Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Learning Unlimited Week Nine: Myriad Powers of Art

 My review of Wind in the Reeds  
 the memoir by Wendell Pierce about the power of art to mobilize






“Older artists who struggle futilely for recognition often envy those who achieve great success at an early age. But never being able to surpass or even equal a youthful triumph can be a cruel fate for those who believe you are only as good as your latest work. This is the potentially daunting reality that Maya Lin has lived with for three and a half decades, since she skyrocketed to fame at the age of twenty-one, when during her senior year as a Yale undergraduate architecture major she won the open design competition that resulted in the most influential public monument created since World War II: the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial of 1981–1982 in Washington, D.C.
Maya Lin

Although Lin’s rigorously abstract scheme—devoid of the representational elements and allegorical imagery typical of war monuments since ancient times—provoked great controversy in some quarters when it was chosen from among the 1,421 contest entries, her powerful melding of the period’s two main avant-garde sculptural developments, Minimalism and Earth Art, fundamentally recast popular notions of commemorative architecture. This symmetrical composition of two wedge-shaped, vertically paneled, polished black granite walls set at a 125-degree angle to each other and sunk ten feet below grade at their deepest is inscribed with the names of 58,307 American military personnel who died as a result of the Vietnam War between 1957 and 1975.”
—Martin Fuller, “The Quiet Power of Maya Lin,” New York Review of Books, September, 29th, 2016. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/09/29/the-quiet-power-of-maya-lin/  


I will be showing an excerpt from A Strong Clear Vision about the art of Maya Lin

"Maybe Natalie Maines’ real problem was with her timing. On March 10, 2003, in the first days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, she told a London audience, “I’m ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” It took two weeks for that wisecrack to make it back home, but then it unleashed a perfect storm: Her group, The Dixie Chicks, had been the most popular female singing group in history, but suddenly disappeared from the playlists of virtually every country radio station in the land. Their #1 single, “Traveling Soldier,” dropped 47 percent in sales in one week. Many of their fans were vocal in their opinion that she should not have an opinion. Not long after, George W. Bush staged his premature “Mission Accomplished” photo-op.

As it happens, Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck were filming that London concert as part of a proposed film on the Chicks’ world tour. Kopple usually chooses weightier subject matter, as with her “Harlan County, USA” doc about a miner’s strike, but this was to be a film mostly about music. They stayed aboard to record one of the most revealing episodes in the history of country music, and Shut Up and Sing (2006) tells the story of how the Dixie Chicks and their manager dealt with the rage of some (not all) of their fans.

Political dissent has an honorable history in country music, just as freedom of speech is the bedrock of our American freedoms, but tell that to the people threatening boycotts of country stations or issuing anonymous death threats against the Dixie Chicks. They’re for freedom of speech as long as they agree with what’s being said. But listen to Johnny Cash defending the blacklisted Pete Seeger as “the best patriot I know.” Or consider these lyrics by John Prine, the best songwriter in modern country history:

Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore;
It’s already overcrowded by their dirty little war;
And Jesus don’t like killin’, no matter what the reason for…
Or the heartbreak of the great Prine song beginning:
Sam Stone, came home, from the conflict overseas,
With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back…

Of course Prine’s songs were about Vietnam, a war that impacted differently because of the draft. Iraq is being fought largely by a volunteer Army, if you can call being a National Guardsmen in your third tour of duty volunteering. And in those earliest days, the Administration was predicting a pacified, peaceful and democratic Iraq in months if not weeks. As Bush’s approval rating has plummeted, the Dixie Chicks have slowly won their way back toward acceptance, and this documentary is a fascinating record of their journey."

Roger Ebert, September 29, 2016


  In The Lives of Others, a true believer who has devoted his life to ferreting out "dangerous" characters is thrown into a quandary when he investigates a man who poses no threat. It's 1984, and Capt. Gerd Wiesler is an agent of the Stasi, the East German Secret Police. Weisler carefully and dispassionately investigates people who might be deemed some sort of threat to the state. Shortly after Weisler's former classmate, Lt. Col. Grubitz, invites him to a theatrical piece by celebrated East German playwright Georg Dreyman, Minister Bruno Hempf informs Weisler that he suspects Dreyman of political dissidence, and wonders if this renowned patriot is all that he seems to be. As it turns out, Hempf has something of an ulterior motive for trying to pin something on Dreyman: a deep-seated infatuation with Christa-Maria Sieland, Dreyman's girlfriend. Nevertheless, Grubitz, who is anxious to further his career, appoints Weisler to spy on the gentleman with his help. Weisler plants listening devices in Dreyman's apartment and begins shadowing the writer. As Weisler monitors Dreyman's daily life, however (from a secret surveillance station in the gentleman's attic), he discovers the writer is one of the few East Germans who genuinely believes in his leaders. This changes over time, however, as Dreyman discovers that Christa-Maria is being blackmailed into a sexual relationship with Hempf, and one of Dreyman's friends, stage director Albert Jerska, is driven to suicide after himself being blackballed by the government. Dreyman's loyalty thus shifts away from the East German government, and he anonymously posts an anti-establishment piece in a major newspaper which rouses the fury of government officials. Meanwhile, Weisler becomes deeply emotionally drawn into the lives of Dreyman and Sieland, and becomes something of an anti-establishment figure himself, embracing freedom of thought and expression. One of the most powerful scenes is watching Weisler listening to Dreyman playing a moving piano piece after hearing about his friend’s suicide. The film raises the interesting question as to whether art can change people.


Winner of the Best Director prize at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, Barbara is a simmering,  impeccably crafted Cold War thriller, starring the gifted Nina Hoss as a Berlin doctor banished to a rural East German hospital as punishment for applying for an exit visa. As her lover from the West carefully plots her escape, Barbara waits patiently and avoids friendships with her colleagues-except for Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) the hospital's head physician, who is warmly attentive to her. But even as she finds herself falling for him, Barbara still cannot be sure that Andre is not a spy. As her defensive wall slowly starts to crumble, she is eventually forced to make a profound decision about her future. A film of glancing moments and dangerous secrets, Barbara paints a haunting picture of a woman being slowly crushed between the irreconcilable needs of desire and survival. Germany's official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film.

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