Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Guelph Movie Club: Extended Summer Edition

We’ve reached the dreaded ‘mid-August’ – that time of the year when our thoughts drift toward the inevitable end of vacation, return to school, and turtlenecks (ugh, right?). But, I say no. Summer’s not over til we say it’s over.

In that spirit, the September edition of Guelph Movie Club is a thumb in the nose of fall AND winter. Forget you cold weather. You can have our warm weather when you pry it from our cold, sunburnt fingers.

So help us pick a classic summer movie to keep us warm through the cold winter nights using the poll below. (Note that you can only vote once. After that, the poll won't appear when you view this blog.)

This is the return of Guelph Movie Club after a long hiatus. I hope many of you will join us (or come back to the fold after summer break). We’ve got some fun things in mind for this year’s slate of movies so please come out, buy a soda and a popcorn, and watch a great movie with your fellow movie lovers.

'Til then, see you at the movies!


Which Movie Will Keep Summer Alive in September?

Monday, August 11, 2014


Nabucco was only Verdi's third opera, but became one of his biggest, most lasting successes. It seems he was pressed to consider the subject by Merelli, the Scala's director circa 1840. Various stories about the opera became legend, especially the one that Verdi convinced himself to compose the music when he accidentally saw the words to the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves fall open in the libretto he was given. It now seems more likely that enthusiasm for this chorus was generated by the audience reaction when they saw the metaphoric link between their suppressed national identity under the Austrian Hapsburg rule, and the subjugated Hebrews under the foreign domination of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar their king portrayed onstage. The king's name is shortened to Nabucco to make it more wieldly.

Leo Nucci as Nabucco
King Nabucco, has two daughters: Abigaile, the star soprano, and Fenena, an alto part. At war with the Babylonians, the Jews have captured Fenena, who had fallen in love with the nephew of the Jewish king, Ismaele—the tenor. Nabucco, with Abigaile and some disguised soldiers, stealthily enters the Temple at Jerusalem. When Fenena admits her love for Ismaele, the Babylonians destroy the Temple. And since this affair between Ismaele and Fenena has allowed this destruction, the Jewish high priest Zaccharia curses Ismaele as a traitor.

In Act 2, at Babylon, Nabucco puts Fenena in charge of the Hebrews as Abigaile finds evidence that she is of slave birth and bewails the fact Nabucco has kept her out of the fighting. The High Priest of Baal tells Abigaile that Fenena has released the Hebrew prisoners, and that he wants her to rule Babylon, spreading the lie that Nabucco has been killed. Abigaile sings of her own ambition to rule. Zaccharia, now captive in Babylon, discovers Fenena's conversion to Judaism, and prevents reprisals of the Jews against Ismaile. 

Abdallo, a solider, announces Nabucco's death and Abigaile's plans to seize power. As Abigaile enters and demands the Babylonian crown from Fenena, Nabucco appears and declares himself not only king, but god. Fenena sides within the Jews, which incenses her father further. In a crash of thunder he is punished for his hubris and is driven mad and Abigaile seizes the crown.

Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille
In Act 3, the now raving Nabucco sees Fenena consigned to death, and prays to Jehovah to save his only daughter, whose death warrant he has been tricked by Abigaile to sign. He challenges Abigaile with being only a slave, but Abigaile has the only corroborating document and destroys it. Nabucco is helpless to save Fenena. Abigaile is unrelenting. The famous scene follows with the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. Zaccharia consoles them that Yahweh will help them.

In the final Act, Nabucco is still mad, but promises to follow the Jewish god if Fenena is to be saved somehow. He will restore the Jewish temple and convert to Judaism. He is miraculously restored, and freed by Abdallo, and plans to go to save Fenena. Nabucco discovers his daughter preparing to die, but he rushes in to save her and then orders the destruction of Baal, which is preempted when the idol shatters. Nabucco frees the Israelites, and Zaccharias hails Nabucco as true king and divine servant of Jehovah. Abigaile enters in remorse. She has poisoned herself and begs forgiveness of Fenena, begs for divine mercy and dies.

I suspect Verdi had his initial difficulties with the complex plot because the dramatic developments, especially later in the piece, show the actions of the deity in miraculous events, such as the restoration of Nabucco's sanity—if not already in its being removed in the first place—and the destruction of the idol of Baal at the end of the opera. In few other places in Verdi do we see the direct influence of any active deity like this. The gods, or God, is mostly a mute figure, passionately addressed or prayed to, but is never elsewhere represented as being responsive, except in ironic plot twists, that rather serve to undermine any assurance that there is a god there. Verdi was himself a religious skeptic, but obscured this mind-set from his public for obvious reasons.

There are few pieces of music so enmeshed with a national political movement vying for the formation of a nation as this opera. The Risorgimento, the movement to establish Italy as a sovereign nation, eventually took up the chorus of Hebrew Slaves as its official anthem, and the opera was made especially famous throughout the years during which Italy achieved its nationhood.

As usual, personal passion is inextricably tied up with politics and public life in a mixture that is to become ever more familiar in Verdi's operas.

The production on show here has already garnered much attention and praise since its premiere to simultaneous worldwide cinema presentation in the debut season of this format in April 2013. Although it is still an early work, the politico-historical significance of this piece has always served it to remain relatively current in opera productions since its debut.

Michael Doleschell keeps mostly to non-fiction, and is deeply devoted to music and culture and never tires of history, and is fascinated by science and the scientific method [as long as they are well explained]. He broadcasts a program of Classical Music for 3 hours every Saturday afternoon from noon till 3 on the U of G's Radio Station: CFRU. 

Monday, August 4, 2014


John le Carré’s novels have proven to be successful frameworks for film adaptations throughout his entire career, dating back to 1965’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold up to the most recent A Most Wanted Man starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Perhaps it is le Carré’s densely complicated and nuanced plots that make his stories seem somehow more true to life than the Bournes or the Bonds (and especially the Ryans and Reachers). What le Carré’s writing lacks in explosions and car chases, he more than makes up for with sophisticated, multilayered characters embroiled in puzzles of espionage. Whereas Jason Bourne is able to single-handedly foil the intelligence agencies of the entire western world, le Carré’s characters produce the same amount of tension that any good spy story will evoke, without firing a shot.

In the hands of director Anton Corbijn (The American), le Carré’s intelligent prose and character complexity is not compromised in this film adaptation. In his last role before his untimely death, Hoffman is a perfect le Carré spy, smoking and drinking too much, out of shape, disgruntled. Against the backdrop of post-9/11 paranoia he plays Günter Bachman, the head of an anti-terror team in Hamburg with the right dose of political cynicism that cuts through the fantasy that righteousness trumps ideology. Everyone has a past they don’t care to mention, an agenda they don’t wish to expose, so while he diligently tracks suspected Chechen Jihadist Issa Karpov in hopes that Karpov can expose an even greater threat, he remains suspicious of those around him claiming to be on the same side. The Americans have an interest in Dr. Faisal Abdullah, a wealthy philanthropist suspected of backing terrorist cells, while the Germans want Karpov interrogated. Human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) wants to protect Karpov as he claims he was tortured in Russia and fears being deported. When Karpov decides to donate millions in inheritance to Abdullah, all parties stories begin to weave together. The result is not a game of cat and mouse that characterizes a usual Hollywood spy-thriller, but rather a game of dangling the bait to see who can catch the biggest fish.

The most refreshing aspect of a le Carré novel and, in this case, movie adaptation, is this deviation from the typical action packed spy-thriller. A Most Wanted Man is a slow burner. It requires patience, and an interest in geopolitics doesn’t hurt. But with that comes a more sophisticated type of storytelling, where complexity sits in place of linear plot lines, where moral questioning replaces the idea that good always triumphs, and where main characters live lives of desperation and paranoia, rather than possessing super human strength and foresight. A Most Wanted Man is as covert and impenetrable as the war on terrorism itself. The winners and losers are hard to define, and good and evil are a merely a matter of perspective.

- Bruno Mancini