domingo, maio 31, 2015

2015 Lisbon Book Fair - 1st iteration

My annual pilgrimage...

Book signings:

(António Lobo Antunes, one of my favourite living Portuguese authors, signing my favourite book: "Memória de Elefante" which unfortunately does not have an English translation...)

(Frei Bento Domingues)

(José Rodrigues dos Santos)

(Richard Zimler)

(Fernando Ribeiro, Moonspell's vocalist and front man)

(Ricardo Araújo Pereira, one of Benfica's most fervorous fans)

Book Haul #1:

(Portuguese Chefs using Bimby which isThermomix's name in Portugal; I've said elsewhere that Bimby is my favourite Robot...Forget about Python, Raspberry lol. Sweet rice coming out for lunch today!)

("The supracelestial place" by Frederico Lourenço: One of my favourite Portuguese authors)

(Vasco Graça Moura translates Gottfried Benn; Vasco was our most distinguished poet and translator when it came to German Poets; now that he's no longer with us, I don't know what we'll become of us...This is one of the books that started my infatuation with the German Language; I read it a long time ago at the Goethe Institute; now it's all mine! "My precious"...)

(Portuguese authors from our Azores' island; it's going to be a journey of discovery even for me...)

(I've read all of the Sjöwall/Wahlöö Beck-decalogy in German a long time ago; I wonder how he'll fare all by himself ...)

(Chronicles taken from his blog)

(one of my favourite physics' books; I used it in college. Now I've found a battered copy for 2 cents...)

("Beim Häuten der Zwiebel" by Günter Grass. Oh my...I hope my German is up to the task...I believe my command of the German laguage will be seriously tested...)

(Classical Computer Science)

(Classical Computer Science)

(Classical Computer Science)

(signed 1st edition)

(signed 1st edition)

(SF in collection)

(after 11456 steps, and because being sated with books is not enough, the body needing sustenance as well, how about a "burrito"? "Schmackhaft", even with the temperature very high, around 33ºC...)

sábado, maio 30, 2015

Shakespeare, Great Actors and the English Language: "Great Shakespeare Actors" by Stanley Wells

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy (ARC - Uncorrected Manuscript Proof) of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
(The book is due to be published on June 23, 2015; review written 06/05/2015)

I’ve always wanted to read a book like the one I’ve just read. Why? Shakespeare, great Actors and the English Language. This is the preferred triumvirate of my liking.

Stanley Well’s aim is an attempt to define what great Shakespearean roles there are, thus inviting greatness of performance. What distinguishes a great performance from a merely competent one? 

I’ve written elsewhere, that in my book a great actor should be defined by the way she/he can stand still in the presence of an audience. (Great) Shakespeare acting needs stillness, i.e., the ability of the Actor to listen and to react in silence. This epitomizes what great acting is (e.g., Hermione’s motionless silence in “The Winter’s Tale” is a good example of this). The other characteristic an Actor needs is to be in full control of her/his acting voice/language. Why is this so? The western human behaves (I’m thinking Bloom here), thinks and speaks quite differently now from the days four hundred years ago when Shakespeare’s plays were contemporary. What’s the difference when I say the words "Take me for a sponge my lord?" now (Incidentally I use this line when someone is trying to sell me some bullshit…) and when someone, maybe Shakespeare, uttered it 400 years ago? 

Such events are still the stuff of Shakespearean theatre as they’re still the stuff of everyday life, but the difference between contemporary theatre and Shakespeare’s theatre lies in the language that it’s used. The crux of the matter is that we’re moving further away from eons of years of oral civilization. The voice in Shakespeare’s time might have been visceral (I’m hypothesizing here) than it’s today. Today’s voice may be deprived of real emotion. Society does not allow us to express ourselves freely. The actor of nowadays, when playing Shakespeare, can only “voice” truthful feelings through our cultural and present Weltanschauung

I’ve always thought what distinguishes great Actors from just plain ones is their ability to play the subtext and not the text, i.e., the Actor should embody the action and not just the words. That’s where “Shakespeare” is (“silence” is just one of the artifacts of this acting framework). On the face of this, the prime responsibility of Shakespearean theatre is to show us its own face so that we may reflect upon it. But art also has a responsibility to preserve the past, so that a culture may reflect upon itself in the light of its history. Great art and great performances last, and when the theatre want to re-produce its past, Actors are confronted by artistic demands very different from those posed by contemporary fare.

Well’s book was able to fully demonstrate that no matter what Actor we have in mind when thinking about what a great Shakespearean performance is, what matters is her/his ability to embody the full integration of words, emotions, intentions and actions (e.g., onomatopoeias are used a lot in plays because in Shakespeare's time there was no electricity to produce sounds artificially), because Elizabethan society spoke in a language which had a different “texture” than the one we (almost) all speak today. Hamlet, of course, tells us something about what Shakespeare wanted from his Actors:

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines.”

What great Actors did Wells “select”? On to the numbers. 39 Anglo-saxon and one Italian:

Richard Burbage, Will Kemp, Robert Armin, Thomas Betterton, Charles Macklin, David Garrick, Sarah Siddons, George Frederick Cooke, John Philip Kemble, Dora Jordan (trivia fact: David Cameron is her descendant), Edmund Kean, William Charles Macready, Ira Aldridge, Helen Faucit, Charlotte Cushman, Edwin Booth, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Tommaso Salvini, Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndike, Charles Laughton, Donald Wolfit, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft, Michael Redgrave, Paul Scofield, Donald Sinden, Richard Pasco, Ian Richardson, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen, Janet Suzman, Antony Sher, Kenneth Branagh, Simon Russell Beale.

It’s through the use of theatre critics that Wells chose to illuminate our understanding of who should be the greatest Shakespeare Actors of all time. It was an advisable decision due to the fact that the first actors did not have the “help” of sound recording and film. Using this transversal approach Wells was able to (almost) put all of his choices on the same footing. This was the only reasonable approach. Nevertheless we can discern, through the cracks, Wells’ preferences (as it should; it’s his book after all), but sometimes a little more restrain would have been advisable (e.g., regarding “The Taming of the Shrew” it’s referred en passant that feminism made the play seem unstylish or something to that effect).

As a side note, Patrick Stewart, Maggie Smith, Mark Rylance (e.g., Richard III), Zoe Caldwell, James Earl Jones, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson and Christopher Plummer (his Macbeth was superb) didn’t make the cut. I imagine Wells had to draw the line somewhere…Tom Hiddleston and David Tennant are also still too young to be real contenders.

On another side note, I’d include our own Ruy de Carvalho. His King Lear which I saw on stage in 1998 at Teatro Nacional D. Maria II was superb.

On yet another side note, I’m also eagerly anticipating Fassbender’s Macbeth at the end of the year…Next weekend I’m watching Branagh’s Macbeth. It’s time…

quinta-feira, maio 28, 2015

In Praise of Light and Shadow: "João Abel Aboim's Photo Exhibition at Centro Cultural de Belém"

Photo Exhibition : "O Elogio da Luz e da Sombra" (In Praise of Light and Shadow)

(All of the exhibitions' photos on this post were taken by me, by courtesy of Centro Cultural de Belém and João Abel Aboim)

I believe that no art form transforms us quicker than that of a photo. Having absorved the message of an astounding photo, the subject's sense of wonderment and newfound wisdom comes together like two pages in a book. It's a wonderful thing when an amazing photo impels you to a bright new day. 

The photograph is always there to record the light and darkness. Tanizaki's quote that Aboim uses to underline his exhibition clearly demonstrates that:

"We rejoice in that flimsy pale glow,
made of exterior light of an uncertain outlook,
clinging to the dusky surfaces of the walls,
retaining with difficulty a last speck of life.
For us, that pale glow on a wall, or that half-light, far surpasses any ornament
and seeing it never tire us"

(My own loose translation from the Portuguese Jun'ichirō Tanizaki's text on the picture above)

My personal history with Tanizaki's vision is for another time and place.

I've been a film buff for as long as I can remember. I've idled away my formative years in the warm, dark womb of the Cinemateca Portuguesa (weekdays: 18:30 and 21:30; Saturdays: 15:00, 18:30 and 21:30), there to be enchanted  by the likes of "Johnny Guitar", "Casablanca", "The Maltese Falcon", "The Big Sleep", "Stagecoach", and to thrill at the adventures of "My Darling Clementine" starring Victor Mature (my favourite "doc" Holliday) and Henry Fonda. I still remember the thrill of watching "Stagecoach", my first film at the Cinemateca Portguesa, and also for the first time on the big screen! It has one of the most stunning entrances in all of the cinema. I hear a shot, and cut suddenly to Ringo standing by the trail, twirling his rifle: "Hold it!," cries the unmistakable voice of John Wayne...I was hooked for life...

I've turned this impromptu apprenticeship to the my most satisfying advantage, i.e., I consider myself to be a connoisseur of the so-called classical cinema, particulary the American one of the Golden Age. I suppose it's a sign of my age to call such a youth misspent; it'd have been regarded so in the 1980s when the cinema was for grown-ups and children were allowed to go only to Saturday matinees or, as a special treat, to see the latest Disney feature.

But those were the days when, certainly in Portugal, film was still not recognized for what it is - the art form of the 20th century. João Abel Aboim has always been at the forefront of Portuguese Cinema. The afternoons and nights at the Cinemateca Portuguesa allow me to recognize quality when I see it on the screen. Aboim was definitely one of the greatest, as this exhibition testifies. I know nostalgia is tricky. Distance does indeed lend enchatment to the view, and I've many times been disappointed  to find that a fondly remembered film had far less appeal that I had remembered. Not so with most of the Aboim's films. Some of them I consider to be classics of the Portuguese Cinema. What strikes me most forcibly is their high quality of craftmanship. The studios at the time were not that great, but there were always very skilled people on the sets: directors, writers, photographers, composers, set designers, and sound technicians, to turn out entertainment for the Portuguese film buffs. Those times, to state the obvious, are no more. Portuguese Cinema nowadays is a different "beast" altogether...

What are photos and words used for, be it Cinema, or any other art form? I use them to keep the darkness at bay...

Aboim's photos that take their rightful place in this wonderful exhibition come wrapped in a kind of mystery, that only cinema can give them. Perhaps some higher entity wanted these things to be captured, at just that particular instant in time. Or maybe the camera that captured these moments on those particular days did so purely by chance. This mystery applies equally to a photo capturing the moment Manoel de Oliveira, just arriving on the film set of the movie “O Princípio da Incerteza” (2002), imitating a cockerel with the french photographer Renato Berta; incidentally that cockerel was always on top of Oliveira's shooting camera, as explained by Aboim during one of the impromptu lectures he gave in his photo exhibition. 

João Botelho, Fernando Matos Silva, Fernando Lopes, Paulo Rocha, Jorge Silva Melo and Manoel de Oliveira are some of directors whose films were photographed by João Abel Aboim and shown in this exhibition. One of Michael Ballhaus's films is also present (“Das Autogramm”), shot in Portugal.

Some of the more unknown pictures have also photos: “Quem és tu?” (2001) by João Botelho, “O Princípio da Incerteza”(2002) by Manoel de Oliveira, and “O Delfim”(2002) by Fernando Lopes.

(João Abel Aboim in the background "explaining"one of his photos)

(Manoel de Oliveira, climbing down the steps, at my beloved Cinemateca Portuguesa)

(Fernando Lppes)

(João Abel Aboim)

(Paulo Rocha on the left)

(Manoel de Oliveira)