La Grande Illusion

b3_d__0_GrandIllusionI knew that Phil Jackson would show Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion  (1937) to his players before every season, but I wasn’t sure why. (I’m still uncertain as to what he wanted his team to learn, though the film has plenty of insights.)

I didn’t know what to expect. The DVD package promised a war film, which I’m never in the mood for, but if 3:10 to Yuma was good, perhaps this would be too. Starring Jean Gabin (whom I saw in Touchez Pas au Grisbi) La Grande Illusion tells the story of French POWs in World War I. Of course, if the main characters are stuck in prison, the film’s objective must be to get them out, n’est pas? Bien sur.

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The three central characters are Gabin’s working class Maréchal, Pierre Fresnay’s blue blooded Capt. de Boeldieu and Marcel Dalio’s Lt. Rosenthal. When Maréchal is captured he’s put in a cell with de Boeldieu and Rosenthal, who shares the delicacies his family send him from France with all his comrades. Maréchal soon learns that the men have been digging a tunnel to get out. While other escapees get caught and shot, these men’s plan is thwarted as they are all moved to another prison camp just before they plan to use the tunnel.

de Boeldieu et von Rauffenstein

de Boeldieu et von Rauffenstein

The three are transferred and try to escape repeatedly till they’re sent to Capt. von Rauffenstein’s camp. Played by Eric von Stroheim, von Rauffenstein is a compelling character. Throughout the film, von Rauffenstein wears a full body cast and wears white gloves to hide his burned hands. He lives in a gothic chapel that he’s oddly decorated and made into an apartment. He prides himself on running a civilized prisoner of war camp for officers, whom he treats almost like guests.

Von Rauffenstein most connects with de Boeldieu as their family trees are most on par. While de Boedleu has come to see that the old social order is dying, von Rauffenstein’s blind to that. He also can’t fathom how de Boedieu can seen any value in the working class or nouveau riche, that’s his downfall.

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From critic Peter Cowie’s essay on the Criterion Collection website:

Made just three years before World War II, it gazes back to a different era, and to a war, in the words of the director, “based on fair play, a war without atom bombs or torture.” Hitler had not appeared. “Nor,” says Renoir, “had the Nazis, who almost succeeded in making people forget that the Germans are also human beings.”

The film is simple, but compelling with fascinating characters I won’t soon forget. It unfolds effortlessly and haunts me days after I’ve seen it. I can’t wait to watch it again, next time with the commentary.

Silent Sunday

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Travel Theme: One Color

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Each week Ailsa of Where’s My Backpack?  invites bloggers to contemplate and post on a specific theme. This week’s theme is One Color, i.e. monochromatic. Some art teacher engraved the notion in my head to look carefully at colors and note the variations. I’ll try to put that aside this week.

If you want to see more monochromatic photos, mosey on over to Where’s My Backpack.

To join the fun just:

  • Create your own post and title it Travel theme: One Colour
  • Include a link to this page in your post so others can find it too
  • Get your post in by next Thursday, as the new travel theme comes out on Friday
  • Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on the latest weekly travel themes. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS!

Qing Ming Staycation

We’ve had a three day weekend for Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping) Festival. My friends and I have no tombs to sweep and the weather hasn’t been great so rather than go out of town, one friend and I opted for a stay-cation at Jinan’s Grand Mercure Hotel.

Getting the reservation was tricky due to my internet problems and their website problems (i.e. choosing the right number of rooms and people was impossible on the site taking several days and thus I was unable to qualify to book on their three nights for the price of two promotion. How regrettable.)

Eventually I did book for two nights (when I called customer service they couldn’t correct this. Again, regrettable.)

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We checked in and got an upgrade from our Executive floor rooms to junior suites. The Executive floor lounge is closed so we got to have our Happy Hour in at the nightly buffet which offered all sorts of vegetables, leg of lamb, beef, chicken, Chinese dishes, American barbecue ribs, and dozens of sweets.

After checking in we asked where the West Market was. We’d heard that it was a great market, but had no idea how to get there. The staff promptly showed us and got us a cab.

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The West Market was nearby and first we got let out near a mall. We wondered inside and I’d been here before and din’t think it was much of anything special We saw some shoppers going through what looked like a service door. We followed and discovered a movie theater with the latest releases. We saw another service door and boldly went through. After walking through a corridor we found ourselves in a jewelry and beauty supply wonderland. West Market has vendors selling every kind of accessory and sundries. You could get tons of knock off perfumes, hats, watches, stationery, household goods, accessories, you name it.

After a few hours exploring, we returned to the hotel in time for Happy Hour. Since this Grand Mercure’s Executive Lounge is closed we got to eat in the restaurant – leg of lamb, loads of side dishes, pastries. All so delectable.

The hotel promoted a tea ceremony and morning tai chi but when I left hotel for Easter mass, no one was doing tai chi out front and when I asked about the tea ceremony we were told they didn’t have one but we could go to one at a tea shop. The easiest fix for these is to remove the slides featuring them from the hotel TV station.

Easter brunch at the Mercure has become a tradition for the foreign teachers at my university. Each year it gets a little better. This year there were two little bunnies along with an “Easter tree” and lots of cakes and sweets decorated for the holiday. Not only did we have a wonderful brunch, but the manager gave us a bottle of wine.

I thought I’d never eat again, but after hitting the fitness center and catching up on the world news with the BBC, I managed to make it to Happy Hour.

Poem of the Week

The crowd at the ball game

by William Carlos Williams

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them—

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius—

all to no end save beauty
the eternal—

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

for this
to be warned against

saluted and defied—
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut—

The flashy female with her
mother, gets it—

The Jew gets it straight— it
is deadly, terrifying—

It is the Inquisition, the
Revolution

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them
idly—

This is
the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought

Mr Selfridge: On Shell Shock

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As poor Henri LeClair battles against shell shock, here’s a BBC radio program, The Essay that focuses on this problem. Evidently, officer’s dealing with mental effects of the war were diagnosed with shell shock while privates were thought to be nuts or just malingering.

The Essay is a radio program featuring essays by writers on a myriad of topics, i.e. whatever tickles their fancy. I think I’ve discovered a little mine full of radio gems.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Afloat

Black Tiger Springs, Jinan, China

Black Tiger Springs, Jinan, China

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts. Add Media photos from each month’s most popular challenge.

Other great photos:

Silent Sunday

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Sepia Saturday

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Order Coal?

Hmm.

I’ll go with posters, 1920s posters for this week’s Sepia Saturday. Whenever I teach The Great Gatsby, I touch upon the culture of self-improvement and how Gatsby tapped into that when he was young. In that era “self-improvement” was a pervasive value and posters like those below were found in workplaces and throughout the community to promote hard work, savings and “common sense.”

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tight wad

rest

criticism

3:10 to Yuma

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I’m normally not a fan of Westerns, but if the Criterion Collection saw fit to offer Delmar Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma (1957), maybe this Western was worth a look. It sure was. Starring Glen Ford, whom I associate with TV sitcoms if anything, 3:10 to Yuma is a psychologically compelling game of cat and mouse. Ford plays Ben Wade, a slick, charming head of a gang of stagecoach robbers. After his gang kills a stagecoach driver while robbing the coach, his gang disperses to hide out. Ford miscalculates and allows a little romance to detain him and so he gets nabbed.

He’s in hick country and doubts the locals can keep his gang from him from breaking loose or getting rescued. Surely, he can outsmart these poor yokels. The central yokel, is a small rancher Dan Evans, who agrees to escort Wade to a town where a train to Yuma will take Wade to the nearest judge. Evans needs the $200 reward to save his cattle. Just as desperately Evans heeds his wife and sons’ esteem. That they seem to see him as a man who always plays it safe is getting to him.

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Some of the tensest moments are in a hotel room where these two character kill time till the train’s about to leave. The film’s strength is the psychology of the characters, that and the remarkable cinematography of the desolate Western landscape.

Good quote:

Bisbee Marshal: Do I have two volunteers? First Posse Member: We gotta know what we’re gettin’ ourselves into.

Second Posse Member: Sure… might not be safe.

Bisbee Marshal: Safe! Who knows what’s safe? I knew a man dropped dead from lookin’ at his wife. My own grandmother fought the Indians for sixty years… then choked to death on lemon pie. Do I have two volunteers?

As with all the Criterion films I’ve seen, the extras were well worth my time. One was an interview with Glen Ford’s son, who’s written his father’s biography. The other was an interview with Elmore Leonard, who wrote the short story the film’s based on. I’ve heard Leonard’s name and associated him with short stories, but the interview was inspiring and insightful for writers. The power of this spare film, stuck with me for days. I’d definitely check out more of Daves’ films. [categorie film, review, New Years’ Resolution Film Challenge]

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