Having spent the afternoon before this one-off screening at the Nicholson Museum of ancient art, in their new re-presentation of their Egyptian collection through the eyes of Herodotus, I came across this quotation: “Cheops brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labour as slaves for his own advantage. Some were forced to drag blocks of stone from the quarries in the Arabian hills to the Nile, where they were ferried across and taken by others, who hauled them to the Libyan hills. The work went on in three-monthly shifts, a hundred thousand men in a shift. It took ten years of this oppressive slave-labour to build the track along which the blocks were hauled — a work, in my opinion, of hardly less magnitude than the pyramid itself. “The Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention the names of Cheops and Chephren [his successor], so great is their hatred of them; They call the pyramids after Philitis, a shepherd who at that time fed his flocks in the neighbourhood.” Will we still despise the New South Wales government in 2000 years? It doesn’t seem so very far fetched. At least Cheops had a sort of vision, the pyramids have a certain stark beauty of their own and they draw many wealthy tourists. The eagerness to destroy and thugishness of the current NSW government is extreme and is it really so much worse to steal people’s labor than their homes? For that’s what we witness in this new documentary. As the environmentalist, bushwalker and businessman Dick Smith points out in his interview, rezoning a person’s land is tantamount to stealing it because they will have no choice but to sell to the developer who puts up two ugly apartment blocks on either side of them. After food and water (and nowadays we are forced to add) clean air, shelter is the most basic human need. Interfering with people’s homes thus pokes even deeper into the human psyche than the layer where Freud put his conception of the libido. The lower levels of government (state, province, local) affect our lives directly in a way the feds cannot. The wonder is that many in NSW aren’t angrier.
The first Thai winner of the Palme d’Or after its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and so far seen mostly in Europe, Uncle Boonmee is about to get a limited release in New York City, while the Region 2 DVD is released in March. Here in the UK it was first shown at the London Film Festival in October 2010 before going on general release (i.e. in London and perhaps a few other big cities) a month later. I belatedly caught up with it on the day it was excluded from the Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, a decision that I can now say seems quite understandable – for reasons not of quality, but of cinematic style.
Life in a Day, a YouTube user-shot feature video, premiered at Sundance and streamed live in select countries yesterday on YouTube (a theatrical release is planned for later this year). It was produced by Ridley and Tony Scott and assembled by Kevin MacDonald together with a team of editors (headed by Joe Walker) from 81,000 raw video clips shot and submitted on 24 July 2010 by the YouTube Community — potentially anyone with a camera and an internet connection.
Amidst the patchy availability of important Hollywood films of the golden age, it’s sometimes surprising what turns up. Douglas Sirk fares better than most directors — his characteristic melodramas are available in well-produced editions. Beyond the famous films of his mature period — Written on the Wind (1956), All that Heaven Allows (1955), Imitation of Life (1958) (perhaps the ne plus ultra of weepies) — some more obscure Sirks are available, gems like All I Desire (1953), curiosities like the western Taza, Son of Cochise (1953), and the fascinating, startlingly bitter screwball comedy No Room for the Groom (1952).
The Musée d’Orsay contains two scale models of the Palais Garnier (1875) which must rank among the greatest of all time. Within the museum the models terminate the former railway station’s main axis, forming a kind of culmination. Along with Paxton’s Crystal Palace (1851), unlikely to be mentioned in a Parisian museum, the Garnier is perhaps the definitive building of its century. The first model, implanted beneath a glass floor, shows the building in its urban context, clearly demonstrating that the great opera house precipitated for its neighborhood the Full Haussmann. The second model, built to a highly detailed scale (perhaps 1:100) for such a large building, is cut through in longitudinal section like a doll’s house, revealing the famously ornate lobby and hall as relatively minuscule inhabited planets orbited by a dark matter cloud of unnamed rooms and fly towers. Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse, a fly on the wall portrait of the Paris Opera Ballet, seems the cinematic equivalent of that sectional model, but it would be more accurate to say that it is simultaneously both models. The film uses its all access backstage pass, its sore toes, sweat and heavy breathing, to achieve the purpose of the contextual model, the definition of an institution within a city.
The Boston musical season is now rolling along, with almost too many good things occurring to keep up with. The best news, and a great relief, has been the return of music director James Levine to the Boston Symphony Orchestra after many months off for back surgery and recuperation. Levine looks older, with more loose flesh around the face, and he walks onstage and off carefully with a cane (though at moments he just rests it on his shoulder and goes securely on). He seems to feel good, and once seated and starting to conduct shows great animation and involvement, indeed passionate involvement, in the work at hand. He has the orchestra playing spectacularly. He has really taken them beyond themselves, and they know it and seem to feel proud of it, as they should.
Inception, Christopher Nolan’s new film, could be considered a film about architecture. Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays an agent skilled at invading and manipulating the dreams of others, finds it easy to recruit a star architecture student (Ellen Page) to design the space in which the film’s climactic dream takes place. If architectural ideas have intrinsic value, then why not design dreams, especially if someone’s willing to pay? For Page’s character, as for Koolhaas, the invitation to produce ideas without buildings is an invitation to unburden. When she runs from DiCaprio’s initial offer, he knows she will come back. For an architect with ideas the opportunity to design a dream is itself a dream, or at least an opportunity to shoot a kind of mega-Imax movie without time, physics, or money between those ideas and their realization (DiCaprio does provide a design brief for the dream, a constraint essential to architectural creativity). Among other things, Inception is a rare film which takes architecture seriously, as process rather than just backdrop, and anyone with an interest in the subject will find themselves with some fascinating questions to ponder. For example, just what does it say about someone if Robert Moses-style tower slabs constitute the deepest level of their architectural dreaming?
Wake in Fright is not a film about the 2010 Australian federal election (that one might be called Lie Awake in Despair), but it is a film which says uncomfortable things about Australia, and therefore is not entirely unrelated to this winter of political discontent. It lays waste to the cherished Australian ideal of mateship and beyond that specific cultural provocation, it can be seen as a film about friendliness in general. Many places are described as friendly, without the further interrogation which might reveal the differences between, say, the way people are friendly in northeast Ohio, and they way they are friendly in Istanbul. The study of friendliness is rich territory for art and the fact that nearly everyone in Wake in Fright could be described as friendly is disturbing indeed.