Monday, 22 February 2010

Daisies (Sedmikrásky)

"For all the male ‘coming of age’ stories in the world, it makes sense that their rare female equivalent would have to be as bizarre as possible,” says Nina Power in her book, One Dimensional Woman (p.40) about Daisies (Sedmikrásky), the 1966 film by Czech director Věra Chytilová .
A commentator on the IMDb cleverly observes, "The whole thing plays like parody Godard, with Marie II as Anna Karina, with meaningful conversations about love accompanied by the girls cutting up sausages and bananas: the butterfly sequence is a wicked lampoon of 'Vivre sa Vie'. Where Godard's heroines remained fixed and stared at, the two Maries laugh, look, escape, see their frame and break it, insist on their body as something more than an object, something they can play with themselves."

Man: "I want this moment to last forever!"
As someone who responded in her interview for film school to the question "why do you want to come here?" with "because I don't want to make films like you do", it seems fitting that Chytilová's film can simultaneously fart in the face of 'The Masters' whilst displaying a masterly grasp of Dadaist tradition, technical experimentation, her country's political situation, and her own gutsy agenda.

The Maries answer their telephone with the words "Die, die, die", and gobble their way through banquets laid out for dignitaries, their own pot of gherkins by the bed, or, when they are particularly ravenous, the glossy photos of desirable foods in Czech-style issues of Good Housekeeping.

The conflicting East/West ideologies of the day are slapped around the chops in equal measures, and although the girls are punished along the way as all good heroines should, they bring to a modern reading nostalgic notes other than the psychedelia, post-war absurdist theatricals and eyeliner of the period. These notes range from flapperish insouciance to riot grrrl ferocity to a very recognisable teenage eye-roll and LOLZ attitude. As Power says, that the "formal inventiveness of the film would undermine its claims to ‘realism,’ (...) is all the better." It is like when Marie II tries to kill herself by leaving the gas on, reclining in a tableaux of apples and leaves, but forgets to close the window, and so rolls over and bites one of the apples, or when a scene of carnage is touchingly (and dare I say, with a feminine kind of bother) rather craply put back together; there are fresh gusts of realism in Chytilová's hysteria, powering the revolt, the solarised burn outs and tramples into trifles, and at 73 minutes (no typical drawn out 'art film' endurance tests here) it's just pure joy to have such a truthful cinematic experience.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Built upon a single note

One Note Samba, or to give it the original Portuguese name, Samba de Uma Nota Só, is a bossa nova standard, composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and show-pieced on Jazz Samba by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd in the achingly cool year of 1963.
When you listen to it, thoughts instantly fly in the direction of a Mad Men cocktail party, the awakening of adventerous young girls under the tutelage of sophisticated older men à la An Education, or, perhaps a little less glamourously, the 90s vogue for chill-out lounge compilations to soundtrack a wave of Ikea/retro 'shag-pads'.
If you try and a cappella the tune to someone, the effect is rather weird. You sound like a baby that's just learnt morse code. As the wikipedia entry describes; "The song title refers to the main melody line, which at first consists of a long series of notes of a single tone played in a bossa nova rhythm (typically D, as played in the key of G). The first eight measures consist of D, followed by four measures of G, and then four measures of D. This is followed by eight measures of a more varied melody line."
And when you learn the lyrics, this pattern and progression to the varied melody line is explained:
        Dbm7          C7           B7/4          Bb7/-5
This is just a little samba, Built upon a single note
      Dbm7               C7              B7/4               Bb7/-5
Other notes are bound to follow, But the root is still that note
         Em9            A7/+5               Dmaj7               Dm7     G7
Now this new one is the consequence, Of the one we've just been through
       Dbm7     C7     B7/4        Bb7/-5         A6/9
As I'm bound to be the unavoidable consequence of you
Dm7                            G7                                  Cmaj7
There's so many people who can talk and talk and talk and just say nothing, Or nearly nothing
Cm7                            F7                                Bbmaj7             Bdim Bb7
I have used up all the scale I know, And at the end I've come to nothing, Or nearly no- thing
     Dbm7              C7             B7/4              Bb7/-5
So I came back to my first note, As I must come back to you
       Dbm7           C7                B7/4            Bb7/-5
I will pour into that one note, All the love I feel for you
   Em9               A7/+5             Dmaj7        Dm7 G7
Anyone who wants the whole show, Re mi fa sol la si do
        C6                B7              Bbmaj7            A7
He will find himself with no show, Better play the note you know
What is so clever about this song is how the concept ties in with the sentiment. It is all about the one note, and the one girl. So simple, perhaps, but a perfect synthesis of words and music that both celebrates and teasingly mocks the limitations and repetitive quality of popular song.
In this clip of Laurindo Almeida and the Modern Jazz Quartet we get a measured instrumental version that impresses, as does this more frantic Ella version, but the nature of embellishment and interpretation, and the forsaking of the lyrics, removes that ironic quality that I like so much about it at its most pared down. For that, look to the effortless Joao Gilberto (Spotify link for the English Version, or here on Youtube in Portuguese), or Betty Carter's full-bodied 'Round Midnight version, all cicada percussion and swaying hips.

Finally, here is One Note Samba being rehearsed by the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz Ensemble; a lesson in how it don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Nights of Cabiria

"Is it really true? You're not trying to fool me? Do you really love me?" asks Cabiria, and the Hypnotist realises he must break his spell.
Stills courtesy of Pangolin Blues.