Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: The Middle Ages (2015) by Johannes Fried


Book Review:
The Middle Ages
 by Johannes Fried
Published January 2015 by Belknap Press at Harvard University
Translation from the German by Peter Lewis
(AMAZON)

 The academic movement to revisit the so-called "Dark Ages" of post-Roman, pre-Renaissance European Century is well over a half century old at this point.  This project is just as "revisionist" as revisionist history can be, but since this period evokes few strong emotions among teachers and students, learned Professors have done their work largely unopposed.  Much of the work in this area has been done by Authors writing and French and German, so translation is very much a part of keeping current in recent developments and more long term trends in the scholarship.

 It's easy to see that The Middle Ages by retired professor of Medieval History at Frankfurt Univerity Johannes Fried is important merely by looking at the book.  The Middle Ages is a broad narrative synthesis, meaning that it is written as much (if not more) for a lay audience, but with a depth and attention to detail that is sufficient to evoke interest from specialists in the field.  It's like, the main narrative is for the general readers, and then the notes and bibliography are for the specialists.  In this case, many of the cited sources are in German, which means that The Middle Ages is likely as close as English readers are likely to get to those books.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Last Lizard is the new Dirty Beaches



  I wasn't exactly surprised when Alex Zhang Hungtai told me that he was done with Dirty Beaches.  I'd like to think at least part of his decision was based on conversations he had with me (which I was basing on my experiences watching bands like Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls, Cults,  Best Coast and Wavves "come up" with varying degrees of success and/or failure) about whether he really wanted to be touring 300 capacity rock clubs in the mid west and south for the next decade plus of his life.

 If you don't have some kind of engineered instant success (often paid for with someone else's money) a career in indie music means steady touring, shitty gigs and no certainty of anything approaching financial stability.  Personally, I couldn't live that way, and I thought it was a fair question to ask Alex since it was clear that tuesday night shows in Nashville playing for 60 people didn't fill him with utter joy.

 I also knew that Alex was frustrated by the very fans that his Dirty Beaches persona attracted.  He very, very, very much did not want to be the guy who got yelled at to play "True Blue" by frat brothers.  I take a more nuanced view of that situation, but as I tell my criminal clients, "I don't do the time."  The decision to abandon the Dirty Beaches act essentially meant the end of Zoo Music so far as I was concerned, the actual end came afterwards, but when you have that flash of lightning and then the lightning decides it doesn't want to be lighting, you don't sit around waiting for another burst.  The play is to move on with your life, and if something else happens, so be it.

 So that is what I did. And while I've had talks with Alex about possibly running a label with him in a similar fashion to the role I played with Zoo Music, he is very much a free agent, with multiple high level indies having various levels of "interest" in him, so I have no idea how that will end up.  Alex Zhang Hungtai is going to continue to make music, as Last Lizard and not as Dirty Beaches.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Donkey Skin (1970) d. Jacques Demy

Catherine Denueve wearing her Donkey Skin.

Movie Review
Donkey Skin (1970)
d. Jacques Demy
Criterion Collection #718
Part of The Essential Jacques Demy

   Donkey Skin, Demy's take on the classic Charles Perrault (the French "Grimm Brothers") fairy tale, is a mouth-watering concoction, and it is one of those movies where the restoration of the film to its original technicolor glory is particularly important.  The story is a dark version of the lost princess fairy tale.  The King of the realm loses his wife, promising her that he will only marry a woman more beautiful than her.  That turns out to be his daughter, played by Denueve, who is torn between her desire to please her doting father and well, the obvious fact that a marriage between a father and his birth daughter is monstrous.  The voice of reason is her fairy godmother, winningly played by Delphine Seyrig, who tells her to obtain a donkey skin and wear it as a disguise.  Denueve does, and she ends up working as the maid for a family of farmers.  There, she is discovered by her prince, and singing ensues.

  The sets are the star here- Demy's production is richly colored almost beyond comprehension, and you will be left gasping, even thought this fifty year old film wasn't shot in HD.  Donkey Skin is a real tribute to the possibilities of color in film, and that is why you should give it a watch.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Kingdom of this World (1949) by Alejo Carpentier

Henri Cristophe, first Emperor of Haiti and subject of The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpentier





































Book Review
The Kingdom of this World (1949)
 by Alejo Carpentier

 Man would you take a look at the Wikipedia entry for this novel? It's kind of insanely detailed.  I get it though- The Kingdom of this World is a compelling work of historical fiction, early "magic realism" about the slave revolution in Haiti, which is itself one of the more interesting historical events from the western hemisphere in the last thousand years

   But the hook for The Kingdom of this World is that it is, I think, the first novel you can properly describe as magical realism.  Magical realism is one of the most significant developments in 20th century literature, and its authors would rise to world wide fame from the 1960s onward.    Magical realism is interesting in that it combines the well known (and century old in 1949) tradition of "realism" with a magical perspective that transcends the tired tropes of Dadaism and Surrealism.  In this way, magical realism creates a more convincing, compelling narrative then Surrealism ever could.  Magical realism doesn't reject narrative convention like the more radical outgrowths of modernism in the early 20th century. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Path to the Nest of Spiders (1947) by Italo Covino


The Path to the Nest of Spiders (1947)
 by Italo Covino

 Like many great novelists, Italo Covino had an ambivalent relationship with his first novel.  The Path to the Nest of Spiders was derivative (of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls) and Calvino acknowledges as much in the Preface to the edition I read.  In a sense, if you've read For Whom the Bell Tolls, you know what to expect in The Path to the Nest of Spiders, except it's set in Italy during World War II instead of Andalusian Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

 Calvino's preface also situates The Path to the Nest of Spiders firmly in the "Italian Neorealist" genre.  A canonical example of a film version of The Path to the Nest of Spiders is Salvatore Giuliano (1961) d. Francesco Rosi.  That film was actually post World War II, about rebel-gangsters in Sicily in the 1950s.  By comparison, The Path to the Nest of Spiders is strictly anti-Nazi/anti-Fascist World War II partisan stuff.

  His description of neo-realism as being "in the air" after World War II ties in with interviews I've watched of contemporary artists like Roberto Rossellini.  In the 40s and the 50s, even Fellini could be described as a neo-realist.  See for example, I vitelloni (1953).  That film is about as Italian neo-realist as you can get.  Like Fellini, Calvino would go on to eclipse the neo-realist label, but would carry it's influence throughout his career.

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