Italian painter Tintoretto, new film


This video is called Tintoretto. A Rebel in Venice [2019] Documentary.

On 1 April 2019, I went to see the film Tintoretto. A Rebel in Venice, by director Giuseppe Domingo Romano.

Another director, Peter Greenaway, explains some of Tintoretto’s works in it.

The film celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of Tintoretto (1518-1594). He is sometimes called the last great artist of the Italian Renaissance.

He was a productive person: over 300 paintings, including the biggest ones painted so far.

Like Titian and Paola Veronese, he worked in Venice city. Unlike the two others, he was born there.

To be able to have his work in public buildings, Tintoretto used tricks a bit typical of a commercial city like Venice, like undercutting the wage proposals of his rivals to get commissions.

Tintoretto was an innovative artist. He is sometimes seen as a predecessor of movies, as his paintings suggest movement.

Tarquin and Lucretia, by Tintoretto

This Tintoretto painting shows the ancient legend of Lucretia. According to Roman historiography tradition, Prince Sextus Tarquinius tried to rape her. In the painting, that causes the breaking of Lucretia’s pearl necklace. The pearls fall down; some are depicted as they move half way between Lucretia’s neck and the floor.

The rape of Lucretia story inspired many other artists, including Rembrandt. The legend says that in 509 BC the son of the king of Rome, Sextus Tarquinius, raped Lucretia. He thought he could commit that crime with impunity, as he was a man, Lucretia a woman; he was a prince, Lucretia a subject. Like in 2015 a scion of the Saudi royal family harassed women sexually in the USA, saying: ‘I am a prince and I do what I want. You are nobody!’ Sextus Tarquinius told Lucretia that if she would not submit to being raped, then he would kill both her and one of her slaves, place their bodies together, and claim he had defended her husband’s honour when he caught her having adulterous sex. In despair, after the rape Lucretia then committed suicide.

Anger in Rome about the rape and suicide of Lucretia led to a revolt in which the royal family was deposed and replaced by the Roman republic.

That Roman republic became an inspiration for later revolutions in which monarchs were overthrown and replaced by republics. Like the eighteenth century American revolution against King George III of Britain, in which the first president of the USA, George Washington, was compared to Roman republican statesman Cincinnatus. During the French revolution against King Louis XVI revolutionary painter David painted scenes from Roman republican history.

In the seventeenth century, the Roman republic was an inspiration for English revolutionaries who deposed and beheaded King Charles I and made England a republic.

Why did Rembrandt, why did Tintoretto consider Lucretia a worthy subject? The film does not ask that question. According to ancient Roman historiography, Sextus Tarquinius’ royal dynasty were tyrants, killing people and taxing their subjects heavily. Like taxation and bloodshed had been causes of the Etruscan-Roman royal dynasty’s downfall, Spanish royal taxes and the Spanish inquisition burning Protestants at the stake had also been factors in the Dutch revolt. May Rembrandt not have seen a parallel between the royal dynasty of Rome and King Philip II and his successors in Spain; and between the successful republican revolt in Rome, and the succesful (at least in the northern Low Countries) Dutch revolt against the monarchy?

And may Tintoretto not have thought similarly, as his Venice, like later the northern Low Countries, was one of few republics in a Europe full of monarchies? I cannot say for sure, as I don’t know writings by Tintoretto, or Rembrandt, about this.

The film begins by pointing out that in Tintoretto’s 16th century, plague epidemics weakened Venice. The Venetian republic had been economically and politically important in the late Middle Ages. However, in the 16th century, commercial sea routes in the Mediterranean became proportionally less important than western Europe, the Americas and Asia. Yet, Venice was still artistically important.

Some of Tintoretto’s work is inspired by these plague epidemics; which he survived, but Titian did not.

Another review of this film is here.

Egyptian actors banned for criticizing dictatorship


This 14 January 2019 video says about itself:

Egyptian Actor Khaled Abol Naga: Arab Spring Ideals Will Prevail Despite Current “Black Wave”

Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga said during a December 31 interview with France 24 Arabic TV that the Arab Spring uprising that swept the Arab world was like a “huge wave of fresh seawater that came and shattered [the old] regimes“. He said that although the Arab world is currently experiencing the “black wave” that usually occurs after revolutions, the ideals of the Arab Spring will ultimately succeed because of their nobility. He also said that freedom of speech is fundamental to Arabs’ ability to change their countries for the better, and that it must be defended despite the disagreements that people have.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Prohibition of acting for famous Egyptian actors after criticism of president

Two well-known Egyptian actors have been expelled from the [government aligned] National Association of Actors after criticizing Egyptian President Sisi. The two spoke out in Washington last Monday against the constitutional change that allowed the 64-year-old president to remain in power until 2034.

Amr Waked and Khaled Abol Naga both played in various Egyptian films and series and some US American films. Naga is also known in Egypt because of the many shows he presented there. Both actors now live abroad.

Shortly after they had criticized, they were told that they had been expelled from the union. That also means that the men are no longer allowed to do their work in Egypt. “It’s ridiculous, it’s like they’re not only throwing us out of the union, but also taking our nationality away“, Naga tells The Washington Post.

Singing ban for singer

A few days ago, Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel-Wahab was also told that she is no longer allowed to perform. She had said that there is no freedom of expression in Egypt. The singer also presents the Arabic version of The Voice.

Human rights organizations regularly sound the alarm about the North African country. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the human rights situation in Egypt is much worse than in 2010, just before the start of the Arab Spring.

Birds in Colombia, documentary film


This 8 February 2019 video says about itself:

The Birders, a documentary film on Colombian bird diversity and birdwatching presented by ProColombia, with support of FONTUR and directed by Gregg Bleakney.

The film highlights Colombian local birdwatching guide, Diego Calderon-Franco and National Geographic photographer / videographer Keith Ladzinski as they travel through one of the most diverse bird regions in the world to capture new and rare birds that have never been filmed before.

The Birders also takes people through the Colombian landscape, highlighting several of its’ top locations, culture, birds and music. As well as: Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, in the Guajira Peninsula. El Dorado Bird Reserve, in the Santa Marta Mountains. Minca and surroundings, in the Santa Marta Mountains. Tayrona National Natural Park and El Chamicero del Perija Bird Reserve, in the Perija Mountains.

The films aims to change the perception of Colombia through showcasing the diversity of birds who live there.

“Birdwatching in Colombia is a real adventure. These guides and biologists are always finding new things”, says director Gregg Bleakney. Diego Calderón agrees, “Being a bird guide in Colombia is absolutely crazy, we are basically living the Victorian times of exploration.

You can choose a remote corner of the country and almost for sure you are going to find surprises: new species, new subspecies, new range extensions. Colombia is a box of surprises!”

Along with the unique birds and exquisite landscape, The Birders incorporates an original score from local musicians inspired by the bird songs found in the film.

Mucho Indio – Teto Ocampo

Teto Ocampo has spent the past 10 years learning to play the Arhuaco people’s ancestral songs. Though his band, Mucho Indio, Teto takes listeners on a cosmic journey through space and time by translating Colombia’s most ancestral melody, the song of the hummingbird, to a modern format. He composed the melody with a rare charu flute, an instrument that only a handful of people on planet have the knowledge to play.

Song name: Kumuchikayu

Sidestepper English musician Richard Blair is most well known as the founding member of Sidestepper, a pioneering Colombian band that has paved the way for a modern generation of Colombian artists who have successfully gone global through mixing local and foreign musical concepts.

Richard’s meditative song was inspired by “mixed migrant flocks”, a phenomenon where foreign birds migrate to Colombia’s Caribbean region to live, travel and sing with local groups of birds.

Song name: To Close Your Eyes

Ghetto Kumbé Together with the team of the documentary, Edgardo Garcés travelled to his birthplace of La Guajira to record the song of the Vermilion Cardinal. Edgardo tattooed the bird on his arm to ground himself after the death of his parents. He had never seen the bird in the wild before. The story of this eye-catching bird’s connection to indigenous Wayúu culture is the inspiration for this modern Afro-Colombian electronic song.

Song name: Soy Guajira

Frente Cumbiero Using Colombian Cumbia as its base, Mario Galeano and his band Frente Cumbiero composed a modern take on the classic USA surf songs of the 1960s, but with a birder’s soul. The song draws inspiration from the endemic Santa Marta Parakeet. These social birds
live in flocks on a massive ridgeline overlooking the Caribbean Sea and Magdalena River Valley, the birthplace of Cumbia music.

Song name: Parakeet Ridge

El Leopardo With his band El Leopardo, Daniel Broderick (aka Dani Boom) composed a thumping electronic club song that mirrors the Manakin bird’s slow build-up to a frenetic courtship display. The mechanical clapping sound of the White-bearded Manakin’s wings, recorded by the documentary team in Tayrona National Park, is the foundation of Dani’s composition. The courtship call of the Lance-tailed Manakin provided a secondary melody.

Song name: Manakin Boom

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA, March 2019:

The Birders is a documentary about the delights of bird watching in northern Colombia, the country that boasts more bird species than any other place in the world. Watch it for free, and then enter to win an all-expense-paid, 4-day trip to the Santa Marta region of the country. Runners-up win binoculars, boots, and more. Watch the movie and enter by March 28.

Playwright Bertolt Brecht, new film


This 11 February 2019 video says about itself:

Heinrich Breloer on Fusing Documentary and Drama to Tell the Story of ‘Brecht’ [TV Show]

By Stefan Steinberg in Germany:

69th Berlin International Film Festival—Part 4

Brecht: A new film about the famed left-wing German dramatist

5 March 2019

Interest in the famed left-wing German dramatist and poet Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) is undergoing something of a revival. Recent signs of that renewed interest include the 2014 publication of the important biography of Brecht by Stephen Parker and the 2018 movie Mack the Knife—Brecht’s Threepenny Film, directed by Joachim A. Lang.

And now, this year’s Berlinale featured a new film biography of Brecht by one of Germany’s leading directors, Heinrich Breloer (Die Manns—Ein Jahrhundertroman [The Manns—Novel of a Century], 2001; Speer und Er [literally, “Speer and He,” released as Speer and Hitler: The Devil’s Architect], 2005; and Buddenbrooks [based on the Thomas Mann novel, released as Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family], 2008).

Breloer makes films on historical subjects in the manner of so-called documentary dramas. He combines documentary material with dramatic scenes and superimposed comments in a dynamic fashion. In so doing, Breloer has been able to win large television audiences for films dealing with key figures and epochs of German history. He has adopted the same approach for his new work about Brecht.

As Breloer (born 1942) explains in the introduction to the book published to accompany his film, his fascination with Brecht began when he was a student. Already in the summer of 1963, just seven years after Brecht’s death, the young Breloer worked together with an individual who was to become one of Germany’s most outstanding theatre directors, Claus Peymann, on a production of Brecht’s Antigone, an adaptation of German poet Friedrich Hölderlin’s translation (1804) of Sophocles’ tragedy.

Some years later, in the summer of 1977, with a copy of the material assembled about Brecht by Werner Frisch and K.W. Obermeier (published in 1975) in his rucksack, Breloer travelled to Brecht’s birthplace, the city of Augsburg in southern Germany, to track down and conduct interviews with those who had known Brecht personally, including the first love of his life.

Then again in 2010, Breloer undertook what he describes as another journey toward Brecht and began a second round of interviews with those who had worked with Brecht after his return in 1949 to East Germany (GDR) following his flight from Hitler’s Germany and 16 years in exile.

These interviews with some of Brecht’s closest friends and collaborators determine the modus of the new film, with interview clips juxtaposed with key episodes in Brecht’s life.

Breloer’s Brecht is divided into two parts. The first 90 minutes deal with the writer’s early life in Augsburg, his move to Berlin and his later success as a dramatist. In 1914, Brecht, aged just 16, was a strong supporter of Germany’s aggression in World War I. He quickly turned against the imperialist war, however, as news of its horrors emerged, particularly in the form of the letters sent him from the front line by his childhood friend, Caspar Neher. Neher later became a famous stage designer, who worked on many of Brecht’s productions.

In one early scene in the film, we witness the young Brecht (Tom Schilling) denouncing the war in a school classroom to the horror of his teacher, who immediately threatens the young “traitor” to the German national cause with retribution.

After the war, Brecht was present in Munich when nationalist Freikorps mercenaries brutally crushed the Bavarian Soviet Republic in April-May 1919. At the time, Brecht was closely following the activities of the Independent Social Party (USDP), which had broken from the main body of the Social Democratic Party in 1917. These two events—German capitalism’s role in the horrific war and the defeat of the uprisings in 1919 (including the murder of Rosa Luxemburg in January of that tumultuous year)—were to play a decisive role in Brecht’s political and artistic development, along with the Russian Revolution of 1917.

In Munich, Brecht turned to the then well-known writer Lion Feuchtwanger, who took him under his wing and helped him in his first stage successes. Breloer then follows Brecht’s move to Berlin where he begins to achieve considerable success as a playwright. The pinnacle of this success in the Weimar Republic comes with the triumphant response to the first production of his (along with Kurt Weill) The Threepenny Opera in 1928.

During the late 1920s, Brecht began to study Marxist literature and came increasingly under the influence of the German Communist Party, along with dissident leftist intellectuals such as Karl Korsch. The Stalinisation of the Communist Party and the disorientation of figures like Korsch did not assist Brecht’s political development.

In a number of interviews, Breloer refers to Brecht’s concern with concealing his private life and persona. Instead, the playwright wanted to be remembered only in terms of his work. “He loved the masks of the classics,” Breloer notes. In his new film, Breloer seeks to look behind those “masks” and throw light on Brecht’s personal life. He explores in some detail Brecht’s complex relations with a number of his closest female co-workers. In so doing he makes clear that Brecht, in his literary and dramatic work, was always intent on collaboration, in developing his ideas as the leading figure of a team.

Breloer’s film largely skips over Brecht’s period in European exile with his wife Helene Weigel (Adele Neuhauser). In its second half, we see the much older writer, now played by Burghart Klaussner, in the US in October 1947, where he appears before the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the witch-hunting, anti-communist outfit set up by the House of Representatives.

The day after the HUAC hearing on October 30, during which he declared he had never been a member of the Communist Party (which was true, strictly speaking), Brecht returned to Europe. He ultimately moved to Stalinist East Germany two years later, where he was able to recommence his literary and dramatic work. In 1953, he finally received his own theatre, the Berliner Ensemble.

Brecht’s Faustian bargain with the Communist Party had profound consequences for his artistic development. In his book, Breloer notes that the Stalinist archives in Moscow described Brecht in the 1930s as a “Trotskyite”, based on the playwright’s links to co-workers such as the actress Carola Neher, who, along with her husband Anatol Becker, was denounced as a Trotskyist. …

In fact, although he admired Trotsky’s writings highly, Brecht rejected the latter’s analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy as counter-revolutionary. While he continually came into conflict with the nationalist-philistine Stalinists in East Germany after the war, Brecht repeatedly sided with the GDR and Soviet bureaucracy at crucial junctures … Having provided the bureaucracy vital public backing, Brecht, at the same time, drafted notes criticising Stalin and his policies. …

The Ulbricht regime was well aware that Brecht’s work did not fit into its repressive, anti-Marxist straitjacket of “socialist realism”, but decided the playwright and his theatre company—always under close observation from the state security service—could function as an important safety valve to prevent social layers disenchanted with the system from challenging it head-on. Brecht, in turn, was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in Moscow a year before his death. Breloer’s film depicts these events very well.

Equally, Brecht also made artistic compromises—such as shifting the action of his plays to past centuries and other continents and creating “fables” or allegories—so as to avoid a direct confrontation with the bureaucracy. Important sequences toward the end of the film show Brecht in the process of rehearsing a number of his later works, including Mother Courage, The Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Life of Galileo.

Breloer’s film implies that Galileo most closely resembles the trajectory of Brecht’s life and career: Galileo (1564-1642), the outstanding astronomer and physicist, who strikes a pact with the Papacy and renounces his scientific discoveries to avoid punishment by the Church, on the one hand, and Brecht, a remarkable poet and dramatist, who cut his own deal with the Stalinist bureaucracy to continue his work, on the other.

Breloer’s film and accompanying book provide an opportunity for a younger generation to acquaint themselves with a key literary figure of the 20th century. The film is due to be shown on German television on March 22 (Arte) and March 27 (ARD).

The revived interest in Brecht, who has been treated as a “dead dog” or worse by the academic and official intellectual world for decades, is another indication of a growing radicalisation.