Archive for September, 2012

Einstein on the Beach and my fresh prayer to St. George

September 26, 2012


The truth has its frequency. Einstein on the Beach captures the frequency of the truth about human dysfunction in its many forms. The language is fresh because dysfunction is more apparent than ever. It is everywhere. Our daily language is abundantly dysfunctional and often stripped of any meaning. How are you?”… Have a nice day…This call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance…Your call is important to us… This is a recording… I am sorry…
Is this dysfunction a genetic glitch, a loop embedded in the human source code which keeps us enslaved? Is this dysfunction an inability to crack open the boundaries and connect the fragmentized parts of ourselves scattered in an equally fragmentized, dysfunctional world.
Because of my job, I spend a lot of time in the courtroom. Here is an emotional recollection I had on the sounds of Einstein on the Beach. It is a recollection of a feeling of deafening, mind-numbing silence that filled the air for a fraction of a second at a real-life hearing at the court of appeal. It happened in a moment between the judge’s question and the answer which I am going to describe.
A year ago I was at a hearing before the court of appeal. The case was about to be finally dismissed on the preliminary question: Is there known cause of action? After hearing the procedural arguments, the appellant said: “I would like to say briefly what this case is about.” The judge interrupted: “Why would I need to know what the case is about”. The answer that followed: “For the reason of common sense” sent the situation back into the role-playing context of hierarchy and personalities.
The moment of silence between this question and the answer was for me charged with the noise of all sounds and yet quiet and numb. It lasted a second or less, yet it took many weeks for me to recover from the devastating effect of this silent noisy numbness. The images and music in Einstein on the Beach evoked that moment and expanded its noisy silence to infinity. It brought up visual and auditory tastes of that moment as if it was now revived under some kind of microscope, and I saw meaningless images and heard unrelated fragments of sounds embedded in the silence of that actual moment. The interesting thing is that my association to this short but memorable moment of life experience did not bring any emotion. It was neutral. Einstein on the Beach registered like a litmus where the absurd falls apart and becomes deconstructed down to its building molecules.
The enchanting beauty of Einstein on the Beach is that it felt broad enough to embrace any individual experiences of dysfunctionality. That is why I like Einstein on the Beach and can’t get enough of the bizarre, yet soothing meditative state to which it takes me.

Royal Opera tabloid about turning flesh into a zip-lock meat.

September 19, 2012

The real story of Anna Nicole is fascinating. In short: a single mother from a remote parochial town in Texas abandons her low-paid job selling fast-food fried chicken. She sets her mind on a career in dangerous proximity to pornography and prostitution. As a breast-augmented blond stripper she wins the heart of an 80-year-old billionaire. Six months into the marriage her sugar-daddy husband dies leaving his estate to be litigated between his children and his playboy-mate-of-the-year widow. The remainder of her life is a payback of hidden costs in making a livelihood by being DD-breast endowed, blonde and sexy. We learn, that much of Anna Nicole’s life as a widow takes place in tax-insulated and litigation-proof geographical locations. On the front of finding new revenue sources her vulturous lawyer friend advises that she give birth in a pay-per-view live broadcast (spearheading thereby the yet-to-come era of reality shows). Three days after her daughter is born, her twenty-year-old firstborn dies. The death of her son is unbearable and six months later she surrenders her own life, posing one more time for the tabloids as a pretty corpse from her unzipped body bag. Her baby daughter is left at the mercy of a flock of vulturous claimant fathers who are invigorated by the baby’s entitlement to wealth from her unfortunate mother.

The libretto abounds with educational verses such as: what distinguishes illegal prostitution from legal lap-dancing, the capital gain returns from investment in breast augmentation surgery, and associated risks. There are many proverbial lines, such as the one for horny nursing-home males: “hump and dump, spunk and leave” or the pill-popper’s comfort: “ease the pain, block the shame, down the hatch wah-ooo”.

Making an opera on the life and death of Anna Nicole is similar to attempting to capture in a painting or an artistic photography the beauty of galloping giraffes in Serengeti at sunset. It is bound to sink down to kitsch. Everything in the actual life and the real death of this shooting star is crystalized in a “National Geographic” type of perfection. In itself her life, including her death, is an amazing cliché. It was risky and difficult to attempt an artistic take of something so perfect and complete in its own pathetic domain, exactly the way it happened. The interest of the Royal Opera House to commission an opera about the life of an American tabloid star, with the prominent role of paparazzi-style photos documenting her death, is too obvious, and I would say lacking in good taste. For this opera house it was not a good choice of story.

Eva Maria Westbroek made an honest effort to portray Anna Nicole in singing, acting, and her American accent. Unfortunately, the overall concept was aiming equally towards the story-telling of the protagonist’s life and the deconstruction of the failed American dream, and, sprinkled with too many elements of farce. This indecision, coupled with excessive descriptiveness, blurred the focus and undermined the shaping up of the key character. Furthermore, the costume designer made Ms. Westbroek look at the peak of the character’s career in the sex industry, like Miss Piggy of the Muppets Show. Ms. Westbroek if of courpulent physique, but very well shaped. It is shame that the costume designer missed the opportunity to bring up her gorgeous look. Musically, we heard it all from Alban Berg. The jazz and pop elements promised by the composer in the DVD additional materials are pale and identifiable only by forensic means. The libretto aimed to elevate Anna Nicole’s version of the failed American Dream into a universal story of the destructive currents of big money and fame. But the fatal proximity of a paparazzi pimp in the life of Anna Nicole was not brought up in the story as told from the podium of the Royal Opera House.

The side effect was that too many threads were touched upon, and none completely followed through. These lines of the libretto were explored at the expense of the profile and fate of the main character. The character of Anna Nicole was oversimplified and reduced. The actual pinnacle of her life, her real-life Pietà moment, the moment of her son’s death literally in her arms after which she quickly wilted into her own premature death was somehow missed. Her own death, captured for the tabloids, which made its way into mainstream media headlines, went almost unnoticed in this libretto. It is as if we were told that had she been shrewder and had calculated her moves more cleverly, she could have lived happily ever after, mingling among the Hollywood celebrities, but she blew it because she was stupid. The tragedy of the real-life Anna Nicole lies in her false belief that she could be a good mother and at the same time be a poor, sexy, stripper bride of a filthy-rich dying old man. The marriage of such extremes is impossible. In such tension only vultures thrive.

Real life abounds with cliché melodramas and beyond-Monty Python absurdities. Paraphrasing these stories does not constitute a creative process resulting in a piece of art.
In a few days the Toronto Serbian Film Festival will present a film of political surrealism that surpasses the stellar heights of Monty Python absurdities. It is a real life story of a Canadian actor who played a detective in the American TV series “Tropical Heat”. The series was a failure and discontinued after its third season. The only place it was shown with success was Serbia. At the time the series was released, the country was under international sanctions, its entire population condemned, imprisoned to slow and humiliating starvation. “Tropical Heat” was the only connection with the world outside the walls of isolation showing the world of sandy beaches, a dashing pony-tail detective, and his many babes. “Tropical Heat” was the only foreign TV series shown, over and over again. In a collective despair and in futile civil protest against Milosevic regime, the “Tropical Heat” detective Nick Slaughter became the epitome of the protest. Rhyming slogans appeared seeking presidential candidacy for the fictional character Nick Slaughter. Years later the Canadian actor who played the role of detective Nick Slaughter found himself forgotten, unemployed and in debt, living in the basement of his parents’ house back home in Canada, unaware of his fame at the other end of the world until one day…
His teenage son comes and tells him: “Dad, Nick Slaughter has 17 thousand fans on Facebook. They are all from Serbia”. The actor Rob Stewart wastes no time on imponderables: “Parents’ basement or Serbia? The film “Slaughter Nick for President”, directed by Rob Stewart will be shown this fall at the Toronto Serbian Film Festival. Let’s see how Nick Slaughter deals with the impossible real-life story.

Some events are good for tabloids; some life-stories are tabloids themselves. Maybe a good story to commission for the Royal Opera House would be about a lawsuit launched in a speed-of-light manner guarding the right to privacy of a newly minted young princess sunbathing topless on the terrace of, so cliché, a château in France. The word “grotesque” was already employed in exaggerated PR statements so my unsolicited advice to the Royal Opera House is: commission an operetta. Now.