Monday, January 30, 2017

THE EMIGRANTS IN A NEW LAND: SWEDISH MOVIE PERSPECTIVE

We forget how we got here.  Unless you are indigenous your ancestors traveled a distance to get here.  In fact indigenous people did their migration a few years earlier.

Jan Troell, a Swedish film maker took a view from his side of the Atlantic and took us back to the 1840's to explain the pressures that directed a group of poor Swedes to cross the ocean.  This is not a story of triumph, so much as a story of overcoming countless obstacles.

The movie is very realistic.  There is a lot of mud and dirt.  Bodies are covered with dirt, blood, sores and unshaven hair.  You see animals die as well as be gutted.  Not for the squeamish, but would help to appreciate earlier conditions, still common enough for multitudes of people today.

The movie starts in rural Sweden where the farmers had great difficulty in eking out a living.  Moving rocks was an ongoing battle and apparently the soil was not especially fertile.  The main protagonist Karl Osker (played by Max von Sydow) had trouble paying his debts.  His wife, Kristina played by Liv Ullman was reluctant to move, but when her uncle, a banished priest wanted to move a group coalesced amounting to about twenty.  They sold almost everything they owned and many took on debt.

The trip over is usually skimmed over in other movies, but was a unique challenge in itself.  The passengers were crammed in dark, smelly quarters with little privacy.  The ship was on a rocker so that the viewer could get a feel for the swaying in the ocean.  Some of the travellers died and were buried at sea.  The heroine had a lot of blood from her nose and if you didn't know she was in the sequel you would have feared for her life.

Still their journey across the ocean was only part of their journey.  They took rail and boat and walked.  For some viewers the trip would be numbingly boring, but the point was to understand a bit of the suffering.  Friendships were tested and formed.  Kristina was upset with a passenger, Ulrika she called a "whore," eventually became close friends.  Karl Oskhar's brother Robert played by Eddie Axberg persuaded a friend to come over.

The first movie, "The Emigrants" takes over two hours to end at their destination in Minnesota which although not quite what they had visualized did show signs of fertile soil.

The second movie, "The New Land" shows how they turned bush into profitable farmland, but not until after a lot of physical labour and financial stress.  Language was slow to develop for the adults.  There was also some religious conflict when some immigrants felt Kristina and Karl Oskar were not respecting traditions.  Robert the brother was tired of the work and left with his friend Arvidd towards the goldfields of California.  They never made it, but for a brief time had a small fortune due to a boss dying from yellow fever and then later were conned out of the money.  The friend died and the brother returned.  He died from disease contracted during his travels after some family conflict.

A basic fact of emigration to North America was that the land was already occupied.  There was an uneasy relationship with the natives, but over time they were mistreated by the government and rebelled.  There were a few brutal killings showed, but the most upsetting scene was when a group of over 15 natives were hung simultaneously.  Minnesota was the site of a huge Sioux rebellion   Earlier an actor pointed out that the land had been stolen from them while Karl Oskar claimed to have acted in good faith, but understood the unfairness.  The Europeans brought new technology, and a stronger organization (Indians belonged to a number of tribes) and certain self righteous aggression.

Kristina felt homesick and missed her Swedish culture.  Karl Oskar was pleased what he had been able to accomplish.  As the Civil War was about to begin he felt obligated to join the army, but his wife was against killing.  He went ahead to enlist, but was rejected for medical reasons.   In the end the children speak only English.

Kristina seemed to be having babies all the time.  Karl Oskar was a considerate man, but felt making love was an integral part of his marriage.  Near the end she was told by the doctor she could not have  more babies or she would die--they took to separate beds as the only available contraception and he accepted his fate, but she felt she was not being a wife resulting in another pregnancy that proved fatal.

Max von Sydow had a long history making films appearing in many languages.  Liv Ullman was actually a Norwegian and there was some resistance to her casting, but she won without an audition.  These two movies helped her develop an American as well as Swedish career.  The third main character, Eddie Axberg had a long acting career, but surprisingly combined it with a long career as a sound mixer.

Another noteworthy actress who played Ulrika the loose woman who befriended Kristina was Monica Zetterlund who was a very popular jazz singer in Sweden for several decades.  In "The New Land" her real life daughter played her film daughter.

The book was by Vilhelm Moberg and was very lengthy.  There was some thought to making it into one movie, but it ended up as two long movies.  It was given the largest budget of any Swedish movie, despite the fact that good portions were filmed outside Sweden.

Jan Troell, the director and one of the screen writers was quite different from his more famous contemporary Ingmar Bergman who used a lot of symbolism in his films.  Troell used simplicity in his movies.  In these two movies he was the main cinematographer and also the editor.  He had many discussions with Vilhem Moberg who was mostly co-operative, but they did have disagreements.

The other screen writer, was the producer Bengt Forslund.  He is better known as a producer, but had written a number of movies and collaborated with Jan Troell.

The Emigrants was nominated for the Oscar best foreign film in 1972, but didn't win.  The following year it was nominated for best film, but lost out to "The Godfather."  The combined films won two awards at the Golden Globes in 1972 for best film and best actress.

Looking over Jan Troell's history I see that in 2008 he directed, wrote, edited and was cinematographer for another superior movie I had seen, "Everlasting Moments"  Also noticed that Eddie Axberg had a small role and was involved with the sound production.

This movie is a very impressive production, but not for those easily bored or squeamish.  It gives a good idea of what motivates emigrants and how their perseverance is admirable.

To get an overall view of Swedish movies check out:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/06/swedish-movies.html



Monday, January 23, 2017

DALTON TRUMBO AND THE BLACK LIST

I was born just after the black list was implemented.  I started watching movies just before it lapsed.  Two of my favourite movies were "Spartacus" and "Exodus," both written by Dalton Trumbo and released in 1960.  I was too young to appreciate the significance, but I really enjoyed both movies.

"Trumbo" recounts the blacklist days and the Hollywood Ten.  Anyone who enjoys movies should pay attention to what can happen when politicians get too much power.

After WWII there was concern among some that Communists were plotting to take over the government.  One target turned out to be Hollywood which had gained a reputation for humanitarian causes.  Dalton Trumbo had been a successful screen writer (including patriotic film, "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo"), but had been a member of the Communist Party.  Many intellectuals had seen the Communists as system that helped many people.  A Congressional investigation spearheaded by Joseph McCarthy turned on what had become known as the Hollywood Ten.  They could brand anyone for being a Communist, sympathizing with Communism or even for failing to co-operate with the investigation.   Bullying Hollywood producers employment disappeared for many writers, directors, and actors who were considered "Un-American.

Dalton was sentenced for contempt of Congress.  He agreed he did have contempt for them.  He spent  11 months in a Kentucky jail.  The movie depicts it as mind numbing time for Dalton.

After prison release he had the problem of making a living when he could not be hired as a writer.  He wrote with numerous front men and a pseudonym including two scripts ("Roman Holiday" and "The Brave One) that won Oscars.  He was sought out because he could churn out a quantity of scripts that worked.  To meet deadlines he even wrote while in the bathtub with typewriter, bottle and cigarettes.

Otto Preminger, developed an admiration for Trumbo and got him to write "Exodus" adapted from a book) and decided it was time to recognize Trumbo.

Kirk Douglas, an actor I enjoyed watching took a chance as well and decided to credit Trumbo for writing Spartacus.  Kirk had formed his own film company and apparently after being overlooked for "Ben Hur" opted to do a blockbuster historical film.  As the executive producer he had a big dispute with director Stanley Kubrick and decided to get Dalton Trumbo to re-write a script that was unsatisfactory.  The original intention was not to publicly credit Trumbo, but he appreciated the writing and after Preminger's example felt he had to credit Trumbo properly.  A political element was added in that John F Kennedy enjoyed the movie.  This was the end of the blacklist.  Two years later Douglas and Trumbo collaborated successfully for "Lonely are the Brave."

Edward G Robinson was an actor I watched, but not really a fan.  I was surprised to learn that he was very active in politics in a liberal nature.  He was shown at a Congressional hearing explaining that he had been misled by communist members during some of his fundraising efforts and then denounced a few of the members including Dalton Trumbo.  In the movie he explained that he didn't name anyone that wasn't already known to have been a Communist.  In a Wikipedia writeup it claimed he didn't denounce anyone.  In the movie Dalton Trumbo summarized that the black list hurt a lot of people, forcing them to do things they wouldn't have done otherwise.  I believe that was his way of forgiving Edward G Robinson (and others).

John Wayne has long been known as a right wringer and that was emphasized.  He was obnoxious in his own distinctive way, but at one point Dalton pricked his self-righteous balloon.  Hedda Hopper was known to me as a gossip columnist with a vicious attitude towards her enemies including people she regarded as unpatriotic.  She had attacked Charlie Chaplin and Spencer Tracy.  In the movie, played by Helen Mirren she confessed she had acted in movies, but found a better opportunity to be a columnist.  I was surprised to learn her only son William Hopper, after a mediocre acting career landed a regular spot on "Perry Mason" a weekly habit for my father and me.

Actors give credibility and "Trumbo" found some good ones.  Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, John Goodman and Helen Mirren were some of the standouts, but the entire supporting cast was excellent.  News clippings added to a celebrity watch.  I spotted Humphrey Bogart with Lauren Bacall, James Garner and John F Kennedy.

Some politicians extoll the virtues of patriotism, but to stir up emotions go too far when they accuse people of being un-pure.  We are familiar that politicians are still doing that.  "Trumbo" is a reminder that we are always in danger of losing our freedoms to emotional charges agains "the others;"  those who are not like us and don't deserve a good life.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

REGIONAL FILMS FROM INDIA

Over a decade ago I stumbled on Bollywood and it seemed like a good match.  Loved much of the music and found the stories and actors interesting.  It was my dependence on subtitles that fooled me into thinking many regional language films were Bollywood (which speaks Hindi), when they weren't, although there certainly were links.  India is the world's top producing film country, but the numbers are greatly boosted from a rich regional industry.

When I first was investigating Bollywood I watched a Tamil movie with the music from what I thought was a Bollywood composer, A R Rahman.  "A Peck on the Cheek" was involved in the civil war in Sri Lanka, but the main characters were from India.  This was my first acquaintance with Mani Ratnam, Madhaven and Nandita Das who were all also Bollywood standards.  An award winner which I enjoyed and perhaps it even perked my interest in Bollywood.  Because of the setting I did realize it wasn't the usual Bollywood.  The concept of suicide bomber originated amongst Tamils in Sri Lanka and one is depicted in this about a young girl with the help of her adoptive parents (from India) searching for her birth parents in Sri Lanka.

Over a few years I saw a string of Tamil movies that I didn't realize were not Bollywood.  The unifying elements were Mani Ratnam, A R Rahman and Arvind Swamy who was the leading man.  "Roja" (1992) was the first and involved the Kashmir conflict; then "Bombay" (1995), although ended in Bombay started in Tamil area, "Sapnay" (1997) that had Kajol as leading lady and finally" Kadal" (2013) where Arvind played a priest trying to save an adolescent against an ex priest.  This last one had my number one iTunes song, "Nenjukkule" as sung by Shakthisree Gopalan (another favourite).  Kajol is making another Tamil movie this time with Dhanush.

I had always associated A R Rahman as a Bollywood artist, but he was known as "the Maestro of Madras" -the former name of Chennai in Tamil Nadu state. He started with Tamil movies, and moved to Bollywood with some of my favourites, but has expanded to the UK and USA while not giving up southern Indian dialects.  He not only writes very popular music, but also sings and produces for other composers.

Shriya Sarin is one of my favourites anywhere.  She has not only appeared in English speaking roles, but also Canadian directed films, "Cooking with Stella" (2009) and "Midnight's Children"(2012).  I first saw her in "At the Other End of The Line" (2008) where she played a girl next door type, except she flew from India to California to stalk (with no bad intentions) a phone voice.  Intrigued I searched and found her in a Tamil film, "Kanthaswamy" (2009) where her role was sexy, but also bitchy.  More recently she appeared in one of my favourites, "Drishyam" (2015) in a key supporting role (see http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/11/driishyam-bollywood-remake-masterpiece.html   "Drishyam" was originally Malayalam.  Recently Shriya finished a Telegu film to good reviews (not seen).  She got her first break in Telegu and has also acted in English, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi--an example of multi-lingual actor

Rajinikanth established his reputation over a 100 movie career.  One I saw was "Sivaji" (2007) with Shriya as leading lady.  He was asked to get involved in a major endeavour involving photo realistic motion capture film (like what was seen in "Avatar").  His daughter Soundarya, a director  was heavily involved as was A R Rahman who eventually wrote the music.  It ended up in 2014 as "Kochadailyaan" with a cast that included Rajinikanth, Deepika Padukone and Jackie Shroff.  Presented in 6 languages:  Tamil, Hindi, Telegu, Bengali, Marathi and Punjabi.  Criticized on technical grounds, but praised for everything else.  It was a big step forward for Indian cinema in its technological progress.  I saw a demonstration of some of the motion capture before and after the story with the special features.

A younger star in Tamil films is Dhanush.  First saw him in"Aadukalam" (2001) an award winner with an odd topic. The hero was heavily involved in chicken fighting.  I saw a feature that demonstrated what looked like vicious cock fighting was really CGI.   Later saw Dhanush in his first Bollywood film, "Raanjhanaa" (2013) opposite Sonam Kapoor.

"Interrogation" (2015) was India's nomination for an Oscar. About immigrants from another region being rounded up to confess to a crime to satisfy a corrupt police force that needed a confession.  Very well done and believable movie.  Watched on Netflix after a tip from a website, Access Bollywood.  Noticed Dhanush listed as producer.


"Sairat" (2016) first brought to my attention by a comment from Aamir Khan who highly recommended it.  Another new language for me--Marathi.  The music both for the background and for song and dance was very pleasant, Excellent, sometimes stunning cinematography.  Mood changes in second half  to grimly realistic with the two main actors showing a wide range of emotions.  The high caste girl can't cook and is sensitive to smells which causes conflict.   If you do not understand the caste system the ending will be a shock, but not so much if you do understand it.  The writer and director, Nagraj Manjule is very realistic and took a bit part.  The best of all films I have seen so far in January 2017.

Priyanka Chopra, famous in Bollywood and with "Quantico"  formed a production company with her mother Madhu and they came out with a Punjabi movie (not seen).   I didn't see their Marathi "Ventilator" (2016), but bought a song recorded by Priyanka called "Baba."

Disney ventured into India and helped produce a Telegu movie, "Once Upon a Warrior," (2011) starring Shruti Haasan and was about a blind swordsman helping to restore justice to an ancient kingdom.

"Baahubali:  The Beginning" (2015) was a big Telegu block buster that took almost four years to complete.  We in the west don't usually realize it was not only Europe that had ancient history and this epic demonstrates civilization started in different places.   Lush scenery and large scale battles.  I had to wait until it was dubbed in Hindi with English subtitles.

"Eeaga" (2012) has to be one of the strangest movies to describe.  Before you dismiss it consider that it has an IMDB rating of 7.9 after over 13,000 voters.  It starts off like many movies as a love triangle, but soon one male kills another.  The dead male, is reincarnated as a housefly.  Improbable as it sounds he establishes contact with his lady love and seeks revenge.  Special effects are noteworthy.  Music by M.M. Keeravani who wrote music for a lot of Telegu films, but also some Bollywood ones.

When discussing Bengali some of the early classics were done by Satyajit Ray who is definitely non Bollywood.  He is recognized as one of the most artful director/writers on the world scene.  No song and dance routines for him, but look for character development, dialogue and camera angles.  I have watched "Aparajito"(1956), Pather Panchalli (1955) and "Charuklata" (1964), all black and white masterpieces.

As a Canadian it is amazing to me that languages I had not heard of until recently have more speakers than our population.  Telegu has 74 million, Tamil 72 million, Marathi 68 million and Urdu over 70 million.  This diversity is not only reflected in India itself, but also in the diaspora that has spread all over the world.  The movies help connect them.

There is a great overlapping of ideas and personnel between the regions and Bollywood.  Just like food from different parts of India.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

"The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon" is not a blockbuster novel, but it is a worthwhile read as a gentle relaxing humour.  It was one of many books promoted by my local library.  I noticed that it was in a series, "The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency."  I had not read the book, but watched the tv series on DVD.  Two of the main characters are who I picture when I read the book.

We are focused on beautiful women as slim, but in Botwwana they prefer a traditional build which is large and Mma Precious Ramotswe with her good humour and common sense personifies beauty, at least in the eyes of her husband JLB Matekoni, a mechanic.  Ramatswe is a detective which she decided to do after her father died and she sold off his stock of cattle.

She hired a snooty, somewhat obnoxious secretary, Grace Makutsi who declared herself an associate detective and further progressed in this 14th instalment to this series.  The two of them manage to help resolve a lot of mysteries, many just ordinary, but a few with consequences.  In this book there are two mysteries for them to solve.  One is to determine the proper heir of an estate and the other is to learn who has been running a hate campaign against the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon.  Most of the narrative is devoted to the domestic life of the two leading women characters. It is beautiful how they and the author dissect a range of everyday occurrences, but they eventually also solve the two mysteries after the usual deadends and red herrings.  Although very different personalities they develop a friendship and both have likeable husbands.

Full of euphemisms" such as late" means dead and "share a blanket" means having sex.  There is no profanity, lurid sex and almost no violence so if you need those items to get your adrenaline going, this is not for you.  But if you would like  few laughs and insights into human nature any book in the series is apt to be your cup of tea.

The author, Alexander McCall Smith has been a university lecturer in medical law in Scotland, but has spent a fair amount of time in Botswana and southern Africa.

Botswana which I had never paid much attention to seemed a little more interesting as I watched the series,  Later it was used as a positive example of success story in  "Why Nations Fail"
The author demonstrated how an inclusive society developed in Botswana, in the middle of African colonial powers by getting some relief from British authorities after a visit to England by some chiefs.  At the time they were one of the poorest nations in Africa, but because they developed an inclusive society they became one of the richer ones.  Today they have one of the highest incomes in Africa and also one of the best records of democracy.  Fortunately for them diamonds were not discovered until after independence and now help to benefit the whole society in stead of just a few foreigners.  You can read more at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2012/11/why-nations-fail.html

There are a few references to a key founder of Botswana Seretse Khama in the book.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi has written a book partly based on her own background as an immigrant from Ghana.  She must have speculated at the different ways Africans arrived in America and opted to show two parallel lines that reflected different aspects of both living a colonial existence and a slave experience.

One of the characters, a teacher in the Gold Coast in an elaborate anecdote expresses a perspective of history, I suspect shared by the author.  History is stories told by the powerful.  We, the listeners should wonder and investigate about the missing stories.

Naively taking history as a young boy and watching the odd movie one got the idea that slaves were pulled at random from their natural habitat and shipped to America, a trip many did not survive.  Yaa demonstrates that the British, Dutch and other Europeans had many local accomplices.  One line picks up from local accomplices which required capturing other tribes further from the coast, often losers in tribal fights.  One British officer marries a local woman through her parents.  For him it is a second marriage while away from his native England.   A mulatto son is sent to England and after coming back helps the slavery business.    The author carries on with a series of vignettes illustrating different aspects of the evolving history illustrating to me how precarious any ancestral line really is.

"The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill has a chapter devoted to natives being captured inland and walked several days to the coast.  I can imagine that it made more sense to have a business relationship with coastal tribes.  Hill carries on with a story of one individual who endures history through to the American Revolution and the emigration of British Empire Loyalists to Nova Scotia.

The other line starts out from the same location and involves a captured women who ends up in America.  The generations progress through history from pre Civil War until contemporary times.  One part that struck me was where southerners had forced a law by 1850 that required northerners to return runaway slaves.  Freed Africans (many really escapees) felt some tension after assuming they were safe.  Future generations were depicted under Jim Crow, moving north encountering racial discrimination.

Known as Gold Coast by British colonizers we become aware of different tribes, Fante, Assante, Twi, etc.  Eventually it become  independent as Ghana  As students in a European system (mine happened to be in Canada, but with only minor differences in other European tradition countries) we see a map of Africa with over 50 countries and assume they are homogenous entities.  Our own tribal backgrounds have amalgamated and we forget the literally thousands of years of shaping what we have become.  As the world becomes more globalized, tribalizing ebbs and flows and the shaping continues.

Shades of colour is a role in both parallel stories.  The British officer with his 2nd wife eventually is able to use his mulatto son in the slave trade.  Others are not so fortunate.  When we get to America it turns out mulatto slaves are slightly more privileged and as we move beyond the Civil War we learn some are white enough to try to pass.  One character does succeed, but when whites see him in contact with darker people, turn against him.  There is a fear of getting caught.  Another character wants to be a singer, but is told she is too dark to be accepted in a particular Harlem club, implying that lighter skinned entertainment is accepted.  I once read a science fiction book by Robert J. Sawyer, "Hominids"  where apparently the Neanderthals have integrated to be be one universal colour, but find themselves amongst modern humans with distinct races.

George Will, a noted conservative commentator is noted for saying any group that doesn't take responsibility for births shouldn't expect to succeed in life.  Yaa doesn't shy away from this and has one of her characters participate, generating 3 children with different mothers.  Immaturity and racial prejudice play a role.  She points out drugs are part of the culture and can become a vicious circle with blacks being jailed disproportionately.

"Half the Story Has Never been Told" by Edward E Baptist gives some much needed scholarly account of the role of slavery and the rise of American capitalism.  Read more:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/12/the-half-has-never-been-told.html

Nearing the end of the book a couple from Ghana with a young daughter emmigrate to Hunstville, Alabama as the author's family did .  Fictional characters can be manipulated to cross paths for dramatic effect and the author carries forth this tradition which helps to close the circle.  Symbols from both sides, fire and water with deep meaning are confronted at the end.  In my sixty odd years I have been struck how we are all inter-related without being conscious of it.  I like poetic endings and hope the readers aren't put off with coincidences that are really part of life.  This is an enjoyable read, making one aware of how different aspects of our current world fell into place.

Colour shades still play a role in society.  My interest in Bollywood led me to realize that attitudes towards skin colour are still ingrained.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2013/08/bollywood-and-skin-colour.html

Monday, January 9, 2017

MERYL STREEP HAS A PLATFORM

Meryl Streep, a much appreciated actress used the occasion of the recent Golden Globe awards to make a speech to millions of people that denigrated a prominent politician without naming him.  The actions were so obvious that everyone knew who she was referring to and Donald Trump reacted by criticizing her.

Hollywood actors are among the most criticized for making inappropriate speeches, but they get away with it because they have a platform to speak to millions of people.  I would be the first to say that celebrity does not make one an authority, but no one can deny that we live in a celebrity worshipping society and few are exempt, certainly not myself.  A few ill chosen words can diminish the credibility of a celebrity.

Political power mongers, if I can call them that, are well aware of celebrity and will go to great lengths to recruit celebrities from all fields.  John Glenn, America's first astronaut served in the Senate.  Actors are liked because not only do they have an insane attraction from the masses, but they are often articulate.  Even more important many of them have learned how to get reactions.

Ronald Reagan, still highly regarded by some was not only articulate, but reassuring.  Some attribute a widening inequality gap to his administration.  Others feel he was clever in adapting racial strategies to getting elected in the first place.  He set back environmental concerns.  His trickle down theory didn work.  In reality he was likeable, but only a B grade star who upped his awareness as a tv. host for General Electric Theatre

Donald Trump, is most famous for "You're fired."  That impressed a lot of people who found it entertaining.  Other people have examined his history and have dug up all sorts of negative things such as suing and threatening to sue to get his way, not paying people, pulling switches to come out of bankruptcies with money  and plain old out and out conning people.  But he does understand how to get a rise.  He talks blunt, but with no depth of explanation.  It is a mystery how so many people were impressed with his egotistical display full of bluster and condescension, but in actual fact his feat is blemished.  He did not win the majority of votes, there evidently was someone hacking the opposition to diminish Hilary's standing and in a battle of bad (distorted) news he won.  His ego is really showing and one wonders why anyone thinks someone with his sensitivities would have the temperament for the job of president.

Meryl Streep is just an actress, but a very good one.  She has accepted a variety of roles that demonstrate versatility and humility.  Like anyone else she is entitled to an opinion.  She is observant and articulate and fortunately her voice will rise above the usual clutter.  Mr Trump would have been better off to ignore it instead of trying to belittle her.  She won this one.

Trump has used other people's celebrity to build on his own.  Bobby Knight was one of my sports heroes, but his support took him down a peg in my mind.  In fact there haven't been any of Trump's supporters who went up in respect by most people.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/05/a-big-disappointment-with-one-of-my.html

We all would like to have a platform that people respect.  I think Meryl Streep has not only earned her platform, but she handled it very well.  It is too bad that her platform did not have enough impact before the election.

Friday, January 6, 2017

SHIP OF THESEUS

Circumstances guide our lives.  We think we are in control, but decisions are made all around that we don't control.  I needed to return a library item, but my usual drop off location was inconvenient (due to a flu scare) and I decided to drop it off at a smaller library.  Another decision was to check out their facility.  They had a section of foreign DVD's with a limited selection.  Noted one that I had never heard of, put back and as the selection was almost all ones I had already seen or had heard negative reviews about I picked it up again.  Noticed the name Kiran Rao that I recognized as the wife of Aamir Khan, a much admired Bollywood personality.  Later learned she had had nothing to do with the production of the movie, only that she liked it and decided to promote it.  Looking for a time filler thought it would be the best of a lack lustre choice.

You might not like it, but I thought "Ship of Theseus" was a master piece.  Definitely qualifies as an "art" film with heavy emphasis on philosophy, but also very aesthetic.  The director/writer/co-producer Anand Gandhi dropped out of school, but obtained a diploma in philosophy.  To earn his keep he at first wrote television scripts for low rated, but popular Indian tv shows.  He worked on two shorts before taking on this feature film released in 2012 after a three year effort.

A philosophical frame begins the film:  if a ship is replaced part by part is it still the same ship?  And if the old parts are used to build another ship is that new?

The plot is a bit confusing and leaves many viewers mystified at the end.  We are greeted by a blind photographer.  She seems very confident and working with her boyfriend takes photos that are displayed in galleries.  She is given a corneal transplant and ironically seems bewildered and lacking in her former confidence.

The second segment involves a monk with strong views on animal rights.  He is diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and confronted with some difficult choices. He is an activist against animal testing and we see him with lawyers presenting a case in court.  Philosophy is argued with a lawyer as the two ponder life.  The monk rejects medication for his condition as he discovers the providing companies did animal testing.  Eventually he gets a liver transplant as he feels he needs to live to carry on the cause..

The third segment involves a conspiracy to steal organs from patients requiring surgery and to sell them to others.  The protagonist is a stock broker who received a kidney transplant and revisits the hospital where his activist mother is recovering from a fall.  This is where he learns about the kidney thefts.  Many of the recipients are unaware of the theft, but thinking that some poor or dead person donated the organs.  One of the stolen kidneys is traced to Sweden where they confront the recipient who feels guilt and tries to deal with it.

At the end of the film the three main characters who have all received a transplant are brought together with other transplant recipients for a screening.  At the end all we see is a cave with shadows.  This was a referral to Plato's Cave Allegory that human perception is like seeing shadows on a wall and not reality.

This film was successful winning awards at a number of festivals, but I suspect was not a blockbuster at the box office.  Kiran Rao saw it at a festival and decided to promote it and was asked to present it.  She had been a lifelong vegetarian who converted with her husband Aamir Khan to vegan.  If you have seen the trailer for "Dangal" you might overcome some of your prejudice against veganism.

The extra disc with special features is a gold mine.  Perhaps other movies have as interesting a background or I have overlooked much.  All movies demand collaboration and the features bring many elements to our attention.  Two shorts each with philosophical questions.  A 28 minute short from 2003, "Right Here, Right Now," follows two chains of events from one person leaving home.  One chain is of frustration (the boy rejected his mother's efforts) and the other chain of john(the same boy accepted his brother's painting).  None of the actors were paid at the time, but were compensated after it won some international awards.

The second short from 2006, "Continuum" is 38 minutes and consists of short themes of different continuums.  Pankaj Kumar was one of three cinematographers.  This short also won an international award.

The cinematography is outstanding, even stunning in parts.  The cinematographer, Pankaj Kumar had done a few shorts, but this was his first feature film- and he received awards and nominations from several film festivals.  He suggested the photographer be blind and the writer accepted.  He went on to handle the cinematography for "Haider" and "Talvar" both of which have been discussed in earlier blogs.  Next product will be "Rangoon."

Anand had admired sound designer, Gabor Erdelyi who had mostly worked with the Hungarian film industry.  The sound for "Ship of Theseus" has been described as lush.  One film he had worked with was "The Turin Horse,"  a very harsh movie with constant howling winds.

Originally Anand had brought Aida Elkashef from Egypt to help advise on casting decisions, but was impressed how she read off auditioning scripts and persuaded her to accept the role of the blind photographer.  That sounds like an oxymoron, but they sought guidance having one person consult with the everyday concerns of blind people, but also found an actual blind photographer. Aida played herself in a 2013 Oscar nominated documentary, "The Square" about the events at Tahrir Square.

Sohum Shah originally won a place in the cast, (as the stockbroker) but was discouraged by the waiting period and asked to come on board as a producer to assure himself the project would move forward.  The script seemed like something he wanted to be associated with.

Neeraj Kabi had impressed Anand in a stage play and was recruited to play a monk.  In some ways this role took on most of the philosophical burden of the film.  He lost almost 17 kilograms over a period of 4 months to show a man with cirrhosis of the liver who eventually gets a transplant.  He also had a role in "Talvar" an interesting film blogged about earlier plus "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy"

Hugo Weaving, a prominent Australian actor is listed as producer.  Unable to learn anything of his involvement, but that he had been listed as a co-producer a decade ago.

In short I do recommend this film.  It does use subtitles, but a lot of the dialogue is in English.

Anand demonstrated an ability to write a provocative script and collaborate with large number of actors and technical staff to produce a master piece.  Hopefully he will get more opportunities.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

looking back on 2016





The end of a year seems to be a good time to reflect back on the past year reminding myself of the good fortune I enjoyed.  Also to reflect on those who left, why I miss them and help me better appreciate those still here.

My brother in law Ali Bouanba died unexpectedly in the summer months while visiting his family in Morocco.  As he lived in Brossard, Quebec I didn't see him enough.  From my perspective the most important thing about him was that he made my sister happy.  The second most important thing is he helped raise two exceptional daughters, my nieces Leila and Samia.  As a high school and university teacher he impacted a lot of people.  He had an impact on me by opening up my opportunities.  He encouraged me to make sales calls to francopones in Quebec.  As a salesman I had the usual fears of rejection, but speaking in a language I am mostly ignorant of was truly scary.  It worked and led to seeing more of Quebec (and better excuses to visit my sister's family). Ali was fluent in English, French and Arabic. His tea ceremony was quite entertaining and his daughters loved to show it off.  I remember long walks with him leading the family around different parts of Brossard.  He always was good to talk with.  To read more about how he helped open up Quebec for me:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2012/07/travels-of-salesman-part-3-quebec.html  The photo above is a family shot with Ali in the middle between his wife and youngest daughter.

Louis Petrov was the master of ceremonies at my wedding.  I was able to acknowledge him as an inspiration at another wedding he attended where I was the master of ceremonies.  He had been on business trips to Argentina and other parts of Canada. He was chairman for the committee to get artificial turf for his beloved Hamilton Ti-Cats.  I was invited to a surprise party organized by his wife, Vera  with Croatian friends from youth although he was Serbian.  His mother, Lena was like a fifth grandmother for me.

My Aunt Mary Coakwell died this past December.  I feel more than a bit guilty.   My aunt and uncle in Cornwall had previously died about this time of year and I had recently decided to email my brother to see if he knew what was up with my Aunt Mary and cousins.  The next day he emailed back that he had just seen her obituary as she had died a few days before.  She was the last of my aunts and uncles on my mother's side and for most of my life she lived right across the road from my Grandmother Coakwell in Oshawa so at an early age I saw her fairly often.  She married my mother's only brother, Harold and had Karen and Jerry, my cousins who are roughly the same age as myself.  I remember she always had a smile and seemed glad any time we visited.  When my mother died we gathered at her place and as it happened with one of my wife's Ukrainian aunts, Vera, wife of Louis Petov (they had travelled to Oshawa for the funeral).  My Aunt Mary who was my first Ukrainian aunt had her mother with her and encouraged Aunt Vera to talk to the mother.  After my Grandmother died and my brother moved to Brooklin I really lost touch, except for a few weddings and funerals although I do remember Aunt Mary and Uncle Harold visited my mother when she was in the hospital in Cambridge. https://www.arbormemorial.ca/mountlawn/obituaries/mary-coakwell/1692/

Aunt Betty Rotigliano was married to Uncle Tony, Nanny's youngest brother.  Died Christmas night.

Gordie Howe was a hockey player who I was slow to appreciate.  It was a regular tradition to watch Hockey Night in Canada, but that was mostly the Toronto Maple Leafs playing four other teams in a cycle while Montreal who we seldom saw did the same thing from Quebec.  During playoffs we watched the better players more often.  I had a few friends who were Gordie Howe fans and the more I saw him the more I was mesmerized.  As an adult I was fortunate to work with a company that used Gordie as a product endorser and following that I was a able to involve him in a fund raiser.  He was quiet, modest and considerate.  To read a bit more on Gordie and some other  celebrity brushes.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/01/brushes-with-celebrity.html

Gwen Ifill was just some one I watched on tv.  She was a rarity, a newscaster who could ask penetrating questions and you could never be quite sure what her politics were.  She projected a positive outlook, no matter the circumstances.

To balance off, we had the pleasure of greeting two new members of the family.  David and Krista brought us Hannah, born May 31st.











while Ryan and Renee brought us Emma Ryley November 12th











Over the many years we have celebrated our anniversary in different ways.  Often just a night out at local restaurant, sometimes we have taken trips such as to British Columbia and New Zealand.  This year we took the GO train to Toronto to do some shopping at the St Lawrence Market and a trip to the Ripley's Aquarium which was really mind blowing.







We always try to have a theatrical experience each year.  This year we visited Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover for a Norman Foster play. (check out http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/09/norm-foster-bard-of-cottage-country.html ''Blind Date" was a spontaneous play at Theatre Aquarius.  A lot of laughs and little pondering from both.

One of our favourite  restaurants relocated.  Culantro Peruvian Cookery started in a small facility in walking distance.  They moved into bigger facilities and fixed it up.  We went to a special nite--really interesting delicious food.  guitar and flute duo  See and hear a small part of the enjoyable evening.  https://www.instagram.com/p/BG0WAIjQkfV/

Supercrawl suffered through moderate rain, but much less severe than last year.  Good crowds.  For me a hi-lite was Circus Orange, but enjoyed much of the music, especially the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra with The Medicine Hat.  Enjoyed a meal at another classy restaurant on James North, The Lake Road Restaurant.  Chocolate on James with a nifty ice cream creation.

The Superwalk for Parkinson's was by one count my 8th.   I would like to believe my effort makes a small difference, but the goal seems so far away.

2016 was another Olympic year.  Always a big deal for me.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/09/olympic-impressions-for-2016.html


The Can Am show was held in Markham for the second year.  Again I saw many of my clients and a number of prospects. Found out what Extreme Cowboy was all about.  Learned about an interesting book I followed up with http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/05/the-power-of-horses-to-heal-riding-home.html


Another first.  My first Serbian wedding.  Trevor and  Maricca.  Some delicious food.





Another joy of life is eating out.  Some enjoyable meals were had at Mesa, Acclamation, Ancaster Old Mill,  Brux House on Locke St.  Hamilton Hakka Indian and Chinese Restaurant  The Crepe House in Port Dover, the Lake Road Restaurant,  Romano's, Nonna's  After a Blue Jays' game we enjoyed Firkin's Pub at the Flatiron Building.  Farmer's Market has new eateries such as Pokeh, Divine Mexican Treats and Nam Nom Bahn Mi Eatery are three we have enjoyed.


Johannes Linstead, a Juno award guitarist, on the street during Art Crawl brought by Chocolate on James.  For the second time bought one of his albums.  To get an idea of the fun:  https://www.facebook.com/ChocolatOnJamesHamilton/?fref=ts









We usually wind up the year with a gathering of friends for food, drink and talk.  This year we were joined with my sister Rebecca and our neighbour Glen.









I spent a lot of time watching movies amounting to over 300.  Read the highlights. http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/12/film-memories-from-2016.html

Another indulgence is reading.  My favourites:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/12/books-i-am-glad-i-read-in-2016.html

The 3 most popular blogs were 1) about the American election:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/10/october-surprises.html

2) a movie from Spain on Netflix:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/11/7-anos.html

 and 3) a book review about "Pandemic":  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2016/11/pandemic.html

I hope you all had a good year.  Next year could be even better!

If you are interested you check out the previous year that had its share of interesting things:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/12/memories-from-2015.html