Discovering Columbus..?

October 15, 2012

I went to discover Columbus, that is, to visit the living room that Tatzu Nishi has constructed around his statue in Columbus Circle, NYC as a public art project.  It’s weird being face to face with the sculpture which I never got a decent look at, since it stands high atop a column in a busy intersection.  Some students in line behind me remarked how “some people” don’t like Columbus, and how “he did really screw things up for a lot of people who were here first.”

Not sure that there is anything to be had from this artistic spectacle other than a very novel view of a public fixture, and some great views of the avenues.  I did recall, however, that when I first came to NYC, and for many years thereafter, Columbus Circle was a hellaciously ugly intersection.  At least it’s getting some positive attention now.

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Tasty Frenchman

August 14, 2011

How Tasty was My Little Frenchman (1971) is classed in many reviews as a black comedy, but except for the first few scenes, that is totally off the mark.  It takes place on the coast of Brazil when the French and the Portuguese were fighting for dominance of that part of the New World.  The Frenchman, fed up with life as a member of the French force, rebels and is put in chains.  The narration tells us he was given a hearing and allowed to speak in his defense while we see him summarily pushed off a cliff to drown.  That was black comedy.

He survives, and is taken prisoner by the Portuguese.  Shortly after that, they are attacked by Indians allied with the French, and he is taken prisoner.  The Indians assume he is Portuguese, and the chief makes him his personal slave to be kept in the community for eight  months, then eaten.  An amoral French trader who periodically visits the tribe meets the slave and tells the Indians that he is indeed Portuguese – he has his own uses for the man.  He gives him an axe and a lot of hints on how to make himself useful in gathering material to trade – maybe he will escape, maybe the Indians will change their minds, maybe not…

The film is shot in a verite style, and the native dialog is in a local dialect.  Everyone is naked (recall the naked-nude distinction), i.e, unclothed, as people actually lived then.  (Many reviewers refer to this as National Geographic realism, which says a lot about a lot of cultural attitudes and histories.)   Given the date of production, there must be a political subtext here (Brazil was under a military dictatorship) in addition to the unsettling questions it provokes about the nature of The Encounter between the civilizations of the New and Old Worlds.   It would make a good double-feature with Black Robe.