politically insulate themselves as well from an equivalent threat with the construction of the Berlin Wall, the film, too, can be seen as a multi-layered reflection of seeming irresolvable, contradictory synchronicity - of dichotomous collisions between image and sound, words and sentiment, time and memory, ideology and action.

One layer of free associative collision occurs in the off-screen urban couple's heady deconstruction of the rise and fall (and legacy) of the domestic terrorist group, the Baader-Meinhof gang (Red Army Faction) amid the assorted sounds of performed household chores. In this offbeat, establishing sequence, the mental image of upended institutions and contraventions of power and social structures are subverted by the aurality of mundane domestic ritual in which the superimposition serves as an illustration of their implicit existential contradiction: the narcissism of empty intellectualism. This sense of disconnected, impotent intellectualism is further reinforced by repeated tracking shots of an eclectic (and occasionally modulated) arrangement of mantelpiece curios and estranged, refracted views from an apartment window looking down into the street - both intrinsically reflecting transient images of decontextualization (the presentation of sentimentally meaningless objects to the audience that may or may not allude to ideas brought up during non-diegetic conversations) and isolation (the metaphoric disconnection of the couple's implied self-defeating intellectualism from the reality of the grassroots site for social change: the streets). In each seemingly casual, alienated visual survey of everyday objects and performance of quotidian rituals, the viewer's instinctive sense of imbalance and anomaly reflects a broader notion of a world perturbated out of balance by artificially created social division, political suppression, self-righteousness, and moral inertia.

Another intersection occurs during an unseen young woman's recitation of passages from her diary (excerpted from Rainer's own journals in her youth) - in particular, her uncomfortability over the implicitly imposed power structure of a store clerk's subservience while shopping for a pair of shoes - against aerial views of Stonehenge and tracking shots of a Berlin street - the latter, a reinforcing image that is prefigured in the psychoanalyzed, suicidal patient's (Annette Michelson) fractured memory. Intrinsic in the free association of these seeming disparate psychological and geographic landscapes is the evocation of a monolithic structure (as symbolized by Stonehenge) that the Berlin Wall also embodies: an iconic representation of a division that is both physical and ideological, real and figurative. Placed not only within the broader context of implicit class and social structures, but more directly, within the context of the government's suppression of political dissidents and the Baader-Meinhof terrorist acts, the insurmountable monolith becomes an indirect representation of incollapsible, opposing, inhumane institutions that become innate (and recursive) reflections of each other: the strong-armed injustices of monopolistic governments against the coercive, violent acts of radical militants. In turn, these mirroring images of entrenched inequality, systematic persecution, and arbitrary violence serve to reinforce the film's recurring theme of suicide through its representation of the broader psychology of social self-destruction, where institutional acts of aggression and suppression become spiraling, self-feeding cycles of escalating violence and dehumanization. It is this corrupted ideology of perpetuated intolerance, social disparity, tyrannical injustice, and Hammurabian vengeance that inevitably defines the true nature of terrorism within the veneer of an enlightened, civilized society - a culturally ingrained, systematic social suicide borne of a myopic collision between intractable, monolithic walls of privilege and exclusion, idealism and realism, altruism and egoism.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 19, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Yvonne Rainer


June 8, 2006

Boy, 1969

boy.gifThe idiosyncratic color shift of the title sequence in Nagisa Oshima's trenchant and acerbic coming-of-age tale, Boy provides an incisive metaphor for the imbalanced natural order that lies beneath the veneer of the modernized, national recovery of post-occupation Japanese society, as a seemingly de-saturated, black and white Japanese flag prominently placed in the center of the widescreen rigidly confines the visual elements of the screen to within an inner subframe twice bounded by the demarcation of the black sun circle within the center of the white flag. The expectation of the seeming monochromatic aesthetic represented by an anemic national flag is then subverted by the superimposition of bold red calligraphy that culminates with a portrait of the film's titular, innocent-faced Boy (Abe Tetsuo), a defacement that also foretells the intrinsic cruelty and violence that the Boy suffers at the hands of his aimless, self-absorbed family. This notion of subverted expectation continues with the establishing shot of the Boy briefly, inexplicably crying while precariously - and symbolically - standing at the edge of a heavily trafficked street - the pedestrian sidewalk having been demolished as part of a nearby construction site - in an apparent, perhaps frustrated, wait for an opportunity to cross the busy intersection. A subsequent episode then illustrates the insidious context of the elaborate confidence game behind this curious posture as the Boy's stepmother (Koyama Akiko) walks alongside a stream of cars before picking a suitable (or more appropriately, gullible) mark and rushing headlong into the side of the automobile with an audible slap on the vehicle's body before falling away, seemingly unconscious, into the nearby curb, the Boy dutifully falling to the ground in feigned trauma over the severe "accident", followed immediately on cue by the even more guilt-inducing pre-scripted plot of the father (Fumio Watanabe) rushing from across the street to attend to his (common law) wife's injuries while simultaneously holding a flag waving baby (Tsuyoshi Kinoshita) in his arms. The often-played scenario would then bring them to a nearby clinic where the prospect of sustaining job-threatening, long recovery injuries invariably lead to the father's increasingly aggressive tone and threats of police involvement in a ruse to extort money from the unsuspecting driver in exchange for a waiver of liability for the incident. Performing their scam from town to town along the Sea of Japan, the Boy begins to take increasing responsibility for "working" the faked accidents, assuming the role of victim to his stepmother's outraged, panic-stricken parent, until a fateful encounter with a young girl in the northernmost city of Hokkaido - the edge of Japan - drives the Boy to profound confusion and despair over his own culpability and guilt.

In returning to the confidence games of his earlier films, most notably A Town of Love and Hope and Cruel Story of Youth, Oshima expounds on his recurring themes of rootless materialism, alienation, and victimization that were endemic within the culture of Japanese postwar society. Shooting the characters predominantly in medium and long shots from the peripheral margins of the camera frame, Oshima reflects, not only the family's marginalization within contemporary society, but also the moral decentralization and intrinsic rupture of the very notion of Japanese tradition - and in particular, the support system of the extended family - as the Boy is not only uprooted from a proper education and his hometown because of the family's evasive itinerancy, but also his biological mother (who may or may not be terminally ill) and his grandmother (whose emotional attachment has been psychologically manipulated by his father through insensitive comments about the Boy's abandonment and unwantedness). This recurring interrelation - and transposition - between emotional and economic extortion is further reflected in the stepmother's recurring attempts to ingratiate herself into the Boy's trust: first, through the boy's impetuous demand for a baseball cap perched atop a life-sized robot as an inducement for finding the courage to play his new role of the victim for the scam, then subsequently, for a calendar watch in exchange for his silence over her intentionally skipped appointment with an abortionist. In both occasions, the extorted object becomes not only a surrogate for human affection, but also the transactional currency of all familial intimacy, where communication is reduced to the silent, coded signals of identifying the next confidence mark, and deciding on the proper amount of money to be extorted that will meet the family's short-term financial needs (note the father and son's complicit discussion in the men's room of a restaurant planning the details of the Boy's role in their next scam). Placed within the context of the crying Boy pacing the edge of the excavated sidewalk that opens the film - where the ground has literally been removed from under his feet - the introductory image of the confused, alienated, defeated young hero serves as an allusive, reinforcing national sentiment of profound rootlessness and bewilderment over the upended, disposable values of an alien, intraversable modern world of commodified humanity.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 08, 2006 | | Comments (5) | Filed under 2006, Nagisa Oshima


June 6, 2006

Benoît Jacquot Retrospective

duras.gifThe FSLC press release for the Benoît Jacquot retrospective, For the Love of Movies: The Cinema of Benoît Jacquot looks quite good. I'm especially looking forward to a few of the short films, such as Louis René des Fôrets, Jacques Lacan's Psychoanalysis - Part One, the two Marguerite Duras documentaries, Ecrire and The Death of the Young English Aviator, and Nombres et neurons (a conversation between mathematician Alain Connes and the neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux). The retrospective runs from June 23 to July 11, 2006 at the Walter Reade Theater.

[The image still is from The Death of the Young English Aviator.]

Seventh Heaven, 1997
A Single Girl, 1995
A Tout de suite, 2004
The Disenchanted, 1990
The False Servant, 1999
Marianne, 1997
School of Flesh, 1998
Alfred Deller: Portrait of a Voice, 1976, screened with Merce Cunningham and Co., 1982
Elvire-Jouvet 40, 1986, screened with Louis René des Fôrets, 1988
Jacques Lacan's Psychoanalysis - Part One, 1974, screened with Nombres et neurones, 1990
Ecrire, 1993, screened with The Death of the Young English Aviator, 1993
Princesse Marie, 2003
Tosca, 2001
Sade, 2000
Adolphe, 2002
The Musician Killer, 1974
Keep It Quiet, 1999
Closet Children, 1977

Posted by acquarello on Jun 06, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Quick Notes


June 5, 2006

Crime Novel, 2005

crimenovel.gifIt is nearly impossible to characterize Michele Placido's sprawling, ambitious, and elliptical gangster film, Crime Novel without raising the specter of Francesco Rosi's seminal cinema on the murky atmosphere of corruption, nebulous alliances, terrorism, and widespread violence that defined the sociopolitical landscape of 1970s Italy. However, while Rosi's disorienting ellipticism served to illustrate the power and moral vacuum caused by the protracted period of national instability, filmmaker Placido, screenwriters Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli (the screenwriting team behind Marco Tullio Giordana's The Best of Youth), and novelist Giancarlo De Cataldo instead seem resolved - with the advantage of hindsight - to tidy up the protracted history of bombings, assassinations, and mafia executions into an overarching moral tale through the character introductions of an unimpeachable good cop, Commissioner Scialoja (Stefano Accorsi) who doggedly pursues a band of hoodlums believed to be the architects of a high-profile kidnapping, extortion, and subsequent murder of a prominent aristocrat, Baron Rossellini, through years of a profoundly transforming society, and a shadowy, omniscient State operative waiting in every conceivable wing to intervene in the messy affairs of turf wars, political intimidation, and criminal prosecution in order to set history on its correct course. In its depiction of the characters as witnesses to the unfolding of turbulent history, the film recalls Hou Hsiao Hsien's A City of Sadness. However, while Hou creates a sense of peripherality to the misguided characters as a means of illustrating their social helplessness to the contemporary traumas paralyzing their country, the distance in Crime Novel instead seems to be elicited as much from the character's oblivious self-absorption as it does from screenplay's generic, contextual tangency (the kidnapping of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigade, the bombing of the train station at Bologna, the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II) - a sense of narrative decentralization that is also reflected in the film's chapter demarcated, strategic changes of perspective within the triumvirate of childhood friends who would inevitably oversee the activities of their rag tag syndicate (a device undoubtedly influenced by Luchino Visconti's tale of fraternal downfall, Rocco and His Brothers): the cold and calculating Libanese (Pierfrancesco Favino) who envisions the ransom money as their entry into the larger payoff of Roman organized crime, the brooding Freddo (Kim Rossi Stuart) who finds in the sensitive, virginal tutor, Roberta (Jasmine Trinca) the possibility of a future without gang violence, and Dandi (Claudio Santamaria), an unpolished opportunist who sees their financial windfall as a means of reinventing himself and his lover Patrizia (Anna Mouglalis) to gain entry into social circles and upper class respectability. Unfortunately, this odd concoction of seeking to maintain a meticulous integrity to the story's historical framework while conveniently engaging in revisionist dovetailing results in a film that, while indeed highly polished, elegantly rendered by a strong ensemble cast, and impeccably reconstructed period filmmaking, is also one that is encumbered with a sense of anecdotal historicity, familiar caricatures, overdesign, and pathological neatness.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 05, 2006 | | Filed under 2006


June 3, 2006

Brass Unbound, 1993

brass.gifJohan van der Keuken's sublime and exhilarating riff on the city symphony and musical documentary, Brass Unbound is a thoughtful, infectiously engaging, and complexly resonant exposition on the transformative evolution of the ceremonial brass band throughout post-colonial societies from tools of enslavement and imperialism, to instruments of cultural celebration and personal expression. The film ingeniously opens to a long shot of a Nepalese man briskly traversing the hills of a rural village with a sewing machine curiously slung across his back on his way to a cottage factory where a handful of other tailors have already taken their respective corners on the dirt floor and are busily toiling at their monotonous craft, the monotonic cadence of the rattle and hum of sewing machines increasingly masked by the rhythmic sound of a tinny folk music emanating overhead. A seamless vertical tracking shot places the camera in seeming levitation towards the second floor where an ensemble of brass and woodwind musicians rehearses. A second cutaway to the city visually connects the second floor folk musicians with a second brass band as a musician practices in a cramped, underlit room above an opened family home, where an overhanging billboard advertises the services of the Hansilo modern light music brass band. This metaphoric, introductory image of ascension - if not transcendence - through music would subsequently be articulated by an unnamed Nepalese musician (and unofficial band manager) as he traces the evolutionary history of the ceremonial brass band in his native country, where the first Rana, Jung Bahadur, having journeyed to Europe to forge an alliance with the British Empire in order to secure his family's dynastic, regional autonomy after the conquest of India during the nineteenth century, sought to elevate his national stature by returning home in 1850 with several modern brass and woodwind instruments in order to integrate the sound of their impressive, bright harmonies into the pomp and circumstance of his official ceremonies. Born to a lower caste often relegated to an ancestral vocation as tailors, the musician perceives the Rana's introduction of the novel instruments to Nepal, not as a means of currying favor from neighboring foreign colonists, but rather, as a transformative blessing that indirectly elevated the very social position of his entire caste, as the responsibility for musicianship of the new, western instruments - and therefore, the entrance and visibility into the Rana's court and privileged society - fell within the scope of traditionally accepted professions associated with his caste.

The notion of the brass band as accompanists through all the existential and spiritual ceremonies - providing the musical refrain to the familiar rites of passage of an eternal natural cycle - carries through to the interconnected image of social rituals, as a brass band hired to provide entertainment for a wedding ceremony and subsequently, devotional accompaniment for a Hindu pilgrimage in Nepal is paralleled to the sound of an elegiac prelude to a chorus during a Surinamese funeral service, a retired musician recalling the unfamiliar customs of the Dutch-introduced formal soirées of his youth in Minahassa, Indonesia, and in Ghana, to a ceremonial seafaring initiation at a coastal village. At each juncture, the idea of a metaphoric, transcendental journey is traced back to the historical context of the physical voyage rooted in colonialism, a theme that is reinforced in the narrator's statement as the camera surveys the landscape of post-colonial Suriname: "In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ten million people were carried over the ocean in wooden ships. They were taken as slaves from the west coast of Africa to work in the plantations of colonies in the New World. The churches brought them God's Word, and, somewhat later, God's instruments."

A more explicit manifestation of the European wind instruments as a means of colonialist subjugation is directly correlated to the continued popularity of the "spirits" musicians in modern-day Suriname, even as roughly half of the indigenous population have converted to Christianity. Originating from the performance of the Winti ceremony in order to drive away the evil spirits from possessed bodies, the ritual became a common practice on colonial plantations as a means of exerting control over the hearts and minds (and souls) of rebellious, willful, troublesome slaves. It is through this recurring theme of brass band music as an integrated living soundtrack for the human condition that the idiosyncratic image of a bobbing, bellowing tuba drifting sinuously through the diverse architecture that line the city streets of Suriname - in all the splendor of colonial privilege and dilapidation of exploited, abject poverty - can be seen as a metaphor for the wind instruments' integration (and finally, assimilation) into the native traditions of colonized peoples, transformed from insidious artifacts of cultural imperialism to integral - and empowering - instruments of a cross-pollinated, yet distinctly indigenous living culture.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 03, 2006 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2006, Johan van der Keuken