Friday 5 June 2020

Plague Times Diary (36) - Peter Hourigan explores internet offerings - THE BRIDGES OF SARAJEVO, an opera of AUTUMN SONATA, O PIONEERS, DARAYA: UNDER THE BOMBS A LIBRARY and the Mark Rappaport retrospective

Jessica Lange, O Pioneers
 Enjoyment of a film is often not a singular thing – our special pleasure with a film can be increased by lots of other factors – a place we’ve visited, a book we’ve read, a person we’ve known. Or what we know about related films – same director, subject, themes.  This lockdown (or locked-in) time is at least good for following up links and connections that often get bypassed at other times. I’ve had some very rewarding times in the last couple of weeks, chasing such connections. 
            Several books have been the initial impetus. Willa Cather’s 1913 book O Pioneers! came to me a few weeks back almost by accident. But what a wonderful book permeated with the broad landscapes and weather and smells of the Great Plains of Nebraska, as they would have impacted on the many Scandinavian pioneers who settled this area, so inhospitable to Scandinavians coming to the New World. I loved the book, and Googling around afterwards, I discovered it had been filmed, in 1992 and you can see it if you click here on the Internet Archive 
              This is a site that’s really worth spending some time exploring. Not only does it have feature films there are sound archives, home-movie collections, out-of-print books and more.  As well as the film version of O Pioneers (Glenn Jordan, USA, 1992).  Though it is not a great film - actually it’s a TV movie made for the CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame. And it’s as lifeless as those prestige BBC literary adaptations – absolutely faithful to the novel’s events, but with none of the power or the spirit that makes it a great book. A strong cast – Jessica Lange and David Strathairn are the leads.  It’s also hamstrung by being made for TV and the old letterbox 4:3 ratio. The landscapes are all the time just straining to spread broadly to the horizon.  But I was very glad to have found it.  
               There was another site that was a good source for rare material – Rarefilm. A few weeks back I discovered a wonderful coy of Widerberg’s Raven End.  But when I went there again last week I was greeted with a card saying that all titles had been removed because of claims supposedly from the copyright owners of every single title.
Daraya: Under the Bombs a Library
Vimeo is another site that has some interesting material. I was taken there again by another book I’d been reading. The Syrian town Daraya was under siege for years from troops of current dictator.  A group of young men rescued many books from homes destroyed by bombardments, and set up a library in the basement of one of the many bombed out buildings.  It’s an inspiring story of people tackling a much more severe lock-down situation than we’ve been going through.  I read this story in Syria’s Secret Library by British Journalist, Mike Thomson. Curiosity for more information led me to a documentary that had been made with the same focus, Daraya: Under the Bombs a Library (Delphine Minoui, France, 2018) accessible on Vimeo via purchase at $1.69  It was an interesting extension of the book, because it centres on a different group of participants.
Becoming Anita Ekberg
Still on Vimeo, and this time completely free, I’ve been revelling in the Mark Rappaport retrospective screening courtesy of the Munich Fimmmuseum.  He is a film-essayist in love with Hollywood, its Golden Era and its stars. And he knows his subject well.  His subjects have included Rock Hudson (and the gay sub-text of so many of his ‘straight’ movies), Max (Ophuls) and James (Mason) and Danielle (Darrieux) Jean Sebereg, Anita Ekberg and more. His observations are insightful, and the films are a real pleasure.  Be quick, because each program is available only for three or four days – but they continue until the middle of July
              Another piece of cross-textual viewing was Autumn Sonata– not the Bergman film, but an opera first performed in 2017 by the Finnish National Opera.  I’ve watched this twice – there’s a short Film Alert post  already there with my first reactions a couple of years back It is back on-line until July 7, accessible either on YouTube or direct from the Operavision site
         And travel can also enrich a viewing experience. It is exactly one year since I was in Sarajevo. Ahead of visiting, I knew I’d reminisce there about the events of 1914 and the assassination of the Austrian Archduke. But I’d forgotten Sarajevo’s much more recent trauma when it was under siege by Serbian forces during the conflict of the 1990s. Living memory!   If we want to complain about being locked down at home, think of this experience. If you ventured out of your home, even for absolute necessities like food, or water, you might not return. The city is beautifully laid out for snipers.
 The current We Are One festival on YouTube included a film from 2014, Bridges of SarajevoThis is an anthology film, something of a mixed bag as usual in such films. But for me, with my memories of Sarajevo so fresh, it was a deeply moving experience.  The first of the 13 segments explore some aspect of the 1914 assassination. The rest reflected the 1993-4 siege and its ramifications. As films, some are ordinary, others are very thoughtful. Two ‘name’ directors stand out.  Cristi Puiu (Der Spektrum Europas) is nothing but a conversation in bed between a husband and wife. But in its two shots, as one critic wrote, this “says more about the pernicious persistence of nationalism.” 
         Serge Loznitsa’s Reflections superimposes images of Bosnian fighters taken in 1992 over panoramic shots of Sarajevo today. No commentary, just the space for the audience to reflect on then and now.  Jean-Luc Godard’s The Bridge of Sighs, however, did not do much for me, seeming more an indulgent pastiche of slogans and texts and (admittedly beautiful) images racing too fast to encourage much reflection or understanding. 

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