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Archive for May 15th, 2008

Life And Art

While Jesus passed through Bethany one of the local worthies took to himself to guide the master around. At one place a cloaked figure suddenly bolted out of sight. “Rabbi you see that man who ran into the alley?” Jesus stopped in his tracks.

“He is Lazarus,- the man whom you brought out from death,” said the guide,” you gave him life back so he may sin more”. Jesus already knew that Lazarus who never strayed from the straight and narrow in his life had sought pleasures, darkest ones since he got a new lease of life. Jesus sighed and said, “ I gave life since it was in my power to do so. May be it teaches him now a new way to celebrate life.” He turned the topic to something else. At one deserted place a man was trying to hang a rope from one of the branches of an olive tree. The guide said with awe, “ The man from Gadarenes. Didn’t you drive so many demons out of him?”

 Yes he was none other than the one who called himself Legion. Jesus knew he was a very brilliant performer who once earned pots of gold around Judea and in Rome by performing tricks. The man had lost his art from the moment Jesus cured him of his demonic possession. On seeing Jesus the man cringed and wailed, “ Oh Rabbi I had foolishly asked you to cure me of demons. Had I known that I would lose my art and source of income I would not have let you in.” Jesus approached him and asked,  “ Say the word, my Father will grant a new way of life and wisdom to earn a decent living”.

The man broke down and wept and said,” You and your God! Since you healed me I lost faith in God. Completely!”(c)

( Selected from my book- Fablescape soon to be published)

benny  

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Poetry Please!-3

A River Never Runs

 

A river never runs

When it can lie

Close to a shallow:

Minnows fret and sigh

And think the Sun is

Overbearing,-

It digs its toes deep

Into silt to turn in

For summer sleep.

 

A river knows how

To find ease

When out of its depths.

Rain may tease

In million prickles

Non-stop;

But river gets away  

Using the mighty torrent

To clear the way.

 

Old hag of the earth!

Your hollows do

Tell of some fault,

Geological; too

Deep to think :

How make a river

Nature’s jig-saw puzzle,

A walk-over?

 benny

12-28-06

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Bergman’s ‘Smultronstället is a masterpiece. Out of a simple story of a crotchety man who makes a journey from Stockholm to Lund to receive an honorary degree for his fifty years stint as a doctor, the Swedish master has woven a universal saga of you and me. The life of a common man is etched in heroic proportions. Dr. Isaak Borg is somewhat like Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman who had all his useful life glossed over his insubstantial self in a cleverly orchestrated ritual of living. Beneath his urbane exterior there beats a cold heart that has wrought enough havoc with all who are closest to him. Like Miller’s salesman, his advanced years all of a sudden rip apart the carefully erected façade and also his defenses. The film is an interior ‘odyssey’ where his fears, frustrations and self-pity take shapes as any character from the Homer’s saga.

The world lost one of its greatest film directors last year. In his “celluloid poems” (as Woody Allen calls them), film genius Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) examined the human condition in all of its bleakness, despair, humor, and hope, expanding our sense of what it means to be human. He favored intuition over intellect, and his films typically pondered the deepest concerns of humanity: mortality, loneliness, faith, and love. Considered one of his greatest films (and one of my personal favorites), Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället) brilliantly examines the life of an aging, 78-year-old medical doctor, Professor Isaak Borg (Victor Sjöström). This film weaves several strands of lives blighted unconsciously by this protagonist. While traveling with his lovely daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), from Stockholm to Lund they pass time in exchanges and he is rather surprised that she doesn’t particularly care for him or for Evald, his son. As the film progresses we see on what precipitous point their marriage stands and part of the blame lies with him. His inner journey is a journey of self-discovery; his daydreams, nightmares, and fellow travelers force him to face his past, examine his faults, and accept the inevitability of his impending death. Bergman’s film explores the difficulties of marriage and human relationships as shown in that of his own and on a rebound that of Evald and Marianne. His own inability to communicate is juxtaposed with the couple (whom he gives a ride). Their verbal thrusts and innuendos remind one of Albee’ Who is afraid of Virginia Wolf. Savor life’s wild strawberries while you can. Success is fleeting, but regrets and disappointments will follow us for the rest of our lives. The point is brought home in the dream sequence where he is judged as incompetent and the interlocutor informs loneliness as the punishment for his callousness. Because Borg’s inner journey is universal, Bergman’s film will always remain relevant and emotionally powerful.

The film won 11  awards including the Golden Globe.

Criterion’s edition includes a pristine digital transfer of Bergman’s bittersweet masterpiece, a 90-minute documentary by filmmaker and author Jörn Donner, improved English subtitle translation, and a commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie.

(ack: G. Merritt)

Quote:

‘Bergman, …uses flashbacks and bright, lyrical storytelling to capture the full arc of one man’s life: the successes that seem fleeting, the disappointments that linger in the memory, the regrets that never seem to let go. In some ways, it can be seen as a forerunner of Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry, except that Bergman’s sense of irony is always more profound’.( Marshall Fine)

Other films of Bergman: Smiles of a Summer Night, Persona, Scenes from a Marriage, The Seventh Seal, Cries and Whispers, Through a Glass Darkly and The Silence

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The 1951 John Huston classic, set in Africa during WW I was based a novel by C.S. Forester that had been making the Hollywood rounds since its 1935 publication.

German troops set fire to an African village, resulting in the death of an English missionary. His straightlaced sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn), now alone, is taken aboard a riverboat, the African Queen, by its gin-soaked Canadian skipper, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart). Allnut would love to sit out the war just drinking and smoking, but Rose convinces him otherwise; newly invigorated and desiring revenge, she persuades him to take her downriver where they will try to destroy a German U-boat using homemade torpedoes. Taking an instant, mutual dislike to one another, the two endure rough waters, the presence of German soldiers, and their own bickering to finally fall into one another’s arms. This is classic Huston material–part adventure, part quest–but this time with a pair of characters who’d all but given up on happiness. Bogart (a longtime collaborator with Huston on such classics as The Maltese Falcon and Key Largo and Hepburn have never been better, and support from frequent Huston crony Robert Morley (Beat the Devil, also featuring Bogart) adds some extra dimension and color.

How this movie ever got to be finally made or given the chemistry, bad in most cases, between Huston and his actors, one might think it a miracle that the film became a hit.

2.

The location shoot in the African Congo turned out to be one of the most difficult, most legendary, and most recounted in Hollywood history. To start, the company arrived in Africa without a finished script. James Agee had collaborated with Huston on the screenplay, but a heart attack kept Agee from flying to Africa for the shoot and from writing the film’s ending. Instead, Peter Viertel came in as replacement.

 Imagaine what it is to shoot with a script still in development and to work with a director whose nickname was ‘the monster’. Then the crew had location problems that included sun, rain, snakes, scorpions, crocodiles, tsetse flies, hornets, huge biting black ants, and constant humidity, which created mildew everywhere. Further, the African Queen’s engine had problems, rope would get tangled in its propellers, sound from the generator would interfere with shots. One night the Queen sank, and it took three days to raise the boat and get it ready again. To top it all there also were no toilets except the outhouse back at camp.

The food was OK but the dishes were washed in infected river water, and virtually everyone in the cast and crew got sick – except for Bogart and Huston, which they attributed to the fact that they basically lived on imported Scotch. Bogart later said, “All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus and Scotch whiskey. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.” Inspite of every difficulty posed by ego or location the film still stand out as high adventure as corroborated in Hepburn’s memoir, led by John Huston, a man with a strong but odd personality.

Hepburn and Huston

Hepburn was frustrated with Huston’s lack of interest in discussing the script – which Hepburn thought had major problems – before leaving for Africa. Finally he “ambled” up to her hut one morning and began to talk the script over with her. “We had long and amiable arguments,” wrote Hepburn. “Nothing much was done, really, and I seemed to be happy. I found that I could be quite honest with John about what I thought, and I also found that where I had good ideas he would take them. Where I was just worrying and confusing the issue, he would say, ‘Let it alone.'” One episode in particular won her over for good. The director had been dissatisfied with Hepburn’s performance, finding it too serious-minded. He came calling at her hut one day and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt – to put on her “society smile” in the face of all adversity. Huston left the hut, and Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, “that is the goddamnedest best piece of direction I have ever heard.”

For all Huston’s oddities and the pranks that he and Bogart pulled on Hepburn (such as writing dirty words in soap on her mirror), she came to respect his talent deeply.

Hepburn, Bogart, Huston and Agee went on to earn Oscar nominations, and Bogart won the Best Actor Academy Award for the first and only time in his career. “

3.

 

Columbia originally bought the book as a vehicle for Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester. When that duo instead made The Beachcomber (1938), a similar story, the deal fell through. Warner Bros. then bought it for Bette Davis and David Niven, but that deal also unraveled before the property ultimately found its way to Spiegel.

A story of two old people going up and down an African river… Who’s going to be interested in that? You’ll be bankrupt.”

 

So spoke British producer Alexander Korda to American producer Sam Spiegel upon learning that Spiegel wanted to film The African Queen. Korda wasn’t alone in his skepticism. “It will give John [Huston] the kind of commercial hit he had when he made The Maltese Falcon [1941],” Spiegel boasted to The New Yorker before shooting even began. But Spiegel would turn out to be right: the roughly $1.3 million gamble turned out to be not only a critical success, earning four Oscar nominations, but a huge commercial hit, pulling in $4.3 million in its first release.

Sam Spiegel knew his man: John Huston seemed to thrive on misery of his stars. Simply deciding to shoot in the Congo was one way of torturing everybody. Another example was the scene in which Bogart finds his body entirely covered with leeches (This was actually shot in the studio in London). Bogart insisted on using rubber leeches. Huston refused, and brought a leech-breeder to the studio with a tank full of them. This made Bogart queasy and nervous – qualities Huston wanted for his close-ups. Ultimately, rubber leeches were placed on Bogart, and a close-up of a real leech was shot on the breeder’s chest. Hepburn observed these kinds of incidents, and later wrote of Huston, “I never did see him go to the outhouse. Maybe he never did. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Would explain a great deal.”

Additional notes: Peter Viertel later related his run-ins with Huston in his novel White Hunter, Black Heart, a thinly disguised expose of the making of The African Queen and its director who would rather hunt elephants than shoot film. (Clint Eastwood directed a film version of that book in 1990, playing the Huston character himself.) Hepburn’s entertaining 1987 book The Making of the African Queen also details Huston’s obsession with hunting. One day he even convinced Hepburn to join him, and he inadvertently led her into the middle of a herd of wild animals from which they were lucky to escape alive.

 (Ack:–Tom Keogh,Jeremy Arnold)

compiler-benny

 

 

 

Producer: Sam Spiegel, John Woolf

Director: John Huston

Screenplay: James Agee, John Huston, Peter Viertel, C.S. Forester (novel)

Cinematography: Jack Cardiff

Film Editing: Ralph Kemplen

Art Direction: Wilfred Shingleton

Music: Allan Gray

Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Charlie Allnut), Katharine Hepburn (Rose Sayer), Robert Morley (Rev. Samuel Sayer), Peter Bull (Captain of Louisa), Theodore Bikel (First Officer), Walter Gotell (Second Officer).

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