Prelude to Melancholia: This Is How the End Begins

Prelude to Melancholia: This Is How the End Begins

The Earth is evil,
We don’t need to grieve for it
.”

There are 16 mini-scenes in Lars von Trier’s hauntingly beautiful eight-minute prelude to Melancholia, a movie about love, family and the apocalypse. The soundtrack for the overture to Melancholia is the exquisite prelude to Wagner’s 1859 opera, Tristan and Isolde, an opera Wagner described as “one of endless yearning, longing, the bliss and wretchedness of love; world, power, fame, honor, chivalry, loyalty and friendship all blown away like an insubstantial dream,” for which there is “one sole redemption-death, finality, a sleep without awakening.”

The movie, among Mr. von Trier’s greatest, stars Kirsten Dunst as Justine, a young advertising copywriter who, shortly after she gets married, endures two separate yet related catastrophes. A wedding party at an ocean-side golf resort owned by Justine’s brother-in-law ends with her new husband leaving, which in turn brings on the depression that overtakes her and seems to inaugurate the end of the world or her dream of the same. Many of the movie’s themes are introduced in the overture’s first minutes, a masterpiece in miniature that presents a deep reflection of literary, artistic and cinematic allusions.

Melancholia was named Best Picture at The 2011 European Film Awards in Berlin; the film also won awards for cinematography and production design. Previously, Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in Melancholia. Last week, The National Society of Film Critics named Lars Von Trier’s end-of-the-world drama Melancholia Best Picture, and Best Actress honors went to Kirsten Dunst for her performance in the film.

Read more about Prelude to Melancholia in The New York Times here.

Prelude to Melancholia: This Is How the End Begins

Melancholia: The Official Trailer

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The Cat Piano: A City of Imprisoned Singing Cats

The Cat Piano: A City of Imprisoned Singing Cats

The Cat Piano is an award-winning 8-minute animated short film directed by Australian filmmakers Eddie White and Ari Gibson, featuring narration by the iconic Australian musician Nick Cave. The film is a remarkable animation, a visual marvel that’s a perfectly executed narrative, seamlessly coalescing its gothic influences into a hypnotically sinister aesthetic that is never at odds with itself.  The Cat Piano was named last week as one of 10 films to advance in the Animated Short Films category for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.

The story opens in a city of musically talented singing cats, where a lonely beat poet falls for the call of a beautiful musical siren.  However, a mysteriously dark and evil human soon emerges and begins kidnapping the town’s singing cats to imprison them inside of a cat piano, intent on carrying out his depraved musical plans to perform a twisted feline symphony.  At that point, the poet realizes that he must save his muse and put an end to the nefarious tune that threatens to destroy the entire city.

The Cat Piano: A City of Imprisoned Singing Cats

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Trumbo: Reminders of Political Persecution in America

Trumbo: Reminders of Political Persecution in America

The Fall of Dalton Trumbo

Trumbo is a new film about the Hollywood blacklisting of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, opening in theaters this week. The film includes a wealth of documentary footage from the House Un-American Activities Committee years and is, in its own way, a very personalized history of the notorious Hollywood blacklist.

Dalton Trumbo was a prolific Hollywood screenwriter who wrote dozens of movie scripts during the 1930s and ’40s, including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Kitty Foyle. His anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun won the National Book Award in 1939. But in 1947, Trumbo was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as part of the Hollywood Ten, who were questioned about their ties to the Communist Party. Trumbo refused to testify and was found in contempt of Congress.

Subsequently, he was kicked out of the screenwriter’s guild, and all of the Hollywood motion picture studios almost immediately blacklisted him. For his refusal to testify in the HUAC hearings, Trumbo eventually served nearly a year in federal prison. Dalton Trumbo’s ruination took him from being one of Hollywood’s highest-paid writers to a Hollywood pariah.

After Trumbo was released from prison, he remained on Hollywood’s blacklist for nearly a decade, but went on to have a prodigious writing career under a list of at least 13 pseudonyms (writing for films that included Roman Holiday, Gun Crazy, The Brave One). Trumbo’s film The Brave One, written under the pseudonym Robert Rich, won an Academy Award in 1957. It is the only unclaimed Oscar in the history of the Academy Awards. Trumbo finally received credit for his work on Exodus and Spartacus in 1960.

In 1970, Dalton Trumbo delivered a speech about the HUAC hunt for good guys and bad, which contained this admonishment: “There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides; and almost every individual involved, no matter where he stood, combined some or all of these antithetical qualities in his own person, in his own acts.”

Dalton Trumbo’s life story stands as a poignant reminder of a weird, scary time, a paranoid era which, some think, could happen again. Some Hollywood observers maintain that the potential for similar political persecution still exists, perhaps not in the exact form it happened before. However, they claim that there are things going on now in the current political administration that should serve as reminders that it could happen again.

Dalton Trumbo: A Blacklisted Writer in His Own Words:

The Hollywood Ten (Trumbo, 2nd Row, Left)

The Hollywood Ten

A Letter from Prison to My Wife: Read by Actor Josh Lucas

Trumbo: The Official 2008 Movie Trailer

Studs Terkel: A National Literary Icon

Studs Terkel and the HUAC Blacklist

This article has also been written in honor of a friend, 96 years old Studs Terkel. At the time when Senator McCarthy began blacklisting supposed subversives, Studs Terkel hosted Studs’ Place, a network television program on NBC, and wrote a regular column for the Chicago Sun Times. However, immediately after he refused to give names to McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, NBC pulled his television program and the Sun-Times cancelled his newspaper column. Terkel was unable to work until 1953, when a Chicago radio station hired him, telling Terkel “p*ss on the blacklist.” Subsequently, Terkel has written a number of acclaimed books, won the Pulitzer Prize (1985), two National Book Awards, and received The National Humanities Award (1997) and The George Polk Career Award (1999).

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And to You Whoopi Goldberg, Bravo!!

As most people probably know by now, Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony featured many montages, one of which was described as a “montage of Oscar hosts” when it was introduced by George Clooney. The retrospective montage of past hosts included a moment of almost every host in the show’s history. But there was one host who was not included in that montage, the 4-time host and Academy Awards winner Whoopi Goldberg.

On Monday’s airing of the ABC television program The View, the subject was discussed ad nauseam by the “chatting-heads”, and Whoopi’s feelings of disappointment about the omission were abundantly and painfully clear. The other co-hosts spoke of Whoopi’s many historical milestones related to the ceremony: she was the first female Oscar host, the first Oscar winner to host, and only the second African-American woman to ever win an Oscar. Up until now, most writers about that particular program have described it simply in terms of how displeased the co-hosts were with the slight.

However, there is a different, possibly more plausible perspective on what actually took place Monday on The View. Consider that not only does Whoopi have to suffer the daily indignity of being reduced to just another “chatting-head” on The View, but also that her co-hosts insisted upon going on and on, in front of millions of American people, rubbing in the fact that the Oscar winning actress and Oscar hosting actress had not been shown in one of the montages on Sunday night. Dumb and dumberer Elisabeth Hasselbeck babbled on and on about how it must feel so terrible to be so slighted. Placing a cherry atop the poison pudding, the ever-duplicitous Barbara Walters unwittingly asserted that nothing Whoopi had ever done at the Oscars was really a Great Moment.

Whoopi just sat there, looking unbelievably miserable, trying to collect the remaining shards of her dignity that were being scattered around the set. When the others just wouldn’t stop, Whoopi quietly got up and gave each of them “the kiss of death” just to shut their mouths, briefly weeping when she got behind Barbara Walters.

Update: On Tuesday, the producer of the Oscar awards show apologized to Whoopi for leaving her out. The View should be interesting to watch tomorrow.

George Clooney: The Oscar Montage of Hosts

The View: Sadly Embarrassing Moments

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Hollywood’s All Abuzz: It’s Oscar Dayze!!

Hollywood news conferences, The Red Carpet, movie stars, celebrities, fancy designer gowns, jewels and parties! Hollywood is a town that’s all abuzz as celebrities are flocking from all over the world for Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony. Here’s a video of Oscar Winner Predictions, as well as other great videos, including: a video about the worst movies of all time, an imaginative short film about the Oscars and a video about Eve Arnold’s wonderful celebrity photography.

The 2008 Academy Awards Oscar Predictions

The Worst Films Ever Made

The Oscars

Eve Arnold’s Celebrity Photography

Viewers can read The New York Times’ Oscar Predictions here.

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