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Thursday, May 31, 2012

St O Iosif


Toamna
Te uita, frunza pica irosita,
Si vantul geme prohodind departe !
Putina vreme inca ne desparte
De iarna trista, prea curand sosita !...

Ca un palat pustiu, cu geamuri sparte,
Padurea noastra tace parasita :
Eu singur cant cu vocea obosita
Si trec prin incaperile-i desarte...

S-au dus privighetorile maiestre ;
Pustiu e cuibul blandei turturele...
Ah, unde-i suierul mierlitei sure !

Pierdut din stolul mandrei lor orchestre,
Ce trist rasuna canturile mele
In linistea adanca din padure...



St. O. Iosif: Toamna
(video by XP0emsX)



Isus
Vegheaza-n colt a candelei lumina,
Invaluind icoana-n raze pale :
Isus, copil, la sanul maicei sale ;
Pastori se mira, magi i se inchina.

Un zambet linistit, bland, fara vina,
Si totusi nu stiu ce ascunsa jale,
Ce presimtiri de chinuri ideale
Umbresc in taina fata lui divina.

Stiai de-atunci, Isuse, tu c-odata,
Iubind prea mult pe oameni, drept rasplata,
Vei indura batjocura si-amarul,

Si-ncununat cu spini, urcand Calvarul
Pe umar crucea singuri ti-o vei duce
Si vei muri, strigand la cer, pe cruce ?...


Sonnet form: abba abba ccd dee







(A Life in Books)

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Old Country Churches and Camp Meeting Tabernacles





Jim Reeves (known also as Gentleman Jim)
(video by ColJimQ)


Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling
Calling for you and for me
See on the portal He's watching and waiting
Waiting for you and for me

Come home come home
Ye who are wary come home
Earnestly tenderly Jesus is calling
Calling oh sinner come home

Why should we linger when Jesus is pleading
Pleading for you and for me
Why should we wait then and heed not His mercies
Mercies for you and for me

Oh for the wonderful love He has promised
Promised for you and for me
Though we have sinned He has mercy and pardon
Pardon for you and for me

Come home come home
Ye who are wary come home
Earnestly tenderly Jesus is calling
Calling oh sinner come home
Songwriters: Gill, Vincent Grant / Bannister, Brown


(America viewed by Americans)

(Church in America)

Doc Watson


The blind guitar wizard passed away. He was 89.





Doc Watson - Summertime
(video by victttttory)




Doc Watson - 1991 - Deep River Blues
(video by Uncle Skidder)


And here are more:



------------


I feel I need to add this. It's leaving me speechless. Rest in pace, Doc!


Doc Watson - Amazing Grace
(video by ColJimQ)


(America viewed by Americans)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Community Reforming

Presbyterian Church in Penningtonville, PA
(http://www.penningtonvillechurch.org/)
no copyright infringement intended

The Presbyterian Church from Penningtonville, PA introduces itself as the church on the corner, which describes a family-like community, place of tolerance and inclusiveness. I didn't have the occasion to pay a visit there, but I know well another Presbyterian community, in Clarendon (Arlington), VA, also a church on the corner, where I have been always welcome, though my religious beliefs differ from theirs in many points. Not only my beliefs, also my doubts. Or maybe all these differences are just on our human scale, there are many ways, in belief, also in doubt, toward what's beyond.

I have just read a message from David Ensign, the minister from Clarendon, and a wonderful man, who is referring to the reforming spirit of his church. Says he,  Presbyterians are part of the Reformed theological tradition whose watchword for almost 500 years has been the church reformed and always reforming. In other words, we believe that God is not finished with us yet, as individuals and as church.

By the way, the Clarendon community will celebrate the Pentecost a week later than the rest of the Western Churches (but on the same Sunday when we will celebrate it in Romania, together with our Eastern Orthodox Church). They moved this year the date of celebration because it is then that most of the parishioners are in town (so it goes, would maybe say Kurt Vonnegut - just kidding). Whatever the reason, it's great that we will live the spirit of the Pentecost together, I in Bucharest, they in Clarendon, in the same day!


(Church in America)

Reine Graves


I found the image of Reine Graves in a blog dedicated to portraits. For Henry Roy, the blog owner, the portrait is a way to share his personal perception of humanity, through people he loves, or he admires, or he desires, or he appreciates for any other reason (that's the way he's introducing himself, anyway the images in his blog are gorgeous).

Reine Graves is a French filmmaker, listed on imdb with only one movie so far (Rites of Love and Math, co-director, co-scenarist, and co-producer), but she has authored also a number of very short and very avant-garde movies, seemingly not very politically correct (or should we consider them only a bit controversial?) Take for instance her Je vous salue Judas: the title is not exactly the definition of political correctness, you must agree. I found also the information that she got two awards (Premio Pasolini for Je vous salue Judas, and Prix Henri Langlois for Contrast), but I have to say that I am not hundred percent positive on the accuracy, as I need to find also other web places to confirm it.

The movie I would like to discuss in a future post is Rites of Love and Math, a very unexpected replica to the classic The Rite of Love and Death of Mishima. I'm still working to organize in my mind what to write about both movies, of Mishima and of Graves. What I would do now is to put here two very short movies of Reine Graves. The first, Reflets, seems to relate (in a rapid juxtaposition of images, or fragments of images, giving to the whole a totally abstract allure) to some definitory moments of the 20's century. I recognized there echoes from two such moments: in cinematography (the moment Un Chien Andalou), and in politics (the moment Martin Luther King) - but other moments are also alluded there, the horrible experience of the world wars and so on. The second (Marylin) calls maybe in mind Chris Doyle and his Away with Words: the same gorgeous, psychedelic way of flooding in colors, down to voyeurism.



Reflets, by Reine Graves
note: the sound is missing from this copy of the movie
(except if the music of Edith Progue is also experimental)
(http://vimeo.com/15625017)



Marylin, by Reine Graves
(video by Reine Graves)


(Filmofilia)

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Liebestod from Wagner to Liszt



The picture above shows Franz Liszt in the home of his son-in-law, Richard Wagner. Cosima Wagner, Liszt’s daughter, sits at the left of the picture with her arm around her son, Siegfried Wagner. On the wall hangs a portrait of King Ludwig, the fanatical Royal Patron of Wagner. It is said that Wagner frequently took his compositions to his greatest friend, Liszt, in order to hear how they sounded, since the great operatic composer played very indifferently.







(It's Time for Wagner)

(Liszt)

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Taras Shevchenko: Lights Are Blazing

Taras Shevchenko, Selfportrait, 1860
(http://www.infoukes.com/shevchenkomuseum/poetry2.htm)
no copyright infringement intended


The lights are blazing, music's playing,
Like jewels gleaming in the night
The eyes of youth are shining gaily,
Alight with hope, with pleasure flaming;
Their eyes are bright, for to the sight
Of innocence all things seem right.
So all are laughing, all are jolly,
And all are dancing. Only I,
As though accursed, in melancholy
Look on and wipe a mournful eye.
Why do I weep? Perhaps the reason's
That dreary, like the rainy season,
My youth has uselessly slipped by.
Orenburg, 1850
translated by John Weir


(Taras Shevchenko)

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Yukio Mishima



author, poet, playwright, actor and film director, nominated three times for the Nobel, his avant-garde work displayed a blending of modern and traditional aesthetics that broke cultural boundaries, with a focus on sexuality, death, and political change.
(wiki)



(A Life in Books)

(Cinema asiatic)

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Liebestod again: Kirsten Flagstad and Wilhelm Furtwängler



Mathilde Wesendonck was the muse of Wagner while he created Tristan and Isolde. She was the wife of a silk merchant, a great admirer of Wagnerian music. The husband had invited the composer at his estate. Wagner (who was also married,  with his first wife) became infatuated with Mathilde. It is not known whether she returned his affections to the same degree, or if the affair - if there was one - was ever consummated. She was a poet, and Wagner would set five songs to her verses (the Wesendonck Lieder).
(wiki)





Mild und leise
wie er lächelt,
wie das Auge
hold er öffnet
--seht ihr's, Freunde?
Seht ihr's nicht?
Immer lichter
wie er leuchtet,
stern-umstrahlt
hoch sich hebt?
Seht ihr's nicht?

and ends

ertrinken,
versinken, -
unbewusst, -
höchste Lust!


Softly and gently
how he smiles,
how his eyes
fondly open
--do you see, friends?
do you not see?
how he shines
ever brighter.
Star-haloed
rising higher
Do you not see?

to drown,
to founder -
unconscious -
utmost joy!


(It's Time for Wagner)

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Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde






You either love it or hate it, indifference is impossible.


(It's Time for Wagner)

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FEMEN Tribute to Taras Shevchenko (If You But Knew))

Taras Shevchenko, Selfportrait, 1840
oil on canvas
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Taras_Shevchenko_selfportrait_oil_1840.jpg)
no copyright infringement intended




Taras Shevchenko, If You But Knew (Orenburg, 1850)
Declamation, Oleksandra Shivchenko
(video by Omar Haleem One)


If You But Knew
The tranquil cottage in the grove
Young gentlemen, if you but knew
Where people weep their whole life through
You'd not compose your rhapsodies
And God for nothing you'd not praise
- And mock our tears and twit the truth.
You call a paradise, I know.
In such a cottage once I dwelt
And there my first hot tears were spilt,
My early tears!

I know no vice,
No wrong or evil anywhere
That's not within that cottage fair ...
And yet they call it paradise!
I do not speak of that wee house
Beside the village, by the copse,
As though 'twere paradise on earth. '
Twas there my mother gave me birth
And, singing as her child she nursed,

She passed her pain to me ...
'Twas there, In that wee house, that Eden fair,
That I saw hell ... There people slave
Without a let-up night and day,
Not even given time to pray.
In that same village to her grave
My gentle mother, young in years,
Was laid by toil and want and cares-
There father, weeping with his brood (And we were tiny, tattered tots), Could not withstand his bitter lot
And died at work in servitude! . . .
And we — we scattered where we could
Like little field mice. I to school — To carry water for the class.

My brothers slaved on the estate
And then, conscripted, marched away!
And you, my sisters!
Fortune has Reserved for you the cruellest fate!
What is the purpose of your life?
Your youth in service slipped away,
Your locks in servitude turn grey,
In service, sisters, you will die!
My blood runs cold when I recall
That cottage in the village fair!
Such deeds, 0 God. do we do there
Where piety rules over all
And all in paradise should dwell!
Of heaven we have made a hell,
Yet for another heaven call.

We with our brothers live in peace,
We with our brothers plow the fields
And water them with brothers' tears.
And also, maybe . . . Nay, I fear,
But so it seems . . . perhaps, 0 God (Because without
Thy will divine We'd not in nakedness repine In paradise), perhaps
You mock Us also, Father, from the sky
And with the masters You conspire
On how to rule us here below.
For look: there smiles a verdant grove,
And from behind the grove a pool
Peeps shyly out, behind it stands
A row of willows washing hands,
Their branches, in the waters cool ...
Is this not truly paradise?
Look once again until your eyes
See what has made this heaven cruel!

You'll see rejoicing, songs of praise
To Him, our God above, alone
For all the marvels He has made!
No, not a bit! There's praise for none!
Just blasphemy and blood and wails
- All things are cursed, all is blasphemed!
There's nothing sacred left on earth ...
And even Thee, it seems to me,
The people have already cursed!

(Taras Shevchenko)

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Taras Shevchenko



The Taras Shevchenko Memorial, located near the intersection of 22nd and P Streets, NW, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The statue was sculpted by the Ukrainian Canadian artist Leo Mol, and the stonework was created by the Jones Brothers Company. A relief depicting Prometheus is located beside the statue. The memorial was authorized by U.S. Congress on September 13, 1960, and dedicated on June 27, 1964. It is administered by the National Park Service, a federal agency of the United States Department of the Interior. The Church of the Pilgrims, located at 2201 P Street, NW, is visible in the background. Built in 1928, the church is an example of Gothic Revival architecture.


Firstly I heard about Taras Shevchenko while in high school. A classmate, a girl that I liked a bit, was asked by our literature teacher to read a text about the life of the poet. The text was pretty long, but as I said, I liked the girl, so I listened carefully. And I remained with the image of a rebellious poet and painter, associated for ever with the image of the reader.

Years passed one after another, the girl became more and more a distant memory of the teen ages, now and then the name of the Ukrainian bard was coming to me and the image of that reader from long time ago was putting on my eyes a nostalgic smile.

And after many, many years, life brought me to Washington, I was now working at a company in the region. On Sundays I liked to make a stroll through the streets of D.C. to understand their universe (pretty different from one neighborhood of the city to another) and to enjoy.

I passed many times in front of the monument of Taras Shevchenko, it's close to other two statues, honoring Tomáš Masaryk and Mohandas Gandhi. And so, the three great heroes come for me always together.

And it happened that in Washington I also met that girl from high school, now a nice grandmother. And we shared the photos of our granddaughters, her, and mine, and smiled together at that longtime memory.



(A Life in Books)

(Washington, District of Columbia)

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ben Sutherland: Skylight Kunming


After watching the Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man of Ben Sutherland and Gonzague Pichelin, I looked for other movies made by these two authors. That's how I came to Skylight Kunming. This time Ben Sutherland was the main author, as director, screenwriter, and cinematographer, while his friend Gonzague Pichelin did the editing and released the movie through his own production oufit, Zag Zoo Films.

Actually the Portrait of a ... and Skylight Kunming are so far their only movies listed on IMDb. Ben is working on a new project (not yet titled). It is a documentary on the rise of private military companies for an emergent business: counter-piracy operations in the Red Sea and beyond.

I was fascinated by the Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man: it had a special rhythm that allowed the recreation on the screen of a whole universe, through a rapid transition of a huge number of persons - each one coming to give her or his testimony and leaving quickly to make place to the next one - each testimony being short, while percussive. It's the Parisian Shakespeare and Company: the movie pulls out from that bookstore a whole universe.

I recognized in Skylight Kunming the same qualities: a fantastic sense of the cinematic rhythm, allowing the rendering of the story through a rapid transition of quick and percussive testimonies. This time it is about a man whose personality is revealed as a whole universe. Director Ben Sutherland made Skylight Kunming in the memory of his brother Mike.

The biography of Mike Sutherland is amazing. To say only that he was an enthusiast of outdoor activities and green business, to say even that he had a a generous and adventurous way of life, would be a misnomer. It was much more. For him home was where his toothbrush was - and his toothbrush was constantly moving on.

During college years, he spent a semester in an intensive program where a small number of guys  were living in log cabins like the first pioneers (or rather like solitary anchorites), while reading, discussing, and analyzing classic texts. Another semester was spent in a floating university (Semester at Sea, ran by the University of Pittsburgh): circling the globe, attending classes while at sea, exploring the countryside while in the harbors. Then he moved to Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, a liberal arts institution based on a student-directed curriculum. After majoring in Consciousness Studies, he started a solo bike tour of Asia: two years throughout Pakistan, India, Nepal and China.

Mike settled eventually in Kūnmíng, the capital of Yunnan, a province in the far southwest of China, bordering Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. Here he started promoting the off-roads biking (organizing bike clinics, rides, races, and tours) and soon made a lot of friends, who nicknamed him Bike-Mike (to make the distinction from Airplane-Mike, a guy earlier arrived at Kūnmíng, and working there for Boeing).

For me, all this calls in mind other two names. Firstly my brother-in-law Wolfi (Wolfgang Held), also an adventuresome spirit who spent a couple of years in his youth to wander through India, Australia, and also New Zealand, I think. He is a well-known documentary cinematographer whose contracts bring him everywhere on Earth, Romania and Mongolia, China and Germany, France and Italy, and all across US. He is a passionate kayaker and an enthusiast of guitar. This would be one name. Then, of course, Chris Doyle, who worked in Norway on an off-shore drilling platform, and in Israel as a shepherd, before settling to Hong Kong to become one of the greatest cinematographers nowadays.

Mike (or let's rather call him Bike-Mike, like his fellows were doing) worked in Kūnmíng as a free-lance reporter and photographer for COLORS, a quarterly magazine about the rest of the world. Also he discovered during his trips within Yunnan province the traditional hemp cultivation and became an enthusiast. He opened an echo-friendly business of hemp clothing (People's Hemp) that grew to become a full line with on-line catalog, US order fulfillment and international sales.

The life of Mike Sutherland ended abruptly in 2007. It was a whitewater rafting accident: Mike and six others had set out on Nanpanjiang River outside Kūnmíng. The group split: five on the raft, and two in a kayak. The kayak capsized, the raft came to rescue and overturned, too. Three people, including Mike and his girlfriend Li Limei, drowned.

Shortly after the accident Ben Sutherland and his other brothers came to Kūnmíng, to pay their respects to the memory of Mike. The making of the movie started those days: Ben wanted to discuss with all people who had known Mike, and shooting the film was also, for him and for them, a necessary therapy. It is an after the fact documentary. The image of Mike appears only once, by the end, very briefly, somehow in an iconic way - but he is all the time present in the movie, you feel him through the intensity of the testimonies about his life.  The movie was not intended for distribution - it was just a way to make justice for the memory of Mike. It was, however, well received: it got the Indie Award of Merit and the Best Short Documentary Award the film won at the Washougal International Film Festival. Ben hopes it will be aired on Sundance.



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Intro
(video by ezzerdamoose)



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Part 1
(video by ezzerdamoose)



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Part 2
(video by ezzerdamoose)



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Part 3
(video by ezzerdamoose)



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Part 4
(video by ezzerdamoose)



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Part 5
(video by ezzerdamoose)



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Part 6
(video by ezzerdamoose)



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Part 7
(video by ezzerdamoose)



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Part 8
(video by ezzerdamoose)



Skylight Kunming (2008) : Part 9
(video by ezzerdamoose)

















Skylight Kunming (2008) : Finale
(video by ezzerdamoose)


(Benjamin Sutherland and Gonzague Pichelin)

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Si l'amour était un rêve, j'aimerais ne plus me réveiller

(http://heartxrecovers.skyrock.com/)
no copyright infringement intended


Un garçon offre à une fille douze roses, onze vraies et une fausse. Et il lui dit, je T'aimerais jusqu'à ce que la dernière rose se fane.

[A boy offers a girl twelve roses, eleven real and one fake; and he says, I would love you until the last rose fades]


Here is a short movie recommended by Gonzague Pichelin: Si l'amour était un rêve, j'aimerais ne plus me réveiller (Were Love a Dream, I'd Wake Up No More)



Si l'amour était un rêve, j'aimerais ne plus me réveiller
Les Ateliers de l'Etna, Paris, 2011
Directed by Alessandro Cartosio
Featuring Angélique Cavallari
(http://vimeo.com/33984028)


(Benjamin Sutherland and Gonzague Pichelin)

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Let's Talk About Love Letters

Rebecca Solomon: The Love Letter (or The Appointment)
oil on canvas, painted arch
signed with monogram and dated 61
(http://goldenagepaintings.blogspot.com/2010/09/rebecca-solomon-love-letter-or.html)
no copyright infringement intended


I discovered the painting above in a blog whose author (Hermes by pen name)) loves so many good things and loves writing about them. And here is about his penchant for Victorian and Edwardian art. It's a huge treasure: over 70,000 artists, many of them have remained obscure. This could be compared maybe with the painted ceilings of the Baroque - impossible to know all of them, there were far too many, while each one is a superb artwork.

And here is the possible story behind the painting (as imagined by Hermes), the young woman has received a letter from the heavily-whiskered man whose face appears in the mirror, but their relationship and her emotions remain unclear; she seems to be of a certain age, and may well be in mourning; could the man be an adventurer, with designs on her inherited money? And, could be this a self-portrait?

Hermes concludes, a typical piece of Victorian story-telling, with the almost obligatory element of ambiguity.

I would like to put here Rebecca Solomon in dialog with Gonzague Pichelin. A Victorian artist versus a contemporary Indie filmmaker. The universe of love letters has evolved meanwhile. In the summer of 2000 the photo of a Parisian single, fully dressed, was published in Marie Claire, the famous women's magazine. He shared the space with seven other ordinary men, all of them thrown into the forks of the female gaze. There were also some words about his tastes, travels and desires. Female readers willing to engage in a relationship were invited (on magazine's expenses) to meet the man of their choice, and to accompany him on a 25 day vacation. 185 women answered.

Well, the universe might have shifted, but the poetic aura remained mandatory in a piece of art, when it comes to love letters. Here is the pilot of a very short film by Gonzague Pichelin: 185 Déclarations d'amour pour un homme (185 Love Letters for a Man).



Gonzague Pichelin: 185 Déclarations d'amour pour un homme
(http://vimeo.com/30844909)


(Rebecca Solomon)

(Benjamin Sutherland and Gonzague Pichelin)

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Rebecca Solomon

The governess wears black clothes and is occupied in teaching her pupil, while the probable daughter of the family that employs her is wearing a bright-colored dress, and is musically flirting with an eligible man. A work by Rebecca Solomon (1832 - 1886). She was born in London, one of eight children into an artistically-inclined Jewish merchant family. Among her brothers, two more famous artists: Simeon and Abraham Solomon. Rebecca died prematurely in an accident. She was 54.



The Governess, ca 1851
exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art, 1854
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TheGovernessRebeccaSolomon.jpg)
no copyright infringement intended




(Old Masters)

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Benjamin Sutherland and Gonzague Pichelin


Ben Sutherland and Gonzague Pichelin are two independent filmmakers working many times together for their documentaries. I watched quite recently their Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, which is a splendid description of the universe of the Parisian Shakespeare and Company. The two shared the different tasks in creating this movie: producers, directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, editors. Yesterday I watched a second documentary made by them, Skylight Kunming: Ben directed it, and his friend Gonzague did the editing.

Ben Sutherland was born in US. He currently lives in Treviso, Italy, with Susanna Bonomo and their daughter Skye. Gonzague Pichelin lives in Paris where he runs a very small outfit, Zag Zoo Films.

Ben works primarily as a freelance reporter for The Economist and Newsweek International, where he has written on subjects related to media and technology, especially defense and intelligence technologies. He goes often to Paris, where he teaches winter classes in American journalism and geopolitics at ISCPA. Formerly he worked as a screenwriter at Cinemarket Productions, a small Parisian movie company. His future project is a documentary about private military companies rushing into the now booming business of maritime-security counter piracy, escorting ships, especially in the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Guinea.

I found on the web an interview done by Ben Sutherland where he is expressing his opinions related to the independent movies. He believes that the future of independent filmmaking is in documentaries and reportage; it can no longer compete with big-budget fiction projects - so better be oriented in documenting the world, than in the extremely difficult and unwieldy endeavor of creating a world for a fiction film.

Well, his friend Gonzague Pichelin seems to not agree totally to the trenchant opinion of Ben: I just watched the pilot of a very poetic short film by Gonzague (185 Love Letters for a Man), which starts from reality to head toward a superb fictional universe.  And by the way, their Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man is flooded with poetical innuendo.

Gonzague Pichelin
(http://vimeo.com/user3682192)
no copyright infringement intended



(Filmofilia)

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man


Shakespeare and Company, on 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, Paris, an incredible place even on the standards of such an incredible city. It is a chaotic English-language bookstore where one can find virtually any book ever (not only in Shakespeare's tongue, possibly in any given gibberish), in the same time a chaotic reading library, also a chaotic shelter for young and older literature lovers. You can find a bed there, among the bookshelves (forget about fresh sheets), also a very bohemian breakfast (forget about food hygiene rules), provided you have written something, or you have in mind to write, in some indefinite future; the general rule is to help in the bookstore during the day in order to sleep there during the night.

Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Jacques Prévert, have been among the customers, and seemingly 40,000 people have spent there a night or two, or more, throughout the decades: it is a shelter for any books, as controversial, outrageous, or damned as they could be, for writers and aspiring writers, anarchists et al. and for ideas, radical or crazy, whatever.

The shop was opened in 1951, by George Whitman, an American intensely living the Beat spirit of those years. It had been, some centuries earlier, a monastery on that site, and George built there a shrine for bohemians, a den of anarchists disguised as a bookstore, as someone would later coin the thing.


An old fountain, one of those delicious Parisian paraphernalia, is in front of the bookstore, and the place is superb especially during April, with the silhouette of Notre Dame delicately emerging behind the blossoming trees. The street is just across l'Île de la Cité, on the Rive Gauche. It's an old street, this Rue de la Bûcherie: its name comes from the Middle Ages, when damaged meats were salted and boiled here to feed the poorest (according to wiki). My first encounter with Rue de la Bûcherie was through a famous photo, that I saw at an exhibition: the image of the street, with l'eau, ruisselant prés du trottoir, had been taken sometime in 1865 or 1869 (or in between, scholars are still debating), by one of the greatest Parisian photographers, Charles Marville (le chanteur triste d'une vielle balade... le témoin élégiaque d'un Paris qui n'est plus).

Charles Marville, Rue de la Bucherie Charles Marville, Rue de la Bûcherie, 1865/1869
l'eau, ruisselant prés du trottoir...
(http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/2006/04/photographic-discoveries-at-national.html)

The first name of the bookstore has been Le Mistral. Later, in 1964, George Whitman renamed it Shakespeare and Company, as a tribute to the first Parisian bookstore carrying this name. Because it had been a first Shakespeare and Company in Paris, opened in 1919 by Sylvia Beach, also an American irresistibly attracted by La Ville-Lumière.

That older bookstore had been an epicenter of the modernism during the years of the Lost Generation (Les Années folles, as the 20's remained known), and later, throughout the 30's. Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald, Man Ray, have been assiduous visitors, and James Joyce (who set his office in the bookstore) nicknamed it Stratford-on-Odéon (as the building was situated on Rue de l'Odéon). The bookstore was a host for famous books initially banned everywhere else, Lady Chatterley's Lover, or Ulysses, for instance. Actually Joyce's novel has been firstly published integrally there, at Shakespeare and Company!

Hemingway would warmly recall the memory of the store from Rue de l'Odéon, in his Moveable Feast:

On a cold windswept street, this was a warm, cheerful place with a big stove in winter, tables and shelves of books, new books in the window, and photographs on the wall of famous writers both dead and living. The photographs all looked like snapshots and even the dead writers looked as though they had really been alive.

That first bookstore was closed in 1940, during the German occupation, and never re-opened (though Hemingway famously entered the building in 1944 to liberate it). And in opening the second bookstore, George Whitman had in mind to revive the spirit of the old Shakespeare and Company. George ran the place till 2003 (he was 93 years old then). After that the responsibility of the venture passed to  his daughter (Sylvia Beach Whitman - she was given the name of the founder of the first bookstore).

A whole story, and, as you would expect, the bookstore rose also the interest of film makers. Shakespeare and Company had a cameo in a 2011 movie of Woody Allen: Midnight in Paris. The main character (Owen Wilson), a sympathetic dreamer who's writing a novel about the Paris of the 20's, takes in the end his courage and decides to break with his too pragmatic fiancée and his too pragmatic well-being in California. He chooses La Ville-Lumière instead, whatever will happen: after all Paris is dead drop gorgeous when it rains! And the bookstore from Rue de la Bûcherie appears on the screen just for a second, maybe to reassure us that finding a place to stay in Paris is not that impossible.

A longer apparition was in 2004's Before Sunset: a young American writer (Ethan Hawke) spends an afternoon in Paris, invited to have a reading at Shakespeare and Company. An old flame (Julie Delpy) is there by chance. They had a brief romance in Vienna, nine years earlier. Life went on and many things happened meanwhile, but the chemistry still exists (maybe subtly fueled by the special universe of the bookstore, who knows?)

Well, Shakespeare and Company has also a movie of its own,  a gorgeous documentary made in 2003, Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man. The filmmakers (Gonzague Pichelin and Benjamin Sutherland, directors and screenplayers) mixed archive footage with live shots, and succeeded to render that incredibly bohemian world. George Whitman, his daughter Sylvia, Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Beach, Lawrence Durrell, and all the others, playing as themselves, interviewed on the spot or brought from the archives, the whole bunch of rebels is there, the utopia is alive. And the little stories coming and going now and then, that student who's trying to fix the carpet in one of the rooms, using pancake batter as glue, or George himself, using the flame of a candle to trim his hair, you have to see that to believe. Add to this the great soundtrack, authored by Michael Galasso, who used here the same theme as in Chungking Express.  And George, everywhere everytime, moody and restless, like a devil in a box, comme un diable au fond de sa boîte.















George Whitman passed away in December 2011. He was 98 years old. Shakespeare and Company has remained a miraculous place in Paris. There is only one more place like that in the world, the City Lights Books in San Francisco, whose founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was a close friend of George Whitman.

Speaking about all this, I have the feeling of witnessing a time-space warp, as everything is becoming ubiquitous. All history of Rue de la Bûcherie is there, together with the Lost Generation and with the Beatniks, with May 68, San Francisco and Paris, all this unified in one denominator: the persistence of free spirit.


(A Life in Books)

(Benjamin Sutherland and Gonzague Pichelin)

(Michael Galasso)

(The Fitzgeralds)

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