Category Archives: From the Blogroll

Tumblr – for your daily opera fix

I just discovered this wonderful Tumblr blog – One opera, singer or composer a week. This week’s opera is Rigoletto, and the blogger was kind enough to link to my post on the character of Gilda and even has some nice things to say about it! Yay!

I love the concept of the blog, which is also open to submissions and often adds amusing and clarifying little descriptions to the posted videos, and I have added it to my Google Reader. You should do the same if you’re looking for a good opera pusher!

“Hör an, Wolf Gnards. Hör an!”

Blogroll recommendation!

My latest discovery in the blogosphere is Wolf Gnards. I only just discovered it two weeks ago, but I’ve already read every single entry, and I am completely sold. Wolf Gnards himself, aka Wolfram G. Nards III or Dr. Nard von Wolfenstein, describes his blog as follows:

This is a blog about geeking out or nerding it up: basically, we nerd pop culture. A forum for the geek chic and alpha nerds to discuss movies, television, celebrity; whatever it is Wolf Gnards takes popular culture and puts its own geeky spin on it. We answer the questions that no one cared enough to ask.

…which is a pretty apt description of what goes down in the Wolf Gnards ‘Verse. It’s one of the nerdiest blogs I’ve read in a long time, and it’s also one of the wittiest, and that’s a killer combo in my book. See for instance this wonderful entry dedicated to answering the bold question: “How long could Luke survive in a Tauntaun?”. Or this entry dedicated to Hawaiian Shirts in Films. Why, there’s even a tribute to Jonathan Ke “Short Round” Quan, complete with a graph of Asian boys in Spielberg Projects!

As if this wasn’t enough to endear me to Wolf Gnards, he routinely professes his love of Nerd Girls. And he seems to be especially fond of skinny-ish indie brunettes who use bangs to cover up a mega forehead, which, hello? Me! (Arguably I’m more of a Geek Girl than I am an indie girl. But Indie Girl sounds better).

If you’re the slightest bit of a pop cultural nerd and you haven’t checked out Wolf Gnards yet, you owe it to yourself to do so. The blog reaches into your chest to tug at your nerd heartstrings with the magical power and precision of an evil Kali Thuggee cultist, and embraces your geeky self with the comforting warmth of a thousand tauntaun bellies.

Film Experience Blog Gives Cheers to My Best Friend’s Wedding (And At the Lighthouse Praises its Soundtrack)

I’ve been reading the excellent Film Experience Blog for a while now. Today the blog features an entry on 90s romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding, and it’s a very interesting read. I saw that movie in the theatres with some friends in the ninth grade, and while I can’t say that I remember it as “the best comedy of the nineties” the way CanadaMatt does, I always enjoy it when people have praise for random pop-cultural stuff that critics usually look down their noses at, and I really appreciate CanadaMatt’s queer-theory-angle take on the film:

George’s final line…

Maybe there won’t be marriage.
Maybe there won’t be sex…
But by god there will be dancing.

…is transgressive in its acceptance and extollation of a non-normative union (for mainstream Hollywood, at least). The couple dance off happily, as the singer sings “forever and ever”. Here the gay man is not relegated to homosexual pet status, he is the leading man, the moral centre of the film, and ultimately its hero. The relationship between Julianne and George is one of equals, and the film celebrates that at its conclusion.

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I think My Best Friend’s Wedding had a pretty great soundtrack. I remember borrowing the CD at the library after I’d seen the movie, and I really have to give it credit for introducing me to some of the more memorable love songs from the 20th century, some in cover versions, other in original versions. Diana King’s “I Say a Little Prayer” is probably the one that most people associate with the movie, but there’s also a wonderfully ironic version of “Wishin’ and Hopin'” that is used as the opening sequence of the film:

This track, along with the soundtrack’s cover version by Nicky Holland of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”, was what introduced me to the genius that is Dusty Springfield, and I will be forever thankful for that. After hearing the Nicky Holland version I went up into the living room and found my father’s old Dusty Springfield record and left it on the grammophone for weeks and weeks afterwards. I still think that “I Just Don’t Know…” is one of the best break-up songs ever. Just listen to that crescendo in the bridge (“Like a summer rose…”). Devastating!

In the more optimistic end of the spectre, there’s also the up-beat “Tell Him” with The Exciters with its wonderful folk-lore-ish sound and its lyrics that directly contradict the book He’s Just Not That Into You. I tend to agree with the ideas of HJNTIY, but I still love the song:

(Dude, that is one weird video, though. Bears? And lions and swans? What?)

There’s also “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (in a version by Mary Chapin Carpenter) which is just such an adorable song, and there’s “What the World Needs Now”, which never did much for me personally, but I suppose it’s a classic in its own right. And then there’s “The Way You Look Tonight” which Tony Bennett lends such a wonderful warmth in his version, you can almost see the candlelights and taste the dizzying red whine of a romantic dinner:

So I always thought it was a good soundtrack, but CanadaMatt’s perspective makes me like it even more. Because with his comments in mind you could say that the producers used the great love song classics from the past decade in order to tell a brand new kind of love story in the ’90s: A love story in which the hero might be a homosexual man and the heroine a loving single woman. That is a nice thought.

From the Blogroll: Judge a Book by its Cover

One of my favourite websites in the snarky category is Judge a Book by its Cover. The blogger is a librarian, Maughta, sometimes joined by her husband and her friend, blogger BikerPuppy, and the concept of the blog is to snark on ugly, trashy or corny book covers that Maughta comes across. It’s very well executed, and the blog is an extremely fun read that I recommend to everyone who has ever judged a book by its cover and had fun in the process.

My favourite part of the blog is easily the brilliant weekly installment Phallic Phriday. Maughta and her friends have a keen eye for phalluses and they show no mercy when they pounce on trashy illustrators’ shameless use of the figure. Here’s a classic example. And here’s what I believe is the most disturbing use of the phallus in a cover illustration you’ll ever see.

In honour of Judge a Book, I thought I’d do my own little spot-the-phallus game here on this blog, by posting the fabulous opening credits for the 1980’s hit soap opera Dynasty:

See if you can count how many phalluses are featured in the credits! There’s at least one per male character. The most grossly obvious example is probably the foaming champagne bottle that appears behind Gordon Thomson (who played the devious Adam Carrington), but John Forsythe (Blake Carrington) also gets his share of phalluses – I actually lost count of the erect oblong shapes appearing along with his likeness!

From the Blogroll: Copenhagen Cycle Chic

It’s been way too long since I last did one of my From the Blogroll installments. I’d like to present you with one of my favourite blogs: Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

I first stumbled upon it because an old fellow comp. lit. student of mine was one of its contributors, but I’ve been a daily reader ever since. Mainly a photo blog, CCC captures the style of Copenhagen bicyclists and, in the process, the blog presents the world with one of the things that make me truly proud to be a Copenhagener: Our strong-lived bicycle culture. Bicycle-riding doesn’t have to be a sport, and you don’t have to be dressed up in clumsy helmets and expensive bicycle gear in order to go for a ride, CCC argues. You can ride your bike to work, to cafés or to see friends, and still look every bit as chic and fashionable as if you were going by car or by train. CCC makes this point by way of truly great photograhps and obviously a keen sense of the aesthetic value of the bicycle as  motif, with its elegant wheels and nifty mechanics, cooperating so beautifully with the bicyclists bodily movements.

More than that, I think the blog does a great job at capturing the passing of the seasons in Copenhagen. The weather is a very popular topic of conversation for us Danes, and the passing of the season, although an annually recurring event, is an important part of our culture.

Here are four blog entries from Copenhagen Cycle Chic that capture this tendency particularly well:

I especially like the bicyclist in the first picture of this entry: All wrapped up and looking more like a cocoon than a human being, yet stubbornly pedalling away.  (For another wonderful winter bicycle photo, see The Bicyclist, braving a blizzard with a smile)

Spring light, a pretty young bicycle maiden, and an H.G. Wells eulogy

A Marilyn Monroesque moment on a bicyclicious Copenhagen summer’s day

Golden autumn afternoon at the bicycle lanes

Here’s a photo from my own flickr photostream, inspired by CCC, which I snapped in January last year, trying to capture that bleak January atmosphere:

January Light

If you’d like to get into the Copenhagen Cycle Chic style yourself, here‘s the Copenhagen Cycle Chic Manifesto!

Tag! I’m it.

I’ve been tagged! I was tagged by the great opera news blogger, reviewer, and Wagnerienne Mostly Opera.

According to the rules, I have to:

1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog. .

2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog – some random, some weird.

3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.

4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

5. If you don’t have 7 blog friends, or if someone else already took dibs, then tag some unsuspecting strangers.

Okay. Here I go then.

Seven facts about myself:

1. I have a phobia of herons. Their long necks and legs freak me out, and I hate the creepy way they’re always standing so still, like statues. There are a lot of herons on my daily jogging route in Copenhagen, and my heart jumps into my throat every time I have to pass one.

2. I’m borderline addicted to salty liquorice.

3. When I was seven, I had a crush on Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Later on in my life I have crushed on opera characters such as the Count in Le Nozze di Figaro and Scarpia in Tosca thus establishing, I suppose, that this tendency towards unhealthy fictional crushes is simply part of my personality.

4. As a twiggy freshman in high school I auditioned for my school’s production of Aladdin – and got cast as Abu (a.k.a. Aladdin’s monkey sidekick)…

5. I was annoyingly precocious as a child and my (also very precocious) best friend and I once spent an afternoon in the sand box, building sand castles that each represented a major world religion.

6. The irrational side of me firmly believes in the existence of ghosts (and is terrified accordingly), although my rational side tells me to get a frickin’ grip.

7. Despite being mostly into classical music, I’ve been to the Roskilde Festival twice. Once, when I was earning a free ticket for the festival by collecting refund for charity at the festival grounds, I was referred to as an “Amish bitch” by a drunken guy. “Hey, check out that Amish bitch!” was his exact wording.

Passing on the tag:

I tag: 

1. Christian van Horn: Bass-Baritone and graduate of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists in Chicago. I know Christian via the blogosphere. I don’t know if he’ll want to play the tag-game, but I thought I’d tag him in any case, just to promote his great blog.

2. Nerd Girl Attacks. Line, a Real Life friend of mine, blogs about fashion and various Copenhagen trends and sites.

3. Musicalis Eclectica: An Australian music blogger (he’s from New Zealand. I’m a dumbass) whose blog I’ve already given my warm recommendations.

4. My Heart is an Idiot: My friend Kåre, who blogs about politics, art, music and Ben Linus from Lost (in Danish).

5. Ópera e demais interesses: A Portuguese blogger who was recently kind enough to add me to his blogroll. He obviously writes passionately about opera and introduces himself as “João Galamba de Almeida, ossia Il Dissoluto Punito” which is awesome in itself, but as for the actual content of his writing I’m somewhat lost, since he writes in Portuguese. But I’d love to learn more about him so, yeah – tag! 

6. Jonathan Biss: Young American pianist with a very nice blog and website. No idea if he will want to play either, but I thought I’d try.:)

7. Fräulein Quatschen: “Quatschen” means “nonsense” in German, and behind the cute name hides Iben, whom I know from Real Life. Iben blogs (in Danish) about her experiences in Washington D.C. where she’s currently studying.

Top 5 Scariest Movie Scenes from Non-Horror Movies

One of my favourite sites is the Retro Crush Top 100 Scariest Movie scenes. Granted, I usually have a hard time falling asleep at night after I’ve visited the site, but masochist that I am I enjoy it anyway. The site is a fun read and a great inspiration if you’re ever going to host a horror flick slumber party or a Halloween party or the like.

Also, as a blogger, I’m in awe at the thought of all the work Robert Berry, the author of the list, must have gone through…! Not just watching the horror movies, but also finding an individual place for each scary scene on a scale of 1 to 100. And I have to admire his short descriptions, efficiently coupled with excellent movie stills. There are a lot of the movies that he mentions that I’ve never seen, but his great eye for horror has helped him pick out some gruelling stills that I find truly haunting, even without knowing the context of the movie. Very well done.

I’ve been wanting for some time to do a list of Scariest Movie Scenes of my own. But as I sat down to brainstorm for the list, I discovered something peculiar: None of the movie scenes that had scared me the most were from actual horror movies! Retrocrush lists a few non-horror movie scenes as well, but they don’t take up his entire Top 5 the way they do for me.

I thought that was interesting. Does it mean that I haven’t watched enough horror flicks in my time? Or is it simply that it is easier to be scared by scary scenes in a non-horror movie, because the horror comes unexpectedly? I don’t know, but after I was consoled by this fine youtube video with the knowledge that it’s normal to be scared of non-horror movie scenes,  I thought I’d present you with my list nevertheless. So here goes:

5. The Dead Baby Crawls Across the Ceiling During Renton’s Trip-Out in Trainspotting
I regret that my memory is somewhat foggy when it comes to Trainspotting on the whole; I watched it in English class in high school ten years ago and I haven’t seen it since. But still, this one scene stands out to me very vividly as one of the scariest movie scenes I’ve ever seen.

It’s the scene where the main character, Renton (Ewan McGregor) is in bed after having gone off drugs cold turkey and is having a series of terrifying hallucinations as the drugs leave his system. His terror culminates as he stares up at the ceiling to find that Dawn, his friend Allison’s baby girl who has died in an earlier scene, is crawling towards him across the ceiling, upside down. As the baby is just above him it stops and spins its head around to look at him.

You can see the scene here:

I don’t think it’s as scary out of context as it was when I watched the movie in its entirety, though. Most of the horror does not stem from the images of the scene in themselves, but from the scene earlier on when Renton and his friends find that the baby has died (supposedly from neglect) while they’ve been out of their minds on drugs.

I was sleepless for a night after my teacher showed us the movie at school. I remember my teacher looking very pale and white the next day and apologizing to us that she didn’t know that the movie was going to be that intense, and I wondered if she’d been insomniac, too.

4. Bringing in the Frozen Fishermen: Pelle the Conqueror
When I was a kid in the 80s, Pelle the Conqueror was all the rage in Denmark. Made by Danish director Bille August, it won both the “Golden Palms” award at Cannes and the Academy Award in the category “Best Foreign Language Movie” in 1989, and the whole thing really tickled the Danish pride and Pelle the Conqueror became a Danish must-see. Indeed, Pelle the Conqueror is a great movie, depicting brutally and heart-wrenchingly the early life of young boy Swedish Pelle and his old father Lasse (ever amazing Max von Sydow) who immegrate to the Danish island Bornholm after the death of Pelle’s mother.

Despite its young protagonist the film is not, however, a kids’ movie, and I still think it was a really bad idea of my parents to let me watch the movie with them when I was about six years old. The drama features several incredibly scary scenes, including children being whipped, infanticide, and a man screaming in agony after having been castrated by his wife (!).

However, the scene that stands out to me as the most scary is the scene where Pelle witnesses three dead fishermen being recovered from the icy sea after having supposedly frozen to death in their boats.

(the scene starts at 7:28 in the below video)

The cameo of the three frozen bodies is actually pretty easy to miss: The main focus of the scene is Pelle who is being bullied by his school mates, and the bodies are not even mentioned by anyone. But as it often goes with horror in movies, the suggestion of something terrible is far mor startling than explicit gore, and the discrete image of the frozen bodies scared the living daylights out of me when I first watched this movie and had my imagination working overtime: Who were those fishermen? What were they even doing out there on sea? Were they really in a position where they had to go fishing, even when the sea was frozen?

It’s a brilliant move on director August’s part, in that it subtly hints at the hardships of the poor people that are Pelle the Conqueror‘s main characters and the brutality of Nature which is a major theme in the movie. Furthermore, the frozen bodies present the icy sea to us as a freezing killer, thus setting the scene perfectly for the shock when Pelle jumps into the water, eager to prove his worth to the bullying boys. And take care to note the excellent effect of the soundtrack: As soon as we catch the first glimpse of the bodies, a shrill note from a string starts up, at the same time creating an icy, bone-chilling atmosphere around the macabre recovery and building up the tension between Pelle and the boys, releasing it only after Pelle’s near-fatal jump.

Still, I’m not sure I’ll ever completely forgive Bille August for the chilling scare he gave my six-year-old self.

3. “Guess again!”: The Nazi Guy Picks the Wrong Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
When I was a kid I liked Indiana Jones a lot. I watched Temple of Doom several times during my childhood and while I was grossed out by some elements (like the eye-soup/monkey brain thing), I mostly found the adventure movie entertaining and enjoyable. I guess that was probably why my parents figured it would be OK for me to watch the third movie, The Last Crusade when it came on when I was about nine or ten.

That proved to be a mistake, though. Not that I didn’t like it; I loved it, especially the depiction of Indy’s relationship to his father. But there was one scene that simply proved too much for my young self to take: the Wrong Grail scene.

Indiana Jones has made it to the temple that is supposed to house the Holy Grail, and Indy is desperate to find the grail because his father Henry (the one and only Sean Connery. *Le sigh*.) has been fatally wounded and only the holiness of the Grail may cure him. Unfortunately, Indy’s followed by evil Nazis Donovan and Elsa who want to get their greedy hands on the grail, too, and when the knight that guards the grail asks them to identify the true grail among a selection of false cups,  Elsa picks the most flashy-looking cup and offers it to Donovan. Donovan drinks from it, despite the knight’s warning that the false cup may take his life, and this is when things get scary: Immediately after drinking from the grail, Donovan starts aging rapidly! He grabs a screaming Elsa’s shoulder and stammeringly asks her what’s happening, all the while his cheeks hollow, his hair grows, his skin wrinkles and cracks, his eyes pop out, and finally his skeleton falls to the ground.

Watching this as a child, I was horrified. I duck down under a blanket I had wrapped around me, and didn’t come out until the movie had ended. And even so, I couldn’t sleep that night, and I was deeply traumatized and I have never really gotten over it. My brother still enjoys grabbing my shoulder and grunting “What’s… happening… to me…??!!” just to freak me out.

And it still does freak me out. People keep telling me that if I just watch the scene again, I would realize how poorly the scene was done, that the whole thing looks like clamation, and then I wouldn’t be scared of it anymore. But again; horror is often less about great and gory special effects and more about suggestion. The suggestion of a situation where a man ages a decade and dies in a matter of seconds is gruesome to me, and the fact that he is conscious during the process and (at least vaguely) aware of what is happening just tops it. Brrrr.

Brutally scary, and I’ll never, ever watch the scene again. I may re-watch the movie, but I’ll cover my eyes and ears during that scene. In fact I didn’t even re-watch it while writing this post. So if I didn’t recount the scene correctly I apologize, but I’m not going to set myself straight.

2. “What do I look like, a jack-ass??” The Donkey Metamorphosis Scene in Pinocchio

Surprisingly, this one is not a scene that freaked me out as a kid. You see, when I was a little girl I had a weird fixation on metamorphoses, and I loved the idea of being turned into an animal. I’m not sure why, but I did. And so I actually thought it was pretty cool when the little boys in Pinocchio were turned into donkeys, and even rather envied them.

Much has changed since then, however, and when I re-watched Pinocchio a couple of years ago, I couldn’t believe that I’d ever enjoyed that particular scene. Truly this is the most inappropriate and disturbing scene ever to be found in a Disney movie. Retrocrush’s list includes the Pink Elephant Trip-out Scene in Dumbo, but to me that one is not even close to being as scary as the horrors that are found in Pinnochio.

The scene takes place as Pinocchio, along with dozens of other pre-adolescent boys, has been lured off to Pleasure Island where they get to drink beer, smoke cigars, ride merry-go-rounds, play billiards and do nothing useful all day. What they don’t know, however, is that this pleasance comes with a terrible price…

Gaah! Dude! The dramaturgy of the scene where Lampwick slowly but surely realizes that he’s turning into a donkey and pleads Pinocchio for help is ridiculously scary. I’m especially freaked out by the shot of Lampwick lifting up his hands helplessly, only to see them turned into donkey’s hooves. And of course the juxtaposition of Jiminy’s witnessing the poor donkeys getting shipped off in boxes like merchandise (supposedly to be used for hard labour) only adds to the horror as it shows us Pinnochio’s and Lampwick’s prospects after their transformation. Not to mention: What exactly happened to poor kids like little Alexander who were still human enough to be able to speak??

Truly a scarred-for-life moment. And regardless of my fascination with this scene as a kid, I don’t think I’ll ever let any kid of my own watch this movie.

1. Cardboard Ted Danson Stands by the Window in Three Men and a Baby
Yes, yes, go ahead and mock me. The scariest scene I’ve ever seen is from 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby. I really, really wish I were kidding about this, but I’m not. It’s true.

But how did an innocent comedy about three men who are charged with the responsibility of taking care of an infant scare me? Well, the thing is that I believed the urban legend that surfaced in 1990, according to which a ghost boy makes an appearance in one of the movie’s scenes. In the scene where Ted Danson has invited his mother over and is trying to convince her to take care of baby Mary (whom he unwittingly fathered), a strange figure, looking rather like a boy of about 10 years, may be seen in the background, standing by the window, contemplating the two thespians and the baby.

The eerie apparation wasn’t noticed until the movie was released on video tape, but then it got a lot of attention. It was even made subject of a Danish prime-time talk show which was how I found out about it. I refused to sleep in my own bed for two nights afterwards, convinced that if I looked towards the window, I’d find the ghost boy standing there, staring back at me. I never really got over it, and I found it hard to shrug off my fears the way I’d usually do if I’d been scared by a movie. Because what made this scene so scary was that if the rumours were true, the scare factor had nothing to do with a director wanting to scare his audience by making a effectively constructing a scary scene (as the scene was clearly directed to be a humourous one) and everything to do with the miserable, restless soul of a dead boy. And even worse, if the rumours were true, then the scene was possibly proof that unhappy dead people like that boy were all around us, sadly contemplating us.

Of course it turned out that it was simply a cardboard cut-out of Ted Danson’s likeness, a prop that had been left in the scene by mistake. I know this now. And yet – when I tried to watch this scene again recently, I found that I was pretty much every bit I freaked out as I was as a seven-year-old. I guess there’ll always be that small part of me that wonders if that wasn’t really a ghost.

Or possibly I just have an irrational fear of cardboard representations of Ted Danson that I don’t know about. Could be.