2016年12月13日 星期二

Eperdument (Down by Love) (狂愛)

It is often said that love is blind. Philosophers like Plato taught that love is a noble virtue, a kind of non-sexual relationship between heterosexual friends, an arête and that we must distinguish between eros and philia. Believers in the monotheistic god tell us that love or agape has its origin in that greatest source of everything in the universe, that fountain of that Greatest Love that can possibly exist, called variously God, Allah, Yahweh. Moralists tell us that love is the kind of unselfish human kindness, compassion, and affection, loyalty and benevolent concern of one human being for another. Yet, biologist tell us that love is merely the kind of physiological reaction felt by human being, like other animals when he/she is ready to mate and for that purpose to copulate. If so, is love equivalent to love-making?  Can love be reduced to mere animal passion, without sense, difficult if not impossible to control by our reason which Aristotle and countless other philosophers tell us is something which distinguishes a man from an animal? Who is right? Who is wrong? Can we even sensibly discuss the question at all? Is it a meaningful question in the first place? If it's a meaningful question, what do we mean by "meaningful"? Do we know what we are talking about when we think or say that we are talking about "love"?

2016年12月12日 星期一

Mal de Pierre (From the land of the Moon) (迷情花月)

Love is a subject women are never tire of. They can never have enough of it. Otherwise, one  can't really explain why all through the years, the counters for "romantic fiction" are always placed on the ground floor of all multi-storeyed bookstores and in all ground floor bookstore, they are always placed very close to the entrance. Women live for love and some even die for love. There's nothing women will not do for "love. I'll leave it to the evolutionary psychologists, individual psychologist, Freudian analysts, sociologists and philosophers to work out why. But ever since Gustave Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary and Thomas Hardy wrote the Trumpet Major and others about women living in suffocatingly boring rural environment, whose leisure is consumed by reading fictive tales of "grand passion" with dashing soldiers in smart military uniforms or some other "romantic" or "heroic"  Byronic figures and whose sole ambition in life seems to engage themselves, at least once, in such "amorous adventure" before they consider their lives complete because for them, art trumps life and "reality": there is nothing they long for more than to be the subject of such an "art": the art of falling in love with the idea of "falling in love". Nicole Garcia's Mal de Pierre  (From the land of the Moon) (迷情花月), adapted from the novel Mal de Pietre by Italian novelist Milena Agus  after which the film is entitled, is the latest in the same lines.

2016年12月11日 星期日

Jaap's Mahler 3 (梵志登的馬勒第三)

Mahler is right when he said his Symphony 3 was one the likes of which the world had never seen: it's a most unusual symphony. It's got 6 movements instead of the usual 4, plus parts for a soprano and children's choir. It's got one of the longest first movements of any symphony ever written: lasting some half an hour. Written in a small log cabin in front of the lake of Steinbach in 1895, it's suffused with the spirit and the power Nature, as inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher who wrote the Overman (Ubermensch)("Superman" according to some translation, a name abused by Hitler who supplied specially printed copies of extracts of Nietzsche philosophy taken out of context to ordinary German solders as part of their training) and The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft), was to be entitled in like the latter work and was supposed to have 7 programmatic movements as follows:
I : Pan awakens. Summer marches in.
II   What the flowers in the meadow tell me.
III  What the beasts of the forest tell me.
IV  What the night tells me. (Alto solo.)
V   What the morning bells tell me. (Women's chorus with alto solo.)
VI  What love tells me.
Motto: 'Father, behold these wounds of mine! Let no creature be unredeemed!'
(from Des Knaben Wunderhorn)
VII  Heavenly life [ Das himmlische Leben]. (Soprano solo, humorous)
Later, the original 7th movement became the final movement of his next symphony, the 4th and the third symphony became a 6-movement symphony.
In its present form, with the programmatic title "Sommermorgentraum" (A Summer Morning Dream", which is the only original programmatic indications, Mahler retains when the piece was first performed in 1902,  its 6 movements are as follows:
I  Kräftig. Entschieden (Strong and decisive) [D minor to F major]
II Tempo di Menuetto (In the tempo of a minuet) [A major]
III Comodo (Scherzando) (Comfortably, like a scherzo) [C minor to C major]
IV Sehr langsam—Misterioso (Very slowly, mysteriously) [D Major]
V Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck (Cheerful in tempo and cheeky in expression) [F major]
VI Langsam—Ruhevoll—Empfunden (Slowly, tranquil, deeply felt) [D major]
I leave it to the experts to argue out whether music can be progammatic, as if musical notes, phrases, motifs, movements could be treated as words, phrases, sentences, themes, paragraphs and essays or poems.  To me, any relevant indications of what the music is "about" is of assistance in firing our own imagination and thus help us appreciate different features and aspects in the composer's music, provided one bears in mind that these are no more than hints, clues, suggestions and can never be taken literally because music is always music. It can never be replaced by words, no matter how skilfully done. Otherwise, music will have lost its raison d'ête.

2016年12月10日 星期六

Mobile étoile (Night Song) (夜之聲).

December 9 is a very special day for me. That afternoon whilst 689 was forced by Beijing to announce that owing to reasons of facing up to his "responsibility" to his family, he would not seek re-election as HK's CE, I was involved in a totally different world. I believe that for most people in HK, splintered and radicalized into seemingly irreconciable political factions by the antics of our CE, that's a very pleasing shock indeed. But at the same time as the shock waves of that announcement was still settling, another minor shock was being unfolded at the HK Film Archive in Sai Wan Ho, as the screen  rolled out images after images of another world: the world of preservation of 19th and early 20th century French Jewish music through the indefatigable work of certain musicians in Quebec, Canada.  That is the subject of a most unusual film directed by Raphaël Nadjari  and co-written by him and Vincent Poymiro called Mobile étoile (Night Song)(夜之聲).

The film is about the finnancial, personal and intra-group struggles of a small group of very dedicated choral French-Portuguese Jewish religious music aficiandos spear-headed by the Dussault family, whose three members were respectively the singer-conductress of a small choral group,Hannah Hermann (Géraldine Pailhas), her pianist husband Daniel Dussault (Luc Picard ) and their teenage violinist son David Hermann-Dussault (Alexandre Sheasby)  When the film began, they were preparing for the group's last concert by their existing members which also included Etha Salomons (Felicia Shulman ) and Liliane Levy (Dorothée Berryman), the last of whom who would retire after having been with the group since its beginning. After her retirement, the group advertised for a new member and was soon joined by the very talented young Abigail Colin (Eléonore Lagacé). We're shown how when the couple went back to the their studio one morning, they found that the lock had been changed. Daniel went to the manager Marlus's (Raymond Cloutier) office and found that that was because they hadn't paid the rent for 3 months despite numerous reminders. Daniel was forced to make out a personal cheque and was allowed by the director to continue their rehearsals there.

Everything began to change when Hannah's teenage professor Samuel Badazs (Paul Kunigis)  brought them a rare manuscript of the original of a beautiful song, the title of the film, which he took great pains to trace back to an archive of Portuguese Jewish synagogue music in Bordeaux and had it restored by an expert. It was a song with special meaning to Hannah and her ex-professor. When they were rehearsing it with a new interpretation with a more romantic feel suggested by Abigail, they invited Badazs to give his comments. Badazs was not at all in agreement and insisted that it ought to be done in a more formal manner because it was religious music. Daniel had to rewrite the accompaniment to second movement of the song.But when they were invited by the head of the classical music section of the radio station in Quebec to have it recorded after they listened one of their concerts, Daniel refused to be the pianist and Hannah had to double up both as singer and pianist because it was not at all his idea of how it should be done. To him, an artist should be left free to add his own personality to the music according to what he feels to be contemporary sentiments to make it relevant. But Hannah insisted that it should be done the way her former professor said.

The plot was made slightly more interesting by the antics of Marlus who enjoyed listening to their rehearsals and was found doing so by accident by Daniel, who mistakenly thought he was snooping around on them but when the misunderstanding was cleared up, he was invited to join the group as a baritone, something he accepted after some initial hesitation and helped actively in making a presentation of some more lively music to a school in an effort to popularize their genre of classical French Jewish religious music but failed to win over the school authorities.. But they persisted and in the end won a continuation of their grant from the musical foundation which hitherto was supporting them as a result of their radio performance.

It's a simple enough story about how music was what united the Dussault family, whose oldest member Jean-Paul Dussault (Marcel Sabourin) suffered a stroke but when he was rejoined by his son, who played a Bach piece which he taught him when his son was still a child, at the old people's retreat, his spirits revived.  I like the way the director and cinematographer constantly focuses the camera upon the character's eyes through which a kind of mutual attention to each other in a tacit understanding that flowed along with the mood of the music, something really beautiful to see. We also see how the love of music pervaded soul of the Dussault family and helped  transform and mould it into a living unity, despite the gender, despite age,and differences of personality and preferences and how their common love of music help keep them together despite divergent views of how it should "properly" be done and how if someone were kept out of the rather personal project of its conductress, the only other non-family member Etha felt "betrayed"..   

It's a most unusual film, definitely not one which has universal appeal to everyone. But to a music lover, its music is truly heavenly. The film was made credible almost entirely through the very sensitive acting of all its main characters. But of course, what made the film a delight to watch was it incredibly well recorded music.


2016年12月9日 星期五

Vendeur (Who's Your Daddy?) (我阿爸是誰?)

The life of a top notch salesman is full of self-confidence, a giant size ego, money, constant pressure to clinch the deal, the kind of conspicuous glamor and other things that money can buy like well tailored suit, powerful and well-built BMW But it can also be a life of loneliness which can only be drowned by one glass after another of alcohol, one prostitute after another in hotel rooms, "professional" pep talk sessions utilizing the results of social psychology in the form of the so-called "positive psychology" , organized by the boss of the relevant business organization and even hard drugs. The aim of all salesmanship is to conclude a deal with maximum profit whatever it is that one is selling. The salesman must make use of all his personal charm, his gift of the gab, his insight into the human weakness of greed, of their fear of losing out on something too good to be true, of the inclination of ordinary mortals to dream moments of glory otherwise missing in their lives(more realistically, of vainglory), to be the focus of envy amongst their peersand their reckless, their unwillingness to do the needed hard work of weighing carefully the long and short term benefits against the relevant downside factors, to squeeze the last dollar from his customers, for which he may be offered loans at "fantastically" easy to accept initial terms, offers that can't possibly be refused. The trick is first to create the desire in the customer by emphasizing the beauty, the utility, the ease of the product, to elicit the customer's imagination of an ideal future state, then create what "appears" a difficulty, eg. by listing a much higher price than the what the seller is ultimately prepared to accept, then give the customer the illusion that he is being "clever" or "smart" or "skilful" in negotiating down the price by a very "substantial" amount by offering first a little concession, then a little bit more until the parties are very close to a deal and when there are signs that the customer may be showing firm signs of walking away, then make a final "once only" or :"once in a lifetime" "final" concession saying that that  incredible offer may be withdrawn if the customers doesn't accept within an extremely brief period, that the "ultimate best offer' will be withdrawn. The trick is to force the customer into making a quick "on the spot" decision without being given the opportunity of thinking things through. When all the tricks of the trade are used in a timely fashion, a deal may result.  Here the born salesman will have a knack of when to do what and his sense of timing must be perfect, something which cannot be learned if one doesn't really have a gift for that kind of instantaneous insight.

2016年12月8日 星期四

Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art (大山崎山莊美術館)

On day two of my visit to Kyoto, I decided to visit a place which doesn't always display some of its precious art collection just at the time you are visiting it. It's the Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art. The building there used to the country retreat of Shotaro Kaga (1888-1953) a wealthy business from the Kansai area and founder of the Nikka Whisky Distilling who later gave his shares in the company to his close friend Tamesaburo Yamamoto, the first president of Asahi Breweries. Kaga was a man of fine taste, an avid cultivator of orchids and had even written a book on woodblocks of that beautiful flower called "Rankafu"  Kaga died in 1953 but his wife continued living there until 1967, when she too died and the Kaga family decided to sell it. After several changes of hands, the new owners decided in 1989 to tear it down and replace it with some new luxurious apartments. But the local residents objected and started a campaign to save it and evedntually the local governments of Oyamazaki and Kyoto decided to restore it and reopen it as an art museum, something which came to fruition in 1996. As part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the museum there, it's now showing some of its Monet collections.


First, I got to take the Kyoto-Oyamasaki train and discovered to my surprise that in Kyoto, unlike in the metro in HK, there are many more overhead hand rings in the train compartments with different lengths to accomodate people of different height.

2016年12月7日 星期三

La Fille Inconnue (The Unknown Girl) (無名少女)

A young lady doctor Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel ) and another young man Julien (Olivier Bonnaud) both in doctors's robe, were jointly examining the huge puffy back of an old man (Andre Gotti) with stethocscope, giving the him directions to breathe at various intervals. The young Juilen gave his diagnosis. Dr. Davin asked Juilen to listen to another part of the man's back. He did so. She did the same. At the end, she told the young man that the patient had two symptoms of two respiratory and lung condition, not one. The young man didn't say anything. But it was obvious that he felt rebuffed. Then the examination was interrupted by a cry from the lady doctor's nurse that someone was dying. The lady doctor apologises to his patient that she had to attend to someone else first. he said it was OK. She rushed up the stairs and found an Arabian boy writhing. trembling and shaking involuntarily, in a cramp, frothing at the mouth. She pressed him down, held his head and ordered the sulking young man to bring her a pillow. The young man, then leaning against the wall just three feet away remained immobile. She had to do so herself. After the boy suffering from epilepsy was treated, she told him that to be a professional, one must control one's feelings at all times if one were not to make a wrong diagnosis. During her little lecture, someone sounded the doorbell to her clinic. She switched on the CCTV screen. She saw the image of a young black colored girl pressing the doorbell repeatedly, anxiety all over her face. She had never seen this girl before as a patient. She looked at the clock. It was already past 5.30 p.m., the closing hour of her clinic.The young man made as if he wanted to go down to open the door. She told him it was past the closing hour. Without another word, the young man took his bike and carried it towards the exit. She let him go. The young man did not turn up again the following day. She telephoned the young man and left a voice message apologizing for the harsh way she spoke to him and asked him to call her back. He never did.

2016年12月6日 星期二

Sanzen-in & Jakko-in Temples, Ohara, Kyoto (京都大原三千院與寂光院)-2

Water is a most versatile element. It has practically no form of its own. It merely takes on whatever form its container assumes. Water is also singularly fair. It radiates its ripples in larger and larger concentric circles whenever a force is applied to any part of its surface and each point on the  perimeter of each circle is exactly equidistant from the point of initial impact. It has no color of its own. It merely takes on the color of whatever is below it or whatever color is reflected upon its surface. That's why it's always fascinating to watch how it changes it shape and its colors. When you throw a stone into it, it will resume its original calm unruffled surface the moment the force of the ripples dies out.

Its arcs are marked here and there by the subtle colors of fallen leaves.

2016年12月5日 星期一

Sanzen-in & Jakko-in Temples, Ohara, Kyoto (京都大原三千院與寂光院)-1

Japan is curious place. It's extremely modern technologically. Yet it's most old-fashioned and tradition-bound, spiritually. However, instead of clashing with each other, the new and the old seem to have merged most harmoniously. It's almost impossible for one to be in any inhabited spot in this island nation without seeing any temples (廟) or  jinja (神社) within a 15-minute walk from wherever one happens to be. It's a nation deeply imbued and penetrated by the spirit of worship.

2016年12月4日 星期日

Another Trip to Japan (重訪東瀛)

It's been a while I haven't set foot outside of HK. As it's maple leaves time in Kyoto, I thought I might want to take a second look there. I went to Japan last year and found the leaves there incredibly beautiful. Would it be the same this time? Whilst trees do have a certain time table every year for pushing out buds, fleshing them out into full-bodied leaves and for shedding them, there might be micro-changes in the temperature, humidity, sunlight and aging etc. 

Before seeing maple leaves, I already got a very realistic view of some pine needles  behind some Christmas decoration at the airport.