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Hi-Tech Hitler

4 Jul

I’ll be honest with y’all. There are definitely times when I check out something specifically because I’m hoping that I can rope the Mister into watching it with me. This was certainly the case with Hi-Tech Hitler.

The History Channel puts together a fine doc on the science of the Nazis that I hadn’t heard of yet. As one of the experts in this program pointed out, when most of us think of scientific work by the Germans during WWII this isn’t our first thought. I think of testing on Jews and other populations that did not find favor (or humanity) with the Nazis.

The scientific advances highlighted here thai illy did not involve torture. The Germans studied human populations and mice to link tobacco smoking to cancer. They developed jet engine for bombers. They also invent a method for recording audio on magnetic tape. One advance, that of the electron microscope, went largely unnoticed as it didn’t further Hitler’s war machine. The other discoveries did and money and resources went toward them.

I thought that this was a very interesting look at science behind the swastika. And if you haven’t already seen it, Kevin, you totally should.

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In the Realms of the Unreal (2004)

3 Jul

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our janitor where I work.  After a weekend of use my garbage is always much more full than my neighbors.  So on Mondays I joke to him that I worked hard on it for him when he comes to empty it.  I’m not sure that he understands me.  I don’t know if he cares that I nod and smile when I see him in the hallways.  I definitely don’t know if he’s an artist or a children’s book writer.

And that’s how it happened with Henry Darger.  He was a custodian for most of his life and went largely unnoticed.  Only three known photos existed of him at the time of his death.  His mother died when he was young and he was left to take care of his father until he was put into a nursing home.  From there Henry moved into an orphanage which was not a happy time for him.  Though things would get worse when he was moved to the poorly-named the Lincoln Assylum for Feeble-Minded Children.  He made several escape attempts after learning of his father’s death in Chicago.  Finally he was successful but learned that the Chicago of his childhood was not the Chicago he lived in now.  He began his custodial duties and his art.

Darger would go on to create a single-spaced, typed, 15,000 page book.  It was a tale of war where abused children fought against their oppressors and were led by the Vivian girls.  In addition to the book he wrote an autobiography and kept journals.  In addition to the enormous amount of writing he did he also created art.  He taught himself collage, tracing and then started to draw the Vivian girls in battle.  He would illustrate his book and create large works showing specific scenes. 

The movie about his life was interesting but I didn’t like it as much as the Mister.  In the documentary sections of the paintings are animated.  The Mister thought that this was necessary to hold the viewer’s attention for the entire 90 minutes.  I felt anxious to spend a bit more time looking at the art itself and not someone’s take on it.  Additionally, the director interviewed people who knew him.  Old neighbors and landlords talked about how little they knew about this man who had created this outsider art.

I thought it was interesting to hear from friends but they admittedly did not know him well and no one was aware of his art until he was moved into a medical facility where he would soon die.  I would have liked to have heard from experts in the field of outsider art.  And hearing a psychiatrist talk about him would have helped me to understand him better.  At this point I feel like I’ve watched a 90 minute preview for a movie that will really give me information.  Still, wanting to know more about the subject is a compliment to any documentary and as I said, the Mister enjoyed it.  If you like his work you might want to check it out for yourself.

Other Fish in the Sea

28 Jun

Look at that... he knows I've been untrue but he still wants to tell me about these cows. Rick's quite a guy.

I’ve been checking out a fair amount of travel videos from the library.  It’s fair to say the Rick Steves is my gold standard but even I cannot live on the Rickster alone.  I’m totally biased in my take on other travel shows now but I keep checking out the competition.  And I like to tell myself it’s not just so I can be relieved to go back to my one and only.

SAMANTHA BROWN

I like Samantha Brown.  She gives good information and is outgoing and spunky just like Mr. Steves.  I’d be a bigger fan of her if it wasn’t so dang obvious that she’s traveling for the Travel Channel.  She shops, dines and stays in upscale places.  She also packs an entire Macy’s department store for each trip.  I watched an episode on Switzerland in which she wore three different pairs of boots, two winter coats, four hats and four scarves.  It could easily be said that since Sam is a lady that she needs to dress up.  No one wants to see a frumpy female talking about the wonders of the Alps, right?  The effect is that I’m distracted.  I don’t remember what sights she saw, only that she changed into a different beret to do it.  I think that I like my tour guides to be bigger geeks, honestly.

Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown

BURT WOLF

Speaking of geeks, I really enjoy Burt Wolf’s non-stop trivia tidbits.  I have a co-worker that teases me by saying “oh, no.  Karli is going to make us learn again” because I like to randomly throw out useless trivia.  Maybe Burty and I could have a trivia off?  But maybe not because homey is always on cruises.  It’s safe to say that his travel shows are geared towards the older traveler.  Though there is some charm in having a floating hotel room on a river there is also the lack of spontaneity.  And the addition of guest speakers.  Mr. Wolf also has the tendency to use the same musical cadence repeatedly when speaking so it’s kind of like listening to the same car commercial over and over.  I’d definitely watch his stuff again because though I’m not a fan of his mode of travel the information is fantastic.

Burt Wolf.com

RUDY MAXA

I think that this is the wrong kind of geek for me.  This is “stop, you are embarassing yourself” kind of geek.  Many a time I find the cheese level beats out the information.  The visuals are fantastic as many of his shows are taped in HD.  He’s contributed to NPR shows and National Geographic Traveler magazine so he’s got street cred.  His facts are good but his pronunciation of foreign words is pretty aggravating.  Someone else writes Rudy’s script for him, perhaps they could also write out a phonetic guide?  It’s not that his accent is bad (it is) but that he simply says things incorrectly.  I’d hate to see a bunch of Americans asking a Florence tour guide about “Broon-uh-leh-ski” when it should be “Broon-uh-lesh-ee”.  You call it nitpicking but I call it aggravating.  When it comes to language I’m easily irked.  Just ask the Mister.  He has to watch baseball with me and those announcers aren’t so much mispronouncing things as making up new words.

Rudy Maxa.com

GLOBE TREKKERS

I was going to try and make this sound less harsh but these guys are a bunch of nut jobs.  Plain and simple.  While it’s nice to learn about the mistakes others have made it’s puzzling to watch a paid “professional” making them in front of you.  One guide forgot to validate his bus ticket and his train ticket in the same show and paid the fine.  Another guide drags us to a Venice film opening and then makes us watch as she tries to grab Oliver Platt’s attention.  Because they’re so dang kooky they also manage to get into interesting situations.  I keep getting these because this is my kind of reality TV.  So random and unfocused but these guides are really trying.  They are just traveling with very little scripted information and a bunch of energy.  It’s somewhat like watching a real traveler released into the wilds.  You never know what’s going to happen.  And if you find one you like, you can download wallpaper of their face.  Yes, really.

The official Globe Trekker website

 

The Lives of Others (2006)

26 Jun

This movie won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 so it goes without saying that it’s not in English.  It’s original title is Das Leben Der Anderen (Dahss Lee-bin Durr Ahn-durr-inn).  I had to bring that up because ever since I saw this film I’ve been saying the German title in my head.  How is that relevant here?  I could say it’s that the film is so powerful that I can’t stop thinking of it, which is true, but it’s more that I find random things stuck in my head all of the time.  For example, the lyrics to “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings.  That song is so catchy that I find the Mister and I singing it for just about every purpose.  “Where is our pup-py?  I do not know.  I think he’s slee-ping and feeling low.  That’s not my fault.  That’s not my fault…” etc.

But since this movie is so wonderful it deserves my attention, so here we go.  This is a story of East Germany and the role of the Secret Police or Stasi.  It focuses on the select few who were allowed to live their lives as private citizens as long as they carried out their work without cause for suspicion.  A playwright, in particular, is seen here.  The film opens on one of his plays that shows strong support for the East German way of life.  His girlfriend stars in the play and this is when a leader of the Stasi decides he must have her.  The cost is that the playwright must be followed and spied on.  Something wrong must be discovered so that the actress can be his and the playwright can be eliminated.

Enter a Stasi detective who walks the party line.  He is happy to bug the playwright’s apartment and set up a surveillance unit in the attic of the apartment building in which the playwright lives.  But in doing so he slowly begins to see the humanity.  His eyes are opened to the flaws in the system.  It is his journey that captivates us as we follow him through his days.

This work was a passionate one from all involved.  The performances are brilliant and are given by actors who accepted only 20% of their usual salaries so that they could be part of this project.  The props master spent two years in a Stasi prison.  He worked diligently to insure that all props were authentic, borrowing from collectors and museums.  The director and writer Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck spent a month translating the screenplay into French so that he could interest Gabriel Yared into composing the score.  He was convinced that his touch was needed as music appears as a character in the film.  Though I can fault Donnersmarck for directing the beautiful but vapid The Tourist with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, I can’t fault his work here.  Every touch is nuanced but genuine.  We are transported into this world and leave feeling unsettled, as we should.  Das Leben Der Anderen is powerful and does allow flinching.

It’s not an easy movie to watch but I truly enjoyed it.

 

Rembrandt (1936)

23 Jun

Sometimes it’s just fun to watch a movie. That’s lucky because the amount of accurate information I could gather from a Korda film is about the same as the amount of nutrition I can get from a chicken McNugget. But that’s not the point, is it? And I seem to gain some kind of enjoyment out of both scenarios though I certainly feel less nauseous after watching this movie.

Rembrandt is a film about the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn (Rijn rhymes with pine). Though famous and spendy in today’s art world, he’d die pretty much penniless. I also knew that his first wife died and he lived with a woman in his later years. There ends what I know about Rembrandt besides his kick ass self portraits. So I’m probably not a good judge of what is accurate but the internet always picks up where film leaves off.

Sources say that director Alexander Korda did a wonderful job of accurately portraying Holland at this time. Charles Laughton was also very good. I concur. Though I will admit that I found myself double-checking his bio to see if he had played the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz though I knew better. In case you’re wondering, he so totally didn’t.

What I liked best about this movie was seeing the Bride of Frankenstein’s Elsa Lanchester playing opposite her husband (Laughton). Granted theirs was a lavender marriage and Laughton was as gay as a picnic basket. Still there is something fun about seeing real couples together in a movie. Except for Gigli, I guess. I can’t bring myself to watch.

Besides wishing tha some more thought had been put into the application of Laughton’s facial hair, I have no qualms about suggesting this movie to others. If for no other reason than hearing the painting the Night Watch called dark. In our time we know that it was just dirty. Which reminds me… Maybe it’s time for a McNugget.

Sorry, I was totally done. I promise. But when I was looking for a link to the Night Watchman I got a little saddened by how badly Google wanted to show me tee

Scenic Walks of the World – Wonders of Man’s Creations

18 Jun

This video is another example of me trying too hard.  You could say that this whole blog fits that description but everyone needs a hobby.  Blogging about my Europe research has to be a bit more constructive than, say, being a sniper.  That’s the only argument I can think of right now as my brain is numb from watching this sucker.

You are getting very sleepy...

The Scenic Walks of the World series is brought to us by the good people at Reader’s Digest.  As I fought to stay alert I had a flashback of many a video shown in darkened classrooms.  It was tempting to put my head down and move my pen back and forth over my notebook to pretend that I’m taking notes.  And that I’m awake.

It’s the measured tones of the narrator that does it, I imagine.  Perhaps he considers his pace as one of reverence for a very serious topic.  We’re talking about the Colliseum, Machu Picchu and the Kremlin, after all.  I would prefer enthusiasm over drowsiness any day.  The information is all good but I’m hard fought to remember any of it as every word carefully flows into the next.  Basically, it’s so well narrated it put me in a trance.

I did perk up when the subject turned to Versailles and the Eiffel Tower.  That’s why I had checked this DVD out in the first place.  Though I didn’t learn anything new about either structure it was fun to see pictures.  I was reminded of how large Versailles is (very) and how the Eiffel Tower was scheduled for demolition in 1909 but it came in handy as a radio tower.  Then when it helped the French intercept German transmissions during the Great War, Parisians decided to keep their tower around.  All interesting stuff, I will admit.  I can’t help breathing a sigh of relief that it’s over… just like today’s post.

Paths of Glory (1957)

15 Jun

This is an amazing movie.  I checked it out from the library on the suggestion of my professor.  Or at least that’s what I call him.  I don’t think that listening to his lectures through iTunes U is quite the same as attending class.  Still I’m quite attached to the guy.  I’d like to think that I’d even take notes and do all the assigned reading for his course.  Or at the very least, watch the movies.

This is one of Stanley Kubrick’s first films.  You may know his work on a Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining or 2001: a space odyssey.  I hope that you do not know him from Eyes Wide Shut.  Paths of Glory was a film that Kubrick was determined to make despite the fact that he was pretty sure that it wouldn’t make a lot of money.  He was right in this assumption but this movie is a classic today for what it is, not what it isn’t.

The story is that of a French troop during WWI.  They are ordered to complete a mission that will likely spell disaster and death.  This is the result of an upwardly mobile general agreeing to suicide for his men in hopes of advancement for himself.  During the battle many die and eventually the group is forced to surrender.  They are under equipped and out manned by the Germans.  Due to their anticipated failure the generals believe that an example should be made and they seek to court martial and execute men.

If you see the film you will easily forget that this is supposed to be a French troop.  Besides the character names there is very little indication.  The movie itself is shot near Munich and Dachau.  Many of the men in the trenches are off duty Munich policemen.  But the point is still clear.  War is quite often insane.  Though the trenches are a bit wider than they were in real life to accommodate camera movements they still feel close.  They still resonate with fear and dread.  Kirk Douglas is wonderful if you don’t mind him being undeniably American.

Many French and Swiss did mind Kubrick’s adaptation of the book by the same name.  The movie was banned in France and the Swiss didn’t release it because, in simple terms, it made the French look cowardly.  From the distance of years I can say that it doesn’t appear that way to me.  The French men in the trenches were brave in an impossible situation.  That’s true courage.  Seeing the movie helps us to remember that war is not fair.  It’s not just or friendly or even logical.

Though I thought A Very Long Engagement did a better job of portraying the trenches, I happen to be biased.  I like French speaking French and I like to see things in color.  Maybe because then it helps me to stop thinking of that time in history in black and white.

Forever: A Film by Heddy Honigmann

12 Jun

Have you seen Beetlejuice before?  I have and so many times that I can quote it for you.

Barbara (Geena Davis): Adam, is this what happens when you die?
Receptionist:
That is what happens when you die, that is what happens when he dies and that is what happens when they die. It’s all very personal.

It is indeed very personal.  The film Forever shows the life of a cemetery, Paris’s famed Pierre Lachaise.  As I mentioned before, we are planning to visit this cemetery when we are in France.  And in this film you see many others who visit the artists who live there.  They tend the graves, they share their connections and they extend the life of those who have passed on by remembering them.

As a cartoonist in the film says, art can mean eternity for the artist.  By visiting Modigliani’s paintings in the Louvre, playing Chopin on the piano or listening to Maria Calais sing we are keeping these individuals alive.  And it isn’t just the famous people who stay with us.  Every time I tell someone about how Mom used to devour books I am extending her stay on earth.

Loss and grieving is all very unique.  It is different from person to person and from one moment to the next.  An embalmer interviewed in the film has closed tear ducts and cannot cry.  There are more than tears to share for those who have left.  Like our reaction to loss, I feel that this documentary will be experienced differently by those who see it but I’d definitely recommend it.  My favorite part was seeing how mourners chose to decorate the graves.  Artists receive paintbrushes, writers a pen, cherry pits in the eyes of a carved owl or the traditional and beloved flowers. 

The women who cleaned the sites with water brought from home were truly touching.  I just wish that someone would wipe all of those lipstick kisses off Oscar Wilde’s grave.  The rumor is that kissing the large stone statue will bring you luck in love.  Oscar was not lucky in love; it’s close to say he was cursed.  I’m unsure how his misfortune and Maybelline will change anything but then again we’re all bound to see things a little bit differently, especially where death is concerned.

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

26 May

I’ve never been able to watch Saving Private Ryan. The first sequences are so brutally honest and, well, brutal that I find it too hard to continue. So I was surprised last night that I chose to watch a movie about the Great War that clearly showed the futility and fear that were a large part of that war.

Perhaps it is that I trusted director Jean-Pierre Jeunet to breathe lightness and humility in where it made sense. And he didn’t let me down. I had been learning about WWI and it’s stark desperation. You see, troops were sent “over the top” of trenches knowing that it was more likely that they would perish than live to fight another day. In hindsight it’s easy to think that both sides were foolish to keep on sending their troops to slaughter but this was a new kind of war. There were new rules and suddenly soldiers became expendable.

A Very Long Engagement allows you to meet some of these men as they approach their date with destiny. There is gallows humor but there is also outright darkness. Jeunet does not try to paint a happy-go-lucky Amelie patina over fighters trapped in barbed wire or gunned down the moment their heads appear from the trenches.

Some of the paintings I learned about in the Art of War are faithfully reproduced here, such as men blind from mustard gas leading each other through the battlefield. We are provided with a view of the horrific surroundings men faced during this war. The premise is about five men who mutilated their hands in hopes of returning home and avoiding certain death. That alone helped me better understand why WWI was such a defining moment for Europe. Recovery from this kind of anguish isn’t brought about by eating from age, after all.

The film is beautiful, the settings amazing. I loved the story almost as much as learning about the War. If you don’t mind reap ding subtitles or watching Audrey Tautou then this is something you shouldn’t miss. Also you can stream it on Netflix so you don’t have to wait another moment for an excuse to drink red wine. Magnifique!

Art of War

12 May

I was browsing the stacks at the library the other day when I ran into this documentary.  “Art of War – The Story of the First World War as Told Through Art”, it’s called.  In the 49 minutes the doc covered, I learned an awful lot about The Great War while seeing some unforgettable art work.

WWI had the greatest loss of life of any conflict in history.  The type of warfare changed dramatically before.  In previous wars you had guns and knives.  You fought the enemy face to face.  Now you were still being sent into the field but there was a greater chance that you’d be hit by a cannon, mustard gas or the newest and scariest machine, a tank.

The artists during this time period were no longer content to display war is something that was heroic and patriotic.  They wanted to show how it really felt to those who experienced it first hand.  This was the first war where artists showed soldiers looking tired and defeated.  It wasn’t about glorifying what was happening on the field; it was about expressing the horrors of war for those on the outside.

It’s been almost a hundred years but as I looked at the art I could see the violence and the fear.  The new school of Cubism was used to show soldiers as machines and not as humans.  When you see the image of the new tanks you can imagine how frightening they were and how impersonal.

This doc helped me to understand just how demoralizing the after effects were for the Germans.  They not only lost but they returned to a country in poverty and where the victors had taken control.  It set up an environment of discontent that led to WWII.  I still would like to know more about the first world war but I now feel like I understand just how different this war was from what came before and what it meant to history.