Monday, June 25, 2012

The Firebird Burns Brightly After 102 Years

By Steve Evans

Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite premiered in Paris 102 years ago today, in 1910, to ecstatic reviews. The suite is considered Stravinsky's breakthrough composition; its reception encouraged him to create later masterpieces such as The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky was 28 years old when he composed the Firebird for ballet. He died in 1971 at the age of 89.

Just 12 years ago, Walt Disney Studios released Fantasia 2000, which concludes with a gorgeous visual interpretation of the Firebird. It remains one of my favorite pieces of animation, even though it veers off Stravinsky’s storyline.

Although pop music has long been used in motion pictures to telegraph certain emotional cues in the audience, such songs have the unfortunate side effect of instantly dating any film that uses them. Not so with classical music, which conveys timelessness. That makes the classics a perfect choice for underscoring eternal themes such as life, death and rebirth.

A beautiful melding of sound and image from Fantasia 2000 to inspire the start of our week:

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2012 by Stephen B. Evans. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury: An Appreciation

By Steve Evans

Author Ray Bradbury, whose richly evocative works of speculative fiction captivated me as a teenager, died yesterday, July 5, 2012. He was 91.

If there is a hereafter, I hope Bradbury now knows the significant and wholly positive impact his writing continues to make in my life. I am grateful.

Bradbury’s best-known novels, Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, which I devoured 30 years ago in high school, address perennial themes of repression, totalitarianism and the virtue of iconoclasm as the mark of a truly free individual in an oppressive society. His influence on my youth is inestimable, as I struggled to develop my own identity in a cliquish Virginia high school far too populated with smarmy individuals wearing Izod alligators on their shirts – a trademark emblem that I gradually came to associate with a Swastika. Being mocked for reading -- science fiction, no less -- is something I will never forget, nor was I ever able to wrap my mind around the ridicule. It made no sense to me then and still seems inscrutable today. Apparently, some people feel threatened when confronted with a person reading a book. Until I learned to fight back, to savor the satisfaction of connecting my fist to a plump bully's nose and to revel in the eloquent sound of crunching cartilage, I found wisdom and no small measure of escape in Bradbury's books.

Film director Francois Truffaut adapted Fahrenheit 451 for his first color motion picture in 1966. It was also the French director’s first English-language film and he was reportedly dissatisfied with the somewhat stilted results. Still, it is an interesting film – which Bradbury himself said he enjoyed – and a compelling visual experience.

In the world of Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which paper ignites), owning and reading books is forbidden. Black-clad firemen roam an unnamed city gathering illicit books into piles for burning with their flamethrowers. The penalties for reading are severe – from psychological reprogramming to execution. One fireman gradually begins to question his role in the totalitarian state that employs him.

It is a cautionary fable of a fascist society that bans books as a means of repressing individuality. Truffaut’s picture has enjoyed a critical reappraisal in the 46 years since its release and is recommended viewing.

Thinking back on my own experiences in high school, I feel only contempt for my peers on the rare occasions when I bother to think about them at all. They wore the same shirts as everyone else so they could dissolve into anonymity and exist safely within the surrounding society. They mocked and derided anyone who was not one of them. During my coerced attendance at a high school reunion some years ago, I discovered that little had changed through the decades for many of these people. They move and perhaps even think in unison, like sheep herded toward an abattoir.

Why? Because there is almost always comfort in numbers, even if only illusory, which is perhaps why I have always been vaguely uncomfortable. Some people find it easier to hold the same beliefs and attitudes as the majority. They just let go of critical thought.

Ray Bradbury thought differently. His books were a solace and a reassurance to me that life can – and, dare I say, should – be lived on your own terms. You must simply avow to do so.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2012 by Stephen B. Evans. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vicarious Living Through Action Films

By Steve Evans

Hooray for action heroes, especially James Bond. He is smooth and capable. Bond gets things done. Evildoers get in his way only once.

Don’t you wish all the toxic people in your life could be dispatched with such elegant ease and economy?

Dumbass bosses. That asshole in the Lexus who cut you off in traffic. Ex-wives and their extended, dysfunctional, foul-smelling families of nitwits & buffoons. Plus assorted idiots and fools of every stripe.

Imagine all the free time you could enjoy with every bipedal pest in your life impaled to a coconut tree where they can no longer make a nuisance of themselves. Of course, nailing human cockroaches to tropical plants with a speargun is harsh, impractical and probably illegal in your jurisdiction. You will likely get into trouble if you engage in this sort of target practice. Ah, but we can still daydream with the magic of motion pictures.

You don’t have to admit it. That’s okay. But you are thinking about it. No one has quite figured out how to control your thoughts just yet. So revel in the stress-relief of slick action cinema, which makes us feel better. This is one reason why Sean Connery richly deserves to be, well, rich.

Wishful thinking: the essential appeal of action films.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2012 by Stephen B. Evans. All rights reserved.