pan’s labyrinth

only once in a while do you see a film with this level of artistry. pan’s labyrinth is dark, complex, beautiful, universal. the film draws a parallel between the rule-bound simplicity of fairy tales and the brute force and finality of the real world. good is set against evil with the stark contrast of so many ombres chinoises. the film brings to life the horror and violence inherent in most fairy tales (a witch who eats children, a defenseless granny devoured by a wolf, a stepmother hiring an assassin to murder her daughter) in a way that shakes us out of our inurement. elements of a child’s fantasy are intermixed with recognizable reality – the ambiguity of war in the name of ideological certitude, operatic human cruelty, selfless sacrifice, revenge, loneliness, courage. this brew of what is beautiful and vile, innocent and grotesque, noble and bestial, magic and quotidian is unsettling yet irresistible. some of the scenes are shockingly graphic but one is compelled to watch, to be a participant in this perverse fable. the underlying musical theme is a haunting lullaby – again a collision between what’s deceptively comforting and child-like and the vicious adult world. it is a beautiful piece of music composed by javier navarrete – check it out.

john lennon

i’v been listening to the instant karma cds (part of amnesty intl’s campaign to save darfur) for a while now and i have fallen in love with john lennon, all over again. first of all kudos to the artists who participated in this project and produced some amazing music. i have to single out those who captured the spirit of the songs but also made them their own. to take songs that are as well-known, as well-loved and as meaningful to so many and be able to imbue them with one’s own brand of fire, one’s own musical vibe without compromising anything is huge.

U2’s “instant karma” is first on my list along with green day’s “working class hero”. the following are some of my other favorite john lennon song renditions: christina aguilera’s “mother” (she was perfect for this song – that ache in her voice), jake dylan and dhani harrison’s “gimme some truth” (brings back to life the passion of john lennon the activist), jackson browne’s “oh my love” (exquisite, tender, beautiful), youssou n’dour’s charming “jealous guy”, snow patrol’s “isolation” (haunting, very cool), regina spector’s excellent rendition of “real love”. this is truly a terrific assemblage of great songs performed by some very strong and stylistically diverse artists. you can now get the album for $16.99 from mtv.com. go for it!

john lennon

cafe colonial and the goog

while in nyc last february we had breakfast every morning at cafe colonial, 276 elizabeth st, at houston. the freshly squeezed orange juice, delicious omelets and fruit salads were a great start to the day. the decor is brazilian and the ambience very french. i highly recommned it.

we got a chance to see the “el greco to picasso” spanish painting exhibition at the goog. the guggenheim is stunning museum space. the exhibition was extraordinarily extensive and unique in how the artwork was displayed – rather than being chronological, the display was thematic and had no qualms about mixing up 5 centuries of spanish art. only when you see juan sanchez cotan’s classic “still life with fruits and vegetables” hanging right next to the modernist “still life with newspaper” by juan gris, that you begin to see the similarities. who would have thought that pablo picasso’s portraiture was somehow rooted in velasquez. it’s amazing how juxtaposition can lend a completely new meaning to art. it was the first time that we saw picasso not as a french painter but as an artist closely aligned with the spanish aesthetic.

velasquezpicasso

richard foreman

while in nyc, my friends and i went to see richard foreman’s “wake up mr sleepy! your unconscious mind is dead” at the ontological theater at st mark’s church. what an experience. first we were late (it took us a while to figure out how to navigate the nyc subway system). we literally ran out of our cab and rushed to the theater. after a couple of wrong turns and missed theater entrances, we finally got in. it was exactly 8pm. however, there had been a strong directive to arrive at least 15 minutes before the start of the play. as we tried to present our tickets, an old professorial-looking, bespectacled guy told us we were late and couldn’t get in. i tried to argue that it was 8pm sharp. he was adamant. we should have come earlier. one of my friend chose the “appeal to sympathy” approach and told him we had come all the way from rochester to see this play. finally he recanted. he told the usher to seat us on the narrow stairs, in between aisles. we were happy to sit anywhere. we later found out that our tormentor had been mr foreman himself.

the play was a multimedia, multi-layered work of art. my friend sarita likened the experience to stepping into an abstract painting.

in foreman’s own words: “will i be punished if i tell the truth about my motives? i want above all, to make a play that escapes what i see as the tunnel vision of unified subject matter – creating instead a play about ‘nothing’ except the evenly distributed grid of all things at once.

most plays are built with events, adventures, ideas. but i believe this focus has locked us all in a psychological/spiritual isolation chamber, fixated on the limited plateau of always inherited, second hand desire and experience.

i want instead –
TO MAKE A FASCINATING event that – through multilayered filigree of sound, image, light, verbal statement, gesture – makes that ‘texture’ be, all by itself, a new way of ‘being’ that creates or evokes a self no longer in need of the false ‘kick’ of events, no longer needing to latch onto focused intention. but a new self that can be energized in simply HOVERING over the field of total, evenly distributed ‘multi-possibility’.

does this sound like denying what has been the very basis of theater? so be it. but this is my aesthetic obsession, my love – to make ‘theater’ that spreads in the mind, spreads the mind itself, spreading evenly until there is… ‘nothing’? and yet one is thereby vibrating, and fulfilled.”

here’s the ny times review by ben brantley.

wake up mr sleepy!

wynton marsalis at the eastman theatre

just saw wynton marsalis, the jazz at lincoln center orchestra and ghanaian percussionist yacub addy’s nine member ensemble odadaa play their new composition “congo square”. during french colonial rule, congo square in new orleans, also called la place des negres, was where slaves were allowed to congregate on sundays. they could set up market and sing and dance. the more uptight english protestant states did not allow such unsupervised, “savage” freedom of expression. however, in new orleans congo square allowed slaves to create a community rich in african tradition. much of that music and dance tradition survives to this day. as marsalis explains: “any music with a rhythm section has roots in congo square. if it has a bass and drum together, the roots are in congo square”.

creating this bridge between african percussion-based music (including different drums and congas) and jazz as we know it today is what “congo square” strives to achieve. and how eloquently those ties are established in this jazz suite. the associations are strong yet complex, the transitions are clear yet elegant. marsalis credits bassist carlos henriquez for developing a sound rhythmic understructure that allows this effortless meshing of music.

all in all, the music was vigorous, the performances flawless, the atmosphere charged with energy. there were many standing ovations and much thunderous applause. wynton marsalis is the man!

congo square 1700s

untitled darfur play

talking of darfur, i was lucky to see “untitled darfur play” by winter miller as part of geva‘s hibernatus interruptus festival of new plays. that was oct 14th, 2006. this year in april the play made it to manhattan at the public theater. it is now titled “in darfur”. winter miller is a playwright as well as a research assistant to nicholas kristof, the pulitzer prize-winning ny times columnist. she has traveled to sudan with kristof. the play is an alejandro gonzalez innaritu-style pastiche of different stories that coalesce into a powerful whole. there is an american journalist trying to make a difference, an aid worker and a courageous darfuri woman. joanna settle directed the reading i went to. it was harrowing to experience a small slice of the violence being committed in darfur.

darfuri refugee in chad

working class hero

just saw the video by green day – it is arresting. the song is obviously john lennon gold. it’s part of an amnesty international campaign to stop the genocide in darfur. yoko ono donated all royalties from lennon’s song book to support this campaign. the resulting album, instant karma, has 20 john lennon covers by the likes of u2 and rem. you can buy it at amnesty’s website or by calling toll free 1-800-862-0411.