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Darkness, Indeterminacy, Rebirth

Our guest blogger today is John N. Failey, President of the Ensemble Music Society and co-presenter of the upcoming JACK Quartet performance in the Toby.

The Ensemble Music Society did not set out to have a “theme” for the upcoming concert by JACK Quartet at the IMA, it just happened. We wanted to present the Quartet (1964) by Polish composer Witold Lutosławski because 2013 is the centennial of his birth. György Ligeti’s Quartet No. 2 and Tetras by Iannis Xenakis were both stunning sonic wonderlands of sound and textures that have become contemporary classics and have never been performed in Indianapolis. We liked selecting Xenakis too because he was once as an Associate Professor of Music at Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University from 1967 to 1972.

But a larger underlying theme emerged in the life experiences of these three composers. Darkness as they were all uprooted and tormented by the World Wars and civil upheaval that stripped them of all personal possessions, Indeterminacy as they faced an uncertain future or nearly certain death during these struggles, and later found Rebirth and new beginnings with freedom to express their musical ideas.

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, presented last weekend in the Toby, was described in Eric Grayson’s blog post as “still a stunning and fresh experience.” Besides the cinematic elements that make this film so impressive, the use of music by classical composers heightens the experience. The two pieces most familiar to traditional music audiences in the film are Johann StraussBeautiful Blue Danube Waltz and Richard StraussAlso sprach Zarathustra. It is somewhat odd that both of these nineteenth century pieces were featured in a movie about the future, however most of the other music in 2001 was by composer György Ligeti. Definitely on the leading edge of contemporary music, Ligeti was better known in avant garde art and music circles. Three works by Ligeti were in the movie. Excerpts from “Requiem” are heard during the monolith scenes and “Lux Aeterna” is another recurring motif. Ligeti’s Atmosphères is heard in its entirety in the film. Kubrick returned to Ligeti again for piano music to the masked orgy in Eyes Wide Shut.


György Ligeti

György Ligeti

Ligeti was born to a Hungarian Jewish family in 1923. During the Austrian occupation of Hungary and the rise of the Nazi movement, Ligeti was sent to a forced labor brigade, his brother to a concentration camp and his parents to Auschwitz. His mother was a nurse and the only other member of his immediate family to survive. When Soviet troops violently suppressed the Hungarian uprising of 1956, Ligeti escaped to the West, hidden in a railway baggage car. Kubrick did not seek Ligeti’s permission to use his music for 2001 in advance. While the juxtaposition of his music with that of Richard Strauss’ did not make him happy, it did result in a top selling film and soundtrack recording.

Witold Lutosławski

Witold Lutosławski

Witold Lutosławski’s father was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 when he was five years old. He and his mother moved to Warsaw where, from 1939 to 1945, war was besieging the country. They narrowly escaped the retreating Nazi army that destroyed nearly 85% of Warsaw, but they lost everything. They endured a repressive Stalinist regime that tightly controlled the type of music he could write. The string quartet composed in 1964 came after an easing of government control and uses an aleatoric or random chance technique in each performers part. Each performer within certain structural boundaries has the freedom to express the music of their part as they feel best. If much of life is indeterminate, so is his music.

Iannis Xenakis

Iannis Xenakis

Iannis Xenakis was of Greek heritage and born in what was then Romania. In his student days living in Athens, he was politically active and fought against British troops and other efforts to restore the Greek monarchy during the Greek Civil War. In the midst of the fighting, Xenakis was severely injured, losing sight in one eye and having his face permanently scarred in a shell attack. He then escaped to France in 1947 after he was first sentenced to death by the right wing government of Greece. He practiced architecture in France with Corbusier as an illegal immigrant. He was also a brilliant mathematician.  He studied music composition with Olivier Messiaen. Xenakis wrote a collection of texts on applications of stochastic processes, game theory, and computer programming in music. Tetras is one of the most spectacular works in the entire string quartet repertoire. It is an athletic piece that’s powerful and dense — worlds away from the airy styles often mistakenly associated with string quartet music.

Hear these works performed by contemporary music ensemble JACK Quartet in the Toby on Thursday, February 21. Pre-concert discussion with ISO Music Director Krzysztof Urbański begins at 6:45 PM, Concert at 7:30 PM.

Filed under: Public Programs, The Toby


Creative Reuse + Smart Design = Sexy!

Tonight at The Toby you can interact with two raconteurs who are also experts in zero-waste.  One is Timo Rissanen from Parsons School of Design, a sustainable fashion guru.  The other is innovator Michael Bricker from Indianapolis’ own People for Urban Progress. Timo, originally from Finland, is excited about coming to IMA and offers up his thoughts on zero-waste and plans for tonight’s discussion in a blog post on his website.

Consider this image:

If Americans throw 12 million tons of textiles each year into landfills, isn’t that a lot of free raw material for new design business up-start?  When can “trash” be turned into cash?

Leave your comments below or continue the conversation at tonight’s event where @imamuseum will be live tweeting. Follow #IMAtalks to catch some of the Twitter chatter or to propose your own question to the audience and presenters.

Filed under: Public Programs


Seven Chances: A Meeting of Art and Engineering

Our guest blogger today is film historian Eric Grayson, who writes about the restoration of tonight's film in the Toby, "Seven Chances."

When Buster Keaton’s classic comedy Seven Chances was released in 1925, it contained a brief three-minute sequence in early Technicolor.  In those days, Technicolor was still experimental and used only two of the three primary colors, red and green.  For technical reasons, it was impossible to complete the spectrum and add blue until 1934.

in 1925, Technicolor film prints were made by a clumsy process that involved gluing two pieces of film together.  The red part of the image was actually glued to the green part, and this extra-thick film went through a projector.  It did not work very well, because the glue was acidic and tended to fade the dyes that held the color for the green image.

By the 1970s, there were no original negatives of the film that survived, but a few nitrate prints did.  Copies were made on then-modern Eastman color film, which is also unstable.  By the 1990s, when the first DVD of Seven Chances was issued, the color sequence had faded to a “tomato soup” color that looked like this:

Seven Chances is a classic film, and one that people wanted to be reissued in HD format.  When the Blu-Ray was prepared, Kino went back to the best surviving nitrate print at the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, by this time, the print had faded so much that there was no recoverable color in it.

The 1970s print, while not as sharp and with a great deal of fading, still had some color left in it.  Could something be recovered from this legendary “lost” color sequence?

At the last minute, Kino turned to me and asked if I might be able to help restore the color.  Colorization was out of the question: we wanted to recover the color so it looked as close as possible to the 1925 release.

Since I have a background in Electrical Engineering (with emphasis in digital imaging), I remembered that there are several ways to represent color in an image.  One of them is the traditional way taught in art school, with the mixture of three primary colors.  Another is the way color television works, with a color signal (called chroma) overlaid on a black and white signal.  If I could overlay a sharp image from the new transfer with the better color of the old transfer, then I might be able to get the best of both worlds.  It would involve a great deal of work, and Kino only gave me three days for the project from start to finish. This required not only engineering know-how, but also an artistic eye to re-balance the color so that it once again had the “look” of two-color Technicolor.  That “look” is very subjective.

The final restoration looked like this:

It isn’t perfect, because perfection is no longer possible with the elements that survive.  It is good enough to give us a real feel for how it looked in 1925.

If you are curious about this process, please come to the showing of the complete feature tonight, and see the whole thing for yourself.  I will be introducing the restoration and will have a more in-depth demonstration of how the restoration was done.  Come laugh with Buster Keaton and marvel at the color of 1925!

Filed under: Film, Public Programs, The Toby


Three Award-Worthy Gems at the IMA

Our guest blogger today is Lisa Trifone, Festival Managing Director at Indy Film Fest.

For the uninitiated, some of what is celebrated during the Academy Awards can seem like a whole bunch of hoopla for films no one has ever heard of. But like a day at the flea market, the Oscars are about finding the gems in an otherwise uninspiring landscape, about seeing filmmakers at the top of their craft, films that push the edges of cinematic achievement.

This year, the Indy Film Fest has teamed with the IMA to present three of the diamonds unearthed this year, thanks to the Oscar nominations. A documentary, an animated feature film, and a foreign language film create a line-up of movie-going that would beat any day wandering the booths at an antique mall.

Hell and Back Again

Still from "Hell and Back Again," 2011.

After The Hurt Locker swept the awards season in 2010, the appetite for war films might’ve waned a bit. But this 2011 Sundance Film Festival selection revisits the impact of war on our lives in a more personal, tangible way than maybe any film to date has. The story of one soldier who goes to war and comes home a changed man – physically and mentally – achieves an intimacy that won’t soon leave the viewer.

Chico & Rita

Still from "Chico & Rita," 2010.

Although it’s an animated feature film, this lush, Latin love story is no Pixar playground romp. Having screened at festivals in Toronto, Barcelona and Chicago, the film follows a musician and a singer whose talents bring them together and may ultimately lead them apart. A captivating sight for the eyes and an audio adventure for the ears, Chico & Rita is animation all grown up.


Still from "Bullhead," 2011.

One of five foreign language films competing for Oscar gold, Bullhead is a gritty tale imported from Belgium. It’s not the gun or drug trade at the center of this dark but impressive film, but the cattle industry, where one small farmer struggles to make an honest living. When he’s approached to make an unscrupulous deal, a series of events unfold that will have far-reaching consequences.

Dozens (hundreds!) of films are theatrically released in a calendar year, and the Academy Awards elevate those that are truly an accomplishment in filmmaking. Featuring these nominees in Indianapolis is a chance to experience firsthand the diverse slate of films that are vying for an Oscar with an audience of fellow film lovers.

Tickets are available to each of the three films individually, but we recommend you take advantage of the day and pick up a three-film ticket for just $20. It’s the perfect way to prepare for the big event on Sunday night, which, we humbly suggest, is best enjoyed at the Indy Film Fest’s annual viewing party.

Filed under: Film, Public Programs, The Toby


Charade’s Stone Unturned

Our guest blogger today is film historian Eric Grayson, who writes about the screenplay of tonight's Winter Nights film, "Charade."

"Charade" (1963). Universal Pictures/Photofest ©Universal Pictures.

Charade (1963) is one of those films that has almost everything going for it.  The cast is littered with Academy Award winners: Audrey Hepburn, George Kennedy, James Coburn, and Walter Matthau.  Costume designer Hubert de Givenchy and composer Henry Mancini also brought home Oscars. Cary Grant and director Stanley Donen both deserved them many times and eventually got honorary ones.

Many of these are household names today, at least in households with a few film fans.  At the screening tonight for the Winter Nights Festival, Sandy McLendon will be discussing Givenchy and his fashions.

There is another, less-known, but vitally important contributor to Charade, and he was also an Oscar winner.  Writer Peter Stone’s screenplay is a work of art.  The plot is fairly commonplace: five soldiers stole a stash of gold from the US government in WWII.  One of them stole all of it, and, years later, the rest are ready to kill each other to get it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Film, The Toby


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