Tag Archives: review

Wonder Woman’s God Complex

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Recently, I went to go and see the new Wonder Woman film in one of the better cinemas I’ve visited in Beijing. In comparison to most the other superhero films I’ve seen in the last few years Wonder Woman is pretty darn good, but I couldn’t help but feel as though there was a particularly large issue with the themes of the film and the fact that Hollywood doesn’t seem capable of dealing with those themes.

Full spoilers below…

Diana is the only child on a magic island hidden from the rest of the world and populated by Amazonian women. When wondering where such a child came from we’re told that her mother Hypolita wished for her so much that she moulded her from clay and asked the god Zues to give her life. This is something that Diana never questions despite the fact that she does admit the knowledge that men are ‘essential for procreation’.

We also learn that for some reason the God of War, Ares, chose to defy the rest of the gods, fighting and killing them. To combat Ares, Zues bestowed upon the Amazons the ‘God Killer’ which they used to vanquish (but not kill) Ares. The God Killer, Hypolita tells her daughter, is a grand sword which Diana, as a child, looks at with an almost forlorn gaze and asks her mother who would ever be able to wield such a weapon. Her disappointment when Hypolita tells her that it wont be her is palpable and the scene ends in such a way that I was left wondering whether or not it was the film-maker’s intentions that the young Diana display an almost psychopathic urge to kill a god one day.

As the film progresses we watch Diana grow up, conditioned by her mother’s obvious lies and her warrior aunt’s tutelage, becoming stronger, more badass but certainly not any wiser. Although Diana is brought up to be naive and unaware the audience hasn’t been, and anyone with a healthy upbringing on superhero movies will have already guessed that Diana is likely to be the daughter of Zues and that the God Killer is in fact her and not the sword at all. To the film’s credit these two revelations are never really treated as any great twist and so their obviousness doesn’t really hurt the story. They do however set the tone for what is to come during the rest of the run time and these two plot points feed into what seems to be the film’s main themes:

Firstly that Diana is a God. Invincible and supreme in her abilities. Secondly, she’s naive. Unaware of the nature of man and the nature of violence. It’s when addressing these ideas that Wonder Woman shows the most potential but also uncovers some of the downsides of the superhero genre as a whole.

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There’s a good action scene about halfway through the film where Diana has had enough of watching the horrors of WWI unfold around her and decides to take matters into her own hands. Despite the German machine guns pointing at her she runs across no-man’s land to liberate a small French village. It’s in this scene we have the first full reveal of her iconic uniform, we hear the pulse pounding drums that have become her theme for these DC movies and we witness the extent of her badassery as she flips armoured vehicles with her bare hands, kicks people through walls and literally punches the catholic church so hard it collapses. It’s all good stuff but it’s also where my skepticism of the film’s intentions began. It’s very handy having a bullet-proof supergod on your side, I thought, as her actions inspired her companions to join the fight.

Their victory over the village is short lived however and the Germans soon drop a chemical weapon on it, killing everyone. Diana runs into the orange cloud, not even wrinkling her nose against the gas, to see first hand the nature of man’s hate. It’s the first time that we see Diana completely as ‘other’ to us. Where any man, woman or child faces certain death in the cloud, Diana isn’t affected in the least. The film states, in no uncertain terms, that Diana is not human and she is not in any danger from us or our weapons. She is, however, applaud by our actions.

Instead of readdressing her preconceived notions about men and war though, she carries on with greater resolve to end the war in her own way. Diana, brought up on stories of gods, thinks that the only way to end the war is to defeat Ares, the god of war, who she assumes is causing the fighting in the first place. For some reason she has decided that Ares is actually personified by Ludendorf, the German general who along with the fabulously named ‘Doctor Poison’ is manufacturing the terrible chemical weapons that mark the film’s biggest threat. She confronts Ludendorf who, for no other reason than ‘it’s a movie’ has some kind of magic drug that gives him super strength. Still, Diana kicks him through a wall (watching Wonder Woman kick people through walls never gets old) and impales him to the floor with her God Killer sword. Ares is dead, she thinks, and yet the war continues.

wonderwomantrailer213-470x310@2xAgain we wonder if she’ll finally have to confront her misguided views of the war, but no. Right on cue, the real Ares turns up; a Brit nonetheless. He reveals the minor twists that everyone already knew and sums up the films ideology very clearly. War is a man-made invention. Although he admits to whispering inspirations to the likes of Doctor Poison he tells us that men are the real threat to the world and that no interference from gods can change that. He’s echoing something Chris Pine said earlier when he admits ‘maybe it’s us’; maybe man is to blame for all the horror.

This is the moment the whole film has led up to, where Wonder Woman has seen first hand that war is not a fantasy or a fiction, men’s minds are not twisted by any supernatural being and that war can not be ended by just fly kicking one man in the face. It’s also the moment the film betrays itself.

Wonder Woman decides to kick the crap out of Ares anyway, it is her nature as a weapon, after all. While she’s fighting him her comrades are fighting against the German chemical weapon and loosing. In a moment of weakness she watches Chris Pine commit suicide, taking the weapon with him and this gives her the strength to fight back again. There’s lots of fire, punching each other through buildings, lighting shot from fingertips; it’s everything we’ve come to expect from a DC movie’s final act, and just as empty.

The problem is that we’ve already learnt that Ares has no hold over this war. Killing him will not save the world and yet Wonder Woman fights anyway, ignoring the suffering of her comrades and with such drive that brings back the image of a child coveting a sword she prays to one day use. It’s her singular vision that means Chris Pine has no help from her when he flies off to his death, a gesture that could have easily been prevented by the supergod. It’s all something that could have meaning if it wasn’t for the film’s climax.

Wonder Woman harnesses her power as a god-made weapon, kills Ares and the war ends.

The take away from this final conflict is that actually Wonder Woman was right all along. Killing one supreme bad guy did end the war which must also mean that the war was the fault of this one god and not man at all. None of the men’s struggles or sacrifices mean anything in the face of this revelation and we are all absolved of any responsibility we might have otherwise had to have claimed for the cruelties of war. The film has betrayed its own convictions and through doing so has undermined itself.

Right from the first line of dialogue Diana is being lied to. Her world view is twisted and distorted to the extent that when she enters our world she can’t distinguish reality from fiction. Likewise however, her presence and her actions show her comrades that there is more to the world than they knew. In the end it’s Diana’s world view that wins out. A world of gods and monsters and where the evil of man is actually the fault of someone else. If this was actually the intention of the film then I would argue that WWI was perhaps not the right backdrop for the story. War, chemical weapons, hate and violence are, without a doubt, not god-created issues. They are caused by man, inflicted upon man and no amount of supergod stories can change this sad fact. By sticking to her original intent Diana shows no growth as a character. She’s as confused and misguided as she was as a child and still views the world in black and white terms, what’s worse is that the film makers seem to share this world view.

As much as I love superhero films I can’t help but think they are loosing their relevance in our society. The story of one man or woman saving humanity by punching a single baddie in the face is an outdated concept. It’s an issue that Wonder Woman almost addresses but gives into at the end, more than likely just because this is an American film and needs to end in a predetermined way. It’s a shame that the trapping of the genre force Wonder Woman to betray and undermine itself in the last moments because there is a more interesting story than Diana vs Ares fighting to be told. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if in those last moments Diana decided to cease her meaningless battle with Ares and go instead to help her new found friends in their struggle against their own kind. What if it was shown that Ares actually didn’t have much power over man and wasn’t causing the war? What if, because of this revelation, Diana showed us that the true power of a god is to inspire mankind to better itself rather than give into its basest instincts?

At the end of the film Diana, in the present day US, sums up her journey for us by saying that ‘only love can save the world’. However this is not what we’ve seen just moments before. Diana did not save the day by putting aside her outdated and ill-informed ideology and helping the war resolve in a peaceful way, she won through violence, just as the men of the film sought to do and in so doing proved that she really is, much like the German’s terrible gas, nothing more than the weapon she was designed to be. Unfortunately the film never addresses this parallel itself.

There’s a moment towards the end of Diana’s fight with Ares where the camera focuses on her, silhouetted in the air behind a red and gold sky. Her arms are outstretched and one leg slightly raised. It’s an image of Christ on the cross. Except here, Diana does not die to save mankind, she kills to save mankind. If love is the only thing that can save the world then perhaps superhero films need to find a gesture other than violence to bring their final acts to a close.

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The Winter’s Tale – Re-imagined for everyone ages six and over

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imagesThe Winter’s Tale is an odd play at the best of times, what with its sixteen year gap and massive shift in tone between acts. It can only get odder if you imagine it through the eyes of a child. And that’s exactly what you can find at the Regent’s Park Open air Theatre right now.

Re-imagined for people ages 6 and up, The Winter’s Tale is a real treat for families. The play is, of course, cut down and simplified for kids, but that’s not to say the play is just simple and nor does it speak down to its audience. Shakespeare’s rich language is still present as is the jealousy, cruelty and death of the first act. The magic and festivities of the second are also handled with aplomb. What this production does wonderfully is hit the middle ground between being silly and serious.

As I said, the play is a bit problematic itself in the way that the first act is generally much more somber than the second, and especially with this production I found that it wasn’t until the second act that it really hit its stride. There were hints of the madness to come right from the outset, with happy-go-lucky dance moves, pop-culture references and a great visual gag involving a boat, but it really isn’t until the second act that it all comes together.

Beginning with the bizarre sheep shearing contest which was, in this case, realised quite magnificently, the second act seems to relish in the sheer absurdity of it all and is much stronger for it. The visual gags really come into their own and the performances also take off.

For me, the highlight though, was the audience! Kids absolutely loved this show and their reactions and interactions were just as entertaining as the show itself. It’s just excellent hearing some of the stuff that kids come out with. At one point, just as the notorious bear attack is looming near, one kid near us ominously said ‘He’s gunna die…’ and then burst into laughter when the fated attack happened! At another point we were all encouraged to call out ‘Sheer the sheep! Sheer the sheep!’ but some mischievous children behind us were instead shouting ‘Eat the sheep!’ and there was even one rather macabre little boy calling out ‘SKIN THE SHEEP!’ One final moment of note was watching an entire block of tiny children reenacting the Gangnam Style dance routine.

The performances are fun and easy, with a stand out performance by Dean Nolan. In general they handle the Shakespeare in a clear and concise way and switch nicely but simply between multiple characters. The show never really hits any of the play’s emotional highs, but instead is a wonderfully fun and rather silly afternoons entertainment. I’d highly recommend seeing it, if not just to enjoy the children’s reactions to the insanity on stage.

The show is on until the 20th of July and more info can be found here.

LEVEL UP! +10 INTEGRITY TO PLAYER 1

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Last week I wrote a blog on the blatant commercialism running rampant at E3 this year. Mostly, I wrote about ‘exclusive’ titles and Microsoft’s DRM policy which would give publishers the choice of whether or not to charge people for using pre-owned games, and also, a policy which would necessitate 24 hour online ‘checks’ to play games either on or off line.

Well, about half a week ago, Microsoft announced a complete 180 degree reversal on this policy. In an announcement called ‘Your Feedback Matters’ president Don Mattrick wrote that due to our feedback they have made some big changes to the Xbox One. He announced that after an initial set up players wouldn’t need to connect to the internet at all to play off line, and also that used games will be available for re-sale, rent and lending after all. The announcement closes by saying:

‘We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.’

Despite their insistence that their policies were valid and would in fact ensure a better experience for the consumer, I think that after the initial announcements Microsoft came up against such a wall of negativity that there was very little else they could do but abandon their policies. However, I wonder how this would have all panned out if Sony had not been standing right behind them making rabbit ears behind their backs.

E3 is always a battle of sorts between the companies and it was very clear this year that Sony had won. Not only did their showcase appeal much more directly to gamers than Microsoft’s, but they were also launching the new Playstation for about $100 less than Xbox One. Then there was their cheeky and oh-so-topical dig at Microsoft about how easy it is to share games on the Playstation 4.

I wonder if Microsoft would have backed down on their policies so easily had Sony had not recognised and subsequently capitalised on their mistake. Well, the answer is absolutely no. No matter how much they pretend that this is a result of our ‘valued feedback’, it’s very clear that they panicked that everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead, and so quickly did an about turn. And damn well they should because yes, everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead! No matter what, I think Microsoft have lost a lot of support and through this newest development they have also lost a lot of integrity. I think their about turn is too little too late, and that they’ve damaged their brand quite a bit this month.

Whether or not they were spooked or genuinely value user feedback, this is a good example of people standing up for themselves, not wanting to be ripped off and beating back a company. This is something that gamers seem to be very good at doing and there are quite a lot of examples to prove it.

I remember a story which captivated me a few years back regarding the MMO EVE Online. The developers (CCP) had wanted to introduce a new expansion for the game which would introduce microtransactions. When it came to light that these microtransactions would cost between $10 – $60 and essentially turn the game into a ‘pay-to-win’ affair, players suddenly started feeling distinctly like they were being ripped off. So, as any self respecting Space Rouges would, hundreds and hundreds of gamers demonstrated their disapproval by attacking an indestructible and iconic monument in the game. This overloaded the servers and basically gridlocked the in-game economy for a day or so. There was also a threat that a heck of a lot of players (who hadn’t already) would cancel their subscriptions to the game, which could have cost CCP over $1 Million in lost revenue. In order to sort all this out CCP payed to fly the player elected council in the EVE world to their HQ in Reykjavík to sort out a compromise.

I love that story! It’s like a digital world revolution in which the gamers won out against a commercial minded company. I feel like Microsoft’s policy reversal marks something similar.

So, well done gamers! 10 points to you. It just shows that with a little perseverance big consumerist companies can be reminded that without the consumer they’re nothing and that, in the end, we’re in charge.

The Wings of Honneamise and THAT scene

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honneamise-726389Being involved with the first ever stage adaptation of a Studio Ghibli film, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m surrounded by other Ghibli enthusiasts and general anime fans. Of course, when surrounded by these sort of people and these subjects, one will undoubtedly find their interest in such things re-ignited with more fire than before. This is certainly how I am feeling at the moment and because of this I have been watching a number of anime titles I have up to this point never seen before.

Last night, I watched a fantastic little film called Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise.

Wings of Honneamise was released in 1987 and is the first and only full length feature film produced by animation studio Gainax. The film takes place in an alternate version of Earth in which an industrial revolution is flourishing despite the impending war between two nations (Honneamise and ‘The Republic’). At this time, the Space force is working (much to the amusement of the ‘real’ military) towards putting the first man in space. That man is Shirotsugh Lhadatt, who only joined the space program because he didn’t qualify to join the more reputable air force. Lhadatt is a bit of a slacker, only continuing his work with the space program as a way to ensure he can continue to live comfortably compared to the many homeless and jobless of Honneamise.

Whilst wandering the streets one night he meets Riquinni Nonderaiko, a kind hearted religious girl who is preaching against the many injustices and sins of the world. The two become friends and Riquinni’s enthusiasm about what the space program symbolises rekindles Lhadatt’s pride in the program. This is why he volunteers to take the role of first astronaut, despite the obvious danger to himself.

And this is pretty much the basis of the film. From here on we learn about the characters, we see the effect the space program has on both the people and the governing body of  Honneamise, we watch the conflict between the two nations build, using the space program as a catalyst to wage their inevitable war, and we see the growth of our main characters.images

Wings of Honneamise is generally considered one of the finest examples of Japanese adult animation. However, most reviews are often worded something like this:

‘One scene short of a masterpiece.’

‘One of the best animes I’ve ever seen, despite ‘that’ scene.’

‘A beautiful film ruined by one ugly scene.’

Many, many people agree that there is a single scene in the film, often referred to as ‘that scene’, which soils the overall experience the film offers. If you have seen the film, you will instantly know which scene I’m referring to. If you haven’t, then you should know that I’m about to start giving away spoilers for the film, so if you intend to watch it, you might not want to read on.

The scene in question comes about two thirds into the film, when Lhadatt attempts to rape Riquinni in her home. The scene is very coldly realised and unrelenting in its portrayal of the act. Lhadatt attacks Riquinni as she is undressing, pinning her to the floor before he realises what it is he’s doing and stops himself. At this point Riquinni gives him a well deserved braining with a candlestick, knocking him unconscious. The next morning, as Riquinni is leaving home, Lhadatt runs after her to apologise but instead she insists that she be the one to apologise for hitting him. ‘You’ve done nothing wrong,’ she says, ‘You’re a wonderful person and I shouldn’t have hit you. Please forgive me or I shall never forgive myself.’ Well, that all sounds pretty awful and misogynistic now doesn’t it? But  y’know…I’m  not so sure.honneamise3

Now, before I go any further, allow me to explain myself. I despise the way rape is used in media nowadays. It seems to me that whenever a story requires a female character to be hurt, traumatised or damaged in any way, rape is the first port of call. Whenever a man has to be shown as being evil, he’ll rape, or threaten to rape someone. Websites such as Women in Refrigerators exist as a reminder of our frighting and frankly disgusting preoccupation with rape. However, when I was reading reviews of Wings of Honneamise after having seen it, I found myself disagreeing with people’s disgust at this scene. I felt that a lot of people didn’t understand why the scene was in the film at all, and many think the film would be better without the scene. So, I’d like to offer my point of view, what I think the scene’s function is and why I think it is important that it remains.

Right, so, from the outset I am very very surprised how few people mention the scene which comes before ‘that scene’. Some background first: When Lhadatt first comes into contact with Riquinni she is living in a small house outside of the city. Throughout the film we see her life systematically destroyed by the commercialist world they live in; first her electricity is shut off, then her house is demolished to make room for a power plant. She moves into a seemingly unused church after this, which is where ‘the scene’ takes place.

Just before, the two of them meet outside in the rain and rush home together. When they get inside Riquinni takes off her wet boots and some money falls out of them which she shamefully picks up, whilst Lhadatt and Manna (a little girl living with Riquinni) pretend not to notice. For the rest of the evening Lhadatt ignores Riquinni, refusing to look at her until he begins watching her legs from beneath the table. Now, for me, the whole money in the shoe thing was an obvious sign that Riquinni had been prostituting herself to make ends meet. This is reinforced later when Lhadatt mentions that Riquinni ‘must be at…work…’. I’m very surprised that so few people seem to have picked this up.

This fact sort of changes everything. For a start, it goes towards explaining why Lhadatt is so angry with her, and why he allows his frustration to take control. Whether or not Lhadatt is in love with Riquinni is up for interpretation, but it is plainly obvious that he cares for her and that he is attracted to her. The fact that he tries to befriend Manna and offers to give Riquinni the money for a solicitor after her home is destroyed shows that the attraction is not purely physical. So when he learns that she is whoring herself, but still will not consent to anything other than a platonic relationship with him, he is deeply hurt. His anger at her for selling other men the sort of attention that he would have cherished from her sparks his anger and he takes on a certain ‘if they can have you, so should I’ mentality.

But this is not all. Riquinni acts as a pillar of strength for Lhadatt. She renews his pride in his mission, and that what he is doing is right, that he isn’t simply part of what she considers a sinful, unjust world. This is extremely important given that before he goes to visit Riquinni he undergoes a press release in which someone tells him to make up something about why the space program is important and what it symbolises for mankind. By his reaction it’s plainly obvious he is loosing any faith in ‘why’ he’s doing it. Directly after this a news reporter tells him that 30,000 people could be re-homed if the space program cut its funding by half. The reason he goes to Riquinni after this is for some kind of support and reassurance. Instead, he finds out that the purest, most innocent and righteous person he has ever met is prostituting herself. This feels like a betrayal to Lhadatt who is not smart enough to notice the necessity of her actions. He simply feels like she is making a ‘compromise with God’ which is exactly what he suggests earlier when asking why she wont be with him. She replies by saying ‘it’s that sort of compromise that made the world what it is today!’, so it hurts Lhadatt to find her making exactly that sort of compromise. I also wonder, even though it’s never said, that Lhadatt might be able to provide for her if she let him. The main problem of course, is that Riquinni sees no romantic future with Lhadatt whatsoever.

Earlier in the film, Riquinni gave Lhadatt a holy book which he has been reading, trying to understand her point of view. When he finds out she has given into the harsh, sinful side of reality, he looses all will to be anything else and so too gives into his temptation.

During the attack he pauses. As he lies on top of her he suddenly realises what he is doing and stops himself. This moment acts as a symbol as well as a literal event. Lhadatt’s realisation is not just the realisation that he is capable of raping a woman, but that he is part of the military driven society which has forced her into prostitution. It’s only at this moment that he really hears the words of the news reporter. Well over 30,000 people, like Riquinni, cannot afford homes, and are being forced to find ulterior methods of securing income simply to survive because of large scale projects such as the space program. In many ways, the rape of Riquinni has already been carried out, and she had already been defiled by the society they live in, a society which Lhadatt plays a lead role.

None of the above defends Lhadatt’s actions, and in fact shows that he is no better than anyone in the film. He does an awful thing which shocks both the audience and himself. Many reviews I’ve read criticise this scene for destroying a character who had up to this point been rather likeable. I would argue that this is the point of the scene, in which we are shown that nobody, not Lhadatt nor Riquinni are without sin, and are affected by the state of their society.

The later scene, in which Riquinni apologises for hitting Lhadatt backs this up as soon as we realise that Riquinni is not really saying sorry for clocking Lhadatt over the head with a candlestick, but that she is saying sorry for giving into sin. Just as Lhadatt cannot see the necessity of Riquinni’s work, she can not see the righteousness in it. She understands she must do it to provide for herself and Manna, but she sees herself as sinful and wrong. There’s also the possibility that Riquinni is in complete denial about the whole thing. This leads on to something else people have criticised.

Lhadatt doesn’t seem to feel much remorse about the whole thing. It’s never mentioned again, he doesn’t seem to brood over it. In fact, it seems to be almost entirely swept under the carpet. This is generally considered to be bad taste on the part of director and writer Hiroyuki Yamaga, and a sign that the scene served to real purpose other than to shock. I think it’s something else though, I think it’s firstly another example of one of the films main themes; denial (the denial of sin, the denial of being a part of a corrupt government, etc) Lhadatt is denying the event just as much as Riquinni is. It’s also a cold reminder of human nature. I suppose in Lhadatt’s head it is easier to pretend it never happened than to face up to the fact, especially if Riquinni seems content to do so.

These are the films darkest moments, and show our characters in the most negative light. It also comes just in time for the final part of the film in which the action really picks up. Lhadatt is pursued by an assassin in a somewhat rather absurd chase scene, and then we’re onto the final stint in which the rocket is finally launched into space. Then effect it has though, is that we can never really shake the feeling that the scene has left us with. Our connection with Lhadatt has weakened and we cannot wholly root for him any more. This, being the desired effect. Once Lhadatt has reached space, we are left wondering if it was really worth it. If Lhadatt is the kind of man who should be named a hero and an innovator, which is likely to happen, and we wonder if the space program was worth the poverty and conflict that it caused. It’s actually quite hard to feel good for the people of Honneamise.

This is really important given the final prayer of the film.

Just a quick note – I watched the film subtitled, and have realised that it differs a fair bit from the dub. So my understanding of the end is based on the sub translation.tumblr_mbehctdXq51qj7fjto1_1280

‘Is anybody down there listening to this broadcast? This is mankind’s first astronaut. The human race has just taken its first step into the world of the stars. Like the oceans and the mountains before, space too was once just God’s domain. As it becomes a familiar place for us, it’ll probably end up as bad as everywhere else we’ve meddled. We’ve spoiled the land, We’ve fouled the air. Yet we still seek new places to live, and so now we journey out to space. There’s probably no limit to how far we can spread.

Please. Whoever is listening to me. How you do it doesn’t matter, just please; give some thanks to man’s arrival here.

Please, show us mercy and forgive us. Don’t let the way ahead be one of darkness. As we stumble down the path of our sinful history, let there be always one shining star to show the way.’

This is a great achievement from a flawed species. It could spell new hope, or new disaster. Is it a good thing Lhadatt finally reached space? The answer is simply yes, because it shows that through everything, human perseverance has won through. It is also positive because the men and women of the space program were working towards the betterment of mankind, not a political leg up. However, it is what comes next which would tell.  Reaching space may fill many with hope of a bright new era of innovation and perhaps peace, or, as is suggested earlier in the film, if taken into the wrong hands it may spell new and inventive ways for the two nations to bomb each other.

It is neither an optimistic nor pessimistic end to the film, and this is important. I think if the film and the characters had not reached the lows that they had, then the ending would not have been so poignant.

One final note:

I found an article here that describes the scene and says that anyone who defends it is ‘intellectually dishonest or just human filth’. Well, I guess I fall into this bracket, so, human filth it is. But, the writer did include a few things that made me raise my eyebrows:

Apparently, in the commentary track the assistant director, Takami Akai, says that ‘Riquinni reveals herself as a “strong woman” by completely forgiving Shiro and saying that it was her fault’. Well…I don’t really know what to say about that. Obviously I’d argue that it suggests the exact opposite, and that she, like Lhadatt is in fact shown to be very weak. This doesn’t change my analysis of the film, but it does make me wonder just what were the original intentions of the film makers, and if they were consciously aware of all these interpretations people now make.

Another thing that really shocked me was that Akai apparently mentions that he wanted to use animation rcels from the attack as promotion material. Fortunately, people hid all of the production materials from him. Obviously, this can in no way be justified and that all this paints Takami Akai in a very bad light, but I haven’t listened to the whole commentary track myself, so I can’t say anything for sure.

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And so there you have my 2 pennies worth! Whatever the film makers intentions may have been, the fact is that ‘that scene’ is not merely one scene among many, but feeds into the whole rest of the film, and I think it has to be viewed this way. To many people seem to take the scene on it’s own, as a horrible and shocking piece, which it is, but when taken as a part of the whole it is not completely gratuitous or unnecessary. Are there other ways the film makers could have portrayed this? Probably. But they chose this way, and instead of just booing it, it’s important to see why it’s there.

Open Class: Stanislavski Continues at the Moscow Arts Theatre

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The first thing I noticed about Moscow is how big everything is: The buildings are massive, the roads huge and the beards impressive. The next thing I noticed is the total lack of English, that is, the lack of even a Latin based alphabet. Now, this might sound obvious, but for those of you who don’t know, Russia uses a Cryillic alphabet which is very beautiful but very different from our own. Again, this may all sound pretty obvious but it surprised me just how much having a different alphabet would affect me. I’ve been travelling quite a lot this year but Russia is the first place I’ve been that I was unable to at least guess the road signs. Every now and again a word might jump out at you, but it’s rare. This turned out to be rather daunting and somehow exhausting. It makes things such as taking the Metro an intimidating task, but more about the Metro later.

What also didn’t help, was the amount of horror stories one hears before going somewhere. Endless warnings were given us about how harsh everything is, how we shouldn’t smile and how dangerous the streets are. All these things travel with you, and you enter the country on guard. Well, surprise surprise, it turns out that most of this is wildly over exaggerated. Sure the streets are dangerous; as dangerous as any big city. It is true however, that no one really smiles! At the beginning of the week we took part in a cabaret of sorts. During the introduction the hosts made comic remarks about the “Russian face” – a sort of lifeless, fed up expression. They told us we could use this anywhere we went – and it seemed kind of true. Our hosts then made jokes about how foreign men could find and woo Russian girls: “Hello.” Says one of the hosts pretending to be a foreign man approaching a Russian girl. “Ah!” cries the other, taking on the role of the female, “Ah! I love you! Please!” He (she) thows himself onto his knees and embraces the other around the waist. “I’ll be the best wife you can ask for! Just please, take me away from this country!”

But it’s harder for girls to meet Russian men we are warned: “Hello.” Says the foreign girl. “Oh! Oh you are beautiful! Please take me with you! Get me away from this country!”

In this humour, one can sense a bitter irony, I suspect that as much of a joke as this was, a small amount of truth can be found in it.  Perhaps more so for the older generation, as younger people felt a bit more free and weren’t so fond of the “Russian face”.

This “Russian face” was very popular indeed on the metro, and as promised, I’d like to spare a word for the Metro.

I’m pretty sure this was the station next to my hotel

It. Is. Amazing. Words cannot describe it. You’re on an escalator and already you begin to notice how big everything is, how high the ceilings are, etc. You get to the bottom, walk around a corner and notice hundreds of chandeliers lighting your way!

The Moscow Metro was first opened in 1935 and is apparently the third most used underground rail system in the world. It was made over a large number of years and was delayed by WW2, also, the art deco style at some point met with more Soviet themes. Then in the cold war, more stations were opened to act as shelters in the event of a nuclear war. Due to all this, every station seems to have its own distinct and individual style, and whilst one can defiantly notice that what we’re in is a glorified bomb shelter, you cannot help but marvel at the architecture. The trains themselves are fantastic, again from different times. My favourite ones being these wonderful art deco things that must date back to the 40’s or 50’s. They threaten to slice you in half if you don’t clear the door in time, and they rattle along quite noisily. I really could have spent hours going from station to station looking at the decor. Interestingly there is a book called Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky in which people are forced to live inside the Moscow Metro system after nuclear bombardment. I’d quite like to read it.

How cool looking is the Metro map?

Moscow, as a city, didn’t feel especially hospitable, what it is though, is beautiful and fascinating. I really felt like it was a city of opposing elements, in certain parts of the city you can really feel hung over Soviet influences fighting with more capitalist elements. As everyone knows, Russia has a fascinating, rich and tragic history, and all this is immediately noticeable in the city. Remnants of the past are to be found everywhere. Architecturally the city is stunning, as I said the buildings are huge and beautifully extravagant, some of the more wondrous buildings can be found in the marvellous Red Square, such as St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. Monuments and statues from various moments in history are scattered throughout the city. For me, some of the most impressive pieces were left over from the Soviet era; large, imposing statues of Lenin, fantastic tributes to the working classes, etc. I wont try to describe much because it really all has to be seen first hand. I can not overstate how fascinating it all is though.

Monument to the conquerors of space

My favourite thing I saw in the city, and probably my favourite piece of architecture ever, was located near our hotel (and more on the hotel in a bit!) in Prospect Mira. It is called ‘Monument to the conquerors of space’ and it’s a 110 metre tall, titanium spaceship taking off. The monument was built in 1964 to celebrate the achievements of Soviet space exploration. But actually, it wasn’t the spaceship that impressed me so much; around the base of the monument are two absolutely stunning murals telling the story of space exploration. It’s almost like something you might dig up in an ancient tomb, albeit a bit more sci-fi. The images are rendered in sharp, almost comic bookish style, which was typical of Soviet art. It depicts scientists working on new technologies and astronauts climbing stairs into the heavens, all under the watchful eye of Lenin. It’s completely fascinating and totally beautiful. The monument was located in a park, which was all space themed with metal statues of the solar system and constellations, etc. Even our hotel was called The Hotel Cosmos.

And just a very quick word on the hotel. If you have seen the film Day Watch by Timur Bekmambetov, then you have seen our hotel. You know the bit when the car drives across the side of the building before crashing though the windows – that’s our hotel! And that’s about the coolest thing about it. It was built around 1980 by French and Soviet architects for the XXII Moscow Olymics. The place was huge, our room being located on the 22nd floor, it was also, for lack of a better phrase, a bit tacky! The sort of place for wealthy businessmen looking for cheap thrills and expensive entertainment. Everything was overcharged and the place was teeming with prostitutes, who actually seemed like nice girls but they didn’t bother talking to us, I presume because of our unkept, slightly scruffy attire. I think they were probably catering to a different (read: richer) class of man. Either way, it was an experience, and it was very kind of the Moscow Art Theatre to put us up there. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a proper hotel like that before.

Now imagine it flashing around the sides and top every night…

And look at this, almost 1000 words in and finally I mention the Moscow Art Theatre! Now lets talk about the actual reason I was in Moscow in the first place!

Anyone who has studied acting or performance should have heard of the Moscow Art Theatre. It is the theatre that was founded by Constantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898. The theatre was first created as a place to break away from the melodramas that were popular in Russia at the time, and to instead showcase a more ‘naturalistic’ theatre. It goes without saying, that here, for the first time, shows were put on regularly using the Stanislavski acting method. The MAT soon became one of the most well known and respected theatres in the world. Obviously it’s not quite that simple, and the theatre had many ups and downs, but I’m not going to go into its history right now.

When you walk into the MAT there is a family tree of all the people involved, from Satislavski and Danchenko all the way up to now. Just glancing over this makes you remember just how important this theatre was and just how exciting it is to become part of its history. One can find on this family tree impressive names such as Anton Chekov, Mikail Bulgakov (whom we visited the house of…and it was wicked cool) and Vsevolod Mererhold (personally my favourite theatre practitioner) just to name a few.

This year the MAT are celebrating their 150th anniversary, and as a part of these celebrations they decided to hold a week long festival earlier this month. Invited to perform in the festival were 9 schools from San Francisco, Italy, France, Hungry, St Petersburg, Poland, Germany, the MAT itself, and of course England. Our show ‘Pages from the Book of…’ based on the life and work of Bruno Schulz, was selected to represent England in the festival. The festival itself was given the name ‘Open Class: Stanislavski Continues’. By calling it an ‘open class’ the MAT are attempting to open a forum for discussion in which each of us could watch one another’s work, discuss and see what is being done on the world stage. There was no competitive element to the festival like in the Istropolitana Projekt in Bratislava, instead we were just encouraged to meet other theatre people, discuss ideas and see how Stanislavski’s ideas have evolved, changed and been adapted over time. Suffice it to say, it was a huge honour to be a part of such a prestigious festival, and it was uber-cool to perform on a stage in the MAT!

Some of the work was great as well. What surprised me was how little of it was naturalistic in style, I was expecting to get there and be one of the craziest things on stage, but actually this wasn’t at all the case.

Without a doubt the best thing I saw, was a show called “FUTURISMVISIONS” by the school in St. Petersburg. The work was developed from a class project and made up of 22 etudes based on Futurism poetry. Linking these was a fantastic band made up of industrial, found (may I venture to say MERZ) objects, which set up the world perfectly. Here, we were presented with an industrial hell in which the upper classes were the denizens and victims of war its public. This was 3 hours of abstract Russian poetry which had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Obviously, I didn’t understand a word of it, but the visual, musical and performative elements were just stunning. Luckily, I know enough about Russian history and Futurism to grasp onto some of the basic ideas if nothing else. Even so, this was one of the finest performances I’ve seen in a while.

As I said, it was an honour to make up the English contingency of this festival and I was very glad to see how well our show was received. As usually happens I had people approaching me saying “Where’s my father?” which always makes me very happy. You see, in the show my character is forever searching for his father with little to no luck, so this has sort of become my catch phrase! In general, people were very appreciative of the show and seemed to enjoy it greatly.

Also, on a slightly unrelated note, a lovely hungarian girl approached me and told me that I am the spitting image of her fiancé! So much so, that she had to double take at me when I walked on stage. So, not only is there a Slovak Jack, there is also a Hungry Jack out there in the world somewhere. Also, one of our guys found his Russian double and the likeness is really very strong. This always seems to happen when we travel abroad!

Anyway, if you would like to know a little more about the Open Class: Stanislavski Continues festival and about old Stan himself, here is an interview that the head of my school Michael Early gave on Russian TV. There is also, floating somewhere on the Russian digi-sphere a news report with me being interviewed! Although I can’t seem to find it right now I know it exists, because it was on the Russian Channel 1 at about 10am! We saw it on the hotel lobby tv! How very exciting.

In fact, this whole trip was very exciting. I never thought I’d go to Russia, and god knows I never dreamed I’d be performing in the Moscow Art Theatre! I really cannot thank the organisers of Open Class and of course Rose Bruford College enough for making this possible.

Now, I have realised that I’ve spoken about this show quite a lot on this blog, and hopefully, will do many more times. However, many people who don’t know me and haven’t read any of my older posts probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Obviously I can always link you to our website, but I think it might be nice to have something a little closer to home too, so, in the next few days I’m going to make a new page on this blog about the show and the company. Maybe I’ll continue to do this with other projects too, and make this blog a little hub for myself.

Next time I’ll hopefully have news about my other theatre group The Same, But Different, and some novel related news.

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K.

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About a day ago, I arrived in Moscow to perform as part of the ‘Open Class: Stanislavski Continues’ festival with my show Pages from the Book of…

The festival is a congregation of international drama schools, in which we are the British contingency. It’s all very very exciting, and I’ll make sure to do a long post on it when I return to sunny England (I highly doubt I’m going to have time to do it here).

In the meantime, here is a post I wrote about a week ago, after I finished reading Franz Kafka’s The Trial and never got round to posting.

It’s interesting that the final chapter of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, is the shortest and most abrupt. Before now, the book had carried on in long-winded and excruciatingly eventless chapters. That’s not to say it’s boring or without meaning! No, no, no! Each chapter is carefully constructed to emulate the slow, or in fact motionless nature of the court which has accused Joseph K. At the same time, they supply just enough information and present enough intrigue to explain K.’s insistence to take his case into his own hands, and to keep the reader, at all times, on tender hooks.

The Trial is the most famous, and often regarded as the greatest of Kafka’s works. It’s a masterpiece of literature, and as such, I don’t need to tell you how beautiful the writing is, how profound the philosophy or engaging the story is. I also don’t have to recommend that you read it, instead I need only inform you that it should be read without need of recommendation.

So, instead of all these things, I’m just going to share some of my thoughts on the book, and specifically, on the final chapter. It goes without saying that there are SPOILERS AHEAD, so you have been warned. It should also be obvious that there will have been hundreds and hundreds of people, most of whom are smarter, or at least better educated than me, who have interpreted the book, so these are just my ideas.

The Trial, like much of Kafka’s work, remains unfinished. But this is merely a detail, and it doesn’t change the fact that the story does end. In an afterwards by Max Brod, a friend of Kafka, he explains that Joseph K.’s case would never have made it to the high-court spoken of in the book, and though Kafka planned to explore the later stages of the trial and the workings of the mysterious court, the case, in many ways, would go no further, and so the book could in fact ‘stretch on to infinity’. But, it doesn’t. The book ends, and the trial of Joseph K. is abruptly and violently closed, and this, is a very important thing. I think an interesting question, is why the book came to an end the way it did.

At an early stage in the book, I guessed thatJoseph K.’s case would come to a bad end, although, the dismal and somewhat cold conditions in which he was dispatched, did come as a surprise. The reasoning for this end, is highlighted in the final chapter. In fact, I think that the final chapter stands as a summery and parable for the entire book. It calls to mind another moment earlier in the story. In the chapter called ‘The Cathedral’ a priest, who is also the Prison Chaplin for the court tells K. a parable from the Court Scriptures. This parable is then deconstructed by both characters in so many ways that the meaning of it becomes completely lost and they take from it what they will. The final chapter acts as a similar parable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the unfortunate downfall of Joseph K. finds its way into the Court Scriptures.

After fighting his case for over a year, two men arrive at K.’s house to execute him. The arrival of these two men obviously mirrors the first chapter, in which two warders arrive to inform K. of his arrest. The difference, is in tone. Here, K. is not caught unawares, but he half expected the men to arrive and he resigns himself to his fate. The men do not try to appease him, hardly engaging him in conversation at all. Instead, they remain solemnly quiet. It is very important, that at no point do they explain the reason for their appearance to K. He asks them if they were appointed for him, and they merely bow. From here, K. collects his hat and coat and leaves with the men. When they try to hold him, he insists that he remain free until they are outside. So, when they do restrain K. outside, it means that he has not only presumed their mission, but he has begun the journey towards his death on his own free will, and he has also given himself over to their hold. I can’t help but wonder what would have been if he had refused to go with the men, or at least if he had insisted to remain unrestrained. But even when held by the two men, it is still K. who leads the way. The two men represent the court both literally, and abstractly. From the very beginning of the trial, K. has been in the courts grasp, but it has not physically moved him. Instead, he has remained under its shadow, but has been independent in his choice of where to go and what to do.

As they walk, the following passage follows; “Under the street lamps, K. tried time and time again to see his companions more clearly than he had in the dusk of his room.” But, trying as he might, he can only catch brief glimpses of them. Again, this passage exists as a metaphor for the entire situation with the court. K. is always attempting as hard as he can, to learn more about the workings of the court, but with every step he takes, the whole thing becomes more mysterious and unknown.

Put out by the sort of people the court has sent to collect him, and in this, the whole way in which the court conducts its workings, K. comes to a stop, and so do the two wardens. It is in this moment of defiance that K. sees Fraulein Buchner, or someone who reminds him of her. The two warders are said to “try to repel K. from the spot; but he resisted them.” In this chapter, there is at all times, both the literal reading and the metaphoric meaning. So taking it literally, I must conclude that the two warders were simply prompting K. forward, because I can’t see how the two large men could be resisted so easily.  In the abstract then, it could speak about the way that the court often prompted K. into action with small tidbits of information and glimmers of hope.

When Fraulein Buchner appears, we are reminded of K,’s tendency to become distracted from his case by women. In this moment, he realises that resistance is futile and so, carries on his way, again of his own accord and again condemned by no other than himself. He resolves to go to the end of his case dignified, and at peace with himself.

“In complete harmony all three made their way across a bridge in the moonlight…”

So we come to the third section of their journey. If the first step of the journey is K. leading the court, as he did in the first few chapters of the book, and the second step is K.’s forced stop of the warders. The third step, is when K. and the warders all move in unison, and work together to reach the final verdict. The next break, comes when the trio stop in unison, and K. actually prompts the warders to move on himself by stating “I did not mean to stop completely.” So we come full circle and when K. and the court come to a standstill, it is K. himself who restarts the solemn death march.

Police line the way and soon the group is approached by a policeman on account of looking suspicious. The two wardens stop, but as the Policeman is about to speak K. drags the wardens onward and forces them to flee the Policeman. I have a few ideas about this bit. My first, and most immediate thought is that this scene represents K.’s tendency to refuse help from others. The Policeman, depending on how you look at it, could be seen as a representation of the court (as the court is of the law, as is the Policeman) in which case he could represent characters like the Prison Chaplin, or the Advocate who K. dismissed, against all advice. Or he could be seen as representing those outside the court (because the court certainly doesn’t hold up the traditional law of the policeman) and he could represent figures like K.’s Uncle or the artist Titorreli who could have helped K. had he not run away. K.’s act of running from the Policeman could also be because simply at any time someone has interfered with K.’s case it has somehow become more convoluted and unachievable.

So it is K. who leads the court, running out of the town and to the place of his execution. Here, the roles change a bit and the court finally takes the lead. The warders undress K. and find a suitable place to carry out the sentence. They lay him awkwardly over a rock and present a manner of execution which is as unconventional as I would expect from this bizarre and cruel trial. They produce a large, double-edged butchers knife and begin passing it over K. to one another, unable to decide who should carry out the sentence. It is written; “K. now perceived that he was supposed to seize the knife and plunge it into his own breast. But he did not do so…”

The act of taking the knife and killing himself would affirm the idea, here, that all the events leading up to and including the execution were entirely in his own hands. What’s important, is that he doesn’t do it. It wouldn’t be unreasonable now, to imagine that his death be postponed indefinitely and that the wardens might pass the knife back and forth over K.’s head for the rest of eternity.

But this is not to be. Looking around he sees a figure, or figures, in a window. A sudden burst of hope ignites inside K. as he wonders who, or what it might be. “Who was it? A friend? A good man? Or were they all there? Were there some arguments in his favour that had been overlooked? Of course there must be.” And just as quickly as this hope sets in, it is forcibly extinguished as he is struck through the heart (and it’s too late).

And so the trial of Joseph K. comes to its melancholic end.

As I said, the last chapter basically sums up the whole book, through its various implied elements. But it does one other thing; it ends the story, and in doing so, changes the whole book. From the start, it is clear that Joseph K. will be the architect of his own demise. The only action of the court, is to inform K. of his arrest. After this a first hearing is held, which K. dominates and leads the discussion. From here, K. is advised not to take action and wait for developments. After this, almost nothing is heard from the court, and K. is not really worried about his case. But in time, and specifically after the visit of his uncle, he becomes increasingly frustrated and begins to make inquiries, etc, of his own accord. We are given every reason to believe that this is the incorrect course of action, and that through ignoring advise to allow the case move along on its own accord, K. is actually moving it forward, and it is through this, that the case becomes less likely to succeed. We can see this in characters like Block who, after taking things into his own hands by hiring a number of ‘hedge-advocates’ found that his case is going badly. Obviously, the best course of action would have been to take no action at all after the first hearing. However, as K. stands still with his two wardens, it is he, not they, that moves the case forward.

But a contradiction occurs at the end when he refuses to snatch the knife and stab himself. The wardens (the court) are the ones who do it. Therefore, at the end, it is not K. who condemns himself, but the court after all. K. may have helped arrive at this point, but it is the court who do the final executing. In this moment, K. is absolved of his many mistakes and again becomes a victim of the court, not a self destructive fool. The fact that the end of the trial mirrors the beginning makes one think that the outcome of the case was always inevitable, and that K. never had any sway over it whatsoever.

It’s also important that K. dies just as new hope is kindled in him, and that in his dying breath, he sees the faces of the two wardens watching him die. This reaffirms the cruelty of the court and calls into question its operation. Does it operate by feeding K. false hope and then taking it away? Does it trick K. into moving the case forward just so that it can watch him slowly destroy himself, and ultimately watch the life drain from his eyes?

Like the Prison Chaplin’s parable, this last chapter (and of course the whole book) could have a number of possible interpretations, and probably after much discussion would render the whole thing meaningless – maybe that’s the point. But for me, I felt that the parable was violently and interestingly changed in this last chapter with the untimely death of Joseph K.

All the ideas above are sort my first impressions and if I let myself I could quite happily sit here thinking about it for several more hours.

I’ve really enjoyed this book, and I’ll make sure to read Kafka’s other works at some point soon.

Edward Degas and his Ballerinas

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Edward Degas story starts out as one of those lovely “Dad wanted me to go to law school but I said ‘Nay Father. Art is my life!'” type affairs.

Son of Banker Augustin De Gas, Degas first act of defiance was to change his last name to something slightly less pretentious sounding. After this, it was to pursue art. This was all very early in his life, and by the time he was 18 he’d turned his bedroom into a studio for his paintings. It was after this, that Dad told him to go to law school, which like a dutiful son, he did. He enrolled at the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris in 1853, but didn’t really put much effort into his studies. Two years later, in 1855 Degas met fellow French artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Now, who of my few loyal followers recognises that name? We spoke a little bit about Ingres a few weeks ago in the post about Odalisque art. Degas was very taken with Ingres, who had told him to “Draw lines, young man, many lines”. Inspired, Degas went to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts later that year (Ecole des Beaux-Arts is still a very influential art school in Paris). Here, Degas studied with Louis Lamothe (1822 – 1869). After this, in 1856, he moved to Italy and started copying some of the great works by people such as Michelangelo and Raphael, etc.

Degas continued to copy pictures and began to make a healthy living as a copyist whilst working on original works. He began working on studies of horses. His painting Scene from the Steeplechase: the Fallen Jockey marked a departure from the more traditional history paintings, to more contemporary subject matters. This change was partly inspired by another  French buddy of Degas called Édouard Manet (1832 – 1883). This was a very important moment in Degas artistic career when he began to draw scenes from real life. These included many scenes of horse tracks and, of course, of ballerinas. This may seem pretty standard now, but depicting scenes from everyday life was quite rare at the time.

Degas is sometimes called the ‘Painter of dancing girls’. There are a few reasons for his obsession. Some, believe it to be voyeuristic, but others have disputed this claim. It’s a fact that dancers and models at the time often worked as prostitutes on the side, due to poor wages. It is almost certain that Degas did not partake of any of this, but there are plenty of nude pictures that would have been modeled by these girls. There are also stories of him making his models stand in painful positions for hours on end. Perhaps there was some sort of cruel satisfaction to be had this way. There’s also the possibility that this was purposeful, and Degas was making a point about the physical harm that ballerinas do themselves in the pursuit to master their discipline. All Degas wrote himself on the subject was;

It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.

Two Dancers in the Studio 1

Degas was a huge fan of the opera and ballet and Paul Trachtman writes; ‘At the ballet Degas found a world that excited both his taste for classical beauty and his eye for modern realism.’ He used the ballet as a way to create new forms of painting that could describe fluidity and movement. The ballerinas are probably Degas most famous and well received works.

In 1870 Degas joined the National Guard with the start of the Franco-Prussian War. For obvious reasons, Degas didn’t do too much painting during this time, and what’s worse, he developed a defect in his eyesight, which continued to bug him for the rest of his life.

The war ended in 1872 and Degas stayed in Louisiana with some family members for a year. During this time he painted a number of works depicting family members. This painting below (painted during this time) was the only one of his works to be bought by a museum during his life.

In 1874 (by which time Degas was back in Paris) his father died. Then it came to light that Degas brother had been a bit careless with his monies. To keep the family afloat (and respectable) financially, Degas sold his house and art collection. For the first time in his life, Degas was actually dependant on his art sales to live. He stopped doing profitless exhibitions, and joined a group of artists who were intent on making a society for independent exhibitions. The exhibitions these guys were putting on quickly became known as ‘Impressionist Exhibitions’. Even though Degas hated the title he took a lead role in the Imperialists exhibitions.

As I said, Degas hated the title, and the reputation the Imperialists had. He was pretty public about this opinion which didn’t really do him any favours in the group. Some people say that he was actually as anti-Impressionist as some of the critics were. His style and method of work were also not very Impressionist. He kept to his darker paint pallet rather than adopting the bright colours of the Impressionists and he always worked indoors. In fact, he often made fun of the Impressionists for their tendency to paint outdoors.

He also insisted on including some more traditional painters in the exhibitions. All of this helped to pull the group apart and they disbanded in 1886. By this time though, Degas was making a reasonable living from his art.

Unfortunately Degas eyesight remained problematic and got much worse as he grew old. As a way to combat this, Degas started to sculpt. He started making wax figures, possibly as a way to work on something that he could mould and feel now that his vision was failing. The most famous sculpture of Degas isThe Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer. It’s a wax sculpture that stands at 39 inches and is adorned in real clothes – a tutu and ribbon for the hair (which is a wig). The figure is based on a real dancer called Marie van Goethem, who was sometimes referred to as ‘little rat’. The reception of her sculpture isn’t much better and it was often referred to as being ugly. This ugliness at the time was also linked to the idea of loose morels, and questions of Degas sexuality and voyeuristic leanings are again brought into question.

One thing I’d like to point out which I think is wonderful, is that when Degas made the original, he created a skeleton out of paintbrushes! Isn’t that great? I love the idea that she was completely made up of his own art tools. You can still see this sculpture nowadays, but mostly only in brass reproductions.

Self Portrait

And here’s where it all gets a little depressing…

As he grew older, Degas secluded himself from many people because apparently he believed that artists can’t have personal lives. After this, in the early 1890’s it became apparent that Degas had certain antisemitic qualities. This obviously caused all his Jewish friends to break contact with him, and Degas became very lonely. He stopped painting in 1912 and was thereafter forced to leave his long term home due to demolition. He moved to quarters on the boulevard de Clichy. He didn’t marry, his eyesight got worse and he died, half blind, wandering the streets of Paris in 1917.

All of these artists have such morbid ends…I’m hoping to find some artists who didn’t die alone or disease ridden soon, or else I might start to question my own life decisions.

To check out Degas’ complete works check out this great site.
Next up: Poker playing Dogs.