And the Oscar goes to…

I have been a woman on a mission lately.  I decided I was going to see all of the movies nominated for “Best Picture” before they rolled out the red carpet.  I would watch and analyze the films and decide whether “The “Academy” knew what they were doing when they voted.  I did, after all, take a “History of Film Media” course as an undergrad.

Well, I’ve eaten a lot of popcorn in the past few weeks, and I came close to my goal.  I have seen all except one of the ten nominated films plus one with a best actress, but not best picture nomination.  In pursuit of full disclosure, I did not see War Horse.  I chose not to see the film when it was in the theater because I have an aversion to war films.  When I decided I would see the film it had left the theaters, had not been released on DVD and was not on “On Demand.”  Not to give up easily, I did track down the film on netflix.  That would have meant, at this late date, watching the film on my laptop.  Somehow, the thought of seeing horses the size of gerbils running across the screen was not going to make for an “authentic” film experience.  Thus, I made the choice to not see the film.  Judging from friends who have seen the film, it was outstanding!

I anticipated picking “best picture” would be easy, that one would stand out above the rest with others being duds that left me wondering how they ever got nominated.  That did not happen.  I loved all of the films for different reasons.  I learned something from each and every one…

The Artist:  Who would have thought in 2012, the age of sophisticated techno-media that the release of a silent movie would cause such a stir.  I actually found many analogies between the beginning of the “talkies era” to the changes made in communication due to technological devices, advances in the scope and methods of communication and the growth of social media.  I also compared the advent of talkies to the change from black & white photography to color photography.  I expected to be mildly entertained by The Artist… I LOVED this movie and think there needs to be a new category of awards for that dog!!

The Descendents:  This was a film that was good, yet did not cause the overt excitement within.  It was such a different role for George Clooney.  It was a film that presented a unique circumstance within his marital relationship.  Clooney, through his character, presents the ultimate example of love and forgiveness.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:  This is a beautiful film many people avoided because they thought it was “another film about 9/11.”  ELIC is so much more!  This beautiful film was more about seeing the world through the eyes of an autistic child.  It is about how this young man, with the help of his father, found ways to navigate the world in ways that encouraged communication with others.  This was done through “reconnaissance missions” his father created as adventures.  The world he was navigating was NYC.  Finding the connection to a key he found among his father’s possessions after his death on 9/11 led to him developing a relationship with Max von Sydow, a man who does not speak – again a connection to the world of silent films.  The missions, a connection to the adventure in Hugo.

The Help:  This was a film whose time was due, past due actually.  The main characters were strong and demonstrated their strength and dignity throughout the story.  They demonstrated that strength and dignity throughout history for that matter.  These southern black maids were looked upon as lower class citizens.  They were seen as a separate form of human “who carry ‘other’ diseases than we (whites) do, you know.”  They were forced to use separate bathrooms for that reason.  Yet, these same maids were entrusted with the south’s most precious possession, their children.  In many cases, since child rearing was the responsibility of the maids, it was these maids who built the strong character and confidence in their children.

Hugo:  Taken from the adolescent novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a cinematic masterpiece.  The film is visually stunning as it takes us on an emotional adventure of a young orphan in Paris who attempts to solve a mystery left to him by his father.  Much of the adventure takes place in the Paris train station.  I kept having a feeling of deja vu while watching the film.  I finally realized that this is the train station that is now the Museé d’Orsay, Paris’ museum of Impressionistic Art.  There is also a connection to the theme in The Artist.

Iron Lady:  I admit to being stunned at Meryl Streep’s performance in the Iron Lady.  While there were many negative reviews about the perspective of the story, I will defend it.  This is a story about Margaret Thatcher’s decent into Alzheimer’s.  It is the study of the progression of one of the great minds of our lifetime.  I found it to be a sensitive and respectful study.  Film is a work of art.  It is the role of the artist to determine the angle of view of their story.  This is not, and was not intended to be, a biography, nor is it intended to be a documentary of Margaret Thatcher’s role as the Prime Minister of England.

Midnight in Paris:  I will admit that this was one of the films I anticipated I wouldn’t like.  I was wrong.  One of the premises of this Woody Allen film is that when we are living in a world that leaves us feeling uncomfortable or fearful, we tend to look to other periods in history as the “golden era” or “the green grass on the other side.”  The lead character is a writer who manages to time travel to 1920’s Paris every evening to mingle with Zelda & Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Man Ray, Dali, Matisse, etc.  No matter what era we live in, it seems another is perfect.  Ideally, we could learn to recognize and appreciate what “here and now” has to offer.

Moneyball:  If someone had told me I would a) go to see a movie about baseball, and b) love the movie I would have called you crazy!  My adventures in sports is limited to the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs games!  I’ve been known to apologize to my golden retriever when I leave the TV on for her when I go out and come home to find out she had been watching a baseball, basketball or football game.  Moneyball is more about sports business and integrity than it is about the game of baseball.  I will never think of the sport in the same way again.

The Tree of Life:  This is the film that initially had me regretting telling a friend that I realized I am drawn to movies that are “out of the box” approaches to stories.  The Tree of Life was further out of the box than I was prepared for!  The photography was abstractly beautiful, the musical scores incredible.  Yet this is another film where there is almost no dialogue.  While we keep hearing about The Artist being a silent film, I found the exploration of stories with little or no dialogue (for various reasons) to be intriguing.  They all work!  The basis of the story is a family who has lost a child.  The husband and wife demonstrate two ways to approach life, the way of grace and the way of nature.  While grace doesn’t try to please itself nature only wants to please itself and wants others to please it too.

Albert Nobbs:  While Albert Nobbs is not nominated for Best Picture, Glenn Close was nominated for her lead role as Albert Nobbs.  It left me pondering, among other things, the status of women throughout history.  It is only recently, historically speaking, that women have had a prominent role in society.  Among other reasons, Close portrays a woman living as a man so that she can earn money to support herself.  We can look to history at other women who have lived as men to be able to receive an education in societies when women were not educated.  Again, Glen close did not have much dialogue, but communicated exquisitely with few words.  Her hands were what I noticed most.

My journey through the Best Picture nominees for 2012, I came to realize, was much like a trip through a great art museum.   Walking through rooms containing antiquities, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Faberge, Cezanne, Rodin, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Salvador Dali or one of the Wyeths we can “read” and appreciate the language of each despite their different styles.  So it is with the nominees of this years’ Oscar.  While very different, they are all valid and valuable.

I am going to force myself to vote for Best Picture although I enjoyed all of the nominees for very different reasons.  If you saw any of these films, you saw the results of great film making.  Okay, drum roll please… Carol’s Oscar vote goes to The Help for a great ensemble cast that told a story that needed to be told.  A story that defines our nation, who we were, who we are, and who we can be.  To realize the timeliness of these questions, tune in to one of the political debates…

How many movies did you see this year? 

What were your favorites? 

Did you notice any themes running through seemingly unrelated films? 

Who would you want to hand Oscar to for an outstanding performance?

Tuesday By Any Other Name…

Depending on where you spent Tuesday, February 21, 2012 it was either Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Fasnacht Day or Kinkling Day.  If you celebrated any of these days heartily you are most likely spending Wednesday, February 22, 2012 in a carb and grease coma!  This day has been celebrated since the middle ages as a time to confess our sins and to clear the pantry of lard, sugar, butter and fat before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  Lent can then begin with a clear conscience and an attitude of sacrifice.

Basel, Switzerland has an annual Fasnacht Festival.  The 19th century immigrants settling in the Mid-Atlantic States in America became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch in the area of Lancaster County, PA.  They brought to America their recipes for fasnachts, donuts made with potato based dough and cut into square or rectangular shapes.  They are either uncoated or coated with table sugar or powdered sugar.  Fasnachts are synonymous with Carnival in Germany, Switzerland, Alsace and Austria.

A long-time friend and former co-worker grew up in this area of Pennsylvania.  Karen used to spoil our team and bring us fasnachts on Fat Tuesday each year.  They were wonderful and have left an imprint that will cause me to celebrate her salivate like one of Pavlov’s dogs automatically on Fat Tuesday.  Each year going forward I celebrate (and will continue to celebrate) Karen’s culinary skills and friendship.  Thank you Karen for all of those gastronomically delightful Tuesday mornings!!

In the state of Maryland, especially in the area of Frederick, you would find Kinklings on Fat Tuesday.  They are, in essence, identical to fasnachts.  Fasnachts have some other relatives.

Paczki  is a Polish cousin of the fasnacht.  They are traditional round donuts (no hole) made with yeast dough and filled with either fruit jelly or crème.  They are often covered with powdered sugar.

On Fat Tuesday in America we always think of Mardi Gras.  Mardi Gras brings forth images of the King Cake.  King Cake originated in the middle ages as an oval shaped braided cake decorated with cinnamon sugar in the official Mardi Gras colors of gold (for power), green (for faith) and purple (for justice).  In medieval times there would be a coin hidden in the cake.  Today, it is a small plastic baby, the person who gets the slice of cake with the baby must host the next party and may be crowned King or Queen of the Mardi Gras party.  King Cake, although associated with Shrove Tuesday, traditionally was eaten between the Twelfth Night (after Christmas) until Fat Tuesday.

In the United Kingdom, Tuesday was referred to as Pancake Day including games and races involving airborne flapjacks.

The French celebration involved a large meal including crepes and waffles.

In Northern Sweden they were most likely dining on a meat stew.

In Southern Sweden there are Shrove Tuesday buns called semlor.  These buns are filled with an almond paste and whipped cream.

Finland they dined on pea soup with a blini (a rich pancake) served with caviar and Smetana (sour cream).

What did you eat today that you will be wearing on your thighs throughout Lent?

Stringing Pearls…

 

I am a woman on a mission.  I have set a goal to see most of the movies nominated for Academy Awards before they roll out the red carpet.  Midway through today’s flick my mind wandered and I visualized myself with fine silk thread and I was stringing pearls.  Even for my right brain that often goes haywire, it was a strange experience.  Several events and experiences were represented on that strand of pearls… all unrelated, yet related.  Each pearl was a link to the past and the present simultaneously – creating a synergy.

The first pearl evolved from the images in front of me, the film, The Artist.  I was consciously aware of the fact that with no words my imagination became a part of the creative process.  I took the visual images in the film, the body language, and the facial expressions and became one of the screen writers.  I made the film what it ultimately was to me.  I was as much a participant as an observer.  This led to the second pearl…

 In 1994 I was fortunate enough to have seen Glenn Close as Norma Desmond on Broadway during the opening weekend of Sunset Boulevard.  As Jean Dujardin’s character George Valentin fights the idea that films need to become “talkies” I could hear Glenn Close singing in my head, “…with one look I can break your heart, with one look I play every part, I can make your sad heart sing, with one look you’ll know all you need to know.”  Ironically, a precocious Jack Russell Terrier plays Vanentin’s sidekick, hero and comic relief for the film.  At one point Dujardin’s character mouths the words, “if only he could talk.”

The third pearl led back to a film I had seen several weeks ago, Hugo, adapted from the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Spoiler alert: there is a link to the silent film days and the transition to the world of talkies.  This silk thread tying together these thoughts (aka “pearls”) made me aware of the fact that because there was no dialogue in silent films I was experiencing a more participatory role.  I thought about great transitions in history and those who openly accepted that change and those who fought it until the end… sometimes their end.

My father was a professional photographer.  As a child he took me under his wing to teach me the art and science of photography.  I was not permitted to use color film.  His philosophy was that until I mastered black and white photography I didn’t know enough to move on to color.  He said the color in a picture was “entertainment.”  “As long as you can be entertained by color, you will never learn to make photography the true art form it should be.  Color is a crutch.  Learn to use lighting, shape, form and value with composition to create art.  Only then can you add color.”

I thought of some of the world’s greatest photographers, many of whom lived, flourished and took a new medium to acceptance as art sans color images.  In black and white photography we think immediately of Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier Bresson, Margaret Bourke White, and W. Eugene Smith.  I thought of Dorothea Lange’s photographs from the Dust Bowl, especially the iconic Migrant Mother.  Somehow “…with one look, you’ll know all you need to know” without the “entertainment” of color images. That being said, other photographers have so artistically mastered the art of color photography it would be hard to imagine their photographs having the same impact in black and white.  Steve McCurry is a perfect example.

As the pearl strand grew I asked myself about those who confront drastic, and often scarey changes in the world.  We think of microwave ovens as a normal part of daily life.  I am old enough to remember when they were first introduced.  I think about my parents who could not, and would not accept this frightening and dangerous machine.  It was as if it were some evil put on earth.  Had I not bought them one, and literally set it up in their kitchen, I fear they would have continued to cook “the old fashioned way” for the remainder of their lives.  It still boggles my mind that you can put pieces of paper into a machine that looks like a copier, dial a phone number and those pages will travel through the phone wire to appear just like the one in front of you thousands of miles away.

The final pearl on my strand this afternoon was to take these questions into the present day.  In one word, “technology.”  Okay, I accepted welcomed color photography, microwave ovens, cordless phones, cell phones (although an archaic model that doesn’t take pictures, doesn’t text, doesn’t tweet), a Kindle, and a personal computer.  I’m afraid, however, that I stand with Norma Desmond and George Valentin when it comes to the “i-family.”  My land line and archaic cell phone are working just fine thank you… and i-pads… I have a computer, why would I need one of those.  Pictures are meant to be taken with a camera, not a phone.

I attended a brown bag lunch yesterday with Sarah Braunstein, the author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children.  At one point she quoted Franz Kafka, “A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.”  Perhaps all art should serve as an ax…

Put me in a 100 minute silent film and I’ll hear more than the orchestra.  Some days I fear the world is spinning past me and out of control.  I don’t want to be a silent film star, but I’m happy where I am.  I am, however, concerned that pretty soon I will be left with no means of communication in the dust of a world in a hurry.  I guess the question is “Can I live with that????”