Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010

What will 2011 bring?

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

The sublime songbird Ella singing the ultimate version of this lovely song...

Happy Hogmanay!

Word of the Day for Friday, December 31, 2010

Hogmanay \hog-muh-NEY\, noun:
1. a gift given on New Year's Eve.
proper noun:
1. New Year's Eve in Scotland.
Farther on, Gib Dempster's dame, Kate, is at her door, with the bottle in her hand, to give another menagerie of maskers their "hogmanay," in the form of a dram; and Gib is at her back, eyeing her with a squint, to count how many interlusive applications of the cordial she will make to her own throat before she renounce her opportunity.
-- Alexander Leighton, Wilson's Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Volume 17
The children who went about on December 31 asking for their "hogmanay" were really asking for a Scottized French word for a cake.
-- "A changed meaning," The Glasgow Herald, 1947
Hogmanay is the name for Scottish New Year's Eve. It probably comes from the Old French aguillanneuf, "last day of the year."


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just watched...

...Antonioni's classic film "Blow Up."

I know, I know, how could I have been a film major and not have seen Antonioni’s first English-language film, “Blow Up?” I guess I was busy watching “Rashomon” and Fassbinder films, and writing essays about the development of film noir in American cinema.
No matter, because now we can all survey the landmarks of the history of cinema on DVD. “Blow Up” may not be a masterpiece, but it is important in film and in cultural history. Antonioni was working with ideas that were floating around in the counter-culture at the time, and his films generally express a dissatisfaction with a kind of staid, bourgeois life that emerged after World War II. His films identify themselves with young people of the time, young people yearning for some kind of meaning, young people attempting to break free of tradition and find a way for themselves. The “hippie” movement of the 60s was Antonioni’s paint box and he painted some extraordinary works.
There are detractors who claim that Antonioni was an unfocused, careless and/or confused filmmaker. I suppose that is one way of looking at him, but I feel in his films that he was trying to create a mood within a story, trying to create a rhythm and a texture, like Fellini and David Lynch. Antonioni’s films remind me of the late great Kubrick’s last film, “Eyes Wide Shut” which was a dream from start to finish… it resembles real life but is off just enough to give you pause. Are there non-sequiturs and gaps in logic in “Blow Up?” Absolutely. Are they jarring? Yes. There were several times where I had to scratch my head and wonder why something just happened, or why the main character would simply stand and stare at this particular moment when some kind of action was called for. But one cannot stop the plot to ask such questions—with some films one can, but with Antonioni, one must simply go along with the flow. The action exists within a dream-like framework, and one does not quibble with one’s dreams, one simply deals with the narrative presented. Sometimes the flow is quite slow. Like Fassbinder, he often shows action in real time: if it takes someone 30 seconds to walk down the street, then that is how long it takes in the scene. He is not in a hurry and often lets his camera linger on a tableau or an empty room after a scene is “done.”
One reads words like “alienation” when reading about Antonioni’s works, and it is true. When you look at "Zabriskie Point," a film that takes place in the desert of the American Southwest, everything is alienated; he uses the vast space and emptiness of the desert to manifest inner monologues of characters and cultural ideas. And he does a similar thing in “Blow Up”: somehow he manages to make crowded, swinging London in the 60s look empty and disconnected.The story involves Thomas, a petulant fashion photographer played by David Hemmings. If he is not inscrutably silent, he is barking at his models. During a fashion shoot, he loses his temper and storms out with his camera. He ends up at a local park, presumably to walk and clear his head. Once there, he witnesses a young woman (a lovely, classic, equine Vanessa Redgrave) cavorting with an older gentleman. The photojournalist in Thomas is intrigued and he surreptitiously snaps a roll of film of the couple. But the young woman follows him, desperately demanding the roll of film. Curious about her near hysteria over the film, he gives her a decoy roll and develops the photos only to discover some odd things. After blowing the photos up (hence the name of the film), he realizes he may have documented a murder. Or not.

The framework of alienation that Antonioni works with is here taken to an extreme. Thomas may be alienated from reality itself. The film is bookended with a mime troupe, whose first appearance is a riotous explosion. But their final appearance, standing stock still, and nearly menacing, around the fence of a tennis court while an imaginary mimed game is happening, may signal a different state of mind for Thomas.
Recommend? Yes, certainly, but with the usual caveats: if you are someone who does not like foreign films, or someone who loved “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” move along, there is nothing for you to see here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow Storms In Europe and New York

Above: New snow covers the roof of the Cultural History Museum in Magdeburg, Germany, Dec. 28, 2010. Photo by Jens Wolf

Above: Snow by the Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, New York City.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

BEAUTY: Painting--Paul W. Ruiz

The art of Paul W. Ruiz. Expressionistic, verging on abstract--oil, both smooth and knifed--echoes of Michelangelo's Five Sibyls on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.


Vintage December images...

Rory Calhoun

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve

Back by popular demand from last year's posting: possibly the most beautiful, saddest Christmas song ever written.

Merry Christmas. May your every New Year's dream come true...

Lights Will Guide You

I'll Be Home For Christmas...2010 can count on me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Aurora Village

I recently posted about Finland's Hotel Kakslauttanen here, where one can stay in a glass domed igloo to watch the Aurora Borealis all night long. In that spirit, here is Aurora Village, located in Yellowknife, Canada. Guests relax in heated teepees picturesquely situated by Aurora Lake while waiting for the Aurora. Outside, one can sit in a heated seat that swivels 360* for maximum viewing pleasure of the Northern Lights. Although it appears one does not sleep in the teepees, Aurora Village does offer packages that include hotel accommodations nearby.

Visit their website; they offer a "Recent Aurora" link where they post updated pictures of the previous night's Aurora!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Winter Solstice 2010!

The Yule Goat

The Yule Goat is one of the oldest Scandinavian and Northern European Yule and Christmas symbols and traditions.

The Yule Goat's origins might go as far back as to pre-Christian days, where goats were connected to the Norse god Thor, who rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, and carried his hammer Mjöllnir. The "Prose Edda", written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, relates that when Thor kills and cooks the goats, their flesh provides sustenance for the god and his guests, and after Thor resurrects them with his hammer they are brought back to life the next day.

The function of the Yule Goat has differed throughout the ages. In Finland, the Yule Goat was originally said to be an ugly creature that frightened children, and demanded gifts at Christmas. In Scandinavia, people thought of the Yule Goat as an invisible creature that would appear some time before Christmas to make sure that the Yule preparations were done right. During the 19th century its role shifted towards becoming the giver of Christmas gifts, in Finland as well as the rest of Scandinavia, with one of the men in the family dressing up as the Yule Goat.[2] The goat was replaced by jultomte or julenisse (Father Christmas/Santa Claus) at the end of the century, although he is still called the Yule Goat (Joulupukki) in Finland, and the tradition of the man-sized goat disappeared.

The Yule Goat is nowadays best known as a Christmas ornament often made out of straw or roughly-hewn wood. In older Scandinavian society a popular prank was to place the Yule Goat in a neighbour's house without them noticing; the family successfully pranked had to get rid of it in the same way. The modern version of the Yule Goat figure is a decorative goat made out of straw and bound with red ribbons, a popular Christmas ornament often found under the Yule tree or Christmas tree. Large versions of this ornament are frequently erected in towns and cities around Christmas time — these goats tend to be illegally set on fire before Christmas. The Gävle goat was the first of these goats, and remains the most famous.

Art and photos top to bottom: "Julbocken" 1912 by John Bauer; "Julbock" by Connie Lindqvist (1950-2002); Julbock--A Scandinavian Christmas Symbol, photo by Udo Schröter; Gavle Christmas Goat in Sweden, 2006, photo by Stefan.

Snow On Pine Bough

Currently listening to...

...a blast from the past--or at least my past: the fantastic, driving "Say it Again" (released in 1985) by The Danse Society, fronted by the ultra-beautiful Steve Rawlings. (I looked just like this in 1985!)

Window Stencils For Christmas

Oh, how I remember these! My mom would get them out and put trees and snowflakes and Santas on our front windows that faced out to Main Street. It was a sweet, magical time of year...