Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hyperreal Hyboria or You only live once.

More strange and unrelated topics this week starting with Spain on film.

First up is the years biggest Bollywood block buster that mixes the most unlikely combination of Bollywood action, romance and music with Spanish culture in the film “Zindagi na milegi dobara” (You only live once).

Clearly a well planned promotional piece between the Indian and Spanish cultural ministries, the film includes a great road trip snap shot of Spanish life, including the obligatory running of the bulls (which are apparently over dubbed with lion roars!) and flamenco dancing. But in addition to these better known activities is a scene of the Tomatina Festival, one of the most untraditional festivals in Spain. The scene from the film has proven a hit in India, but also a controversial one, since a restaging of the infamous tomato fight in India lead to criticism that it was wasting food in a country already impoverished.

Indeed, this is perhaps the origin of many complaints against the Tomatina festival held every year at the end of August in the Valencian town of Buñol. Whereas most traditions in Spain have a history of centuries, the Tomatina has only been in existence for about 50 years, and then with intermittent periods where it was banned and then reinstated. Although forming part of the Fiesta Major (Grand Festival) of the town, it is seemingly little more than a cheap promotional ploy to attract visitors to the region. Regardless of its appearance in Bollywood films or not, the systematic wasting of so much food for no historical or cultural purpose (other than to make money) has to be questioned.

For those in need of another Bollywood fix with a disco angle then click here  for a real treat.

Just as pointless and untraditional as Tomatina, and also only for promotional purposes, was the painting of the Andalucian  town of Juzcar in blue for the premiere of the new Smurf movie (Smurfs are called Pitufos in Spanish). It’s a legacy that you hope does not last.

Unlike the Bollywood movie, there was no agreement between Spain and the producers of the new Conan the Barbarian movie, which looks filmed in silico .

The original from 1982, with Arnold Scwarzenegger, James Earl Jones and Ingmar Bergman’s favourite actor Max von Sydow, was, however, truer to the books of Robert E Howard than the new movie appears, but was also elegantly filmed in Spain, mostly in Almeria.

Indeed, an overlooked feature of the film is its authentic recreation of a fantasy world, arguably the best on film alongside Lord of The Rings, since it retains a humility, a naturalness and a genuine sense of culture among the people and land in the background. Filming in Spain helped this as it gave the landscapes a foreign aspect to most audiences at the time such as the flat, salty looking desert (as opposed to filming in the American deserts, for example, or Tunisia which would create the appearance of being on the set of Star Wars) or the witch house scene which uses well the bizarre rock formations of La Ciudad Encantada de Cuenca (The Enchanted City of Cuenca). On another level, the sparse and hostile landscapes through which Conan travelled were far more representative of his Nietschian struggle than the hyperreal CGI landscapes so often produced. As a contrast, compare how the computer generated Rome of the film “Gladiator” fails to authenticate the movie with its shiny, cleanliness and the feeling that is was not lived in. Spain is Hyperboria, just as New Zealand now is Middle Earth.

Of course the music to the original Conan the Barbarian was very special, composed by the sadly deceased Basil Poledouris. Using phrases from many other famous movie soundtracks, authentic medieval instruments and above all, a strong intergration with the characters and action of the film makes it a cinema classic. My favourite excerpt from the soundtrack must be from the orgy scene (for not just sexual reasons, as actually it is quite tame relatively speaking) which has some lovely, dizzying circles of melody and of course an orgasmic climax.

The music to this scene was apparently composed with the help of Polidouris’s 9 year old daughter, which cmakes an uncomfortable picture, but was also inspired by Gustav Holst’s "the Planets Op 32. Jupiter", and not Ravel’s Bolero for its extended climax like many (so wishfully) think. Check here the sequence beginning around the 2 minute mark.

The new film seems to angle more for the metal side of Conan (or perhaps Conan fans). Afterall, here is a big muscly guy with long black hair who likes fighting, so who are you most likely to appeal to? Speaking of metal, the beginning of the film was also used as inspiration for the death metal album “Prepare for war” by Demoniac.

The original Conan movie celebrates 30 years next year, but this week we already celebrated the 30th anniversary of the start of MTV. The Guardian ran a brief blog of the “highlights” from this time and if this is the best, then perhaps it is indicative of what they have not really achieved during 30 years. Apart from obvious highlights as Nirvana Unplugged and the odd bit of amusing controversy, it is hard to think or see of anything substantial or culturally enduring given us by the channel. I still remember with opening the REM album cover to “Monster” and seeing lots of little MTV advertising inside, such as the cartoons of Migraine Boy and feeling a sense of betrayal. One cannot also forget their branching into reality tv shows as well, one which being Paris Hilton’s My new BFF . The show has had several series in the US and spin offs around the world, perhaps most ridiculously and glamorously in Dubai… how much more detached from reality can you get? 

Some more interesting guitar music this week came from the Thrill Jockey label and the band White Hills. There album “H-p1” doesn’t really break new ground per se, being heavily moored in the waters of classic space and post rock, particularly groups like Jessamine and Kinski, perhaps with a little Smashing Pumpkins and Circle thrown in for good measure, but there is nonetheless more than enough quality on offer to make it a good listen. Highlights are the side-long 17 minute freak out of the closing title track “H-p1”, the Kosmische groove of “Paradise”.

The opening track “Condition of Nothing” perhaps best captures the groups influences from the heavier side of things

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