“Hello – I am David!” A feel-good documentary about the pianist David Helfgott

Hello – I am David! premiered in Berlin on November 24th at the Kino International just off Alexanderplatz. The cinema is an old GDR style theatre, designed as a place of glamour in the days of the regime. Those days are history, thus making it a suitable venue for a film about someone with a spirit as free as David Helfgott’s. The whole cast was present for the screening, including Gillian and David Helfgott, an incredibly inspiring couple.

This documentary is about the Helfgotts during David’s tour with the Stuttgart Symphonic Orchestra. It is wonderfully slow-paced, allowing its audience to take in the beautiful music and understand the life David Helfgott, who is witty, charming, mischievous, and spontaneous. The camera tactfully follows him and his wife going about their busy life: finding their way around various airports, into hotel rooms (breakfast is an important part of the day) and private homes. David Helfgott is constantly looking for tea bags or trying to find a coke. He also seems to swim a lot. The title of the documentary must have developed because the pianist is always approaching strangers and introducing himself.

While the camera reveals a lot about the private life of the Helfgotts, it is never intrusive. A friendship developed between director Cosima Lange and the pianist while the film was being shot. She cannot help but appear in front of her own camera a few times because David Helfgott pulls her into the picture. She becomes part of his entourage. At times it appears she slightly surrenders control over her own film, giving the documentary a playful element.

David Helfgott’s behaviour is both predictable and unpredictable at the same time and is commented in many statements and off-hand remarks by his wife Gillian, a wise woman with a sense of humour and dignity. This documentary is as much about her as it is about the pianist.

It also includes interviews with many of David Helfgott’s colleagues from the world of music, notably with conductor Matthias Foremny who indicates that while it is not always easy to work with Helfgott, his spontaneity is rewarding. The film’s music focuses on “Rach 3” – Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor. I’ve often listened to it at home. But hearing and seeing Helfgott playing it on film was profoundly moving. This is a definitely a feel-good documentary in that it explores the possibilities of a creative and truly independent spirit.

The screening ended with standing ovations for Gillian and David Helfgott.

 

Full title: Hello, I’m David! Eine Reise mit David Helfgott/ Director: Cosima Lange/ Germany, 2015/ 100 minutes/ Dolby 5.1

http://www.helloiamdavid.de

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November 28, 2015 · 11:49 pm

A bit of magic – Winnie the Witch by Korky Paul and Valerie Thomas

Why is it that some children’s books still resonate with adults? They seem to have some kind of universal appeal that everyone can relate to. One such book is “Winnie the Witch”, authored by Valerie Thomas and beautifully illustrated by Korky Paul. It is the first volume in a series of Winnie books about an absent-minded witch and her black cat Wilbur. Needless to say, my children and I are fans.

Winnie and her cat live in a completely black house, which is a problem as Winnie repeatedly stumbles over poor Wilbur sleeping on the black carpet, or sits on him in her black chair. It becomes an annoyance and Winnie tries to solve the problem by a quick wave of her magic wand. Wilbur turns into a green cat. This makes him visible in the house, but it doesn’t help when Winnie trips over him in the garden. Things get much worse when Winnie does some more magic and Wilbur comes out brightly multi-coloured. He is mortified as even the birds in the garden make fun of him. Winnie has a brain wave and casts her final spell: All the objects in the house – from the bed to the bathtub – get normal colors, and Wilbur becomes black again. The Witch no longer stumbles over her pet, and Wilbur can be himself again. Everyone is happy. What a nice way to get nice way to get a message through.

Korky Paul provided wonderfully detailed illustrations to this imaginative story. His pictures are populated by snakes, spiders, monsters and other mysterious beings. You can trawl through the pages over and over again and still find new details.

My favourite witch

My favourite witch

 

Winnie the Witch, by Korky Paul and Valerie Thomas, Oxford University Press, 26 pages. First published 1987

The site for Winnie fun:

http://winnie-the-witch.com

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Kimono exhibition in Berlin

It’s always a shame when a good exhibition comes to a close. Art historian Lioba Schollmeyer recently visited a memorable Kimono Exhibition at the Bröhan Museum in Berlin with me and wrote the following review. It’s in German, but thinking that there may be some Berliners out there with a taste for traditional Japanese culture that haven’t been to see it yet, we’re publishing it on this blog anyway. The exhibition will be over in a matter of days.

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Der Kimono als Verkörperung der geistigen Gestalt des Japaners
Zur Ausstellung Kimono. Fukumi und Yoko Shimura ǀ Japonismus im Bröhan-Museum Berlin

Der Kimono – kaum ein anderes Kleidungsstück ist weltweit so sehr Inbegriff eines Landes und mit dessen Kultur verknüpft wie der Kimono. Er gehört zur Imagination Japans wie weiß geschminkte Geishas, wie die Teezeremonie oder wie die schneebedeckte Kuppe des Fuji, des heiligen Berges der Japaner. Dabei bezeichnet das Wort ‘Kimono’ lediglich ‘eine Sache zum Anziehen’, deren auch heute noch modern bzw. zeitlos anmutende Form sich seit über eintausend Jahren nicht verändert hat.
Dem Kimono – oder besser den beiden berühmtesten Kimono-Künstlerinnen Japans, widmet das Berliner Bröhan-Museum, Landesmuseum für Jugendstil, Art Deco und Funktionalismus, nun eine Ausstellung mit dem Titel Fukumi und Yoko Shimura ǀ Japonismus.

Bereits im Spätbarock schätzte man in Europa die künstlerische Qualität und die handwerkliche Tradition fernöstlicher Kunstgegenstände. Als dann im Zuge der gewaltsamen Beendigung der selbstgewählten Isolation Japans im Jahr 1854 die japanischen Häfen wieder geöffnet wurden, begann nicht nur wieder ein wirtschaftlicher Austausch, sondern auch eine nachhaltiger künstlerischer Einfluss Japans auf die europäische Kunst, und im Speziellen auf die angewandte Kunst Europas.
Der wie gleichberechtigt zu den beiden Künstlerinnennamen angeführte Ausstellungsbegriff des ‘Japonismus’, beschreibt genau diese Orientierung europäischer Künstler. Die allerdings beim Museumsbesucher geweckte Erwartung, er werde eine Schau zu diesem europäischen Phänomen des Japonismus geboten bekommen, wird jedoch enttäuscht. Relativ wenige und willkürlich ausgewählte Exponate, die eine Orientierung an japanische Formensprache bezeugen sollen, wurden lieblos und ohne Bezug zueinander in kleine Nebenkabinette verbannt.

Hingegen gelingt der Ausstellung etwas ganz Wunderbares, indem sie atemberaubende Beispiele zeitgenössischer japanischer Textilkunst, wie sie in Europa höchst selten zu sehen sind, besuchernah präsentiert. Mehrere Dutzend Kimonos sind an einfachen horizontalen Stangenvorrichtungen und ohne trennende Gläser einer Vitrine nebeneinander aufgereiht. Die Kimonos, eigentlich alltägliche Gebrauchsgegenstände, haben wie zur Meditation einladende Titel wie Das große Weihrauchfass, Heilige Klara, Maria, Wind und Tau, Roter See, See unter dem Mond, Im Inneren des Biwa-Sees. Sie sind aus feinsten Fäden Japanseide bzw. Pongéseide gewebt und dann und wann durchzogen von einem hauchfeinem Faden Gold oder Silber. Zahlreiche Wickel dieser Japanseide unterschiedlichster Farbnuancen befinden sich im Entree der Ausstellung, so dass der Ausstellungsbesucher gleich zu Beginn seines Rundganges eine Idee davon bekommt, wie das Material vor dem Webprozess beschaffen ist. Gefärbt sind die Seidenfäden ausschließlich mit pflanzlichen Farben, mit den Extrakten von Zwiebeln, Indigo, Sappanholz, Stielblütengras, Gardenie und Stechpalme.

Alle ausgestellten Kimonos stammen von den beiden Künstlerinnen Fukumi Shimura und Yoko Shimura. Es sind Mutter und Tochter, die in Japan bereits lebende Legenden sind. Besonders Fukumi Shimura, Jahrgang 1924, und 1990 zum “Lebenden Nationalschatz für immatrielles Kulturgut” erkoren, und mit mehreren hohen Preisen geehrt, darunter auch mit dem Kyoto Preis, die höchste private Auszeichnung Japans. Fukumi Shimura bezeichnet den Kimono gar als „geistige Gestalt der Menschen in Japan“ und erhebt ihn somit weit über den Rang eines Gebrauchsgegenstandes und mit ihrer Kunstfertigkeit auch weit über die Grenzen des Kunsthandwerkes hinaus. Beide Künstlerinnen sammeln die Pflanzen selbst, mit denen sie die Seidenfäden eigenhändig färben. Und beide werden nicht müde zu betonen, dass sie immer noch über die Vielfältigkeit einer jeden Pflanze staunen können. Man könne nie genau wissen, wie eine Farbe ausfallen werde; der Farbton sei abhängig von der Jahreszeit, der Uhrzeit, dem Ort, dem Mond, ja selbst von dem Gemütszustand der Pflückerin.

Ein Besuch dieser Ausstellung ist nicht nur hinsichtlich der handwerklichen und kunsthandwerklichen Aspekte lohnend, sondern auch weil er anhand eines Kleidungstückes so viel unmittelbare Einsicht in die Geistes- und Gefühlswelt der japanischen Kultur erlaubt. Was der europäischen, von Vernunft geprägten Weltkonzeption als esoterisch erscheinen könnte, ist aber Ausdruck einer tiefen Demut der Natur und der Schöpfung gegenüber. In ihrer 2013 gegründeten Kunstschule Ars Shimura vermitteln Mutter Fukumi und Tochter Yoko nicht nur handwerkliche Techniken wie Färben und Weben, sondern in erster Linie den Respekt vor der Natur. Die heute 90-jährige Fukumi Shimura zeigt sich besorgt, daß bei den jungen Japanern eine zunehmende Entfremdung zur Natur zu beobachten sei. Selbst ihre Kunstschüler vermeiden bei der Pflanzen- und Wurzelsuche zunehmend die Berührung von Erde und Insekten. Dabei haben Japaner traditionell ein sehr enges Verhältnis zur Natur: Eine Vielzahl der Farbennamen ist der Natur entnommen. Aus der Edo-Periode stammt der Ausspruch 四十八茶百鼠 „shijû hatcha, hyaku nezumi“, was so viel bedeutet wie „es gibt 48 Farbtöne von Braun und 100 von Grau“. Fukumi Shimura betont, daß der Mensch nicht die Pflanze für sich nutzbar mache, sondern er eine passive Rolle einnehme, vielmehr erhalte er von der Pflanze nur das, was diese ihm gebe. Mit drei äußerst schlichten Sätzen fasst sie ihre herausragende künstlerische Arbeit demütig zusammen:
„Wir spinnen Seidenfäden.
Wir färben Fäden mit Pflanzenfarben.
Wir spulen die Fäden auf und weben sie zusammen.“

Lioba Schollmeyer, Berlin

Kimono. Fukumi und Yoko Shimura ǀ Japonismus
19. Juni bis 6. September 2015

Bröhan-Museum
Landesmuseum für Jugenstil, Art Deco und Funktionalismus
Schloßstraße 1a, 14059 Berlin
www.broehan-museum.de

Dienstag bis Sonntag 10 bis 18 Uhr

Zur Ausstellung ist ein Katalog erschienen.

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Kimonostoff, Detailausschnitt

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September 2, 2015 · 10:15 pm

Growing up the hard way – Kathryn Erskine’s “Seeing Red”

“Red” Porter is the protagonist of this coming-of-age novel set in a small town in the Deep South in the 1970’s. He has only just turned twelve and certainly does see red quite a few times in the novel in his angry and frustrated attempt to deal with his family situation. Red’s father has just died of a heart attack and his mother wants to move away from all he and his little brother have ever known: Crushed by grief over her husband and unable to deal with the feelings of her children, she wants to return to Ohio for a new beginning. Red is on his own and is determined to take his father’s place. He starts playing hooky in order to run his family’s small shop. In his desperate attempt to stop his mother from selling the family business and house, Red asks a bunch of neighborhood boys to help damage the property to discourage potential buyers. He unwillingly finds himself at a junior KKK assembly and, horrified, is bullied into setting fire to a cross. All along, Red is trying to live up to his father’s high moral standards of doing “what is right” and “fixing things”, and finally Red finds his way.

As the plot unravels, so do tales of prejudice reaching back for many generations and an old grudge towards the neighbouring family, the Dunlops. Mr Dunlop is the kind of man that beats his children, gets bad-tempered and carries a shotgun – exactly the opposite of everything the “good” Porters stand for in their community. The third corner in this triangle of relationships is Miss Georgia, an old coloured woman and friend of the Porters who lives close by and whose family was wronged many years ago. But things are not as straightforward as they seem. Red stumbles upon an old family secret that rocks the foundation of everything he has ever believed in.

“Seeing Red” touches upon many issues of the era, ranging from racism, over women’s lib to the Vietnam War. The 1970’s are depicted as a decade in which not only the bedrock of Red’s world is shaken, but America itself is wounded.

When I started reading this novel I was afraid it would be full of stereotypes of the Old South. But then the story went much deeper than I had  anticipated and I enjoyed following Red’s development from a stubborn, hurting boy to a young man who is able to face up to some very harsh truths in a short period of time. This book has a universal appeal and is suitable for young teenagers that want more than wizards and vampires.

Erskine, Kathryn: Seeing Red, Usborne Books, London, 2014. 371 Pages

Thank you British Book Buddy for recommending this book:

http://org.usbornebooksathome.co.uk/corinne

For more information about the author:

http://www.kathrynerskine.com

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Filed under Children's books, History, Uncategorized, Young Adult

From the life of an alien in New York: Teju Cole’s novel “Open City”

It is winter 2006/2007. Julius is a psychiatrist in residence at a clinic in Manhattan who came to America from Nigeria as a student. He is completely alone in the world, estranged from his mother, and his father long dead. This is an extremely cultured man with an acute awareness of his surroundings, but he appears to lack the ability to reach other people. His closest relationship is with an elderly professor who is on is deathbed and whom Julius visits repeatedly. This is an intellectual relationship more than an emotional one. One of the most meaningful moments of his life is one of him sitting wordlessly next to his German grandmother as a child. On a whim he books a flight to Brussels, where his Grandmother could still be living. He spends a few weeks there, but cannot trace her. In Brussels he befriends students from Morocco, who have become disillusioned with Europe.

Back in Manhattan, Julius continues his long walks through the city. He is an outsider, someone who notices bird migration. Julius is aware of New York’s historic involvement of the slave trade. The novel ends at the Statue of Liberty, where death awaits thousands of birds every year.

Open City is about loneliness, a sense of not belonging and about loss, identity and race. A lot of themes have been interwoven in this novel, which at the same time is no more than a slice from the life of one man.

Suitable brooding over with a nice cup of tea.

Cole, Teju: Open City, Faber and Faber, London: 2011. 259 pages.

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Growing up the hard way – Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio”

This is one of the stories that had been on my reading list for years. And almost as if by magic, my neighbour recently offered it to me in a box full of old children’s books she no longer needed. Its time had come.

It is the story of a living wooden puppet that runs away from its creator, an old man named Gepetto. The puppet repeatedly gets itself into trouble, but all ends well. “The Adventures of Pinocchio” were originally a series of sequels written for a children’s magazine from July 1881 to January 1883. This explains the cliffhangers as well as the length of the chapters – perfect for reading aloud to child before bedtime. In one of the installments, Pinocchio dies and apparently the author received so many letters lamenting the puppet’s death, that he resurrected it and sent it off on new and hazardous adventures with the eventual happy ending we are all familiar with today: Pinocchio becomes a real live boy.

But although Pinocchio has a pure heart and the best of intentions, circumstances and evil characters manage to lure him away from the ones who love him: his father and the fairy with the blue hair who is a mother figure, ever-loving and forgiving. And so this book is full of life’s disappointments: False friends and promises, violence and death and loss of loved ones. Pinocchio truly experiences the worst things in life in a short time. But every time his will to live and to find his father get the better of him and he sets out anew in search of a better life. Modern day children – often overprotected by their parents – will find it hard to relate to this book.

For lovers of literature it is a must. It was fun to read those famous chapters, like when Pinocchio and the other wayward boys are lured to Toyland by the man with the cart pulled by sad little donkeys. Not to mention the puppet’s reconciliation with his father in the smelly belly of a whale when the candle extinguishes and they are left in the dark…

Pinocchio a seen by Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910) Source:

Pinocchio as seen by Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910) Source: Wikipedia.org

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Looking for Kafka in Prague

I went to Prague last weekend and searched for Kafka. He was very elusive – everywhere and nowhere. I found him on mugs and dish towels. I saw him on leaflets and bookshelves. He has his own museum with a fountain in front of it depicting two men literally taking the piss out of everything. The museum was claustrophobically dark inside. Facsimiles behind plexiglass. Dark, suggestive music in the background. I didn’t like the way an atmosphere was being impressed upon me when all I wanted was  some information. I purchased a Kafka map at the museum’s book shop.

So I opted out and went where he went. I lingered around the door of his old office building,where he worked for an Italian insurance company. The ground floor is an H & M shop today. I headed off to “Hotel Europa”, where Kafka once read from “The Judgement”. Someone was playing a grand piano in the bar. The place was begging for customers. Kafka seems to have lived in quite a lot of houses in the city centre and you keep walking past places where he lived. The map was quite useful in this respect. I’ve posted some pictures, but don’t get the wrong impression. Prague was absolutely jammed with people last weekend.

This beautiful building was once known as the Hotel Erzherzog Stefan, where K read from The Judgement in public.

This beautiful building was once known as the Hotel Erzherzog Stefan, where K read from The Judgement in public.

The Italian insurance company where K was employed in 1907-1908, Assicurazioni Generali.

The Italian insurance company where K was employed in 1907-1908, Assicurazioni Generali.

It seems K was almost everywhere.

It seems K was almost everywhere.

This is where K and his family lived 1889-1892.

This is where K and his family lived 1889-1892.

 

Helpful for the like-minded:

http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20120828-mini-guide-to-kafkas-prague

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