Saturday, 1 May 2010
I have read Pride and Prejudice many a time and am trying to think why I like it so much. First of all, I suppose that it is the ultimate romance for me. Witty, romantic, with interesting characters - but not sappy. I like the understatment and the irony, but I can also think that the people are interesting- and you can imagine what drives them.
Over the past decade, or maybe the two last decades, there has been no end to Jane Austen themes in books. Even though Pride and Prejudice in many ways is a Cinderella tale, and therefore a classic that Jane Austen did not invent, I think it is the dramatisations that have contributed to this.
There are two BBC series made, 1980 and 1995. While I like the first one, it is the 1995 version that I find superior, and also most true of the book in the way it is understated. (Apart from the water scenes, both the bath scene and the jump in the lake scene just annoy me) (And, especially the latter goes so against the character of mr Darcy as I know it) I think it is the actors, and the chemistry between them. Ever since Colin Firth gave his first smouldering look to Jennifer Ehle, I have been in love with mr Darcy. When I think of Colin Firth, I hear the soundtrack in my mind (love the soundtrack) and I have to say that together with some chocolate, Pride and Prejudice means a great rainy day. (Honestly, it does not even have to rain..)
Unfortunately, I feel that too many of the Austenia variety do not come up to scratch. Austenland comes to mind, which I did not like much. Ok read, with a giggle or two, but nothing I would read again. The plot felt too contrived, I did not like the characters and overall, I think Jane would have felt rather taken for a ride.
Bridget Jones is initally a less obvious variation of Pride and Prejudice, as the alcohol and calory counting Bridget does not have the personality of Lizzie at all. But, a problematic mother that runs away with a conman and most importantly, Mark Darcy himself give it away. I did not like the film as much as I thought I would, too hysterical and the friends that I like in the book being just too bleak, but the fact that Mark Darcy is played by Colin Firth was a nice twist in deed. The books, I like. And yes, I have laughed loud while reading BJ. A lot.
My favourite P & P is Lions and Liquorice, or Vanity and Vexation in the US, by Kate Fenton. You know all along that it is a P&P plot, funnily enough, on a P&P film set, but there are twists and turns that keep you interested. And I really like Kate Fenton´s writing. Her irony and eye of the obscure in everyday life suit my humour and I have re-read Lions and Liquorice many a time. So, if you aren´t going to read the real thing, this would be my runner-up.
Friday, 30 April 2010
Monday, 19 April 2010
I see this cut-out by Henri Matisse. I have always liked it, and to me it always symbolised the joy de vivre, which is probably misspelled, but so much better than joy of life. A man with a beating heart, dancing wildly in the starry night. A part of Matisse´s famous Jazz series, so very much expressing the joy and creativity of a jam session. Even though blue as colour is supposed to be calming, soothing and heavenly (hence the blue robes of Virgin Mary), I have always seen passion and joy.
Until yesterday, when I found out that this - print- for lack of better word- is called Icaros, and shows the man with the big dreams not soaring up on his wax wings anymore, but falling down after they melt when he came too close to the sun.
And no matter what I do, I cannot find the joy de vivre anymore, I only see the falling man with a beating heart. Speaking about colours, I can imagine that the poor man probably is feeling blue in deed. And, funny thing, the only thing different from yesterday is that I know his name.
Monday, 29 March 2010
On rare occasions an art piece surpasses itself and the idea of what it represents becomes inseparable with the craft. This is then the making of a masterpiece, and one of the non-desputable masterpieces of the world is Michaelangelo´s David.
I have heard that there are seven core themes that are the root of every story ever told by mankind. Surely the story of David, who defeats Goliath against all odds is one version of the underdog winning against a much stronger opponent. And the theme can really be tracked from the biblical David to Star Wars, Lord of the Ring, Harry Potter, Rainmaker and Erin Brockovich and pretty much any fairytale where heros, ranging from courageous but poor to good-for-nothing but transformed by magic or love, kill the dragon and get the princess. Mix the underdog theme with the one of the love triangle, and you have the recipe to pretty much any romance/ romantic comedy, where the less fortunate gets the girl/boy, in spite of not being as popular, good looking or rich.
The underdog that has been mocked, heckled and ridiculed but that triumfs in the end gives hope to all of those who have ever felt illtreated by fate. We need to aspire to something and we need to have faith that we can overcome our worries. And the story of David gives us just that. This is part of the fascination with "the" David. The fact that it was chiseled over 500 years ago by the 26 year old Michaelangelo, who was hailed as divine during his life time helps. Michaelangelo´s passion and temper for his work were legendary and possibly here the idea of the tortured artist started. So the legend of Michaelangelo contributes to the legend of David. But David himself, standing 5.17 cm proud, pensive, but not afraid, has also become the symbol of the free Florence, resisting the pressure of the enemies, so much stronger than she. The Florentines positioned him so that he faces Rome, their biggest threat. Even if it is a replica that has taken the original´s place, I still believe that David inspires both locals and the masses of tourists that come by.
An interesting book of from the Renaissance period, purely fictive, but nice read nevertheless, is Sarah Dunant´s Birth of Venus, about a artistic noble woman, growing up in Savonarola´s and Michaelangelo´s Florence.
Sunday, 28 March 2010
Today Vermeer belongs to most treasured artists and is a household name, thanks to the 2003 filmatisation of "Girl with a Pearl Earring", a novel by Tracy Chavalier about one of Vermeer´s most famous paintings. On internet, Johannes Vermeer pops among the top 15 most famous artists, yet, 100 years ago, nobody knew who he was.
When a Dutch delegation gave "A Music Lesson" to the English court in the end of the 18th century, the name of the artist was changed from Vermeer to Pieter de Hooch or Nicolaes Maas, I can´t remember which one of them, as that artist was so much more valued. 200 years later, not only were the curates extremely keen to asign the painting to Vermeer, the painting is also the pride of the royal collection at Windsor Palace- because it is a Vermeer.
Needless to say, I noticed Vermeer before the books. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has several Vermeers, and the one that caught my eye was the one of the sleeping maid. Ironically, I did not see the maid, but I noticed the carpet. I am a toucher, I can´t order clothes on line as I need to feel the fabrice, and it is always a challenge to pass statues. Normally, I can handle paintings, but my fingers itched to touch this carpet. And once you start looking, you can´t stop. In Johannes Vermeer´s paintings, there is such a quality of harmony, balance and tranquility, that you feel as if you were suspended in time. You are drawn into an unknown world, that seems as real as the carpet seemed to me. It is no wonder that there are at least three books of fiction written about Vermeer´s paintings. I wonder that there isn´t more of them.
Saturday, 27 March 2010
And yet, one of my most shameful memories comes from here. When I was 17 or so, I walked around with two friends of mine and came upon a grave which read "Here, Josef Capek would be buried". Of course, to the unknowing, this offers a lot of questions, and I asked them, probably slightly annoyed, as I did not understand. And I had the biggest set-down in my life, as an old lady passing by told me, that Josef Capek died in a concentration camp and did I not know that. The thing is, I am Czech and I speak Czech, but I am not grown up in Czech Republic, so even if I knew Josef Capek, I really did not know this. Many years, later, it is still one of the top shame incidents in my life and I still feel guilty, for not knowing and being loud and ignorant about it.
Josef and his brother Karel were the Czech intellectual elite before the WWII. Karel was the author, Josef painter. Together they wrote plays, that range between deep and profound to funny. In one of them, RUR, they "discovered" the word robot in one of their plays. (robota is labour in Czech) What signifies both brothers, is the apparant simplicity of their work, the clarity of their vision and their deep humanity. Karel´s play The Mother, about a mother who looses three sons in the war and in the end urges her forth one to go to war as well as she sees that what they are fighting has got to be defeated, is one of the strongest I have ever seen. His White Disease, that depicts the growth of a fanatic society foreboded the war before politicians were speaking about "Pease for our time". Josef did not fight with words, but with art. Karel was lucky, and died before the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Josef was one of the first people to be arrested by Gestapo. He spent six years in different concentration camps. He died, it is presumed, in Bergen-Belsen days before or after liberation. His body was never identified. I hope that he knew that the war was coming to an end. I think that would have made all the difference to him.
Friday, 26 March 2010
There are many many grand and great paintings at the Tate. But the one that caught my heart was a small study of clouds, by John Constable. I love the idea of a framed piece of heaven. And how, even though it appears simple at first glance, there is so much going on and as much "action" as in other paintings where you expect it more.
If I was feeling philosophical, I would tell you that this is what I find fascinating about life. If you look deeper, and try to learn more, everything grows more interesting, and more often than not, there is so much more to things than what meets the eye. But, I am not feeling philosophical, so what I will say is that this is one of my favourite paintings of all time, and every time I am in London, I have to visit it. Because it makes me happy.