Kieslowski Week: Red

Posted in Music, On writing, Writers at 9:10 am by Marion


The last of Colors Trilogy, Red, gives us an almost unbearable look at human fragility. It explores the lonely life of an older man, who we learn was once a judge … along with the life of a beautiful young woman.

Of course, the color red gives everything a heightened emotional complexity, and brings a sense of anticipation that is absence in, say, blue, which is more about the inner life, and white more about the outer life.

Red brings them both together, in some ways, the inner and outer life. Yet in the end, the private life determines our outer life, in so many ways. (Red takes as a starting point the French “fraternite,” fraternity or brotherhood, presented by that color in the French flag.)

Valentine is played by Irene Jakob, who also starred in The Double Life of Veronique, an earlier Kieslowski film. It also features writing by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and music by Zbigniew Preisner, his long-time collaborators.

It’s interesting to not that Mr. Piesiewicz is a lawyer. White features a very likable lawyer named Mikolej, and of course this film presents us a judge.

To avoid giving away the plot elements, which are sparse, I’ll say little else about it.

Red (Rouge, Czerwony) was the last theatrical release by Kieslowski. He died in 1996.

Yet I was just in time: Red was my introduction to Kieslowski when, in 1994, I drove myself to Raleigh to see it. (Back in my single-girl days I would often go to Raleigh to see films).

I’ll never forget the experience of seeing the large red scarf blowing in the storm, or the overall power of Kieslowski’s images.

Within 18 months, I was living in another Slavic country in Prague. I attended the Karlovy Vary film festival that summer (1996) where I was among a tiny audience that screened a documentary on Kieslowski. It was in Polish without subtitles!! Who cared. I loved the man. A great artistic romance was born within me.

It’s been 5 years since I’ve seen a movie in a theater, and I will probably never again see a movie on the big screen. It’s partially because of too many bad experiences — focus wrong, gum on screens, talking people.

I just can’t bear those places. Can’t bear the mentality that cheapens the film experience. Can’t bear the feeling that I’ve been abducted by a malevolent force that wants to overwhelm my senses, and deaden my emotional response.

So when I write about Kieslowski, I’m also mourning a bit the innocence he represents for me and for us all. There was a real childlike quality to his filmmaking, tied not a little to the Communist regime’s control.

These days, I watch on my computer, at home, with the dogs and cats. It’s a much saner world here.

At the same time, I wonder what films Mr. Kieslowski would be making if he were with us?



Kieslowski Week: Blue

Posted in Life in general, Music, Writers at 8:55 am by Marion


Last week I took a look at the Dekalog, the series of one-hour programs created for Polish TV by the gifted director Krzysztof Kieslowski (27 June 1941 – 13 March 1996).

He’s probably best known, however, for his Three Colors Trilogy. Two are primarily in French, one in Polish. They are noted this way in those languages:

Trois couleurs: Bleu (1993)
Trzy kolory: Biały (1994)
Trois couleurs: Rouge (1994)

The films also intended to evoke the three principles of French independence as represented by the flag: blue is liberty; white is equality; red is fraternity.


The film stars Juliette Binoche as a woman who loses her husband suddenly in a car accident, and has to discover what has meaning once he’s gone.

He was a music composer, and she finds his scores and we realize she played a larger role in his creative life than she was credited for.

But Blue is not driven by plot. Rather, it is a thoughtful study of a woman’s inner emotional life.

This rich, complex inner life is where Kieslowski shines. He manages, with images, colors and music, to construct a mood, a feeling, that he carries throughout the film. Yet it’s not manipulated, or perfect, a la Hollywood. Rather it is organic, imperfect, and human.

Because in the end, for Kieslowski, emotions are larger than life.

BLUE. Krzysztof Kieslowski, director
screenplay by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Music by Zbigniew Preisner



Krzysztof’s Kommandments

Posted in Music, Writers at 12:05 pm by Marion


After finishing the Dekalog (Ten Commandments, or Decalogue) by Krzysztof Kieslowski, it seemed time for a closer look at the films of this Polish director.

Among those 10 chilling short films, made for Polish television in the late 1980s, one of them alone could easily claim a week’s worth of FD entries. A Short Film About Killing, made to illustrate the commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill” is beyond any filmmaking, whatever the cost, location or political system.

His oeuvre also includes the widely admired Trois Couleurs (Three Colors), a trilogy on the colors of the French flag — Blue, Blanc, Rouge. Later this week we’ll take a look at those films. Kieslowski worked for a long time in his homeland, and after the Eastern Bloc opened, came to Paris to work.

The Dekalog was filmed for Polish television and aired in 1988. It’s hard to place these times politically, since they were certainly not the same as the hopeful days of 1968, when it seemed the old regime would tumble. Yet the late 1980s in Poland were a time of hope. How can we forget Solidarity and Lech Walesa, whose shipyard activism finally succeeded in challenging Communism in a way no one else had.

So there was a ray of light perhaps in those days, and Kieslowski slipped through.

For many years he had worked in Polish film, mostly in documentaries but also with short films. His early documentaries were Workers 71 and Station. The first was heavily censored and the second was also a source of trouble, since some of its footage was used in a court base. Bez konza (No End) was also an early film. This idea of konca, or end, comes up quite a lot in his work.

The Dekalog is also when he begins working with long-time collaborators, the screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz and the composer Zbigniew Preisner. Their work comes to full blossom in the trilogy.

The Dekalog is unlike anything before. Each takes a winding route to its point … whatever the commandment is. The route is so unexpected and human, that the final message is an emotional one, a message you feel. Kieslowski so easily could have made these commandments exercises in Communist doctrine, or even lessons on right behavior. Instead, he uses them to show the complexity of human life.

A few words about Dekalog V, which became in a slightly longer version, “A Short Film About Killing.” The intensity of this film combines with artful composition, a deliberate pace and authentic characters to give us a chilling reminder of why no one in fact should kill.

A young thug takes the life of a cab driver and for this crime, he is sentenced to death. No detail is spared in showing us what it means to kill … both as the young punk kills the man without provocation, and as he is also killed, by strangers, in an act that degrades them all.

You can imagine where a soulful, haunted romantic man like Kieslowski will take such a concept. Indeed, the film was so intense, the script so honest, that the actors only rehearsed it once before filming. Kieslowski later related that it was unbearable for them.

It is a moving indictment of self-righteousness.

The other film that stands out for me is Dekalog VIII, Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness. It is a moving story of a Jewish woman who survives the Holocaust, but wants to understand why a family chose not to give her shelter.

The Dekalog
is available on Netflix.



Posted in Events, Music, Press at 8:36 am by Marion

The Avett Brothers. Photo by Crackerfarm


Today marks the opening of the Austin music festival South by Southwest. Each year this festival churns up a bit of excitement, placing new music firmly in the spotlight, usually folks who don’t have the machinery of hype behind them.

Of course each year there are also old-but-goodies such as Beck. This year, not my favorite band Metallica is appearing, along with Big Boi, formerly of OutKast, who is promoting his solo recordings.

On a personal note, a favorite band of mine will be there, the Avett Brothers. Now if you don’t know these guys, they’re like pop-bluegrass-punk, just a lot of fun.

I happen to know about them not because I’m in the know, but by good fortune live next door to one of the band members. Who’s a great guy … and so is his wife. They’re animal loving tree huggers like yours truly. One of the band members graduated from East Carolina University, here in G-Vegas.

Today, the Avett Brothers are set to play at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in the NPR Showcase. (If you’re on Facebook, you got a surprise last week, when NPR sent a free SXSW sampler CD in your inbox to download from iTunes. Yeah!!!) They’re playing with the Decemberists and Heartless Bastards.

Tomorrow, the Avett Brothers will play at the Radio Room, at the Paste-Brooklyn Vegan party. With Daniel Johnson, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.

If you’re interested, here’s a full playlist from the NPR Showcase. I think anyone can download free from NPR, with an iTunes account. Enjoy!!

“Furr” by Blitzen Trapper from Furr
“Knotty Pine” by David Byrne & The Dirty Projectors from Dark Was the Night
“Lakeside” by BLK JKS from Mystery EP
“Go On, Say It” by Blind Pilot from 3 Rounds and a Sound
“Bag of Hammers” by Thao Nguyen from We Brave Bee Stings and All
“The Rake’s Song” by The Decemberists from The Hazards of Love
“St. Joseph’s” by The Avett Brothers from The Second Gleam
“The Mountain” by The Heartless Bastards from The Mountain
“Dreamer” by K’Naan from Troubadour
“Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” by Mayer Hawthorne from Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out


‘Sirius’ about the iPhone

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Music, Press at 11:29 am by Marion


So many updates this week … not sure where they will lead … but here they are … first Sirius XM has announced it will release a new, FREE app for iPhone that will allow subscribers to listen through their phones.

Now this news is not as simple as it seems: Only days earlier, Apple moved to block another satellite radio app being offered by another company, NiceMac. These guys are dedicated satellite radio fans (as I have become) and their app was in development for some time. It was expected that it would be costly, however … I’ve heard close to $20.

So here is our beloved Sirius XM staring bankruptcy in the face … with a trump card, the free app for iPhone. It could help in Sirius XM get out of its financial hole, though I’m not sure how (?) (Probably some kind of ad revenue, or the hope of new subscribers.) It would appear Apple would rather deal with the big guys at Sirius than the little guys at Nicemac.

Meanwhile, the guys at NiceMac are left in the cold.

Note — I apologize for all the links and frankly can’t make sense of it, but some folks out there in Fiction Dailyland may be able to untangle it. If so, please report!

Meanwhile, Sirius will start charging addition fees each month for Internet streaming. That’s in addition to the $17 or so each month for the radio service. Yep, that takes it to $20 a month.

Now some people would say, Hold your horses, circle the wagons … why would you pay for radio?

I say, just give Sirius-XM a listen and you’ll know why. For someone who loves music as much as I do, it’s not a hard choice. I’ll give up shoes before I give up music.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday asks the age-old question, When are words superfluous?


Satellite Safe (For Now)

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Music at 8:40 am by Marion


Today, a wrap-up of what has been a perilous week for my beloved satellite radio. Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Sirius-XM, after receiving it as a gift from my husband at Christmas.

Yet last week, disturbing reports began appearing about a possible hostile take-over. The villain so to speak was Charles Ergen, CEO of EchoStar, which operates DirectTV.

Rumor had it Ergen wanted to buy and cannibalize satellites for his own ends. Can’t you just hear the Hollywood version of this story? HISS … BOO.

Enter satellite’s White Knight: Liberty Media. Of course everything’s relative, and these guys want to make money. But somehow, Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin persuaded John Malone of Liberty to step in with a cash infusion just before a large debt payment was due (to Mr. Ergen, it should be noted).

So for now, satellite radio is safe, sort of.

And so are our stations — Sirius-XMU, AltNation, First Wave, Lithium.

Some people will say why do we need satellite when there is streaming Internet?

I say, who wants to download podcasts, or listen to stale, computer generated playlists on some streaming servers.

With satellite, the music choices are impeccable, the program categories surprising and dynamic.

And of course, satellite is the only place you can hear Howard Stern in the mornings. I know, Cringe.

But he’s just side-splittingly funny. And he represents, like it or not, what it means to have freedom of speech. Real freedom of speech. That allows you from time to time to make jokes about body parts and functions without someone else’s values determining what you can and can’t say. Yep, sometimes the show is out of bounds (prank calls) and I just turn down the volume. Other times, I just sit there and say, thank goodness, someone can make me laugh today.

So a hopeful week after all, despite the bad news everywhere.

DUST UP OVER FACEBOOK’S PRIVACY TERMS CHANGE. Never quite understood it, but protested it anyway.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday.


A Tap in Time

Posted in Music, Tap dancing at 8:41 am by Marion

Today, a simple report from the dance studio.

After a three-week break, I returned to tap class last night. It’s a late class, starting at 7:45 p.m., which can feel like midnight. I’m thinking it will be a rough 45-minutes, that I will be clumsy and uncoordinated.

Somehow, during the past three weeks, something came together upstairs, quietly and without any effort from me. This new understanding was transmitted from my brain through to my legs and feet. And somehow, I was completing steps that were impossible a month ago!

I did “pull backs” across the studio … jumping moves done on both feet, backward, that should make a crisp tap. For me, performing the step turns into a struggle to avoid falling over, while sliding my feet sloppily backward.

Somehow last night the tap-slaps were there throughout the length of the 30-foot studio. (I ignored the full-length mirror which might have shown a slightly teetering woman leaping strangely across the room.)

Next we did a simple drawback step, which after months of flummoxation, has become almost second nature … so we worked on a drawback cross-step. Drawbacks also move backwards, and this variation takes one foot and crosses it over the other, while stepping backward. And brushing the toe … and tapping the heel.

We started at the barre … I fumbled … then, in a breakthrough, I did the step a few times. I moved away from the barre, and stumbled through it before getting it right a few times. Now I have something to work on for the week.

Last we turned to the “time step.” There are several time steps, which are often inserted into dance routines, like tiny compact dance firecrackers, which really turn up the complexity of a dance. These steps require you to shift weight from foot to food without taking steps … or, in some cases, you take steps without shifting your weight. It’s just as complicated as it sounds!!

Well, I seem to have one of the time steps now … my instructor repeated it rapidly several times for me, so I could hear the true rhythm of the step and now the task at hand (foot?) is to carry out the step while tapping the authentic rhythm.

Because in the end, no matter what you do with your feet, tap dancing is an art form dedicated to making delightfully entertaining, and even funny, sounds with those metal clappers. When it sounds right, you’re really tapping.

Like everything else, there’s got to me music in it.


The Rest is … Alex Ross

Posted in Book reviews, HH Dalai Lama, Music, On writing, Press at 8:18 am by Marion

pbcover4.jpgNow that everyone is taking stock of the best books of 2008, I’m just getting around to reading one of the best books of 2007.

The Rest is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century, by Alex Ross.

As soon as I ordered it last January I wanted to open it, but in that old-school, protestant way, I put it off, reminding myself that I was reading two books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, one or two by Jack Kerouac, a couple of French novels, not to mention Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book (for the past two years).

Well, yesterday, I reminded myself that I had actually finished many of those books (though not the ones by the Dalai Lama; I have a bookcase full).

So why not just read it. And so I got started.

The Rest is Noise is a look at so-called “classical” music of the 20th century. It begins with Gustave Mahler, Richard Strauss (hint: he’s not the waltz guy) and Arnold Schoenberg and explores the music as it emerged from the times, and the writers — their personal relationships, how their work was received (or rejected), even their own personal struggles. Schoenberg, for instance, comes across as quite sensitive, concerned about the depths of poetry and even subject to personal depression, when I always thought of this abstract, whole-tone scale composer as emotionless.

From the opening words of the preface, Alex Ross rushes out of the gate with excellent, studied and meaningful writing. What a pleasure!! He really cares!!

Not only does he care, but Ross approaches topics in a modern way. If you’ve ever tried to read dry, fusty non-fiction … especially music critiques … then you know how easy it is to bore the reader to death.

It’s always been my personal approach in writing to invite the reader in, to invite the reader to care. And so with Alex Ross. He wants us to follow him; he’s not just showing off.

Though he could. It’s clear Mr. Ross not only adores music, but he understands how it works. With just enough description of chords, scales and harmonics, he allows us to see why music is daring, but he doesn’t overwhelm us with details.

If you’ve read the New Yorker, you know Mr. Ross as the magazine’s music writer. Not that he needs any qualifiers after this book!! (and not, frankly, that I hold TNY-er in esteem any longer, after that Obama parody cover, and an article last year trashing the Dalai Lama. Who trashes the Dalai Lama???)

So music lovers, treat yourself this holiday season to The Rest is Noise. And get ready to listen.

FD will return with Figuratively Speaking Friday.


Ode to Joy

Posted in Computers & Technology, Life in general, Music, On writing at 8:13 am by Marion


A report earlier this week was music to my ears: Researchers in Maryland have discovered that the body physically responds to music. The study was reported by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore researchers during the Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association in New Orleans this week.

The study’s results appear on the university’s Web site.

Music serves as my rock, my foundation, my steady ship. But in the past say two years or so, it’s become something else: my sanctuary. When I need to get away from everything, I’ve learned that hearing Claude Debussy is taking a plane ride into tranquility.

Turns out, I’m not the only one. The study showed that when people listened to music they perceived as pleasant, it caused tissue in the inner lining of their blood vessels to dilate (or expand) and increase blood flow. A 2005 study found a similar response to laughter.

“We had previously demonstrated that positive emotions, such as laughter, were good for vascular health. So, a logical question was whether other emotions, such as those evoked by music, have a similar effect,” says principal investigator Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The relaxation of the blood vessel lining was considerable — up to 26 percent. Ironically, when the study subjects listened to music they perceived as unpleasant (in this case, heavy metal), their blood vessels’ inner lining was constricted by up to 6 percent.

In a personal way, this was vindication for my reliance on music. Turns out I’m not just loafing when I sit in bed listening to Pascal Rouge’s Suite Bergamasque. Or, when I’m cleaning the house listening to Madonna (honestly, that’s my favorite de-stressor).

In my senior college year, I took several upper-level French literature courses, and became heavily involved with our campus’s Anti-Apartheid movement. My days were packed and I routinely closed down the Undergraduate Library at 2 a.m., returning the next day at 8 a.m.

My one joy every day was listening to Joe Jackson’s Night and Day. Every afternoon when I took a break, I’d play it straight through. Day side to Night side.

I have that album on my iPod, with the same scratch on “Slow Song” that’s been there for 26 years. Those songs give me intense joy, and I always thought Joe Jackson’s masterpiece somehow made me feel … better.

Now I have the science to prove it.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday



Posted in Computers & Technology, Music at 9:54 am by Marion


My iTunes experience began with version 5. The newest edition, which I downloaded about three weeks ago, is iTunes 8.

One thing about iTunes and the whole iPod experience is that change is constant. As long as I can hold on for the ride, I find it’s worth the constant … well … shuffle.

iTunes 8 has a new feature called Genius and it is. (Maybe we could do without the smug-Apple-icious name, but when you’ve got it ….)

Genius allows you to click on a song — obscure or mainstream, offbeat or pop — and have a new playlist created for you. Genius creates the playlist by putting together music from your own library, so I find it’s a great way to hear familiar music in a new way, a sort of paradigm shift for the ears. Genius also acquaints me with music I’ve loaded, but haven’t listened to yet. (Who hasn’t forgotten what’s on their iPod? With 8 gigabytes, it’s hard keeping up with all those yummy tunes.)

Another feature of Genius is a bit self-serving: If you click on a song, it will recommend songs you can purchase from the iTunes store. In general I’m not fond of these cloning-type services, whether its courtesy of Amazon or Netflix.

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid infection with iTunes … it’s time to take the plunge. I have found immeasurable new pleasure and joy in music thanks to the digital form it’s taken these days. I don’t leave the house without my iPod and it goes from desk to living room to bedside; on runs, in the grocery store and in the car.

Once you figure it out, Genius is great fun. It refreshes music, organizes it in new ways, shines a light on forgotten songs and artists and kicks your favorites out of their status quo corner.

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