Zadok the Champ

The origin of the anthem of the European soccer Champions League.

As I’m sure you know, tonight is the final of the European real football (soccer) Champions League club competition. It’s between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and is taking place for some UEFA reason in Wembley, London. I’m rooting for Borussia, partly on general underdog grounds – Dortmund is a gritty Ruhr rustbelt city, without Munich’s glamour or whiffy history -, partly because they knocked out my home team Malaga. It’s always a consolation to lose to the champ.

The anthem of the competition is a surprisingly successful 30-year-old piece of skilled hackwork by British composer Tony Britten (h/t Sam Borden of the NYT/IHT).

Here it is at the start of an earlier game between Borussia and Barcelona:

Since you can’t hear it very well against the generic crowd noise, here’s the anthem performed by a proper orchestra and choir: Continue reading “Zadok the Champ”

Chuchito Valdés and regression towards the mean

Chuchito Valdés is the grandson of the late Bebo and son of Chucho, Cuban jazz royalty.  The short version of my rule for music is that African + Iberian = Proof of God’s Infinite Love, so I listen to a fair amount of this stuff.

Tonight we caught Chuchito at Yoshi’s. I was playing hooky from a talk by Theda Skocpol at our annual Wildavsky Forum, and if all my colleagues had done as I did, it would  have been a Bad Thing, categorical imperative time, but they didn’t, and I got to hear one of those evenings of music I’ll remember all my life. Unfair, I know, but seriously, up there with The Doors live at the Fillmore East on my short list of times.

Valdes had a minimal band (percussion, timbales, bass and a trumpet player whose name I missed), so every note counted and you could hear them all.  He played boleros and son to break your heart, mambos and rhumbas to wake the dead and restart the universe.  In the middle he did a medley of A Train and Satin Doll for which Edward Kennedy Ellington and William Strayhorn came down from heaven and spoke to us in Spanish.  If the horn guy gets the “last trumpet” gig for the apocalypse I want to be in the front row and will die happy, especially because at that time I will also see the wretched Florida Cuban reactionaries and their Republican toadies going to hell for keeping us from this glorious music for decades.

About regression towards the mean?  The statistics lesson for tonight is that the principle, normally sound, apparently has exceptions.

[Free extra, not worth a post by itself: the joropo (Venezuelan/Colombian cowboy music) group Cimarrón has an 2011 self-titled album that I just came upon. If you don’t know them, check it out.]

 

 

Weekend Film Recommendation: Once Upon A Time in the West

After Sergio Leone completed the ‘Dollars’ trilogy in 1966, the studios granted him the license to make a Western without fear of studio intervention. The film that resulted, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), is this weekend’s movie recommendation.

The film is set in a time of rapid industrialisation, when the railway barons raced to connect the coasts of America with iron track. The prospect held fabulously lucrative promise, and Leone constructs a world in which the laws governing the realisation of that prospect were frighteningly flexible. One such baron is particularly ambitious, and reluctantly hires a henchman with higher designs – ‘Frank,’ played by Henry Fonda – in order to help him get the job done Screen shot 2013-02-27 at 00.58.42before tuberculosis denies him satisfaction.

Don’t expect to see the moral probity of Juror Eight, Wyatt Earp, or Young Abe Lincoln in Henry Fonda’s performance. Instead, Frank is a terrifying, psychotic character with an appetite for child murder, corruption, and an unquenchable thirst for power. Charles Bronson appears opposite Frank as an enigmatically taciturn gunslinger. He is identified by the only thing about himself he is willing to reveal from his past – his hauntingly played ‘Harmonica.’ Harmonica cherishes his instrument with as much attention as he does his burning desire to kill Frank, for reasons that he’s willing to divulge “only at the point of dying.”

Frank’s and Harmonica’s stories coincide in the town of Flagstone. There, they meet Jill and Cheyenne, played respectively by the stunning Claudia Cardinale and the charismatic Jason Robards. Jill is an ex-prostitute trying to restore her reputation as an honest woman of means, and Cheyenne is keen to clear his name for the murders – perpetrated by Frank – for which he has been framed.

Screen shot 2013-02-27 at 00.54.15

Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack assigns a stirring leitmotif to each of the principal characters. The music matches each character’s idiosyncrasies beautifully: for Frank, the music is loud and jarring; for Harmonica, it’s un-placeably morose; for Cheyenne, it’s strangely whimsical; for Jill, the melodic soprano seems dissonant in the barren wasteland of Flagstone.

The feature of Leone’s work that I find especially compelling is his ability to construct a believable history for almost every one of his characters. There are very few character ‘props’ without personalities – Frank’s venal henchmen, the licentious bartender, and the exasperated sheriff officiating the auction – all are believable.

Make no mistake: Once Upon a Time in the West is brutally violent. Clocking in at almost three hours, it will also swallow a sizeable chunk of your weekend whole. It is an exhausting experience, but as the pinnacle of the spaghetti Western genre, it is deeply rewarding. Watch it if you want to see where the clichés come from: my favourite is the way the camera captures an extreme close-up of piercing eyes appearing from under the hat-brim as the head lifts, but you’ll surely notice countless other examples. Just remember that while they may seem dated, Leone is justly credited with having made them the ice cool hallmarks of dramatic cinema that they are today.

For trivia purposes, I think I’m going to play this one a little differently, given that Once Upon a Time in the West is already such well-trodden turf. I’m going to ask people to contribute instances where they think the film has been directly referenced by other films in the comments section. It shouldn’t be too difficult to provide a long list, especially given the love of Leone’s work by just about every director since (Tarantino in particular is a huge fan). The rules are that you must provide clear information detailing the reference between the new film and what scene or aspect of Once Upon a Time in the West to which it refers. Simply naming a film won’t do. Buona fortuna!

And Then One Day You Find Ten Years Have Got Behind You

Actually, it’s 40 years (!) since the release of Dark Side of the Moon.

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The Telegraph has a nice photo retrospective of Pink Floyd here.

March 3, 2013 UPDATE: IN CASE YOU WERE NOT FEELING OLD ENOUGH ALREADY, THE BEATLES RELEASED THEIR FIRST ALBUM ONE HALF CENTURY AGO TODAY.

Heartwarming

Theme song of an African geothermal conference.

A nice bon enfant jingle for, say, other Luo socialist climate hawks:

What makes it even nicer is that every claim in the puff is true. East Africa is starting to exploit >15 GW of geothermal reserves under the Rift Valley complex, where the continent is slowly splitting in two. The reserves are the traditional and easily accessible hydrothermal sort, not the more widespread “hot dry rocks” targeted by the still experimental EGS technology. More with map in the latest newsletter of the American Geothermal Association.

Even war-torn newbie South Sudan, with dozens of rift valleys, showed up at the latest regional conference. John Kerry has an opportunity here for green peacebuilding, weaning the country away away from dependence on blood oil.

An Interloper Offers Weekend Film Commentary: Les Miserables

Based on its vivid colors and exaggerated gestures, one is tempted to dismiss Academy Award Best Picture nominee Les Miserables as a cartoon. But cartoons have clarity of line and a sense of direction, not to mention momentum from frame to frame. This movie is more like the result of dropping the Sunday funnies in a mud-puddle: smeared with detritus and coming apart at the seams.

Start with the source. The musical itself, though much beloved by aficionados of Glee and Smash, takes Victor Hugo’s outraged critique of post-revolutionary France and turns it into a parade. While purporting to address the depredations and degradations of poverty, Cameron Mackintosh’s production was staged so elaborately that it depended on $150 tickets to keep it running. Thus there was the awkward matter of cheering gaunt poor people on the barricades from plush seats in the orchestra.

Happily even overpriced movies like this one cost only $10 or so to see, reducing the contradiction between medium and message. But director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his collaborators have replaced that one difficulty with a raft of their own: frying pan, meet fire.

Continue reading “An Interloper Offers Weekend Film Commentary: Les Miserables”

The Old Superb

A trial balloon that Obma will end the War on Terror, and a (British) patriotic sea-shanty.

At Balkinisation, Jonathan Hafetz discusses an important speech by Jeh Charles Johnson, General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense, at the Oxford Union on 30 November. Key grafs:

But, now that efforts by the U.S. military against al Qaeda are in their 12th year, we must also ask ourselves: how will this conflict end? It is an unconventional conflict, against an unconventional enemy, and will not end in conventional terms [….]

In the current conflict with al Qaeda, I can offer no prediction about when this conflict will end, or whether we are, as Winston Churchill described it, near the “beginning of the end.”

I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point – a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.

At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an “armed conflict” against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible, in cooperation with the international community – with our military assets available in reserve to address continuing and imminent terrorist threats.

At that point we will also need to face the question of what to do with any members of al Qaeda who still remain in U.S. military detention without a criminal conviction and sentence. […]

I suggested in February that Candidate Obama campaign on a declaration that Al Qaeda has been defeated and the War on Terror over. He didn´t. But the idea has clearly moved from liberal corners of the blogosphere to a seriously entertained policy option.

Continue reading “The Old Superb”

What’s happening all over? I’ll tell you what’s happening all over–*

Mark asked for an update on Iowa, but I’ve moved out of the field operation and into voter protection at national headquarters. We sit at telephones and computers and people call in from Nevada and North Carolina and Ohio–especially Ohio!–and Florida and Wisconsin and ask where they can vote early and whether they’re properly registered and what i.d. they need to vote and why their absentee ballot still hasn’t arrived; and tell us that someone came to their door claiming they needed their naturalization papers to vote or that someone came to their nursing home and distributed and then collected absentee ballots which were not the absentee ballot they’d asked to have mailed to their daughter; and we review pages of FAQs and statutes and Board of Elections regulations and say, “You can vote at the public library on Route 31–do you know where that is? Is that close to your house?” and if it’s not we connect them to the local Obama office for rides. And the people who call know all about the Republicans’ efforts to keep them from voting and are getting out to vote early to make sure they don’t get turned away on Election Day and are concerned and disappointed if their state doesn’t have early voting.

When I mentioned to the Latina grandmother confirming her registration that the California Board of Elections Website made it hard to do so, she instantly asked, “Do you think that’s part of voter suppression?” Is that a question you would know to ask in your second language?

Probably I’m just high from solving problems and occasionally seeing celebrities (the First Lady came in today and made some voter outreach calls); but it seems to me every effort to reduce Democratic turnout has only made Democrats more committed to get to the polls.

Start with a fugue, end with an anthem. “You can bend but never break me, and it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goals . . .”**

Quick, somebody cut off my supply of caffeine!
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*Guys and Dolls
**I Am Woman.