As Brexit continues morphing out over the coming months, I think we should begin sharing experiences of what it has been like to live in and freely travel around Europe before our rights disappear. The ‘good’ the young of Britain in particular are about to lose.
Automatic right to be and travel inside Europe without a visa, attend universities, work without foreigner status conditions, to learn languages, share in the life as citizens of Europe with equal rights.
What the Europe Union does so well is not to look towards obvious economic stimulants as bridges to future social, cultural and economic activity, but to social and cultural stimulants, which when aggregated from individual life-changing experiences multiply in exponential societal ways, not only across Europe but across the world. Europe is a civil and cultural force unlike any other.
Here is an early pre-FOM personal European experience, before freedom of movement was instituted, but giving reason to why it is so good for societies and individuals.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The ancient Odeon, built by Herod Atticus 161 AD, situated at the foot of the rock of the Acropolis with the Parthenon as a backdrop. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus written up by Vernon Kidd in the New York Times, describing a 1981 Athenian summer component in a plethora of Europe-wide festivals, The Athens Festival awaiting travellers…“plays of Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes … presented by the National Theater of Greece, the Amphi-Theater, the Art Theater and Northern Greece State Theater. Tickets: from $1.20 to $6. July 5 to Sept. 25.”As Kidd’s NY times article detailed, Ancient Greek theatre in the ancient Odeon was only a small part of a Europe-wide extravaganza of arts festivals in the summer of 1981.
So, unaware of any of the above, one hot early July ’81 evening I wandered up the road from my Plaka hotel to the Acropolis, this young filmmaker then resident of Hong Kong. As darkness gathered, I sat myself on a wall to take in the dusk scene at a spot overlooking the lit-up Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre. A rehearsal was going on way down below. Intrigued very quickly by what I saw, I hiked down the hill to find out what it was I was watching. A poster outside the Odeon announced the Athens Summer Festival’s showing of The Acharnians by Aristophanes. Had I see an Aristophanes play before? No.
I returned to my hotel and the next day bought a ticket for the play at a ticket outlet – (prices of the day ranging from $1.20 to $6). I found a Penguin translation of the play in a bookshop, read it, and no wiser I have to say set off a night later to see the performance.
The Acharnians was first performed in 426 BC. A strident anti-war play it is credited with being the oldest staged Greek comedy. I didn’t know what to expect because the Penguin translation did not make anything clear. Still, I had seen the rehearsal. That was enough. The play itself would do the rest.
The Odeon theatre is an extraordinary space, but on a hot July summer night it is other-worldly. The night air made translucent by light was alive with what looked like tiny floating tips of flowers, rising in the warm air all throughout the amphitheatre. In jeans, t-shirt, sandals surrounded by Greeks in evening dress I felt a rank outsider. Yet nobody cared.
What truly resonates with me most, nearly forty years later, is how an ancient play, interpreted, performed and directed as it was, was soon so relevant for a 1981 audience. Filled with dance, mime, mask, and music, George Kounis’ (or Kouns’) production lifted me off my seat. This was not a stilted play from Ancient Greece, a production I remembered too well from university productions. The Penguin translation was swept from my mind.
Dicæopolis, a native of Acharnæ and an ex-soldier returns disillusioned from the Persian wars, heartsick at the miseries and stupidities of the conflict. Not shy in making his views known, with earthy gestures he rails against fellow citizens, while a chorus of startled, indignant citizens in white masks, odd hats and fantastic bed square sewn quilt costumes, rush in dance formation from one side of the stage to the other, all to a cacophony of startling music and sound effects, remonstrating with him and each other. The audience was in stitches inside minutes. I didn’t understand a word yet understood everything.
As a writer it is hard to communicate the effect this experience has had on me: the hot July night, the western world’s most ancient comedy, the mime, dance, costume, design and performances, Greeks all around me ‘rolling in aisles’, the old director helped on stage after the performance – I felt as if theatre itself, not only the ancient Greek concept of ‘spectacle,’ had finally been made clear to me.
photograph by and courtesy of Berthold Werner 2017
I live in Cannes. Have done for a while. I have just finished a novel set in a similar festival, no names, no pack drill etc.
So down to the festival I sometimes go, some years, to see the hoi mix with the polloi. Where are all the stars? Shall I be honest? Who cares. I am not interested in them, though they appear in my novel. Go figure. Privileges and the Precious Few. I’m not concerned about that in my life, I say. I like bigger things, I say.
It’s just a personal thing, no big deal. Not trying to sell anything to you, change your heart or mind, or get you upset. I mean who cares what another human thinks unless it’s someone you love, care about, live with.
Most people, as Sartre identified, are hell, wild animals to watch, arrive at an unspoken agreement with, to give room to get by or around without any anger or fuss.
So there is this word I think about sometimes, not a lot, but some. It’s no great shakes in itself, unless you use it to rate the world, to measure others by. Some think it’s right up there with the really major words: death, love, hope, life. It’s not on that level, but it’s a word that gets talked about an awful lot. And ignored by me just as much, I like to say.
It’s now ten years that we have been in Pitigliano, renovating, holidaying and living. We chose Pitigliano, in the hills of La Maremma, southern Tuscany, for several reasons – the town itself; the hot springs of Saturnia; the wonderful beaches south of Argentario, and the countryside all around. Here are a few photos.
We took up the floors and found old tiles which was a wonderful find, but which now need work again because the ceiling of the magazzino (store room) below is deteriorating affecting the floor above. In truth this work was always going to be done, it was just a matter of when – when arrived in 2012.
I made my own stoneware tiles for the kitchen, following the idea of uncovered – ‘found old marble’.
We found the original painted wall and built it around designs incorporating terracotta wall lamps I made. Not everyone would do this or even like it for his or herself, but for us the architectural point of an old house like this, going back in parts to the 17th century – as it it is for local builders – is that you create and reconfigure old aspects and ‘finds’ into the overall look.
The fireplace was completely excavated, set back and made much larger, and we designed a heavy cast iron grill and had it made at a local foundry, so any fire on it would suck up the air and roar up the chimney.
A wood heater (la stufa), for keeping the house warm when a roaring wood fire would create too much heat.
The roof was redone.
Ceilings and a skylight done.
Shutters (le persiane) put up.
Slowly, modestly we are getting the house in shape.
Christian Mihai discusses his ideas on unreliable narrators, something he likes to see writers use, and a technique he says he uses himself. Still, he misses a fundamental point – all narrators, storytellers, dramatists, poets, are unreliable. From Homer, Shakespeare to Sartre, no writer tells, gets close to ‘the truth’, even if he or she is prepared to die in the process of collecting all the observable details of a factually based fiction.
Do we trust Tolstoy’s account of Napoleon in War and Peace? Perhaps… if we are Russian.
Narrator unreliability doesn’t have to be a first person account, though the most obvious modernist exploitations of narrator unreliability in fiction use that form. The best approach – for this writer at least – is when the writer sets out to deceive us, and by convincing us that he or she has told the truth, transfers any doubt on narratorial reliability to a reader’s interpretation of the tale.
Raymond Depardon and Claudeine Nougaret’s Journal de France, a quiet, inquiet, incisive and drifting study of their fifty-year collaboration and life in photo and cine-journalism.
Journal went straight through the eye to the heart, reminding me of all the driving I have done throughout France on the way to Italy, the footage I have filmed around the globe. The best art reminds of ourselves and our own lives always.
Some of the most arresting cine-images and moments were not North Africa, Venezuela or Czechoslovakia in political turmoil but the still images taken in quite places along French roads.
2012 brought rain, and not so many memorable filmic moments, but there were a few. Cannes at festival time is always unique, with a special experience lurking somewhere even if a downbeat mood hung over the Mediterranean resort as it did for several days. The Cannes festival finds a way to transcend gloom whatever weather blows in.
Still, for all the ability of Cannes to transcend itself, I was left with the impression that this year will not figure among the list of the best festivals. That said, a gentleness hung in the air I liked, replacing the more manic moments I have seen in years gone by.
I was late in arriving and saw Roman Polanski present a reworked Tess on the evening of May 21. It is hard to remember what the original release in 1979 was like, but it doesn’t figure in my memory anywhere near as good as this version. Now the story seemed to make complete sense. Now we saw Hardy’s vision up on the screen. The two great adaptations of Hardy novels I have seen, Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess (of the D’Urbervilles) are epic cinematic experiences for any age and epoch.
Late in applying for accreditation as I was, film badges presented difficulties. Getting into the venues I wanted to be in was not straight-forward. One day I set out to bus from Golfe Juan to get to a screening of On the Road in Cannes. I gave myself ample time but three, then four number 200 buses from Nice went by, all full. Running to the train station I found the train for Cannes La Bocca was cancelled; train workers were on strike. Then I had to wait nearly thirty minutes for a train to Cannes itself. Show time for the film was five o’clock and that time was looming. Finally I was able to take the train as far as Cannes and then tried walking the rest of the way in the rain but had to give up. The film began while I was still two kilometres away from the cinema. There were probably no seats left in any case.
The next re-screening of Jack Kerouac’s era-defining novel was on the last day at 9 am, but as I was at a screening of the Korean, The Taste of Money, up until two am, I missed that screening as well.
I had re-read Kerouac’s novel carefully and really enjoyed it. I was looking forward to the film adaptation of it. However lukewarm the reviews, I wanted to see On the Road more than any other film. I wasn’t the only one.
I did make it to Holy Motors at 11.30 am that next morning, and left thinking, except for a couple of wild scenes, what was all the fuss about? Overall Carax’s style is manufactured shock-treatment, a director setting out to do the impossible in 2012, shock us; you can’t shock anyone in a cinema anymore, only bore or pleasantly surprise audiences. The lead actor was bravura, but as Irreversible did some years back, the film’s attempts to violate left me cold, even colder when it calmed down into quiet film parodies. I left the theatre thinking, we have been down this road before (with David Lynch, perhaps). I didn’t bother with Cosmopolis. Reading DeLillo’s book, seeing the film trailers, convinced me there were no surprises to be had in it. I wasn’t alone on that either. There were better things to do.
I saw the American Mud. Sustained irony might have helped it along, though it was easy on the eye and on the mind, that’s if you’re into 14 year old cute boys, Matthew McConaughey without his shirt, or Reese Witherspoon, if any or all of them float your boat.
I didn’t have tickets for the closing ceremony in the main auditorium, joining journalists in the cinema adjacent. I saw the event in close circuit cinema in row two. Before that I took pix of photographers running from the red carpet to the action inside. They didn’t look pleased to be pixed. Weird, photographers hating having done to them what they do ad infinitum to others.
After the awards were handed out, I stayed second row to see the late Claude Miller’s Thérèse Desqueyroux (something I didn’t regret doing). I felt more at home in that pre-modern space of 1890-1930 set cinema. Miller’s film set in 1928 rural France is beautifully realised, by a master of period cinema, just as is Polanski’s Tess set thirty-seven years earlier across the channel. Both films deal with misunderstood women who suffer injustices. Both are big, slow moving, carefully manicured epics that did nothing to unmake my festival.
..handheld shaky cam, found footage, ultra-violence, meta-storylines, etc., all becoming part of the broad pop cultural landscape and assimilated into the commercial marketplace. This translates across all cultural lines – music, art, technology, etc. as the outsiders and untouchables of yesteryear are today’s TV spokesmen and tastemakers..
…experimental film seems to represent more fully the true potential and magic of cinema
…for brief moments in history, think the ‘beats’, the real ground-shakers, the true risk-takers, manage to do something that is life and culture affecting, their minds drafting the future…