Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Asghar Farhadi's The Past

In this new movie by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian man, Ahmad, returns to Paris to formalize his divorce from his French wife, Marie, so that she can marry her new boyfriend, Samir. We never learn why Ahmad & Marie's marriage broke up, but Marie's domestic life is stressful & chaotic, & her new marriage will combine children from both partners. Without intending to, Ahmad triggers a series of unsettling revelations, leading to increasingly dramatic confrontations. I had to keep reframing the characters’ relationships, & the movie constantly challenged my judgments. Though the film is over 2 hours long & nearly plotless, it is taut & emotionally tense. At times it is like watching a play. Mr. Farhadi has steely clear vision, & there is probably nothing on screen that isn't precisely intended. The cast is attractive & intelligent. A protracted moment during which the 2 men find themselves alone with nothing to say to one another is both funny & exceedingly uncomfortable. The film's children are believable & powerfully depicted. A showdown between Samir & his 5-year-old son in the Paris Metro is painfully distressing to witness.

The movie is mostly in French, though, interestingly, the press materials indicate that Mr. Farhadi does not speak French & that Ali Mosaffa, the Iranian actor playing Ahmad, had to come up to speed in French within a few a weeks. The Past opens in San Francisco on December 27th & then in other Bay Area locations in the following weeks.

§ Le passé (The Past) (2013)
France, 130 minutes
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Starring Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim and Ali Mosaffa

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sad Christmas Tree

Saddest Christmas Tree 

Someone decided to set up a Christmas tree in a disused corner of my neighborhood gym. It's probably been there for weeks, but I just noticed it today.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Renegade Craft Fair Winter Market

Renegade Craft Fair photo IMG_20131221_152252_zps6dc886d1.jpgThe winter edition of the indie marketplace the Renegade Craft Fair was impressively crowded Saturday afternoon. It seemed to be a day out for lots of families, & there was much socializing among the predominately female attendees. According to the fair map, there are over 300 vendors, & they put a lot of effort into making their products look appealing. I saw plenty of jewelry, printed tea towels & clothing, as well as a range of items from baseball bats to toffee. Food products seemed to be popular with shoppers. Concert posters by John Howard, some in 3-D & inspired by the psychedelic '60s, were striking. It was nice to see wooden pie boxes made in Chicago. I bought one on-line for a wedding gift earlier this year, but up to now had never had a chance to see it in real life.

§ 5th Annual Renegade Craft Fair Winter Market
December 21 + 22, 11am – 6pm
Concourse Exhibition Center

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Appreciation for Music

One day I went out and bought a recording of Beethoven's Second Symphony and was so taken with it that I began to accumulate all the Beethoven symphonies. I then went on to Brahms, Mendelssohn and all the others. By that time, the first long-playing records had appeared, and my friends and I would listen to each other's new albums. That was the way I developed an appreciation for music. It is amazing how much you can learn about music just by reading the backs of album covers.
Charles Schulz. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Me

Friday, December 13, 2013

ABS: Handel's Messiah

Grace Cathedral photo IMG_20131211_191638_zps6a6b907b.jpgWednesday night I attended the 1st of 2 Messiah performances by American Bach Soloists in Grace Cathedral. The setting was made even more stunning by seasonal decorations of long, shimmering ribbons hanging in the interior. There was a feeling of a special event. The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, Episcopal Bishop of California, introduced the program, praised the musicians & conductor Jeffrey Thomas, & urged us to act in solidarity with the poor.

The performance was immaculate & had the manner of a well-prepared ritual. My concert companion declared it "flawless." The cathedral's long reverberation time gave the music a gauzy halo. The orchestra often played softly to minimize sounding muddy. The overture was pianissimo, creating an eerie & expectant atmosphere. Tempos were measured, with occasional brief rubatos. "He shall feed his flock" had a slightly indulgent pace. Maestro Thomas liked to make clear dynamic contrasts between phrases, & the ends of numbers were always meticulously executed.

The soloists stood in the middle of the orchestra rather than out front. Soprano Shawnette Sulker sang with a high, bright & tight voice. Countertenor Eric Jurenas had a focused, narrow sound & was assigned "But who may abide the day of his coming," "Thou art gone up on high" & "If God is for us," besides the traditional alto arias & may have gotten slightly fatigued. Tenor Aaron Sheehan was wonderfully consistent. His clear, bell-like voice carried well. I enjoyed hearing baritone Mischa Bouvier's warm, furry & comforting sound. John Thiessen accompanied him in "The Trumpet shall sound" on a mellow-sounding Baroque trumpet which he played with impressive accuracy. The chorus of 35 singers was split, with sopranos & tenors on the left of the orchestra, altos & basses on the right. They sang with precision & had a transparent texture. Because of the stereophonic separation, phrases bounced from one side to the other in fugal passages.

Grace Cathedral photo IMG_20131211_192118_zps5d8ee7bd.jpgThe serious-minded audience was as focused as the performers. The attentive silence throughout was palpable. Even though a couple at the end of my row slipped out after the Hallelujah Chorus, this was among the quietest audiences I've ever been in. Despite a program note debunking the origin story of the tradition of standing for the Hallelulah Chorus, the audience rose without hesitation for a "Hallelulah!" with a perfectly smooth & even surface.

§ Handel's MESSIAH
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, music director

Shawnette Sulker, soprano
Eric Jurenas, countertenor
Aaron Sheehan, tenor
Mischa Bouvier, baritone
with the American Bach Choir

Wednesday, December 11 2013, 7:30 pm
Grace Cathedral

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

San Francisco Bazaar Holiday Show

San Francisco Bazaar photo IMG_20131207_152831_zps77b0b5b2.jpgOver the weekend I visited the San Francisco Bazaar Holiday Show at the Concourse Exhibition Center, a sprawling marketplace of independent vendors & hand-crafted items. Just about everything was eye-catching, though this is not a cheap place to shop. The atmosphere & the offerings were generally girlie, & I walked by lots of t-shirts, stationery, jewelry, DIY kits & children's clothing & cupcakes. Stuff made out of other stuff was a common theme. I saw things like wallets made out of seat belts, Christmas ornaments made from maps & terrariums growing in discarded computer chassis. I enjoyed handling the finely constructed artist's books from Green Chair Press, some of which fit inside a matchbox & feature pop-ups & unusual bindings. Attendees, & maybe vendors too, were predominately women.

§ San Francisco Bazaar Holiday Show
December 7th & December 8th 2013 11-6PM each day
Concourse Exhibition Center

Monday, December 09, 2013

East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest

East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest photo IMG_20131207_122759_zpsacda4db2.jpgThis Saturday I checked out the East Bay Alternative Book & Zine Fest. It's grown quite a bit in its 4 years. Close to a hundred exhibitors were crammed into a downstairs room at Berkeley City College. The space behind tables was so tight that some vendors took to crawling under their tables to get out. They were a diverse group, from artists to established independent publishers to first-time zinesters. It was nice to see some old-school zines, like Abigail Young's Camel Toe, which definitely wins the prize for best-named zine. It has content to match. It was fun to see zinester Jason Martin & recreate our scene from his story in Tablegeddon. I also had enlightening chats with the flat-capped Andy Warner & the ebullient Brian Herrick. There is speculation that the independent comics scene is reaching a crisis where there are more creators than readers & that these expos are just gatherings where creators sell to one another.

§ East Bay Alternative Book & Zine Fest (EBABZ)
Dec 7th, 2013 | 10 am - 5 pm | Berkeley City College