Archive for December, 2006

REVIEWS 2006

31 December 2006

Movie review — The Last Kiss: 2006/10/21/the-last-kiss/

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BEIRUT: THE GULAG ORKESTAR

9 December 2006

I have just been listening to the recently released “Gulag Orkestar” by Beirut.

I have listened through once and have dashed off the keys quickly for you all…

  1. The Gulag Orkestar (D minor);
  2. Prenzlauerberg (Eb minor)
  3. Brandenburg (D minor);
  4. Postcards from Italy (F maj);
  5. Mount Wroclai (Idle Days) (Bb min);
  6. Rhineland (Heartland) (F maj);
  7. Scenic World (D maj);
  8. Bratislava (A maj);
  9. The Bunker (C maj);
  10. The Canals of Our City (C maj);
  11. After the Curtain (D maj).

I hope that’s right.

It is a quirky album for sure, but strangely hypnotic too.  How best to describe this? It is a bit like lo-fi Divine Comedy mixed with Beck Hanson, and it must be said that Mr. Condon sounds rather similar to Stephen Merritt (Magnetic Fields).

Odd beats, lots of trumpet, almost out-of-tune honky pianos, and even ukuleles, yet it is almost Cuban at time, and somehow it is Eastern — Russian and Balkan as well — possibly with touches of Turk and Greek. It’s so odd.

It is the Rodchenko of music somehow.

What’s odder is that it’s the product of a US American teenager! My goodness! Zach Condon must really have studied Eastern European music to produce an album of glockenspiel and accordion, of tambourines and mandolins.

It’s been called Balkan crossover music!

What I like about it is that it is different, it tries to be different in a world of X-factor pop idols and pro formas. As a result, this guy may make polkas and klezmers cool – – and that’s a strange thought!

I think “The Canals of Our City” shows his vocal quality, But “Postcards from Italy” is probably the easiest to get into.  “Scenic World” is funny in that the riff is U2’s “With or Without You!”.

I must say that while I could listen to this and this sort of thing from time to time, it is not something I would need all day, every day!

For it’s evocative moods, it’s atmosphere, give it a listen or two just to clean out your ears from all that pop and rock, flip though some old photographs and return to the authentic and the homespun.

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RODCHENKO

6 December 2006

[Picture of Osip Brik by Rodchenko]It was the picture first.  Not the story, not the context, not the label, just the picture.  It caught my eye and has stayed with me ever since. The photograph is called “The Critic Osip Brik”. I was just 17.

Alexander Rodchenko was Russian and an artist.  He gave up painting in favour of photography back in the 1920s.  Was he right, was art a waste of time now that we have photography? Hmm, interesting.

In any case, Rodchenko’s picture made me wonder about its subject — who was this curiously named man?  What a face!  The spectacles, the reflection of Russian, the composed features, the moustaches.  It somehow fitted the description for me of Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Poirot!

My investigations at the Mitchell Library introduced me to the “Futurists”  — Brik was a Russian avant garde writer and literary critic, was one of the most important members of the Russian Formalists” as well as one of “The Futurists”. Brik was one of the co-founders of the magazine “Leftist Front for the Arts” or LEF, which was a championed Russian “Constructivist art”.

I was amazed — that this ostensibly very conservative, almost prim person — a potential Nazi — could be such an anarchist! WOW!

And for me at 17, reading about the Russian Futurists was earth-shattering! My research led to the Italian Futurists and the German Dada movement.

The Futurists were fascinated with the dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern urban life. They were out for attention, for challenge — for controversy — mainly by slagging off the art of the past as being boring.

Of course this clicked with the new wave — the “punk” movement of which I was so engrossed.

The portrait is iconic as an art object, and it showed me that you cannot judge a book by its cover.  I guess you could say that this is a bad photograph if it doesn’t make clear that Osip was radical and anti-establishment. But hey — that’s what that type of person looked like back then!

The name Osip Brik, and the picture are as part of me as anything can be.  I looked at this face every day for a decade, having it as a postcard that I carried about in my wallet.  Some people, on seeing it, has reckoned he was Jewish, others that he was a POW Commandant!  He’s been called right wing fascist, and communist — he’s been a villain and a hero, a mild mannered banker type and a cool, calculating killer!

This is therefore one of the most enigmatic images ever recorded on film.

As for Rodchenko, well, as a result of this picture I have grown to love so many other pictures of his that it may be said that Rodchenko is a seriously major influence on my life and approach to life.

He did the official film poster for the movie, “The Battleship Potemkin“, in 1926 — now, in case you don’t know, this film has  been voted one of the most influential films of all time on many occasions, and was named the greatest film of all time at the World’s Fair at Brussels, Belgium. It is a silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein about a real life  uprising from 1905 when the crew of a Russian battleship rebelled against their oppressive officers of the Tsarist regime.

I have a lot of “coffee table” photography books, and I adore Rodchenko’s photographs. His eye was amazing — weird angles made me take family Christmas snaps standing on a chair to get a tall perspective!

Rodchenko has been an amazing influence on all sorts of people — even to this day.  Just look at this picture belonging to a collection of the Musée d´Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, entitled,  Rodtchenko, la révolution dans l´oeil.

[Picture of

Now compare it with Scottish Pop band, Franz  Ferdinand’s album cover for “You Could Have It So Much Better”:

[Picture fo Franz ferdinand's 2nd Album Cover]And Rodchenko’s stairs and shadows surely must have influenced another Glasgow artist, Jim Lambie — who uses black and white tape to create something of the same effect (the picture here is of his exhibition, “Forever Changes” at GOMA”).

[Picture taken by Rodchenko of shadows and stairs]jimlambie_goma

Rodchenko has endured as one of my all-time favourite photographers, and Mr Brik has been a close friend for a great many years (I even had him on a tee shirt).

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