Go watch “Eastern Promises” (this is an order!)

January 6, 2008 at 11:57 am | Posted in Film, Popular Culture | 14 Comments
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Viggo MortensenFriday night we went to see Cronenberg’s latest movie “Eastern Promises” which once more features Viggo Mortensen (also starring in A History of Violence from 2005, the previous Cronenberg film). I don’t regret the least bit that Cronenberg has over the years left the path of sexual horrors (e.g. Rabid* or The Brood**, one of the weirdest conceivable stories possible) and is now dedicating his attention to the more banal, yet more sickening horrors of what people can do to each other. To me, the latter is much more edifying.

Eastern Promises is a story about the Russian mafia in London: A 14 year-old prostitute dies during child-birth, leaving behind a daughter and a diary. A nurse (Naomi Watts) confiscates the diary and does her own research – which takes her right into the beehive of the vory v zakone (“Thieves in Law”, a term used to describe the Russian mafia). Viggo Mortensen plays Nikolai or Kai, the toughest of them all, but since he is not family, he needs to carve out a career for himself by serving as a driver and henchman to Kirill (Vincent Cassel), the son of big dog Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Of course Semyon is not to pleased about the nurses’ interest in his family’s past and present business.

Mortensen refuses to be called a method actor, but nonetheless went through considerable efforts to get into character: He learned Russian, spent a couple of months in Russia and went to Russian bars in full gear, i.e. with the tattoos on his body that Russian mafiosi (supposedly) sport (and when he went there, some people, nervously, moved further away from him).

I’d like to be able to watch and listen to the movie with Russian ears and eyes, as none of the main characters is played by a Russian – yet it seems they all do a pretty good job at blending in (only Mueller-Stahl has a notable German accent in his speech).

The most memorable features of the film: On the one hand Mortensen’s acting, in particular his interaction with Cassel (whom I adore ever since I saw him in La haine) and with Watts (who gets to play the least interesting, occasionally annoying character of all – like women often do – in that she constantly does things that make you go “no, don’t, how can you be so stupid” – if this were a horror movie, she’d be the one to say ‘I’ll be right back’). On the other hand, of course, there’s Cronenberg’s superb direction, in particular his honest, straightforward approach to the representation of violence. No frills, no guns, just a naked knife fight, but what a fight! It made the whole audience moan. And Steven Knight’s screenplay has a few stunning twists in stall.

Denise Cronenberg was once more the costume designer – and we can be grateful for her job. At least I am grateful for every costume designer who does not expose us to the candy floss world of American prime time series, but instead attempts to show us real people in their natural environment.

*Rabid: A young woman develops a taste for human blood after undergoing experimental plastic surgery, and – by penetrating her victims with a small phallus growing in her armpit, turns them into rabid, blood-thirsty zombies who proceed to infect others, which turns into a city-wide epidemic.
**The Brood: A man’s wife is under the care of an eccentric psychiatrist who uses innovative and theatrical techniques to breach the psychological blocks in his patients. When their daughter comes back from a visit with mom and she’s covered with bruises and welts, the father attempts to bar his wife from seeing the daughter, but faces resistance from the secretive psychiatrist. Meanwhile, the wife’s mother and father are attacked by deformed children, and the husband begins to suspect a connection with the psychiatrist’s methods. Turns out these children are the brood of the women, children she gives birth to using an external reproductive organ whenever she gets angry.

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Recognize my Simpsonized Self?

October 13, 2007 at 6:00 pm | Posted in Popular Culture | 4 Comments
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It is kind of evil that our all-time-favourites The Simpsons are now Börger Kinger testimonials, but I quite like my simpsonized self. Go here if you want to get simpsonized, too.

My Simponized Self

My Simponized Self

This is England

October 7, 2007 at 11:08 am | Posted in Popular Culture | 4 Comments
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Here is a movie that is probably going to please the taste of all ye chav haters out there: This is England, directed by Shane Meadows. Excerpt from a plot summary on IMDB.com:

This is England: Mods, New Romantics, and Skinheads are the major youth sub-cultures of this very English summer of 1983 and young 12-year-old Shaun is left wandering aimlessly alone and lost during the start of his school holidays, until his chance meeting with Woody and his fun and friendly Skinhead pack. Finding a new lease of life; girls, parties, Ben Sherman shirts, Doc Martin boots and shaven hairstyles young Shaun is welcomed, life during this summer holiday has got a whole lot better. That is until Combo arrives on the scene bitter, dangerous, racist, militant and psychotic life for young Shaun has just approached his first major crossroads. This is England is a look back at the early eighties of British working-class life through the eyes of young Shaun and his new gang, and dealing with the bitterness of outside influences such as racism and xenophobia, of mass unemployment and the fall out of the Falkland’s War; Thatcher’s Britain: Did we ever have it so good? When you see Shaun, ask Him.

Recommended by Pingo2000, who also no longer blogs.

I’m a busy bee (during carnival)

February 11, 2007 at 11:09 am | Posted in Gender, Popular Culture | 3 Comments
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And now for something completely mundane: Carnival in Cologne is coming up and I’ve been working on my costume this weekend. I am going to be a busy bee this season. I made a two-piece costume consisting of a skirt and a top made of yellow-black man-made fur. In order not to be confused with a tiger, I am going to stuff the top with paper, which will make me look more like a bumble bee, probably. I am going to wear 1975 (approx.) Nina Ricci sunglasse to fake the insect eyes, but I still need to get a a hair ring with two golden globes on a wire. I know exactly what I want, which is why it will be difficult to get 😉

Wieverfasteleer It would be perfect with wings, but I don’t really want to buy any, so I might go without. In that case, I might just attach a memo on the back of my costume, saying “Genetically Modified Queen Bee. No Sting, no Wings. International Patent”, which would also be good to add at least a slight political note to my costume. Also in honour of Bakhtin’s notion of Carnival, which is supposed to defy the regular social order – it’s the only time that subversion is de rigeur (and hence not a subversion, as we know).

This costume shall also keep me warm on the 15th of February, Weiberfastnacht, my favourite day in Carnival, where the celebrations begins at 11.11. in the morning. Weiberfastnacht means Women’s Carnival (rather: hag’s carnival), and the women take charge of the city of Cologne at that hour. Who ever wears a tie is going to lose it – it’s tradition to cut off the tie of anybody who dares to wear one that day (the mayor is more or less obliged to wear one, in order not to spoil the fun). Symbolic castration – Bakhtin would have liked that. [Image Source]

Kölner Dreigestirn 2005This is the “Kölner Dreigestirn” (Triple Star of Cologne) of 2005: Jungfrau, Prinz, Bauer (Virgin, Prince, Farmer) [Image Source]. There is also a Kinderdreigestirn (Children’s Triple Star) where the Virgin is not impersonated by a boy, but by a girl. Either one thought of such effemination as being too traumatic for a boy (or possibly harmful for his sexual orientation) or they didn’t dare to exclude girls from the honorary offices that are available – a practice that grown-up women are already used to. With the exception of Weiberfastnacht, carnival, and particularly what’s happening in the carnival clubs (Karnevalsgesellschaften) is a strictly male business.

There are only males on the board of each club – interesting fact on the side: The booard of a carnival club is called “Elferrat”, “Board of Eleven”, and during a session, you’ll mostly find 11 men on the stage (see picture below, source). But the origin of ELF is the French Egalité, Liberté, Fraternité – a slogan which the Western German countries under Napoleon, in spite of the occupation, had come to appreciate.

Elferrat

There is only one all-female club, Colombina Colonia, founded in 1999, which – according to my own, unauthoritative perception – did partake in the big parade on Monday (Rosenmontagszug) for the first time in 2006. Oh, and of course there is also a gay carnival club, the Rosa Funken (Pink Sparks – Funke being a typical name of uniform-wearing carnival clubs), Cologne being the gay capital of Germany.

Last year I had a mild form of pood poisoning that sort of spoiled the fun. Hope I’ll last longer this year!

SRK in my bathtub and on KBC2 – a star descending to TV?

February 8, 2007 at 9:57 am | Posted in Bollywood, Entertainment, Film, Popular Culture, Television, Youtube | Leave a comment

Yesterday I stumbled upon the Shah Rukh Khan rules! group in flickr. Quite some time ago, when I posted about the state of the European (in particular German) infatuation with SRK, I took a picture of my bathroom adorned with Bollywood themed devotional cards. Someone called Another Penny Lane left a note on the picture, showing the man in HER bathtub.

SRK

Who wins? No comment necessary. 😀

Penny’s comment also reminded me that it is time to check how SRK is doing on KBC2 – Kaun Bangea Crorepati (Who wants to be a millionaire?). See for yourself – I think he is keeping up, although not quite big enough to walk in Amitabh Bachchan’s shoes.

Regardless of the question of the competition with the Big B, I’m intrigued by the fact that it seems to be possible, after all, for a Bollywood film star to descend to TV (also think of Shilpa Shetty in the Big Brother house – or was her career already faltering?). No such thing is likely to happen in the Western World. Imagine Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, Gwyneth Paltrow or Meryl Streep becoming a TV show host! It would spoil their glossy veneer, I suppose… but does not seem to harm SRK. Or does it? What do you think?

Btw: Watching KBC also seems to be one possible way of learning Hindi – the host’s speech is riddled with English words, and the questions are presented both in English (in writing) and Hindi (read out by the host).

Brief DSDS update: Lindsay and Aleksin were sent home yesterday, Mark Medlock was the show’s king of of hearts [link to video]…

I’m hooked onto DSDS (German Popidol)

February 4, 2007 at 6:42 pm | Posted in Entertainment, German, Popular Culture, Television, Webfilm, Youtube | 4 Comments

There is no point in denying: These days, the lack of TV reception or a cable hook-up cannot prevent you from getting sucked into the abysmal depths of private television. You don’t need a TV set anymore, it’s all on youtube, clipfish, dailymotion (and in no time, all of us computer owners will be coerced to buy a TV licence…).

Nico RaeckeYesterday, for the first time in years, I went OUT in order not to miss a TV show… I watched the DSDS Recall show at my boyfriend’s flat – and unfortunately missed the first ten minutes in which the Nico Raecke story line was resolved. From what I could reconstruct based on the three seconds I managed to catch and what I found on several web pages afterwards, it seems as if Nico gave up, or rather, his probation officer forced him to resign from the show. According to a news report from RTL two days earlier, youth welfare took his four months old son and put him in foster care, allegedly due to the 17-year-old mother’s drug problems. What a story! It would have made an excellent piece of social porn (“Sozialporno”, m., being a term that is currently used in German to refer to reality TV programmes) and would have ensured high ratings. The (in that sense equally pornographic) picture above is taken from a dubious interview conducted by Berliner Zeitung. EDIT: I dug up the web video covering the bits from the show that I missed – but all pieces put together still do not form a coherent story.

Mark MedlockThat kid having gone, there are still enough weirdos on the remaining brigade of wannabe popstars to cause trouble. Camp boy soldier Mark Medlock has already shown that he’s prone to losing his cool (refusing to go on stage in the final round of the recall, then coming up to perform a rather freakish rendition of Summertime without piano accompaniment).

British sounding names are apparently en vogue:

Lauren TalbotHaving appeared with Mark in a duet before, Emily-the-Strange lookalike Lauren Talbot first botched up her final song, and then sang another, a very peculiar but interesting version of, again, Summertime. My prognosis: The two of them will cause some serious psycho trouble if they make it into the motto shows – and considering that the jury’s power is reduced to commenting from the next show on, we can probably assume that both of them already have enough of a fan base to continue.

Here’s a gallery of all 20 contestants – including two brothers and one half of a set of identical twins (and if the better half didn’t have to have surgery on a benign tumor, there could have been two sets of siblings).

Reality TV Update

January 29, 2007 at 10:20 am | Posted in Entertainment, Popular Culture, Television, Youtube | 1 Comment
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Here’s the update on my currently favourite Reality TV shows: Celebrity Big Brother & DSDS (German Pop Idol), both watched via Youtube and Clipfish.

Shilpa ShettyShilpa Shetty wins the 5th season of Celebrity Big Brother, bagging 67% of the votes. Runner-up is the soft-spoken Jermaine Jackson a.k.a. Muhammad Abdul Aziz, bronze was claimed by A-team hunk Dirk Benedict. Fourth came Ian “H” Watkins who had his coming out just briefly before stepping into the house. The media (including Wikipedia) like to point out that Shilpa is the first Indian to win CBB. I’d like to point out that this was the first time that the candidate with the most refined behaviour won, with the second most behaved contender leaving in second place. Dirk, whilst being somewhat of an old grump, still maintained a relatively sophisticated edge, certainly viewed in contrast to the proclaimed “face of hate” (The Sun) Jade Goody and her mother. And it does in my eyes not make a difference whether Shilpa’s demeanour is “authentic” or the conscious result of acting skills and professionalism – it’s quite refreshing seeing someone being NICE to the people around in a reality TV scenario (which normally seems to encourage people to transgress the rules of good conduct), whereas nobody escaped unscathed when Jade and her mom Jackiey were around. So I’d like to take the (possibly) reactionary, opposite stance to the common pro-trash attitude which would perceive of Jade’s and Jackiey’s behaviour as direct and honest, but not necessarily rude.

Related articles: Race, Class, Culture & the Big Brother House
Finally: The Backlash against White Trash TV?

Nico RaeckeThe current edition of DSDS has its first scandal: Nico Raecke appeared to be a particularly conspicuous candidate, first because of his vampiresque eyes, then because of the story he dished up, of a youth spent on the street and in jail, toting a picture of his one-week-old son and presenting himself as a father and husband. Turns out the story was made-up: He does have a son, but also a mother, and she is not a prostitute, but lives in a residential area in Pinneberg with her partner. And what’s worse (for such a format): Nico now sports a ridiculous haircut with shaven ornaments above the ears.

Nico Raecke and motherIf you can read German: Here is the full story, along with a video of him waiting outside his mother’s house to apologize. It will be hard for him now to enter the show, but even if he makes it into to the top ten, he’ll soon be voted out. TV audiences don’t like to be openly lied to, they prefer to ignore that TV is a lie altogether.

Related articles:
Hooked onto DSDS (including a link to Nico’s final appearance on TV)
German Pop Idol: DSDS online

German Pop Idol: DSDS online

January 27, 2007 at 3:05 pm | Posted in Entertainment, German, Popular Culture, Television, Web 2.0 | 3 Comments
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DSDSOf the many Pop Idol franchises, the one with the most contrived name is probably the German one: Deutschland sucht den Superstar (Germany searches the superstar). Given the German predilection for abbreviations, people refer to the show as DSDS (pronounced day ess day ess – think of a North East English accent). It is currently running in its fourth season – I don’t have TV reception, meaning that I cannot watch it when it is aired.

BUT: In the time span between the third and fourth season, RTL has launched its new video community Clipfish – yet another start-up vying for the remains that youtube and myspace have left over. I suppose (but do not know for sure) that Clipfish is linked with RTL Interactive, the successor of RTLnewmedia with whom I had a job as a student employee around the time that the Web 1.0 bubble burst. Even the chat supervisor, i.e. the one that is paid for monitoring an army of unpaid* forum and community moderators, is still the same as five years ago only that he is now dubbed BigFish – it’s quite pathetic if you think about it.

*: well, they get an RTL keyring for Christmas.

ClipfishThe concept of the site isn’t bad though – as is typical for any venture that RTL has a finger in is you can do next to nothing on the site unless you are a registered user (apart from viewing the videos, of course). But in the Web 2.0 days, people don’t seem to mind registering and filling in extensive profiles to fuel their online personalities.

Clipfish is definitely a smart move when it comes to marketing their own TV shows and establishing tight customer relations: All the online activities for the new season of DSDS are managed via Clipfish. In the past, online editors covered the show, wrote biographies and built image galleries – no trace of such effort this time. Instead they’ve reserved a seperate category and subportal for the video coverage of the show on Clipfish.

Carmen LeibEmbedding won’t work (only youtube is supported on wordpress), hence here a link to my favourite contestant so far, although she’ll have a hard time to survive the Recall. 80 kilo goths have never been able to last long on casting shows. Btw, I wonder whether Recall is the appropriate term or just another one folk ethymological anglicism such as “das Handy” for mobile Phone. What Recall it is meant to signify here is the first (non-live) show after the three or four casting sessions during which the ten contestants will be appointed.

NicoThis guy is also interesting – raised in a children’s home, lived on the streets with 12, went to jail, is now married, has a son, and all that at 19. Dieter Bohlen, Germany’s biggest music industry sleaze, immediately became suspicious of him (and said so), most likely the unconscious response of a fat cat against the young and hungry. The kid’s peculiar eyes might have done the rest.

A medley of Jade misbehaving on CBB5

January 20, 2007 at 1:45 pm | Posted in Entertainment, Popular Culture, Race, Television | 2 Comments
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Here is the first part of the interview with evicted contestant Jade Goody last night on Celebrity Big Brother. It includes a roundup of national and international reactions by the media and politics on the racism row in the house, and a “worst of” video of Jade in the house.

Thanks to ArtynmayCBB5 for processing all of this for youtube. Further critical comments to be found on K-Punk.

Face of hate

Race, Class, Culture & the Big Brother House

January 19, 2007 at 10:15 am | Posted in Entertainment, Gender, Popular Culture, Race, Television, Web 2.0 | 4 Comments
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Read Lenina’s post Shilpa vs. Jade: Indian upper-class vs. White working-class and watch the video below. It might stop or flicker when you play it the first time, but once it’s been fully loaded the quality is quite good of that one. I suppose it was uploaded by one one of the Channel 4 employees, as it shows the credits sequence for a suspiciously long time and freezes on the logo in the end.*

Why though did “they” choose to subtitle Shilpa’s, but not Jade’s words? Apparently because Jade’s accent – distinctively working class – was considered typically native. Being a non-native (or non-Brit – that might be the more crucial distinction at work here) I have a much harder time understanding Jade than Shilpa (and I’m quite fond of the Indian accent).

Lenina read the incident as a class issue, the British public predominantly has to read it as a race issue (and display signs of guilt and horror to appease the Commonwealth audience – to whom the show and its continued airing is probably a clear case of colonialist behaviour and discourse).

One could simultaneously look at it as an example of typical problems that may arise in crosscultural communication. As Jade claimed herself, she wasn’t able to read Shilpa or figure out whether she was “genuine” and hence assumed, based on her previous perception of such behaviour (in upper class people), that she wasn’t. Shilpa (even Jade had unknowingly provided her with the code to deconstruct the attack) in turn was hurt because she mainly took in the reproachful comment that she wasn’t genuine and that she played games, but clearly couldn’t see why Jade’s inability to read her disconcerted Jade so much. According to Shilpa, she simply “played the game (= BB) by the rules”. In the same way, Jade wasn’t able to see why what she perceived of as “being direct and honest” was not appreciated, but taken as vile (uneducated) behaviour and interpreted it as an upper class reflex. It couldn’t occur to her that being working class (and behaving like it) was probably not a centre of positive identity construction in some cultures (like the Indian), and looked down upon for other reasons than wanting to deride the uneducated. Etc, etc. Watch the video and see for yourself 😉

Bye the way, eviction night is on tonight on Celebrity Big Brother!

*) Back in the Web 1.0 days, start-ups had to take successful content like comedy show videos off the web because they couldn’t afford the bandwith. These days, they just upload them to youtube. How youtube can afford this is beyond me – but we also do not know yet whether the Web 2.0 bubble is going to burst or not. I think it will, but not quite as dramatically as the last one.

Confessions of a part-time intellectual

January 6, 2007 at 9:59 pm | Posted in Popular Culture | 2 Comments
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Ok, now. With this post, I’d like to confess that the only publication that I get halfway thrilled about these days is InTouch magazine. It’s the only publication I trust at the moment, because everything that is written about in there is so ostensibly made up that it’s almost a satire.

Please spare me any comments that there might be people out there to whom this is not satire, but the glossy, second-hand world they live in in their dreams. Even if that would be true, it would not be my job (or anyone’s) to patronize anyone about the media diet they live on.

Five years ago, reading Gala suddenly became acceptable among working women with an academic degree. Men admitted ‘reading it on the plane’ or when they were bored (and of course, some women in their environment had bought it). InTouch has meanwhile conquered ground in particular with the more intellectual crowd:* Independently from each other, me (being introduced to InTouch by my BOYFRIEND), a woman friend in Cologne AND her boyfriend, and a woman friend in Vienna AND her boyfriend have given up reading Gala in favour of InTouch.

Intouch Magazine

Good reasons to switch that we all agree on:

_too many boring (and mostly inaffordable designer) fashion reports and homestories of D-list celebrities in Gala

_excellent, truly postmodern handling of paparazzi shots in InTouch: Any three disconnected pictures in combination with an interpretative caption will to do fabricate a story – a fabrication of lies so obvious it cannot possibly be taken seriously (I wouldn’t want to go as far as to call it art, but it could be close to it, if placed in the right context)

_national celebrities are none – InTouch’s ridiculously besotted with Hollywood celebs (I think the first issues were nothing but a translation of the American InTouch), but that is still more interesting than a lame report about Ute Ohoven’s latest charity event. And any Hollywood starlet’s gown is still more impressive than the Escada robes of Marion Kracht, Dana Schweiger and the like.

*: God, this makes me think of one of my local colleagues here who once asked me a bit sniffily whether I read anything else except Gala (back in the days when I still read Gala). I cannot take people seriously who try to turn one of the oldest biases of the saturated bourgeoisie against me – hey, if you’re a subversive reader, you can read Gala and InTouch and find out more about our contemporary society in two weeks than an annual subscription of Time magazine could ever teach you.

But that’s just how social stratification works: The ethos of the bourgeoisie is held up by those in danger of being socially downgraded (in this case, a colleague with only recently earned cultural capital hardly any of it inherited and worried about not being taken seriously by other academics). The less you have, the more obstinate you’ll fight for your achieved status and the more eagerly you’ll try to find someone to look down onto. If InTouch is the educational antichrist for you, then you’re definitely not cutting-edge. You’re just another bourgeois bore.

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