Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Agony and the Ecstasy [1963]



The Agony and the Ecstasy follows the life of Michelangelo in his painting of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Pope Julius II is set on upgrading the Vatican and while pursuing war, he creates and environment in which art flourishes. These excesses will lead to complaints about the nature of the Catholic Church out of which the Protestant reformation will arise. The film begins with a biography of Michelangelo and his work. The film is establishing the prominence of Italy in Renaissance art.

The geography is divided between the hills of Tuscany around Florence and the Vatican in Rome. We see the statues and buildings of Florence briefly, but the film spends far more time in the hills of the area. Quarrying marble for statues and buildings is the output of these hills. We get a chance to see the old methods by which the hill is carved apart and broken into rock chunks of useful size. The marble of Florence is world famous and the raw material of many major works of art.

The film uses the broad vistas of the hills to give Michelangelo his vision of the design for the Sistine Chapel of God creating Adam and humankind. The mountain top view is essential to the story and made graphically clear in the special effects.

While some outdoor scenes to spot the rest of the film, the bulk of the geography is indoors at the Vatican. Seen are the outdoor settings carefully reconstructed for street scenes. The interior is mostly one of scaffolding until the painting is unveiled in its wonder.

While the Geography is quite apparent to the viewer, the History is center stage. The papacy is not a solely religious body. The corruption, which again will lead to the Protestant reformation, is clear. The military nature of the papacy is a dominant theme. Julius II is picturd as a better military leader than Pope.

On a more personal level the film carries a message for postmodern times that great work is not done overnight. Julius II is constantly asking Michelangelo when it will be finished. Michelangelo has no real estimate given the never ending process which is creation. The need to fill one’s needs immediately in today’s world is in clear contrast with the painfully extended process of creating great works

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Last King of Scotland [2006]


The Last King of Scotland has a geographically misleading title in that it follows the life of a Scot in Uganda. Only the first minutes take place in Scotland. It follows a young Scot doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, as he moves to Uganda to work in a bush clinic. He quickly finds himself taken in by President Idi Amin as his personal doctor. After Amin is injured wrist is wrapped by the young Scot, the movie is aminunderway.

Arriving in Uganda, the viewer sees the savanna environment, grassy with a dry, hot feel to it. The variety of animal life is present, but not a focus point. They drive along wide open grass plains on the normal African dirt roads. Arriving at the bush hospital, the informality of the bush city and surroundings strikes one. The clothes are natural of the bush and not the modern hospital. The massive demand for limited services is clear from just the crowding. Yet children smile and play in other scenes.

The traditional Land Rover of the British bush is used. Of course a rugged vehicle is required given the dirt roads. Otherwise hard on the body is soccer played in bare feet.

Some traditional elements of Africa appear in the high pitched chanting, particularly the female voices, and in the drone of the drums and wooden xylophone-like instrument. A different sense of tone and beat sets a sound for the environment.

Once the doctor is taken in by Amin, he is whisked away to the urban environment. Here the uninformed probably finds the greatest dissonance from the traditional stereotypes of Africa. The buildings are modern. There are stores and multi-story office buildings. They do have an empty look to them as hall ways are long and lack decoration.

Also given the traditional setting of “Africa,” lavish dinner parties with men in suits and women in fine ball gowns will inform yet be strange. In addition fairly modern stores, appropriate to the 1970s though, will also seem out of character. Later Africans at a club drinking western cocktails and listening to a singer belting “Me and Bobby McGee” will contrast with traditional stereotypes’

From the historic perspective one is visiting Uganda as Dictator Idi Amin controls the country. The elevated level of violence, unfortunately not limited to Uganda during the time period of the film, is ugly. Amin’s mental instability is stark and the violence is near sickening.

The inter-tribal nature of Amin’s violence is noted but not really pushed to clarity. A person from a non-favored tribe met with death in many circumstances. It shakes our doctor early, but its true nature is not really pursued. It is just left a death, not a death from inter-tribal warfare. He is being outfitted for a suit when an attack takes place on the street. He is shook, but the viewer is little informed by the scene as to the tribal warfare witnessed.

In the end this is an ugly film. But, the time period was ugly. Africa is still bathed in this same ugliness and horror. Uganda is not the only case of genocide and terror. The colonial age did not fade away into a life of peace form many here. Societies disorganized by colonial damage have suffered by inter-tribal fighting and the breakdown of traditional authority and social systems by that colonialism. This film highlights and episode of that aspect of African life

MacDonald, Kevin. 2006. The Last King of Scotland. Film. Hollywood: Fox-Searchlight.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Yellow Rolls-Royce [1964]


i003886 from IMCDB

The Yellow Rolls-Royce follows the peaks and valleys of its various owner’s romance lives over several decades beginning with its production in 1930. It is a classic looking Rolls with black top and a yellow body.

The first owners are English nobility, the car bought on a whim but returned quickly after illicit romance takes place in the back seat. One gets a short look at London, but the view is not very informative.

Some more miles get put on it and it arrives in Italy and goes to the hands of a mobster from Amwrica played by George C. Scott. Of course his moll, Shirley MacLaine, has a trsit with her illicit lover in the back seat and things end poorly. While in Italy one starts in Genoa, but moves on quickly. One sees some magnificent views of the country. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is paused at for a significant time. One sees the larger Basilica and the surrounding area. Heading south one notes the narrow hillside roads and a coast with shining water and magnificent cliffs. The buildings wear their age with romance. The weather is glorious.

The final section is in Triti then into the Dinaric Alps of the then Yugoslavia, but was shot in Austria(IMDb 1990). The political intrigue of the region is amply displayed. The mountains steal to screen with beautiful valleys and extensive woodlands. The narrow, curvy roads add to the danger of driving while bombing might take place. The rural villages are likely still in place and have that ancient charm. The down to earth attitudes of the villagers are clear and the devotion to life and family.

A good film with a typical Hollywood story and some pieces of Europe tossed in.