Foreign Film Spotlight: Nowhere in Africa

This contribution is for movie-buff friend, Alex Raphael, who invited me to review a foreign film of my choice. Have you seen the 2002 German Best Foreign film Oscar winner by Caroline Link? Are you craving full-bodied characterizations, an unsentimental saga, and stunning cinematography? How about an amazing autobiography about a Jewish family who finds refuge and culture shock in Kenya? Stefanie Zweig passed away this past April. Give both the book and the film adaptation a go.

Escaping the Nazi regime in 1938, a Jewish family become farmers in remote Kenya. Walter Redlich is a judge and his wife Jettel is fond of her comfortable life-style and resents her barren life. Their five-year-old daughter, Regina, is an inquisitive girl who adapts to the culture of Kenya and a Christian boarding school. Half of the narrative focuses on a girl growing up and the other half focuses on the strained marriage of Walter and Regina.

The film’s strength rests on the acting and the unique plot. Actress Juliane Köhler plays the complicated Jettel Redlich with sophistication. Swaying with coldness and frustration and tenderness, as was her portrayal as Eva Braun in Downfall (2004), in Nowhere in Africa, Juliane Köhler is convincing. A marriage of compromise and frustration with secrets and resolution, it is a worth your time to watch the evolution of their marriage.

Add a parallel plot that twines through the starving marriage to their daughter, Regina. Her friendship with farm cook, Owuor, counter-balances the marriage with heartwarming richness. Owuor functions as nanny and bridge between Europe and Kenyan lifestyles. For Regina, who might have well as been transplanted to Mars as Kenya, Owuor is indispensable as the consistent element, the North Star of her universe. As a coming-of-age story for Regina and Jettel (Mom’s more a child than ner daughter) grow up and handle their plight with satisfying enlightenment. Poor Walter Redlich, played by Merab Ninidze, who endures his tempestuous wife and worries about his parents left in Nazi Germany. Cheers to female director and writer Caroline Link for creating a fine film. Did you see in 2008, A Year Ago in Winter? 

Don’t forget to check out Alex’s entertaining blog: Alex Raphael Blog

Emeralds: fiction and non-fiction

Non-fiction

Oh, my young and stupid years. When I turned 18 and enlisted in the Navy, I was sent to San Diego, CA for “A” school which back in 1981 meant I learned how to type on a teletypewriter and set up ship-shore communications. I was there for five months and during the course of my stay was courted by a sailor who claimed how wealthy he was and told me fantastic stories about his separated British mom and American father. There was a manorial state in England somewhere, a London school he attended, his chummy butler, and his California father who was a very important but angry man. As an anglophile and thespian, I found his stories entertaining to listen to, but I didn’t believe him for a minute. After all, why would he choose to be a lowly E-1 Seaman Recruit? Why not be an officer if he had a proper London education? If he had a proper London education, why was he in the U.S. Navy walking around the dusty path of Balboa Park with me? Randall told me he enlisted to escape his father.

When we left the base on leave, he would rent a car and take me to Balboa Park or out to dinner. (Remind me to tell you about the time on Halloween night underneath a full moon, we were robbed at gunpoint.) One afternoon, we strolled downtown San Diego and entered an upscale jewelry store. The display case was long with gems within elaborate settings. He said, “Which one do you like best?” I looked over the sapphires and rubies and pearls and went to the emeralds. There was a cocktail ring that reminded me of hill. It contained emeralds and diamonds stacked on top of each other, rising high like a mound found on a corner of the Emerald City. “This one,” I answered, breathless. The price tag: $3,500.00.

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Christmas arrived and Randall collected me at my barracks and we went for a walk, and he presented me a Christmas gift–the emerald cocktail ring. Incredulous!

He asked me to marry him and told me he was gay. He had to hide this fact from his father, so he hoped I’d agree to be his cover. I’d have my set of apartments, I’d want for nothing, and we’d be best friends. I responded the way any romantic would say; I wanted to marry for love, not money. Sigh.

Well, a few days later, I saw him getting out of a black limousine. He was wearing the insignia of ensign. He was suspiciously an officer! What had his father done? We graduated. I got orders to Scotland. Randall got orders to Rome. The ring? Six months later, drunk at a party, the ring slipped off my finger and disappeared down the toilet. I saw neither Randall or the emerald ring again.

Fiction

Inside the Gold Plated Pistol, the first draft is progressing. Up in Jerome, Arizona, it’s 1927 and my taxi-dancer, Sally, is dancing away to the tunes of Hoagie Carmichael, “Stardust” and Jack Smith “Me and my Shadow”. Did you miss my recent post about nickel-hoppers and Barbara Stanwyck? Here it is

Now enters another character, Sally’s mother, Connie Vandenberg, a wealthy woman whose father amassed a fortune mining copper and silver in Arizona. While some women collect spoons and china tea cups, Connie collects unusual weapons, strange artifacts, and paintings.

Can you guess what Connie’s favorite jewel is? Emeralds, of course. This means I have had to research what the mining industry was like in 1920s and specifically, the fascinating world of Gemology.

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In 1920, Fritz Klein, discovered the “Patricia Emerald” from the Chivor Emerald Mine on short-term lease from the Colombian Government and named it for his daughter. He gave it to the New York Museum of Natural History in 1921 as a gift, and I think I’ll have Connie go and visit it. Why not rub shoulders with Fritz since he knew her father? There’s the fun in creating fiction. Why not? The challenge is making the incredulous seem perfectly normal.

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Connie’s passion is emeralds. Should she go to Columbia to acquire some? She could go a shorter distance to the emerald minds in North Carolina. Did you know there were emeralds in North Carolina? I found the Hiddenite Gems, Inc. site which claims it’s the only open-to-the-public mine where you can sluice or dig for over sixty gems. Next time in North Carolina, wouldn’t it be fun to pan for emeralds?  NC Emerald Mine

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How are emeralds rated? Where are they? Are they valuable? I checked out the GIA, Gemological Institute of America Inc.  It’s fascinating. Since emeralds are mined in Columbia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, and India, I pray the story for extracting emeralds isn’t the same story told in the film Blood Diamonds.  GIA Emeralds

For now, I’m having fun exploring the world of emeralds and contemplating whether I should relive my history through Sally or Connie. Should they “lose” their emerald cocktail ring in a most ignoble way or can I fix my past and have them produce it thirty years after the fact?

Four Life Principles: Thanks, Eleanor Roosevelt


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At the request of my school, I gave a speech today. My audience included parents, students, and community members at an assembly, and Eleanor Roosevelt stood by my side and helped me through it. Are you are feeling lowly today? Maybe a reminder is all you need. Let her wisdom lift you. Here was what I said:

Thank you, school board members, administrators, students, and the faculty for whom I represent for allowing me to address you today. I’d like to begin with a quote given by First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who advocated for human rights and became an essential advisor for her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She said, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

Whenever I face an anxious situation, like speaking on this stage in front of you, I like to pretend Eleanor is standing next to me. Her maxims are great ideas, life principles to follow, and there are four I’d like to share.

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1. Goal Oriented 

“I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.”

Come up with a strategy. Then try it. Students, today you are commended for improving your grade point average over the course of a semester or a year. You are here today because you tried. Creating a goal is the first step. To execute the strategy requires focus. Remember, you are not competing against the person next to you. You are in a marathon race with yourself and your success first depends on a course of action.

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2. Self-Reflection

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly make them all yourself.”

How did your strategy work? What can I do differently to achieve a better result? Life is about tweaking, modifying, and scheduling your time. If you manage your time well, efficiency will catapult your goals and results easier to achieve. Ever notice how true experts, athletes, and artists make it look so easy? It’s because they are efficient, focused, and tweaked their “performance” over time.

You change. Don’t be passive. Don’t wait for someone to suggest what you should do. This is your education, your life. Decide what worked and what didn’t; create a new strategy and try again. It is all about you.

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3. Be Positive

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

This is the hardest principle to live by and it truly makes all the difference, for it is a choice, happiness, and it starts with positive thinking.

Insecurity. Fear. Labels others give you. Mountains to climb, Hardships. Loneliness. These are your companions for the rest of your life. What helps you achieve your goals, your dreams, is your attitude. Avoid succumbing to the negative by discovering strategies for dealing with these sap-sucking companions. People surround you who want to help you bypass your obstacles. Seek out the advice from those who have succeeded. You are never alone. A positive attitude takes practice, it is akin to hope, and worth the effort.

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“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

How do you acquire strong self-esteem? How do you become confident? Self-reliant? Surround yourself with people who are positive. Allow them to fill the hours of your day and you will gain courage to face all those who only see the negative–the whiners, the complainers–those who want you to be miserable with them. Can’t find anyone positive? Then be your own best friend. Let the positive people from the past be your inspiration and your friends. Like Eleanor Roosevelt. They will give you courage. Let them be your teachers.

4. Reinvent Yourself

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 There’s an old film I’ve made a personal connection with and that’s Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. Here was a story about a negative, obnoxious man who, stuck in a time glitch, relived his day over and over. He disgusts the girl of his dreams and can’t figure out why she doesn’t like him. Every day he learned something new. He discarded selfishness and cultivated a positive attitude. He became philanthropic. He became a leader in the community and devoted his time to learn something new, motivated to win the love of his dream girl. What if every day was the same day and you chose to reinvent yourself? What an opportunity! What would you do? What if you were the leader and positive role model for someone else? What do you think would happen to you? Give it a try.

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Practice. Try. Read all about it. Imitate. and remember a Cindy Bruchman adage: “Follow the Good, and lead yourself.” Thank you. No, thank you, Eleanor. It’s easy to be wise when you adopt the wisdom of others.

The Final Shot in Film

It’s psychologically proven the last piece in a sequence is what you will remember. Applying that to film, even mediocre films are elevated with the superb final shot. A great film? Probably because it ended perfectly.

Is your hero going out in a blaze of glory? Is it “The horror, the horror” captured in a glance? A new beginning? Here are several of my favorite final shots; do you recognize them all?

All is not lost; Chief becomes a man.

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And yours?

Hollywood Stereotypes

I read an amusing, interesting article about stereotypes in Hollywood by Juan Arteaga. You can read it HERE 

Some of my favorite films included them. Would you agree the film industry is a powerful influence and molder of the mind? How one perceives another as a group is often created and affirmed in films? Without personal experiences to counter-act the image, you could very well adopt that perception and it becomes your own? Or worse, girls and boys witness in films, billboards, magazines or television shows a female perpetually poised in a sexual position, should we be surprised another girl grows up looking and acting like a sex-object and boys grow up into men who search for them?

How serious should we be as viewers? Identifying the stereotype first and recognizing what we see could be potentially damaging is a step. But then what? Boycott the film? Considering the article by Juan Artega, the pictures throughout this post feature films which portray common stereotypes.  Can you match them?

1. The Magic Negro (God-like powers and saves the whites)

2. The Gay/Effeminate psychopath (nurturing homophobia by attributing sexuality to a decrepid behavior)

3. The Latino Maid (cleaning is all they know how to do. Ugh!)

4. The Mighty Whitey (white protagonist enters foreign culture and saves the day)

5. The Mighty Non-Whitey (black man or non-white jives, dances, and with a laid back attitude, saves the day)

6. The Wise, Old Asian Jerk (convoluted wisdom; a pain-in-the-neck)

7. The Cowardly Incompetent Black Side-Kick (an idiot; cheap shots come easy)

8. Women:  A. androgynous male-killers  B. the naïve child C. One dimensional–let’s talk only about men D. The femme fatale.

If you think stereotypes are bad, how do you combat them? In films, characters shouldn’t display a single image. They should contain complexity. Thinking about womens’ roles my favorites characters followed no stereotype, and they possessed strong personalities.  Clever and amusing, their self-confidence makes them attractive. Complicated and compassionate is a fine mix. Their loyalty to their mate and devotion to others is true sex-appeal. Simply being a sex object is boring.

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8D The great temptress

No person possesses a singular attribute or foible. The best films for me are those with characters who are like a kaleidoscope. Those flawed characters who rise above their predicament and attempt to do the right thing are the best–and those roles are usually written for men. Every once in a while a female role stands out.

So what do I do about the fact that I still love The Green Mile, Fifth Element, and Bulworth? 

Five Shots: Leafing in the Desert

DSC01619Arizona has plenty of red maples and leaf color in the fall if you know where to look. Fortunately for me, it’s only a half an hour away; in places like Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona, a fall hike is a respite for the Midwesterner or East Coast transplant who thought they kissed goodbye the greenery in exchange for mild winters and low humidity. You can have it all.

Here are five + three shots–which one do you like best?

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Here’s hoping your fall is a pretty one this year.

Kubrick Stare vs. Spielberg Face

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Have you seen the marvelous Kevin B. Lee visual essay surrounding the trademark Steven Spielberg face? It’s engrossing and only nine minutes. Watch it, it’s fascinating.

 

The Kubrick Stare. The person lowers the head and stares away signifying madness.

OR my favorite Kubrick stare, Pyle in Full Metal Jacket

Their signature stares have become a cliché.  Whose are better? Kubrick or Spielberg?