2015年3月31日 星期二

Ghesse-ha (Tales) (德克蘭人間傳奇)

My 6th film at the HKIFF is again different from all the other films seen so far. It's “Ghesse-ha”(Tales) (2014) by Rakhshan Bani-Etemadby, the first lady among Iranian female directors with a whole string of films under her direction from 1986 on : Kharej az Mahdudeh (1986 aka Off-Limits), Zard-e Ghanari (1988, aka Canary Yellow), Pul-e Khareji (1989, aka Foreign Currency), Nargess (1992), Rusari Abi (1995, aka The Blue-Veiled), Banoo-ye Ordibehesht (1998,aka The May Lady), Baran-O-Bumi (1999, aka Baran and the Native, a short), Zir-e Pust-e Shahr (2001, aka Under the Skin of the City), Ruzegar-e ma (2002, aka Our Times , a documentary), Gilane (2004,)Khoon Bazi (2006, aka Mainline) and We Are Half of Iran's Population (2009).

Part of the Tales is supposed to be the work of a video-journalist just returned from abroad who enjoys documenting on his small digital camera whatever he comes across he finds of interest in his real everyday life. He shoots everything from the window of the taxi whose driver complains that he never feels the urge to shoot him and is given the wry response that the taxi driver never asked him to! But the most important of such videos is the one he took  in a mini van full of half a dozen unhappy people from all parts of Teheran each with his own complaints against the Iranian government for failing to help: an old woman (the taxi driver's mother) seeking to recover her unpaid wages from her boss whose factory closed down because of Chinese competition and whose workers have already lodged a futile protest to the government official who was seen more interested in talking to his mistress than of dealing with their problem  and which when he does, take the form of asking the security guards to drive them out; another complains of rising food prices no longer matched by  wages; a third, a retiree who easily breaks into tears complains that he is not reimbursed his hospital expenses under his medical insurance long after they were due; a fourth complains about taxes being too high and a fifth, who has been out of job for two years because of a work injury and is now forced to rely upon his wife to support him, something which constitutes a terrible shame and humiliation for a man in Iran, complains about the bureaucratic delays in giving him the relevant employee compensation.

There is a second line which follows a day in the life of a fully recovered drug addict who had previously committed suicide but is now helping the very same Centre for addicted women which previously helped her. Through her, we meet some of the people she encounters including first, the conversation she overhears on her subway journey to the Centre between a young married woman meeting her lover behind her husband's back and toying with the idea of a fake kidnapping on her subway journey; secondly a woman whose face was burned by boiling water thrown at her by her husband and who is seeking free medical treatment at the Centre on the pretext that it was caused by an exploding boiler. We are shown how her husband made a big fuss outside the Centre because he wanted her back and who when met by workers from the Centre said, tears in his eyes, that apart from her wife, he's got nothing. Then we see how another full time employee deal with an old woman who wants financial assistance to get bail for his son put in jail a year for speaking out against the government but was rejected because that was not covered by the scheme at the Centre. When we follow that employee home, we see how she gets a letter from her former husband who is about to die saying that as his last wish, he wants her to have his house and how suspicious and jealous his illiterate husband is, her husband being one of the protesters in the mini-van on their way to demonstrate against the red tape and bureaucratic delays of the relevant Iranian government department to pay the overdue employee compensation. We also see how on their way to lodge the protest against the government, their van was stopped by some government agents and the ensuing altercations and scuffles between them.The link to all the different stories are skilfully tied together as passengers of the taxi driver as he goes about his work.

A third line concentrates on the relation between the recovered suicidee and the taxi driver, a university dropout which takes the form of the dialogue/argument between them whilst the taxi driver was driving the van hired by the Centre to take home another middle aged drug addict who has just received some medical treatment at the Centre after she slashed her own wrist. We hear the tortuous verbal exchanges between the taxi driver and the obviously sharp and quick witted young volunteer worker around the question whether he has feelings for her and she for him. In the end, the taxi driver was forced to admit that he does but is told point blank that his feelings for her are not reciprocated. The intense exchanges last for about a quarter of an hour without a break, as the camera constantly switches to and fro  between the face of the taxi driver and that of the young volunteer worker. In the meantime, as the taxi continues its journey, life continues as usual in Teheran with all its social, economic and domestic problems, just like in any other modern metropolis.  

Because in Iran, one must get ministerial permission before one can produce a long feature film, Rakhshan Bani-Etemadby has skilfully evaded the restrictions by weaving together half a dozen different short documentaries, which do not require such permission,  into one long  Tales which gives us a taste of what it's like to live as as a small potato in present day Teheran. That taste is delicious: it creates a rich tapestry of some of the problems faced by  contemporary Teheran: its economic tensions, its changing social mores, conflicts between the government bureaucracy and the people and the shifting but subtle changes in the traditional relations between men and women in Iran: the women in the film being generally portrayed as much stronger than the men. The film feels authentic because many of the "actors" in the quasi-documentary are amateurs doing so for free. And the final sequence of exchanges between the young taxi driver and the volunteer worker documents exquisitely the kind of shy, evasive and round about way many Iranian men have to resort to in letting the woman of their dream have an idea of how they truly feel about her and give us the full flavor of the subterfuges engaged by the taxi driver for such purpose.

Credit must be given to Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Farid Mostafavi the wonderful script they have written together for this film and for the brilliant "candid camera" approach to create that sense of flesh and blood feel of social reality portrayed through the pretext of the same being done by a returning video journalist, masterfully captured for us by cinematographer Koohyar Kalari. It's not just a social quasi-documentary, it's also a documentary about a subject of universal interest: the changing relations between man and woman in a rapidly developing world. It is not for no reason that the film got the Best Screenplay Award at the last Cannes International Film Festival. At the time she got her award at Cannes, Rakhshan Bani-Etema said that many people are suffering in present day Iran because of the UN sanctions against her country and asked: "When will people realise that it is the people who suffer the consequences of international decisions?” Certainly food for thought.

2015年3月30日 星期一

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (鴿子在樹上反思存在意義)

Roy Anderson (b. 1943) is a film maker from Sweden known by very few people in Hong Kong but in fact, he already made a very successful first film in 1970: A Swedish Love Story which won 4 awards at the 20th Berlin Film Festival, then went on to make a black comedy: Giliap(1975), a critical and financial flop, after which he quit cinema for a quarter of a century and concentrated on making commercials. He returned to film making only in 2000 with his Songs from the Second Floor, an absurdist comedy consisting of 46 surrealist tableaux caricaturing Swedish life and culture which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and which was followed by You, the Living (2007) examining the lives of an overweight woman, a disgruntled psychiatrist, a heartbroken groupie, a carpenter, a business consultant, and a school teacher and her rug-selling husband. 

At this year's HKIFF, we have his latest film: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence ( (Swedish: En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron)(2014) as the third part what's been called his "living"-trilogy,(the two previous being Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living). Anderson names this film after a 1565 painting by  elder Pieter Bruegel: The Hunters in the Snow depicting the winter countryside with some birds perched on tree branches, watching the people below and to him, probably wondering what they are doing. He says at the 71th Venice International Film Festival in which he won the Golden Lion award, that he was inspired by the 1948 Italian film Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica and describes it as "a deep and fantastic, humorous and tragic, philosophical, Dostoyevsky film."

The film opens with a fat man examining some specimens of bird on a branch in a museum enclosed in a glass case, his wife waiting impatiently. Then we are shown 3 deaths: the man in the museum dies whilst trying to uncork a bottle of wine at the door of a kitchen whilst his wife is totally engaged doing something or other in that kitchen, her back towards his back; a thin old dying woman on a hospital bed clinging to her handbag containing her wedding ring, some jewelry and cash whilst both her sons fight to snatch it from her tight grasp on the ground that she can't and doesn't need to bring that to heaven and the captain of a ferry having to decide what to do with an already paid but unconsumed meal left behind by another fat man who had just suffered a fatal heart attack, Then the film continues with a kaleidoscopic tour in a series of tableaux or sketches of the kinds of things that people do in their daily life, mostly through the eyes of two comical door-to-door salesman Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom) the junior of whom is always complaining that his superior is angry with him and the latter of whom always has always to console him, such sequences always shot from a fixed angle at a distance from what is happening on the screen. What joins all the scenes, often grotesque and surrealist, is the theme of how absurd, how fragile and how vulnerable human existence really is: how we are always exposed to the risk of being ignored, insulted, exploited and cheated by others or subjugated to their authority, of our need to earn our living, of our need of having always to rely upon others and being exposed to the injustices and cruelty they may inflict upon us and how meaningless are the contents of a lot of what we regard as instant communication through the digital phone and finally how we are all exposed to the ultimate risk of death. Through such exploration, Anderson makes us reflect as the birds in Breugel's painting of winter, two eternal questions which have plagued all philosophers and all religious leaders and all of us lesser mortals for as long as man has started to think: what we are doing and where we are going to.

Cavallo Dinheiro (Horse Money )(馬錢)

Cavallo Dinheiro (Horse Money )(馬錢) must count as one of the most enigmatic films I saw at this year's HKIFF so far. It's a film by Portuguese film director Pedro Costa (b. 1959), a history student turned film maker who learned cinema from the famous Portuguese director António Reis, Paulo Rocha and Alberto Seixas Santos who first won international recognition with his "In Vanda's Room" (2000) and then Colossal Youth (2006) after having made O Sangre (1989), Casa de Lava (1995) and Ossos (1997). He is known for his spare almost expressionist images about marginalized people in desperate situations shot as quasi documentary fiction, where in a Proust-like manner, the boundaries between reality and imagination, between fact and fiction, between the past and the present have become irretrievably blurred in the human mind or consciousness.   

In many ways, Horse Money is truly indescribable in words. Like many artistic genres such as music and painting, in which if the artist can fully express what he/she wishes to express in words, it would not have been necessary to do so in their musical or pictorial form in the first place, what Costa may wish to express in Horse Money can only be expressed in the film as it is, as completed and in that sense, something which has become independent of what Costa might have intended, something which has a life of its own, linked to but separate from Costa.

2015年3月29日 星期日

Party Girl (舞吧! 夜遊天使)

Making a film about one's mother can never be easy. The difficulty would probably triple if it were to be made by three of the children of that same mother who share all the ideas about how such a film is to be made, who is responsible for what and who should have the final say in doing or not doing certain things or the way those things are to be done and the film is their very first. Yet that is exactly what Samuel Theis, Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq and Claire Burger did in a documentary-like feature film about their mother, a 60-year-old hard drinking self-centred cabaret dancer with bags below her eyes, loads of thick rings around her fingers living at a hotel room above the local pole dance club who somehow couldn't quite get used to the idea that she is not longer the star attraction there suddenly announced her desire to her children to get married (Sonia Angélique Theis-Litzemburger).

The film Party Girl (2014), selected as the opening film of Un Certain Regard for films which are "different and original" at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, was co-written, co-directed, co-acted by Theis, Amachoukeli-Barsacq and Burger. It's a film which took them 4 years from hatching to completion, using mostly amateur actors and actresses who play themselves at a town at the French-German border.

The President (總统大人着草了)

My second film at the HKIFF is not the kind of film that one finds easily in Hong Kong: it's not a tear jerking tragedy, nor a gag comedy. It is neither an action movie nor a romance. It's not a Chinese movie. Nor is it a Hollywood movie. It's a movie by a film director who is Iranian but who could not make that movie in his country about a subject which not very many film deals with. It's a very personal film about something which touches the director very deeply. He spent five and a half year in an Iranian prison for throwing a bomb at a government leader. He tried to fight for political reform and did not hesitate to use physical violence. Since then, he has had some second thoughts about its use for a noble political cause.The film is called "The President" (2014) and the director is Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a self-taught Iranian film maker living with his family in Paris. 

As the film opens, we see a 5-year old kid in military uniform sitting on the lap of an old man also in military uniform. He was looking out from his office on to the city below his feet. It was night time. There were city lights everywhere. The child was asking for an icecream. The old man said he could not have it because it's not good for him. But the child insisted. To appease the child, he asked him if he would like to see the lights go out. The child nodded. The old man made a telephone call. The lights were off. Then he asked the child if he would like to try. The child nodded vigorously. He passed the telephone to the child. The child then gave a few orders and the lights were on and off. But when the child tried a third time for the lights to be turned on again, the city remained dark. Then the sound of a few bomb explosion could be heard.

Art Basel 2015.10


Untitled 1983: Silkscreen on canvas by John Stezaker (b. 1949) a British conceptual artist who likes to do collage with pre-existing images like postcards, film stills and publicity photographs.

This is Intifada (meaning literally "shaking off" in Arabic but is now translated as rebellion/resistance), 2014, an uprooted olive tree, one of 3 such shackled to an open aluminum cube 3 meters square being constantly made to shake by a motor, causing its leaves to fall to the ground. A piece of installation art by Sioban Hapaska from Ireland. To him, the olive tree is a symbol of abundance, endurance, peace and goodwill and is supposed to symbolize Nature's struggle to be free of human control.

Baisers #2 2011 nickel-plated bronze by Ghada Amer (b.1963) an Egyptian painter and sculptor educated in France and now working in America, whose work explores issues of gender and sexuality

2015年3月28日 星期六

Kavakos and Pace: a Duo made in Heaven (卡華高斯與佩斯: 天作的二重奏)

If it's possible to claim that there's a contemporary artist who is made for the violin, I don't think any one would have any serious objections if I were to say that it would be the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos (b. 1967). Since he won the Sibelius Competition in 1985 and  the Paganini and Naumberg Competitions in 1988, he has performed with such world famous orchestras as The Vienna Philharmonic, the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw, the London Symphony Orchestra and Gewanhausorchester Leipzig and numerous other orchestras in Germany, France, Hungary, France, Italy and America etc. and has also won various awards for his recording of Mendelssohn's and Sibelius Violin Concertos. Last year, he came to Hong Kong (see http://elzorro927.blogspot.hk/2014/03/from-hell-to-heaven-peyroux-kavakos-pace.html) with his Italian partner Enrico Pace, an excellent pianist who won the Franz Liszt Piano Competition in 1979 and since performed with the Royal Concertgebouw, the Munich Philharmonic, the Netherlands Philharmonic, the Hungarian National Philharmonic, the Brussels Philharmonic, the Bamberger Symphoniker etc. and toured the world as soloist. They got a rapturous reception. Perhaps for that reason, they returned to the Cultural Centre last night to dazzle us with their perfect co-playing of various numbers by Schubert, Beethoven, Korngold and Richard Strauss.

Their first offer of the evening was a very romantic piece: Franz Schubert (1797-1828)'s Sonata for violin and piano in A, Op. 165 D574 popularly known as the Grand Duo in Allegro moderato, Scherzo: Presto-Trio, Andantino, Allegro vivace, written by the composer in 1817, a year after his 3 sonatinos, a work in which he boldly explored tonal areas he never previously ventured into. There is in this work a very vivid dialogue between the soft violin and the vigorous the piano, full of abrupt changes of speed,rhythms and major and minor keys.

Art Basel 2015.9


The singer  L as Fiordiligi: mixed media on newsprint on original cardboard 1923 by Paul Klée (1879-1940)

2015年3月27日 星期五

The Hilliard Ensemble & Arvo Pärt in Hong Kong (希利亞之聲音劇場與亞福. 帕特在香港)

Arvo Pärt is an enigmatic and reclusive composer struggling to express himself in music in a way which is unique to what he regarded as important and vital in this most ancient media for self-expression: the sound and magic of individual tones: their resonance and their harmonics, whether in isolation or in simultaneity, whether in dissonance or in harmony with other tones or whether or not they stand out from silence. Early in his career he experimented with serial music and in a sense, he has never really completely abandoned that. But growing up in Estonia, a country steeped in the musical traditions of Russian Orthodox Church and its chants, he feels irresistibly drawn towards his roots, something which touches him most deeply: mystical transcendence: the way that tones inevitably fade into the silence from which they first arise, as if in the beginning, human life emerges from a certain vague and formless eternity and must in the end return to it. Whatever the truth may be about his musical development, we got a chance to listen to some of it last night at the City Hall. The occasion was "Arvo Pärt--80 by 8: Pärt at 80 celebration concert." I don't suppose I'd be far wrong if I were to think of the numeral "8" in the latter part of the main title may be a reference to the time at which the concert began.  The explanation on the programme note elaborates: "An 80th birthday celebration recital, presenting vocal works of Pärt's career, for vocal octet a capella".

We had 7 of his vocal compositions:

1. Morning Star (2007)
2. Most Holy Mother (2003)
3. The Deer's Cry (2007)
4. Solfeggio (1963)
5. Seven Magnificat Antiphons (1988): O Wisheit (O Wisdom), O Adonai, O Sproß aus
     Isais Wurzel (O Root of the Tree of Jesse), O Shlüßel David (O Key of David), O
      Morgenstern (O Morning Star) O König aller Völker (O King of All Nations), O Immanuel
6. Missa Syllabica (1977) Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Ite Missa
7. Kanon Pokkajanen (selections) (1997): Kontakion & Ikos, Ode IX: Heirmos, Theotokion, Prayer

The number of works may look huge but they are all short pieces, seldom lasting more than two or three minutes each. So it was not a very long concert by the performers, the famous Theatre of Voices founded by Paul Hillier in 1990, popularly known as the Hilliard Ensemble, which has recorded numerous CDs, through which I first learn of their existence years ago.

Arvo Pärt's Morning Star

This is a piece commissioned by Durham U to celebrate its 175th anniversary. Pärt chose a text found inside Durham Cathedral: "Christ is the morning star, who when the night of this world is past brings to his saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day." He repeats the same sentence "Christ is the morning star" beginning in different notes by the male and female singing separately and then continues with the rest of the words of the text by the singers singing together.

Art Basel 2015. 8


For the ordinary folk of China, India and other less developed countries, the motor cycle has become not only a cheap, fast, flexible and efficient mode of transport in rural areas and sometimes even in the cities. Often, one sees on the internet photos of the most incredible feats by some of their citizens in loading them well above their normal carrying capacities. Here's an example. By copper plating them, they become more than mere street spectacles but objects thought worthy of being displayed as "works of art", a trend which Marcel Duchamp initiated in 1917 when he shocked every one by displaying a urinal on a museum wall as "art", something continued in 1962 by Andy Warhol when, tongue in cheek, he drew giant Campbell soup can label and exhibited it as an "art object".  

2015年3月26日 星期四

The Flames of Paris is burning at Tsimshatsui: the Bolshoi Ballet (巴黎火焰在尖沙咀燃燒:莫斯科大劇院芭蕾舞團)

No one who loves ballet can be ignorant of Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet founded in 1776. In this year's HK International Film Festival, a selection of 8 of their productions will be screened including “Swan Lake,” “La Sylphide,” “Nutcracker,” “The Pharaoh’s Daughter,” “Don Quixote,” “La Bayadere” and “The Rite of Spring". But last night, we had a chance to see them live in Tsim Sha Tsui. They performed a ballet which is little known in Hong Kong: Boris Asafiev's "The Flames of Paris" about the French Revolution of 1789, based on the original libretto of Nickolai Volkov and Vladimir Dmitriev and as choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky upon that of Vasily Vainonen.

The Flames of Paris is a ballet in two acts each with 2 scenes.  In Act 1, scene 1, a large group of people are gathered: they are the revolutionaries on the way to Paris from Marseilles. The protagonist Philippe who longs to join the Marseillais, meets a peasant girl Jeanne and kisses her before her brother Jerome under the castle of the local seigneur the Marquis Costa de Beauregard who is returning from a hunt with his men and his daughter Adeline. Against her wishes, the Marquis tries to flirt with Jeanne until she is rescued by her brother eJerome, who is there and then beaten up and thrown into a prison cellar but Adeline who saw everything and feels attracted to him, frees him in the dark. Jarcasse, her father's spy obstensibly employed by him as her chaperone, sees everything and informs the Marquis and he smacks her and orders her into a Paris bound carriage,watched over by Jacasse. Jerome and Jeanne join the revolutionaries. The red-capped revolutionaries dance a Farandola .

Art Basel 2915. 7


Door handle on/in a box of sand/earth: door to Nature/Earth?

14107: drawer finger hole on a boulder

2015年3月25日 星期三

Hong Kong Flower Show 2015 (香港花展 2015)

The Hong Kong Flower Show appears to be a must for everyone who loves to carry their camera around with them. For a number of years now, I always make it a point to indulge myself a little at around this time of the year. Whether I can take good photos or not, I got the chance to look at some beautiful flowers.

And sometimes, even a beautiful girl!

Orchids are a must at many flower shows. This year, they've become our "theme" flower.

Everywhere you go, you find them,

Art Basel 2015.6


Ghosts in the night? 

2015年3月24日 星期二

Nian Nian (念念) (Murmur of the Hearts)

Never a great fan of Chinese films, including those of Sylvia Chang (張艾嘉), I was very pleasantly surprised by the opening film of the HK International Film Festival 2015: Nian Nian (念念) aka Murmur of the Hearts 2015  by veteran singer, actress turned director Sylvia Chang.

Chang has got together a star studded cast: Angelika Lee Sinje ( 李心潔), Jospeh Chang (張孝全), Isabella Leong (梁洛施),, Lawrence Ko (宇綸) in a simple fairy tale of leaving home and growing up. Yet simplicity is never simple: it may hide certain complexities which may resonate in the lives of people on many levels: social, psychological, mind, heart, conventions, freedom, past and present.

As the film opens, we are shown a beautifully shot underwater sequence of a mermaid swimming freely from an undersea cave towards and then through a brightly lit vagina shaped opening towards the ocean and the voice over of Angelika, playing Jen, the mother two kids Yu-Mei and Yu Nan telling them the story of the mermaid leaving the cave towards the open sea far far away to an unknown destination, a ritual which she would perform every night as the two kids lay on her lap listening in rapt attention before their bedtime, something which Jen had to squeeze in time to do between attending to customers of a small noodle shop on Lyudao (綠島) (a tiny island off the east coast of Taiwan used by the Taiwanese government as a penal island for prisoners). Then we got a low angle shot of Yu Mei (Isabella), sitting alone on a rooftop water tank, her fingers full of red paint, looking up at the sky, thinking, reflecting about something or other.Then we are shown the two kids with their mother at a rock pool playing with little fishes and their mother Jen telling them that the fishes must return to the open ocean where they belong, despite the huge billows thundering in under a clear blue sky from the Taiwan Straits upon the beach on that tiny island. Then the screen switches back to Yu Mei painting: by throwing red paint on to her canvas with great force to form a pattern and then working on it, drawing small white spirals here and there on the blank spaces and then to a red hot love making scene with her boy-friend Hsiang (Joseph Chang) anxious of being caught breaking the rules just before the boxing match the following morning.

Art Basel 2015. 5


Chariot of the Gods 2009 by Hew Locke (b. 1959) inspired by the artist's visits to the Museum of Mankind in London which once housed the exhibits of British Museum's Department of Ethnography of artifacts from the Americas, Africa, the Pacific and tribal Asia and Europe until 1997, when the program was ended. The artwork incorporates the artist's sketches of such museum exhibits as Benin bronzes, Buddhist masks, Inca mummies, Mexican serpents and the famous Easter Island Moai figure called Hoa Hakananai'a into a Western heraldic "coat of arms" motif, to signify Western domination of other peoples.

2015年3月23日 星期一

Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth By Day: A celebration of Billie Holiday

Jazz is never as popular in Hong Kong as in Taiwan or in Japan but there are still some who love it. For me, it is difficult not to love the kind of constant innovation which some jazz musicians are introducing into the genre, a genre which is open to all kinds of musical influences: geographical, native, cultural, personal or from other genres like classical, folk, pop, rock, punk, Latin or other indigenous music, probably because the creativity of jazz musician depends heavily on spontaneous improvisation just so long as they stay certain rhythmic and chordal constraints peculiar to the jazz genre in what they call a "jam" session. At the Cultural Centre last night, a jazz legend made a tribute to another jazz legend: Cassandra Wilson paid tribute to Billie Holiday in a programme called  "Coming Forth By Day: A Celebration of Billie Holiday" because 2015 is the 100 anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday.

Art Basel 2015.4


Untitled (Krieg/Böse) 1991 in oil and metallic spray paint on canvas by Swiss painter working on sculpture, paper, photographs, installations, prints and ephemera Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997)

His Untitled (from series White Rubber Paintings) 1991 in latex, acrylic, pigment on canvas

An untitled work 1991in oil and metallic spray paint on canvas by the same artist

2015年3月22日 星期日

Bolshoi Opera's The Tsar's Bride (莫斯科大劇院歌劇團之沙皇的新娘)

Western operas are seldom popular in Hong Kong. We simply do not have the kind of tradition of going to see an opera which one finds in the most big European cities. So opera lovers in Hong Kong have to content themselves with seeing them on DVD's or Blue Tooth. The closest we get to the opera would be having some singers come to Hong Kong to perform various numbers taken from the vast repertoires of European operas as part of the orchestral music by our local or visiting orchestras. But from time to time,  world famous opera companies do come to Hong Kong, normally, during our annual Arts Festival. We had one this year. It comes from Russia, a country with a very long tradition of opera production. Last night, at the Grand Theatre of the Cultural Centre, we had the Bolshoi Opera, a world renowned opera company. Bolshoi is justly famous not just for its ballet production. They mounted a popular opera by one of the best opera composers of all times, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov whose Scheherazade most music lovers must have heard a hundred times.

Art Basel 2015.3


Portrait of Yves Marie Hervé 1980 by David Hockney: acrylic on canvas

2015年3月21日 星期六

Art Basel 2015.2


Trash Laughter 2008: oil on canvas by Tang Dixin (唐狄鑫) (b. 1982)

2015年3月20日 星期五

Dudamel's Mahler Sixth in Hong Kong (杜達美的馬勒六在香港)

Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in A minor has often been described as "tragic".  His wife Alma said it was a symphony which came directly from his heart. But others claim that its sombre intensity reflects the tensions and conflicts in pre-WWI Europe and forbodes its arrival. Whatever the truth may be, we had another chance to hear it again last night at the Cultural Centre, the HKPO under the baton of our former chief conductor De Waart having done so some 3 years ago. (see http://elzorro927.blogspot.hk/2011/02/mahler-no-6-in-hong-kong.html ). This time however, we had Gustavo Dudamel conducting the LA Philharmonic which came out in full force.

The four movements of this extremely long symphony ( one hour twenty minutes without intermission) are:

1. Allegro energico, ma non troppo Heftig, aber markig
2. Andante moderato
3. Scherzo: Wuchtig
4. Finale: Sostenuto--Allegro moderato--Allegro energico

It was not, however, a symphony which was enthusiastically received when it premiered in 1904, the critics at the time complaining that it had too much brass. I can understand why. But the brass is there not simply because Mahler wished to be bombastic. It's there because he really felt something intense inside his heart which could not find expression otherwise, something brewing inside and crying out for an adequate musical form. There is in this music two forces: the forces of tender love, domestic bliss and rustic peace and serenity on the one hand and then the forces of death and destruction raging outside. The two are constantly vying for  dominance. Even in the happiest moment as in the second movement, the forces of destruction, in the form of the irresistible and implacable marching rhythms are never far off. And yet, even when the forces of destruction are playing out themselves (the timpanis, the trumpets etc), it could somehow never quite forget the moments of tenderness ( the woodwind, the horns, the flute, the lyre, the cowbells suggesting lullabies and the innocent play of children) which linger on at the very heart of all the violence to remind one of those happier times. Hence the tension one feels as one listens to the music.

Art Basel 2015.1

Art Central was organized by those who previously organized Art HK, now replaced by Art Basel, whether in competition or complementary to the latter, I have no idea. Art Basel 2015 follows close at the heels of Art Central (just concluded on 16th March) at the Convention Centre.

The entrance to Hall 1 of the Art Basel HK 2015, full of huge cartoons above and a painted floor picture below in the shape of various spirals filled with what looks like scales or coins at the end of which appears a human figure painted gold with a pine cone for his head and a box in his hands. Here we find people busily taking photos under the huge hung posters.

2015年3月19日 星期四

Art Central HK 2015.5

There are many sculptures in wood or other materials.

This one is "Forget" in cast copper and chemical stain

2015年3月18日 星期三

Art Central HK 2015.4


Miguel Chevalier's Fractal Flowers 2008 in lambda print and diasec with frame in wood

More fractal flowers, same artist

2015年3月17日 星期二

Art Central HK 2015.3


Cercando nella Notte Persa (Looking for the lost night 2014) : inkjet print on cotton paper by Giovanni Ozzola

2015年3月16日 星期一

Art Central HK 2015.2

There are all sorts of exhibits: paintings, collages, gouaches, sculptures, exploitation of optical illusions, light shows, installation art etc with all kinds of conceivable and inconceivable materials, some employing traditional techniques, others using more innovative methods of creation.

A rather peaceful and serene work, " Adolescent Holding a Flower" (抱花少年) 2009

2015年3月15日 星期日

Art Central HK 2015.1

For a number of years, there's been a plastic art event which every art lover in Hong Kong and in the Asia Pacific area would look forward to, "Art HK", which has been taken over 2 years ago by Art Basel. Starting this year, there's another big art event called "Art Central", held the Central harbor front, with participation from 75 international galleries from more than 20 countries. It's housed in a huge temporary pavillion covering some 10,000 square meters. Out of curiosity, I paid a short visit to the exhibition this afternoon. There's some interesting finds.

This looks like a block of wood.

But it isn't

Mikhail Rudy's Kafka's Metamorphosis and Chagall's The Sound of Colors (米凱.路迪與卡夫卡的"變形" 和夏卡爾的"音樂的色彩")

The City Hall was packed last night. The reason? Mikhail Rudy would be playing various compositions by Leos Janácek as accompaniment to an animation film of Kafka's short story "Metamorphosis" by Stephen and Timothy Quay commissioned by Rudy and in addition various works by Gluck, Mozart, Wagner, Debussy and Ravel as accompaniment to the images of various frescos called "The Sound of Colors" painted by Marc Chagall on the ceiling of the Paris Opera Garnier in 1964.
Kafka's Metamorphosis
is a short story about the fate of Gregor Samsa,(an ordinary but otherwise hardworking travelling salesman who is one of the breadwinners in the family and who is always punctual at work) finds in morning that he has transformed into an insect ( conventionally thought of as a cockroach/bug), unable to get up from his bed. First, his mother tells him that he is late for work, then his favourite sister Grete begs him to. He wants to but can't. Then they find through looking at the keyhole of his bedroom that he has been turned into the insect. A little later, his supervisor comes to warn him of the consequences of missing work. But when he discovers Gregor's new shape, he flees. His mother gives Gregor the bread and and milk he likes but in his new condition, he doesn't like them any more, so she gives him instead various rotting food scraps which he happily consumes. Gradually, both they and he himself got used to his new condition. To make room for Gregor to crawl around, they remove some furniture in his room. Because he cannot work, his family  takes in 3 lodgers for whom his father asks Grete to play the violin, something they don't enjoy but Gregor loves. When one of the lodgers discovers Gregor listening to her playing at their side, they all got alarmed and refuse to pay to rent on account of his unseemly presence. One day, Gregor got out of the room in response to her sister's call and goes into the kitchen to see her but when his father returns from work, he drives him out by throwing an apple at him. The apple got lodged on Gregor's back and soon begins to rot. Often, Gregor overhears through the door the family discussing their financial condition. After a while, Grete has grown tired of taking care of Gregor and suggests removing him. The family agrees. Gregor is deeply hurt and dies in his room, all alone. His body is removed by the cleaning lady as garbage. Greatly relieved, the family drive out the 3 lodgers and move out from their house and takes a smaller apartment and to celebrate, takes a trolley ride. Mikhail Rudy loved this story so much that he commissioned

2015年3月14日 星期六

Spirityouall--Bobby McFerrin (波比.麥非年: 靈魂之聲)

How do you describe something which is basically indescribable? Well, you don't. You can't. And when you need somehow to express something which is very close to your heart, like your spirituality, what do you do? You act out. You sing. And when you've got a tongue, a throat, a body and a pair of hands which can tap on it, you experiment with what you can do with them, in isolation and in combination. And when you've got some other talented musicians and perhaps an audience who are willing to go along with you and to help you do what you so very much want to do, you enlist their assistance. That's exactly what Bobby McFerrin tried to do in his latest CD album, called "Spirityouall" and that's exactly what he and his group did at the Cultural Centre last night.

In the Programme notes, Bobby McFerrin said, "“I couldn’t do anything without faith,” he says. “I couldn’t open up my eyes, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t sing. What I want everyone to experience at the end of my concerts is . . . .this sense of rejoicing. I don’t want the audience to be blown away by what I do, I want them to have this sense of real joy, from the depths of their being. Then you open up a place where grace can come in."  and that "I try to sing the way I sing my kitchen, because I just can't help myself. I want audiences to leave the theatre and sing in their own kitchens the next morning. I want to bring the audiences into the incredible feeling of joy and freedom I get when I sing."

2015年3月13日 星期五

Mój Rower (My Father’s Bike)(出走不離三爺孫)

Men are very different animals from women. They're so different that a popular book about male-female relationship uses as its title,"Men are from Mars, and Women from Venus". Mój Rower (My Father’s Bike)(出走不離三爺孫) (2012) is a film by Polish screenwriter and director Piotr Trzaskalski (Edi 2002, Mistrz 2005) about the strained relations between 3 generations of estranged men and/or adolescent. They came together when Barsia (Anna Nehrebecka), the wife of a talented 75-year-old retired jazz clarinet player suffering from high blood pressure and has to walk with a crutch, Wlodzimierz Starnawsk (Michal Urbaniak) "Vlodek") suddenly left a note on a desk saying that she's decided to leave him. His divorced concert pianist son Pawel (Artur Zmijewski) immediately flew in from Berlin and Pawel's own adolescent son Maciet (Krzysztof Chodorowski) flew in from England and converged at the airport of Lodz (the third largest city in Poland) for the unspoken purpose of seeing the old man, who has no company except that of an incontinent dog with nobody to look after him except a part-time maid. They've decided to look for Barsia whom her sister reluctantly told Pawel  had run off with a retired pilot somewhere in Suwalki, a beautiful lakeside rural area which forms part of the protected Suwalki Landscape Park in north east Poland, close to the border with Lithuania.

2015年3月12日 星期四

Huang Shan. 4 (黃山之四. 古徽州市府)

The Huang Shan National Park originally formed part of the area under the jurisdiction of  Huizhou town (徽州府). But it could never forget its heritage. Perhaps even more likely, it could not resist the lure of the tourist dollar which could be generated from both its natural and historical heritage. Hence the local government decided to change the name of the town to Huang Shan and restored its ancient municipal government building complex here together with its surrounding protective walls.

The old city wall of the ancient Huizhou town, which first started life in the Qing Dynasty (秦) in BC 221 as She County (歙縣) , was  given township status as Shezhou (歙州) in the Sui Dynasty (隋) (581-619)  which in AD 1121 during the Song Dynasty (宋) was renamed Huizhou (徽州 ). So this old town, one of the best preserved in the whole of China, has been around for some 1,400 years! According to the explanations accompanying the Guided Tour Map of the old town, the main tourist attractions here are: the Hui Government Building (徽州府衙), the East Watch Tower (東譙楼) , the South Watch Tower ( (南譙楼), the old town wall (古城牆), the Stone Memorial Gate of Xuguo (許國石坊), the Doushan Street (斗山街), Zhongshan Lane (中山巷), The Memorial to Tao Xingzghi (陶行知) Memorial Museum , the 2 residences of the Cao clan(曹氏二宅), Taibai Tower (太白楼), the Xin An Memorial Park (新安碑園) and Yulang Ancient Street (漁梁古街), the 2 Song Towers (宋代二塔) and 3 Ming Bridges (明代三橋). But we did not have time to visit them all.

2015年3月11日 星期三

Huang Shan. 3 (黃山之三)

The second day at Huang Shan, we had to change hotel. That means plenty of steps to walk up and down. As on the first day, there was absolutely no sign of any sun.

Right opposite to our first hotel is this huge boulder

One look up these steps is enough to cause an instant fall in my moods as I thought of the amount of legwork I got to do on our snow spikes.

Something to brighten up our day

2015年3月10日 星期二

To see the Sea (男孩子自導日記)

One doesn't get a lot of chance to see any films from Czechoslovakia, which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Previously most of the films from that country are about its recent turbulent past: occupation by Nazi Germany, life under Communist rule etc. But its entry in this year's European Union Film Festival HK 2015 is a most unusual film: Pojedeme k moři ( To See the Sea), a film by 28-year-old actor turned director Jiří Mádl, who took a 6--month crash course on film making at the New York Film Academy just before making the film, shot with a Nikon digital SLR, purportedly from the point of view of one of its two protagonists, Tomáš Hrobský( Petr Simcák ), an 11-year-old school boy who boldly declared with typical childish bravado that he wanted to become the next Miloš Forman and his buddy Haris Kubálek  (Jan Marsál ). Tomáš got the camera as a birthday present from his internet furniture dealer father (táta) (Ondrej Vetchý) and he started first with the idea of making a film on a subject with which he thought he is most familiar and closest to him viz. his own family in the southern Bohemian city of České Budějovice and then as the film develops, it spills off into episodes about the family of his best friend Haris, an immigrant from nearby Croatia. .

Tomáš was intrigued by one fact: recorded by his secretly hidden camera trained on his father before the computer on his work desk:  every Tuesday and Thursday morning, he would suddenly stop work and start talking secretly to someone on the telephone shortly after which he would leave the house and drive off to some unknown destination. Tomáš suspected his father of having an affair with another woman. But when he asked his father about it, his father would strenuously deny that he had ever left the house and when he asked his mother (máma) (Lucie Trmíková) if she noticed if she found anything unusual about the behavior of his father, she would look very puzzled at his question and would deny any such suggestion.

2015年3月8日 星期日

Europa Galante in Hong Kong (歐州嘉蘭古樂團)

In an earlier blog, I said that Fabio Biondi was the founder and director of the musical ensemble called Europa Galante. What exactly does the Italian word "galante" mean? It looks like the English word "gallant" which means "courteous", "gentlemanly" and can also mean "amorous, racy or flirtatious". But although it can have some of all those senses, in the context of music, it actually refers more specifically to a musical style of composition and performance fashionable in Italy and perhaps Germany from the 1720s to the 1770s which emphasized simple short phrases and melodic lines over complexity; spontaneity, immediacy and elegance over the strictness and stately formal regularity of the music prevalent in late Baroque music. It downplayed the role of polyphony and harmony based on the tonic and dominant and highlighted more the role of the soloists over that of the rest of the chamber orchestra, thus giving the music much more contrast and a more lively and energetic feeling. it's a style of composition favored by such composers as the  Italian Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Tartini, the German Handel, Stamitz and Telemann and the Spanish Boccherini.

Last night, I had the chance to hear this famous ensemble in action at the City Hall. But it was a most unusual concert. Before the formal concert began, we were shown a short but beautifully made documentary on the life of a legendary violin virtuoso which began life on the steps of the Ospedale Pietà  ( an Italian orphanage run by nuns specializing in training those endowed with talent at singing or playing musical instrument) in 1718, at the age of 2 months. She died at the age of 81 and spent her whole life at the Pietà until it was closed down. Before then, the Pietà was so successful in turning out performer after performers who attained such standards of excellence that all music-living members of European royalty made special trips there just to hear its performances, which were invariably done behind cloisters to prevent the girls there from being "contaminated" or "corrupted" by secular influences. The lady played with such skill and passion that that many famous Italian composers of the day had written concerti specially for her or otherwise dedicated many of their works to her like Antonio Martinelli's Violin Concerto in E, Concerto for viola d'amore and strings in D and Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto for Violin in D, RV222,  two of the pieces we heard last night. She is Chiara (Chiaretta), The documentary, the "Diary of Chiara", was directed and produced by Lucrezia Le Moli and Biondi and the music accompanying Chiara's life was performed by the  Europa Galante.

2015年3月7日 星期六

Fabio Biondi in Hong Kong (法比奥.比昂迪在香港)

Everyone who loves the sound of the violin has heard of such names as Paganini, Milstein, Heifetz, Gitlis, Kreisler, Oistrach, Mehuhin and Stern and more recently Zukerman, Perlman, Kremer, Shaham  and Kavakos. But I don't think that every one has heard of a very good violinist who specializes in baroque and classical music written for the violin and played in the period instruments and using original techniques of the relevant age in which such pieces were written. He is Fabio Biondi (b 1960), from Palermo, Italy, who first started to play the violin at the age of 12. He has recorded numerous pieces by such Italian composers as Corelli, Scarlatti, Vivaldi and such 18th century Italian composers as Veracini, Locatelli and Tartini and many others and is the founder of the Europa Galante in 1990, a group which devotes itself to the popularization of baroque and classical repertoires.
At the Concert Hall of the Academy of Performing Arts in Wanchai, Fabio Biondi played a very special programme to introduce the history of the violin in Italy in the first half of the 18th century, not very many of whom are well known in Hong Kong. We had sonatas from Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762), Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) , Francesco Veracini (1690-1768) and Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764).

2015年3月6日 星期五

Huang Shan. 2 (黃山之二)

After getting off the cable car station, we had to walk  more than an hour to reach the place where we were to have lunch.

I had come for the snow. This is my first sight of the snow amongst the moss along a streambed.

2015年3月5日 星期四

Huang Shan. 1 (黃山之一)

Huangshan ( 黄山) (literally: "Yellow Mountains"  named by imperial decree in 747 CE after the first legendary Han (漢) Emperor of China Huang Di (軒轅黄帝) (who is credited with the invention of the magnetic compass mounted on a cart)  because he's thought to have ascended to heaven there), a mountain range which rose up from the surrounding seas about 200 million years ago in the Mesozoic Period (252 to 66 million years ago, also called the "Age of Reptiles") and which during the Quaternary Period (the most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era ie. 66 million years to the present, spanning from roughly 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago to the present) scoured by glaciation, covering an area more than 154 square kilometers in southern Anhui Province (安徽省 ) in eastern China, is famous for its granite peaks, pine trees, the hot springs at its foothill, its sunrises and sunsets, its sea of clouds (雲海) (hovering around there more than 200 days a year), its winter snow and the subject of numerous Chinese paintings and more than 20,000 poems and has since 1990 become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2002, it was named "sister mountain" of Jungfrau of the Swiss Alps and since 2004, treated as a World Geological Park. It's got 72 peaks which soar more than 1000 meters above sea level with 36 smaller peaks and 36 bigger ones, 3 of which are more than 1,800 meters high viz. Lotus Peak (蓮花峰) (1,864 m) known for its beauty, Bright Summit Peak (光明頂) (1,840 m) known for the smoothness of its top and Celestial City Peak (天都峰) (1,829 m), known for its starkness.

Some say that the name Huangshan ( 黄山) only became more widely known after the famous Tang Dynasty poet  Li Bai (李白) wrote a poem about it. From the Qin Dynasty until then it was known as Yishan (黟山) because most of its rocks look black-green, as the Chinese character "黟" etymologically means "lots of black".

送溫處士歸黃山白鵝峰舊居   李白  (公元 754)


To Hermit Wan upon his return to his former residence at White Swan Peak, Huangshan by Li Bai (754 CE) at age 54.

Four thousand arms' length of Huangshan, one bouquet of thirty two lotus peaks
Red ridges between stone columns, golden lotus buds and flowers
I climbed the highest peak and spotted the Pine of Heaven's Eyes below
Where the fairies fashioned their potions, stay signs whence they rose to heaven.
Heard of Hermit Yun Snow, perhaps you'll meet him alone.
To pick essences, you leave the Five Mountains, and climb ten thousand rocks
Retiring to White Swan Peak, drinking from the Well of Red Sands.
When you beckon me with phoenix calls, ready your chariot of clouds
To visit the Mount of the Sun in the east and stroll between fragrant cassia
Repairing to the stream sixteen times, green mountain screens reaching limitless sunny skies
I'll return one day and wade the rainbow upon the bridge

(Tr. El Zorro)

Knowing how variable the weather can be up there but tempted irresistibly by the hope of seeing some snow there, I took the chance to spend a few days there just before the Chinese New Year holidays. My heart sank as the environmentally-friendly coach which took us there from the base of the Huangshan National Park up to the cable car station met with layers and layers of thick dense fog such that we could barely see anything more than 10 feet from our coach window and the sky was completely overcast with grey clouds and the higher the rose the coach, the lower sank my hopes.

I couldn't believe my eyes after my cable car arrived at the station at the "rear mountain" as those going up from the "front mountain" were closed for repairs. The fog was beginning to clear!

2015年3月2日 星期一

Le Meraviglie (The Wonders) (蜂蜜之夏)

The Chinese title of the Italian contribution to this year's EU Film Festival (6th) in Hong Kong Le Meraviglie (The Wonders) (2014) translates into "The Summer of Honey"(蜂蜜之夏) misled me into thinking that it's all about how one garners honey in summer but it turns out that it is much much more than that. It's a very personal film by the new Italian woman screen writer and director Alice Rohrwacher (b. 1980), daughter of a German bee-keeping father and an Italian mother and featuring her experienced actress sister Alba Caterina Rohrwacher (b. 1982). Alice studied philosophy at the University of Turin and then screen writing at the Holden School and first took part in making the documentary Checosamanca in  2006 as a co-director, having written the script for another documentary Un piccolo spettacolo the previous year. But she got into making feature film only in 2011 (Corpo Celeste )(Heavenly Body) about the emotional struggles of a resteless13- year-old girl who just moved back to live with her mother and elder sister in conservative Catholic southern Italy. Le Meraviglie, her second feature film, whose script she wrote, won the Grand Prize at the  2014 Cannes Film Festival.

2015年3月1日 星期日

Weekend Fun (週末趣味)

Children may sometimes look or sound silly and may ask apparently "silly" questions but every now and then, they may thus inadvertently become the best instrument for unearthing certain "truths" about their parents. What do I mean?

A mother and father take their 5-year old son to a nudist beach.

As the boy walks along the sand, he notices that many of the women have boobs bigger than his mother's, so he goes back to ask her why.

She tells her son, 'The bigger they are, the sillier the lady is.'

The boy, pleased with the answer, goes to play in the ocean but returns to tell his mother that many of the men have larger things than his dad does.

She replies, 'The bigger they are, the dumber the man is.'

Satisfied with her answer, the boy goes back to the ocean to play.

Shortly after, the boy returns. She tells his mother, 'Daddy is talking to the silliest lady on the beach, and the longer he talks, the dumber he gets.'

Have an enjoyable weekend.


Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle in Hong Kong (泰利曼與德累斯頓國家管弦樂團在香港)

Christian Thielemann is the name of a conductor I heard about but whose work I never actually listened to. I got the chance to see him in action last night at the Cultural Centre when he led Staatskapelle Dresden for a feast of tone poems (a kind of one movement "symphony" not following the sonata form), a genre first invented by Franz Liszt the general idea of which is to combine various musical motifs into related themes to evoke visual images or moods which first inspired or moved the composer to express them in music. According to the program notes, Thielemann had been associated with Deutsche Oper Berlin for 7 years, then the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra for another 7 years before moving to the Staatskapelle Dresden and  has done Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner cycles and various works by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.