Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pilgrimage to Memphis

Pilgrimage to Memphis: National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel (aka Motel). Side approach. Just reopened with extensive renovations on April 5, 2014. This image was frozen in time on April 11, 2014.  
The front of the Lorraine. Wreath marks the area where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April  4, 1968. The National Civil Rights Museum is powerful, and goes perfectly well with the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Last year at this time, also with friends I checked out the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Little Rock, Arkansas, equally worth the pilgrimage. They are all sobering places of universal merit.    
Here's an eccentric Catholic-themed altar-like display on Beale Street in a shop front. It includes the latest three popes and various snippets of related text such as:
PROUD 2 B
AN AMERICAN
LAND OF THE FREE
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
GOD BLESS AMERICA

And, quoting Pope Francis: 'WHO AM I TO JUDGE?'

Other bits include: "Francis credited with exorcism." Let's not forget this airy claim: "Memphis is the center of the spiritual universe."






































Pilgrimage to Memphis. Closeup of a sign for Shirley's Beauty Salon, near Stax grounds. Can you dig?

Today's Rune: Partnership.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Soulsville USA

Here's the front of Stax Museum of American Soul Music at 926 East McLemore Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. Can you dig? It's been up and running for a little more than a decade. Soulsville USA has clear lines of connection, in its engaging spirit of music and energy, with Hitsville USA (Motown Museum) in Detroit city, Michigan.
"The mission of the Soulsville Foundation is to preserve, promote, and celebrate the many unique cultural assets of the Soulsville, USA neighborhood in Memphis, while supporting the development of new educational and community-building opportunities." Here's a link for more details.

Right on the same grounds as the museum are The Soulsville Charter School (between 500 and 600 students, grades 6-12) and Stax Music Academy. How cool is that?
Stax-related artists include Booker T. & the MGs, Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Staples Singers, Elvis (in the 1970s), Isaac Hayes and so on. Stax Museum covers all of soul music, from Memphis and Detroit to around the world.

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Whatever Subject

I'm happy, pleased and proud to have fulfilled another long-standing goal in my life's quest: reading the complete essays of Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), a beautiful set, 1045 pages in Frame's translation, very rooted in Montaigne's times but also in classical Greco-Roman antiquity, a double bonus.

Montaigne has a very contemporary feel. One can easily imagine having a conversation with him in the 21st century; nor would he be surprised by much today even though more than 400 years have passed since he completed his life's work. Montaigne is the epitome of humanity in our most thoughtful and self-reflective moments.

"Any topic is equally fertile for me . . . Let me begin with whatever subject I please, for all subjects are linked with one another."  

-- Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Works: Essays, Travel Journals, Letters. Translated by Donald M. Frame. New York, London, Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Everyman's Library 259. Pages 810-811.  

My philosophy exactly, the primary rationale behind "Erik's Choice."

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Freedom Riders

Stanley Nelson, Jr.'s Freedom Riders (2010) does excellent work bringing the Freedom Rides of 1961 -- and the harsh resistance to them -- into perspective and full, open view. Drawing from the work of Raymond Arsnenault and others, Freedom Riders weaves throughout the tales of several key players -- Freedom Riders, other civil rights leaders, politicians and officials with different perspectives, witnesses and Good Samaritans. Like the Freedom Rides themselves, Nelson's documentary starts out smoothly and then picks up momentum, driving right into the brutal resistance of white segregationists in Alabama and Mississippi. 

At about two hours, Freedom Riders (PBS, American Experience) takes us on a mesmerizing and sometimes horrific journey through fresh, still resonant American history.

The music is gripping, too. I was delighted to hear in the background (near the end of the film) Detroit-born Barbara Dane's version of "I'm On My Way," which is a very cool one, indeed, as are various other interpretations of this great traditional gospel song, usually referred to in full as "I'm On My Way (and I Won't Turn Back)." Check out, for instance, recorded performances by Odetta, The Carter Family,* Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone and Mavis Staples.

Full disclosure: I'll be co-discussing Freedom Riders at a local college next week. Glad I watched the film ahead of time, certainly. 

Today's Rune: Fertility.

*"I'm On My Way To Canaan's Land," by Alvin "A. P." Carter.



Sunday, April 06, 2014

Jean Renoir: Nana (1926)

Jean Renoir's 1926 silent film Nana, based on Émile Zola's 1880 novel of the same name, takes place in the 1860s near the end of the the reign of Napoleon III. Nana has risen from a state of poverty to one of financial promise in the music hall, immediately (during a performance of The Blonde Venus) drawing a diverse set of men into her orbit. It's not long before all of them fall into "The Burning Ring of Fire," as the song goes. 

The key players in Nana are stellar, expressive in a way that silent films demand in order to hit their mark, particularly Catherine Hessling (Nana), Werner Krauss (Count Muffat) and Jean Angelo (Count de Vandeuvres).
Overall, Renoir's version of Nana is quite absorbing, which leads me to wonder about other stories of obsession that are also compelling. 

Do these endure because tales of awe-struck obsession are so human and recognizable through the centuries, or because these stories take things all the way to their conclusion, amped to the max, as it were?

I'm sure you can think of others and will gladly share, but here are some other obsession stories that pop to mind:

The Iliad (Homer, not Simpson)
David and Bathsheba
Paul on the Road to Damascus
The Quest for the Holy Grail
Candide, ou l'Optimisme (Voltaire, 1759)
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (Herman Melville, 1851) 
Carmen (Georges Bizet, 1875) 
Der Tod in Venedig / Death in Venice (Thomas Mann, 1912)
Un Amour de Swann /  Swann in Love (Marcel Proust, 1913) 
Zorba the Greek (Nikos Kazantzakis, 1946)
The Caine Mutiny (Herman Wouk, 1952)
Wise Blood (Flannery O'Connor, 1952)
The Blue Max (Jack D. Hunter, 1964)
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo / The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
Cross of Iron (Sam Peckinpah, 1977) 
Bill Maher and religion (ongoing)
True Detective (Nic Pizzolatto, HBO, 2014)
Joyce Carol Oates ("The three saddest words in the English language," Gore Vidal supposedly quipped).

Clearly, I'm obsessed, haha. What else you got out there?

Here's a little something by Jean Renoir's painterly father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Le Déjeuner des canotiers / Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881; original in The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC). See it in person, if you dare!

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Deux de la Vague / Two in the Wave (2010)

The individual artist never -- or rarely -- works in a vacuum. Looking deeper behind every artist that can be documented, one discovers connections, people, ideas and milieux that shed light on individual artistic development and achievement. 

Emmanuel Laurent's documentary Deux de la Vague / Two in the Wave (2010) focuses on the rise and fall of the friendship and collaboration between two of the most heralded French New Wave / Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. I am enamored of the kinds of connections made in this film.

We see not only the Truffaut-Godard connection and its changes through time, but also catch a real glimpse of the entire history of cinema, which after all has only been around in earnest for about one hundred years -- much like electronically recorded music. With a leap of faith and a little imagination, one can conceive of the entire sweep of it all by "thin slicing" into this microcosm.  

Truffaut (1932-1984) and Godard (b. December 3, 1930 and still making movies at 83) both show an acute awareness of the history and language of cinema, while Godard also maintains a keen interest in -- and probing of -- history (especially everything that merges into the present).  

Between Truffaut and Godard, we see interaction with others of their nature, visionary filmmakers ranging from Fritz Lang and Jean Renoir to Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, from Jean Cocteau, Ingmar Bergman and Nicholas Ray to Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol. The evident network of creative connections is quite an eye-opener, and very pleasing to consider. In the words of David Bowie, "you are not alone."

Today's Rune: Separation (Reversed).        

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Jean-Luc Godard: Prénom Carmen (1983)

With Prénom Carmen / First Name: Carmen (1983), Jean-Luc Godard strikes again with another memorable, offbeat flick. This one is colorfully shot by master cinematographer Raoul Coutard (with Jean-Bernard Menoud); it's broadly  based on Georges Bizet's four-part opera Carmen (1975), adapted by Anne-Marie Miéville. 

There's almost too much to be said about Prénom Carmen, so I'll keep it short. Screen time seems to develop along at least four converging or interlinking tracks: the uncle, Godard's eccentric doppelgänger (played by Godard);  the ocean and its relentless wave action; a string quartet trying to optimize their interpretation of Ludwig van Beethoven in a grand hotel; and, centrally, Carmen X (Maruschka Detmers) in her various movements. 
Throw in a bank robbery, a poorly planned "terrorist" kidnapping plot and brazen displays of nudity, and  -- presto -- you've got yourself quite a heady mix.
As with most of Godard's films, cherchez la femme -- look for the woman.  Seek and ye shall find. 

Today's Rune: Partnership.