“Der Rosenkavalier”, “Final portrait”, “I am not your negro”, “Namatjira”, “The eagle huntress”, Mountain”
It’s a while since I’ve been to Narooma Kinema, and in that time it’s had a major facelift. I’m not too sure about the external colour scheme, but the 30-seater theatre where I’ve spent so many pleasurable hours is unchanged, and on my first visit I manage to snaffle my favourite front-row seat with plenty of leg-room, and a shelf for the interval chai latte.
I launch myself back into movie going with nearly five hours of opera. “Der Rosenkavalier” was the first opera I ever saw, some fifty years ago, and it was so sparsely staged and so long – my mental picture is of people standing in front of a mantelpiece and singing interminably – that it turned me off opera till recently.
The opulent staging by the New York Metropolitan Opera is a very different kettle of fish. Yet again I’m awed by the double skills needed by opera stars: they have to be able to both sing and act. And this lot can. Opening scene – young lover and older woman – dissolves into the older woman’s sense of time passing: the poignancy of her confession that sometimes in the middle of the night she stops all the clocks; and her conviction about the end of the affair “if not today, tomorrow”. And so it proves. Octavian falls for the young bride he carries the silver rose for and has to navigate around the boorish Baron Ochs, who shows the fading arisocracy (Strauss wrote this is 1911) in all it’s ghastliness: entitlement, sexual predation, and total gracelessness. The nouveau arrived don’t fare much better: ostentation and a determination to be accepted by the aristocracy no matter how, in this case father virtually selling his daughter for a title. When the Marshallin vacates the stage in favour of the younger woman her lover is in love with she shows what grace and dignity look like.
What I particularly enjoy about the Met live on screen are the bonus offerings in the interval – in this case two intervals. An interviewer waylays the singers as they leave the stage, often dripping with sweat, to interrogate them about their roles and how they perceive and developed them. Or talks to the stage designer for a future production of “Tosca” about using 3D printing for the armature of a statue. Or discusses the intricacies of the music with the conductor. Or talks to the director about the ideas that drive his production. Or talks to the wigmaker (40 hours per wig, an average of 70 wigs per production) who plays a cameo role as hairdresser in this production. I’m introduced to a new concept: retiring from role. Two of the leads are about to do just that. For Renée Fleming , the Marschallin has been a signature role: she’s played it many many times and says she’s added as many layers to it as she can. Elina Garanca who played Octavian so stunningly, is also moving on from this role to more mature ones. I’m intrigued by this definition of retirement.
It’s not often I sit through a movie with a smile on my face. I loved the gentleness of this one, set in Mongolia, despite the slaughter of sheep, rabbits and fox. The relationship between Aisholpan and her father, her mother’s acceptance of her daughter’s ambition, the teenage giggling of her friends in the dormitory at school are all natural in a way you don’t often see on screen. So is the montage of disapproving elders when they hear about the eagle festival ambitions of a girl. So many sequences adhere to my mind: Aisholpan’s capture of her eaglet after a perilous descent down a rocky cliff, her father holding the blue rope; Aisholpan clumsily painting her fingernails and then her sister’s in preparation for the festival; her strength when she catches the eagle on her arm; the horses sinking into snow on the fox hunt in the icy vastness of winter; the disappointment on her face when her eaglet fails to catch the fox.
Reviewers castigate the movie for not being a “true documentary”, whatever that is. They point out that girls have been eagle huntresses before; that other girls were competing in the eagle festival Aisholpan won. Does this matter? I’ve given up seeing documentaries as absolute truth long ago. I’m more than happy to see it as the story of a strong girl fulfilling her dreams without high drama and over-dramatic setbacks. The few moments of tension come from extreme landscape. One reviewer calls it a “documentary fairy tale” and that seems to me to be a perfectly satisfactory categorisation. A spectacular vast natural landscape: ordinary loving people and relationships; a simple story of achievement. These are rare in the world of movies and gave me great pleasure.
For the trailer click here
Albert Namatjira is an Australian artist, the first Aboriginal to paint his country in the white man’s way. He became famous and his paintings sold well. This documentary is shaped around the Namatjira project, an attempt to recover copyright of his work for his family. A play is one centrepiece, performed around Australia and then in London, where his descendants have an audience with the uncomprehending queen, hoping that she’ll give them back their land. The other centrepiece is documentary footage from the 1940s – 1950s and the present in Namatjira’s community. It damns Australia’s ongoing attitude to its Indigenous people. The commentary from the past is condescending and paternalistic, and current attitudes are no better.
The landscape of the red heart, the subject of Namatjira’s art, is stunning, glowing red soil the background to startling white gums. His relationship with white artist Rex Batterbee is the only redeeming aspect of race relations, although the white producer of the play is respectful, seeking family approval before proceeding and using an all-Aboriginal cast.
If you want to watch a trailer for the documentary, click here
If you want to see his paintings, click here for a google images collection.
If you want to know more about the copyright issue, read these news items
What an experience! If you are edgy about heights, expect to be clammy-palmed for the duration, as people hug sheer cliffs, make their way along a knife-edge of snow, hang suspended over emptiness in their dangling tents, pause in the middle of a vast vista of mountain peaks and fog, mutter “I want to be at home” when the cold and the height and the danger finally makes them recognise the risks they are taking. Robert Macfarlane’s script reflects on the insanity of mountaineering (if you’re not a mountaineer) and comments that now climbing Everest isn’t an adventure, it’s standing in a queue. But oh the beauty of the mountains from the comfort of my Kinema seat: the pleats and folds of snow, the icicles bordering a cavern, the sharp rockiness outlined in white, the sublime night skies. And the smallness of human beings against this majestic background.
This documentary is visually magnificent. The script is sometimes banal and trite, maybe the fault of the voice which intones rather than speaks. The music is played by the Australian Chamber Orchestra under Richard Tognetti: much that is familiar from the classics, some specially composed. The music is only occasionally domineering: just once in the early stages when the suspense of the climber’s search for handholds didn’t really need reinforcement with dramatic music.
The film traces attitudes to the mountains over time. We see in a Sherpa elder bowing and burning incense the old feeling of awe: the mountains as a place for gods and monsters, not humans. Slowly puny men begin to desire conquest and by the end of the documentary thrill-seekers are going to increasingly absurd ends for their adrenaline fix, leaping off pinnacles with pushbike and parachute, jumping out of planes on snowboards, skiing impossibly vertical runs, and joining endless crowds in pursuit of conquest.
For the trailer, click here
Just as well you don’t have to like the lead character in a movie. Giacometti channeled by Geoffrey Rush is obnoxious and selfish and self-obsessed. And often very amusing, as he virtually kidnaps an American to be his subject for “a few hours” that turns into three weeks. He chases after his prostitute-muse, insists on an absolute position for his subject, agonises over his lack of talent, stashes banknotes indiscriminately all over the studio. And still there are pleasures: the contrast between him and his wryly acquiescent sitter, who could be an American abroad from a Henry James novel; the reconstruction of the studio that is visually beautiful in its chaos and untidiness; the imitation sculptures all over the place, which had to be exact replicas and then had to be destroyed so they wouldn’t find their way onto the market as originals.
Watch the trailer here
I am alone in the Kinema to watch this. It’s a savage indictment of the treatment of negroes in America (and Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal people), scripted by James Baldwin, whose words are interspersed with footage from the worst times. It’s framed around the lives of three assassinated men – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King – who were all Baldwin’s friends. Baldwin’s passionate words reshape the concept of racism:
You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves – and furthermore you give me a terrifying advantage – you never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
This documentary is confronting and challenging in its starkness. Maybe now Australia finally has a law allowing gay marriage, it’s time to really tackle justice for Aboriginal people.
To watch the trailer, click here