In the Show – 29th April 2008

The argument about whether street graffiti is art is likely never to be settled one way or another. Perhaps as with writing or painting, or any other kind of creative endeavour, the final answer should be: “it depends what its aim is.”

British graffiti artist Banksy has become known internationally for his witty and ironic imagery, much of which appears overnight on walls, mostly in various British cities. But although we say he’s known, few even know for sure who he is. His work was recently on show at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

Hong Kong also has its own locally-based graffiti artists. One of them is British artist Simon Birch who has contributed the occasional stencilled piece to Hong Kong’s walls. Birch is the winner of the Louis Vuitton Asian Art Prize 2007. His first major multi-media exhibition “This Brutal House” incorporates performance, collaborative work with Hong Kong photographer Wing Shya, video, and of course Simon’s own paintings.

Three years ago Michael Moore took the Palme d’Or, the Cannes festival’s biggest prize, for “Fahrenheit 9/11”. It was a mixture of documentary and polemic, looking at some of the causes and consequences of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the USA. Unusually for a non-fiction film, it made money. It’s the highest-grossing documentary of all time. Now Moore is back with “Sicko”, in which he dissects the US health care industry. Reviewer Gary Pollard tells us more.

American mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves has been called “One of the singers most likely to be an operatic superstar of the 21st century.” She’s performing in Hong Kong as part of French May and, later, next month she’ll be back to perform in “Werther” with Opera Hong Kong. Denyce Graves is in the studio with us tonight.


In the Show – 22nd April 2008

Last Friday and Saturday, local music lovers had the opportunity to hear and see violinist Akiko Suwanai perform Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Now one of the world’s most respected players, Akiko was the youngest ever winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition.

“We Own the Night” is about two brothers who have taken two very different paths in life. Joseph, played by Mark Wahlberg, has followed in the footsteps of their father, and has become one of New York city’s most decorated policemen. Bobby, Joaquin Phoenix, is running a nightclub for a kindly old Russian furrier and his family. When the police notice the club’s being used for drugs distribution, they ask Bobby to inform on his acquaintances. He refuses. It looks as if the brothers are set to clash. Reviewer Gary Pollard tells us more.

This year, as ever, French May will include classical, pop, and jazz music, theatre, visual arts, dance, and movies. Jumping the gun a bit, one of the exhibitions has already started. It’s showing at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Musée Guimet, Paris, in collaboration with the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong. It’s called “Paris 1730-1930: A Taste for China.”

In our studio tonight are American cellist and composer Matt Brubeck (son of Dave Brubeck), and Canadian pianist and composer David Braid. David was awarded a 2005 Juno award for best traditional jazz album and Matt’s background includes being a member of the Berkely Symphony and touring with Sheryl Crow and the Dixie Chicks. David and Matt are both classically trained but switch to jazz with ease, as they show us tonight.

In the Show – 15th April 2008

Performing artists can get their funding from a variety of sources: private patrons, government sponsorship, or just plain selling tickets. In Hong Kong many art groups go to the government for funding, but one, Jim Chim Shui-man’s PIP, has decided it’s time to cut the ties.

Next Tuesday is Earth Day, 2008, the aim of which is to highlight the need for us to exercise careful stewardship of our planet. At Cyberport, Earth Day is being celebrated over 12 days, from April 10th to 22nd. Last Saturday, one of the highlights was a tree, but this was no ordinary tree.

“The Band’s Visit” is a gentle comedy about the eight members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra who – on a trip to Israel for a concert – find themselves stranded in the wrong town. As they are Egyptian and as the people they are speaking to are Israeli, they spend much of the time speaking in English.Unfortunately they spend so much time talking English that the movie was disqualified from the “Best Foreign Language Film” category in the Academy Awards. But audiences and critics have generally raved about this first movie by writer and director Eran Kolirin. Gary Pollard tells us more.

It’s April, traditionally the month in which spring begins, although you might not be able to tell given that the seasons seem so mixed up lately. This weekend at the City Hall Theatre, the City Contemporary Dance Company is presenting three dances based on the seasons, and on Vivaldi’s musical tribute to them. We talked to Dominic Wong and Mui Cheuk-yin, two of the four choreographers involved.

We end tonight’s show with a visit to the studio of, and an interview with, local percussion band “Four Gig Heads”. They also play us a sample of their music.

In the Show – 8th April 2008

This week, film reviewer Gary Pollard talks to two cinematic giants.

Hungarian film director Bela Tarr is the master of the long take, and – to a degree – the long movie. He’s considered by many to be one of the greatest living directors. “Satantango” is seven hours long. The opening shot, of a herd of cows moving through a village is eight minutes long. His early works were social-realist in form. With “Damnation”, “Satantango” and “The Werckmeister Harmonies”, his work began to take on a more metaphysical tone. He says he doesn’t believe in God, but he makes a strong case that humans must be treated with dignity.

Peter Greenaway is a British movie director, who receives much of his funding and support from Holland. One strand of his movies, from “A Walk Through H” to “A Draughtsman’s Contract” and his new film “Nightwatching” is about examining man-made objects in the hope they will give up their secrets. In the case of “Nightwatching” it’s Rembrandt’s famous painting “The Nightwatch”. A few years ago, Greenaway made the transition into being a VJ, using a mixed audiovisual form that he says will supersede cinema. He believes cinema is dead.

Gary Pollard Interviews Bela Tarr

Among the many guests attending this year’s 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival were two of Europe’s most-respected filmmakers: Hungarian Bela Tarr, and – from Britain – Peter Greenaway. For a lot of people, Bela Tarr is their worst nightmare of what European art film is like. His “Satantango” is seven hours long. It begins with an eight-minute shot of cows meandering through a village. There’s a one-hour sequence which is basically a man sitting at a desk, and eventually getting up to go to the toilet, and to go out and buy some more alcohol. There’s a lot of this kind of thing going on in his films. He likes using black and white. He explains why in the following interview.

He deals with things on a very determined level and with a pace that some people will find slow. But, as you watch his films, they are incredibly powerful. By the end of “Satantango”, by the end of this seven hours film, you think: “I’m so glad I saw that.” And so much of it works so well.

And in terms of the film, these days many films come out as products. Bela Tarr says that European filmmakers basically are funded by the government, they’re funded by public money. Bela Tarr really insists that most films are like fairy tales, and he says: “I’m being paid with their money, to make films to appeal to their intelligence. I shouldn’t be making fairy tales. I shouldn’t be treating them like kids. I should assume they have a level of intelligence,which is how he works.

Gary Pollard
You’re famous, particularly after “Damnation” onwards,for long extended shots. Is that a kind of corrective to the fact that we have short attention spans now?.

Bela Tarr
You know, why I like to do this one is because you can create everything for a minute and everybody has to be there at the same moment, the actors the crew and we, and everybody has to be on the top, with all of your sensibilities, and all of your presence. That’s important. That’s why I like it. To have it, the moment, when everything is together.

You know, most of the movies are working like: information, cut, information, cut, information, cut. And for them the information is just the story. And for me a lot of things are information. I try to involve to the movie, the time, the space, and a lot of other things which is a part of our life but not connecting directly to the storytelling. And I’m working the same way: information, cut, information, cut, but for me the information is not only the story. A lot of other things. Maybe something is happening between us and I’m just moving with the camera and I’m showing you something over there, which is connecting you. It also gives some information to the people but it’s not in a cut. Or, the way how I’m showing I’m just always … it looks like a chain. You just put everything together and then finally you have a long take. But we are cutting, but not on the editing table, we are cutting in the camera.

Gary Pollard
People think in a way … you’ve said you’re not a believer in God, yet people still keep looking at your films and coming out with religious messages.

Bela Tarr
I’m working since thirty years. And during this time I have to tell you I’m doing the same movie about the human dignity. If you want you can call it also a kind of religion because if you believe and you are 100% sure one thing is important. Human dignity. And what is really … and please don’t touch it, the human dignity. Please don’t destroy it. Please don’t humiliate it. And I just wanted to show you always: here is some poor, ugly, sad people. Maybe they are able to do crimes but they are able to love each other, but they are human beings and they have a right to life. And the quality of their life, it’s not “doesn’t matter”. You know, that’s what I think, and that’s why I’m doing a movie. And that’s, and that’s what I believe.

Gary Pollard
You’ve got two moments of particular revelation, when I think about in “Satantango” there’s the scene where Iremias comes to the place where the little girl killer herself, and there’s the mist going across, and he falls to his knees and then in the hospital scene in Werckmeister Harmonies they go through a hospital and then they see the old man standing in the bath and then they go away very quiet. What is it that impresses those people in those scenes.

Bela Tarr
I can be cynical and I can tell you very simple. Because behind the old man in the bath there is a wall. No way. They have to turn back. That’s the cynical version. Of course on the other hand I think every human has a sensibility and every human has a respect. You know, if you are the biggest criminal, if you are able to kill someone, everybody has a border that they have to turn backbecause if they cross this border in this case we cannot call them human. We have to call them animals. But I have to tell you I respect several times more the animals because what we are doing on the earth is more …

Gary Pollard
One thing that impresses a lot of people about your films: they love the cinematography, the black and white cinematography but you do very extended scenes, the cinematography often looks quite naturalistic. Do your extended scenes create extra problems for your cameraman?

Bela Tarr
It’s not a question of extra problems or not. You know, if you have a picture. It looks like a painting. Every frame has to be perfect and you have to show something which is important. If here is, for example, this small flower. It’s really importent iif I take me hand to … the light is coming from here. If I take my hand to here, it became dark. It’s always the question if … what I want to show I have to decide – the flower or the water?. In this case I’m hiding it, or I keep it in the dark and I put more light to here because I just want to show you what I think, what I … what is important and we have to … and the black and white is very good because it’s bright, white., this is totally dark and you can feel always like I can … and your eyes always are just going to the brighter, to the brighter point. That’s why I really like to do the black and white. And I never think about how difficult it is for the cinematographer because I just know what I want to show, but I know it’s really difficult, because there’s a lot of really complicated camera movement.

Gary Pollard
I’ve got a picture by Brueghel on the wall of my office. I was very interested to see that you love Brueghel so much. What is it about Brueghel that you love and how does that apply to your films?

Bela Tarr
For example, when we see the falling Icarus. And this is the story, and this is the title of the picture, and what do you see? Icarus is really the smallest point in the background when he falls to the water and in the front you can see two ugly real people. That’s a kind of philosophy. The story is, I don’t know where because the main issue is in front of you. That’s … it’s a kind of dramaturgy. I have to tell you I learned filmmaking more from the painters and from the musicians than the filmmakers.

Gary Pollard
Do you feel your films are optimistic or pessimistic?

Bela Tarr
First of all, if you are pessimistic, you don’t do anything, and you don’t want to tell and don’t want to communicate with the people. That’s true. I don’t think I’m too optimistic, but I’m still optimistic because I believe that somebody will come and watch this movie and agree with our point of view.

Gary Pollard
Bela Tarr thanks very much.

Bela Tarr
Thank you.

Gary Pollard Interviews Peter Greenaway

British filmmaker Peter Greenaway, with his art school background, is known for emphasising the visual. Many of his works have been examinations of man-made objects. His most commercially successful film: “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and her Lover” featured liberal doses of nudity and violence, all beautifully shot.

Greenaway, although a successful filmmaker, does not seem that optimistic about the future of film? Or even the present, actually. He feels that film, as he says in this interview, has not been used properly, and there are better things that we can do with it. He’s increasingly taken up VJ-ing, where he’s a video jockey, where he has multimedia presentations, big banks of stuff going on, he can bring up pictures, bring up sound, everything. But the irony is he started his career by making short films like “A Walk Through H”, which is a film based on maps and pictures of birds. So he’s examining these single human objects.

And then later on, he did “The Draughtsman’s Contract” where an artist is hired to do some drawings and accidentally draws a murder. There are clues in all the drawings he’s done to a murder, as he realises in the end.

Now Greenaway has done a new film about Rembrandt called “Nightwatching”, but he’s also using multimedia to do it. But the irony is, that although he is saying: “Film has to give us everything. It has to come from all angles.We need multimedia. We can’t just have one image, and one thing,” the focus of his film is one image: one Rembrandt image.

So whereas Bela Tarr does a long extended scene and there are a lot of things in the scene for you to make up your own mind about, Greenaway is now looking at a single painting where there are a lot of things to make your mind up about. And in Rembrandt’s famous painting “The Nightwatch”, it’s a mystery. It’s a kind of “CSI” story, as he tells us, and it’s something that you look at and you have to decode and unravel, and find out what’s going on behind it.

Peter Greenaway
Cinema could have been amazing and isn’t. And it’s ended up as bedtime stories for adults, of a very low denomination.

Essentially my big regret about the cinema is that it’s a text-based medium; it’s not an image-based medium. And every time you see a film you can see the director illustrating a text. The big I suppose cinematic subject-matter to have drawn public attention I suppose in the last five to ten years have been projects like “Lord of the Rings” and Harry Potter, and of course these aren’t films, these are illustrated books.

But my … the beginning of my career was associated very much with the excitements of painting and I did indeed go to art school against all the oppositions that you would normally expect under those circumstances in the late 1950s, early 1960s. And it’s always been my intention really to consider a career which was associated with ideas associated with the visual image,. And then I somehow, by accident, slipped into the film business. I should really be a painter. And I suppose my justification for that now is I have extraordinary privileges on stages, in opera houses, on television, in cinema, and now all these new media in association. I’m now a VJ and I do a lot of DVD manufacturing and so on. So in a sense I curiously am I suppose still a visual maker, I still am a painter but my medium is not the conventional one of canvas and paint, although I do still continue a painting career.

Gary Pollard
You are, kind of, in a way, writing an essay with the Rembrandt film, “Nightwatching”.

Peter Greenaway
Well I think, with all my films. I’m an essayist really. I think you know with “The Draughtsman’s Contract” going right to the beginning is really, I suppose, a documentary form dressed up in a fictional approach in a sense. I am interested in the pleasure principle. I don’t want to strip things back just to be a polemicist. I think all the very best art has enormous amounts of the pleasure principle in it, so that has to be a part of the phenomenon. So I want to use, you know, what Hollywood would recognize as a film medium. But I want to be able to push and pull into areas where Hollywood dare not go.

Gary Pollard
Is that why you include drama elements? Because you could dissect that painting without drama.

Peter Greenaway
You can indeed, but that’s maybe always the sad thing about cinema: it’s always deconstructible back into its parts. So, you know, a film apologist like Bazin in the 1910s would suggest that cinema is a combination of literature, the theatre, and painting, although I think there’s very little painting in cinema, because again it’s so text based. But it hasn’t changed. He could say that in 1921 and it really hasn’t changed. We still have the same phenomenon. And I think all of us know that of all the media cinema is deeply reactionary. Scorsese basically makes the same films as Griffiths. Where have we travelled to? And if you think the the Lumiere brothers invented, in 1895, the cinema – although I would suggest now that people like Rembrandt invented the cinema because these were the first people who dealt with artificial light, along with Caravaggio and Velasquez you know round about the 1640s – there’s a way in which the propositions of cinema have not travelled very far. I think Rembrandt in the film says things like “The definition of an actor is somebody who’s been trained to pretend they are not being watched” which is really a sort of, you know, Chekhovian Russian phenomenon and we still have a cinema that preserves the invisible Fourth Wall. We’re still playing these stupid games that are related I suppose and really quite old-fashioned, we know, with Russian theatre in the 1890s.Cinema has moved very slowly and very cautiously. But now I don’t think it’s a matter of much concern because I think the cinema is dead. I give you a date: 31st September 1983 when the “zapper” or the remote control was introduced into the living rooms of the world. I think if cinema is to continue it has to be interactive, and it has to be multimedia.

Gary Pollard
Is there a contradiction – an aesthetic contradiction? On the one hand you’re doing the VJ thing where you’re giving people multiple things to look at, and multiple things to listen to. On the other hand, when you go to Rembrandt you’re saying: “Here’s a single thing, a single frame of film. Pay that enough attention and you’ll get something out of it.”

Peter Greenaway
It could be true, but then when you look at that single frame there’s a lot going on, a huge amount of hypertext. And it’s said by art historians that there are fifty mysteries inside he Rembrandt. . And when you start breaking those mysteries down they’re full of all sorts of references. You know, there are social references and historical references, and aesthetic references. I think Amsterdam, for about three generations in the middle of the 17th century, was the centre of the Western world. New York used to be called New Amsterdam. And Peter the Great goes away and makes St. Petersburg based on his six years experience in Amsterdam. So there’s a wave of Dutch influences, even in this part of the world. I think the first trading community in Japan for example was the Dutch. So they had an enormous amount of interest I think and influence, again before the British took over, ultimately two sea powers fighting one another, and the English won. So the film of “Nightwatching” I think is as much about notions of Amsterdam, nmotions of Amsterdam as a community. There’s always this talk about money, money, money all the time and the film is literally sprinkled with references to Alexander and Jaffa/Java and the New World and Manhattan and so on. So there’s a way that out of this singular image, this frozen moment, which represents somehow a frozen still if you like in terms of not just Rembrandt’s history but Dutch history in itself is worth looking at, and looking at, and looking at, because it can give us back so much.

Gary Pollard
One of the areas that painters have got limitations is they don’t have control over time. You know, you get people who go to the Louvre and they “do the Louvre”, 300 paintings in one hour. Are you in a way giving Rembrandt back the control over time, making you look at the painting…?

Peter Greenaway
Yeah, I hope so. I mean I’ve often thought the DVD would be the ideal medium for me because it covers both the time frames. I’m trained as a painter, and I know the time frame is really in the hands, curiously, of the visitor, of the viewer, and you’re absolutely right. And I think you exactly posit the ideal question for me. I want people to look. Look, look, look, look, look. Use your eyes, develop a philosophy for the notion of how important the visual image is

Gary Pollard
So … do you ever actually enjoy those bedtime stories for adults?

Peter Greenaway
Well, let me try and answer your question by maybe a roundabout route. I can see that “Nightwatching” is really a CSI, it’s a crime-scene investigation. I’m not so sure about the New York version of that, but I really enjoy the Las Vegas item. It’s beautifully made, very well scripted, sharp moving. And I like the notion of investigation in such minute detail. And that, I suppose takes me all the way back to “The Draughtsman’s Contract” which is doing the self same thing. I’d love to be invited to direct one of those CSIs

Gary Pollard
That would be good. Thank you very much.

Peter Greenaway
My pleasure. Thank you.

In the Show – 1st April 2008

The Karin Weber gallery is currently showing “The Cell”, an exhibition of works by artist and former political prisoner Htein Lin, many pf them painted while he was incarcerated. Lin’s from Burma, also known as Myanmar. Not only does his imprisonment inform much of his art, it has also changed his life in unexpected ways.

As part of the Family Fiesta Series, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department is presenting “LaLaLuna”, the story of the moon’s caretaker and what he does when the moon goes out. Joining us in the studio is that caretaker, and the show’s creator and sole performer, Wolfe Bowart.

The movie “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” is based on a novel of the same name by Winifred Watson, which was originally published in 1938. It was reissued in the United Kingdom in 2000. The book became a bit of a cult, with one reviewer labelling it “the sweetest grown-up book in the world”. It’s the story of a governess, Miss Pettigrew, who falls on hard times, and then encounters a new world of glamour, and changes the life of the society woman she meets. Gary Pollard tells us more.

The Gurfinkel Clarinet Duo consists of outstanding fifteen-year-old clarinet players who just happen to be twin brothers. Born in Israel to a family of esteemed clarinet players, Daniel and Alexander Gurfinkel won the prestigious “maestro competition for young prodigies” at the first Israeli Competition for Woodwind Players at the age of nine. They join us in the studio and play a unique arrangement of Paganini’s Caprice No 24.