• Is grey-green the new sepia?

Yesterday, in the local arts centre, I caught up with the most recent Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga, 2011).  As The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw put it, it’s ‘cool, temperate’ and understated (except in the overlong opening – and recapitulated – storm-flight sequence).  Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender are credible in age and empathy, though the edginess between them is less pointed than in previous versions (maybe that’s to the good).  It’s beautifully shot, and that led me to ponder on colour tinting in recent period films.

I’m not a film buff nor do I have any technical knowledge, but I’m struck by the overwhelmingly grey-green palette not only of this Jane Eyre but also the three-part BBC TV adaptation of Great Expectations (Brian Kirk, 2011) that went out between Christmas and New Year.  The outdoor visuals were stunning in both, but those in Great Expectations were outstanding: the marshes, the Thames, the London streets.  In Jane Eyre they were picturesque rather than threatening (rather like the film itself), while in Great Expectations the tension was ratcheted up by the half-lights.  In both films, facial expression was often more telling than the spoken word.  In Great Expectations, young Pip (Oscar Kennedy) was extraordinarily powerful in this regard.

Why this muted colour trend, if it is one?  It appears to be reaching for some imagined period authenticity, as if viewed through gauze (I think ‘scrim’ is the technical term).

Is grey-green the new sepia, an automatic ageing device, giving a mixture of distance and comfort?  It’s hard to believe that life in 19th-century Britain was so lacking in saturated colours.

The poster montage for Great Expectations, for example, implies that the film is the equivalent of old-fashioned, colour-tinted black-and-white photos.  To a large extent it is, yet somehow it doesn’t seem dated.

Are we, perhaps, heading towards the return of black-and-white movies, even silent ones?  The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) suggests that this might be so.  I hope it reaches these here parts soon!

• The Polish Poet’s Red Bus – in English!

It seems a good moment – the 30th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland – to post an English translation of Jacek Kaczmarski’s 1981 song Czerwony Autobus.  I wrote on this six days ago, but did not then have a translation.  Thanks to extremely helpful friends in Warsaw, I have been able to fashion a more-or-less literal translation, although the bite and cryptic nature of some lines remain hard to render in a foreign language.

Interestingly, Kaczmarski reinvents some of the characters from his source of inspiration (Bronisław Wojciech Linke’s painting Autobus, 1961).  His performance (reposted below) is vehement, but the translation also reveals the anger in the text (the Polish lyrics and English translation are as side-by-side as I can make them in the WordPress system!).  This recording was made before 13 December 1981, so formed part of the cultural-political landscape of the Solidarity period.  Kaczmarski found himself abroad on that date and did not return until 1990.  To give hope and support to his compatriots at home, he worked and broadcast for Radio Free Europe.

Pędzimy przez Polską dzicz
Wertepy chaszcze błota
Patrz w tył tam nie ma nic
Żałoba i sromota
Patrz w przód tam raz po raz
Cel mgłą niebieską kusi
Tam chce być każdy z nas
Kto nie chce chcieć – ten musi!
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie mija czas!

We tear through Poland’s wilderness
Bumpy roads, scrub, mud
Look behind, nothing there
But sorrow and shame
Look ahead, again and again
The destination entices with blue mist
Each of us wants to be there
Those who don’t want to, must!
In the Red Bus
In the Red Bus
In the Red Bus time goes by!

Tu stoi młody Żyd
Nos wskazuje Żyd czy nie Żyd
I jakby mu było wstyd
Że mimo wszystko przeżył
A baba z koszem jaj
Już szepce do człowieka
– Wie o tym cały kraj
Że Żydzi to bezpieka!
Myślimy, że poczeka!
Myślimy, że poczeka!
Myślimy, że poczeka, na nas Raj!

Here stands a young Jew
The nose shows if Jew or non-Jew
And as if he is ashamed
He had survived despite everything
A peasant woman with a basket of eggs
Is already whispering to someone
“The whole country knows about it
Jews are the secret police!”
We think that it will wait!
We think that it will wait!
We think that it will wait, for us – Paradise!

Inteligentna twarz
Co słucha zamiast mówić
Tors otulony w płaszcz
Szyty na miarę spluwy
A kierowniczy układ
Czerwony wiodąc wóz
Bezgłowa dzierży kukła –
Generalissimus!
Ich dziełem jest marszruta!
Ich dziełem jest marszruta!
Ich dziełem jest marszruta! – Luz i mus!

An intelligent face
That listens rather than talks
A torso wrapped in a coat
Tailor-made to fit a gun
And a steering system
Guiding the red wagon
A headless dummy steers
Generalissimus [Stalin]!
The route is up to them!
The route is up to them!
The route is up to them!  – Take it easy, it’s a must!

Za robotnikiem ksiądz
Za księdzem kosynierzy
I ktoś się modli klnąc
Ktoś bluźni ale wierzy
Proletariacki herszt
Kapować coś zaczyna
Więc prosty robi gest
I rękę w łokciu zgina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina! Mocny jest!

Behind a worker, a priest
Behind the priest, peasant recruits with scythes
And someone prays, cursing,
A blasphemer who believes
A proletarian boss
Gets what’s happening
So makes a simple gesture
“Up yours” with hand in elbow!
An avalanche won’t move him!
An avalanche won’t move him!
An avalanche won’t move him!  He is strong!

A z tyłu stary dziad
W objęcia wziął prawiczkę
Złośliwy czyha czart
W nadziei na duszyczkę
Upiorów małych rząd
Zwieszonich u poręczy
Krew w żyły sączy trąd
Zatruje! I udręczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy! Jedźmy stąd!

And at the back an old creep
Clasps a virgin in his arms
A malicious devil lurks
In the hope of a soul
A row of little ghosts
Dangling from the handrail
Blood dribbles leprosy into veins
Poison them! And torture them!
Through the window, Poland in a rainbow!
Through the window, Poland in a rainbow!
Through the window, Poland in a rainbow!  Let’s get out of here!

• The Poet and His Red Bus (1981)

It’s true what they say.  You wait for ages, then three buses come along all at once.  After Szpilman and Winkler‘s happy vehicle, then Linke‘s tortured wreck, here’s another, angry red bus from Jacek Kaczmarski (1957-2004). Pianist, Painter, now Poet.  Kaczmarski was also a singer-songwriter who was one of the voices of the free trade union Solidarity (Solidarność) in the early 80s.

In 1981, Kaczmarski penned a song as a direct response to Linke’s painting.  Czerwony autobus, however, was not the only time that Kaczmarski turned to the visual arts for inspiration.  Over 60 of his 800 poems and lyrics were direct responses to paintings by artists as varied as Pieter Brueghel, Caravaggio, Goya, Hals, Holbein, Manet and Vermeer, with Polish artists such as Maksymilian Gierymski, Jacek Malczewski, Jan Matejko and Witkacy providing equally strong stimuli.  Kaczmarski’s output must have been one of the single most sustained creative collaborations between the visual arts, poetry and music.  Some samples of this interaction can be found on the Polish-language Wikipedia page: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacek_Kaczmarski.

His musical style belonged to both Polish cabaret and the protest movement, with non-Polish icons including Georges Brassens and Bob Dylan.  He was a mean classical guitarist and his vocal delivery was dynamic, expressive and urgent.  This can be heard on his recording of The Red Bus, where he is accompanied on the piano. It comes from Muzeum, the third album he made with Przemysław Gintrowski (also voice/guitar) and Zbigniew Łapiński (voice/piano).  Kaczmarski commented that:

“The programme of Muzeum came into being in 1981 and was based on selected works of historical Polish art. Its intention was to locate the experiences of the ‘Solidarity’ period within an historical perspective so that the listener would understand that he is a witness to a process and not to a one-off event.”

Kaczmarski’s published lyrics, printed below (there are some differences with the recording), make reference to  characters in Linke’s painting, characters who were just as real to Kaczmarski in 1981 as they had been to Linke 20 years earlier.  They were both a long way from the false dawns evoked by songs such as the original Czerwony autobus of 1952.

* The Polish Poet’s Red Bus – in English!, posted six days after this one, gives a corrected Polish transcript and a translation into English.

 

Pędzimy przez Polską dzicz
Wertepy chaszcze błota
Patrz w tył tam nie ma nic
Żałoba i sromota
Patrz w przód tam raz po raz
Cel mgłą niebieską kusi
Tam chce być każdy z nas
Kto nie chce chcieć – ten musi!
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie mija czas!

Tu stoi młody Żyd
Nos zdradza Żyd czy nie Żyd
I jakby mu było wstyd
Że mimo wszystko przeżył
A baba z koszem jaj
Już szepce do człowieka
– Wie o tym cały kraj
Że Żydzi to bezpieka!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz! W mordę daj!

Inteligentna twarz
Co słucha zamiast mówić
Tors otulony w płaszcz
Szyty na miarę spluwy
A kierowniczy układ
Czerwony wiodąc wóz
Bezgłowa dzierży kukła –
Generalissimus!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta! – Luz i mus!

Za robotnikiem ksiądz
Za księdzem kosynierzy
I ktoś się modli klnąc
Ktoś bluźni ale wierzy
Proletariacki herszt
Kapować coś zaczyna
Więc prosty robi gest
I rękę w łokciu zgina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina! Mocny jest!

A z tyłu stary dziad
W objęcia wziął prawiczkę
Złośliwy czyha czart
W nadziei na duszyczkę
Upiorów małych rząd
Zwieszony u poręczy
W żyły nam sączy trąd
Zatruje! I udręczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy! Jedźmy stąd!

• ‘The Pianist’ (b. 5.12.1911) and his Red Bus

Thanks to an alert last night from a friend in Warsaw, I was reminded that today marks the centenary of the birth of Władysław Szpilman (1911-2000). Szpilman was well-known in Poland from the 1930s as a fine concert pianist and as a composer of concert music and popular songs, especially after World War II.  He recounted his extraordinary survival of the war in his memoir Śmierć Miasta (Death of a City).  The memoir was republished in English as The Pianist shortly before his death and turned into an award-winning, internationally popular film of the same title by Roman Polański (2002), with Adrien Brody playing the lead role.

I once sat behind the quiet, elderly Szpilman at a concert in Warsaw.  I regret not speaking to him.  Later, I wanted to reproduce the opening page of one of his songs – Jak młode Stare Miasto (Like The Young Old Town, 1951) – in my book Polish Music since Szymanowski (Cambridge, 2005).  But permission was refused by his family as they thought that some of his songs were not representative of his talents (and also perhaps because 1951 was the height of the socialist-realist push in the arts). Yet this hugely popular song had already been released on CD (‘Golden Hits of Socialism’ [!], Intersonus ISO84).  Such is the unpredictability of copyright permission.

In 2000, Polish Radio issued a 5-CD set of Szpilman’s performances and compositions (PRCD 241-245):

• CD 1: 19 songs (1952-91).
• CD 2: Szpilman as pianist – including in his own Concertino (1940), Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1954), Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major (1960) and two pieces by Chopin, including the Nocturne in C# minor (1980) with which he both closed Polish Radio broadcasts in 1939 and reopened them in 1945.
• CD 3: Szpilman as a member of the Warsaw Quintet – piano quintets by Brahms and Schumann (1963-65).
• CD 4: Szpilman with Bronisław Gimpel (who also led the Warsaw Quintet) – violin sonatas by Brahms (no.3), Grieg (no.3) and Franck (1958-65).
• CD 5: songs for children including three extended ‘musical fairytales’ (1962-75).

One of Szpilman’s most popular songs was Czerwony Autobus (The Red Bus, 1952).  The recording on CD 1 above is particularly fine, not least because of its sense of good humour, considerably aided by Szpilman’s own swinging piano.  Search it out if you can.  That recording was made by the best close-harmony male-voice quartet of the time, Chór Czejanda (Czejanda Choir).  They also made another, longer recording with dance orchestra.  In the YouTube video below (Legendy PRL: Legends of the Polish People’s Republic), this audio recording is accompanied by shots of Warsaw buses in various ‘picturesque’ locations of the post-war socialist capital.  I’ve put my translation of the first three verses below.  Enjoy!

 

When at dawn I run like a wind through the streets,
The city like a good friend welcomes me,
And – honestly – I wish you all such happiness
As every day gives me in Warsaw.

On board, please!  No-one will be late for work,
We will go quickly, even though we’re surrounded by a forest –
A forest of scaffolding, which really does mean
That here time does not stand still.

The red bus rushes along my city’s streets,
Passes the new, bright houses and the gardens’ cool shade.
Sometimes a girl will cast us a glance like a fiery flower.
Not only ‘Nowy Swiat’* is new – here each day is new.

* ‘New World’, a beautiful old street in Warsaw, reconstructed after the war.  It appears at 2’01” in the video above.

[For more information, go to http://www.szpilman.net/]

• Rain

Hiroshige Shōno - Hakuu/Shōno - Sudden Rain (1831-34)

Ochiba ochi
kazanarite ame
ame wo utsu 

Falling leaves fall,
pile up; rain
on rain, beats

Gyōdai (1732-93)

• John Clare’s ‘August’

John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) is a constant source of delight.  His eye for detail and linguistic turns of phrase constantly surprise.  I’m very fond of this episode from ‘August’, where ‘the bawling boy’ goes stealing fruit under the cover of darkness.  As I frequently walk home at night, with unexpected animal and bird noises and looming shapes on all sides, I can identify with the boy’s alarm!

When day declines and labour meets repose
The bawling boy his evening journey goes
At toils unwearied call the first and last
He drives his horses to their nights repast
In dewey close or meadow to sojourn
And often ventures on his still return
Oer garden pales or orchard walls to hie
When sleeps safe key hath locked up dangers eye
All but the mastiff watching in the dark
Who snufts and knows him and forbears to bark
With fearful haste he climbs each loaded tree
And picks for prizes which the ripest be
Pears plumbs or filberts covered oer in leams
While the pale moon creeps high in peaceful dreams
And oer his harvest theft in jealous light
Fills empty shadows with the power to fright
And owlet screaming as it bounces nigh
That from some barn hole pops and hurries bye
Scard the cat upon her nightly watch
For rats that come for dew upon the thatch
He hears the noise and trembling to escape
While every object grows a dismal shape
Drops from the tree in fancys swiftest dread
By ghosts pursued and scampers home to bed
Quick tumbling oer the mossy mouldering wall
And looses half his booty in the fall
Where soon as ere the morning opes its eyes
The restless hogs will happen on the prize
And crump adown the mellow and the green
And makes all seem as nothing ne’er had been

 

• Trethevy Quoit

A little howse raised of mightie stones (John Norden, 1584)

The early morning sun drew me away from my study and out again for a good three-hour walk along the fringes of the moor.  Destination: Trethevy Quoit, near St Cleer, aiming to be back by 10.00 before the predicted heavy rain materialised.  Success on all accounts!  I’ve seen and marvelled at quoits in West Cornwall, particularly Zennor Quoit, near where the painters Bryan Wynter and Patrick Heron once lived and near where I had productive composing retreats in the 1980s.  But Trethevy Quoit is something else.

It’s massive.  It has crazy angles, a mysterious hole in the ‘roof‘ and a puzzling neolithic version of a cat-flap at the SE end.  Shame about the unlovely houses next door.  Even so, it’s spectacular.  Whatever you think of the claims for its solar alignment, potential for astronomical observation and other speculations about its intended structure and usage, it remains an awesome monument to ancient endeavour and societal honour.

And there are great views.  To the W: the tall tower of St Cleer parish church.  From the N to the E: engine-house chimneys and other evidence of the copper-mining boom of the mid-late 19th century.  Today, it’s quiet, apart from the excited twittering of a charm of goldfinches feasting on thistle seeds.  Back then, Trethevy Quoit must have seemed a bizarre, silent relic beyond which all hell was breaking loose.  No-one has quite caught the contrast between Trethevy Quoit and the South Caradon mine better than the author Wilkie Collins in this well-known passage from Rambles Beyond Railways: Notes in Cornwall Taken A-Foot (1851):

… about a mile and a half from St. Clare’s Well, we stopped to look at one of the most perfect and remarkable of ancient British monuments in Cornwall.  It is called Trevethey Stone, and consists of six large upright slabs of granite, overlaid by a seventh, which covers them in the form of a rude, slanting roof.  These slabs are so irregular in form as to look quite unhewn.  They all vary in size and thickness.  The whole structure rises to a height, probably, of fourteen feet; and, standing as it does on elevated ground, in a barren country, with no stones of a similar kind erected near it, presents an appearance of rugged grandeur and aboriginal simplicity, which renders it an impressive, almost startling object to look on.  Antiquaries have discovered that its name signifies The Place of Graves; and have discovered no more.  No inscription appears on it; the date of its erection is lost in the darkest of the dark periods of English history.

Our path had been gradually rising all the way from St. Clare’s Well; and, when we left Trevethey Stone, we still continued to ascend, proceeding along the tram-way leading to the Caraton Mine.  Soon the scene presented another abrupt and extraordinary change.  We had been walking hitherto amid almost invariable silence and solitude; but now, with each succeeding minute, strange, mingled, unintermitting noises began to grow louder and louder around us.  We followed a sharp curve in the tram-way, and immediately found ourselves saluted by an entirely new prospect, and surrounded by an utterly bewildering noise.  All about us monstrous wheels were turning slowly; machinery was clanking and groaning in the hoarsest discords; invisible waters were pouring onwards with a rushing sound; high above our heads, on skeleton platforms, iron chairs clattered fast and fiercely over iron pulleys, and huge steam pumps puffed and gasped, and slowly raised and depressed their heavy black beams of wood.  Far beneath the embankment on which we stood, men, women, and children were breaking and washing ore in a perfect marsh of copper-coloured mud and copper-coloured water.  We had penetrated to the very centre of the noise, the bustle, and the population on the surface of a great mine.

Here’s a more recent response to the ‘startling object’.  It’s by Charles Causley, born this day in 1917, in his poem ‘Trethevy Quoit’ (Field of Vision, 1988):

Sea to the north, the south.
At the moor’s crown
Thin field, hard-won, turns on
The puzzle of stones.
Lying in dreamtime here
Knees dragged to chin,
With dagger, food and drink –
Who was that one?

None shall know, says bully blackbird.
None.

Field threaded with flowers
Cools in lost sun.
Under furze bank, yarrow
Sinks the drowned mine.
By spoil dump and bothy
Down the moor spine
Hear long-vanished voices
Falling again.

Now they are all gone, says bully blackbird.
All gone.

Hedgebirds loose on wild air
Their dole of song.
From churchtown the tractor
Stammers.  Is dumb.
In the wilderness house
Of granite, thorn,
Ask where are those who came.
Ask why we come.

Home, says bully blackbird.
Where is home? 

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