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Friday, October 31, 2014

El Infierno

El Infierno, 2010
(Historia de México 2010)
no copyright infringement intended

Benny Garcia had left Mexico as a young fellow to find his fortune in US. What happened with Benny during his stay in US we'll never know, maybe it was good, maybe it was not so good, suffice it to say that after twenty years they deported the guy back to Mexico. To be again home after so many years had its charm, there were the guitars and sombreros, and all the good stuff, plus Benny had the gringo experience, which meant he was able to ride on both worlds. Not exactly, as the gringo experience proved kind of confusing in what he found home. His younger brother had been killed and he had to find the authors and take revenge, actually killings looked very common, the brother's girlfriend, Guadelupe by name, was making ends meet as a prostitute at Café México, her son was rising up as a loose cannon, plus Benny was irresistibly attracted by Guadelupe (who was terribly hot, no question about). Was that the hell or what?

A childhood friend helped him adjust. The hell was rather a paradise, provided you were in the gang of Don Reyes. El Infierno was El Paradiso, more exactly El Narco. All you had to do was to execute the orders of Don Reyes, including to kill now and then, and you had plenty of money, plenty of drinks, a big car, any woman you wanted, you choose the order. Everybody,  the mayor, the police, the priest, all the others. were under the authority of Don Reyes. Well, it was also the rival gang, of Don Pancho, the two bosses were actually brothers, and the war between them had ups and downs, sometimes it was hot, with mutual killings and disfigurement of victims (fingers and/or ears cut, stuff like that), some other times it was put on hold. All this was keeping the men in that village very busy. The kids dreamed to enter one of the two gangs,  as for the women and old men, they weren't living in the paradise, rather in limbo, and sometimes they were unexpectedly shot for unknown reasons, because also the limbo had its rules.

And pretty soon Benny found out that the paradise was just a stage to hell, nobody could remain in the cards for too long, for each one the turn was coming to ask to be killed without being firstly disfigured. Hell and paradise mocking each other, playing a common black farce, for what was life other than a black farce?

Kudos for  the interpret of Benny (Damián Alcázar), a great actor succeeding in the impossible task of depicting credibly such a contradictory man. Perfectly natural as a profoundly nice guy, perfectly natural as a very effective killer.

The movie stirred extremely controversial reactions in Mexico, for obvious reasons. As the whole movie had not been enough, by the end Benny was shown coming to the Mexican Bicentennial celebration and killing everybody from the official tribune (Don Reyes surrounded by all authorities of the village). Thus many protested against El Infierno saying it was profoundly unjust and unfair to depict their country as a grotesque caricature. Luis Estrada (director, writer and producer) defended his movie, saying that, firstly, a caricature was a very legitimate artistic approach, like all other legitimate artistic approaches, secondly, a caricature was just a caricature, thirdly, obviously not all Mexican society was made of drug dealers and corrupt politicians, while this Mexican society had to be aware about the serious problem of having so much criminality and corruption in their country, all these leading to the conclusion that a grotesque caricature was sometimes necessary for its cathartic effect.

Now, I am not a Mexican, and I'm just wondering how would I react against a movie depicting in this way my own country. Probably I wouldn't take it easy at all, but my reaction against the movie would prove that it carried a powerful message. And anyway an artist has the duty to say the truth he believes in, with all risks, even with the risk of stirring ardent passions against him. Luis Estrada is politically intense and his movies cannot be but politically intense. His sarcasm calls in mind the movies of Berlanga, and generally the Spanish and Hispanic-American movies are often very tough.

I would add to all this that the value of a movie cannot stand only in its obvious message; it should go beyond and transmit something universal. A movie should talk with the same force anywhere in the world, not only in your own country. I think it is also the case with El Infierno. It's the drama of returning to your home after many years and realizing that you look to everybody there like a lame ostrich joke, because that's what you are. It's the drama of making illusions till you realize that your life is just a black farce.

Por mi madre yo soy Mexicano,
Por destino soy Americano.
Yo soy de la raza de oro.
Yo soy México Americano

Yo te comprendo el inglés,
También te hablo en castellano.
Yo soy de la raza noble.
Yo soy México Americano

Zacatecas a Minnesota,
De Tijuana a Nueva York.
Dos países son mi tierra,
Los defiendo con honor

Dos idiomas y dos países,
Dos culturas tengo yo.
En mi suerte tengo orgullo,
Porque así lo manda Dios

Por mi madre yo soy Mexicano,
Por destino soy Americano.
Yo soy de la raza de oro.
Yo soy México Americano

(Luis Estrada)


David Ensign: All Saints' Day in the Reformed Tradition

(Clarendon Presbyterian Church)
no copyright infringement intended

David Ensign, the minister at Clarendon Presbyterian Church (community inclusive, progressive, diverse): All Saints' Day has a rather different focus in the Reformed tradition. While we may give thanks for the lives of particular luminaries of ages past, the emphasis is on the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God. Rather than putting saints on pedestals as holy people set apart in glory, we give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of the believers in this and every age. All Saints' Day has been celebrated on November 1 since the year 835.

(Church in America)

În spaţiul românesc există douăzeci de zile de Moşi

Părintele Simion Florea Marian (1847-1907, folclorist, etnograf, preot, membru titular al Academiei Române) menţiona în lucrarea Trilogia vieţii, că pe tot parcursul anului, în spaţiul românesc există 20 de zile de Moşi. Cuvântul moşi vine de la strămoşi, şi se referă la persoanele trecute la cele veşnice. Cu apelativul moşi sunt numiţi nu doar morţii, ci şi principalele sărbători ce le sunt consacrate, precum şi pomenile făcute pentru ei. Din zilele de Moşi amintim: Moşii de primăvară (de Măcinici), Moşii de vară (sâmbăta dinaintea Rusaliilor), Moşii de toamnă (în prima sâmbătă din luna noiembrie), Moşii de iarnă (sâmbăta dinaintea Duminicii lăsatului sec de carne).

(Icon and Orthodoxy)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bert Williams, Play That Barbershop Chord (1910)

(Library of University of Colorado at Boulder)
no copyright infringement intended

This record comes from 1910: the Harlem Renaissance had still one decade or so before coming into stage, still the years around 1910 had their momentum, as they witnessed the entrance of Ragtime (associated till then with bordellos and smoked taverns) into the Harlem mainstream, with its minor key and catchy rhythm. The song of Bert Williams gives us the picture: a kinky-headed ladie they call Chocolate Sadie goes to a rathskeller where a swell colored fella named Bill Jefferson Lord plays the piano, sending the audiences into something prone to ecstasy.

She heaved a sigh
every time she could catch his eye, she'd cry,
Mr. Jefferson Lord, aw, play the barbershop chord!
It's got the soothin' harmony,
It makes an awful, awful, awful hit wit me!

Play dat strain, aw, please, play it again!
'Cause Mister when you start, the minor part,
I feel your fingers slippin' and agrippin' round my heart!
Oh Mr. Lord! Dat's it!
That's the barbershop chord!

(I'm using here info and quoting abundantly from Camille F. Forbes, Introducing Bert Williams: Burtnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America's First Black Star)

(Bert Williams)


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Miguel Hernández

Miguel Hernández in jail
photo from 1939
no copyright infringement intended

poet associated with the Generación del 27 and Generación del 36; born in 1910 in a poor family, spent his childhood as goat herd and farmhand; for the most part was self-taught; published his first book of poetry at 23; after the end of Spanish Civil War, as he was Republican and Communist, was sentenced to death, then the sentence was commuted to a prison term of 30 years; there produced an extraordinary amount of poetry, much of it in the form of simple songs; died in jail, in 1942 (wiki)

(Una Vida Entre Libros)


Orhan Pamuk, Ante los Ojos de Occidente

El País - El Boomeran(g)
no copyright infringement intended

A text by Orhan Pamuk about the vision of Istanbul that Western travelers have had for centuries.  He explains his love/hate relationship with Western comments and criticisms. It was published in Carta magazine:


(Una Vida Entre Libros)


Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project (1913)

Odessa Warren Grey and Bert Williams in the 1913 movie
no copyright infringement intended

Chaplinesque avant la lettre!
(scene from the 1913 movie with Bert Williams)
(The Guardian)
no copyright infringement intended

Often when looking for an old-old movie, I have the impression of doing some kind of archeology, or rather paleontology. It is not only the difficulty of finding a copy, or of understanding the movie from some fragments. It's also the effort to enter the universe of that bygone epoch, with mentalities so different, with names and histories that today don't tell anything anymore. Sometimes it's the language barrier. Sometimes it is also the destiny of the movie throughout the years. But never was this impression so powerful as with this movie made by Bert Williams in 1913. Imagine a new born immediately abandoned and forgotten, remained in a long lethargy, awaken and starting his life at 101 years. Because that was the case with Lime Kiln Field Day.

Like all movies of Bert Williams, it was made for the Biograph studio. It was an all-black cast, which was remarkable for those times: it is credited as the oldest surviving all-black movie. And remarkable is that it doesn't give a damn penny about all racist stereotypes of that epoch. It is a vaudeville whose personages spend some leisure time, preoccupied with dancing and romancing. Bert Williams is trying to conquer the heart of beautiful Odessa Warren Grey, which is far from simple, as there are also some rivals.

So they started to work for the movie, doing shootings on location in New York and New Jersey, but after some months the project was abandoned. The movie remained unfinished, unedited, and without a title. The footage was stored at Biograph and remained there languishing for decades. In 1939 MoMA acquired 900 negatives from the archive of Biograph. The movie of Williams was among them. It came to the attention of the curators sometime by the middle of the 2000's. The work of restoration took about ten years. Well, it needed a title, as in 1913 they left the baby unbaptized. So MoMA took care also for a name: Bert Williams Lime Kiln Field Day Project. It is now compared with movies of Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Here are four fragments from the movie

Some links for this movie, with stills and abundance of information:

(Bert Williams)


Monday, October 27, 2014

Bert Williams, A Natural Born Gambler (1916)

(The History Blog)
no copyright infringement intended

A Natural Born Gambler from 1916, 22 minutes long, one of the three movies having Bert Williams as director, writer and star. The cinematographer is Billy Bitzer.

A group of black gentlemen, organized in some kind of fraternity or lodge whatever, meets regularly in the back room of a bar to discuss matters of interest, their reunions ending in drinking or gambling or both. However gambling seems to be forbidden those days, so the guys have to be careful not to be discovered by the police. Among them the Honorable Bert Williams, kind of a walking delegate, which means big mouth and vague duties, always in debt and in need of money, always trying to cheat for the pleasure of game, always loosing. On the wall a torn-out image of President Lincoln, like a Deus Otiosus no longer interested in the daily operation of this rapidly decaying world, while seemingly taking pleasure in watching this very movie (he from the wall where's hanging, we from this other side of the screen). Watching this movie is like visiting a nostalgia shop: each scene looks like an incredible memorabilia.

Of course the police discovers the gamblers and brings them in front of the judge. The only one put in jail is (you gotcha) no other than our main hero (only for ten days, it's a comedy, not a drama). While in prison, he plays imaginary poker games, where he keeps on loosing: his pantomime is genial.

The movie comes with all racial stereotypes of the epoch: the rule by then was that the interpret of a black personage had to do minstreling, which meant to shoe-black his face and whiten his lips for the contrast; the intertitles followed another rule, to spell the fractured English supposed to be the blacks' parlance; and many other things like that. No wonder, the movie was made in 1916. It looks now completely anti-PC, but in those days the political correctness was just the opposite.

(Bert Williams)

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Bert Williams, Nobody

(Jas Obrecht Music Archive)
no copyright infringement intended

This song, Nobody, had such a huge success that Bert Williams would say in 1918, I could have wished both the author of the words and the assembler of the tune had been strangled or drowned or talked to death. For seven whole years I had to sing it. Month after month I tried to drop it and sing something new, but I could get nothing to replace it, and the audiences seemed to want nothing else. He was the assembler of the tune, by the way.

(Bert Williams)


Bert Williams

Bert Williams (1874-1922)
Photo-Portrait with Cigarette
no copyright infringement intended

he was the funniest man I ever saw... and the saddest man I ever met (W. C. Fields)

one of the prominent entertainers of the Vaudeville era, and one of the most popular comedians for all audiences of his time (wiki)

when he collapsed, it was during a performance, and the audience thought it was his comic número; his last words were, it's a nice way to die; he didn't recover and soon passed away; he was 47 (wiki)

he played in three movies, all of them also directed by him, produced by Biograph, a NY film company of fame in the first two decades of the 20th century; one of these three films was long time lost, and rediscovered recently; actually I found this information today and it put me on his traces; and thus I came upon a superb vintage collection of tunes and short movies from those times, the perfumed charm that only bygones posses.

(Early Movies)