The Lady In Number 6 Wins 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved Her Life

Alice Herz-Sommer, who died in London last Sunday at the age of 110, was widely described as the oldest known Holocaust survivor. She had been a distinguished pianist in Europe before the war. However, it was only after the Nazi occupation of her homeland, Czechoslovakia, in 1939 that she began a deep study of Chopin’s Études, some of the most technically demanding and emotionally impassioned works in the piano repertory.

For Mrs. Herz-Sommer, the Études offered a consuming distraction at a time of constant peril. But they ultimately gave her far more than that, far more, even, than spiritual sustenance. “They are very difficult,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer said. “I thought if I learned to play them, they would save my life.” And so they did.

In recent years, because of her great age; her indomitability; her continued, ardent involvement with music and her recollections of her youthful friendships with titans like Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler; Mrs. Herz-Sommer became a beacon for writers, filmmakers and members of the public eager to learn her story. Mrs. Herz-Sommer was also profiled in documentary films, one of which, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, a documentary portrait directed by Malcolm Clarke, won the 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject.

The Lady in Number 6 has been described as one of the most inspirational stories ever told. In the film, Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest pianist and oldest holocaust survivor, shares her views on how to live a long happy life. She discusses the vital importance of music, laughter and having an optimistic outlook on life. This powerfully inspirational film tells her amazing story of survival and how she managed to use her time in a Nazi concentration camp to empower herself and others with music.

Read more about the life of Alice Herz-Sommer in the New York Times here.

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved Her Life

Nelson Mandela: South African Prisoner, Liberator and Peace Prize Winner, Dies at 95

Nelson Mandela: South African Prisoner, Liberator and Peace Prize Winner, Dies at 95

Nelson Mandela, who led the emancipation of South Africa and served as his country’s first black President, becoming an international emblem of dignity and forbearance, died Thursday night at the age of 95.

Mr. Mandela’s quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty, to the liberation underground, to a prison rock quarry, to the presidential suite of Africa’s richest country. When his first term in office was up, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease, but a democracy, respected in the world and remarkably at peace.

Mr. Mandela overcame a personal mistrust bordering on loathing to share both power and a Nobel Peace Prize with the white president who preceded him, F. W. de Klerk. And as president, from 1994 to 1999, he devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of vengeance. When the question was put to Mr. Mandela in an interview in 2007: “After such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check?” His answer was almost dismissive: “Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.

Read more about Nelson Mandela in the New York Times here.

Nelson Mandela Dies at 95: South Africa’s First Black President Remembered

The World Celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday

Mandela’s Campaign Against South African Apartheid

On August 5th, 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested after living in underground hiding for seventeen months, and was initially imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort. He was imprisoned after being charged with involvement in planning armed action and a conspiracy to help other countries invade South Africa. The arrest was made possible because the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tipped off South African security police as to Mandela’s whereabouts and disguise. Mandela was later imprisoned on Robben Island, where he remained for the next eighteen of his twenty-seven years in prison.

In March 1982, Mandela was transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison, in part to enable discreet contact between him and the South African government. In 1990, State President F.W. de Klerk reversed the ban on anti-apartheid organizations, and announced that Mandela would shortly be released from prison. Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl on February 11th, 1990, an event that was broadcast live all over the world.

South Africa’s first multi-racial elections were held on April 27th, 1994. The African National Congress won 62% of the votes in the election, and Mandela, as leader of the ANC, was inaugurated on May 10th, 1994, as the country’s first Black President, with the National Party’s de Klerk as his first deputy. As President from 1994 until 1999, Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation.

Mandela’s leadership was recognized when he was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Mandela’s London Arrival for the Birthday Celebrations

Nelson Mandela arrived in London on Monday, June 23rd, 2008, for a week of events to celebrate his 90th birthday. Mandela met with Queen Elizabeth II, as well as with a number of other high-profile celebrities who included Gordon Brown, the former U.S. president Bill Clinton and the talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. The outdoor concert in honor of the former South African President was scheduled to take place at Hyde Park, London, on Friday, June 29th, with performers including Amy Winehouse, Josh Groban, Annie Lennox, Leona Lewis, Queen and the Soweto Gospel Choir.

Celebrating Mandela’s 90th Birthday: The 90th Birthday Concert

40,000 Fans Pay Tribute to Mandela

Will Smith charmed the huge 90th Birthday Concert crowd, and Amy Winehouse wowed them with her performance. However, Nelson Mandela proved to be the biggest star of all at the concert Friday in honor of the South African statesman’s 90th birthday.

Acts including Queen, Razorlight, Leona Lewis and a host of African stars joined more than 40,000 music fans for the outdoor show in London’s Hyde Park. Josh Groban and the Soweto Gospel Choir also performed at the event, which came 20 years after a 70th birthday concert for an absent Mandela at London’s Wembley Stadium. Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist, had at that point been imprisoned in South Africa for 25 years. He told Friday’s crowd that that concert made a big difference in his eventual release and the fight against the racist system, which was dismantled in the early 1990s.

Your voices carried across the water to inspire us in our prison cells far away,” said Mandela, who received the biggest cheers of the night. “We are honored to be back in London for this wonderful celebration.”

But even as we celebrate, let us remind ourselves that our work is far from complete.”

Amy Winehouse Performs: Mandela’s 90th Birthday Concert

Josh Groban Performs at the Birthday Concert

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Wasp: The Searing Desperation of a Forsaken Young Mother

Wasp: The Searing Desperation of a Forsaken Young Mother

Through the years, Mother’s Day films have presented moms both good and bad, and Wasp features a most down-on-her-luck mother in contemporary Britain, an unfortunate mom who certainly isn’t going to be winning any Mother of the Year Awards. Wasp is an acclaimed short film directed by British filmmaker Andrea Arnold, which won the 2005 Academy Award for Live Action Short Film and the Jury Prize for International Short Filmmaking at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Wasp has been credited as having revived the genre of social realism in British cinema, and this short film has gained the status of a modern classic through Arnold’s sensitive humanistic approach, combined with modern filmmaking techniques.

The film is a searing and intimate portrait of Zoë, a forsaken young woman in contemporary England, who is mired in poverty, but who desperately wants something for herself aside from the oppressive limitations of being a single-mother of four. Despite the responsibility she bears, when a former crush unexpectedly reappears showing his first bit of romantic interest in her, Zoë jumps at the opportunity to go out on a date with him, behaving in painfully irresponsible ways.

On another level, Wasp is a stinging critique of the agonizing worship of the faux-celebrity lives manufactured by today’s pop-media, public relations machines. For Zoë, the Beckhams are the ideal family, the epitome of the fashionably idolized, providing an illusory escape from the harsh realities of her own life. They’re the idealized depiction of a family with three terribly good-looking young sons, a family whose real existence never steps in the way of their living the glamorous life. For Zoë, the Beckhams represent the false pinnacle of desire: never-ending luxury, fashionable motherhood and physical perfection in marriage. But there’s a gut-wrenching sadness to Zoë’s idealized obsession, for she can barely even feed her own children.

It is just phenomenal how much this film gets right; the level of deftness in the writing and presentation is stellar. Having already noted that Wasp has achieved the status of a modern classic, it would be very worthwhile for you to watch this engrossing film. Wasp is a perfect reintroduction to dramatic live-action short films: it is almost mandatory viewing for short film fans. Enjoy.

Wasp: The Searing Desperation of a Forsaken Young Mother

Read more about this film at Short of the Week here.

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The Jockstrap Raiders: Heroic British Misfits Defeat Invading German Armies

The Jockstrap Raiders: Heroic British Misfits Defeat Invading German Armies

The Jockstrap Raiders is a delightfully wacky animated short film by animator Mark Nelson, which won the 2012 Student Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. In a slightly altered version of World War I, Germany is building a bridge across the English Channel to invade Britain.

Britain’s sole hope is The Jockstrap Raiders, a former amateur rugby club for freaks and geeks, all of whom had previously been excluded from the war due to various bizarre abnormalities. The team switches balls for bombs and goes into battle aerodynamically shaved and wearing only jockstraps, becoming the heroic flying squadron that foils the invading Kaiser and his army.

The Jockstrap Raiders: Heroic British Misfits Defeat Invading German Armies

(Best Viewed in Full-Screen Mode, with Scaling Off)

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The Eagleman Stag: 2013 SOTW Best Short Animation Award

The Eagleman Stag: 2013 SOTW Best Short Animation Award

The larger our past gets, the smaller our present feels.”

The Eagleman Stag is an award-winning, stunning monochrome stop-motion animated short film by Michael Please, which was awarded Best Short Animation at the 2011 British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA). The film has received universal acclaim playing at high-profile film festivals including Sundance and SXSW, winning awards at Annecy and Clermont-Ferrand, in addition to BAFTA. The film was named one of 10 finalists competing for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The Eagleman Stag has just been honored as winner of the 2013 SOTW Best Short Animation Award.

Told in a distinctive, contemporary film-noir style, The Eagleman Stag is a story of life and fear, a darkly comic take on one man’s obsession with the quickening perception of time that faces all of us as we age, and his attempts to counter this effect. As Peter Eagleman nears the end of his days, his obsessive attempts to define the world, and his haunting perception of time within it, leads to progressively extreme measures to control and counter time’s increasing pace.

The Eagleman Stag: 2013 SOTW Best Short Animation Award

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Belly: A Heart-Wrenching Tale of Childhood Love and Loss

Belly: A Heart-Wrenching Tale of Childhood Love and Loss

Belly is an acclaimed animated short film by filmmaker Julia Pott, created in 2011 for her thesis at London’s Royal College of Art. The film had a long and successful run on the festival circuit, including screenings at Sundance, Animafest Zagreb, SXSW, the Holland Animation Film Festival and the Hiroshima International Animation Festival (among many others). Belly has recently been nominated for Best Animated Short Film in the 2013 Short of the Week Awards, with winners to be announced beginning February 4, 2013.

Belly is a strange and beautiful coming-of-age tale that explores the bittersweet childhood transitional state of having to leave things behind. Oscar and his aggressive older brother Alex go the beach. Alex works very hard to put Oscar in his place, telling him that he isn’t old enough yet to go for a swim with him. Oscar, however, has a companion of his own, a “monster” who loves him and remains at his side. When Alex gets in trouble, it is up to Oscar and his monster to rescue him, but what Oscar gains from the experience in terms of maturity and Alex’s respect, is offset by the sadness of loss.

Belly: A Heart-Wrenching Tale of Childhood Love and Loss

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W. H. Auden: Tell Me the Truth About Love

W. H. Auden: Tell Me the Truth About Love

Biographic Notes

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) was born in York, England. He moved to Birmingham during childhood and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. At Oxford his precocity as a poet was immediately apparent, and he formed lifelong friendships with two fellow writers, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.

As a young man, he traveled through Germany, Iceland, and China, served in the Spanish Civil war and in 1939 moved to the United States, where he met his lover, Chester Kallman, and became an American citizen. A prolific writer, Auden was also a noted playwright, librettist, editor, and essayist. Considered by some to be the greatest English poet of the twentieth century, his work has exerted a major influence on succeeding generations of poets on both sides of the Atlantic.

Dark Night of the Soul

In 1952, Auden and his life-long companion moved to an apartment at 77 St. Marks Place in New York’s East Village. It was, more or less, Auden’s permanent home for the rest of his life. During the initial years, Auden lived, however ambivalently, actively engaged in social and political interests, as well as enjoying his status as an internationally renowned poet. In his later years, Auden became increasingly withdrawn and lonely.

This was profoundly reflected in his writings, through which he deliberately attempted to discard much of his own public dignity, a significant sign that indicated the painful depth of his feelings of personal isolation. Many of his last poems spoke to, rather than about, silent objects and people who were either absent or dead. Ruminations about “night” (the darkness and ending of one’s day/life) dominated his writings in 1972, and particularly in his poem Lullaby that was addressed to himself. In that poem, writing about sleep was framed by the language of finality: “Let your last thinks all be thanks,” anticipating a time of final endings, completions and a state surpassing all feelings of resentment.

On another note, Auden’s life-long anxieties about his seemingly paradoxical wishes to maintain a clear sense of autonomy, versus his strong needs for attachment, were perhaps no more clearly presented than in his book of poems, About the House, inspired by various rooms in his home. Writing about groups of people visiting in the “living room”, Auden’s thoughts turned to the impact of the size of such rooms upon the internal experiences of psychological boundaries versus a lack of boundaries.

If the room was too small, he believed that, “…people can’t forget at will that they’re not alone.” In other words, they can’t remember that while together (or part of a “we”), they are also alone, instead drowning in a sense of enmeshment, lack of personal identity, autonomy and achievement.

At another extreme, if the room was too large, it would encourage people to engage in ever-more strong efforts to make contact with each other, with intensively forceful attempts to achieve a sense of attachment, along with heightened wishes and strivings for nurturing dependency.

Near the very end of his life, Auden’s poem entitled Loneliness purported to convey his prediction that his intense feelings of solitude would be relieved on the following day, when his companion, Chester Kallman, was to return. In fact, the poem only addresses in the first person his own terrifying image of Loneliness itself, the “Gate-crashing ghost, aggressive / invisible visitor.”

Concluding this brief commentary, we return to Auden’s feelings of the dark night of his soul as the end of life approached, best captured in his poem entitled Lullaby

Lullaby

First stanza
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Kenneth Granham Reads W. H. Auden’s Lullaby

W. H. Auden: Tell Me the Truth About Love

Tell Me the Truth About Love is a BBC documentary film looking at the poetry of W. H. Auden, revealing how it came not just from inspiration but from a rigorous personal analysis of love itself. When he died in 1973, he left behind some of the greatest love poems of the 20th century. Most of his unpublished material was destroyed, apart from two short journals and a series of jottings, containing diagrams and notes about the nature of love.

W. H. Auden: Tell Me the Truth About Love

Photo-Gallery: W. H. Auden Through the Years

(Please Click Image to View Gallery)

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