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Sunday 28 November 2010

Joseph K. - by Tom Basden based on Franz Kafka's novel The Trial - Gate Theatre Notting Hill; highly recommended

On his 30th birthday, the investment banker Joseph K. is expecting his sushi delivery. He is visited instead by two young men who have recently volunteered for the MI something or other. (This could be a harbinger of of David Cameron's big society, or of Ed Milliband's return to old style socialism.) His visitors inform Joseph K. that he is under arrest. He becomes the apocryphal frog, who is being thrown in cool water and remains there until he is boiled because the temperature is increased gradually, Joseph K. is softened up and sapped of his resistance. Bureaucratic institutions, work-colleagues, his lawyer, his family and even the phone-in radio host do not want to believe that even a paranoid investment bankers may be a victim of state bureaucracy. Finally, all he can do is give in to his terrible fate.

Based on Franz Kafka's classic novel The Trial, Tom Basden has skilfully written a bitingly witty and at times genuinely funny play in and of our time. Undoubtedly, not a few people would wish the treatment meted out to Joseph K. to be dispensed on every member of the investment banking profession. While based on Kafka, the play is refreshingly original and can be appreciated even by adolescent theatregoers, who may never have heard of the novel on which it is based. Basden manages to make us identify with all the characters in the play; including those who have to do the dirty deeds. We could be victim, we could be perpetrator. And Basden introduces acidic wit that makes us laugh out loud. A fast moving production, a fitting set and an enthusiastic and skilful acting ensemble make this intelligent, funny, sad and thought provoking play a genuine pleasure for the audience.

This was my first outing to the Gate Theatre. It is in the heart of Notting Hill, right by Portobello Road. It will not be the last.

As for a post Saturday matinee bite, I discovered Otto's Pizza Restaurant, unique in London for its cornmeal Pizza crust. Great pizza from all fresh ingredients in a plesant atmosphere, including free WiFi. All in all a very satisfying afternoon.

Saturday 20 November 2010

The Social Network - Film directed by David Fincher - highly recommended

Any young woman wondering what the date from computer geek hell would be like need only watch the opening 10 minutes of Aaron Sorkin's outstandingly scripted film about the early days of Facebook.
The Austrian historian and writer Doron Rabinovici, says that historical research gives us an account how things could have been, while good literature (including a good play or film) tells us how it may well have been. This is because good literature (including a play) can give a rich and deep account where the gaps in our factual knowledge can be filled with empathy and imagination by the writer (director, the creative team, the actors).

Based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, the film is a very successful fictional account of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's days as an undergraduate at Harvard. It shows his journey as a budding entrepreneur to the point where Facebook reaches 1 Million users. At the time of this review there are about 500 Million users, and so the films tag-line is “you do not get to 500 Million friends without making a few enemies.”

The film touches on many human topics: life at an elite university in the USA, the best qualities of a WASPy upbringing, the WASP vs. Jewish and Chinese Harvard experience and the surprising extent to which the common Harvard elite identity pushes aside long-held prejudice; (or is this the writer's wishful thinking?).

The genius of Sorkin's (The American President, The West Wing) writing and of Josh Eisenberg's acting is that while Mark Zuckerberg is very much present and quite communicative, the viewer can come out of the film with a range of interpretations on how Zuckerberg ticks and what his character is like. At the one end is “he is not really an a**hole, he is just trying very hard to behave like one”. At the other end of the scale is a person most fiendishly able to seek out the weaknesses in the personalities of friends and business associates and most ruthless in exploiting them for his own economic and reputational gain.

Today Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest multibillionaire, his share in face book is worth in the 10s of billions of US Dollars. All this value - is it real value, one may well ask after the experiences of the internet bubble and the credit crunch - was created between 2004 and now. The enemies he made have been sprinkled with so much “angel-dust” in the form of money, that on may well dearly wish to be one of them. But they did have to engage Zuckerberg in legal action in order to get it.

Zuckerberg says about the film that it is not a true account of what happened. His erstwhile friend and business partner Eduardo Saverin helped in the making of the film and so it is not surprising that his character comes out as rather morally superior. Saverin did get more than a billion USD worth of shares and his name was restored to the founders list on the Facebook website. So his parents can indeed be proud and the extent to which I can feel sorry for him is limited.

As to Mark Zuckerberg's mom, she does not figure in the film, but one can just imagine her sitting in a house in the New Jersey suburbs and wondering as every good Jewish mother would: but is Mark happy? Funnily enough, he probably is.

The Social Network Poster


David Fincher


Aaron Sorkin (screenplay)Ben Mezrich (book)

Wednesday 17 November 2010

LIght Shining on Buckinghamshire at the Arcola Theatre highly recommended (seen in August 2010)

Light Shining over Buckinghamshire is an historical play about the period of the English civil war (1642-1651) by Caryl Churchill written in 1976. 

The heady mixture of war, revolution, religion and politics makes it relevant to our times. Agitators, Levelers and Diggers proffered new ideas. Some chime with the Taliban others foreshadowed common ownership (levellers -communism), urban gardening in common green spaces (diggers-green movement) and the proposal that constituencies should roughly equal numbers of eligible voters (agitators-David Cameron's Conservative Party). 

Listening to the discussions about universal human rights, the role of women in general and free sex and one definitely walks away wanting to find out more about this agitated period of British history. A very strong acting ensemble and excellent direction bring the religious, philosophical and political debates to life. The characters seem very real, passionate and hopeful. All this makes for a riveting production of an impressive play.

Written by Caryl Churchill
Director Polly Findlay

Designer Hannah Clark 
Sound Designer Gareth Fry 
Lighting Designer Matthew Pitman 
Casting Director Juliet Horsley
Cast: Philip Arditti, Jamie Ballard, Christopher Harper, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Helena Lymbery, Michelle Terry .

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Inception - Film- Science Fiction Thriller, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, highly recommended for both science fiction and thriller aficionados

When I freely associate on the word “extraction” , “implant” comes immediately to mind. But then some of my friends would say I am obsessed with dental procedures. Be that as it may, in future the word that will spring to my mind may well be ”inception” and that is due to the eponymous title of the film written and directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo di Caprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ellen Page.

“Inception”, the movie, is a complex science fiction thriller, a kind of “Mission Impossible” meets the “The Matrix”.The basic premise is that it has become possible for highly skilful and technically equipped specialists to break into other people's dreams. This is done in order to extract information the target does not wish to share with others, by getting closer to his or her subconscious. That is “extraction”. But the trick our specialists are asked to perform here is different and more difficult: break into the traget's dream and plant an idea, an intention, the target would otherwise not have had. This is inception.

The strength of this film is that the complexities at the heart of this plot are well thought through and credibly presented. This makes the film intellectually gripping but also demanding as far as the viewers' attention span is concerned: if you snooze you quickly lose the plot. Another strength of the film are the stunning and beautifully filmed dreamscapes.

There is also a subsidiary plot that is intended to play on our emotion as much as the main plot plays on our intellect; it did not do that for me, or at least that is what I thought at the time.
Those who like intelligent science fiction, will find Inception a piece of film art and entertainment of very high quality.

Post Scriptum:
Inception may be more emotionally engaging than I originally thought. A day after seeing it, I had a dream in which my French teacher from high school appeared and berated me for not making the most of my talent for languages. Why did I only want to learn French, Spanish and Italian? These languages were much too close to the languages I already knew, he said. “You must challenge yourself and take an intensive course in Mandarin Chinese; yes it's a risk, but without taking risks you'll get nowhere!” Perhaps Inception is not science fiction but science fact and a team of experts from the People's Republic is messing with my dreams.......

Inception Poster

Sunday 7 November 2010

Vorlesung von Doron Rabinovici Schriftsteller und Geschichtswissenschaftler zum Thema Sprache und Schuld im Rahmen des Zyklus Recht und Literatur an der Eidgenössischen Technischen Hochschule Zürich

Ich bin auf einen Tag in Zürich zu Besuch. Mein Bruder sagt: "Heute Abend gibt es 'was Interessantes zu sehen". Der österreichische Schriftsteller Doron Rabinovici hält eine Vorlesung über „Sprache und Schuld“ an der Eidgenössischen Technischen Hochschule in Zürich. Ich habe Robert Menasses „Vertreibung aus der Hölle“ gelesen, Eva Menasses Vienna auf Englisch übersetzt in Londoner Buchläden gesehen, aber Doron Rabinovici ist mir Exilösterreicher sowohl in Amsterdam als auch an meinem Londoner zu Hause bisher entgangen. Die literarischen Empfehlungen meines Bruders sind aber immer gut; also nichts wie hin!

Der Hörsaal ist recht gut gefüllt. Rabinovici beginnt mit seiner Vorlesung. Mit feinen Formulierungen, anhand von Beispielen aus der Literatur, bringt er seine These, dass in der Literatur die Sprache Mittel hat, um komplizierte menschliche Verstrickungen so vielschichtig und differenziert darzustellen, wie sie oft sind. Er kontrastiert dies mit den beschränkten Möglichkeiten der Sprache im Kontext der formalen Rechtsprechung.

Ich höre gebannt zu. Die literarischen Vorbilder, die er bringt, habe ich nicht gelesen. Aber er fasst sie so gut zusammen, dass ich das Gefühl bekomme, ich kenne sie gut. Gleichzeitig bekomme ich Lust sie „wieder“ zu lesen. Die Fähigkeit zur vorteilhaften Selbsttäuschung ist also bei mir noch präsent. Bin ich dann doch, wie einst Kurt Waldheim, ein „echter“ Österreicher?

Über die österreichischen Gerichtsfälle, von denen Rabinovici spricht, habe ich mich auch im Exil auf dem Laufenden gehalten - teilweise haben sie mich amüsiert, teilweise aufgeregt. Rabinovicis Vorlesung ist eine wie aus Marmor gemeißelte feine Statuette bei der jedes Wort und jeder Klang stimmt. Auch den österreichischen Singsang habe ich im Ausland doch sehr vermisst. Laute Selbstgespräche im Badezimmer sind auf lange Sicht kein vollwertiger Ersatz.

Wortspiel ist bei Rabinovici kein Wiener Schmäh, sondern Wiener Witz.Witz ist die Vorhut der Weisheit. Wenn er erklärt, dass die Schuldfrage beim Zerbrechen einer menschlichen Liebesbeziehung im Roman wahrheitsgetreuer aufgearbeitet werden kann, als in einem Scheidungsverfahren vor Gericht, dann kommt der Satz: „Lebensgefährte – klingt das nicht immer nach Lebensgefahr?“

Dann zu Shakespeare's Kaufmann von Venedig. Rabinovici analysiert messerscharf die spitzfindige Strategie der Portia, die den Juden Shylock mit Tricks und Kasuistik, die christliche Tugend spüren lässt. Dies bringt Rabinovici zu der Bemerkung, so mancher nicht-jüdische Intellektuelle verlange heute von den Juden etwas ähnliches wie Portia von Shylock im Kaufmann von Venedig: Ein Stück Naher Osten können sie sich herausschneiden, aber ja kein Blut vergießen. Diese Bemerkung wird hier in Zürich noch ihr Nachspiel haben.

Zunächst ist die Vorlesung beendet; Zeit für Fragen aus der Zuhörerschaft. Mir fallen ungefähr 20 zugleich ein, aber ich bin der Zufallstourist hier und halte mich also zunächst zurück. Bald weiß ich wieder, warum ich damals nach der Matura nicht nach Wien und nicht nach St. Gallen ging, sondern in London mein Studium antrat. Dort wären nach so einer Vorlesung 100 Hände hochgeschossen auf die Einladung ans Publikum dem Vortragenden Fragen zu stellen. In Zürich stellen nur die 2 Professoren Fragen, die die Vorlesungsreihe organisiert haben. Und so kann ich, der ich in Amsterdam und London, Zentren der institutionalisierten Ausbildung zur Aufmüpfigkeit, meine besten Jahre verbracht habe, mich nach einiger Zeit melden und auch eine Frage stellen. Was sie war ist hier nicht wichtig, aber ich kriege eine ehrliche Antwort und eine Gegenfrage,

Der Hörsaal bleibt weiterhin stoisch, meine Frage hat keine Flutwelle von Publikumsfragen ausgelöst. So bekommt der deutsche Rechtsprofessor, der Schweizer Studenten alles was Recht ist lehrt, die letzte Frage. „Sie machten da bei Shakespeare eine Bemerkung über Israel“, meint er. Ich hoffe doch sehr, dass Sie nicht beabsichtigten die unrechtmäßige israelische Besatzung zu relativieren? Der israelisch-österreichische Doppelbürger und agnostische oder gar atheistische Jude Rabinovici ist sichtlich betroffen. Das war sicher nicht gemeint, und er dachte es auch gar nicht; sei das wirklich so herübergekommen?
In meinem Kopf ist inzwischen Sturm: „Da hört ein deutscher Rechtsprofessor einem differenzierten Vortrag über Schuld und Sprache zu, in dem sich der Vortragende unter anderem auch auf Kurazawas Film Rashomon bezog. Der ist das Paradebeispiel, wie ein Tathergang aus vielen Perspektiven sehr verschieden erlebt wird. Der Herr Professor aber sieht es schwarz-weiß. Er will sicher sein, dass Rabinovici nicht Israels Politik relativiert. An diesem deutschen Wesen sollen Schweizer Jusstudenten genesen. Vielleicht kann der Herr Professor auch nicht anders. Der Vortrag war möglicherweise ein bisschen zu literarisch für ihn. Da muss man sich doch auf ein Detail konzentrieren. Der Herr Professor will es doch nur genau wissen. Er ist vielleicht Pedant, ein I-Tüpferlreiter wie die Wiener elegant sagen. Bei den Niederländern heißt das „mierenneuker“. Das ist deftiger: „Ameisenficker“.“

Doch dann legt sich der Sturm in meinem Kopf.. Ein Wölkchen zieht in vor meinem inneren Auge vorbei. Auf ihm sitzen schmunzelnd Karl Kraus und Helmut Qualtinger beim Heurigen, jeder das Glas Weißwein in der Hand. Auch sie haben der Vorlesung aufmerksam zugehört, und stoßen an auf ihren würdigen Nachfolger, Doron Rabinovici. Ein echter Wiener geht net unter – auch wenn er in Tel Aviv geboren ist.

Meine Nachschau- und Nachleseliste:

Ljudmilla Ulickaja:
Robert Schindel: Gebiertig (Buch und Film)

Albrecht Drach: Das Protokoll gegen Zwetschgenbaum (geschrieben 1939)
Eva Menasse: (Buch zum Prozess gegen den britischen Holocaustleugner Irving)
Eva Menasse: Vienna
Helmut Qualtinger: „Der Papa wird’s schon richten, das g'hoert zu seinen Pflichten“
Akira Kurozawa: Rashomon (Film)

Friday 5 November 2010

Shanghai Lounge, Liquid Loft (Vienna) Xin Jing Dance Theatre (Shanghai) on tour in Switzerland, Highly Recommended (also for those not normally into dance)

Take the modern day confidence of beautiful Shanghai women, add the cool sophistication of the suave Viennese Art Scene. Then top the whole thing off with Xin Jing, an ex colonel in the Chinese Red Army, turned internationally renowned male dancer, who had a sex-change to become an internationally renowned female dancer, choreographer and performer.
Sit down in a lounge bar atmosphere, relax, sip your cocktail, listen to great jazz-tunes, soon you'll be ready to be wowed by your host, a sassy “mistress of ceremonies”, who approaches her audience with a cosmopolitan directness shared by the inhabitants of iconic urban centres to which international money and smart people flow: London, New York, Shanghai.

The beginnings of this collaboration by the Xin Jing Dance Theatre in Shanghai with the Viennese Liquid Loft  go back some time. The Austrians won the Golden Lion at the 2007 Venice Biennale and had met Xin Jing and her dance company there. Shanghai Lounge originally premiered in (my hometown) Salzburg under its original title "China Project". It  is an international co-production of Liquid Loft, Jin Xing Dance Theatre, Impuslstanz Vienna Int. Festival, Szene Salzburg, Tanzhaus NRW, Teatro Laboral Gijon and Culturescapes.

The young Chinese dancers, one male the other female, strut their stuff. They skilfully reflect the contradictory pressures created by traditional expectations and modern opportunities and demands on today's Shanghai-women. Shanghai women smart, successful, demanding – Sex in the City - and today THE City is Shanghai.

I saw them at the Grü White.Box in Geneva. The international Geneva audience was appreciative, the applause was heartfelt and long.

Due to recent arts budget cuts a planned visit to London is not going through. This indeed is London's loss.

For the time being Shanghai Lounge continues its tour-de-force through Switzerland. Catch it if you can.
(on this website you can also find a video "foretaste")

Choreography: Chris Haring in collaboration with Jin Xing and the dancers.
Performance: Jin Xing,
Dai Shaoting, Deng Mengna, Liu Minzi, Pang Kun, Sun Zhuzhen, Wang Tao
Xie Xin