Last night we had the opportunity to see the relevant and engrossing film by Kleber Mendonça Filho , Aquarius, at the AFI Silver Theatre. For me it is films like this that focus on a social setting and involve real, deep and complex characters who have had to traverse through our recent and complicated political pasts that make life so generous and films indispensable for our growth. The story's incorporation of music and how it functions in the characters' lives as they try to understand what is transpiring is an accurate but seldom seen depiction of music as daily religion. This is the story of our lives, or at least mine and my family's. In addition to this we also had the pleasure of hearing Sonia Braga speak about her film experience and opportunity to actually get a satisfying role for an older woman that is real and meaningful. She took it to town!
Here's a recent letter in Film Comment by the director detailing the issues with the film release in troubled Brazil:
Much of what has been written and discussed about Aquarius’s tumultuous release in Brazil—and this is of course, beyond discussing the film itself as a film—has focused on words like “struggle”, “tensions” and even “retaliation,” words normally associated with the political arena and not so much with the film world. I actually believe that these words do come up every now and then in the arts, for books, plays, films, but they are not, by definition, what you would normally expect when a film, a work of fiction and cinema language, is about to be released. So, I would like to point out that there has been a huge amount of support and love for Aquarius in Brazil and also for our political views on the current state of Brazilian politics. It would have been impossible to actually get the film out if the whole scenario was purely hostile.
I started noticing this from the first moment, at the Cannes Film Festival, when we got massive support and also when the Brazilian right started its attacks. For three months, much was discussed about the film, for and against, without anyone actually seeing it. We started getting requests by big media to actually show them Aquarius (which we did with caution), whereas Brazilian journalists who were in Cannes would get their ideas out, all of them raving about the film. The two dissonant voices in Brazilian media came from right-wing journalists who had not yet seen Aquarius, one of them calling for a boycott on the film. The other one suggested the film’s crew attended Cannes on some sort of glamorous holiday package paid by taxpayers, sponsored by the Dilma Rousseff government so we would stage the protest. The concept of attending Cannes to present a film in competition as some sort of glamorous holiday shows how artists are currently seen by some in Brazil, and this also confirmed some of the very negative reactions Brazilian artists in general seem to be getting from the right, a complete lack of understanding of how democracy works and also on the very nature of an artist’s work, normally pictured as vagabonds, bon vivants who do not actually work like real decent people do. This was probably the most comical aspect of this whole non-discussion, though I have to say that I struggle to use the word “comical” because it is, in fact, quite sad.
Then again, for every negative reaction, there was and still is a couple of positive ones, and the path to the release of Aquarius was paved with this huge political and human energy, a cloud of ideas and admiration that seemed to grow bigger every time the film was screened in an international film festival prior to its Brazilian release date. These screenings were attended by many Brazilians who would go online and rave about the film. It happened in Sydney, Munich, Paris, Lima; it just made the whole film grow.
And, of course, the similarities between the storyline in Aquarius and Dilma’s predicament were much discussed. They are, in fact, quite staggering. When we went up the steps of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, the impeachment process had just begun after a very ugly chain of events that felt like a weird mix of Kafka and a cheap reality show. On that same week, the new interim government pulled the plug on the Ministry of Culture, widely seen by conservatives as a safe haven for radical leftists. That lasted about a week in May and it was also part of our protest. They decided it was a bad idea to get rid of the Ministry of Culture and brought it back, just like that crazy anarchist in Airplane!, plugging and unplugging the runway lights. Tools normally offered by democracy were re-orchestrated and creatively applied to meet the needs of conservatives who grew impatient and frustrated with four defeats in 13 years in Brazil’s very democratic general elections. They had to get to power through this nonsensical impeachment process with full support from big Brazilian media, which presented an outlandish narrative where all things liberal and left were presented as rotten through and through. Some people actually believe now that corruption was a concept brought into Brazilian society by PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, the Workers’ Party) less than 15 years ago. A fascinating case of short-term collective memory. Clara’s words in the film “Do you know when you feel mad, but you actually know you are not mad?” began to resonate strongly, and soon the story of these two women trying to resist eviction from their homes began to hit people.
The most paranormal correlation between Clara and Dilma took place in late August. The three months which topped the whole lab generated political crisis, and what would be the season finale, took place on the exact week Aquarius was coming out nationwide, and after five raucous advance screenings took place all over the country. The Recife screening, the very first one in the country, on August 20th, at the 1952 movie Palace, the São Luiz, was about the most dramatic. One thousand seats, all taken. People began to cheer and applaud from the moment Clara starts throwing pieces of rotten wood on the marble table. Everyone could tell the film seemed to be hitting a nerve; a very cathartic experience.
Aquarius opened Thursday, September 1st, 12 hours after Dilma was finally told to leave office by senators, many of them accused of corruption crimes, whereas no charges whatsoever were ever presented for Dilma herself as a politician, as a citizen or as president. As for myself and for the group of friends who made Aquarius, we just went where the film took us. We opened the Gramado Film Festival, which was quite a big night, we had massive advance screenings in São Paulo and Rio, juggling huge media coverage (mostly supportive) through reviews, articles and interviews. I was either reacting accordingly or just reacting with irony to two very specific, government-related attacks: the unusual 18 rating the film got from the Ministry of Justice, something that became a huge controversy and that led us to argue in very technical terms with censors that, in reality, it did not make much sense. I have to say that a whole history of film and censorship came to mind during that episode, an area of cinema I have always been very fond of, having lived in Britain during my teenage years, at the time of the video nasties. I also thought of Jose Mojica Marins (Zé do Caixão), Verhoeven, De Palma, and also, inevitably, the dictatorship years, when I was a child, in the ’70s, a time when I was not allowed to see Sonia Braga’s films in cinemas because they were all rated 18, sometimes with cuts made by the Departamento de Censura.
At 5:07 am on Friday, August 9th, 1963 patrolman Jack Leach was traveling northwest down Japonica Drive in one of the two patrol cars owned by the Greenhills Police department. As he turned left at the corner of Jennings Road and Illona Drive his headlights swept across Alphonse Udry’s side yard and he saw what he described as a “peculiar-looking mound.” He stopped his car, grabbed his flashlight, walked through the dew-covered lawn and found the body of 15 year-old Patricia Ann Rebholz.
Leach had been with the department for four years but had never encountered anything even remotely like this before. His first instinct was to radio for backup and within minutes—13 minutes to be exact—patrolman Randolph Morgan arrived. Morgan began circling the body taking photographs. Patty was lying on her side next to the wire fence at the property line—her moccasins doubled over her heels, her disheveled skirt pulled up around her waist and her handbag still dangling from her shoulder. Her hair, face and blouse were covered in blood. The grass beneath her was saturated with it. Next to her head was a two-foot section of fence post which Leach noted was covered in dark stains, hair and “particles of what I believe to be flesh.”
As Morgan’s flashbulbs lit up the pre-dawn darkness, police from neighboring departments arrived and fanned out into the yard, securing the crime scene. Dr. Roemer, the local physician, was summoned and confirmed what the assembled officers already knew—Patty was dead. Later, while the volunteer life squad was loading her body onto a stretcher, someone— it’s unclear exactly who—alerted 15 year-old Michael Wehrung, Patty’s boyfriend of four months who lived just across the street. Only half-awake, Michael looked out his front door which had a direct view of the activity in the yard, turned to his sister Cheryl and asked “Is she dead?” He then went back to sleep on the sectional sofa in his living room.
Why the police had taken all night to find Patty was one of the first of many questions about the case. Why Michael responded the way he did that morning was another. Its now been more than a half century since Patty’s murder and for her friends and classmates—indeed, for the entire community of Greenhills—there are still more questions than answers.
Leonard Harold “Lenny” Breau is perhaps the most advanced harmonic player of all times on the instrument. He’s surely the guitarist who came the closest in achieving to the kind of freedom keyboard players have over chords and voice leading.
He stated himself that he was trying to “play the guitar like a piano”: performing melodies and accompanying himself in the lower register. Some believe that it is why he employed mainly 7-string guitars in his later years. That type of sound can be heard on his solo recordings.
This great jazz guitarist also developed unprecedented techniques in the use harmonics on the guitar. In some cases you have to “see it to believe it” … he said himself that he was playing “stuff that’s supposed to be impossible, but I spent over twenty years figuring it out” …
It’s hard to believe that only one guitar is being played the first time you hear Lenny Breau!
Surprisingly, Lenny Breau not very well known outside of the jazz guitar and fingerstyle circles. That is mainly due to his “yo yo” carreer and his early death, at age 43. More importantly, Lenny was starting to get the respect he deserved when he passed away. His influence has been growing and it’s peaking nowadays. His legacy lives on through the re-releases of some lost and rare out of print recordings
To get an idea of what this legendary guitarist is all about, I highly recommend checking this out: Cabin Fever, a solo recording by Lenny Breau. If it’s your first time, you’ll most likely be blown away. For the readers: Here’s a biography that really does Lenny Breau justice…
JazzWax: When you were writing bossa nova songs in the late 1950s, what was your poetic inspiration? Love? The sea? Carlos Lyra: My inspirations are never the sea, the moon or the flower or passion. Having a classical formation, not a romantic one, I would choose love, life and people as my big inspirations.
JW: For example what are a few your favorite songs, where did you write them and what inspired you? CL: My song, Menina, was inspired by a true event. There was a young girl, a friend of mine, who had an admirer from Rio's lower class. They were in love and the girl’s family was very upset with the relationship. My lyrics and melody were inspired by what she was going through and they came together at once. The inspiration for Maria Ninguém (Maria No One) was a song by the famous Brazilian composer Noel Rosa. His song was called João Ninguém (John Doe). My song's lyrics pay tribute: “If John Doe is my name, I claim my Maria is Maria No One.” When French actress Brigitte Bardot heard it, she loved it and recorded it in Portuguese.
JW: Was the song really a favorite of Jackie Kennedy? CL: Saxophonist Paul Winter, who used to perform at the White House in the early '60s, told me that Maria Ninguém was Jacqueline Kennedy's favorite bossa nova song.
JW: You were there at the beginning of the bossa nova. Did the bossa nova surface because the samba couldn’t express the love songs that you, Jobim and others had in mind? CL: Samba is a very popular form of music. Bossa nova is middle class and yet a classical form of art. Therefore it is cool and discreet. Samba is usually romantic, exuberant, more expressionist than impressionist. The spirit of bossa nova was free of sadness, and its songs talk about love in a happy way, without suffering.
JW: Why did the bossa nova emerge when it did? CL: The bossa nova was a cultural boom. We simply used to get together at friends' houses to show what we were composing and writing. A group of us younger writers, trying to do something new, with the impulse of creating a new form of Brazilian music that we could listen to, that expressed how we felt.
Hours before we learned of Trump’s boasts about grabbing women “by the pussy,” the Republican nominee affirmed his false belief that the Central Park 5—five teenagers, four of them black and one Latino, convicted on charges of attacking and raping a 28-year-old white woman, all five since exonerated by DNA evidence—were guilty.* “They admitted they were guilty,” Trump said. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same."
The same Republican leaders who rushed to condemn Trump for his remarks on a hot mic were silent about his continued attacks on these men, which stretch back to the original event in 1989, when he placed an incendiary ad in New York City newspapers against the then-teenagers. “Bring back the death penalty. Bring back our police!” said Trump. “[M]uggers and murderers … should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence.”
Republicans didn’t say anything because Trump wasn’t attacking Republicans. The ground didn’t shift for the GOP nominee until he did. His “grab them by the pussy” comments don’t just threaten his own bid at the White House; they threaten the whole Republican political apparatus. They undermine party enthusiasm. They give millions of Republican-voting women a reason to stay home. And what happens if they do? Suddenly, the House and Senate are at risk. Suddenly, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are leaders of a minority party.
But of course the GOP could tolerate his place at the top of the ticket so long as he restricted his threats to groups outside the party. President Trump, after all, would nominate their judges, sign their tax cuts, and affirm their plans to gut the social safety net. Ryan, the House speaker, said as much in his endorsement. “For me, it’s a question of how to move ahead on the ideas that I—and my House colleagues—have invested so much in through the years,” he wrote in June. “It’s not just a choice of two people, but of two visions for America. And House Republicans are helping shape that Republican vision by offering a bold policy agenda, by offering a better way ahead. Donald Trump can help us make it a reality.” For him and many Republicans, Trump’s frank advocacy of racial repression is a small price to pay for their expansive reversal of liberal social policy. It’s hardly even a price.
In fact, we now have a list of all the things the Republican Party will tolerate solely for the sake of the White House and a continued congressional majority. It’s a long list.
The Republican Party will tolerate racist condemnation of Mexican immigrants and Latino Americans at large. It will tolerate the same racist condemnation of Muslims, even as both attacks feed an atmosphere of paranoia, distrust, and violence.
It will tolerate a policy platform that treats these groups—and Syrian refugees to the United States—as a dangerous fifth column. In Trump’s vision of America, Latino immigrants, when they aren’t “stealing jobs,” are the vector for crime and disorder, plunging towns and cities into lawlessness. It’s why Trump wants to root them out with a new “deportation force,” home by home, person by person. And it’s why he wants a wall on the Mexican border—a concrete prophylactic to keep those dark-skinned migrants from reaching our borders.
It will tolerate the same racist policies for Muslim Americans. In Trump’s world, Muslims are a “Trojan horse,” a foreign intrusion that threatens American security. It’s why he wants to ban their entry to the country, why he wants new surveillance of Muslim communities, why he wants to reject refugees, and why he’s accused Muslim Americans of condoning terrorist violence. “They know what’s going on,” Trump said after a shooter killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando. “They know that he was bad. They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But you know what? They didn’t turn them in. And you know what? We had death, and destruction.”
The Republican Party and its leaders—Reince Priebus, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and hundreds of federal and state office-holders—will tolerate attacks on veterans and prisoners of war. It will tolerate blatant racism toward a federal judge and a Gold Star family, whose son died fighting for this country. It will tolerate Trump’s call for war crimes (“take their oil”), his zeal for torture, and his support for renewed nuclear proliferation.
It will tolerate his rhetoric toward black Americans, treating them as helpless brutes leading disordered, degenerate lives. It will even tolerate his drive to make the Republican Party a more comfortable home for white nationalists, a vehicle for ethno-nationalism and herrenvolk democracy. Ryan, praised for his principle and integrity, said nothing when Trump hired Steve Bannon to coordinate his campaign, despite Bannon’s ties to white nationalists through his website, Breitbart. He said nothing when Trump promised to deport American citizens whose parents came to the country illegally, a violation of the 14th Amendment. And even when Ryan condemned Trump—as in the case of Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel and the Khan family—he still backed him for president of the United States.
For more than a year, Trump has preached state repression of nonwhites. And for more than a year, Republican leaders have tip-toed around him, even praised him. They’ve defended him, rallied behind him, and touted him as the right man to lead the country. “Donald Trump is committed to cut taxes, curb spending, and get our national debt under control,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in his video endorsement of Trump at the Republican National Convention in July. “Unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump takes seriously the threats from Islamic radicals and is committed to rebuilding our military.” Rubio joined the recent chorus against Trump, even as he continues to back the real estate mogul’s bid for the White House.
There’s a logic here, and it’s not hard to see. When it comes to voting, it doesn’t matter to Republicans that Trump is anathema to nonwhites and religious minorities. Neither black Americans nor Latinos nor Muslim Americans are going to vote for the GOP in significant numbers, and the party as a result is unresponsive to those communities, if not openly contemptuous of their concerns. Few Republicans, for example, want to restore the Voting Rights Act, and even fewer have challenged the drive to restrict and disenfranchise voters. We can see this dynamic in real time.
That’s why they distance and condemn. That’s why they place a wall between themselves and their nominee, hoping no one notices their endorsements and continued support. Anything to protect their congressional majorities from anger and disenchantment. “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests,” Ryan said in a statement. “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever," said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. “As the father of three daughters, I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.