Archive for November, 2009

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The Diarrhea of a Midnight Crawler: My New York…An Ode to Amman

By Homo sapien a.k.a …. .. ………

July 24, 2009

Anyone turning the pages of a tourism guide would know that Amman, spelled Ammann, is the capital city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

But to many Jordanians it is the city, where they were born and raised, where their lives thrive, and their stories are exchanged and written.

In the past few years a new term was coined to describe the dwellers of Amman, which has always been the center of unity for many Jordanians, including the one who is writing this piece.

The term is: Ammanites. Those are the brave men and women of the city, where they live, happy or sad, earn a living after shedding many a blood and sweat, experience their own colorful culture with a mix of Western influence, and eventually like everyone else raise their own offspring within its mountainous boundaries.

But what can a person visiting Amman for a few days or more do? Easy, when in Amman do as the Ammanites would do: Visit all the places they grew up around and that they cherished over the years; and most importantly mingle with them.

The first place that one should visit in Amman is Al Balad (Down Town). There you must visit Hashem’s, where a hot Fava Beans plate along with Homous and a platter of chopped tomatoes, onions and mint, would most certainly tickle your palate. There you can also read the dozen framed articles hanging on its walls, and that describe its unique place in the hearts of people passing through Al Balad.

Just across the street from the Postal Office one can visit Al Istiklal Bookshop, where time old notebooks, pens, erasers, rulers and drawing pads—my favorite buy—are found. Next to the bookshop’s steep staircase lies Jafra, a cultural café frequented by Jordanians seeking good food, hot drinks, nargiles and a shelter from the hustle and bustle of Down Town Amman.

Search the Greater Amman Municipality’s website, http://www.ammancity.gov.jo, and you will find out that Jordanians used to refer to Amman as Al Madinah, which is one of the twenty-seven regions constituting Jordan.

According to GAM’s website,” it is region number one in the Greater Amman Municipality. It is located in the center of the Capital, and consists of several neighborhoods or residential concentrations. The residential area amounts to 1120 dunums, and the commercial area is 1500 dunums. The total area is 3014 dunums, i.e. a percentage of 3.1 km2 of the total area of Greater Amman Municipality; with the number of residents amounting to 38465. Organizationally, it is bordered by a number of regions such as: Yarmouk, al-Nasr, Basman, Al-Abdaly, Marka and Zahran.”

Amman has always been a center for arts, culture and literature. It is now filled with over 30 cultural venues, ranging between art galleries, cultural centers and art-house-cum-cafes. The new generation is more and more realizing the necessity of chronicling the tales of its old inhabitants and examining its unique architecture.

Now back to our walk through the crowded streets of Al Balad. Traveling Al Balad should be done on foot so park your car somewhere between the 1st circle, Rainbow Street and Jabal Amman and start walking downwards.

Once you get there you will be amazed how the old embraces the new. There you will see people from all walks of life crowding its streets. Some are there to do business and shop, while, others are there to enjoy what a simple walk in the street has to offer: A crowded sanctuary amidst faded facades that surround old streets, where the scent of vegetables, spices and Jordanian air greet one’s sense of smell.

If you find yourself facing an ancient Romanian edifice surrounded by haphazard buildings then you have reached the Roman Amphitheatre. Mind you it is not the only one as Amman, and its surrounding areas, was an ancient Roman colony. If you have the time you must visit Jerash, and of course the non-Roman historical and archeological wonder Petra.

After ascending the steps of the Roman Amphitheatre in Al Balad a person can visit the Folklore Museum, where one can learn about the old faces and traditions of Amman’s people. I remember visiting it back in the 80s part of a school trip. It is until this day unchanged; even the artifacts and the wax puppets are still the same. Sadly the museum lost its past glamour and is almost forgotten.

Facing the silent stones of the Roman Amphitheatre that echo of voices, whenever a concert or a festival is held there, is the Citadel. Perched over a flat hill the white stones of this area can be seen from anyplace in Amman. Artificial lights accentuate the whiteness of its stones no sooner darkness spreads its cool blanket over our skies.

The Citadel is a magical place, where one can stand and gaze in bewilderment at the cascading edifices of Amman’s asymmetrical buildings. There Amin Matalaqa’s Captain Abu Raed, the main character in his celebrated 2007 movie, sat on a large wall to tell his fascinating stories to enthused children, who were eager to grow up and travel the world the same way he did, and become accomplished storytellers as he was.

From a distance Jordan’s largest flag can be seen moving to the voiceless tempo of the wind that sweeps through our nights. Since its erection it became part of a fascinating ancient background.

Now, what really amazes me is how some Jordanians storytellers fail to acknowledge Ashrafia, and other areas around Amman, as a center of fascinating stories. Maybe they just haven’t lived there to know any story. For me this area holds Hay Al Arman (the Armenian neighborhood), where Armenians lived upon arriving to Jordan after their Diaspora back in 1915. It is also the area where the first Armenian church and school were built.

Every Friday my parents used to send me and my sister to one of the Armenian clubs that exist there to be part of the Armenian scouts. I remember the warm Friday afternoons that I’ve spent there playing basketball and buying ice-cream from Abu Majdee’s grocery store that now evolved into a supermarket.

There we used to have verbal fights with neighborhood boys, who came for a friendly game of football and basketball. Losers simply cannot tolerate the bragging of winners. Why brag winning when you commend a good game. I cannot remember how many games I lost but to tell you the truth it never irked me as I always had more fun playing basketball than actually wining; still that doesn’t mean I didn’t block people thanks to my good jump. Gone are those days.

If you are passing by Wadi Abdoun on a Firday just take a look to the overhanging facades that are built on cascading cliffs and you’ll see a dozen or more kites adorning the clear blue skies. Children living in areas like Al Ashrafia, and who haven’t forgotten the taste of handmade toys, go through a lot to get these colorful kites, made out of paper, wooden reeds and strings, up in the air.

Why am I not referring to the so called divide between Eastern and Western Amman that so many Jordanian storytellers refer to in their stories? Well, that’s another story but I’ll tell you this: I did not live under a tin roof like so many veteran Jordanian writers claim. I grew up in an apartment situated in a building on the first leg of Wadi Abdoun and I used to fly kites like any other Jordanian kid from Eastern Amman. Does that make me any less of an Ammanite or a storyteller for that matter? No…

Now Al Ashrafia is hardly a walking area as its steep serpentine streets would tire the most experienced pedestrians and walking enthusiasts. Ever tried walking uphill from Ra’s Al Ein to Abu Darweesh mosque? I remember a boy, who didn’t want to spend his allowance on a taxi fare, so instead he went uphill and enjoyed a very grueling climb.

Our Amman was originally built on seven hills, but it now spans an area of over nineteen hills, each known as a Jabal meaning mountain.

Speaking of Jabals, if you don’t visit Jabal Amman then you have hardly visited any place in Amman especially Rainbow Street. Around each corner in Jabal Amamn you will find an art gallery or a café adorned with paintings.

Back in the 80s Rainbow Street was the place to be. There you can have an enjoyable stroll through its narrow, very recently cobbled, streets. If you smell something good on your way then it must be the smell of Falafel Al Quds. All you have to do is buy a sandwich or two and continue walking in any direction as on your way you will stumble upon an array of cafes and interesting hangouts like Books@cafe.

One should not forget to visit Souk Jara, which must be the niftiest flea market in the world, on Thursdays and Fridays. If you want another flea market, with a different feel, go to Souk (market) Al Abdali or Al Joura, which translates to The Pit, on a Friday morning.

Now let us move on from familiar places to familiar faces: Ours. If people want a Jordanian character study they must see Emad Hajjaj’s caricatures that will assist them in knowing more about us.

Hajjaj’s work tackles everything from daily life, social norms, art, government performance, parliament, love and hate, taboos, the do’s and don’ts, and of course what it is like to be a Jordanian.

His main and loud mouthed character Abu Mahjoub is most certainly one of us but as they say in Arabic not all your fingers are the same. To the chagrin of foreigners Hajjaj’s work is in Arabic but maybe one day he will eventually translate his valuable canon to English.

Over the years the Jordanian cartooning scene witnessed the emergence of amazing Jordanian caricaturists and cartoonist like Omar Al Abdallat, Mahmoud Hindawi and Osama Hajjaj with works that also reflect our inherent nature.

It is hard to sum up all the places, alleys and neighborhoods that you have to visit in Amman. I’ll be doing that in other pieces for 7iber.com

What you can do until then is to allow your eyes and ears to guide you through our streets. If you are not able to do so ask a friend, who knows the city by heart, to show you around. Wish I had the time to accompany you but I walk alone; sometimes accompanied by my Canon AV- 1, which is hanging from my shoulder, waiting for “the” right photograph and its elements to fall into place, the same way the right words find their way into a paragraph.

An ex Jordanian journalist, me, very recently wrote the following introduction for an article for The Star Weekly about our city:

The mild wind breezing through the city caused the new flags adorning the streets of Amman to flutter. With the sky, clouds and sun rays as a backdrop Amman’s new insignia (logo) has finally arrived. It was time to celebrate Amman’s centennial.

Seven hills of seven different colors interconnect within a square surrounded by white space. The upper half of the word Amman, which is white, appears as silhouette at the foot of the hills, whereas its lower half disappears into the white vastness of the fabric. A Shaddah, an Arabic stress punctuation mark, shaped like a bird, hangs over the Arabic “M” in Amman.

In addition to being a new year 2009 had another meaning for Jordanians. It was time to blow out Amman’s 100 candles, to wish it a happy birthday.

If you are here, and most probably reading this, why don’t you celebrate Amman’s coming of age with us by reading its stories and of course creating your own the same way I am doing.

Amman is my New York evermore… I am one of its children and no more…

To be continued or not…

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Cinerama: Soleil Rouge

Posted: November 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

Soleil Rouge

By Mike Derderian

Stronger and stronger the red Sun glows burning through our tattered clothes. A fierce Samurai thrusts the rusty blade of his sword in his loins; he failed and this was his reward. Alas all what warriors do now is follow the glitter of coins.

The samurai in Terence Young’s 1977 Soleil Rouge aka Red Sun is different from the samurai featured in this week’s prologue. Instead of committing suicide after the assassination of his master (Tetsu Nakamura) and the theft of a golden sword Kuroda Jubie (Toshirô Mifune) decides to go after the responsible gang of bandits.

I was glued to the television set when I last saw this 112-minute Western on television 13 years ago. Red Sun was really entertaining or maybe it felt so because I was just hitting my teens.

Red Sun stars Ursula Andress, Alain Delon, Capucine, Bernabe Barta Barri, Guido Lollobrigida and Charles Bronson as Link Stuart, a ruthless bandit with a soft spot for angry Japanese samurais. Now back to the synopsis of the movie that is set in the 19th century.

Stuart (Bronson) and Gotch Kink (Delon) are the leaders of a gang of merciless bandits, who attack a special train heading to Washington. The gang dynamites the ambassador’s train cart and brutally massacres him and his entourage.

After failing to kill his long time partner, Kink and his gang escape with the samurai sword that was going to be presented as a gift to the president of the United States. This leaves Stuart all alone to face the wrath of the ambassador’s loyal bodyguard Jubie.

The language barrier between the two—Stuart and Jubie—is barely overcome as both men communicate with what resembles a primitive sign language. Farfetched…could be…but it worked and Bronson’s craggy charisma clicked well with Mifune’s.

Both actors became famous for portraying man-against-the-world type of heroes in their countries and internationally. The shockwave resulting from the Bronson-Mifune combo in this film was certainly powerful.

Three years before his reputation as a fearsome vigilante in the 1974 Death Wish was established, Charles Bronson still looked like a man whose actions were louder than words—thanks to a large pistol in most cases. His tougher than nails face would make a person think twice before messing around with him.

In this movie, someone did mess with Bronson’s character and eventually paid for it. Come on it’s a good-guys-win-in-the-end-movie. Together both men decide to track down Kink. They find a lead to his trail through his voluptuous girlfriend Cristina.

The Swiss bombshell was immortalized in another Terence Young film. Does the image of a skimpy bikini clad siren emerging from the sea ring a bell? Andress starred with Sean Connery in the first 1962 James Bond movie Dr. No as Honey Ryder.

In addition to Dr. No, Young directed two more James Bond movies starring Connery, From Russia with Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965).

Mifune’s portrayal of the disgraced samurai was subtly fierce and touching. His passionate dogged persona through the course of the movie starts to mellow as his friendship with Stuart evolves. However, this very same friendship brings forth his tragic demise near the end.

The western camaraderie cliché, of having two totally opposite characters, is what Terence uses to titillate our senses. The camera angles were mostly wide and its movement was slow except for the scenes that included a sword wielding Jubie against a group of miscreants.

Alain Delon, one of France’s brilliant actors and screen legends, was ice cold as the cold-blooded and backstabbing Gotch Kink. Delon’s characterization of Kink, sharp-tongued and witty, would captivate any one with his charm. To survive his company you simply shouldn’t trust him.

The only scene that I still see clearly in my head after all this time involves Ursula Andress, whose character was left behind in the desert to die. With a tight and wet leather rope wrapped around her neck Cristina (Andress) was bound by Apaches and left to die under the sun. How will she die? Exposed to the scorching rays the wet leather rope would shrink and slowly choke her to death.

All of the above blended with Bronson’s reputation as a man-out-for-justice and a key sentence for a plot that spells, revenge is sweet and bitter at the same time, makes Red Sun a highly enjoyable sit-through western movie that has the sharp edge of a good drama.

Must-see-scenes: Ursula Andress in any scene; the Apache assault on the farmhouse where Stuart, Jubie, Cristina and Kink took cover; Mifune’s performance; and the heart-wrenching finale.

Cinerama: Blazing Saddles

Posted: November 25, 2009 in Cinerama

Blazing Saddles

By Mike Derderian

“Tu es muerte señor and that rusty old star ya wearing won’t help ya gringo….” shouted Punch O-Wella, the meanest man in the Wild West. Before O-Wella could complete his sentence a speeding bullet fired from my rusty six-shooter went through his leather vest faster than a coyote running after a hen.

“No, es imposible…perro!” gasped O-Wella, before collapsing like a rock sinking to a bottom of a lake on a hot July summer. They call me “The Blazing Saddle Pistolero” and there is a reason why folks call me that. I was trained by the best in the West. Wylie Kal always told me to stick to my guns even though I actually had just one. But it was more than enough.

You see my six-shooter has a mind of its own and every now and then it goes off putting a blazing hole in my saddle and the horse I am riding. Do you know how many horses I had replaced? Too many and getting a license for one of those things ain’t cheap, especially if it runs on gravel-free hay.

But if you are thinking I am loco wait until you hear the story of my cousin The Waco Kid, who starred along Sheriff Bart in Mel Brooks’ 1974 saddle-splitting Blazing Saddles.

This crazy movie stars Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, Madeline Khan, Dom DeLuise and Harvey Korman as Hedley Lamarr, the bad guy.

Once upon a time there was a peaceful town called Rock Ridge. It was populated by the nuttiest people. One day the bad dude, Hedley Lamarr, decides to take over the town and the best way to achieve this was to divide them first and then conquer them.

With the help of Governor William J.LePetomaine, played by Brooks who also plays the role of the Yiddish-speaking Red Indian chief, Lamarr appoints Bart (Cleavon Little) as town sheriff. Bart is black and the town folk are racists; this means trouble, the kind of trouble Lamarr wants.

Upon learning that this black stranger, who just waltzed into town, is their long awaited sheriff the angry town folk decide to lynch Bart. Realizing that there is no other way to save his hide, Bart suddenly points his pistol to his head and takes himself as hostage. Using an altered voice he threatens to shoot the sheriff, meaning himself. The shear dumbness of this scene makes it so hilarious. Whoever thought of taking oneself hostage? Well, other than Mel Brooks, obviously no one.

Pulling himself away slowly from the angry mob with his pistol pointed to his mouth, Bart hides inside the sheriff’s office where he meets Jim (Wilder) aka The Waco Kid. Once the fastest gunslinger in the West, Jim is now nothing but a drunkard. The image of Dean Martin’s dude, the boozy gunslinger, in Howard Hawks’ 1959 Rio Bravo, starring John Wayne, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson, immediately comes to mind.

You mustn’t forget that Brooks is the father of parody and spoofing, which is why Blazing Saddles comes out as a chaotic mesh of movies and clichéd corny lines. “We’ll head them off at the pass!” Taggart (Pickens) excitedly hollers. “Head them off at the pass? I hate that cliché,” an angry Lamarr (Korman) shouts.

Little and Wilder’s performance as the dynamic duo was convincingly cool. The latter revealed a side that contrasts with his usual twitchy and neurotic on-screen characterizations. Still they weren’t exactly John Wayne and Dean Martin and maybe this was what Brooks wanted to achieve. Can you imagine the Duke talking jive?

Madeline Khan’s performance as Lili Von Shtupp, the German saloon singer and seductress with a lisp, who is hired by Lamarr to distract Bart from his mission to save the town and its people, was stellar and ridiculously hilarious not to mention “twuly bwilliant”.

Now, if someone conducted a poll on the funniest movie villain ever, Korman’s obnoxious Hedley Lamarr would get the title. The man is a merciless, shameless, dogged, vile-tongued, child–hater, wife beating (I just guessed), bloodsucking despicable schmuck.

Blazing Saddles is a 93-minute movie packed with hilarious, at times bad, racist and prejudiced jokes that fare well with a Mel Brooks script. For those who enjoy watching campy spoofs it is lots of fun but to those who have “sophisticated” cinematic tastes it will come out as unfunny and dull as hell.

If a movie with such a graphic racial and social stereotyping tone was made in our times, rather than back in the 70s, it would have not been probably tolerated; poking fun at other races is no longer regarded funny unless it is related to the racist stereotyping of Arabs in Hollywood.

Must-see-scenes: Lamarr’s criminal roundup where Jim and Bart pose as two members of the Ku Klux Klan; Bart’s tryst with Lili Von Shtupp; any scenes that include Hedley Lamarr’s bigoted henchman, Taggart (Pickens) and the outrageous finale when the whole picture literally gets mangled up.

Cinerama: Rabbit of Seville

Posted: November 25, 2009 in Cinerama

Rabbit of Seville

BY Mike Derderian

A couple of days ago, I went to my barber’s shop to find the poor man sleeping on the couch. I tried to wake him up but he was in the deep snooze mood. I sat next to him and waited for about 15 minutes until he finally woke up.

After shaking off his drowsiness and shock, I sat in the chair, where this week’s column was inspired. As his electric razor nibbled through my shorter than short strands of hair that dropped to the floor, the screen was filtering images of death from South Lebanon. A disgusted paramedic was holding the limp and gutted body of a six-year old Lebanese child—a tattered torn doll superimposed on the ugly reality of war. All the while my short crop was being mowed and the tiny stalks of hair arrowed to the floor in silence.

My imagination drifted to a deserted park where men sat in barber chairs. A clown went around distributing razors so they can shave their manes off; not their whiskers—they still needed a semblance of make-believe dignity.

It wasn’t a dream; if it was, Bugs Bunny would have given me a hare-cut, the same way he gave one to Elmer Fudd, in the 1950 timeless classic Looney Toons short for Rabbit of Seville. This is where absurdity mixes with reality.

“How do? Welcome to my shop, let me cut your mop, let me shave your crop, daintily, daintily…hey you!  Don’t look so perplexed, why must you be vexed? Can’t you see you’re next? Yes, you’re next, you’re so next!” Bugsy sings gleefully to Elmer.

Rhymed by the 1,000-voice Mel Blanc, Bugs Bunny is at his funniest. I have seen my fair share of Loony Toons shorts and this seven-minute farce is probably one of the best that I saw.

Chuck Jones, the master animator behind some of the funniest and craziest cartoon movies, directs Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan, who voiced Elmer Fudd, in this hare-raising opera of blunders.

They say “it takes two to tango” and what Blanc and Bryan did with the material they had at hand was more than tango. Blanc, however, outshines Bryan’s voice characterization. After listening to Bugs singing his own lyrics to Gioacchino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia ( aka The Barber of Seville) you’ll know why.

With gunshots behind him, Bugs rushes out of the woods and into an opera house where The Barber of Seville is to be performed. Too preoccupied with shooting aimlessly from his never-running-out-of-ammo hunting ACME shotgun, Fudd suddenly finds himself standing on stage facing a huge crowd.

At moments like these you wish you were never; born but when an animated rabbit wearing a barber’s coat pulls you to a barber’s chair you’ll wish you just weren’t there. The problem with Fudd was that he was there and couldn’t get out. I would have simply took a bow and walked away but hey that’s just obnoxious me.

Anyone familiar with “Toon Town” history knows that the gun wielding schnook, Fudd, is the embodiment of everything but the great white hunter; so relax the bunny lives. Now, throw Bugs Bunny in a barbershop filled with scissors, electric razors, nail files and hair fertilizers and tonics and you got yourself “a little shop of horrors”. It is for the unfortunate customer.

“Ooh, wait ‘till I get that wabbit!” Fudd sings. “What would you want with a wabbit? Can’t you see that I’m much sweeter, I’m your little señoriter, you are my type of guy, let me straighten your tie and I shall dance for you,” Bugs, disguised as a Spanish lady, sings back.

Fitting The Barber of Seville opera with lyrics like the above was crazy and Rossini is probably tossin-‘n-turnin in his grave to the tunes of Bobby Lewis’ music.

The rabbit is as loony as ever: He changes into a señoriter, a snake charmer (sorry I meant an electric razor charmer) and a groom. After a crazy contest on who has the biggest weapon Bugs and Fudd, somehow, end up tying the knot to Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Wedding March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after the latter dons a bride’s outfit.

True the men behind those crazy Loony Toons shorts borrowed a lot of music from well-known classic compositions, however, Merry Melody episodes had their own music that were written by talented composers and musicians like Carl W.Stalling, who worked in this one.

The Rabbit of Seville is a gunshot fast short with a witty dialogue that is delivered with brilliant and hilarious voicing on part of Blanc; composite the voice with the images and you will have lots of fun.

Cinerama: The Director’s Cut

Posted: November 25, 2009 in Cinerama

The Director’s Cut

By Mike Derderian

Things around me no longer made sense and for a couple of weeks I felt like the loneliest person in the world just like Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) before he delivers the best movie quote you will ever hear or read in your life.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die,” Batty recites to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner.

What Scott did was rehash (edit, cut and insert) Blade Runner to come up with what he thinks is a better version. One that is closer to his vision. Now I’ve seen both versions—the first on a VHS tape and the second on DVD. If you ask me, Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut was as good as the first version was when it was first released in 1982.

The Director’s Cut was released 10 years after but was it any different? Yes, Scott cut out some of Harrison Ford’s voice-overs like the ones in the beginning of the film, which I believe were quite good.

“They don’t advertise for killers in the newspaper. That was my profession…ex-cop…ex-blade runner…ex-killer,” Deckard disdainfully mutters as he sits at a Chinese Noodles and Sushi stand in the futuristic gutter-like streets of Los Angeles. Moments later he adds, “sushi, that’s what my ex-wife called me…cold fish.”

Who wouldn’t love this guy the moment he says these words! Coming from Harrison Ford I was dumbstruck as a kid by the actor, who over the years became my icon. I mean I was so into Blade Runner that I fashioned my hair—still do with what’s left of it—after Deckard’s hairdo.

Talk about crazy. However, for a cinema freak like me that was just normal believe me. I am Lucky that my favorite movie was not The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, huh! Still it is a good movie.

By removing the voice-overs what started out as a detective thriller ended up being a story about a man, who learns how to live from a dying humanoid, Batty, who is a replica with an expiry date. Batty knows that after four years he is going to expire. So driven like any other man, who is perplexed by life and it’s true meaning, he comes back from banishment trying to find his creator.

Ridley also added some scenes involving a unicorn that he took from his 1985 fantasy Legend starring a very young Tom Cruise. The galloping unicorn was inserted as part of a dream sequence that Deckard had. It supposedly alludes to Deckard’s own identity; a thing I am still trying to fathom.

Blade Runner presents a perfect argument when it comes to the issue of cloning and its moral repercussions. Can we create and are we allowed to create human-like organisms? If man succeeds in a creating a creature with a soul that would answer a lot of questions about our own existence but at the same time it would obliterate the power and drive behind such an existence.

Every time I watch Blade Runner I re-discover that I am nothing but a mortal, which is why I so much cherish it. If you remember and I don’t think you have that strong memory Blade Runner was the third column I wrote in Cinerama.

Our life is but moments we remember throughout the years that we are destined to live and watching movies has become a part of my years. I remember mother telling me to study instead of watching movies; thank God I did not listen to her because I wouldn’t have had the memories and moments that I write about here. Until next week, remember rain might wash away our sins but it also washes away our memories, may it never rain.

 

Cinerama: 8½

Posted: November 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

By Mike Derderian

Watching Federico Fellini’s film 8½, aka Otto e mezzo (1963) at first will feel like going through a nonsensical rush of clips, dialogue and characters but midway through its perspective comes into angel and chaos becomes less chaotic.

Fellini takes us inside the mangled mind of a famous Italian filmmaker, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), who after suffering a relapse ends up in a health spa, where he and his film crew try to piece together the ultimate idea for a film.

Imagine the following: You are sitting in a room and you are trying to concentrate and write what might turn out to be the next Weathering Heights. No wait, you can’t top that. The room is filled with people, who keep asking you questions. Do you think you will be able to write? This is what is happening to Guido. He is being pestered by everyone, his crew, producer, his blabber-mouthed mistress and his estranged wife and worst of all, his mind.

We love to think that our lives are organized; but try to recall your past, present and imagine how your future would be in a few years time and you’ll discover that nothing is organized. The smallest whiff of perfume, the smell of grass, a sentence in a book, a movie scene from your favorite film, the touch of a piece of fabric and people would help recall thousands of memories in one jolt of thinking. Sometimes these memories come to us involuntarily after being triggered by some of the above elements.

In Guido’s case it is just the opposite. He is trying to escape from reality and what better place for a person to hide from the present than h/her own head. Believing that he no longer has the edge he seeks his memories for refuge and inspiration.

Besides Mastroianni, stars Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Barbara Steele, Guido Alberti and Jean Rougeul as Carini, the obnoxious movie critic, who in addition to putting down Guido’s script likes to philosophize about life and the purpose of cinema.

“It’s better to destroy than create what’s unnecessary,” Carini tells Guido after having noticed how much he matured as a director with a clear vision towards life.

Mastroianni’s portrayal of the troubled film director was mesmerizing. The Italian hunk was able to transmit the angst and apathy that engulfed Guido’s soul and nearly ruined him. Cardinale, Aimée, Milo and Steele each had a character to work with and they certainly and brilliantly worked their parts well into Guido’s growth and unveiling as a person. If you want to know a man just see how he treats women.

Fellini successfully created an alpha male figure and a man who is instinctively afraid to open up and reveal his soul to the woman or all the women he loves, whether indirectly or directly. Guido is like any man out there and this is what makes Fellini’s movie a looking glass placed above us all.

Music is an integral element in a Fellini movie and Nino Rota’s musical score helped add to the disorientated spirit of the movie thus amplify the director’s vision, audibly speaking.

is about the search that we do within ourselves through our childhood memories and have to do when life becomes unbearable but the secret is not to get stuck in those memories.

“I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say, something useful to everybody. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves. Instead, I’m the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same,” Guido so wisely says and with this phrase one of the themes of modern cinema is forever solidified: Man’s inner search for truth, which reminds us of another saying by Alexander Pope, “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan, the proper study of mankind is Man.” Always look within.

Must-see-scenes:  La Saraghina (Eddra Gale) performing rumba for Guido and his young friends; when Guido goes to meet the cardinal at the bathhouse (an eye opener); any scene involving Claudia Cardinale and of course my favorite scene, which is the craziest, when Guido fantasizes that all the women in his life live under one roof and are part of his harem.

Cinerama: Der Unterganag

Posted: November 25, 2009 in Cinerama

Der Untergana

By Mike Derderian

Funny how the title of a movie can take a person 10 years back in time. I was young and many of my ideologies were similar to what I am stuck with at the moment. I have to admit though that I erased the turn-the-other-cheek rule out of my book. It was simply impractical.

I found myself standing in the middle of my school hall that was packed with parents and children; they were all cheering. A girl called Najwan had just finished reading a paper about Adolf Hitler. “I am proud to say that Hitler is my idol,” she said as she finished reading.

A hero! Hitler is no hero! Her agony at seiing Arabs suffering at the hands of Israelis made her mindset: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

Why the sudden surge of memories? Well, I watched Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2004 masterpiece Der Untergang at a friend’s house and that’s when it all came back to me. The title of this 156-minute war drama that translates to Downfall chronicles the remaining days of Hitler and that of his loyal entourage at the infamous Berlin underground bunker.

It stars Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes, Christian Berkel, Juliane Köhler, Matthias Habich, André Hennicke, Thomas Kretschmann and Alexandra Maria Lara, who played the role of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s private secretary between the years 1942-1945 and around whom the movie marginally revolved.

Bruno Ganz’ portrayal of the aging Fuehrer was stellar and helped shed light on a side that was never portrayed. It was not exactly psychoanalysis or an in depth research into Hitler’s inner self, as much as it was a testimony on how he was perceived by his staff of generals, officers, soldiers, secretaries and friends.

The G in Ganz must stand for great for the man was brilliant and for a moment or two you actually feel sorry for Hitler. Now, you won’t be seeing Hitler standing in a corner soliloquizing but you will find out that he has a soft spot for children, dogs and vegetarian meals.

We see a man best remembered for his monstrosity sitting on a table with his staff, enjoying a vegetarian meal, holding a child in his arms as he listens to other children sing German folkloric songs; a man who is in love and cares for the safety of his personal staff.

Ganz’ physical transformation, which was enhanced by his skill as an actor, helped in bringing Hitler back to life. With a bent back he strides the halls of his bunker clutching his nervously twitching left arm—he has been struck with Parkinson’s disease. His black hair covers one side of his forehead, with few locks of gray here and there; however, near the end, most of it turns into a mesh of white and grey.

The stillness in Der Untergang’s is what makes it a really disturbing movie yet highly enjoyable. Violence proves more distressing when it is not incorporated directly on screen but hinted at—this is where Hirschbiegel directorial brilliance lies.

You don’t see someone’s brain coming out of his skull—save for one scene. Even Hitler and Eva’s suicide scene was shoot—no pun intended—behind closed doors. Hirschbiegel took the outlines of one of the most violent days in German history that oozed of death and bloodshed and turned it into an emotional trek.

The material of the plot was derived from two books, Der Untergang by Joachim Fest and Bis Zur Letzten Stunde (Up to the Last Hour) by Traudl Junge.

A segment taken from a documentary entitled Blind Spot with real life Traudl—died at 82—talking about her experience and how she never knew the monster Hitler was, appeared at the beginning of the film and at the end.

“I wasn’t a fanatic Nazi. I could have said in Berlin, ‘no, I’m not doing that. I don’t want to go to the Fuhrer’s headquarters.’ But I didn’t do that. I was too curious. I didn’t realize that fate would lead me somewhere I didn’t want to be. But still, I find it hard to forgive myself,” Traudl says.

Watching Der Untergang will take you there. It was like watching a roller coaster that we know is about to be derailed. Everyone knows that Hitler and Eva Brown, the woman he loved and wedded in his final hours, decided to commit suicide. The roller coaster was derailed and to our shock the awe was unbearable even though we were being emotionally prepped up throughout the film.

Reaching that conclusion—the demise of Hitler and the Third Reich—in Hirschbiegel’s masterpiece proves a painful and exhausting experience, similar to what Steven Speilberg did in his 1998 graphic war movie Saving Private Ryan.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of the bunker, accompanied with a non-stop tempo of siren alarms, air raids and loud shrieks of falling bombs and men in pain, helped heighten the film’s intensity. People with high blood pressure are hereby warned.

Hirschbiegel not only played with our emotions but with our vision too. When Traudl walks out of a Russian packed Berlin, the camera for a few seconds starts to shake. Nothing is more annoying than a shaky camera and this is intentional on part of the director, who wanted to convey Truadl’s nausea and pathos.

All actors especially Corinna Harfouch, who played the role of ice queen Magda Goebbels the wife of Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, were on par with Ganz’s performance and managed to invoke one’s emotions.

Must-see-scenes: Truadl’s daring escape near the end, the scene where Magda cold bloodedly kills her children because she believes that a Germany without Hitler is not worth living, Goeblels’ (Matthes) scene where he asks Traudl to write his testament and any scene involving Bruno Ganz’s Hitler.