Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Sound of Evil

I've recently finished watching this National Geographic series called Apocalypse: World War 2. Let me be the first to say that it was brilliantly produced, as well as being a shocking eye opener to the war. The most incredible thing was that the entire series is made up of completely real footage taken by camera men on the scene. I'm dumbfounded. I give my salutes to those remarkable human beings. Their risk has now given us the opportunity to see and understand what actually happened during that horror.

The series covers the entire war from the bombardment of Britain, the take over of France, the involvement of America -including Pearl Harbor, Japan, the persecution of the Jews, Hitler himself, key battles, the horrendous and sickening inhumanities, and also, Russia. There was a specific episode dedicated to just the invasion and war in Russia between the Nazis and the Russians. One thing that really stuck with me while watching that episode was Stalin's Organs. The politically correct name is Katyusha multiple rocket launchers, and they are as scary as they come. Usually mounted on trucks, these rocket launchers were the first of their kind by being self-automated rocket launchers, causing havoc to any enemy on the other side of the field.

The terror of Stalin's Organs is unimaginable, but do you know what I find more harrowing? The sound they made. It's unlike anything you've ever heard before. Like pure evil. Every time I heard it, I would have this dark, sick feeling in my chest. Not that I want to spread that feeling, but I really feel people should know their history and today, I'm sharing Stalin's Organs with you. The quality of the video isn't fantastic, but if you look, you can see the trucks mounting the launchers. Watch and hear.

Anyone have that feeling?

P.S For anyone interested in checking out the documentary series Apocalypse  World War 2, here are the best two links I've found to watch them online; 1 & 2. In number 1, look at the bottom of the page for the rest of the episodes.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Santa's Story: A Holocaust Play

Eli, Eli 

Shelo yigamer le'olam: 
Hachol vehayam

Rishrush shel hamayim 
Berak hashamayim 

Tefilat ha'adam

Last Sunday I was invited to go and watch Santa's Story. This is no Christmas play. How about we start at the end this time? 

I was balling my eyes out. Not a particularly elegant description, I'll admit, but I just couldn't contain myself. 
I was completely awestruck.

The story, co-written by opera singer, actress and daughter of Santa, Aviva Pelham recollects the heart-rendering life of her mother, Santa, through a one woman show comprising speech and song. A grim, macabre tale of Santa and her family during the time of persecution in Germany, a life of war in Spain, a refugee ship to England, an illegal life in Paris and an earth shattering separation to Rhodesia and then, South Africa. Per contra, spirits are continuously lifted by the humor existing in ordinary daily life and a wonderful onstage band comprising a violinist, a clarinetist, and an accordion/ piano/ guitar player accompanying and other times simply providing instrumentation to Aviva while depicting Santa's journey. 

Santa Pelham
I really can't possibly tell the entire story accurately, however I'm being a little creative here and coming up with my own way of telling this striking tale of woe and life.

Life was very kind to the Erders, a German Jewish family of four consisting of Santa, her younger brother and their parents.

Aviva places us in Santa's German life perfectly, remarkably singing in German and Hebrew -Eli, Eli anyone? A fair amount of her lines were also in German in this part of the play. She actually does not speak German or any of the languages she sang or spoke in besides English and a bit of French and Hebrew. Wow.

Their prosperity was not to last, for up came the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. After Santa's father was beaten to a pulp for "rejoicing and succeeding from German unhappiness" the Erders were forced to flee and become permanent citizens of Spain, where a tough life of struggle awaited. "Let what has happened to us happen to you!"
The set change of Germany to Spain was beautifully sculpted by a wonderful Pasodoble, as performed by the band.

Civil War broke out in Spain in 1939, and Santa and her family were in the middle of the exact thing from which they fled Germany. 
A ship on its way to Britain was willing to take evacuees, but Santa's father and brother were of right age for the army and were not allowed on the boat. Santa and her mother would travel alone to England.

A few weeks into Santa and her mother's stay in the United Kingdom, they received a letter from her father and brother. They were in Paris - so off they went to meet them there.
A stunning accordion song with Aviva serenading in smooth seductive French came on to lighten the mood.

A burdensome life was install for the Erders in Paris. Not legal to work because of their previous German citizenship, the family fell to working illegally to be able to survive, constantly afraid of arrest. They had also been hearing the stories of Jews being rounded up to be taken to the death camps. How could man commit this atrocity to man?

Hitler invaded France, 1940.
A letter arrived from Rhodesia - Zimbabwe currently - from a man by the name of Jacques Pelham, the son of a Polish Jewish family known by Santa's parents. Encouraged by her mother, Santa sent her own letter of greetings to Jacques, with the possibility of marriage on the horizon. Jacques replied, with an intrigue
 and promises of a gratifying life in Rhodesia with him as her husband. "If you will be my wife, I will promise you three things. A dress, new shoes, and a movie ticket" Santa knew his humor would brighten the darkness of leaving her family.

Heart-wrenchingly leaving her family behind, Santa traveled to Rhodesia to marry Jacques, a complete stranger save for a few letters. Jacques seemed to be a kind man, but Santa was distraught over her being alone without her family. Jacques was to become a great companion. 

First marrying in court, the process was short and abrupt, but the wedding that followed was joyous and jubilant. Agreements made for two years of marriage without a child left Santa to get to know her Jacques. Their first child, grievously died within the first few weeks after the birth, but to the grace of them both, they later had three healthy daughters.

News arrived in 1944 to Santa in Rhodesia. Her parents and brother had died, her father by suffocation in the cattle cars transporting him to Auschwitz and her mother and brother in the gas chambers.
Oh the devastation and evil! Recovery was painful for Santa, but gratefully she had found refuge and a comfortable life with Jacques. 

Santa now lives in South Africa with her family -with 8 grandchildren and 18 grandchildren now in the mix- at the prime age of 95. 

Have I forgotten something? Oh! The ending. Santa was there. 
She was there, sitting in the front row of the theater. The play ended with Aviva bringing her mother, there for the final showing, and having her, Santa, sing the end of the merry song that ended our magnificent journey of her life story. Tears filled my eyes and I gave my silent salutes to the incredible woman.

I was graced with the opportunity to meet Aviva and Santa afterwards. Santa was very humble and pure, and Aviva was just fabulous.  This photo above is of Santa, second from the right, Aviva and her two sisters.

My words of awe to Aviva for her brilliant performance were, 
"Wow, you were just radiant!" She sprightly replied and said,
"You're quite radiant yourself!" (Chuckles) Thanks Aviva.

P.S I also bought the book for a closer look into Santa's story. Expect a review once it's read!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

You can't ask why about love

I absolutely have to write this while my memory is still fresh. While my soul still dances with the dashing, passionate Count Vronsky and my heart weeps for Anna, and my inner Thespian swirls the story around in her head and my ears still ring with the waltzing orchestra's music, I must share this powerful epic with you all.

Anna Karenina. I loved it. 

It was so... different, and that made it remarkable. Those of you that have seen the trailer, do not be fooled. This incredible tale is a modern, classic portrayal of the 1877 novel by Leo Tolstoy, and my readers, I assure you that you have never seen anything like this movie before. 

In the beginning, I will be frank that I had a few moment of What in the world?, but after my first expérience of the alternative filming techniques and set, I fell in love with the majestic tale. Set in Imperial Russia, the story is one of primarily Anna Karenina, a St. Petersburg socialite, married to her statesman husband, Alexi Karenin with their 8 year old son, Serozha. While travelling to Moscow to resolve her brother's tumult with his wife, on whom he has been cheating, she meets a cavalry soldier named Count Alexi Vronsky on arrival at the Moscow train station. Little did they know that it would be the beginning of an ending they could never foretell. They fall passionately in love, but soon their affair is revealed to Kerenin and the world.  Anna is thus cast out of society and her husband hates her with all his might. With various sub-stories within the leading plot, quite an intriguing story emerges indeed...

One little kiss on the hand is all it took. Oh how I would adore for a guy to kiss me on the hand like that... (Sigh)

The entire picture deals with so many types of love, and I think Tolstoy himself put it the best when he said, " there are as many 
kinds of love as there are hearts"

Aren't these photos just fantastic? I found them while researching the movie for some photographic material for this post.

Besides the plot, the magnificent music composed by Dario Marianelli has won my heart. The pianist trilling delicately over the keys, the orchestra invading the set (Merely a tiny hint) and that waltz (My eyes as big as 24c diamonds with just they thought of it). That waltz. 

It was a waltz, but it wasn't. I was more than that. Their arms interlinked, changed, morphed, melted together with a grace equating only to that of a swan. I would watch the movie a thousands times over just to see that flitter of beauty again and again. Oh, the beauty!

Time to pay my dues to the masters of the film, the actors, so let us start with Keira Knightley, our leading lady. As an actress, I believe she suites roles of older eras perfectly and she truly shone in this timeless, contrasting and somewhat divergent picture production. She never left her character once and I completely believed her all-encompassing love for her count. At one point, she was totally enticed, and then she wasn't, and then she was horrified or closer to the end, completely unsound mentally.
A truly brilliant performance.

Next is her beloved Count Vronsky, played by Aaron Johnson. Can I just be a total girl here and say first off that I think Aaron Johnson is hot hot hot! Okay, now I've gotten that off my chest, onto his actual performance. I actually really enjoyed watching him. He moves exactly as Alexei would have, and his charm never leaves him. In the more tense scenes of the film, he also really delivers, as his emotion and clear pain at losing Anna to herself is almost engraved into the woebegone cavalry soldier's face. Full stars!

"There can be no peace for us, only misery, and the greatest happiness"

No girl moment here unfortunately, as I wouldn't call Alexi Kerenin - yes, Anna's husband and lover have the same name - one of Jude Law's best looking roles, but it was certainly a very well played one. Playing Anna's husband, a man of government and strict religion, he has quite an open relationship with his wife, but though loving her, her cannot express this love in the ways of romanticism. Trust me, at one point, his character is so easy to hate, but in the end, he really is there for Anna. 

See what I mean?

Finally, within films there are always the few gems who though having a lesser role, truly shine. My first cream of the crop was Domhnall Gleeson, playing the soulful and kind Konstantin Levin. 

One of my absolute favourite scenes of the movie was one between Konstantin and his beloved Princess Kitty, played by Alicia Vikander -another superb performance. Time has passed and Kitty has realized her love for dear gentle Konstantin, but unable to say it aloud because of her first conceited rejection of his love, they speak to each other only using alphabet blocks. 
Most artful.

They actually won a joined award for Breakthrough Performer at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

My second crème de la crème is Ruth Wilson, as Princess Elizaveta “Betsy” Tverskoy. She has a certain spunk to her that I very much enjoyed and like Anna, she is more of a rebel with regards to societal rules and norms. A haughty, bold socialite with no judgement in her heart is what she is, and Ruth was just superb.

Directed by  Joe Wright, I give my greatest round of applause to this grandiose and enchanting film. I highly recommend it to those who will read into the symbolism and the underlying messages and can appreciate the slightly queer cinematography. 

Watch the film, and then, admit it. You thought it was genius too.

P.S Reader reviews?

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

There has always been a stigma about townships in our country. They're unsafe, you'll get mugged, you'll get kidnapped and killed, some taxi driver with no licence will run you over.
Well I have a little something to say about the above, or at least about Soweto - South Africa's most famous township.
For lack of a better way to say it, it's absolutely not what you think!

Last Friday, our school sent us on a day trip to Soweto. I for one was so excited! I'd been there before, but not on a cultural historical tour.

Our guide's name was Simba, and from the moment we met him, he was definitely quite a character. He speaks all 11 official languages of South Africa(SA) - all 11 official languages - and he is Zulu himself. I found it rather funny how he described King Shaka as the black Napoleon. (Chuckles)
He explained to us that in Soweto, life and living fell into three categories. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Soweto itself was created in 1904 to house "native" gold miners, and to this day people of all 11 tribes of SA live there. 

The Good of Soweto is the bacon and eggs for breakfast faction, and I'll say, some of those houses were quite swanky.

You'd be surprised though at the very apparent line between the Good and the Bad. I'm not talking about a figurative line here. I'm saying that literally, the right side of the road is good, and the left side borders on the... not so good.

After driving around a little, we stopped at a market in Eastern Soweto, right beside the infamous to the public, famous to international medical practitioners , Baragwanath Hospital. Personally, I think the place looks like a prison, but nevertheless, the market we stopped at also happened to be the home of the largest taxi rank in SA, with 10 000 taxis working out of it.

We clambered out of the bus to walk among the people and take a look at the view from the bridge. Some of my more, how do I say this, sheltered classmates were going on about how they were scared and didn't want to come out of the bus. Seriously? I mean they payed for the tour, so they might as well fully participate. Oh well... Here's the view:

The instant I walked off the bus, the first vibe I had was one of complete naturalness. It felt so average. Nothing sinister or alarming at all. 

Climbing back on the bus, we drove off to go and see Winnie Mandela's house - Nelson Mandela's previous wife. Understand this, on our way out of the market, there were three men taking pictures and videos of us! Ha! I guess we were a spectacle too.

Winnie's house, eh, nothing too remarkable except having flags of SA and various world countries pinned up in the front. 
She actually lives there as her permanent residence.

Afterwards, it was time for bungee jumping.
Off these.

Jokes. They are a bungee jumping towers though. 
The Orlando Towers were originally powers stations, but after being shut down because of the pollution they caused, they were turned into their current recreational purpose. You might not believe me, but these two humongous towers were painted by high school students in Soweto, sponsored by FNB.

Their pictures depict typical Soweto life. I was enthralled by the sheer brilliance of these art students! Incredible!

It was then time to see the Ugly, and boy, did we find out some shocking things.

These are some of the worst, but what the photo doesn't show is what the roof is made of. Including many of the Bad as well, 80% of the roofs in Soweto are made of Asbestos. It was first used because it was a cheap material to set up as shelter for the miners in 1904, but if you don't know this, Asbestos has been found as a known cause of Tuberculosis and lung cancer. 80%.
If you can afford it, you can pay for a new roof that won't kill you eventually, but if not, tough. Survival of the fittest is the motto of the Ugly.

We asked Simba about crime in Soweto. He told us that it wasn't majorly bad, but in city center was where one had to look out for the hooligan around the corner. I for one think the crime level in Soweto is a little worse than he was letting on, but he did tell us a local joke. What does BMW stand for? 
Be my wife, or break my window. (Shakes head, rolls eyes)

Our next stop, I guess sobering could work as a candid description-ary word. The Hector Pieterson Monument.

For those of you that don't know the history, in 1976, 16th June there was a uprising by the students in Soweto. The Apartheid government had put in a new legislation, enforcing the new curriculum of township schools to be taught in Afrikaans, a language the students did not understand in the slightest. Some were in their last months of matric and suddenly, they were forced to write their final exam in a foreign language and the classes had become so crowded that in some there were over a hundred students! So they took to the streets, holding signs saying "Bantu Education - To Hell with it", singing and dancing in their determination to have this policy thrown out and for a better education. 

The crowd grew to over 10 000 students. Approximately 50 policemen, after unsuccessfully trying to disperse the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets, then decided to open fire. The first person to be mortally shot was a thirteen year old boy named Hector Pieterson. The photograph of him, limp and bloodied, being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo with his sister beside them, taken by a journalist documenting the event has shook the nation and the world.
There are two photographs in particular than are sickeningly shocking.

His sister's cry, her wail, of grief and horror makes my heart sore. For Hector, for the 500 students that died that day, for it all. For it all.

The actual museum was excellently done, with video accounts of survivors, large black and white photographs spanning whole 10 meter walls, real protest signs in glass cases and TVs set up all around giving information on the build up and aftermath to the 16th as well as the actual event.
My largest heart grenades were firstly, the photo of a young child screaming while his mothers tries to rinse him of the tear gas that had entered all of his extremities, causing him a huge amount of pain. 
My second would be the amazing act of the journalists and motorists who helped collect the dead and wounded after the event. I think that what they did was a beautiful act of humanity amidst the total lack of it.
The last was a photograph of a man who had put his hand out, unmistakably to a police officer about to shoot, saying "Stop! Don't!" My soul mourns for this man. He was only doing what was right, and there he was, at the mercy of a small metal object inside a gun. From what I could tell, he survived, thank goodness.

The Memorial blocks. A barren, stony ground with granite bricks strewn over it with glaringly white lettering engraved on them. Kgaye Kabelo. Jacob Mhapi. Unknown. Thank you all.

A sign that one of the students in the protest photograph held really stuck with me. It's something we should all hold in out hearts. "Today for us all"

Sobering. That's what it was.

And it was off to Nelson Mandela's house. He doesn't physically live there anymore and none of the furniture is real because while on Robbin Island the house was petrol bombed. Twice.
Ahem, well anyway, we didn't go in, but right outside were two guys doing something called a Panzula Jive. These guys were a little more like contortionists though. I took a video.(Smiles)
I don't think that it would look too good though, but here is another version of the jive.

Great Gatsby! Interesting isn't it?

We also walked down the street there to see what everything looked like.

It was so normal. It felt like walking down a street. I wasn't afraid I was going to get mugged; It was just... normal.

Do you know that South Africa is the only country in the world that has two Nobel Peace Prize winners living on the same street?
Guess who lives right down the road from ol' Madiba?
Desmond Tutu of course!

South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, who rose to fame during the 1980s as an oponent to Aparheid. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

A personal friend of the Dalai Lama

Oh! And who might that be putting a medal around Desmond's neck?

Being naughty school girls, we rang his doorbell. 
Nobody answered, but two of my friends made quite a moving speech to the receiver about how he is an fantastic inspiration to us all, etcetera, etcetera. Good times.

It was then time to head back home. Soweto had embraced us for the day, and we had embraced her/him/it right back.

Goodbye Soweto. Hope to see you soon.