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Archive for March, 2009

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I saw a fairly famous French film last night called “The Red Balloon”. It is frequently referred to as a classic in the history of cinema, mainly for its’ simplicity and innocence. The story revolves around a boy and his red balloon and the various dangers that come across their path. “The Red Balloon” features some wonderful photography of the city of Paris, but also some virtuoso camera work as the balloon floats through the streets.

The 36 minute piece was made by Albert Lamorisse, who only produced a handful of films (generally short ones) before dying in a helicopter crash in 1970. Most of his films are praised for their poetry and visual beauty. He is seen as a true artist of cinema, and often singled out in his use of children as his main protagonists (also “The White Mane”).

It was with great surprise then, that alongside his work in film, I discovered Lamorisse also had a hand in the board game industry. He was the primary designer behind the celebrated and justly famous board game, Risk. Quite a diverse influence to exert upon popular culture in two seemingly unrelated areas. And certainly a deserving recipient of the title, Renaissance Man.

Of recent cultural history only one other person comes to my mind; philosopher Albert Camus, who was not only a key thinker and novelist of the 20th century, but also a goalkeeper for the Algerian soccer team.

All this causes me to ponder God’s great goodness in blessing people such as these.

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I am fairly uneducated when it comes to Czech cinema. I’ve seen a few Milos Forman films (“One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), but they were all works he produced after moving to the US.

Karel Kachyna is seen to be part of the Czech New Wave to which Forman also belonged. Last night I watched “The Ear”, which Kachyna made in 1969, but was given a very minimal release in 1970.

It is a black and white feature criticizing the inner workings of a Communist administration. Most interestingly though, it is full of stylistically interesting directorial touches. It revolves around a night in the life of a senior official of Prague’s political regime. We as the audience watch as the man and his wife slowly unravel during one night of their life.

Though the script lacked finesse (relies too heavily on developing character through the conversation of the bickering couple) the film was undoubtedly influential. It could be seen both visually and in its plotting to have influenced later paranoia pieces like “The Conversation” and “The Parallax View”.

Despite my aforementioned ignorance, this film has made me want to investigate Czech cinema further. “Ucho” is a striking film which draws the viewer into the anxiety and dread of its’ principal characters.

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During the late 1990s I became quite enamoured with an American rock band called the Flaming Lips. They played an exuberant combination of high energy garage punk mixed with druggy psychedelic pop. Their out-of-timeness with the music scene of the 90s (because they weren’t grunge!) spoke to me.

I watched “The Fearless Freaks” on dvd during a slow Saturday last week,  a 2005 film focusing on their life and work. This sort of documentary film only became possible in recent years when their music output began to receive kudos from the mainstream musical press – largely due to their reappropriation of musical ideas of the 60s and 70s (Beach Boys, operatic pop, the like).

Even on a superficial viewing it is hard not to come away from viewing this film seeing Wayne Coyne, lead singer and genius behind the band, as a self-proclaimed Messiah. Why does rock and pop music fame engender such a self-confidence in people who only too well know their own flaws and shortcomings?

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