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BACK WHEN I traveled internationally, I was pretty good with jet lag after the first night. That first opportunity for sleep, however, was always seemingly at the wrong time for my body clock. I dozed here and there, but also lay wide awake for part of the time.
In retrospect, though, it was wake time well spent because I could often find something of interest on the telly, maybe an old movie in one language or another, or maybe something quite exceptional. Here are three of those exceptional occasions.
Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” was on a classical music channel with artful video accompaniment, partly of the orchestra, partly of a narrowboat ever so slowly traversing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen, Wales.
The second movement of Dvorak’s “From The New World,” its Largo, contains a theme later adapted into the spiritual-like “Goin’ Home.” Hearing this in a foreign country was especially moving to me. And recalling Antonin Dvorak’s summering in Spillville, Iowa, only added to this.
What’s more, years after this jet lag entertainment, Wife Dottie and I had the pleasure of riding in a narrowboat across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
While visiting Wales, we learned that Pontcysyllte is pronounced “Pońt-ker-suck-tay” and Llangollen is “Thl’n-goth-l’n,” sort of.
Julie Taymor’s film Titus resides at the other extreme of my jet-lag late-night entertainment. According to my just recently reviewed Pop-Up Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s original Titus Andronicus is “full of bloody violence—at least fourteen people die—and the bad guys are actually baked into a pie.”
And so is the film filled with bloody violence. Anthony Hopkins portrays Titus, a victorious Roman general who declines nomination for Emperor after his return to Rome. Jessica Lange is Tamora, defeated Queen of the Goths, now claiming to be Queen of Rome. Her sons seek familial revenge by torturing Titus’s daughter Lavinia. The sons are the bad guys served up to their mother in Shakespearen-horrific manner.
Julie Taymor frames this tragedy as a fantasy of punk rock, ancient Rome, and Mussolini Italy. I confess that Titus contains more blood and guts than I typically prefer watching. However, Taymor’s visual artistry and Shakespeare’s commanding words made the film compelling and memorable to me.
Titus got mixed reviews in its limited 1999 run. Scott Tobias shares my view in saying, “Titus strikes a near-impossible balance between magnificently cracked high camp and a more serious statement about corruption and the cycle of violence.” The complete movie can be viewed online; for the squeamish, there’s a trailer that’s All-Audience rated, though still harrowing.
Ettore Scola’s Le Bal, 1983 is an Italian-Franco-Algerian film that had no problem in translation, even at the hour I watched it, because it’s devoid of dialogue. Instead, Le Bal is a popular-music tone-poem history of the French people, as seen through 50 years of a Parisian working-class ballroom.
Vladimir Cosma’s dance music and the anonymous actors’ dancing reflect the 1936 French Popular Front, a 1940 eve-of-Nazi occupation, Paris’s liberation in 1944, U.S. soldiers’ 1946 contribution of silk stockings and jazz, a 1956 replacement of samba with rock and roll, a student radical takeover of the abandoned dance hall in 1968, and its transition into a 1983 disco.
I never regretted the lack of dialogue. Ettore Scola’s 1936 setting, for instance, is enhanced by black and white—except for reddish hues that have yet to fade. The actors/dancers recur throughout with appropriate changes of attire. And Le Bal isn’t just dancing; each period has its vignettes of storyline.
Ettore Scola’s Le Bal is a magical film, with an extended trailer available online. Its music, Le bal (Bande originale du film d’Ettore Scola), can be streamed online. I got my soundtrack CD in France, likely the day after enjoying Le Bal instead of sleep. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017