Monday, 24 October 2011

Not just a smorgasbord of ABBA, IKEA and divorced detectives

I’ve always wanted to be in the Saturday Guardian telling the world about the cultural highlights of my week. I expect I’m one of thousands. We all end up blogging, don’t we?

Well, for those of you who are interested, here’s my two penn’orth.

On Saturday I went into Oxford to see Ingmar Bergman’s film of The Magic Flute (Trollflöjten). Purists may not like his adaptation. I found it engaging. Håkan Hagegård’s Papageno was delightful. We had the pleasure of Hagegård’s company in the cinema too, so it was interesting to hear him talk beforehand about the filming and about how Swedish works as a sung language. I hadn’t realised just how close Swedish is to German.

Bergman’s trademark close scrutiny of faces was probing. With Sven Nykvist as directory of photography, you wouldn’t expect anything else. Throughout the overture, the camera concentrates on the opera’s imagined audience. We can’t help becoming aware of being watchers, too. We seed ourselves into the crowd. Is that how my face looks? How various human beings are when we’re listening to music. How emotionally alert we seem.

The score, of course, is superb. Mozart has so many layers. The cast had marvellous voices, though Hagegård did say that Bergman used a few ‘tricks’ to achieve such a stunning vocal range. The purists will probably dismiss this as cheating. Well, it’s a film, for goodness sakes, not a live opera. A film is a very different beast.

Still think Sweden’s cultural identity is just a smorgasbord of ABBA, IKEA and divorced detectives? Read Tomas Tranströmer’s The Deleted World. This dual language book plopped through my letterbox this morning and I read it in one sitting. Apparently, Tranströmer is known as the ‘buzzard poet’ because of his aerial views of landscape and human endeavour. But it’s his extraordinary and unexpected intimacy that astounds. In A Winter Night he talks about a storm that:

                        ...puts its mouth to the house
                        and blows to get a tone.

Later, he describes a house that:

                        ...feels its own constellation of nails
                        holding the walls together.

His final stanza opens things out and yet still manages to keep that intimacy:

                        A darker storm stands over the world.
                        It puts its mouth to our soul
                        and blows to get a tone. We are afraid
                        the storm will blow us empty.

These poems are spare and profound. The sea is never far away. Neither are snow and death. In Solitude he describes a near fatal accident in his car. But it’s the second stanza of Black Postcards that makes you aware of living inside your skin:

                        In the middle of life, death comes
                        to take your measurements. The visit
                        is forgotten and life goes on. But the suit
                                    is being sewn on the sly.

Apparently, there are 164 definitions of culture (Kroeber, A.L. and C. Kluckhohn, 1952. Culture: A Critical review of Concepts and Definitions) so I shall include Sunday’s Manchester United debacle and several pints of Becks in my local pub. The less said about that, the better, though the beer was very palatable.

And finally, what’s on my iPod?

The unique and stirring Tamer Animals by Other Lives. This band from Oklahoma claims influences as far apart as the Beatles, Sigur Ros and Philip Glass. Grown-up music from a proper grown-up band which, in the USA, is a rarity these days.

I’ve also been listening to the inestimable Janis Ian. Remember At Seventeen? She was on BBC4’s Songwriter’s Circle last week with Ryan Adams and Neil Finn. It’s very rare I watch TV these days, but occasionally something as good as this will keep me up till 3 am. I’m listening to Ryan Adams, too. He seems to have really come into his own with his new album Ashes and Fire. But the old favourites like the masochistic Come Pick Me Up can still choke me.

And returning to Scandinavia, one of my top favourites at the moment is Annbjørg Lien who plays the hardanger fiddle with Bjørn Ole Rasch on Come Home.  An excellent CD. I wouldn’t be without it.

So, that’s my cultural round-up. I’m looking forward to the Derwent Poetry Festival 11 – 13th November, as well as the Bridport Open Book Festival 19th – 26th November.

As for Manchester United, they’ll get over it, as the man downing his fifth pint said to me. What a magnanimous chap.

Here are your links:


























Janis Ian          
















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