Monday, April 7, 2014

Multicultural Films at the Neumann: Twentieth in an Ongoing Series

Image for Wild Strawberries
Sweden’s filmmaking blossomed after World War II. The man whose name is synonymous with Swedish filmmaking, Ingmar Bergman, led the way. Nineteen fifty-seven was a golden year for the director, with Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal bursting into the world’s theaters. The former stars Alf Sjostrom, a director of the previous generation, and Bibi Andersson and concerns Sara, a nurse (Andersson) who cares for Isak Borg (Sjostrom), a widowed, retired doctor and professor. Borg comes to understand the emptiness of his life, while Sara’s personality fuses with Borg’s. The film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the Best European Film Award at the Bodil Awards, and the National Board of Review Award for the Best Foreign Film.

Image for The Seventh Seal
The Seventh Seal  is one of the landmarks of world cinema. The film is a story about death, the meaning of life, and God. Antonius Block, played by 27-year-old Max von Sydow, is a world weary knight who has returned from the Crusades with his squire Jons. Death encounters Block, and the two agree that Block can live as long as he continues the game. The film, which has been parodied in films as different as Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Last Action Hero, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Love and Death, won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Spanish Cinema Writers Circle Awards for Best Foreign Film and Best Director, and the Sant Jordi Awards for Best Film and Best Foreign Director.
The Virgin Spring (1960) Poster
The Virgin Spring is another film that is based on the Middle Ages. It is set in 14th-century Sweden and deals with a couple whose daughter, a virgin, is raped and murdered by goat herders. The culprits ask for food and lodging from the parents, who exact revenge. This universal tale of revenge, religion, and justice won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, a Special Mention Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and Kinema Junpo Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film and the Best Foreign Language Director.
Many of Bergman’s films deal with with the tensions and rivalries within families. Cries and Whispers exemplifies this. This 1972 film is set in late 19th-century Sweden and centers around Agnes, one of three sisters. She is dying of cancer and her sisters Maria and Karin arrive at her mansion to be with her. Anna, Agnes’s maid, cares for Agnes and has a rapport with her. The relationship between Agnes on the one hand, and Maria and Karin on the other is distant. As Agnes’s end nears, resentment, jealousy, and anger between the three sisters boils over. The film received five Academy Award nominations and won for Best Cinematography. In addition, Cries and Whispers was named the Best Foreign Language Film from the National Board of Review and Best Film by the New York Film Critics Circle.
Fanny and Alexander, Bergman’s penultimate film, is another example of a family being less than a refuge to some or all of its members. Fanny and Alexander Ekdahl have pleasant, comfortable lives with their parents Oskar and Emilie, who are the director and the leading lady of the local theater. Oskar’s death changes everything. Emilie marries the local bishop and moves them into his chancery. The children’s lives become grim and forbidding, and the film is about the resolution of this situation. On its release, Fanny and Alexander was critically acclaimed and received four Academy Award nominations, winning four for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design, among other international awards.
Miss Julie (1951) Poster
Alf Sjoberg was a Swedish director from the generation before Bergman’s. An example of his work is Miss Julie. This film is an adaptation of a play by August Strindberg. When her engagement falls through, Julie falls in love with  Jean, a servant. Because a romance between the two will never be accepted in their society, they plan to flee to Switzerland. The film, which, like the play, deals with issues of sex and class, won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Check ‘em out of the Neumann Library.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Multicultural Films at the Neumann: Nineteenth in an Ongoing Series

Although Spain has made films since cinema’s birth, the Spanish film industry did not begin to become a major player in the film world until the end of the Fascist dictatorship in 1975. At that point, the generation of Spaniards who matured under the dictatorship made films on subjects that had been taboo. Pedro Almodovar led the way. Transvestites, homosexuals, and prostitutes people his films, and convoluted plots abound. Among the Almodovar films that the Neumann Library has are Matador, Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, The Flower of My Secret, Live Flesh, All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education, and Volver.

In 1968, Ramon Sampedro, a Spanish fisherman and writer, became a quadriplegic in a diving accident. He spent the next 30 years fighting for his right to die, taking his case through Spain’s courts and the European Commission on Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. His story is that of The Sea Inside. The film chronicles his battle to die, and it also spotlights his relationship with two women, whom he inspires. The Sea Inside won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and 61 other international awards, including  the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, the David di Donatello Award for Best European Film, the Goya for Best Film, and the National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In addition, Javier Bardem, who played Sampedro, received nine Best Actor Awards for his performance, including the European Film Award for Best Actor, the Goya for Best Leading Actor, and the Venice Film Festival’s Volpi Cup.

El Bola (The Pellet) is a film about family. Pablo, or El Bola, is a 12-year-old boy whose father is abusive. Pablo becomes emotionally distant until he meets another boy who has a caring father. The film won Goyas for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, and Best New Artist.

The Grandfather deals with illegitimacy as well as love and honor. Count Albrit is an aristocrat who, on learning of his son’s death, returns to Spain after living for years in the United States. He meets his two granddaughters, but he learns that his son did not father one of them. The count must determine which of the girls will be his heir. The Grandfather received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as four Cinema Writers Circle Awards (Spain) and a Goya for Best Leading Actor.

The world of prostitution is explored by Princesas. The film centers around Zule and Caye, two Madrid streetwalkers. They meet when Zule underbids Caye for a customer, but the pair’s friendship begins when Caye finds Zule beaten in her apartment. Each prostitute is a lifeline for the other, and the two dream of a better life. The film won Goyas for Best Film, Best New Actress, and Best Original Song, as well as Spanish Actors Union awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Minor Role.   

The Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship that followed are Spain’s national trauma. Filmmakers and other artists have chronicled this era. One film that does so is Butterfly. It deals with Mancho, a boy in a small town. He is shy when he starts school, but his teacher, Don Gregorio, takes him under his wing and befriends his family. Civil war erupts, however, and the friendship between Don Gregorio and Mancho’s family is tested. Butterfly won a Goya for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as the National Board of Review Award as one of the top foreign films for the year 2000 and the Cleveland International Film Festival’s Best Film Award.
Pan’s Labyrinth approaches the Spanish Civil War from the point of view of fantasy. It is the story of Ofelia, a young girl with a vivid imagination. She and her pregnant mother Carmen Vidal go to live with Captain Vidal, the father of Carmen’s unborn child. Captain Vidal is a sadistic man who hunts down the rebels who fight the fascists. One night, Ofelia meets a fairy who takes her to a fawn in a labyrinth. The fawn tells Ofelia that she is a princess from an underground kingdom and that her father awaits her. To see him again, however, Ofelia must perform three dangerous tasks. Pan’s Labyrinth was an international sensation that received three Academy Awards (Best Cinematography, Best Achievement in Art Direction, and Best Achievement in Makeup), as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, three BAFTA Awards, eight Ariels, and six Goyas.

Check ‘em out of the Neumann Library.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Texas Voters Guide available in Neumann Library

The Voters Guide, published by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Texas, is now available in the Neumann Library. All candidates for statewide office are covered in this issue, along with registration deadlines for the March 4 election.  In addition, the guide has information about Texas photo ID requirements and exceptions, and details of provisional voting, authorized by the Federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

ALA Youth Media Award Winners at the Neumann Library

The American Library Association announced their Youth Media Awards on Monday at the Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, and we are pleased to say that we already have many of the materials in the Neumann Library collection or on order!

A selection of the winners ready to check out:
  • Newbery Medal – Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (outstanding children’s book)
  • Caldecott Medal – Locomotive by Brian Floca (outstanding picture book)
  • Printz Award – Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (outstanding young adult book)
  • Schneider Family Book Award – A Splash of Red written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (outstanding expression of the disability experience for ages 0-10)
  • Bulpré Award – Niño Wrestles the World written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales (outstanding Latino illustrator)
See the full press release with all the award and honor lists

Leisure Reading Collection

Neumann Library is pleased to announce the addition of a new leisure reading collection!

  • Stephen King, Richard Dawkins, Margaret Atwood, Malcolm Gladwell and more best-selling authors
  • Cookbooks,graphic novels and other formats
  • New titles added every month
  • Conveniently located near the check-out desk

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Nelson Mandela was the most revered figure in contemporary Africa. His antiapartheid fight as a member of the African National Congress (ANC), which resulted in 27 years in prison, catapulted him to the presidency of the Republic of South Africa. Mandela promulgated a new constitution, created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses, and attempted to develop South Africa’s economy. After leaving office, Mandela used the Nelson Mandela Foundation to fight poverty and AIDS.

Mandela was the author and the subject of many works. At the forefront of these is Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. The book tells Mandela’s story from his childhood and adolescence. Mandela recounts his joining the ANC and his arrest, conviction, and imprisonment. He goes on to discuss meeting South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk, being freed from prison, and succeeding de Klerk as president. Long Walk to Freedom won the Alan Paton Prize and spawned an eponymous film, which premiered in the United States on November 29, 2013.

Anthony Sampson was a British writer and journalist who met Mandela in 1951. The two became friends, and in 1964 Sampson attended the Rivonia Trial to support Mandela and the other ANC members who were on trial. He drew on this relationship to write Mandela: The Authorized Biography. This book incorporates Mandela’s personal papers and interviews with Mandela and figures close to him to give a more complete picture of his life and career than other biographies. The book covers Mandela’s life from his boyhood to the end of his presidency, with emphasis on his incarceration. This book is a must read for Mandela scholars.

Nelson Mandela Speaks: Forging a Democratic, Nonracial South Africa is a collection of 31 speeches from 1990 to 1993. These speeches trace South Africa’s movement from apartheid to a multiracial state. A biography of Mandela and a chronology of events in South Africa from 1990 to 1993 put the collection in context. Nelson Mandela Speaks is an outstanding primary source collection for the student who is attempting to obtain basic knowledge of South Africa’s final years of apartheid.

Another documentary collection that is well worth perusing is The Struggle Is My Life. This work is a collection of Mandela’s speeches and other documents from 1944 until he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. In addition, it contains two additional statements by Mandela, one of which is his rejection of the South African government’s offer of conditional release. The volume also has two accounts of Mandela in captivity that fellow inmates wrote, an autobiographical note by Mandela, an index of the documents in the volume, and a list of honors and awards that Mandela received.
Check these works and others out of the Neumann Library.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Multicultural Films at the Neumann: Eighteenth in an Ongoing Series

Russia has a long history in filmmaking. The Russian film industry began life during the tsarist era’s twilight and received a boost from the Communists, whose leader, Lenin, declared cinema to be ”the most important of all the arts for us.” Directors such as Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Sergei Bondarchuk have enriched world cinema with cinematic masterpieces.

Eisenstein is one of history’s most influential directors. A film theorist as well as a director, Eisenstein first demonstrated montage, the juxtaposition of images by editing, with the impact of the combined images being greater than any that of a single image. He demonstrated this in The Battleship Potemkin, his 1925 film about the 1905 mutiny on the eponymous battleship. In this work of revolutionary propaganda, Eisenstein shows the cruelty of the ship’s officers, the heartlessness of the Russian tsar’s soldiers, and the sailors’ success in fomenting revolution. Eisenstein envisioned  filmgoers pouring into theaters to be radicalized. That did not happen, but filmlovers from Eisenstein’s day to this one have cited The Battleship Potemkin as an example of filmmaking at its best, with innovative techniques propelling a fascinating story.

Eisenstein’s filming of Alexander Nevsky marked his first collaboration with Sergei Prokofiev, one of the great composers of the 20th century. The film chronicles the invasion of Russia by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century and their defeat by Alexander Nevsky in the Battle of the Ice. The film was released in 1938, with the obvious subtext being Germany’s menacing of the Soviet Union. When the two countries entered into the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact the following year, the film was pulled from Soviet theaters, to return to them when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Eisenstein received the Stalin Prize for Alexander Nevsky, which the National Board of Review declared one of the Top Foreign Films of 1939.

Ivan the Terrible Parts I and II were Eisenstein’s second and third collaborations with Eisenstein as well as the director’s last completed films. These films were Eisenstein’s attempts to make a biopic about Tsar Ivan IV of Russia, also known as Ivan the Terrible, whom Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin admired. Ivan the Terrible Part I found favor with Stalin, and Eisenstein received the Stalin Prize for it. The second part of the projected trilogy was banned because of its references to executions and secret police and was released in 1958, 10 years after Eisenstein’s death and five years after Stalin’s. Production began on the third part of the trilogy, but after the banning of the second part shooting was halted and all footage except for a few scenes was confiscated and destroyed.

Sergei Bondarchuk was another important Soviet director. His most famous film was War and Peace, an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel about Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. The film, which the Soviet government bankrolled, was more than seven hours long, and some of its battle scenes lasted 45 minutes. In the 1970s, ABC aired a 373-minute version for American audiences. Bondarchuk played Pierre Bezukhov, the Russian aristocrat who is searching for life’s meaning. War and Peace won the Grand Prix at the Moscow International Film Festival, the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
No less a figure than Ingmar Bergman called Andrei Tarkovsky “the greatest.” Tarkovsky made one of the greatest science fiction films, Solaris. Stanislaw Lem’s eponymous novel provides the basis for the film, which is about love, truth, and consciousness. Solaris, which won two awards at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d’Or, spawned a 2002 remake that starred George Clooney.
Ivan’s Childhood is a Tarkovsky film about World War II. It is based on a short story by Vladimir Bogomolov and deals with Ivan, a 12-year-old boy whose parents and sisters are killed by the Germans. Ivan joins the partisans and performs reconnaissance missions for the Red Army. The film, which shows the costs of war as well as the heroism depicted in Stalin-era films about World War II, won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Vladimir Menshov is known for depicting the Russian man in the street. He is best known as an actor, but he has directed five films, the most famous of which is Moscow Does NotBelieve in Tears. On the surface, this film is a romantic comedy about three women who come to Moscow to make their dreams come true. Beyond this, however, Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears explores the plight of Russian women at the time that the film was released (1980). The picture won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Check ‘em out of the Neumann Library.