Sunday's Elevating Film Tip: High-Brow Opera...Sort of...
Posted 3 Days Ago
Have you ever wondered what it would look and sound like if a roomful of Hogarth prints came alive and sang opera?
Do you like your high-brow music richly spiced with drunks, crooks, fences, and ladies of negotiable affection?
Today's freebie comes courtesy of a kind Youtube user, and was inspired by the fact that we heard NPR on the car radio.
No, NPR hasn't got any better, and they weren't playing good music, they never do that. But a quiz show they ran was enlivened by a terrible - and ironically intended - version of 'Mack the Knife'. Which made me yearn to hear...
Why, 'The Beggar's Opera', of course.
I was looking for the original, but ran across this beautiful staging of the Benjamin Britten version instead.
If you don't know 'The Beggar's Opera', you're in for a treat. If you do, Britten's setting is tasty, and the sets are just fabulous. It will make you laugh, too.
Hot Reading Tip for Sci-Fi Fans: Time Travelling Spaniards
Posted Last Week
Here's a freebie sci-fi novel: first published in 1887, 'El anacronopete' is the first novel about machine time travel.
The snag is: you have to read it in Spanish. Which may slow you down a bit.
The novelist, Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau, was a well-traveled writer. He served as a diplomat in China, so setting part of his time-travel novel there wasn't a stretch.
I haven't read it all, but I've taken a gander at the illustrations, which are cool, and read a synopsis. The plot's pretty wild.
First of all, the inventor - a sort of Doc Brown from Zaragoza - is asked to take some elderly French ladies of doubtful profession back in time, so that they rejuvenate. The mayor of Paris wants to reform them. This works, because they don't give them the 'Garcia fluid' that keeps them from aging backwards.
The 'science' involves the idea that air causes time to flow. Think about it - canning preserves food. Keep the air out, and... Okay, but that's not any sillier than Stan Lee.
Anyway, the chrononauts visit Queen Isabella in 1492 (you should listen to that Genovese sailor, lady), and Pompeii in 79, travel to ancient China, and then go back to Noah's Flood. (Stop laughing.) When they hit the Big Bang, things get weird...
You get the idea. Want to take a look? Here's the link:
For translation help, ask Maria.
Sunday's Spooky Screen Tip/Rant: Stalking the Rabid Manuscript
Posted Last Week
Oh, that Nat Geo. Oh, the drama. Oh, the silliness. Oh, the pain of listening to people narrate a story about manuscript palaeography as if they had studied with Steve Irwin.
'Crikey, mate! That's one demonically possessed codex! It's a monster!'
After all, this sort of narration works so WELL for nature documentaries....why not use it to keep the punters awake while you talk about mediaeval manuscripts? Besides, the thing is definitely haunted. Sure.
1. The Codex Gigas - Latin for 'Big Book', duh - has a demon centerfold. It looks like a cartoon to me. I suspect Max Fleischer (creator of 'Betty Boop' ) with a time machine. See if you don't agree:
Doesn't it look like this?
I rest my case.
2. The book was copied in Bohemia. Elektra giggles, 'That's almost as bad as Transylvania.' Yep. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. And people have too much free time over all that Pilsner beer. So of course, they made up a legend about the monk, the book, and the devil. Spooky stuff, writing, 'Can you write, Sigismund?' 'No, Pavel, but I can make an X, see?' 'Stop that, you're spoiling the bar counter..'
Okay, the Codex Gigas is cool. And buried in all that...what Elektra calls 'hoo-hee-ha-ha'...is about fifteen minutes' worth of perfectly good forensic palaeolgraphy. So enjoy.
I can imagine good old Professor Finch from the University of St Louis chortlin away at it. After all, he kept bragging that, with our cutting-edge microfilm technique, we were going to 'scoop' those old-fashioned palaeographers over at the Vatican. He would have got a kick out of the spooky manuscript angle.
But after listening to them trying to connect Herman the Recluse's oversized scrapbook to all things demonic, all I could say was...
A Vulcan Paean to Science Unearthed in the Atheists' Hymnal
Posted 2 Weeks Ago
I've been doing some research on 19th-century Freethinkers in the US, and I came across the fact that a 'Christian mob' had attacked Mr CB Reynolds in his agnostic tent revival in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1887. (I'm working on a guide entry about the ensuing blasphemy trial, it promises to be amusing.) The intriguing thing was that contemporaries sympathetic to the Freethinkers praised the ladies in the choir for keeping a cool head during the riot.
Choir, I thought. Did atheists have hymns, I wondered. And what did they sound like? Of course, I just HAD to know. Wouldn't you?
So I did some detective work, and found 'The Truth Seeker Collection of Forms, Hymns, and Recitations', published in 1877. Here's the link, in case you want to read some, or even sing along. Harmless stuff.
Some of the hymn tunes are given - one is to 'Home, Sweet Home', and another to 'Father, Dear Father, Come Home to Us Now'. I can just hear those ladies singing them.
One, 'Work for the Night Is Coming', is word-for-word the same as it was in the Baptist hymnal I grew up with. If they'd only known...
Anyway, I noticed that many of these hymns were written by Abner Kneeland. Rev Kneeland was the last person ever JAILED for blasphemy in the US. In Massachusetts, of course. They only did it because Kneeland was 'cantankerous', they said. I think we would all have liked him - his 'heretical' views were, for instance, that women ought to keep their own names when they got married. And that slavery was wrong, stuff like that.
Anyway, Kneeland wrote this hymn, and it occurred to me that it could easily have been sung in a Vulcan church, if Vulcans had churches. I suspect Spock would have agreed with the sentiments expressed. See what you think.
Science! Thou fair effusive ray,
From the great source of mental day,
Free, gen'rous and refin'd,
Descend with all thy treasures fraught,
Illumine each bewildered thought,
And bless my labouring mind.
Say from what simple springs began
The vast ambitious thoughts of man
That range beyond control,
Which seeks eternity to trace,
Drive through th'infinity of space,
And strain to grasp the whole!
The last, best effort of thy skill,
To form the life and rule the will,
Propitious power impart,
Teach me to cool my passion fires,
Make me the judge of my desires,
The master of my heart.
If you want a tune, here's a suitable one from the online hymn folk:
See? Who says the evangelicals have all the good hymns? Now you have something to sing besides Tom Lehrer songs. Although it's hard to beat his version of the Periodic Chart:
See, science fans? Never say I didn't give you anything.
Friday's Film Tip: The Flat, by Arnon Goldfinger
Posted 3 Weeks Ago
Today's film tip, again, is not a freebie. Elektra did a really thorough search, but no joy. If you have Amazon Prime, you can see it there. US Netflix viewers can find it under 'Foreign Films'. And I'll show you a trailer in a minute.
After the response to my last suggestion, I'm a bit reluctant to recommend movies that are less than 80 years old. After all, if I recommend them, I think they have some merit. But just in case somebody else would like this one, too, I'm going to go ahead. I've already recommended this film to colleagues who do history lessons - it has everything a history teacher could want to teach students about how to do historical research: documentation, argumentation, placing events in context, and etc. Nonetheless, it's far from boring. It's an edge-of-your-seat human mystery story.
The film I'm talking about is Arnon Goldfinger's 'The Flat'. Goldfinger lives in Tel Aviv. The film's in English, German, and Hebrew, with appropriate subtitles. Here's the trailer:
The genesis of the film, apparently, was that Goldfinger wanted to document his family's cleanup of his late grandmother's apartment. She'd lived there for about 70 years, and she was 98 when she died. As Goldfinger said, her flat was a little piece of 1930s Berlin, right in Tel Aviv. He didn't know German, and his grandmother didn't like to speak Hebrew, so they conversed in English.
The film begins with the funny things you find in your grandparents' attic: a top hat, gross fox furs, stuff like that. But then the descendants find something surprising: copies of a Nazi periodical called 'Der Angriff'. With an article that mentions the grandparents. It seems they served as guides for the author of the series 'A Nazi Goes to Palestine'. What was this all about? And who were those people in the family photo album? Above all, what really happened to Arnon's great-grandmother? He goes on a journey that takes him to Wuppertal and Berlin.
The answers will surprise you. The story isn't about praise or blame. It's about people, and memory, and why it takes the third generation to ask the questions. Goldfinger's a great interviewer. He's warm and sympathetic.
One piece of evidence they find is a Berlin Stolperstein to Arnon's great-aunt. You remember Stolpersteine? Malabarista told us about them: A57720440 In the end, they decide they might sponsor one of their own.
It seems to me that Arnon Goldfinger brought a great deal of empathy to his project. He is careful of his subjects' feelings. He is not quick to judge. And I think he's brought out a few truths that are not often apparent in the search for historical accuracy. The 'talking heads' aspect is minimal, but the professionals Goldfinger consults have some excellent points to make about the psychology of the individual caught up in the sweep of history.
I recommend the film. If you've got a spare hour and a half, give it a go. And if you like it, too, pass the word.
Thanks for listening.