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IT’S GROUNDHOG DAY!
February 2nd, which just happens to be my birthday, and here are 3 fellow Groundhogian directors.
Biographies thanks to mubi, with my own small addition on Iosseliani, one of my favourite directors. Congratulations to Monteiro on winning mubi’s Directors Cup 2011.
Vera Chytilová was born on February 2, 1929, in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic). She studied philosophy and architecture in Brno for two years, then worked as a technical draftsman, a designer, a fashion model, a photo re-toucher, then worked as a clapper girl for Barrandov Film Studios in Prague. There she continued as a writer, actress, and assistant director.
She was denied a scholarship, or even a recommendation from Barrandov, but she took the admissions tests at FAMU and was accepted. From 1957-1962 she studied film directing under Otakar Vávra, who also taught Jirí Menzel, Milos Forman, Jan Nemec, and Ivan Passer. In 1962 she graduated as director from Film Academy (FAMU) in Prague. Her graduation film Strop (Ceiling 1962) and the following film Pytel blech (A Bagful of Fleas 1963) were “staged” improvisations with non-actors. In 1966 Chytilova and her husband, Jaroslav Kucera, made a witty surrealist comedy Sedmikrásky (1966), which was immediately banned, but then was released in 1967, and won the Grand Prix at the Bergamo Film Festival. She remained in Czechoslovakia after the events of 1968, when her colleagues Milos Forman, Jan Nemec, and Ivan Passer emigrated. Her films were often “shelved” for reasons of political censorship. For six years Chytilova was banned from making films. In 1976 she wrote a letter of complaint to President Gustav Husak, describing her artistic position. After some behind-the-scenes influence by her supporters, Chytilova was allowed to make a low-budget Hra o jablko (1977), which won a Silver Hugo at Chicago Film Festival.
Chytilova belongs among the foremost directors of the 1960’s Czech New Wave, which was influenced by both the French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism. Her films were acclaimed for visual experimentation and for bold unmasking of the moral problems of contemporary society. Her art belongs to what Sergei M. Eisenstein described as “intellectual cinema”, that embraces the mix of “avant-garde”, “cinema verite”, “formalism”, “feminism”, or “happening” and, with a good deal of humor, it spreads beyond definitions. Chytilova’s films often present a multi-layered plethora of visual associations that encourages the viewer to make active interpretations. She survived through the political turbulences in Czechoslovakia and has been a highly original and uncompromising filmmaker
Otar Iosseliani was born on February 2nd, 1934, in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, where he studied at the State Conservatory and graduated in 1952 with a diploma in composition, conducting and piano. In 1953 he went to Moscow to study at the faculty of mathematics, but in two years he quit and entered the State Film Institute (VGIK) where his teachers were Alexander Dovzhenko and Mikhail Chiaureli. While still a student, he began working at the Gruziafilm studios in Tbilisi, first as an assistant director and then as an editor of documentaries. In 1958 he directed his first short film Akvarel. In 1961 he graduated from VGIK with a diploma in film direction. When his medium-length film Aprili (1961) was denied theatrical distribution, Iosseliani abandoned filmmaking and in 1963-1965 worked first as a sailor on a fishing boat and then at the Rustavi metallurgical factory. Aprili was finally released only in 1972. In 1966 he directed his first feature film Giorgobistve that was presented at the Critics’ Week at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival and won a FIPRESCI award there. When his 1976 film Pastorali was shelved for a few years and then granted only a limited distribution, Iosseliani grew sceptical about getting any artistic freedom in his homeland. Following Pastorali ’s success at the 1982 Berlin Film Festival, the director moved to France where in 1984 he made Les Favoris de la Lune. The film was distinguished with a Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. Since then Venice became a showcase for all his subsequent films. In 1989 he again received a Special Jury Prize for Et la Lumiere Fut and in 1992 the Pasinetti Award for Best Direction for La Chasse aux Papillons. After the disruption of the Soviet Union he continued to work in France where he made the documentary Seule Georgie (1994) which was followed by the sardonic and allegorical Brigands – Chapitre VII (1996).
Iosseliani’s films are characterised by impish wit, a light touch, a dislike of bureaucracy, regulations, pomposity and greedy consumerism, love of wine, women and music, and an urge for freedom. In There was a Singing Blackbird, a percussionst in an orchestra manages to fit womanising and the good life into gaps in performances when he’s not required, to the despair of the conductor. In Gardens in Autumn, we have Michel Piccoli playing the mother of a minister of state who is sacked but comes to enjoy other pleasures instead of the pomp of office. In Monday Morning, the protagonist thinks nothing of heading off to Venice, leaving behind him the cares of work and family.
João César Monteiro (1939-2003) was born in Figueira da Foz, a cosmopolitan beach resort in Portugal and moved to Lisbon at the age of 15 where he continued his studies.
João César Monteiro remains among the most indelible and unusual figures in the history of Portuguese cinema, a visionary and profoundly eccentric filmmaker whose unique contribution to postwar European film is only gradually being recognized today. A cosmopolite imagination tethered by a provincial attachment to Lisbon, a libertine with an obscurely puritanical streak, an unrelenting aesthete guided by an archaic spirit – Monteiro was a deliberately contradictory and difficult artist who obdurately resisted affiliation with any declared “school” of filmmaking. Monteiro dedicated himself instead to a mode of sublimely, and often perversely, high modernism fascinated by a rich undercurrent between the cinema and the other arts – especially poetry, painting, theater, literature and music. Like the films of his compatriot Manoel de Oliveira (b. 1908), Monteiro’s cinema was also animated by an alternately cryptic and trenchant political agenda that took frequent target at the holy trinity of Church, State and Family still firmly entrenched after the fall of the Salazar dictatorship. In such seminal early works as Paths and Silvestre, Monteiro treated obscure Portuguese myths and legends as Rosetta stones for understanding the darkest shadows of the national unconscious and suggesting the ways in which the country’s imperialist and patriarchal legacies continue to shape its citizens. In opulent late works like God’s Comedy and Come and Go, Monteiro channeled his lasting preoccupation with corporality and perverse sexuality into a sustained interrogation of individual agency and collective desire.
Raised in a devoutly Catholic family yet an avowed atheist as an adult, in many of his late films Monteiro cast himself in the recurrent leading role of “Joao do Deus”- named after the Portuguese-born patron saint of prostitutes, the infirm and fishermen but a wholly secular figure, a perverse Buster Keaton-like dreamer drawn to young women and possessed of a patient defiance of the established social order. A curious religious logic also guided the development of Monteiro’s extraordinary visual style, which moved from the radical mise-en-scene of the early work towards an increasing austerity shaped, above all, by Monteiro’s proclaimed distrust of artificial light – which reached its apotheosis in Snow White – and his desire to capture the effulgent mystery of sunlight and its shadows.
His work, polemic and hard to classify, has a lyric quality that some identify as “film-poem”, however his work is often satirical and cynical. He plays the principal character in many of his films. His work has been the subject of study by Portuguese and international critics and academicians, and he is recognized, along with Manoel de Oliveira, as a giant of Portuguese cinema
Gardens in Autumn (Iosseliani)
God’s Comedy (Monteiro)
“Groundhog Day is a holiday celebrated on February 2 in the United States and Canada. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If on the other hand, it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks. The holiday, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas (February 2). It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather prognostication.
Modern customs of the holiday involve celebrations where early morning festivals are held to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow. In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken, put into a bowl in the center of the table.
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday since at least 1886. Other celebrations of note in Pennsylvania take place in Quarryville in Lancaster County, the Anthracite Region of Schuylkill County, the Sinnamahoning Valley and Bucks County. Outside of Pennsylvania, notable celebrations occur in the Frederick and Hagerstown areas of Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Woodstock, Illinois, Lilburn, Georgia and among the Amish populations of over twenty states and at Wiarton, Ontario and Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia in Canada. The University of Dallas in Irving, Texas has taken Groundhog Day as its official university holiday and organizes a large-scale celebration every year in honor of the Groundhog.
Groundhog Day received worldwide attention as a result of the 1993 film of the same name, Groundhog Day, which was set in Punxsutawney and featured Punxsutawney Phil.
Punxsutawney Phil has rivals with predictive powers in the animal kingdom. In Germany an octopus correctly predicted the defeat of the national team by Spain and other world cup results"
Beyond the world of cinema:
Nell Gwynn (17h century actress, courtesan), *Jacsha Heifetz (violinist), Carolina Klüft (Swedish athlete), Ji Gong (the “crazy monk”), Stan Getz (saxophonist), David Jason (British TV actor), Eva Cassidy (singer), Jussi Bjorling (opera singer), Ayn Rand and James Joyce.
Boris Karloff died on my 8th birthday, 1969, Welsh philosopher Bertrand Russell on my 9th, Gene Kelly on my 25th.
“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
(James Joyce, The Dead)
He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea-harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.
A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird’s, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.
She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.
(James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)
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