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Archive for December, 2013

Paganini or ‘The Devil’s Violinist’? | A film review by Bernd Reinhardt | World Socialist Website

Friday, December 13th, 2013

24 Caprices, var.1

Niccolò Paganini:
24 Caprices | Op. 1,
for Solo Violin
Itzhak Perlman
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Paganini or The Devil’s Violinist?

By Bernd Reinhardt
14 December 2013
© 2013 World Socialist Website

Written and directed by Bernard Rose

davidgarrett as paganini

David Garrett as 19th century violin sensation Niccolò Paganini
button camEnglish language trailer

The life of Italian violin virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), continues to be largely a myth inflated by legend. The German-Italian feature film The Devil’s Violinist (scripted and directed by Bernard Rose) does little to debunk the legends or honour Paganini’s genuine artistic achievements. While German actor Klaus Kinski’s earlier film, Paganini (1989), presented the violinist as a “mad genius”, the makers of The Devil’s Violinist irritatingly portray Paganini as a “rock star of the 19th century”.

In Rose’s film, we see Paganini becoming an undisputed star in London in 1830. Until then he has often had to resort to cheap antics to draw attention to himself. He meets the manager Urbani (Jared Harris), who one immediately recognises is involved with “dark forces”. And, in fact, Paganini sells him his soul for money and fame. Now the great concert halls are open to him. Young ladies shriek as soon as the “devil’s fiddler” positions his bow—if they haven’t already fallen into a swoon.

Paganini is played by German-born violinist David Garrett (born David Bongarz in 1980), who certainly has a mastery of his instrument. However, even in the concert scenes, the film fails to genuinely take off. The production is shallow and boring on the whole, including its overwrought scenes of public hysteria. Garrett’s Paganini spouts clichés such as “I live only for music”, and the film builds toward a kitschy love story. Paganini meets Charlotte (Andrea Deck), a young singer, not very talented but pretty. He gives her singing lessons and predictably she blossoms under his guidance.

The film’s mild criticism of the commercialisation of art consists of fashionable platitudes. The message seems to be: there’s a devil inside each one of us. Or, in a more secular vein, people are never safe from their unconscious hunger for wealth and fame. In the end, Charlotte also treads the same thin show business ice, which has just broken under Paganini … >>>

>>> To read Bernd Reinhardt’s compelling review in its entirety, go to the original


An American blues version of the same sacred legend

Button-Play-32x32Me and the Devil Blues’

 Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson

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© 2013 Radiolab

Letting the Devil Tune Your Guitar

In this short, we go looking for the devil, and find ourselves tangled in a web of details surrounding one of the most haunting figures in music — a legendary guitarist whose shadowy life spawned a legend so powerful, it’s still being repeated… even by fans who don’t believe a word of it.

For years and years, Jad’s been fascinated by the myth of what happened to Robert Johnson at the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The story goes like this: back in the 1920s, Robert Johnson wanted to play the blues. But he really sucked. He sucked so much, that everyone who heard him told him to get lost. So he did. He disappeared for a little while, and when he came back, he was different. His music was startling — and musicians who’d laughed at him before now wanted to know how he did it. And according to the now-famous legend, Johnson had a simple answer: he went out to the crossroads just before midnight, and when the devil offered to tune his guitar in exchange for his soul, he took the deal.

Producer Pat Walters bravely escorts Jad to the scene of the supposed crime, in the middle of the night in the Mississippi Delta, to try to track down some shred of truth to all this. And Robert Johnson experts Tom Graves, Elijah Wald, David Evans, and Robert “Mack” McCormick help bring us a step closer to the real human at the heart of this tale. Plus, we hear, posthumously, from Ledell Johnson…a man of no relation to Robert, who unintentionally helped the world fall for a blues-imbued ghost story.

Read more:

Tom Graves, Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson

Elijah Wald, Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues

David Evans, Tommy Johnson

Peter Guralnick, Searching for Robert Johnson

Al Young, Towards a Robert Leroy Johnson Memorial Museum




Saturday, December 7th, 2013


An Open Letter from James LeCuyer

Fracking, Jellyfish, Carbon and Psychopaths

James-LeCuyer Photo: Al Young

James LeCuyer is a Califorenia poet, essayist and environmentalist who spends much of his time speaking to youthful audiences. He is also a passionate deep-water fisherman. His moving The Power of Our Youth — produced by the Resource Renewal Institute — is posted at Vimeo.

button ff The Power of Our Youth
A conversation with James LeCuyer

Dear Folks:  

Fracking, the chemical fluid pressurizing process by which oil is forced out of the ground for the Keystone XL pipeline, is permanently poisonous to the environment, and not worth the oil. In fact, little of the oil will go to the US, but will be sold worldwide. I was indifferent at first whether or not we allowed the pipeline, but as I learned more about fracking, and about who will make money from the pipeline — a very few rich people — and about the reality of the jobs involved — a few hundred jobs at best — I became more concerned.

The real concern of course is whether we can find alternatives to carbon based energy based on coal and oil. We could, within a decade or so, replace fossil fuels with solar, air, thermal and other forms of non-fossil energy, but oil and coal industries won’t let us head that way. Same old story, but with a kicker this time. This time our whole planet goes, and all of us with it.

I just read a powerful article on the jellyfish explosion in the ocean. They are taking over and this takeover is related (among other things) to carbon in the atmosphere and ocean, which creates a more acid, less oxygenated environment that jellyfish can endure, while other species large and small cannot. The article is [Tim Flannery’s review of] Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, by Lisa-ann Gershwin, The New York Review of Books, volume LX, Number 14, Sept 26, 2013. If you love the ocean and its creatures, you might read this article.


There are many deadly threats connected to our use of fossil fuel. Most of them could be alleviated and eventually eliminated if we were to switch to so-called alternative energy sources (excluding nuclear energy, as we see from Fukushima). It’s one step to make, a first step, but a big one, and by opposing the Keystone Pipeline, or by helping those who actively oppose it, you will be doing a good thing for all our children, and it will go on your permanent record when you at last judge yourself in that faraway island in the sky.

What kind of world are we handing our children anyway? Carbon crushed with 90% fewer fish, poisoned air, dying crops, droughts and floods and ever more intense hurricanes, mostly because a relatively few rich psychopaths want to get richer.

You might express yourself by researching fracking and signing a petition against the Keystone.

Much affection to all,

(The following is from
CREDO Mobile Phone Service)

President Obama and Secretary Kerry could be allowing a sham process by oil industry contractors to set the stage for White House approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Sign the petition now:

Posted with permission of James LeCuyer



NELSON ROLIHIAHIA MANDELA (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013) In Memoriam

Thursday, December 5th, 2013


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The Mandela Tapes’ | CBC Radio

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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures

Button-Play-32x32 nelson-mandela-reuters Reuters
Watch the ‘BIO’ documentary 1/5   2/5   3/5   4/5   5/5
Bring Back Nelson Mandela (Hugh Masekela)
MandelaAFB:GettImages © AFB/Getty Images

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
Nelson Mandela




mandela smiles reuters © Reuters

South Africa: AllAfrica Exclusive —
Desmond Tutu Pays Tribute to Nelson Mandela

By Desmond Tutu, 5 December 2013

Cape Town — Nelson Mandela is mourned by South Africans, Africans and the international community today as the leader of our generation who stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries — a colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity, the world’s most admired and revered public figure.

Not since Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Nyerere and Senghor has Africa seen his like. Looking for comparisons beyond Africa, he will go down in history as South Africa’s George Washington, a person who within a single five-year presidency became the principal icon of both liberation and reconciliation, loved by those of all political persuasions as the founder of modern, democratic South Africa.

He was of course not always regarded as such. When he was born in 1918 in the rural village of Mvezo, he was named Rolihlahla, or “troublemaker.”Âť (Nelson was the name given to him by a teacher when he started school.) After running away to Johannesburg to escape an arranged marriage, he lived up to his name. Introduced to politics by his mentor, Walter Sisulu, he joined a group of young militants who challenged the cautious elders of the African National Congress, founded by black leaders in 1912 to oppose the racist policies of the newly-formed union of white-ruled British colonies and Afrikaner republics … >>>

>>> To read Bishop Tutu’s tribute in its entirety,
go to the AllAfrica original


Mandela Release fr Prison Wembley 2

spot-play2Nelson Mandela’s release from prison speech at Wembley Stadium, 1990
(the full 15 minutes)



12 YEARS A SLAVE reviewed by poet Geoffrey Jacques

Monday, December 2nd, 2013


 Geoffrey Jacques reviews


12 years a slave bk cvr   12-Years-a-Slave © Regency Enterprises  magnifying_glass_icon
Button-Play-32x32Official trailer
 © 2013 Geoffrey Jacques; reposted from his Facebook page with permission.

Just saw 12 Years a Slave, and have to say I thought well of director Steve McQueen’s effort. He allows us to imagine — more than many “slavery-themed” films we know — what it might have been like to live under that regime. The movie is beautifully shot and the actors and actions mostly convincing. Sherri [Sherri Barnes, the author’s wife] was unconvinced by the language of many of the actors (“I felt I was watching a Shakespearean play,” she says), but this didn’t bother me much, as I’m willing to believe that many people in the Eastern US spoke with British-derived accents and language until well into the 19th century.

The idea that such movies must offer hope to have value is one way to go, and that this one eschews that option seems to be one of my friend Armond White’s principal objections to this film. But in real life hope is often more a matter of faith than anything else, and it often requires that we’re able to connect with the world outside our reality. The histories, memoirs, and fictional narratives about slavery tell us that there was a certain self-contained, isolated quality to most of the experience of the enslaved peoples in the slave states. McQueen allows us to imagine what it must have been like to be inside that regime and utterly cut off from the outside world. He shows, with great clarity, just much the ignorance imposed on the enslaved was one of the slavers’ most effective weapons. Most slaves saw no future other than slavery. The slave regime was widely perceived — and not just by the enslaved — as all-powerful, and the portrayal of that consciousness is a driving force in this film.

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(Remember, our civil war happened because the slave power, even though it was weakening by 1860, couldn’t be effectively curbed by democratic means. It had long been the dominant power in our country, and during the period portrayed in this film (1840-1853) the slave power’s view defined this country’s reality.)

So, too, is it hard to imagine the depravity and violence of slavery. McQueen refuses to allow us the elation and edifying salve we get by taking refuge in the nobility or tragedy of the hero. Slavery was a regime defined by violence. It’s hard to imagine a film about the subject that can be too violent. McQueen’s account can even be called prettified compared to, say, Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur’s “Letter IX” (from his Letters From an American Farmer, 1782), just to pick one from the hundreds of available examples. To be sure, Solomon Northrop (played here by Chiwetel Ejofor) was the hero of his story, but the story McQueen tells is one of slavery without heroes in the conventional sense. Some may think the debauchery portrayed here is gratuitous, too, but this is a question that’s often treated far too gingerly in popular accounts of slavery. McQueen’s take-no-prisoners approach (in the stories of the characters played by Adepero Oduye [Eliza], Lupita Nyong’o [Patsy], Alfre Woodard [Mistress Shaw]) is an effective counterpoint to the “quadroon ball” romance narratives we sometimes hear and tell about slavery.

There’s much more to say, but I’ll stop. For those who have not yet seen the film, let me recommend that you do so. For those who have seen it, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Geoffrey Jacques

Geoff & Sherri

Geoffrey Jacques is a poet, essayist, critic, editor, and teacher. He has taught writing, American and African American literature, American Studies, Labor Studies, and courses in the humanities at several colleges, including University of California Santa Barbara, Pacifica Graduate Institute, New York University, York College of the City University of New York (CUNY), John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, Lehman College, CUNY, and at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He writes and teaches on subjects ranging from literature and culture of the Harlem Renaissance, American culture and society in the 1960s, Studies in Race, Class and Gender, Modernist Poetry and Poetics, the poetry of W. B. Yeats and its criticism (a semester-long course in scholarly writing) to The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois and its contexts. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)