"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Monday, October 15, 2012

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day (updated)

"(Image: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Ada Lovelace: "My brain is more than merely mortal"

New Scientist has just done a wonderful "interview" with computer foremother Ada Lovelace, drawn from her actual correspondence, in honor of Ada Lovelace Day, Oct. 16. Seems clear to me that her special brain would be recognized as "Aspie" (Asperger's Syndrome) today. Though we might lack her degree of brilliance, many of us will relate to her description of thought process.

(Portrait, left, by Margaret Carpenter. Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) wrote the first recognised algorithm. To mark Ada Lovelace Day on 16 October, which celebrates inspirational women in science, New Scientist has secured an exclusive interview.
See http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22385-ada-lovelace-my-brain-is-more-than-merely-mortal.html?cmpid=RSS|NSNS|2012-GLOBAL|online-news

Monday, September 17, 2012

Offside (film review)

Guarded by a reluctant soldier, girls
disguised as boys try to attend the
big game.

OffsideThis is a miracle of a film by Jafar Panahi, an Iranian director the whole world can love. Somehow I'd managed to miss it until now, but it was released by Sony Pictures Classics in 2006 in many countries. Sadly it was banned in Iran and so could not qualify for the Oscar competition, but (according to the Director's Interview on the DVD--be sure to see that too) Offside enjoyed wide and very popular distribution in Iran through pirated copies.

The story is simple, on the surface. It is 2006, in Iran, leading up to the soccer World Cup, and a very important match is taking place. Under the reigning theocracy, women are not allowed to attend sports events in stadiums along with men. But another kind of fanaticism, that of passionate sports fans, does not discriminate on the basis of sex. Several young women (some of them young teenagers, so I'll refer to them here as girls) just want to see a very important match which might qualify Iran to go on to the 2006 World Cup. Individually, determined to witness this important event, they attempt to disguise themselves as boys and slip in, but one by one they are caught and detained together in a sort of holding pen where they can hear the crowd but not see the game. They form a community of fans there, thwarted but not entirely prevented from being part of the communal event.

The soldiers guarding the young miscreants are equally unhappy with the situation, for various reasons having nothing to do with the law they must enforce. One wants to see the soccer match but can't because he's on duty; another is consumed by a concern about returning to his village so he can help his mother and take their cattle to the pasture. Meanwhile, other people impinge on the situation: A man wants to find his daughter, but recognizes her friend instead; boys disguise themselves as girls disguised as boys, in an attempt to meet the girls. One of the soldiers is able to follow the game by peering through bars, and gives the girls a blow-by-blow account of the action.

For those of us who don't know much about soccer (or football, as it's called in the rest of the world) the "offside" of the title refers to a rule which seems to have something to do with being in the game but not being able to take part, a very apt analogy to the girls' situation, if I'm reading that right. But you can enjoy this film even if you don't follow the sport (I don't) because it's about normal people just going about their lives, and has the aura of truth. In fact it takes place in "real time," in the same 90 minutes as the soccer match itself. And remarkably, much of it is based on, and actually filmed against the background of, real events. Bearing in mind the challenges the director faced during filming, the resulting seamless film demonstrates his genius in editing. It's not a documentary, but it feels real and intimate.

The spiritual center of oppression in the film, for me, found itself in a wonderfully bizarre scene in the men's rest room, which has all the frustration of an anxiety dream. Yielding to his innate humanity and allowing one of the girls a visit to the rest room, an inept young soldier must navigate the various outre characters he finds there in a futile attempt to guard his charge. One sympathizes with the soldier when the girl escapes his watch and actually gets to see some of the game. But ultimately she knows there is no freedom here. She returns to the holding pen in good conscience to describe part of the game to the other girls still detained, assigning them the parts of the players.

(Possible spoiler alert, this paragraph only:) Eventually, before the match ends, the prisoners are put into a bus, along with a young street boy who has been trying to smuggle firecrackers into the stadium. The intention is that all these lawbreakers will be turned over to the Vice Dept. and the soldiers can go back to their lives. But along the way girls, boys, and their soldiers all fuse with the larger crowds as Iran wins the match and the entire city erupts in egalitarian, joyful celebration. I hope that's not a spoiler, but it's no secret who won the match as this is based on real incidents.

As for the other details I've revealed, you really must see the film for its magnificent directing, acting, and writing--full of small and large ironies and playful references-- to catch the full magic. This movie must be experienced and my words can only be flat in comparison to the flow, charm, and endearing nature of the story it tells.

Offside is filled with humorous incidents and characters. Most delicious to me are conversations in which the girls challenge the logic of the law, and the soldiers attempt to explain it in standard terms that really have no bearing on the situation. In this frustrating situation the characters shine, each a unique gem of a human being with moments of revelation. No culture is one-size-fits-all, and there are always people who must be stifled as they struggle to fulfill their talent in a society that hems them in. Just as W. Bush claimed to get crazy messages from a god that did not represent most Americans' spirituality, Offside shows a country, or at least a situation, in which most modern Iranians, whether they're from village or city, are not represented by their government: They are living in a divided and surreal way under a fanatical religious regime which simply doesn't suit their characters or lives. Where Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (in its fine animated adaptation) focused so well on an educated, politically active stratum of Iranian society, this is a street's eye view of the masses in a moment of celebration that reminded me of the bonfire-jumping of Nowruz (behavior also banned in the present Islamic Republic, which I read about in this book, and this). Offside is, for me, an affirmation of the greater Iranian history and character that preceded, and surely must survive, current tyranny.

Offside can feel edgy, but only because of the context in which it was made: The viewer is aware that Iranian women have faced, and too often not survived, very terrible abuse while incarcerated. And while the film tells the story of a seemingly trivial pursuit--a soccer match--every situation carries larger echoes of the years of suppression since the Islamic revolution of 1979, when women, filmmakers, intellectuals, and musicians have not been allowed to practice their gifts and sometimes have been brutally treated.

Offside can also feel very sweet, because the people in it are just human beings you might find anywhere, and (as often happens in real life) they do not encounter a single sadist in the entire 90 minutes, they only find other people who are sympathetic. It's a fine bit of balancing between humanity's darker side (which is only hinted at here) and our finer qualities of humor, empathy, hope, and enthusiasm. It's a human comedy quite unlike anything else I've seen in movies.

End note: unfortunately, things are worse than ever right now for filmmakers in Iran and Syria, and this brilliant auteur is now under house arrest and prevented from making films. Here are some recent stories on the current status:

Earlier, I posted some information on other suppressed artists, here: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/2010/01/forbidden-beats-of-freedom.html


Sunday, July 29, 2012

OSF 2012: Party People (play review)


[Christopher Livingston is Malik, the Panther cub]
Party People
In an engaging device sometimes seen at OSF, this play begins in a sneaky way as two young men wander around the stage setting up their gear. Then the cast gathers in a sort of Chorus and begins to speak or sing. Immediately, I begin to cry.... I was there. Back in a time in the past that is seldom, if ever, portrayed in a way that I experienced it myself: the crazy time of the Sixties and Seventies that left so many with lifetime recurrences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The struggle wasn't just about guns and who used
them, and those who participated weren't
all focused on violence; but neither does the play shy
away from telling unpleasant truths about gender conflict,
violence within and without, and betrayal.
No, I wasn't a Panther, but I knew what was going on and had my own different kinds of hardships during those years, as did my parents in those and earlier years. So I have to see this brilliant play and production as not just about Panthers and Lords, but as one facet of a much bigger, older story. One that the play correctly points out still goes on under the name of Homeland Security. Though this is early in OSF's ambitious "American Revolutions" play cycle, I wonder if any future play in the project will more truly speak of what revolution is.

The title seems to refer not just to the Party of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, but also to what is about to unfold: Malik and Jimmy (sons of a Panther and a Lord) are preparing for guests to arrive, and the space is an art installation. Their intention is not just to display photos and artifacts from the struggles of the Seventies, but, in an edgy spirit of contemporary art, to provoke their guests (whose lives the show exhibits) into unpredictable behaviors. So this is a complex setup: one evening, about history, yes, but for the characters, it's also a story about art, and a generational saga. It's one any child of activists can identify with. In this sense it reflects the change from one theory, and one expression, of revolution to another.

members of Universes 
The authenticity of the play comes from three years of interviews the authors (Universes) did with Black Panthers, Young Lords, and their grown children. But this isn't a documentary. It's theatre more akin to Shakespeare's histories than to the Living Newpaper of Federal Theatre Project days. If I have any criticism, it's that for the lazy viewer who isn't familiar with this time in American history, and what went down then (especially if they were alive then, but not aware of the truth behind the headlines they were fed at the time and the lies that have become the accepted version of events ever since) the story needs more clarity.

And also some editing might help tighten the focus. The element of the play where Malik and Jimmy seek to provoke their guests, and introduce strong elements of satire into the nostalgia, introduces a hostile clown and a game show that seem at first to ridicule the issues; I get the point, but for me there was a little too much of that. The guys want to provoke the participants, yes, but from my point of view they overdo it. From comments I overheard, some people were confused by those turns; probably, younger viewers would understand it better, as it has that mashup feel to it. Also, there were pop culture references older viewers might not catch, and because this confrontational style is a recent tactic of the younger generation in its street theater and demonstrations. (Though, actually, it has been around for a long time in one form or another - think of John and Yoko in Paris... or the Dadaists, come to think of it...)

Well, Shakespeare confuses me sometimes too, and there are excesses in his plays I don't relate to either, and that says more about me than it does about Shakespeare. They might be making further changes. This is a world premier, after all. The first performance I saw, a Preview, was basically a run-through (not quite the  "technical rehearsal" that OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch warned of  in some beginning comments, but there were some evident technical glitches), and the second time I saw it, only a week or two later, the play seemed to be altered in spots. I heard later that they'd cut one whole song, but I didn't miss it.

Liesl Tommy, Director
The power of the show comes from the sometimes astonishing poetry of the language (I can't wait to see the written script, as my way of thinking will always be text-based), the beauty of the music (many styles, reflecting characters and their historical periods and backgrounds), the skill of the performers (they are totally passionate), and the engagement of the audience (which, I'll admit, surprised me). And clearly this required an amazing director - Liesl Tommy (her production of Ruined, a while back, was equally intense and shattering).

With simultaneous multiple-screen projection and live performance, this is a multi-media musical revolutionary happening, and you just have to be there. I hope there will be many productions of this play in many places in the future, but they will have to incorporate different kinds and levels of technicality depending on the venue, budget, and changing times. The OSF's complicated simultaneous video presentation must call for some special equipment and skills, and the New Theater is rather unusual in its intimate mood and flexible seating. It would be interesting to see different interpretations of this play over time, and I hope there will be many.

I've seen Party People twice now, from different vantage points (I recommend seeing it at least twice, because it is so rich--once from the side, and once from the center, or close to it, of the "U" seating arrangement; the experience is very different in the intimate New Theatre). And if you don't already identify in some way with the politics of the Seventies, Panthers et al, I recommend you do a little homework; at least view the videos OSF offers, or see a Preface Plus. Then fasten your seatbelt and just experience the art of human revolution.

Update: nice article here - echoes many of my own experiences: http://www.osfashland.org/connect-with-us/explore-our-stories/2012/new-work/the-ripple-effect.aspx

Monday, July 2, 2012

OSF 2012: The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa (play review)


In this re-imagined version of one of Shakespeare's less stellar plays, Alison Carey has taken what I've always thought was a silly, barely defensible low comedy (which some believe was dashed off in a hurry) and translated it for early 21st Century audiences as a thoroughly contemporary and very funny light satire--all the while remaining wonderfully true to the original. Like the best sort of fan art (but at the level of world drama), it celebrates the original work with full understanding, even as it goes beyond it in a way that would delight the original author. As a period piece (that period) this play has never held any charm for me; but as a period piece (this period), at least in Carey's hands--and those of the company as well, of course, all of them brilliant--the play is funny, and surprisingly gentle. Out with the old that no longer works, and in with the new that does!

The incomparable David Kelley returns as Falstaff -in new clothes but knavish as ever
As you have probably read elsewhere (and if you have, you might want to skip this paragraph), Carey takes the awful Falstaff, a fallen knight out to resurrect his fortune by cheating local women, and makes him a Senator at the Iowa caucus. This opens the way for all kinds of satirical references to the knavery of our current political situation and the absurdity of many currently hot topics. Carey takes the marriage plot, in which Falstaff attempts to seduce married women, and recreates it in the context of gay marriage. And she takes the Elizabethan town of Windsor, England and turns it into Windsor, Iowa; in this wholesome and good-hearted context of the American "heartland," the fair-minded people go overboard in their embrace of same-sex marriage. The merry wives have their revenge, in a particularly Iowa State Fair way -- with environmental benefits. These alterations add a great deal to the original material, all of it utterly delightful, and the play is happy rather than cruel. I mean to say--cheerleaders! And they're really good, too.
Through a kind of theatrical alchemy, the earlier play is not changed but transmuted. The Elizabethan Stage sprouts rows of corn. The Shakespeare is still there: we see the over the top characters, verbal fireworks, and plot complications; the human foibles exposed and dissected even as moral standards of the time are given their required due; the mean tricks played by, and on, even meaner characters--and nothing is lost in this translation. As I said about Bill Rauch's brilliant "rock and roll" version of Midsummer Night's Dream the magical summer that one took Ashland by storm, I feel that Shakespeare would have loved seeing his play done this way. In fact he'd have been doing it himself if he lived now. I'm really quite certain of this. He would be reveling in the relative cultural freedom we have these days, and he would be pushing all the boundaries back even further. He would be offending and outraging people right and left. And his humor would be of our time, just as it was of his.
Slender-Shallow, a modern lesbian chainsaw sculptor
Probably to fully appreciate what Carey has done here it would help to be at least a little familiar with the original play, and from the comments I heard during Intermission and later at my hotel, many in the audience did not even take this first step. Yet even if you've never seen any Shakespeare before, this play surely must be very funny on its own terms; after all, Carey has all of Shakespeare's genius to play with. It would also help to be reasonably comfortable with gay marriage and know some lesbians, in order to appreciate the reversals of situations and values that Carey cannily exploits.

(For example, I overheard one woman who, in the context of saying she'd enjoyed the play, comment that some aspects of the production "didn't make any sense at all, like homosexual marriage in Iowa." She didn't know that Iowa has a strong civil rights record and passed the first gay marriage law and has upheld it ever since, even under Republicans [see, I did my homework]. Another theatergoer didn't see "why they had to add a German doctor - that's just too goofy" - clearly not knowing Shakespeare had written a French doctor.)  And then, judging by the fact that the play is considered "controversial' or off-putting by some people, clearly there are still plenty of people around who just aren't ready for a comedy that takes for granted the level of sophistication about gay culture present now in much of Middle America. Finally, as for those who say they have many gay friends but still consider this comedy "too much"--well, no comedy pleases all tastes. I'm glad they're all being pushed out of their comfort zone just a little [insert cartoon of me rubbing hands together in glee here].

As for myself, I loved almost everything about this play and so did most of the audience, most of the time, judging by the nonstop laughter, though a lot of people seemed to have mixed feelings ultimately and there wasn't quite the fervent kind of standing ovation most OSF productions enjoy. Well, that's their problem, and their loss, I guess. As OSF actor Jeremy Johnson said in a Park Talk on the same day that I saw the play, a production that offends nobody is boring; if some people leave at intermission, that means they're being challenged and OSF is doing its job. 

In short, if you want to see how Shakespearean comedy, in the right hands, can actually work, come to OSF this year. Bravo!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Literature for the Fantasy-Prone, part 3: an online course in "Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, our Modern World

What he said... As a follow up to my previous posts here and here on what I've called (with a reference to a topic in psychology) literature for the fantasy-prone... I couldn't say it better than this fellow, Eric S. Rabkin. I would have killed for a course like this when I was in college; instead my reading in this area at the time was all beyond the pale, academically. It included many of the books in this curriculum.

Though (if I might be permitted a personal digression) when I returned to a different university to finish my degree and do some graduate studies several years later, I was finally allowed, in an advance course in Twentieth Century Experimental Literature, to do a paper on Joanna Russ's The Female Man instead of the suggested authors. That reminded me of the  wonderful Peter Brunette, who also taught me so much about film when I was at GMU. Come to think of it, he encouraged me to to submit my criticism in his film course to JumpCut and some other publications of the day, but I couldn't see in myself what he saw in me. We remember the good professors. Well, here I am, still writing in my small way, anyway, even about film sometimes--and remembering the prof who helped shape my talent for understanding what I was seeing in a film. The final quote in the post linked above seems to speak directly to the course, below:
"There is a place for films that challenge preconceptions … for films that explore the meaning of being human in an important way." - Peter Brunette
Books, too. Anyway, I saw this course referenced on the SFF Audio blog. Go there for details of the course, or here. It can be taken online, and most of the materials are free ebooks! To see the video embedded below on YouTube, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgNrVnjvjKo

If you like this literature, see past posts I've tagged science fiction: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/search/label/science%20fiction
And fantasy: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/search/label/fantasy

And with reference to the book cover above, Left Hand of Darkness,  click the next link for an interesting online discussion.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Updated review of OSF's M/M/C

RQN: After seeing OSF's wonderful Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella a second time I added quite a bit to my previous review. And then I added some tips to orient you if you're seeing it for the first time. See http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/2012/04/osf-2012-medea-macbeth-cinderella-and.html for the post.

Monday, June 11, 2012

OSF 2012: As You Like It (review)

As You Like It, on the Elizabethan stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is worth seeing for its design alone. Its sumptuous, gorgeous set by Todd Rosenthal, reminiscent of the Victorian illustrator Arthur Rackham (whom he credits for his inspiration), and its colorful, ornate costumes by Linda Roethke, which bring all the fantasies of children's books and faerie to life, are an entertainment in themselves. As if that weren't enough, there are hilarious goats and sheep who comment visually on the bucolic nature of country life (try to keep your eyes off them when they're onstage), wildlife lurking in the periphery, beautiful seasonal goddesses with headgear to die for (especially Autumn!), and the most amazing clock you've ever seen. There is lovely, haunting music by Andre Pleuess, and it's nicely sung by the cast, too. There is even a fun, clever story to back all this up--and some great lines!

This version of Shakespeare's romantic comedy is stunning, evoking dreams of Arden even as the characters remind us that by Shakespeare's time the noble savagery of life in the forest was already a myth of a golden age, and other fine customs were just a memory as well (if, indeed, they ever existed). These urban characters are cynics awash in nostalgia, but (as Chekhov's characters were still complaining centuries later) for them country life is a mindless bore, and nature a desert. Yet they do enter for a while into the dream of living in harmony with nature--until a trickster and a turn of fate return them to their rightful places in their modern world. 

The actors were charming; they all seemed to be having a grand time and made the story very easy to follow. Rosalind (Erica Sullivan) and Celia (Christine Albright) had terrific chemistry. Kathryn Meisle stole the show as a mixed-gender Jacques, and Howie Seago was sweetly noble as the Duke (while his sign language added some extra fun to the goings-on). Wayne T. Carr was just right as the smitten Orlando, and his handsome brothers... oh, I liked all of them--though the goats and the Autumn Spirit are the ones whose costumes I most covet.

This production plays the fantasy to the hilt, and I loved it for even being more of a midsummer night's dream than that other play; it has all the magic and less of the edge. Put it all together with Shakespeare's wit, and director Jessica Thebus and OSF have a grand entertainment on their hands, one that surely will be long remembered as an audience favorite.

Erica Sullivan as Rosalind, Peter Frechette as Touchstone, and Christine Albright as Celia.
OSF has posted more photos here: http://pinterest.com/pin/249668373062908822/

Sunday, June 10, 2012

OSF 2012: Henry V (review)


illo by Catherine Change
not official OSF but I like it a lot.
This fabulous production directed by Joseph Haj, has opened with the summer season on the Elizabethan Stage and I'll say it flat-out: this is the best version of the play that I've ever seen. And I've seen quite a few. I feel very fortunate to have seen Henry IV part 1 (reviewed here) and part 2 (reviewed here and here) -- and now this, all three with the wonderful John Tufts taking Hal through his many changes. 

The humanity and intelligence Tufts brings to the role has been the touchstone throughout the trilogy, through all the changes in directors and designers; Tufts somehow had the heart of Henry from the beginning and carried it throughout with clarity, depth, humor, and a degree of compassion that's at times, when he chooses (or his fate requires him?) to do terrible things, just short of too much for a viewer to bear. Magnificent!

In fact every role seems fully rounded, each character the center of the story when that one speaks. There wasn't a moment when I wasn't totally caught up in the story. As always, OSF brings a wonderful clarity and passion to Shakespeare's astonishing plays. It just gets better and better, for me. These must be the best dramaturgs in the world.

John Tufts IS Henry V
This play, like this year's Troilus and Cressida (which is also amazing in its way; no excuse for not reviewing that yet, as I've seen it twice already) makes the realities of war clear and reaches right down into the conscience and moral centers of the viewer and gives a good shake. From reminders of inevitable atrocities upon civilians, to timeless examples of impossible choices, in both these productions war is seen as it is by the soldiers and civilians experiencing it, not by those comfortably profiting by it back home. Even as he tells the typical victor's version of the war--it was justified under law; the atrocities were begun by the other side; the conquered were shown mercy by the victor; no looting was done; God was on the victor's side; everyone lived happily ever after in a happy marriage of peace; the other side was silly, arrogant and degenerate; the winning side suffered few casualties--Shakespeare also shows, or hints at, the lie in those myths through examples of narrowly averted but plausible actions, contrary events and satirical language--and if you didn't hear all that, the final words of the play make it clear that the victory will prove to be hollow in the next generation. Again I marvel at how much Shakespeare crammed into his texts, that they can be interpreted in so many ways over the years - and at how uncannily OSF seems to find in them what is most meaningful to me

Besides fully conveying the shocking aspects of human behavior in war, and satirizing its causes even as he respects the stubborn honor of (some of) those who carry it out, Shakespeare also mixes in humor--and in this production, either it was toned down and much easier to take, or the lines that have come down to us just never got as out of hand as they did in Henry IV parts 1 and 2. In any case, I chuckled more in this production - and the set piece at the end, always an audience-pleaser, where Henry and Katherine get to know each other and he woos her, is in this production one of the finest comedy pieces I've ever seen. Beautifully played!
(note: seeing this play the second time from Row Q this scene was no less amusing - but I wouldn't have used the word "comedy;" I think that came from sitting very close the first time, and seeing all the subtle facial expressions. Either way, it works as the intended much-needed release and a sure-fire way to send the audience home happy, even given the final lines of the play--which underline the mixed messages Shakespeare has given us throughout, and which this director makes so heartrendingly clear.)

John Tufts as Henry and Brooke Parks as Katherine come to an understanding,
(Note the ensemble -- the lady has lovely taste.) 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dot: An Ordinary Life, an Extraordinary Person (film)

For one of our neighborhood documentary screenings this month, we'll be seeing a film about an Ashland resident, Dot Fisher-Smith. She and her husband John Fisher-Smith will be coming for Q&A. I thought I'd share the information about this here too, because Dot is a planetary citizen-activist and both films about her are really great.

This is the film we'll be showinghttp://www.dotthefilm.com/thefilm.html It's about 50 minutes long. A shorter film-festival version of Dot, named An Ordinary Life, played to a full house at this year’s AIFF and has been accepted at film festivals across the country. 

Filmed over a period of 20 years by Producer Willow Denker, a friend of Dot’s, the archive was then shaped into the documentaries with some new footage by Patricia Somers, Director.

Mail-Tribune photo
In one news photo that went viral worldwide, a sweet-looking elderly lady named Dot is seen risking her neck (literally) in an action to save old growth trees. We've seen this incident referenced in two very fine documentaries that we've screened earlier in our series (Butterfly, and If a Tree Falls). The film Dot gives a more in-depth view of this cheerful dynamo as a woman, artist, and Buddhist, and celebrates her lifetime of commitment to justice. 

Dot Fisher-Smith is an artist, counselor, group facilitator, community elder, long-time social (peace and justice) activist and forest defender, with a long proud record of civil disobedience beginning with attempting to stop the war in Vietnam in 1967. Thirty-five years a student/practicer of Soto Zen Buddhism.  Journal writer since 1968. Poetry is her present passion.

Dot's husband John Fisher-Smith will also be coming to our screening. From http://oregonpoeticvoices.org/poet/153/ :
Writer and poet John Fisher-Smith, father of three sons, retired architect and avid gardener, lives with his wife Dot in a passive solar home they designed in Ashland. He has written and read over a hundred "commentaries" on place and value, over Jefferson Public Radio. Forty of these are self-published as prose poems in Opening my Eyes; Old Fool Press; 2008.
Here's a short video of the solar home John designed:

Dot as artist: The interview linked below has some nice coverage of Dot's art. From her poem "Along Buckthorn Road" these lines caught my eye --

This arrangement of rocks is too perfect to be natural:/Lines you'd swear were etched by human hands
Those lines caught my eye because you could say the same thing about her art which you see in the documentary, but in reverse:  it feels so natural you'd swear it was not etched by human hands.

This is the 20-minute interviewhttp://vimeo.com/20215220 The interviewer introduces Dot with the comment that many seniors come here (to the Rogue Valley) not to retire but to become elders. I liked that! At about the 8-minute mark there is a nice section on her art, with music.

In the interview Dot quotes this poem by William Stafford, Oregon poet laureate:

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

~ William Stafford 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Happy Mother's Day 2012

Great goddess from Nina Paley's masterpiece
Sita Sings the Blues. Watch the film and find the Mother Goddess at the end!

My mother always pooh-poohed Mother's Day on the grounds that it was just a commercial holiday created to sell flowers and cards, in a country where women didn't have equal rights and mothers were blamed by the psychological establishment for everything that went wrong with their kids. We kids always showed our respect for her by not making a fuss about her on the day. When she was elderly she let it slip that she really wouldn't have minded if we'd done something.... Life in my upside-down family.

Anyway, she must have known something about the real history of it (which I referenced in this earlier  post) ... or maybe she didn't. The thing the corporate world doesn't tell us is that Mother's Day is supposed to be about peace!

Nowadays we take it to the planetary and even the Universal scale, but I like this nicely centered Earth based symbol, a sticker I have on my window (I bought it at the local Shop'N'Kart):
Air Goddess (East, Spring), Fire Queen (South, Summer), Water Goddess (West, Fall), Earth Mother (North, Winter), Ether/Inner Space Goddess (Center, Eternity). In between the Goddesses are the moon cycle, and the creatures of the earth. 

We're all connected. Happy Mother's Day every day. There's Gaia, and then there's Gaia. They're all beautiful. We all have the same mother, and we ARE all mothers together, to the future of our Earth.

Monday, April 23, 2012

OSF 2012: Medea Macbeth Cinderella (and the others) (updated)

How to watch this play: (update 6/27) now that I've seen this wonderful production twice, viewed the videos on OSF's website, and heard several different participants - Bill Rauch, musicians, and actor Tasso Feldman - all talk about it in person, here is some advice about  the ways you might view this complicated but rewarding play:

You can just let it wash over you (don't attempt to follow it; just experience it).

Or you can follow one of the three stories most closely, sticking with that.

Or -- and this makes the most sense to me -- you can see it as a symphony: it's carefully written and orchestrated, with very precise cues and timing, so that one actor's lines in one story are the cue for another actor's lines in another story, just as in an orchestral composition one instrument cues another even as they all play at the same time; themes soar individually, then join with others; and content, sound and movement fuse, ballet-wise, over the whole experience.

And as you let it wash over you like a musical composition yet note the interweaving of stories you know too well to have to think about it much, just know that even if it seems confusing when three streams of dialog all come together at once, at other times, the key parts--the wonderful, classic lines you're intended to focus on--will be clear enough because those parts will stand out like beacons. Just let it happen, but that doesn't mean being passive.

And of course if you don't remember much about Medea or Macbeth (surely we all remember Cinderella well enough), review their outlines by reading the linked synopses. You don't need to know any of the stories by heart, because MMC takes just the main elements of those stories, then uses them in very clear, new ways--but you don't want to miss Banquo's ghost!

There - now you're ready to go :)

What follows is my original review, which refers you to another review with info on the play, followed by some further comments from me - and then that's followed by more from me, in the form of an update, after I saw MMC a second time. This review might be accretional, but then so's the play, in its way...
How's this for lazy: I really liked this review in Blogging Ashland, of OSF's MMC, which just opened in previews last week. Since that review covers just about everything I'd have said, and probably says it better, I'll just link to it here: http://bloggingashland.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/girl-boy-girl/

It was a joy to see one of my favorite actors, Miriam Laube,
 in a major role in this production. She is Medea. 
Next time I see this - and I plan to - I'll try to get a seat somewhere in the middle, because there's so much going on onstage that I think it will be fun to follow the big picture from a center seat next time. There are no really bad seats in the Bowmer, though, so anywhere you sit, you're in for a treat. And you won't catch it all anyway; you're not meant to. I can't wait to see--no, experience--this again.

Well, maybe I'd add one other thing: the performances! The musicians were great, the timing was amazing, the actors were OSF at their best. (And so, of course, kudos to directors and everyone else who brought all this complexity together so lucidly.) The time I saw it, particular standouts were Miriam Laube as Medea (so wonderful to see her again, and in this part), Christopher Liam Moore as Lady Macbeth, Al Esponosa as Macduff, Jeffrey King as Macbeth, Laura Griffith as Cinderella...but wait. It's unfair to single more out: they were all fantastic and when I see this again, I'll undoubtedly be having even more favorites as I track different aspects of the show.

Update 6/15: Okay, the first time I saw this I really enjoyed it--enough to want to see it again--and the second time I saw it I LOVED it! This is a play you should see more than once and it gets better each time.

My friend Paula says, "I think this is going to be my this-season's-Hamlet." She's referring to the great Dan Donahue Hamlet of a couple of seasons back, which was famous for its fans who saw it multiple times. In this production, somehow the synergy of all the juxtaposition had an "order of magnitude" effect on both of us when we saw it again. Paula's seen it three times now and plans on more. I'd like to see it again too.

The first time I saw it, it was great fun just seeing how the structures of the plays overlapped and the lines and situations came together, the characters blending and coming apart again, the emotions of the stories strangely compatible despite the radically different styles and ages of the different plays. The second time I saw it, I was more emotionally moved because I was more focused on the stories--as expressed in speeches which are high points in each play--and less on the spectacle.

Seeing the three plays worked together in this way does bring out the universality of storytelling. We're used to thinking of the ancient Greeks, or the Elizabethans, or even 1960s America, as being very different from ourselves but M/M/C shows the lie in that, just as living in a different culture (if you really live in that culture) teaches us that all humans are the same beneath the cultural differences.

I'm a space fan, so I kind of visualize this play in my mind as three merging galaxies. Medea and Macbeth are spirals, like the Milky Way and Andromeda, whereas Cinderella is M110, an eliptical, and they're coming together in the great cosmic pinball game. As they run into each other and cross through each other, their stars are not altered (as ours and Andromeda's won't be, when we finally cross) yet the shapes of the galaxies are. They remain what they are, and yet they affect each other--and belong together in that moment in time. Well, that's probably a pretty labored analogy if you're not a space fan too. Anyway, it works for me!

One of the things that bothered me at first about the three plays was the difference between the tragedies of Macbeth and Medea, which have a certain emotional similarity if not congruence, and the galaxy of the mid 20th century Cinderella, which seems so vacuous and sweet that there feels like no connection at all - it crosses through the others without ever touching them. Yet, as the play progresses - it does touch them. In the end that dissonance of tone just lends another layer of depth to the enterprise.

The thing I was bringing to the play that was giving me this discomfort (and okay, M/M/C is not really meant to be comfortable, I know, yet...)--the thing that was bothering me, though, I realized later when I thought some more about it, was that the earlier folk versions of Cinderella are very bloody and cruel, and as feminist scholars have shown us, viciously antifemale in their message. Therefore, at first glance the traditional version of Cinderella would seem a better choice to pair with Macbeth and Medea, to go with the great depth and genius and pain of those literary works. But then I wondered if I could have sat through three such tragic entertainments and realized that this version of Cinderella, for all its silly fantasy, still contains the elements of the original story (from a feminist point of view)--prettied up and made to feel happy on the surface, yes, but if you really understand Cinderella the feminist tragedy is still there. It's the one we're all living now, whether or not we know it.

What I came away with most, on my second viewing of MMC, was an appreciation for what the actors were pulling off - all staying in their different styles, there together on the stage. I wonder if any other acting situation requires them to do this. It's not just the costumes that remain in their distinct styles, it's the acting styles too. Saccharine Cinderella and tragic Medea are utterly true to themselves, right next to each other. As the costumes are altered at the end (and I think I missed this element almost entirely the first time around) the actors remain the characters they are, in the styles and periods in which they belong. It's just amazing to watch.

Looking forward to watching it again, and finding out what I see next time.

Finally, parataxis: see "other uses." 

What a wonderful enterprise this is. Thank you OSF!


So now I've seen all the plays currently being staged and enjoyed them all. Some I want to see again, especially Troilus and Cressida, which surprised me in much the same way OSF's Measure for Measure did last year: a whole new understanding of a play I'd never liked before. I'll be seeing that again soon. Would love to see The White Snake again too, but it has a short run and seems to be sold out except for the most expensive tickets. Romeo and Juliet and Seagull both have their strong points and are well worth seeing. And I did at least review Animal Crackers , in this post. Maybe more on the others later, especially those I see again.

The rest of the season's plays will open in June and July. I have my tickets ready!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remarkable Trees of the World, Butterfly, and If a Tree Falls (book and film reviews)

"The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chain saws." 
--Edward Abbey, 1927-1989 

Julia "Butterfly" Hill in her tree, which she named Luna
(image found at http://hugrevolution.tribe.net/photos/4711e272-6362-4fd1-b0c6-e619dd1995ea )
I have a thing about trees. It goes back to my childhood, when I wandered alone in olive groves and orange orchards, among wild oaks and tall redwoods. I've had relationships with trees everywhere I've lived, probably because I got to know them when I was young. I knew trees as generous, harmless, and dependable sources of delicious food, reassuring shelter, and easy companionship. I understood them better than people, and preferred their company most of the time. Sometimes I still do. I came to understand that trees are badly abused by humans--and there was never any question what side I was on. I've been working on a piece about my personal history with trees; for now, here are some reviews of works that resonated strongly for me:

Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham (Norton, 1998) I was fortunate to review this beautiful book when it was first published (these comments are adapted from that review) and I'm happy to learn, now, that it did find the following it deserved, and raised consciousness among friends and potential friends of trees, even generating a small ecotourism industry for people who were inspired to meet the trees in the book.

Pakenham, a historian who had written extensively on the problem of colonialism, then gained a following of tree-lovers with Meetings with Remarkable Trees (Random, 1998), which featured trees in Britain and Ireland. It was in turn made into a radio and television series which I have never seen.  

In Remarkable Trees of the World, Pakenham sets out to discover more such natural wonders elsewhere. In Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, he finds 60 commanding tree presences: giants and dwarfs, Methuselahs, shrines, and what he calls "dream" trees of many diverse kinds. Whether he is meeting baobabs, sequoias, or banyans, the author finds magnificence, beauty, and, sometimes, sadness. He has a genius for communicating his sense of each tree as an individual being, engendering wonder, awe, and respect for it in the reader. 

Pakenham's thoughtful but brisk narratives bring his travels to life, and readers will feel that they are participants in an adventure as he experiences trees, their ecological and historical contexts, and the challenges he faces in creating photographs that can begin to do justice to these difficult and special subjects. The resulting images are truly remarkable, conveying the tactile aspect of bark, the sense of size or majesty, or the rare moment when the light is just right to capture the spirit of the tree.

The book's chapters are further enhanced with historical illustrations (often, views of the same trees in much earlier days) and snippets of poetry ranging from Alfred, Lord Tennyson to Ogden Nash. Pakenham ends his journey with a chapter on "Trees in Peril." This beautiful and unique book is sure to be appreciated by nature lovers. And though it is a highly personal work and not a scientific text, it demonstrates keen and accurate observation; it could serve as an excellent supplement to studies in science, history, and geography.

Two fine documentary films show, from the inside, something of the reality of the people who care enough, and are courageous enough, to put their bodies in the path of the machines of destruction -- and these films expose the true nature of the drivers of those machines, too. I'll only say a little about the films here, because they really are to be seen. They deserve that.

photo from excellent website:
First, Butterfly (1980): This is the story of Julia "Butterfly" Hill, the young woman who famously camped out 180 feet up in an ancient redwood tree for over two years to keep loggers from killing it. 

Filmmaker Doug Wolens covered the story, and gives Butterfly's mission context: the wholesale destruction of the magnificent Pacific rain forest and the culture of Earth First, front-line eco-activists whose individuals and movement supported her. Wolens's previous background was as an attorney and this gave him the tools to make clear the issues, both legal and moral. 

This is a stark, scary, and beautiful story. Many people comment that it shows that "one person can make a difference," but don't expect any cliches here. Remarkably, Wolens edited the film on his home PC. The story is so riveting that I was not aware of any technical shortcomings: the story and the movie, like Butterfly herself, were inspired. It is a story that demands to be known.

This remarkable woman named Butterfly continues to write and represent trees to the human world. 

More recently came a selection at Ashland Independent Film Festival in 2011,  If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011). It was nominated for a 2012 Oscar. Its director, Marshall Curry, had won an Emmy and this was his second Oscar nomination. 

The story arc: In December 2005, the FBI arrested several members of a Southern Oregon cell of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) for a number of high-profile actions throughout the West. The case was headline news for months in Oregon, but this film explores what is really a rather complex tale with much more intelligence and subtlety than has been seen before. 

Remarkably, the story came to the filmmaker's attention because one of the accused, Daniel McGowan, happened to be a co-worker in Curry's wife's office at the time of his arrest. Curry set out to understand McGowan's personal transformation and radicalization, and tells of the rise and fall of the ELF cell by focusing on their increasingly dangerous campaigns, the mistakes that unraveled them, and how the FBI finally caught up with them.  

To borrow a phrase or two from the filmmaker's website, this is part coming of age story and part cops-and-robbers thriller. The documentary uses archival footage and exclusive interviews to examine the character of these people and the dynamics of their group, and asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, American values, and the way the US defines terrorism. 

And finally, speaking of how the US defines terrorism (the key shift: legally it's no longer about hurting people, it's about damaging property - another pernicious wrinkle in the legal shift to corporate personhood), here's a recent interview that refers to this very subject; I just came across it on NPR's website: http://pd.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/totn/2012/02/20120221_totn_04.mp3 I'm glad someone is still taking about it. I think Marshall Curry is a heroic filmmaker.

(Note: this post, with these reviews, has been in draft form for quite a while. I finally realized I couldn't get a handle on it because I really had three stories going on: my own history with trees; the reviews here; and an essay on civil disobedience and modern definitions of terrorism. These two movie reviews indicate where I'm going with that; my review of We Are Legion does, too. I'm now working on the other two parts...)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

AIFF 2012: Wraps


memories of AIFF2012.
coming up: AIFF 2013, April 4-8!

After a film festival, at least after a fantastic one like Ashland's, I recommend spending an entire day and night sleeping and then a lazy morning the next day, and THEN thinking about writing reviews. That's the point where I am now. It was an amazing festival. Programmer Joanne Feinberg and selection crew outdid themselves once again with the excellence of the selections, and the special events I attended were some of the best-ever. Volunteers made everything flow smoothly and fellow attendees were friendly and interesting to talk to. Easy walking distances to parking, venues, hotel (kudos to Bard's Inn, this year) and a wonderful variety of foods (many reasonably priced) really do make AIFF heaven for the film buff. My only problem: add a bit of socializing to all this, and there is no time for blogging!

This year I saw several films and panels a day. I wouldn't have wanted to miss a single one, and as always, there were others I'd like to have seen as well. Most of these won't be available to see outside of film festivals for months or even years. Many fine films I've seen at AIFF still have not become generally available for borrowing or streaming, and who can afford to buy them all? Not I.

But from discussions I heard, this year filmmakers are finally catching on to how to use the Internet to reach backers and audiences. Just a few years ago, I attended a panel on which not a single filmmaker had a clue about how to use crowdsourcing or streaming. So in this "golden age of documentaries" (as I heard one filmmaker put it this year) we still have a lot to look forward to.

Here's a list of this year's awards: http://www.ashlandfilm.org/Page.asp?NavID=539
Here are some interviews with some of the filmmakers: http://blog.ashlandfilm.org/?p=330

On to AIFF 2013: April 4-8.

AIFF 2012 Day 5: Locals 2, Dreamworld, The Universal Language, Austin Unbound

This post, like the other "day" posts I've been doing during the festival, will be a placeholder until I've caught up on (at least briefly reviewing) all the films I saw, so check back later if you don't see the reviews you're looking for here. I want write something about everything I saw at this year's festival because it was all good. The festival's a wrap, but now comes what's in some ways the best part for me: thinking some more about it all, and writing.

Locals 2: these "locals" programs are just sheer fun, because they're such a variety. They're films by local filmmakers but we have a vibrant culture here, so expect the best.

The Locals program kicked off with a fantastic animated comic, Pizza Deliverance,  "A delivery driver's tale of monsters and mayhem. Written/Drawn by Jake Vian. Video/Score by Cyle Ziebarth." (From the YouTube.) Besides being highly amusing in its own right, the cartoon has a lot to say about the insanity of trying to make a living dealing with the public. In this case, the geography of Oregon has something to do with the challenges, but I identified with it too, after a career indoors in public libraries (which most non-librarians assume are sane, safe places - ha!). Every profession has its monster patrons and special challenges in getting the job done - with rewards at the end if you have the right attitude. Very well done, fun, and funny! Here's the YouTube: see for yourself.

Other Locals in this show: 3:30, Four Daughters, and Pretty Piece of Justice, short fictions which ranged from science fictional irony to intimate drama to humorous fantasy and two documentaries, The Next Best West (with three examples of what people are doing to remediate environmental mistakes of the past) and An Ordinary Life, a wonderful short film on local activist and poet Dot Fisher-Smith. As with several of the films I haven't done justice to yet here, I intend to write more about this one! So check back later. This was a shorter, more film festival-friendly version of the longer documentary, Dot (I intend eventually to add links and more info on all these when AIFF puts the web info back online). Also at this screening event, there were representatives from each of the films for Q&A!

Universal Language, Austin Unbound, and Dreamworld: see them! Check back later for my reviews. Here's an interview (and trailer) with the director of Dreamworld, Ryan Darst. I really enjoyed the Q&A with him and lead actor/writer Oliver Hayes - they really got into it!