I didn’t know John Huston directed Moulin Rouge in 1952. A friend, who also likes old movies, shared a couple DVDs with me and this is one of them. I never saw the 2001 Moulin RougeI (and probably won’t because it sounds like a very different story).
Huston’s Moulin Rouge is a biopic, the story of the famous painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec, played convincingly by José Ferrer, frequents this cabaret where all the colorful characters of 19th century Paris convene to dance, drink and often fight (not only the men, but most likely, the ladies). Lautrec was born into a noble family. At and early age he is injured falling down the stairs and the doctors fail to repair his bones as they should. Thus Lautrec’s growth is stunted making him a social misfit.
Yes, he’s witty, smart and talented, but when his first love rejects him running from the room when he declares his love, Lautrec decides he’ll never fit in the country, in his father’s world so he heads to Paris and paints the dancers and clowns at the Moulin Rouge and shares drinks and barbs with the best artists of his day: Cezanne, Monet, etc.
Twice in his life he meets a pivotal woman. The first is a low class manipulator and I pitied Henri as he pined for this deceptive sponge. Later he meets a woman worthy of love, but he’s too jaded to expect that a woman would really love him.
I didn’t expect much of this film, mainly because I’d never heard of it. I found it an absorbing biography of a witty, fascinating artist.
I’ve watched this engrossing, enlightening YouTube video by Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting, three times. He makes it clear how much more absorbing a Kurosawa film is than your average Hollywood film often due to the masterful use of movement.
What’s more, I enjoyed spotting the films I’d seen: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, One Wonderful Sunday, I Live in Fear and Ikiro.
I saw this nifty film on my flight back from China. Tim’s Vermeer is a documentary about a friend of Penn Jennett, the magician, who has always loved to tinker and invent. Tim Jenison, who has a software company and earned buckets of money creating various kinds of software, gets fascinated by Johannes Vermeer’s paintings. Vermeer made no records of how he worked and his paintings intrigued Tim because they have such an illuminated, photographic quality. As an inventor, Tim knows a lot about optics and lenses (and all sorts of engineering sorts of things). He believes that Vermeer must have used optics to paint and he goes about trying to replicate Vermeer’s technique.
The film demonstrates camera obscura’s and explains the inventions of the day. Narrated by his old school pal, Jennet, the film follows Tim through the lengthy process of recreating Vermeer’s studio and getting the lens apparatus to work. Tim is not a painter, but with this technique, which is quite cool, that’s not a hindrance. David Hockney appears in a few scenes to comment on whether Tim’s on the right track, whether this method might be right.
It’s fun to see a smart amateur take on such a project. It’s a short film and Tim is very down to earth. I cheered him on as he explored this fascination with Vermeer.
When I was in Beijing, I went to the 798 Art Space. I’d been there a few years ago and this time it seemed more commercialized. While there were cafes and shops before there seem to be more or else there just seemed to be fewer galleries open. Some galleries have started to charge and although they just asked for 10 rmb, that adds up and in a country with so many fantastic museums that are free paying made no sense.
I was pleased that I figured out how to get out to 798 on public transportation. You can just take the subway to Dongzhimen and then a bus out to 798. Beijing cabbies overcharge tourists relentlessly.
I just discovered a neat YouTube series on art journaling with several cool projects to try.
Be prepared to be blown away. Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry packs quite a punch. This documentary shows Chinese artist cum activist Ai Wei Wei as he stands up for victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and seeks justice after police break into his hotel room in Chengdu and beat him.
The film fascinated me. It follows Ai as he tries to get the government to publish the real numbers of students who died in the flimsy school buildings in Sichuan. With newsreel footage and interviews, it shows the torture and abuse his father endured in the 1950s. I’ve read several books, fiction and non-fiction, about the Anti-Rightist Campaign. The stark newsreels of neighbor denouncing neighbor deepened my understanding of this horrible period.
The documentary shows Ai in New York where he started his art career and in Europe installing current works. Filmmakers follow him as he pursues justice after being beaten by police and detained so that he was unable to testify on behalf of another Chinese activist, who was found guilty.
Ai is mesmerizing. He’s bold, audacious, brave, down-to-earth and shrewd. He’s figured out the power of social media and despite the government’s censorship has attracted a following of Chinese who share his desire for transparency and democracy. These folks aren’t just spectators as we see when Ai protests the government mandated demolition of the studio the government told him to build, hordes show up for his protest. They know they’re being watched and recorded and are willing to take that risk.
Ai knows what the government’s up to and finds clever ways to show it for what it is. Though he doubts he can win, he works within the system seeking justice from the police whom illegally knocked in his hotel room door, beat and detained him. By recording every step of his bureaucratic quest for justice, he shows the world how the government works and that all is not well in the new China.
I found the interviews with fellow artists and Evan Osnos of the New Yorker insightful and trenchant. They show how people who care about China will stick their necks out to make it better, even though they doubt they’ll see improvement.
Living in China myself, I see the good parts and know that experiences like Ai’s and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo‘s are true, but it’s so easy to forget. I’m grateful for this movie that reminds me and fleshes out Ai WeiWei’s life and work.
Never Sorry is available on Netflix.
Ai Wei Wei’s Gangnam Style Parody