zthe harmonic complexity and intoxicating rhythms of BOSSA NOVA are on full display in THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA: BRAZIL, BOSSA NOVA AND THE BEACH (BBC, 2016), q recent documentary recounting the birth, development and dissemination of this unique BRASILIAN phenomena in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
after centuries of colonialism and authoritarian rule, BRASIL in the 1950s found itself with a new leader PRESIDENT JUSCELINO KUBITSCHEK, who promised and delivered on economic expansion and modernization of both industry and infrastructure. BOSSA NOVA became very much domestically the soundtrack to an era of optimism and promise. i can't imagine the pride of being alive during that era, withe PELE and the national team playing like dancers and ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM and JOAO GILBERTO performing at the peak of their powers. it makes me sigh. then again i am completely biased, i was lucky enough to visit RIO DE JANIERO (article linked HERE) back in october 2014. its funny, i even spoke with the same owner of the BOSSA NOVA record store interviewed in this documentary about the cultural dialogue between AFRICA with BRASIL. how SAMBA relates to WEST AFRICAN musical traditions. good to see he is sharing his passion to a wider audience!
part of this film is about recounting the development of the genre and giving due to its originators, middle class SAMBA and WEST COAST JAZZ aficionados like CARLOS LYRA, LUIZ EVA, ROBERTO MENESCAL, SYLVIA TELLES and NARA LEAO ,that lived a charmed, bohemian lifestyle in apartments near COPACABANA BEACH and IPANEMA BEACH. the group circled around muse and gifted singer, NARA LEAO. they took what was a more somber genre and lifted it harmonically. this sound found its way to JAZZ artists like GERRY MULLIGAN and CHARLIE BYRD who initiated a fruitful, mutually beneficial dialogue that created a SAMBA/JAZZ hybrid sound.
sadly, the film also retraces how the style became a stateside fad and how MADISON AVENUE sucked the lifeblood out of such a special gift. the perfect example of such is the legendary track "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA" which originally had PORTUGUESE lyrics by renowned poet VINICIUS DE MORAES which touchingly spoke of the grace of an unknown woman and the salvation one may find by being in her company. it is incredibly romantic and full of religious sentiment, even referencing the VIRGIN MARY in describing a level of passion and appreciation for such a graceful creature. the AMERICAN version had lyrics "translated" by NORMAN GIMBEL who wrote the lyrics to the HAPPY DAYS theme song. his version just describes a beautiful woman. its vulgar in comparison and a lost opportunity, and of course the biggest hit and cultural touchstone from BRASIL. its just so depressing an apt metaphor for how AMERICAN commerce and by extension society cares little for authenticity and exoticizes the unknown. the amount of products from the early 1960s that bear a BOSSA NOVA tag outlined in the documentary makes this point plain. ugh, so gross.
what is interesting is how ASTRUD GILBERTO, wife of JOAO, rose to prominence from this single. she was not classically trained but carried the tune in a naive manner sans vibrato in a wistful, seductive manner with a slight accent that won over the world. she sang it largely because she was in the room and she spoke english. it was an accident of fate. funny how pop culture works sometimes. second most recorded song of the 20th century. gulp.
and it is that song that has largely defined the image that has been projected on BRASILIAN WOMEN ever since. which is undoubtedly problematic. i remember when working in VENEZUELA talking to BRASILIAN friends who spoke about the fact that the cultural pressure to get plastic surgery was intense, largely based on cues from watching AMERICAN television shows and films. its a death spiral im telling you.
sadly in 1964 a military coup (backed by the UNITED STATES) ended this golden era of optimism and democracy under PRESIDENT KUBITSCHEK. BOSSA NOVA artists were blacklisted from the radio. culturally it was abandoned as quixotic anachronism that didnt fit the new harsh reality of the new oppressive political reality. it was too light and airy.
BOSSA NOVA originator and muse NARA LEAO pointed the way with a more sonically experimental and lyrically aggressive sound that celebrated the roots and underclass of BRASIL which led the way to TROPICALIA. JOBIM and GIBERTO had long since found success in the UNITED STATES, making sophisticated records designed for the middle class, a far cry from the reality back home. JOBIM even collaborated with FRANK SINATRA. BOSSA NOVA in essence became part of global repertoire, a classical music of sorts.
when i visited BRASIL it seemed that they celebrated this form, with several markers in IPANEMA identify residences and clubs that housed the major players of the movement.
great introductory documentary on the BOSSA NOVA. makes me want to go back. not that seduction of the music resembles the reality of the place. i saw a guy rob a bus at gunpoint at noon on a sunday a block away from the famous RIO DE JANEIRO CATHEDRAL. i found the reality much more interesting than the idealization. travel wisely and be careful out there.
hosted by BRITISH rapper and poet AKALA, ROOTS, REGGAE, REBELLION (BBC, 2016) is a welcome introductory documentary about the political and religious history of the RASTAFARI movement and its influence on ROOTS REGGAE music and identity of JAMAICANS both home and abroad.
much like the AMERICAN SOUTH, the CARIBBEAN island of JAMAICA was heavily involved with the MIDDLE PASSAGE to satiate its plantations when it was SPANISH and later a BRITISH colony. slaves on plantations were treated cruelly and made to adopt the religion of their oppressor, CHRISTIANITY. the RASTAFARI movement can be seen historically as a means of the local population rebuilding a culture that had been stripped of them by their BRITISH colonial oppressors. a means of connecting with their AFRICAN past and celebrating their heritage and owning their own identity. obviously this put them in opposition to powers that be, before and after gaining independence from the UNITED KINGDOM in 1962. the music that rose from this counter culture promoted empowering ideals of PAN-AFRICANISM, peace, self-sufficiency and liberation.
and for me that is the legacy of ROOTS REGGAE music, its ability to empower the listener. being a BRITISH documentary, it expands the influence of ROOTS REGGAE to the DIASPORA of immigrants in BRITAIN in the 1960s and 1970s and how it helped provided a sense of identity and unity to a disenfranchised community that bore the brunt of systematic racist practices and routine brutality at the hands of the police, not to mention the rise of the NATIONAL FRONT. ROOTS REGGAE galvanized this population, as well as strange allies in the concurrent PUNK ROCK movement, to fight oppression and seek strength in their community. I and I indeed. at its core, ROOTS REGGAE by definition is subversive, which most people forget.
one other compelling feature of this documentary was a brief interview with SLY & ROBBIE, the production dup and legendary rhythm section that worked with PETER TOSH and BURNING SPEAR among many others. they basically breakdown the difference between the basic percussion and bass patterns common in SKA, ROCKSTEADY and REGGAE. essentially SKA and ROCKSTEADY have a similar groove that is heavily accented with a high-hat on an off beat. SKA has a relatively fast tempo and ROCKSTEADY is pulled way back. they are very similar and focused compositionally around the drums. REGGAE on the other hand is wholly based structurally around bass parts with the drums following it. its an entirely different animal structurally and has a very different effect. its one thing to write about it, but this documentary has the duo actually play them.
touches like this make this a great introductory film for the layman unfamiliar with this incredible genre of music that shows the enduring power of music from the AFRICAN DIASPORA. a great entry point to a bigger conversation about global culture and the power of music. all from this small island nation. incredible.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
DUNKIRK (WARNER BROS, 2017) is a film very close to my heart.
i should start by mentioning that during WII my great-uncle CHARLES CALIENDI worked for the DE HAVILLAND AIRCRAFT COMPANY and played a major part in designing and testing the MOSQUITO fighter plane for the war effort. he was a very sweet, funny man and i still miss him dearly.
in my mind this film is a love letter to all those who fought and died in WWII, with special focus on the efforts of the ROYAL AIR FORCE and common sea merchants who braved incredible odds and paid a high personal cost to bring their countrymen safely home during the BATTLE OF DUNKIRK.
the film itself focuses on harrowing experiences of the ALLIED forces as they were marooned in the coastal FRENCH coastal town of DUNKIRK awaiting evacuation. as they waited along the beach they were picked off and bombed at will by the NAZI LUFTWAFFE.
where this film excels is its ability to position the audience in the psychological and emotion headspace of the main protagonists: common soldiers stuck on the beachhead at DUNKIRK, RAF pilots and brave sea merchants doing their solemn duty. this is done through a masterclass of visual storytelling, with absolute minimal exposition. this film is really a story to be experienced rather than read as a piece of history.
in particular, there are numerous scenes of random wanton violence. what is truly shocking is the silence shortly thereafter. again, the psychological space that compels the characters, as well as the audience, to piece together meaning from that which is unsparingly violent and wholly unpredictable. in essence we move forward but that silence lingers.
director CHRISTOPHER NOLAN is well-known for his ability to tease out the inner psychology of his characters, despite given genre expectations as seen in his filmography that includes INTERSTELLAR (SCI-FI), INCEPTION (SCI-FI) his DARK KNIGHT trilogy (SUPERHERO) and MEMENTO (NOIR/THRILLER).
in my estimation, his war film DUNKIRK is his finest effort yet. i highly recommend it for anyone interested in the power of filmmaking.
legendary british NOIR film THE THIRD MAN (LONDON FILM PRODUCTIONS, 1949) directed by CAROL REED, screenplay by GRAHAM GREENE and starring OSON WELLES is as much an historical document as it is one of the unrivaled gems of the genre. filmed largely on location in VIENNA in the immediate aftermath of World War II, this film details the intrigue of shattered lives and jumbled alliances relationships, both personal and political, that defined this era.
main character HOLLY MARTINS (JOSEPH COTTEN) is in VIENNA at the request of his friend HARRY LIME (ORSON WELLES) due to a job offer but learns on arrival that LIME has died. much of the film finds him traversing the shadow economy and sullied actors, including LIME, that are set in an underground battle for political and economic hegemony in the vacuum set into motion by the ALLIED FORCES victory.
much has been made about the craftsmanship of the dialogue, the quality of the acting, the look of the film or even the ingenious choice to use post-war VIENNA as the ideal backdrop for a dark, noirish mystery film. all of these are deserved. i myself have even watched this film in VIENNA (there is a theater that ONLY plays it multiple times a day) and gone on the walking tour of its scenes on location.
and all that is good and interesting, but for me the real value of this film is the way in which it navigates sans judgement the shadow world of politics and economic influence. too often today people look at the actions of nations and politicians in a reductive binary moral compass of good and evil, when what they really should consider is who are the players and what is their interest.
growing up i saw this dichotomy firsthand in places where our government supported corrupt foreign military dictatorships (NIGERIA) and undemocratic theocracies (KUWAIT) purely based on economic necessity. i doubt there was a discussion revolving morality when backing these un-american regimes abroad because the vacuum of our absence would have benefited our economic and political rivals (RUSSIA, IRAN, CHINA). this film dives headfirst into the ethical morass that is this ambiguity and really gets at the heart of what we value as a society (through the idealism MARTINS) and what price we are willing to pay (through the actions of LIME).
this is a legendary film well-worth your time. consider giving it a watch.
italian director MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI has made several canonical films throughout his career, my favorite being L'AVENTURA (CINO DEL DUCA,1960), but his first english-speaking film BLOW-UP (Bridge Films, 1966) created at the height of the mi-60s BRITISH INVASION is a remarkable film on several levels.
as mentioned before it is a document of an all-too brief moment when there was a liberating sense of artistic, cultural and sexual possibility. at times it is hard for americans to understand british class politics as it is a bit foreign to our culture which is more underpinned by nefarious forces like structural racism and conservative, puritanical, often binary inherited constructions of sexual preference and gender identity. in england markers of identity such as clothing and regional accents gave you away as being of this or that class, which was often a permanent strike against an individual despite their success thereafter. once lower class you are always lower class. in america we may make fun of a unique accent (i'm looking at you LOUISIANA, BROOKYLN and the SAN FERNANDO VALLEY), but we won't let that stop someone from running a company or holding political office. for this reason i think american BLUES, R&B and ROCKABILLY provided british youth a foreign cloak to don and transcend whatever their class prescriptions were in england's rigid, almost caste-like social hierarchy.
this freedom can be viewed in a legendary scene where THE YARDBIRDS oerform. this scene is notable as it was shot during the brief moment that JEFF BECK and JIMMY PAGE where both sharing guitar duties (BECK would amicably depart shortly thereafter).
beyond the era that this film depicts and its influence on modern culture, this film also dives deep into the nature of reality as scene through technology. the film itself showcases a photographer who notices in his darkroom while processing film from a recent photoshoot in a park that he remarkably has evidence of a murder after magnifying, or blowing up, his film several magnitudes.
i think now ideas of HYPERREALITY in the digital age are common place as concepts such as DIGITAL DATA COLLECTION, VIDEO SURVEILLANCE, PAPARAZZI/TABLOID CULTURE and DEEP FAKES have provided means of both documenting and manipulating our belief that what our eyes relay to our brain cannot be relied upon. our reality can be dissected and cross-examined by a seemingly endless myriad of perspectives to the point now that TRUTH seems like a relative ideal, not based in actual fact.
science fiction has long toyed with this idea of authenticity and the limits of empricism (as seen in the the work of ISAAC ASIMOV, ARTHUR C. CLARKE), as have minds dating back to antiquity (SHIP OF THESEUS PARADOX, PLATO's ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE). i think were this film excels is that it asks us at what point do we stop trusting our senses and totally bow to the high reality brought on by technology. i think right now we are still dealing with this question as DIGITAL MARKETING and RESEARCH TECHNOLOGIES of such corporations like FACEBOOK and GOOGLE have already made us subservient to algorithms. its already happening.
this is a classic film that deserves to be watched repeatedly and i highly recommend it. also, it is worth paring this film with the later FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA effort THE CONVERSATION (PARAMOUNT PICTURES, 1974) as it is a similar premise, except this time dives into audio manipulation. in a world accustomed to AUTO-TUNE and the wizardry of PRO TOOLS, this film may also strike a chord, pun intended.
normally i'm pretty ambivalent about sci-fi films since they more often than not rely on spectacle and set/prop design to propel the narrative rather than an interesting conceit, which is ironic given that science fiction as a literary genre is the inverse of that. in sci-fi literature, future/alternate technology is compelling given its effect on humankind and their decisions relationships to each other. perhaps this focus on spectacle in films is why sci-fi films become dated fairly quickly.
british director NICOLAS ROEG's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (BRITISH LION FILMS, 1976) starring DAVID BOWIE is one of those rare sci-fi films that reaches literary expectations. its narrative consists of an alien being who reaches earth in search of water in order to save his home planet.
what impressed me about this film is the "realistic" conceit that an alien would attempt to fit into human society by utilizing its knowledge and technology to prosper in our global economy. i can't think of any other film that showcases the exploitation of alien technology as a means of gathering economic and political influence. the cliche is obviously military action, but here economic dominance ensures undiluted power without all the bad aspects of fame and notoriety.
or so it would seem. the idea of an alien coming into our world and excelling in it, only to become alienated by capitalism is reminiscent of PLATO's "Allegory of the Cave." what does that say about human society if an intelligent being with now bias towards humankind is corrupted by it.
that is the central question of the film in my opinion. what does that say for the rest of us?
when i used to go on interviews for high school teaching gigs i would almost be guaranteed to be asked if given the choice what book i'd want to teach. my answer was always ALAN SILLITOE's novel about working class masculinity SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1958) of which the legendary KARL REISZ film was based.
british kitchensink dramas of the 1960s tended to deal with working class-related themes such as class and domesticity, which for me makes them far more interesting and real than their american counterpart films. there is rawness to the subject matter as well as the production, as it is obvious these were made quickly at low cost.
but what drew me to both to the film and the book was this idea of exploring the performative nature of masculinity. in working class midlands england in the post-WWII period, where this films takes place, the main character ARTHUR SEATON struggles to come to terms with how to transcend his repetitive factor job and womanizing ways. for he doesn't get any satisfaction from his work and the only avenue for being dominant was swooning the bored housewives of what he deemed "slow husbands." its as if his conquests was more of a badge of honor to his male mates than an expression or projection of his will. essentially this behavior was a ironically a form of impotence.
i'm almost certain this dynamic, as well as the geographical and cultural similarities of nottingham (where the film takes place) to manchester are what drew a young MORRISSEY to transpose the line "why don't you ever take where it's lively and there's people" into THE SMITHS' iconic song THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT. just saying.
i saw this idea of male identity defined through work almost everywhere growing up but especially in the arab world, where at times you would see young men of immeasurable means doing dangerous things out of sheer boredom. this was in kuwait and since their financial, social and political connections were bulletproof, it was as if they had to develop a new pissing contest to set themselves apart. as a foreigner it was fascinating to watch and mock but at some level i really pitied them and their circumstance. it was like they were neglected and were in a dead-end.
this book and film present to me a dead-end scenario that is transcended through hard fought self-reflection. and for me that concept is one meaning that both the novel and film explore effectively: the need for self-analysis apart from your circumstances.
art by nacrowe
cult filmmaker and queer icon DEREK JARMAN was a visual artist of the first order. he gave voice to a community that was largely ostracized, forgotten and pushed to the periphery of western society during the twin reigns of 1980s reagan's america and thatcher's britain.
given the new world order we find ourselves in at the current historical and cultural moment, his largely claustrophobic set pieces with equally harrowing narratives dealing often with whisper campaigns (EDWARD II), coded behavior (CARAVAGGIO) and persecution based on identity (SEBASTIANE) seem wholly prescient and beyond relevant to today's jumbled digital clusterfuck of identity, reason and truth.
JARMAN may have been writing and speaking from the perspective of an uncloseted homosexual in the 80s dealing with the AIDS epidemic, which ultimately took his life, but in his immaculately constructed scenes of fringe characters fighting for dignity and purpose in a world that offers neither, I find a overflowing well of both.
his films show that you don't need outside affirmation to have real meaning and purpose, even if you are doomed.