“Questions From a Worker Who Reads”, a poem by Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1953)

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Questions From a Worker Who Reads
by Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1953)

Who built Thebes of the 7 gates ?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock ?

And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times ?

In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live ?
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?

Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
Who erected them ?

Over whom did the Caesars triumph ?
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants ?

Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone ?

Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him ?

Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
Was he the only one to weep ?

Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.
Who else won it ?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors ?

Every 10 years a great man.
Who paid the bill ?

So many reports.

So many questions.

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You might also enjoy:

THEATER OF WAR 2

A documentary about Brecht’s play Mother Courage DOWNLOAD [IMDB]

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Poets previously published @ Awestruck Wanderer:

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Lars Von Trier: Genius or Fraud?

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“Lars Von Trier – genius or fraud?” – asks a May 2009 Guardian Arts Diary poll. Its subject is arguably world cinema’s most confrontational and polarizing figure, and the results: 60.3% genius, 39,7% fraud.

Trier takes risks no other filmmaker would conceive of (…) and willfully devastates audiences. Scandinavia’s foremost auteur since Ingmar Bergman, the Danish director is “the unabashed prince of the European avant-garde” (IndieWIRE).

Challenging conventional limitations and imposing his own rules (changing them with each film), he restlessly reinvents the language of cinema.

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Personally he is as challenging as his films. After having written some of the most compelling heroines in recent cinema and elicited stunning, career-topping performances from Emily Watson, Björk, Nicole Kidman, and Charlotte Gainsbourg (photo), he is reputed to be a misogynist who bullies actresses and abuses his female characters in cinematic reinstatements of depleted sexist clichés.

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Actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, who acted in Lars Von Trier’s films “Antichrist” and “Nymphomaniac”

He is notorious at Cannes for his provocations and insults, as in 1991, when he thanked “the midget” (Jury President Roman Polanski) for awarding his film Europa third, rather than first, prize. Some years later, at Cannes, in a scene worthy of Michael Moore, he called U.S. President George W. Bush an “idiot” and an “asshole”, lending vituperation to the already divisive Manderlay (2005), his film about an Alabama plantation practising slavery into the 1930s…

Coming from a small country infiltrated by America’s media-driven cultural imperialism, he has found it not merely his right or duty to make films about the United States but impossible to do otherwise. Despite that, Von Trier is known for his celebrated refusal or inability (he has a fear of flying) to set foot in the United States…

A similar effrontery had provided the catalyst for Dogme95, the Danish collective and global movement that took on Hollywood in the 1990s and continues to be well served by the punk impertinence of the Dogme logo: a large, staring eye that flickers from the rear end of a bulldog (or is it a pig?).

Dogme shows where the provocateur and auteur come together. Claiming a new democracy in which (in the manifesto’s words) “anybody can make films”, Trier and the Dogme “brothers” market out a space for independent filmmaking beyond the global mass entertainment industry. Although he rarely leaves Denmark, he has cultivated a European and uniquely global cinema. Making his first films in English, he quickly found a niche in the international festival circuit. He drew inspiration from a wide swath – from the genius of Andrei Tarkovsky to movements such as Italian neorealism and the international New Waves of the 1960s-1970s, to American auteurs Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch…

1867LARS CAIXA 3DTrier’s long-term affinity with German culture – from expressionism and New German cinema to the writings of Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, and Friedrich Nietzsche – extends to equal passions for Wagnerian opera and anti-Wagnerian (Brechtian) theater… In spite of his flaunted internationalism, Trier has become the standard-bearer for Nordic cinema. Like Bergman and Carl Th. Dreyer, whose visions transcended nationality, he has exploited Scandinavian “imaginary” – bleak landscapes, Lutheran austerity and self-denial, the explosive release of repressed emotions – to project it elsewhere. He has similarly appropriated the Northern European Kammerspiel (chamber play) that Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg had condensed into a charged medium. 

Reincarnating Dreyer’s martyrs (The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928; Ordet, 1955) and the anguished female performances of Bergman’s films for the present era, he has invented a form of psycho-drama that traumatizes audiences while challenging them to respond to cinema in new ways.

His interest in theater goes back to his youth, and his films are theatrical in several senses: stylized, emotionally intense, and provocative. His features have invoked 20th century theatrical initiatives clustered under the heading of the performative: especially Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, Allen Kaprow’s “happenings”, and Guy Debord’s situationism, which reformulated Marxist-Brechtian aesthetics for the age of the “spectacle” in which power, concentrated in the media image, turns individuals into passive consumers.  In 1952, Debord called for an art that would “create situations rather than reproduce already existing ones” and through the performance of “lived experience” disrupt an expose the spectacle.

In 1996, Trier similarly explained his view of cinema-as-provocation: “A provocation’s purpose is to get people to think. If you subject people to a provocation, you allow them the possibility of their own interpretation.” (Tranceformer) (…) The films bear witness, make proclamations, issue commands, pose questions, provoke responses… Thus his films have had an impact on their surrounding contexts, affecting audiences, producing controversies, and changing the aesthetic, cultural, and political climate of the late 1990s and the 2000s.” 


By Linda Badley.

“Making The Waves: Cinema As Performance”.

University of Illinois Press. 2010.

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DOWNLOAD  “Nymphomaniac I & II” (3.6 GB / 3.1 GB) [torrent inside the ZIP]

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You might also enjoy:

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Thomas Vinterberg is the co-creator, together with Lars Von Trier, of Dogme 95. Linda Badley remembers that Dogme 95  “required abstinence from Hollywood-style high tech cosmetics, calling for an oppositional movement with its own doctrine and ten-rule “Vow of Chastity”. Coming up with the infamous rules was “easy”, claims Vinterberg: “We asked ourselves what we most hated about film today, and then we drew up a list banning it all. The idea was to put a mirror in front of the movie industry and say we can do it another way as well.”

PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER… Watch the full documentary about Russian art-punkers in “Occupy Red Square” and other Anti-Putinesque adventures…


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PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER
Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin
(2013, 1h 28 min)
Watch it on YouTube (full movie):
http://youtu.be/iEF440_k-Og

“Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, 
but a hammer with which to shape it.”

BERTOLT BRECHT

NOW magazine (Toronto):

“Note to authoritarian regimes: don’t think you can mount a show trial if the defendants are more media-savvy than you are. This and about a dozen other ideas – including the value of performance art and the power of Putin – are behind this kick-ass doc about Russian punk art collective Pussy Riot and the trial that ensued after the group put on a guerrilla performance – playing an anti-Putin anthem – in Moscow’s central cathedral. Charismatic arrestees Masha (Maria Alyokhina), Katia (Yekaterina Samutsevich) and especially Nadia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova) and coverage of the trial and demonstrations both for and against Pussy Riot give this pic electrifying energy. See it.”

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Maxim Pozdorovkin, director of "A Punk Prayer"

Maxim Pozdorovkin, director of “A Punk Prayer”

Hail Pussy Riot. But, says doc director, learn some basic history first.
By SUSAN G. COLE

Ah, Pussy Riot! Instinctively, we love them – especially given their home country’s human rights record – but many of our assumptions about the brazen Russian art activists are false.

The case of the female threesome who became a worldwide cause célèbre when they were charged with hooliganism and jailed after their anti-Putin performance in a church is badly misunderstood.

So claims Maxim Pozdorovkin, co-director of Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer.

For starters, Pussy Riot isn’t a punk band. The arrested women are members – though their standing among their comrades is in question now that they’ve blown up worldwide – of a loose collective of artists, filmmakers and journalists working to create a different iconography for protest.

“They see themselves as contemporary artists determined to bring theatre into life,” says the hyper-articulate director on the phone from New York City. He’s there on the eve of an Amnesty International benefit, where recently released activists Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are set to appear – introduced by Madonna. He’s hanging out with them and planning to make a short film of the event.

“I always said that the story was misrepresented in Russia and in the West – I’m not sure where it was worse,” Pozdorovkin declares.

In Russia, they’re wrongly accused of being anti-religion, he claims.

“And in the West, it’s assumed that because they were a punk band singing an anti-Putin song, they went to jail. That’s nonsense. If they’d sung the song outside of the church, or anywhere else, no one would have cared.

“They had done so many things before that you’d think would’ve landed them in jail. In the U.S., for example, you couldn’t do the orgy in the National History Museum [explicitly shown in the film] and not go to jail.”

Pozdorovkin, who grew up in Moscow, played in punk bands and has a PhD from Harvard in found-footage filmmaking, is almost apoplectic at the idea that Putin’s regime can be compared to even the lighter anti-gay side of Stalinism. He sees more chaos than control in the new Russia.

“One of the biggest mistakes Westerners make is seeing the oppressive aspects of the arrest and trial as somehow organized and coming from the top down. That’s simply not the case.”

It was the women themselves – not the Russian authorities – who requested in a motion that the trial be filmed. The motion was granted, resulting in some of the doc’s most mesmerizing footage. A Russian news agency did the shooting, and Pozdorovkin, blown away by the quality of the initial rushes, then set the project in motion.

Though he allows that Pussy Riot are incredibly media-savvy, he says they weren’t totally aware of what they were getting into by making their statement inside a church.

“They didn’t mean to offend people. They felt they had the right to do what they did, and that maybe they’d be fined for, say, trespassing, but not be criminally charged. There’s something about the story that’s anachronistic, beautiful, idealistic.”

But the radical troupe is changing the way people look at performance and politics, which was precisely Pussy Riot’s intention. Soviet culture had never before been confronted by punk ideals and conceptual art on a mass level.

“The public awareness that you got with [the Sex Pistols’] God Save The Queen, that never happened in Russia until Pussy Riot.”

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Theather in Toronto: a review of Bertolt Brecht’s “Rifles” @ Next Stage Festival, January 2014, Factory Theathe

Rifles

Synopsis: “In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Senora Carrar refuses to pick sides: her husband died in combat and she’s determined to keep her two sons alive and out of the conflict. But as Franco’s army marches towards their village, her resolve is challenged.”

RIFLES
Based on Bertolt Brecht’s
Señora Carrar’s Rifles

Written by Nicolas Billon and directed by Michael Wheeler.
Cast: Kate Hennig, Ben Sanders, Cyrus Lane, Araya Mengesha and more.

Seen at The Next Stage Theatre Festival,January 18th,
at The Factory Theatre in Toronto.

Article by Eduardo Carli de Moraes:

Bertolt Brecht‘s work is almost unanimously considered one of the best in 20th century’s dramaturgy. In 1952, Hannah Arendt hailed Brecht as “beyond a doubt the greatest living German poet and possibly the greatest living European playwright”. She was not alone in praising him: an intelectual of the stature of Walter Benjamin also cherished Brecht’s oeuvre and these “independly-minded Marxists” met in the 1920s, becoming involved in a dialogue and correspondence that is really worthwhile to get acquainted it. Toronto’s 2014 Next Stage Theatre Festival has honoured Brecht accordingly with an intense and lively staging of his 1937 play “Señora Carrar’s Rifles”.

Orwell2Rifles is an one-act play with a minimalist setting: the whole action takes place inside a Spanish household during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Inside this house, wounded by a bullet and with a broken arm, lies in bed a British writer, Eric Blair, worldwidely known by his nom de plume George Orwell (1903-1950), who would publish Homage to Catalonia about his experience in war-drenched Spain. In Brecht’s play, while Orwell waits to be taken to a hospital, he spits words of rage: “I would fight the fascists with only one arm!”

In Carrar’s home, while the sound of bullets and battle are heard all around, a heated controversy arises. In an historical situation such as this, with Fascism gaining terrain in Europe (Hitler was in power since 1933 in Germany, and Mussolini since 1922 in Italy…), what would be the best decision for the common people: to take arms and join the militias that are resisting the fascists? Or to stay unarmed and neutral, just observing the events without actively engaging in them?

If Rifles was a movie, it could be shot in one single take, inside an apartment, similarly to Hitchcock’s Rope or Tommy Lee Jones’s The Sunset Limited. But, despite the fact that Brecht’s play focus his attention only at the Carrar’s home (this play could be called a “chamber piece”), it’s amazing how public matters flood in from all sides, attacking the Carrar’s house like a snowstorm, until it becomes impossible for the family to retreat into private life.

The drama is centered on the mother of the family, recently widowed by the civil war: her husband has been killed in combat by Franco’s soldiers, and now she’s determined to forbid their two sons of following the same path. Señora Carrar has had enough of emotional loss and is convinced that her family should completely withdraw from battle. Then enters the scene Señora’s Carrar brother, who has joined the anti-fascist militias: he comes to get the rifles that are hidden in a trunk of the Carrar’s household. Brother and sister then engage in a heated debate, until bloody events leads them to agree on the necessary course of action.

The ethical dilemma proposed by Brecht is one of the enduring virtues of this work-of-art, which still has so much to say to audiences nowadays. One of the greatest dialogues in the play opposes Señora’s Carrar brother and the priest of the village, Francisco. The warrior in the militias, defending the need for the people to rise in arms against General Franco’s killing machine, clashes against the pacifist of the clergy who praises resignation and unresistance. This debate is still alive today – for example, in Mexico, where the Zapatista uprising has resorted to armed struggle against neoliberalism, imperialism and ethnocide since January 1st, 1994: the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional), according to its leader Subcomandante Marcos, has decided that the only way they had to be heard was to get armed, an defends this choice by claiming this the path to empowerment that the powerless had to take in order to no longer by crushed by capitalism’s devastating powers.

Brecht’s message, in Rifles, seems to be that pacifism can’t be seen as an absolute ethical value, to be defended in all circumstances, with no possible exception. This play written in the 1930s seems to state that there are historical circumstances in which it’s almost impossible to discern between pacifism and complicity with a genocidal dictartoship. Those who do nothing are being simply “neutral”, or is neutrality a fallacy, a mask that cowardice hides behind?

todorov  In an excellent study about concentration camps and gulags, Tzvetan Todotov’s Facing The Extreme, the author asks the question: could the genocidal machinery of the III Reich be stopped by any other way than by the an armed struggle against it? What would have happened to Europe, and especially to its Jewish population, if France, England and U.S.A. had chosen the path of pacifism? Todorov’s impressive description of the up-rising in the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw, in 1943, leads the reader to a similiar state of mind than the one aroused by Brecht’s play: is it better to walk sheepishly to the slaghterhouse, or is it better to fight until death in the resistance?

In Brecht’s Rifles, Señora Carrara starts the play believing that the fascists “can be reasoned with” and that pacifism (or neutrality) is the best course of action. But when innocent and beloved blood gets spilled all over her face, once again, she experiences a sudden transformation, not unlikely the one that Lars Von Trier’s Grace (Nicole Kidman) goes through by the last acts of Dogville (2003) – perhaps the most Brechtian movie filmed in our century. After witnessing too many murderous acts by Franco’s genocidal regime, she finally decides that the rifles shouldn’t be left rusting inside the trunks. In an Orwellian twist of events, she goes outdoors to fight the fascists with her whole family. What will happen from this moment on, Brecht prefers not to reveal us: we’re left to wonder and debate about it after the curtains have dropt. 

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