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Friday, December 31, 2010

Snow in Kyoto

The kami of thunder is now facing the snowfall. A huge white cloak has covered the ancient imperial city of Kyoto, its roads, and shrines, and bridges, the branches of its wonderful trees.

It's the last day of 2010 and Kyoto is under snow. Yoko wishes us 良いお年を, A Good Year! A Good Year to you too, dear Yoko, a Great, Wonderful, Happy New Year 2011!


(The Thousand faces of HANAFUBUKI)


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Menschen am Sonntag (1930)

It all started in a Berliner café where a bunch of young wannabe filmmakers were regularly meeting to chat about how movies were looking like and how they should look. It was 1929 and their feeling was that German expressionism had already given all that it could give. The young guys were thinking at something new, to move the cinematic art on. The idea came to make a new kind of a movie: an unpretentious story about youngsters like them, filmed on the streets of Berlin within everyday life; a story embedded in reality, a fiction embedded in a documentary. As money were missing, they decided to make the movie with amateurs: a taxi driver, a wine seller, a musical records seller, an unemployed model, an extra in (other) movies, all of them playing as themselves.

This was Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday), released in 1930. It was their first film: the young wannabee moviemakers were Curt Siodmak, Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer, and Fred Zinemmann. All of them would leave Germany after 1933 to become big names at Hollywood. Together with them was a veteran, Rochus Gliese (the only one who was uncredited). The cameraman, Eugen Schüfftan, was also at his first movie. In a few years he would be the cinematographer for Le Quai des Brumes.

Menschen am Sonntag: Trailer
(video by LAMESLamaTV)

It was an indie movie long before the term would be defined. It has the freshness and the craziness indie movies have. Is it a story embedded in a documentary or a documentary embedded in a story? You can take it either way, because the two dimensions of this movie dissolve in each other and convey the same total empathy for simple people (the term would be now low middle class, or white collars; so it goes, we keep on inventing periphrases). The details in the images call in mind Vertov and other Soviet masters, only here in Menschen am Sonntag politics is totally left aside. It is a movie that loves reality and celebrates it as it is. In a couple of years this carefree joy will disappear for ever. What happened with the people from Menschen am Sonntag in the thirties, and then during the war? The same question should be for the people from Man with a Camera. We know the answer, for both.

Erwin Splettstößer
taxi driver, as himself

Annie Schreyer
unemployed model, as herself

Well, as I can put here only small fragments, let me give you the storyline, found on imdb: Erwin, a taxi driver, lives with Annie, a neurasthenic model. They plan to spend Sunday at the Nikolassee beach with Wolfgang, an officer, gentleman, antiquarian, gigolo, at the moment a wine salesman. After an argument, Annie stays at home while Erwin joins Wolf. Wolf has brought along a new girlfriend, Christl. Brigitte, Christl's best friend, joins the group. Brigitte is the manager of a record shop. At the beach Wolf tries to kiss Christl but she rejects him and he turns his attentions toward Brigitte, who is more receptive. Wolf and Brigitte go off together and he seduces her. Back on the beach, Wolf and Erwin, now tired of their dates, flirt with two other women as Brigitte and Christl look on, appalled. They have small satisfaction when the men have to borrow money from them to pay for the paddle-boat they were renting. As they part at the end of the day, Brigitte hopes Wolf will see her next Sunday...

Menschen am Sonntag: Scene from the movie
(video by mmacluhan)

Wolfgang von Waltershausen
officer, gentleman, gigolo, and wine seller, as himself

Menschen am Sonntag: Scene from the movie
(video by sergejtb)

Brigitte Borchert (record seller, as herself), Christl Ehlers (an extra in films, as herself)
together with Erwin and Wolfgang

Menschen am Sonntag: Trailer - fantasy
(video by mtjimi, Music: Strange Condition, by Pete Yorn)

(Filmele Avangardei)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Again about Maboroshi no hikari

Read also:

Maboroshi no hikari, a movie that definitely is not for the weak ones. Its austerity is extreme. I talked here about many very difficult movies; this one beats most of them, if not all. I cannot imagine another director could make a more radical film. Maybe only the last movies of Kiarostami.

I found a very good comment about Maboroshi: The film, which was made with only natural light, draws the viewer into its spiritual mood with one breathtaking shot after another, as the camera draws back to contemplate Yumiko from afar. These scenes present her as a detached, mournful figure at the same time that they seem to look through her eyes with a Zen-like clarity that makes you forget you're watching a movie and are not actually there, standing in her shoes (ligger2).

And I was impressed by the reaction of one of the young video creators whom I keep in my highest esteem (Mattie): This is one of those films...that makes wannabe filmmakers like me...think nah im not cut out for the job. I still think Mattie is unjust: his videos are little cinematic gems, and Maboroshi is just unique; but there are many other masterpieces.

I found Maboroshi on youTube, ten consecutive videos. The publisher decided to disable the possibility of embedding the videos. I am giving you here just the ten links.

(Japanese Cinema)



Romanian Traditions for Christmas and New Year: Pluguşorul.



Monday, December 27, 2010

A Silent Film of Ozu: I Graduated, But...

A college graduate has moved to Tokyo and started looking for work. It is difficult, the year is 1929 and the crisis just begun. He gets an interview and goes there to be offered a very low position. He rejects the job and returns to the small rented room he lives in, to find there his fiancee along with his mother: they came to celebrate his new start. He hides them the truth and in the following days he leaves in the morning pretending he's going to work. The fiancee discovers the truth and is decided to find a job for herself, to help with money. He goes in the evenings in a bar to have a beer and finds her there working as a waitress. He is firstly furious, then he realizes her sacrifice and decides to accept the offer he got at the interview. So he goes back to find out that the offer was just to test him: actually he will work in a much better position.

It's Ozu hundred percent: nice middle class guys understanding their mistakes as they get lessons of life from their loved ones. The social situation is harsh, but the tone of Ozu is mild, his empathy for the personages is total. Says Donald Richie in his monumental monograph consecrated to the great Japanese director, he (Ozu) was always ready to accept human nature as he found it... (and) he went on to celebrate it.

I Graduated, But... (Daigaku wa detakereda) is one of the movies of Ozu that is lost. Released in 1929, it was 100 minutes long. What remained are some fragments that have together a length of ten minutes. At least they offer a good summary of the plot.

It is unfortunate that the whole movie is no more. Critics consider it as marking the emergence of what is known as the style of Ozu. You can see in the fragments put together in the video: think at the poster with Harold Lloyd that keeps on coming on the screen, think at the two kids playing the ball, think at the scenes in the bar. And don't forget the train that appears a second, in the end! As I said, it's Ozu hundred percent, the amazing Ozu.


Here is what Ozu himself said about this movie. I found this at

I cast Takada Minoru and Tanaka Kinuyo for the first time in this film. I had made a good number of student films, but when it came to filming young actors, it was hard to go beyond the old themes of salarymen or college life. However, in those days, the images of white-collar types were limited. As for students, they were of course a different breed from the ones nowadays, who get into fights with the police. They were all very carefree, and comparatively easy fodder for jokes in nonsense comedies. Shimizu Hiroshi originally wanted to direct this film, but somehow, the script fell into my lap. I thought, if I was determined to be a director, then I must get to grips with any genre and make every film as well as I could. It's all very well for the so-called film auteur to have artistic ideas but one also needs the professional flair for handling all the different aspects of filmmaking. Admittedly, excessive professionalism could spell trouble, but I was nonetheless extremely grateful for the chance to develop my professionalism through making these kinds of films.

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)


Romanian Traditions for Christmas and New Year

It started the snow today in Bucharest. I was coming from a mall that's nearby when I saw the guys. I didn't have my camera, so I ran home, took it and came down. Here another surprise: the batteries were depleted. So again I ran home and changed the batteries. Here's what I got, two photos and a small video.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Photographs of Constant Alexandre Famin

Two Country Children

Mr. Bruce Anderton brought to my attention the name of Constant Alexandre Famin, a French photographer who was linked to the school of Fontainebleau. Famin was active between the 1850's and the 1870's. The heroes of his photographs are country children, farm animals, and the trees in the forest of Fontainebleau.

I suggest you to look comparatively at his photos, gathered in this post, and at the two photos from an older post on this blog (Auguste Giraudon's Artist). I would say the style is different: the country children in the works of Auguste Giraudon's Artist are, I think, slightly idealized.

I found a short bio of Constant Famin, that warns us to not confound him with Charles Famin (and it seems that actually there were two Charles Famin: a photographer and an architect and painter, both born in the same year, 1809).

Girl with Basket


Farmer Attending Sheep

Scène de labour

Forest Scene, c.1865

Forest Scene

Forest, Fontainebleau

(In the Forest of Fontainebleau - from Corot to Monet)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wolfgang Held: Vatis Geschichte

Wilhelm Held
(1924 - 2008)

Vatis Geschichte (Daddy's Story), a thirty minutes documentary cinematographed and directed by Wolfgang Held. Pola Rapaport also participated to the making of this movie.

I watched it with emotion: I know all personages who are in Vatis Geschichte. A film made by a son (Wolfgang) about his father (Wilhelm). And I felt the emotion of Wolfgang in making this film.

It is a very personal movie, while dealing with something that happened in so many German families. It is the final act of a painful conflict between two generations. The generation of parents, raised in a totalitarian regime, educated in a totalitarian ideology, sent to the front to fight for Nazism. And the generation of children, born after all this nightmare was over, raised in a totally different system of values.

It is not about criminals here. They were ordinary citizens, these parents, and their guilt mainly was that they lived during Nazism. A very subtle form of guilt, not totally understood even by them. Only when Nazism was over they could realize the whole horror of all that had happened. And for the rest of their life they carried in themselves the personal burden of a collective guilt. And they kept it secret, mainly because they were not able to explain what had happened to anyone else. You should have lived under a totalitarian regime to really understand how it was possible.

A conflict between these two generations, the parents and the children, each one raised in a totally different system of values, each one with very different parameters in their lives. A conflict that took sometimes dramatic forms.

And, after many years, when the perspective on those horrible times became free of too rapid judgments and of big pathetic words, when children became mature enough to understand, only then the parents felt capable to explain.

Wilhelm Held was eighty years old when he told his story in front of his children (who were then in their late forties). He was born in 1924, learned in classrooms decorated with swastikas, and when war came he was sent to the front. He could have been killed twice, firstly on the Russian front, then in Paris, he simply had chance. He was eventually captured by the Americans and stayed for a year and a half in a POW camp. He spent the rest of his life as a high school teacher of French and Latin.

And after so many years, he simply told his story, and his son Wolfgang filmed him. With emotion, with love, and with the memory of the acute misunderstandings that had been between the two of them long time ago.

Wilhelm Held passed away after another four years. He died suddenly, a heart attack while he was sleeping. I know them all, Wilhelm and his wife, Wolfgang and his two sisters, and the little granddaughter of Wilhelm. I watched this movie with great emotion.

(Wolfgang Held)


Christmas is Here: NORAD Keeping a Close Eye

It all started 55 years ago when a kid called by mistake NORAD (The North American Airspace Defense) instead of a Santa hotline. The officer in charge answered the phone, expecting to hear a call from Pentagon or so. You can imagine his surprise when a child asked him, are you really Santa Claus?

Read more in W. Post...

and to all those who believe in Santa, also to those rather skeptical, Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas is Coming: Romanian Traditional Dishes

Leber (Romanian liverwurst)

A Romanian traditional Christmas evening table starts with all kind of sausages. Some specialties are leber (liverwurst), caltabosi (black pudding), and toba (head cheese). Well, I don't like head cheese. Nobody's perfect.

Caltabosi (Romanian Black Pudding)

Toba (Romanian Head Cheese)

After sausages, it is a plate of piftie de porc (pork jelly) that comes. I don't like pork jelly either. So it goes.

Piftie de porc (Romanian Pork Jelly)

Then comes the salada boeuf (boeuf salad), which is one of my favorites.

Salata Boeuf (Romanian Boeuf Salade)

I should be cautious to not eat as much boeuf salad as I'd like, because after it the sarmale (stuff cabbage) are coming. It is the pièce de résistance, and you have to honor them like a real man. The stuff cabbage comes with mamaliga (polenta) and with an ardei iute (paprika).

Sarmale, mamaliga, ardcei iute (Romanian stuffed cabbage, polenta, paprika)

In order to ingurgitate all these quantities of food, drinks are at help. You start with tuica (plum brandy), or other kind of strong spirit, you go on with wine. The bad thing is that just now I am on antibiotics, so forget about alcohol. Life plays sometimes nasty tricks.

At the end comes the cozonac (sponge cake) and a cup of turceasca mica (Turkish coffee, according to Turks, Greek coffee, according to Greeks, some say that actually it's Syrian coffee) - with a sip of cognac, for connoisseurs.

Cozonac (Romanian sponge cake)

If you are not in Romania, and there is no Romanian restaurant nearby, I would advise you to try a Polish place, or a Greek one. Or maybe a Russian restaurant.


Christmas is Coming: Beer or Wine?

Rustico Bar

Suppose you are in the greater DC area and alone. You'd love to celebrate the Christmas evening with some good strong beer. There is a Rustico Bar in Ballston (and another one in Alexandria): they feature around 400 sorts of beer. If you ask the bartender, he'll advise you for a bottle of Sint Bernardus Christmas Ale. It comes, it seems, from Watou in Belgium, the Brouwerij St. Bernard: it's strong and dark.

To be honest, the beer I enjoy the most is the Samuel Smith Taddy Porter. I had one last year in Philadephia, in the Rouge Café from Rittenhouse Square. It's amazing. I looked for it then in many places in the DC area, without success. I found a Finnish clone in a bar in Brooklyn, and another sort of Porter in the Lexx Restaurant, in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Like the Sint Berndardus, Porter comes from history. George Washington kept an ample supply at his estate in Mount Vernon. Here is what I found about Porter's beginnings:

A mixture of ales from different casks, usually a fresh beer and an older one, was served frequently in early 1700s London pubs. Among them, roasty, smoky, somewhat acidic and bittered Entire combined the flavors of several beers in one brew. By the 1740s, its name had changed to Porter. Another possibility is that the Porter style evolved from a deeper roasted malt version of the brown ales typical of the era.

Now, you'd ask me why to choose beer instead of wine? Well, here is the thing: I love two sorts of Cabernet Sauvignon, and neither one is to be found in the DC area.

a glass of Mukuzani

There was a Levante's Restaurant in Bethesda, where they had the Kakhetian Mukuzani (which was one of the joys of Stalin). Levante's is no more. There is also a Romanian Cabernet Sauvignon, the Samburesti brand. This is divine. It's not easy to find it around DC. At least I didn't succeed to find it. If you do, please let me know.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas is Coming: The Lights

I have visited some of these places during Christmas time, and some good friends of mine are living in some other of these places. I found the images on Bing. I would have loved to put here also an image from Lexington, MA from this month, it's so beautiful there. Maybe next year.

Brussels - Town Hall

Bucharest - I.C.Bratianu Boulevard

Chicago - Daley Plaza

Copenhagen - Tivoli Gardens

Fort Lauderdale, FL - lighted faux ice cubes

Leavenworth, WA


New York - Rockefeller Center

Niagara Falls

Paris - Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Phoenix, AZ - Las Noches de Las Luminarias

Rio - The Floating Christmas Tree


Victoria, BC - Butchard Gardens

Washington, DC - The National Tree