sábado, 22 de março de 2014

Terence Stamp should have been in more movies

Terence Stamp should have been in more movies.  I'm not willing to relinquish this unquestionable truth in favour of diverging opinions on the matter. Which basically means: if you disagree, get the hell out of my blog.

(Or stick around and let me change your mind. You choose. You won’t regret it, I promise.)

Terence Stamp is a fine actor. For the past four decades, he’s been mostly known and recognised for being a character actor, and for his roles in such movies as “Superman” and “The Limey”, films that are polar opposites, but they both showcase his acting chops and his ability to get the audiences to ultimately like – and root for – the bad guy.

But that is just one side to Mr. Stamp’s long lasting career – one that actually started in the late fifties, when he was close friends with Michael Caine and they both travelled throughout Great Britain playing soldier roles in small theatres while getting frisky with girls. Terence Stamp is also the actor who marvelled movie goers in the sixties with his earnest, poignant performances as a young merchant seaman in “Billy Budd”; a terrifying, yet disturbingly attractive sociopath in one of the greatest, most underrated movies of the 1960s, “The Collector”; the highly seductive, and highly deceiving, sergeant Frank Troy from “Far From the Madding Crowd”; and, lastly, a personal favourite: Toby Dammit, the disgruntled actor who falls from grace with the movie industry – and ultimately, with life as well – in Federico Fellini’s small masterpiece of the same name.

Terence Stamp in an actor of incomparable talent, and also of great magnetism and this has been true even of his first appearance onscreen – as juvenile bully Mitchell in the little known “Term of Trial”. Since day one, anyone could have predicted that his was a face destined to great roles, and huge, unquestionable stardom. But something happened between the middle and the end of the sixties, and his career stalled, despite his talent and his looks (which, to be honest, are still breath taking to this day). He admits to it in his autobiography (a must read, even for non-fans, for the valuable life lessons one can get from Mr. Stamp’s impressive existence), and he even offers something in lieu of an explanation - but the question still remains. Why such a talented, handsome actor, one who could have been the name and the face of a generation, fell off the radar at such a crucial point in his career?

He was a movie star ready to happen, with looks and the type of physicality and presence made to be in front of a camera. The perfectly shaped head, the piercing blue eyes, the headful of very dark, shiny hair, the face that looked (and still does) as if sculpted by a highly talented, highly inspired artist – all courtesy of his parents, who, by his own account, gifted the world with "lookers" (I’m willing to bet he was the ‘lookingest’ of the bunch). Not to mention the unequivocal talent and his ability to lose himself and become one with his characters – he was The Collector, he was Toby Dammit (in more ways than one), and he was Frank Troy. He was the innocence and the earnestness personified in ‘Billy Budd’. He can convince you that British thugs can be friendly, even loving; he can sing, and make your heart melt, as the grumpy senior citizen he plays in “Song for Marion”. He can be all of those people, and still be very much himself – an actor, and a human being, ready for everything. A man who is always in the moment, very present and very aware of his surroundings – an ability he further developed during long stays in ashrams in India.

I’m sure Mr. Stamp doesn’t regret anything in his past, and – judging by his own words – he is content with the life he carved for himself. I, for one, am happy to the see him alive and kicking, as talented and handsome as ever, and probably much wiser. Watching his interviews is a serious delight – sensibility and patience ooze from him. I can’t help but wish, though, that he had made more movies at that moment in his career when he had everything going for him. I’ve lost count of the times I have watched “The Collector” and “Toby Dammit” just so I could satisfy my craving for Mr. Stamp. That was a face – and the kind of unmatched talent – that I wish I could see more of, in a variety of incarnations.

I admit: I wish there was more “1960s Terence Stamp” for me to binge on.

Not that I don’t admire the current Terence Stamp, or the one from 20 or 30 years ago. But it’s such a beautiful thing to see an artist, or any incredibly talented person, at the height of their transforming power. I honestly believe that very few actors reached the same level of ingenuity as Mr. Stamp did at any point of his career. Still, I’ll always wonder what happened at that junction in his life. I’ll always wish for more vintage Terence Stamp.

Yet, I’ll always welcome a new movie with the older, wiser, Terence Stamp.

segunda-feira, 3 de março de 2014

How 'Lulu' the app saved me


I know it may seem a little out of place to be writing about 'Lulu' now, after the buzz and the hype over the male rating app for women has significantly simmered down, but there's a point that has been rolling over my brain for a while and it's dying to be gotten across, so why not write a blog about it now (file it under "the year in review" if it makes more sense that way)?

A couple or so years ago I got involved with a guy. It wasn't any guy though. A world-traveling, soft spoken guy. A guy who knew how to cook, who could tell tales of trips around exotic countries like no one I knew before (or since). A man after my own heart, for his love of knowledge and his intense curiosity, paired with a strong desire to be released from every mundane restraint and, once and for all, hit the road and never look back.

Obviously, I fell for him. Hard. A monumental heartache ensued (like any woman who fell for world-traveling types can attest), and a huge sense of loss over something (or, better yet, someone) I never really had, love-wise, took over me. Looking back, I believe I was mourning for the loss of my own adventurous nature, one I had all but suffocated over the years prior to my meeting him. But, by then, I could only feel bad for myself for being in love with a guy I just couldn't have - a guy who would never really be mine.

Cut to the second half of 2013. Everyone and their grandmother was passionately discussing the launch of an app that promised to empower women who thought it would be a good idea to rate guys they had been with, and let the world (or just other women) know if they were worth the consequences of ill-fated one night stands or "relationships" that never made it past the second date.

I must confess I was curious. I wanted to know how some of the guys I had dated up to that point held up to other women's scrutiny. So I downloaded the app and signed in. At first, I was disappointed that most of the guys I'd had taken any kind of romantic interest in were not there, but eventually I found a couple of them. One of them was that guy. The world traveler. The guy who had marveled me with his stories, his calmness, his wisdom, his gentle nature.

That guy, the one who was more and more starting to seem like the one who got away (truth be told, I was coming from a long streak of failed involvements with guys, and the men I was casually seeing at that time didn't really make my heart skip a beat) had a surprisingly low score on 'Lulu'. Not only that, but the comments left by other women on his profile were so demeaning, so downright cruel, but also terribly honest. They stopped short of calling him a loser. And I felt like, all of that time, I had been pining for an illusion.

My perceptions of him were shattered, right then and there, but at the same time, a strong sense of relief took over me. I still believe those women were probably just trying to show great contempt in the worst, most publicly offensive way possible - I wouldn't put it past him to have burned them badly, as he seemed like he could be the type to put on a vanishing act the morning after -, but I couldn't help but feel that those words, those tremendously straightforward expressions of disdain were also a wake up call. Their bad experiences, compared to my beautiful tale of fate, enchantment and lost love, felt like breaking the fourth wall. They made me see a side of him I was fortunate enough not to have been a "victim" of. But that side of him was what made him real for those women. And that made him seem more real to me too.

I'm thankful for all the experiences I've had in the past few years in the love department, good and bad. This particular guy was pivotal in the sense that his life experiences helped me realise what I was missing out on. His knowledge of the world, his thirst for adventure, his willingness to share were a balm to my then aching heart. I learned so much from being with him for just a short time. But it was time for me to live my own experiences. Create my own tales of adventure. It was time for me to make my own life stories.

I've since recovered from the unimpressive record of failed relationships, as I learned that being single wasn't a problem if I could accept myself as I was, love myself with all my faults, and like my own company. I traveled more, I saw things I had been longing to see since I was little. I also learned not to fall in love with impossible guys - men with an expiration date, as I have taken up to calling them. I've learned that I deserve to love - and be loved by - men who are real.

I have a lot to thank that guy for, but I'm the one writing my own life history. Like that Rapture's song, I believe my future's looking bright in all the little pieces of the people that I keep inside, that guy included. But I keep other pieces inside too. And the future looks like a million moments of intense, unspoken happiness that I have already lived, and still am about to live. The happiness I'm living as I write these words - a substantial chunk of it thanks to another guy. I can only wish the same happiness to that guy, and to all the other men that came before and after him.

domingo, 17 de novembro de 2013

"Reflektor", and the myth of the radical rock makeover

(To read the original blog entry in Portuguese, click here.)

Ever since Arcade Fire released its latest album, "Reflektor", I've been pondering about how ungrateful the job of a music critic must be. Having to readily form an opinion on something before it becomes yesterday's papers - in a world where any news are old news before you can say your own name - disturbs the natural flow of appreciation towards art and every one of its manifestations.

I put a large premium on the experience of listening to music. Hitting the "play" button on a record I've never heard before is not something I take lightly. I need to take my time with each track, with each idea that comes out of the record, and with the overarching concept that is normally the infallible mark of a great album. Listening to "Reflektor" for the first time in its entirety was a tense experience. Having gotten acquainted with some of the tracks in installments over the course of a few weeks - most of them were live renditions of the album's songs - I saw myself getting each day less optimistic about the final product the Canadian band was going to offer.

Finally, on Oct. 29th, the day of the official release - having effortlessly resisted the urge to listen to leaked copies of the album - I clicked on the "download" link that came on the email from the official Arcade Fire store and uploaded "Reflektor" into my iPod, in all its double-album glory (not without exasperating myself with the messy track file order - something I took as a bad omen regarding the still unverified qualities of the album).

Having been exposed to the live renditions of some of the tracks - which, seen in retrospect, don't really do the album any justice in my opinion - my initial excitement, and my expectations for the album slowly gave place to a feeling that, maybe, Arcade Fire had hit its first creative plateau. Which, come to think of it, wasn't all that improbable, given the incredible artistic achievement of their previous album, "The Suburbs", with all its cohesiveness and clarity. A musical identity crisis shouldn't come as a surprise after such a masterpiece. It's a dilemma that plagues those who reach the top of their game - where to go from here?

In the first listening sessions, "Reflektor" seemed to be just as clear in its purposes. Arcade Fire, despite having a plethora of members, is mostly centered on the artistic dynamics of the songwriting couple Win Butler and Régine Chassagne. The group's career is, in a way, living testament to their relationship, which started way back in the year 2000 (the band's first EP was released in 2003; Butler and Chassagne were married the same year). Therefore, every one of their albums, in more or less obvious ways, can be seen as portraits of how the two of them evolved as a couple.

What makes "Reflektor" different from their previous albums is an apparent split of what seemed to be a single, unique persona into two different entities, which, in the songs' lyrics, seem to scrutinise each other, in the little space left in a life lived between recording studios and tour buses. Two entities who, maybe, just don't know anymore where one ends and the other one begins - two beings that don't complement each other in their differences so much as they reflect each other. The album title definitely serves a purpose.

But, despite being seemingly clear in its concept, "Reflektor" lacks the strength and the spirit of their previous albums. The earlier desperation to convey a feeling that, charged with the right dose of urgency, called young, sympathetic souls to heed in anthems such as "Rebellion (Lies)" and "No Cars Go" just isn't there anymore. The new album, compared to "Funeral", "Neon Bible" and "The Suburbs", sounds much more like the lament of a band going through a midlife crisis, disturbed by the intrusions of fame and by way more self-conscious matters than youth alienation - such as, maybe, the difficult art of balancing life as rockstars and the ordeals of family life.

None of these things take away from the album's greatest, most inspired moments, in songs such as "We Exist", "Joan of Arc" and "Afterlife", but, contrary to what more pedantic fans might say (the same ones who deemed their first album their best so far, clearly discrediting their subsequent efforts), "Reflektor" isn't, by any means, Arcade Fire's best album. I dare say it isn't even the best album of 2013 - I'd rather concede that honour to another band, the London-based Savages.

Without going into the discussion of what I perceive as being Arcade Fire's first artistic failure - the fact that, in the new album, their musical influences were made much more evident, to the point of hinting towards plagiarism in some songs -, "Reflektor" seems like the wrong album at the wrong time, the work of a band so jaded that, despite being constantly praised as the best rock band in the world today (a title I must agree with by all means, and despite the bands' own shortcomings), hasn't been exposed to the meat grinding machine of the music industry long enough to be suffering so badly with the current state of affairs, artistically speaking.

Before the new album's official release, the band gave away hints indicating a new creative direction, painting themselves with less austere, self-righteous colours to favour an image of a band who could have a good laugh at their own expense. As the hints began pouring, I couldn't help but see the parallels between their transformation and another, more radical one, made by a group that, just as Arcade Fire, also suffered with the stigma of being a band who believes that music can change the world.

In the New Year's Eve of 1989, after two rollercoaster years that saw them at the top of the world - and, not surprisingly, at the mercy of the usual cynicism of music critics - U2 decided to, as Bono put it, "dream it all up again" before they could become a pastiche of who they were, or used to be. After staying off the radar for a little less than two years, the band re-emerged in 1991 with what can be considered not only their best album, but also one of rock's greatest records of all time. "Achtung, Baby" is, for all intents and purposes, an audio masterpiece - which, after the kickoff of an accompanying world tour - ZooTV - also became a visual one - in twelve acts, equal parts mysterious, rich, provocative, shocking, and innovative in its effort to capture the zeitgeist of post-fall-of-the-Berlin-wall Europe (Berlin was also the place where, in the legendary Hansa Tonstudio, the band recorded extensive material of what would later become the final version of the album, and its post-reunification atmosphere heavily influenced the concepts the band explored on the twelve album tracks, most notably in the fantastic, and to this day unparalleled, "Zoo Station").

What differs "Achtung, Baby" and "Reflektor" - besides the latter's shortcomings when compared to the former - is the amount of effort applied by both bands to get rid of restricting labels, so they could both freely explore their vast creative possibilities, and how those efforts measure up to those labels, and the pains of having to carry them around. When, back in 1989, U2 decided to take a temporary leave to think it all over, they already were, matter-of-factly, the greatest rock band in the world at the time. They were a big mainstream player (surely not as big as today), and they gained world recognition alongside giants of their time. As incredibly talented and innovative as they are, and as passionate as their efforts to make music that can change the world might be, Arcade Fire hasn't yet reached the same global status as U2 had nearly 25 years ago.

Looking through that prism, "Reflektor" seems like an over-the-top, even radical response to a problem that may not be that big - or, it may not even exist yet. With the final tracks of "The Suburbs" - and the world tour that followed - one could foretell that something even grander was about to come from the hands of Arcade Fire, a band whose musical and creative resources seemed endless. What "Reflektor" suggests is that those resources aren't endless, and that the band seems resolute in its intent to secure a place in the pantheon of rock giants - "Reflektor" would then be the shortcut to get them there, so the band would finally achieve the universal recognition their fans - and some rock critics - believe they deserve. Judging by a considerable amount of positive reviews and fans' opinions that verge on hysteria in their efforts to defend the band's work in the latest album, the shortcut worked (at least partly).

Judging on musical terms only, "Reflektor" is a good, 8 out of 10 album, with its few bad moments (it is simply inexplicable how such a brilliant band decided to go ahead and include such anemic, subpar songs as "You Already Know" and "Porno" - songs that might have actually worked better as B-sides - in the final album tracklist) countered with instant classics, such as the aforementioned "We Exist", "Joan of Arc" and "Afterlife", and also "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)", and potential dancefloor fixtures such as the title track, "Normal Person", and "Flashbulb Eyes", with its subtle hints of reggae, dub and dancehall.

Aesthetically speaking, however, the band's visual transformation into what can only be described as a gentrified salsa band seems like another chapter in Arcade Fire's overinflated effort to free themselves from the limitations imposed by the critics, their fans' expectations, and their own previous works. What seems to be sadly lost in the band, however, is the fact that, contrary to what they might think, the quality and impact of their past albums didn't force them to dutifully oblige to a recipe for success that would only see them in a future of public ridicule (just look at U2). Their rush to fulfill the prophecy, and actually become the world's greatest rock band, is the very thing that seems to have condemned Arcade Fire to repeat - this time as a pastiche - the formula of the radical musical and aesthetic makeover in order to definitively conquer, and dominate, the current musical landscape.