Sunday, December 14, 2008

this is N16/E8: pictures, words, sound, light

seeing as the united nations is in recess, there has been time for other things. On friday, my first experience of ska, which sounds like caribbean jazz. at barden's boudoir, which continues to surprise and delight with its utterly random and unexpected line-up of little known and unheralded acts. friday segued into some kind of balkan pop/rock, music that could truly have been from anywhere between bulgaria and baghdad and therefore utterly fitting in dalston, seeing as those far-flung locations were united by the turks.

on saturday, tombstone tales and boothill ballads at the funky arcola theatre. best described as 'graveyard cabaret', this turned out to be a terrifically entertaining evening of stories, music, song, dance and interactive brawling that resurrects the tragic, romantic, comic and downright bizarre inhabitants of the cemetery of the 19th century silver mining town of tombstone, arizona. expect to be seduced, executed and made to sing along by this incredibly talented cast of actors. the arcola is a truly yummy asset to this neighbourhood. its exposed brick walls remind me a bit of the almeida in islington, but the almeida has begun to feel big and swish and established in a way that the arcola is decidedly not. here too there is a turkish connection via its founder, mehmet ergen, who started it up in an abandoned shirt factory on the unprepossessing arcola street (just around the corner from golden scissors).

and several days ago, the very much more depressing but nonetheless brilliant waltz with bashir (now no longer) showing at the rio. as an animated film set in the middle east, comparisons with persepolis are inevitable, but the animation in waltz seems to do a great deal more, functioning as a sort of metaphor for the games that memory plays with us, the haziness, unreliability and sometimes wilful amnesia that tends to surround traumatic events such as those that make up the 1982 war between israel and lebanon. perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the movie is its soundtrack, which often depicts horrific violence to the strains of classical music or army songs with lyrics such as 'today i bombed beirut' sung in the kind of banal, cheerful mode that seems more appropriate to campfires or schoolyards. one connection with persepolis is this role of music, particularly western rock music/metal, serving as a kind of anaesthetic or cocoon in which characters wrap themselves, as if to insulate themselves from the horrors in which they are (sometimes) forced participants. somewhere along the way, the animation morphs into real footage of the events at shabra and shatila. all of the characters in the film, israelis who have served in the IDF, refer to these events as 'the massacres'. somehow, this film feels like a more important and forthright document than the kahan commission report, which held the then israeli defence minister, ariel sharon, personally responsible for permitting the lebanese christian phalangists to murder hundreds, possibly thousands, of palestinian refugees.

I finally saw Waltz with Bashir last night. Brilliant, I agree. I also thought that the use of rock n' roll army songs did what you described; and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the songs were actually sung by the soldiers at the time, or at least repeatedly broadcast on TV. Also, the transition to real footage, felt emotionally necessary to me. There are only so many games you can play with your memory; there are only so many technical moviemaking distancing devices you can use to delay acknowledgment; but there is real horror out there, in which you are culpable. What was also interesting and jarring for me was that psychological explanation of it all being connected in memory's recesses to the horror of the concentration camps. If an American filmmaker, let's say a Spielberg, had offered that as an explanation in his movie, I would have thought he is pandering. But the fact that an Israeli filmmaker - and one who's obviously daring to tread into complicated, painful issues - did so made me think that it was actually very revealing of Israeli psychology. There is no separation between the horrors done unto them from the horrors that they do unto others. Unfortunately a quasi-justifying narrative.

on the last point, i have often thought that about rabidly right-wing hindus in india. behind many of them is a partition story, or a partition story in the family.
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