". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, July 13, 2018

Edward the King (US) / Edward VII (UK). (1975). ATV. 13 episodes; 208 minutes approx.

     . . . . The" corpulent voluptuary," as Bertie - Edward VII (1841 - 1910) was called by Kipling,  reigned for only a short time. He was 59 when ascending to the throne. His mother didn't die until 1901, thus the odious toad, Queen Victoria, also dominates his biographical television series, based on the biography (1964) by Philip Magnus, just as she dominated his life.  She won't die until in the middle of the 10th episode.

Annette Crosbie, the actress ages the Queen subtly and yet visibly, in body, face, ex, egotistic monstrous royal that she was.  Prince Albert is equally so. Their terrible parenting created tragic consequences for at least a century of European history. This Vicky's not the adorable fairy princess of ITV's contemporary series, Victoria (2016 - ). For that matter, none of the figures of the endless 19th century are the gorgeous creatures they are in that series either. 

Lily Langtry in her iconic black dress; in ATV's Edward the Seventh she's blonde. Later the actress and  LL got their own tv series, Lillie, (1979).

The exception is Lily Langtry, reputedly one of the most beautiful women of her time, played by Francesca Annis, with an icy poise that doesn't really jibe with contemporary descriptions of this very successful stage performer who couldn't really act.  Though the portrait of Bertie here given is, at best, incomplete, the character is played with such flair by Timothy West that he effortlessly convinces the viewer that the prince is a very fine fellow indeed, whom history has unfairly estimated.  (It hasn't.)  He is played as as utterly charming, possessing a sweetness to his character that isn’t found in any other members of his family. 

The deep connections among the protestant 19th century’s ruling houses – Britain, the nordic and german states and reaching even into the imperial Russian family, despite their  Orthodoxy. Never allow conversion reluctance blockade entrée for familial European empire! We see war becoming inevitable, and the Russian Revolution too – the czar’s family for more than one generation have been living in a security prison made from terror of their own subjects and assassination. 

Edward VII provides a window into changing social attitudes within lifetimes. The view of Germans and Germany are deeply unattractive: rigid, cold, militaristic, poisoned by resentment and jealousy of the British royals.  In the early 1970’s hatred of Germany was still quite fresh in Britain, one thinks. Kaiser Wilhelm I is unhinged and terrifying – this is blamed on Bismark. The contemporary opulent preposterous that is the Victoria series also is much softer on the Germans (at least so far), particularly Albert the utterly loving and kind father -- utterly different from this one.

The problem with Edward VII is that Bertie is presented as a the most jovial, genial, socially skilled, nice all-around royal fellow who ever lived. There’s not a hint of his massive fecklessness with gambling debts, that he wouldn’t pay his other bills either,  frequently disappearing before the reckoning at a restaurant arrived, leaving others to pay his for his massive consumption of food and drink. There's no mention that he was as addicted to women as he was to gambling and food. No woman was safe from his sexual demands, whether an aristocrat or a kitchen maid, no matter her preference to not be humped and dumped a moment later by the royal whale.

The series also puffs up the very few things he ever did, which amount to greeting foreign heads of state, ribbon-cutting, and sitting on a couple of committees formed for matters such as a vague commitment to "improve the poor," making of this a vast enterprise that he administers with great skill, gravity and compassion. He’s also presented as a brilliant diplomat and far-seer in international affairs. This is undiluted bs, to put it honestly. Bertie couldn’t be bothered to interrupt changing his clothes seven times a day, drinking, eating, shooting, gambling and fornicating for anything like a semblance of real work. 

This Bertie, who had great talent and skill for ruling, who wasted by his nasty toad of a Queen Mother, is a false Bertie, despite the very real facts that his childhood was made a living hell by both his parents, and that Victoria was never going to share the spotlight with anyone.

However, the acting by all the cast provides a much closer sense to the periods the characters inhabit -- stiffly buttoned to a degree that one of course understands why Bertie so enjoys his select company of cronies.  It is via these aspects that this 1975 production presents a more accurate picture of the times than the two seasons so far of Victoria.  These actors, many of them very early in their careers in British television drama, do bring everyone to life.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

People Still Read Real Books -- Sir Steven Runciman

      . . .  . Working my way through Steven Runciman's three volume history of the Crusades.

[ "  His three-volume A History Of The Crusades, published between 1951 and 1954, set out to exemplify his belief that the main duty of the historian was "to attempt to record, in one sweeping sequence, the greater events and movements that have swayed the destinies of man," and show that history's aim was to give a deeper understanding of humanity. He aimed as much at a non- specialist audience as at fellow academics.
For Runciman, the crusades were the last of the barbarian invasions; their disaster was their failure to understand Byzantium. "High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness," he wrote, "and the holy war itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the holy ghost." ]

I came to 
Runciman (1903 - 2000) only two summers ago, and not for via the Crusades, but the enduring conflicts over the control of Italy via The Sicilian Vespers, among the Papacy, France, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and the Angevins (i.e. also the English - Plantangenets, etc.).  So not even even the shocking insanity of Venice's organization of the 1203 - 04 Crusade to take out Constantinople and their great rival -- as they saw it -- for the trade via the Black Sea, in which they destroyed the bulwark between Europe (including Venice) and the great Islamic states > Ottomans, is new information by now. 

Nor, so far, am I impressed by the 'colorful' narrative style, which reads clunky to me.

HOWEVER!  These books were published 80 + years ago (1951- 1954), so -- wtf do I know?  So much has been written since, that references these books, including by Roger Crowley, who is a very fine writer as well as scholar.  Crowley does know all the languages, which is the most important aspect of this work -- Arabic, Latin, Greek, Turkish, French, etc. Runciman also references, as much as possible, only the contemporary works.  Though of course his references do roll ahead as far as the late 19th century and aughts of the 20th -- and so much was still not revealed that Crowley, et al. have had the advantages of.

I do wish I'd had access to Runciman's books back when I was decades younger. On the other hand, that I hadn't means I didn't imprint, and new work > research > information doesn't have a problem moving to the forefront of my thinking.

Whereas, when it comes to Mycenae Greece, I can never get Renault out of my thinking -- and, alas, she was wrong about so much.

 Runciman, though, he wasn't wrong in either facts or interpretation. He was ahead of his time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Our Best Recent Thing: el V's BD and "The King"

     . . . .  Our best recent thing was el V's birthday party on Sunday.  We invited friends to attend the IFC theater for the new documentary, "The King."  

The premise is that the rise and decline of Elvis mirrors the decline of the USA -- and that it is fame that ultimately destroys everything.  It is driven through US geography and history via Elvis's Rolls Royce.

My interest then was piqued, because I had been thinking quite a bit about the only elements of the 2017 Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049 that seemed to have any actual significance -- 

of Las Vegas and the Elvis hologram that had remained in the ruins.  That is all that seems to have survived from the world and the nation that I had known . . . .

So, one can see that The King has aspects of interest -- and controversy -- for many of us.  Our group in particular had many a way of viewing this film, as among us were documentary film makers, historians, musicians and composers, fashion and costume designers, etc. One of the discussions within The King is cultural appropriation -- did he steal it all from black people and never given them proper due? (Many / most?) black people, as some of us who live up in Harlem made clear, have no doubt Elvis stole.  David Simon's white man's opinion is different. So the common conversation at dinner was more than lively.

The King's thesis is not necessarily wholly successful throughout but the eyes are always compelled by what is on the screen. 

First, the young Elvis Presley was simply one of the most beautiful people that ever lived.  Plus he had that charisma, that star power, that always drew all eyes to him, in person and on the screen and in photos. 

One of his few rivals for beauty, star power and charisma in the times during which he lived was Muhammad Ali, whom we do see and hear too during the course of the film. Muhammad Ali is the anti-Elvis, the one who spoke out against racism and the war in Vietnam, the one who didn't always choose the money, the one who went to jail rather than kill brown people across the world from where he lived.  Elvis joined the army and got addicted to pills and very young girls. And always chose the money.

There's historical video and film footage. Along with this there is extensive talking head footage in the Rolls that carried at different times hitch hikers, various writers like our friend Greil Marcus, actors, musicians and others such as David Simon opining on the meaning of the life of Elvis, fame and the wreck that is the USA, the then upcoming 2016 presidential election, and how in the world have we come to this? (Alec Baldwin, from inside the Rolls, informs us that the orange nazi shall never win.)

Sunday's weather cooperated. It was a beautiful summer day. When we exited IFC theater, the early evening was like, well, maybe sitting on a patio in Provence, looking toward the western ranges while the sun sets in super-saturated sherbet colors, and we dissolved into as one does in company at that limnal time of day, in company of dear friends and drinking (a good) rosé. The early evening continued more lovely as we tripped along the sidewalks of downtown Manhattan. When we left the first restaurant for dessert and coffee at another one, it was even more lovely. When we parted company the temperature had gotten cool enough for light jackets. Such a pleasure after the long string of brutal heat and humidity all day and all night.

Later, before falling into sleep I continued to think of the USA and whether it was really different from its European mother countries.  Italy gave us "sprezzatura," originating in Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it." From France, we received "panache" the connotation of flamboyant manner, bravery and courage, even unto recklessness, as in Cyrano de Bergerac and The Three Musketeers.  Additionally France has given us through the ballet the concept of "ballon," the appearance of being lightweight and light-footed ,as though a dancer effortlessly becomes airborne, floats in the air, and lands softly.  The Brits gave us "swashbuckling" Robin Hood and the Scarlet Pimpernel.

What idea of effortless flair has the USA contributed to the world, that everyone strives to project of themselves?  "Cool," of course, the concept of cool. Even though he wasn't black, Elvis possessed cool in spades.   (Let us not forget though, that 'cool' was a concept that came to the USA from Africa, as brilliant Robert Farris Thompson has so well documented here and elsewhere.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Rumbatimba with Alain Pérez - Palo Quimbombó

      . . . . A new Postmambo Studies Rumbazo Youtube video. El V put it up a few days ago. Time to enjoy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ivanhoe (BBC) 1997; A Very English Scandal (BBC One) 2018

     . . . . After the exertions of Saturday in the heat, and the heat ongoing without any prediction for an end, any time in the foreseeable future, I was a wrung out limp rag of a person, unfit for anything, which meant the traditional Pasta & Jazz Saturday night dinner was reduced to heritage tomato salad and a pre-cooked egg pappardelle, sweet sausage, eggplant and zucchini dish from Raffetto's (est. 1908!).     . . . . 

This meant a lot of weekend tv watching.

 . . . I don't know what to think about the three-part A Very English Scandal.  It seemed, o I dunno, inappropriately light-hearted and cheeky for an exploration of how a man loses his political career via the necessity of being a closeted queer and because he tried to have murdered another queer whose life has been warped by the laws about homosexuality -- and gets off from attempted murder charge because Eton etc.  I just don't know.

It was, of course, a delight to watch this mature, and o so not pretty, Hugh Grant in the role of disgraceful Labor party tentpole, Jeremy Thorpe, and the still very pretty Ben Whishaw as Norman Scott, Thorpe' lovely, but deeply disturbed young lover, whom Thorpe concludes must be killed to remove his inconvenient demands and loud mouth, once Thorpe tires of his 'bunny.' 

 . . .  I then comforted myself with the  BBC 1997 very sincere, yet a bit sly, 6-part miniseries adaoted from Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1827 -- one of my favorite novels as an adolescent, and I still re-read it every so often) Among the many delights of this series is Ciarán Hinds as  Brian de Bois-Guilbert and Christopher Lee as Lucas de Beaumanoir.  Lee emotes in the role exactly as he does as Saruman in Jackson's Lord of the Rings. The scenery is splendid -- terrific forests and roads through them, and magnificent baileys, tilting fields and the rest. There are some impressive fight scenes during which the viewer will not miss CGI enhancement one bit.

The political slant of royals and the middle ages chosen present the Lion-Heart as heavier and less jovial than maybe Scott chose -- more in line with Steven Runciman's third volume of his classic history of the Crusades, though he's still a hero.

But then Scott's novel was not middle-ages light either.  Horrible torture, anti-semitism, slavery, corruption of all sectors of the society's institutions from the crown to the church, sexual abuse of innocent women are all essential plot points in Ivanhoe, which are not prettified out of the story here. There are departures from Scott's text though, and all for the good, particularly with the character of Rowena and Athelstane.

Ciaran Hinds as Bois Guilbert and Susan Lynch as Rebecca

Maybe the best of all the delights is the actress who plays Rebecca possesses the perfect sofa-divan pillow mouth,  hooded eyes and extravagant waves of hair so beloved of Pre-Raphaelite-Rossetti pseudo mid-Victorian fantasy of medieval sirens.

Every time she appears on the screen I am as riveted by the actress's mouth shaping her words as were those men staring at Rossetti's  paintings of Jane Morris (wife of William Morris) in "Proserpine,"

"Bocca baciate non perda ventura, anzi rinova come fa la luna’, which translated means ‘The mouth that has been kissed loses not its freshness; still it renews itself even as does the moon’.

 or  Fanny Cornforth in "Bocca Baciata" 

and his own wife, Elizabeth Siddel in "Beata Beatrix."

"It's too Darned Hot" dance sequence from Kiss Me Kate

Yah, it remains too darned hot.