Thursday, May 31, 2012

Where the Wild Things (Still) Are

In the second half of the last bloody century, a new model for rational man emerged... or so we were told.  With the ever-increasing union of the former nation states of Europe the peoples on this continent would transcend national identity.  International conflicts would be decided by law rather than war, and armies could be mostly disbanded leaving only rump forces for the purpose of humanitarian and peace-keeping operations.  Not only would war crimes be prosecuted at the Hague but a new body of law would be developed outlining "crimes against peace."  The European Union would ensure free movement of people across borders and goods across markets.  The EU would enforce a maximum 35 hour work week.   Death would be optional.

Okay maybe no one actually claimed this last, but in 1992 Francis Fukuyama argued that "history had ended."

Meanwhile, the Spanish banking system is right now creaking, and Greece is falling apart and will soon likely be dropped from the Eurozone.  The late twentieth century Eurocrat vision of a paradise for rational man is in some doubt.   Somehow apropos of this, last month, during a flight from Mexico back to London I picked up a copy of British Airways' High Life magazine and was struck by a portfolio of bizarre photos by Charles Freger.   This Frenchman had spent two years in remote pockets of Europe documenting the costumes of contemporary masked participants in ancient festivals in Europe.

 "Hirsute and horny," as the accompanying article explains, these were no New Age dabblers.  Gaze upon them.  It's not that paganism is making a comeback in Europe, but that in certain corners it apparently never went away.  Fréger's subjects were reclusive, and with the aid of ethnologists and translators he spent years conducting "granular research of the phenomenon, visiting remote pockets in eighteen European countries, from France to Finland, from Sardinia to Slovenia."

"Celebrating life and death, fertility and the cycle 
of the seasons, these masquerades were mainly captured by Fréger in the winter and spring, during key moments in the pagan calendar, such as solstices and equinoxes."

"Once disguised, the men often channel the creature they represent, be it a boar or goat or bear, the symbol of fertility."

"In one memorable encounter, Fréger embedded with the Mechkari (bears) in Macedonia. After three sleepless days wearing heavy animal skins and masks, dancing and drinking spirits, the men became, says Fréger, 'twisted in the mind'."

The High Life "Wilder Mann" feature, with text by Lucy Perceval, may be found HERE.

Charles Freger's website is HERE.

His book, Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage (£25, Dewi Lewis), is out this month, with information HERE.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Roman Polanski's Short Film for Prada

Roman Polanski's latest entry for the Cannes Film Festival, billed as a "new work" and presented before the screening of a new print of his 1979 film Tess, is a short film entitled "A Therapy."  At less than four minutes, co-written with Ron Harwood, and starring Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham-Carter (winners or nominees of Oscars and BAFTAs all of 'em), is this a short film, or is it instead a glorious advertisement?

Polanski's early short films, made in the 1950s and early 1960s when he was a film student in Poland, showed a precocious mastery of the form and are still watchable today.  This new film too is watchable, but not quite the revelation that those early films were.

Nonetheless, for your viewing pleasure...

Among Polanski's shorts, I especially recommend you see "Two Men and a Wardrobe" and "The Lamp," available along with others in this collection.

Here, below, is "Two Men and a Wardrobe."  Look for a young Polanski as the second assailant.