Friday, February 27, 2009

Odeen, dva, tree, cheteeri!

Scott Kanoff’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot was very impressive, or should I say oppressive: the bare set, instead of making it more open, felt quite claustrophobic, and the main character’s epileptic fits were very believable. Not your average romantic comedy, but very intriguing and captivating. Whenever someone adapts one of those brick-sized Russian novels to the stage and the audience can follow the plot and the exotic names without getting lost, somebody must be doing something right.

It’s only a pity I couldn’t get in yesterday, when it was free. The most pathetic of all is that I spent two hours at the Winfield computer lab and tried to get in twenty minutes before the play. Guess what? No vacant seats at all. It’s a good thing to remember in Austin: when you see a line, get in first and ask questions later.

(Need a footnote for the title? Hint: it's from a Tom Waits song.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"And that is the longing/And this is the book"

Just came back from UT's Performing Arts Center, where I saw
The Book of Longing -- Philip Glass's song rendering of 22 poems by Leonard Cohen. To boot, Glass himself was playing keyboards, together with some eight or ten other musicians and lyric singers.

I must confess I expected a little bit more. Or less: Glass put the poems to very energetic, epic music, not unlike film scores (If you know Cohen's musical output, you know "epic" is hardly the word to describe him; "intimist" and "stripped" are more like it.). It was intriguing, but didn't quite work -- lyrics like "see what you have done to me/as if you give a shit" kind of lose their power when sung by a soprano over cellos and violins. I suppose there is some value in the irony, but that in itself is not enough to engage your interest for one hour and forty minutes.

Cohen's poetry, however, is always worth the ticket. Here is my favorite poem from the performance:

This morning I woke up again

This morning I woke up again
I thank my Lord for that
The world is such a pigpen
That I have to wear a hat

I love the Lord I praise the Lord
I do the Lord forgive
I hope I won't be sorry
For allowing Him to live

I know you like to get me drunk
And laugh at what I say
I'm very happy that you do
I'm thirsty every day

I'm angry with the angel
Who pinched me on the thigh
And made me fall in love
With every woman passing by

I know they are your sisters
Your daughters mothers wives
If I have left a woman out
Then I apologize

It's fun to run to heaven
When you're off the beaten track
The Lord is such a monkey when
You've got Him on your back

The Lord is such a monkey
He's such a woman too
Such a place of nothing
Such a face of you

May E crash into your temple
And look out thru' your eyes
And make you fall in love
With everybody you despise

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oh Captain, my Captain!

I saw Robin Williams live. I can die now. Seriously, as far as I'm concerned, he's the funniest man alive. In an age when you say "comedy" and people think Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller, Mr. Williams is the one guarantee of good laughs. He started with a "Good night everybody. It's great to be in a place that's weird!" -- and he's from San Francisco, mind you. Of course, that was his lightest take on Austin for the night (not to mention his jokes about Texas as a whole).

In case you missed it, here are some pearls from the show, also printed in the program:

"Global warming is Mother Nature having hot flashes."

"The Chinese make everything -- even the 'Free Tibet' stickers."

"Bill Clinton found the only Jewish girl who couldn't get a stain out."

"If you believe in Creationism, look at the platypus. There must've been an open bar in heaven."

My favorite joke from the show went more or less like this:

"Now in the Vatican, when the Cardinals choose the new Pope, they go inside their little house and smoke comes out of the chimney. You can't help but wonder, 'what are they doing in there?' [Robin Williams mimics pot smoking] 'Hey man, I got an idea, hear me out, it's really funny. The last Pope was Polish, right? Let's have a--'"

If you can guess how that ends, great. If not, it doesn't matter. But you should probably read more.

[Here's a small video preview for you]

With a big hug to Burkard, Kirsten, Richard, Anna, Goez and all my German friends.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

First rainy day in six months!

Rain in Austin, what do you know?

It did rain since I arrived here (and even snow), but I don't think we've had anything that would qualify as a "rainy day": most of the rain was really a light drizzle, and always after midnight. It was almost as if Austin rain was specially commissioned for environmental purposes, so regular and unobtrusive it was.

But today we've had the actual experience of needing an umbrella to go to class. Now this feels more like home to me.

In Rio Grande do Sul (South of Brazil), temperatures are quite similar to Austin (a bit colder, in fact), but the weather is pretty unpredictable. As far back as the 19th century we've had this saying that the Brazilian South had all four seasons in one day, and things haven't changed much since then, apparently. The most regular our weather gets is a crescendo of heat, with each day hotter than the previous one, until after five or six days it pours dramatically. That "heat cluster" happens pretty often, though it is not rare for it to be broken by a cloudy or even a cold, windy day.

But I had other reasons to appreciate the rain today: it made me feel like enjoying this cold weather a bit more, before Summer kicks in and we're boiling in our own sweat again.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Open air ATMs

This is the kind of thing Brazilians think only happens in the movies: open ATMs. In Brazil, ATMs are usually inside small kiosks with a glass door that opens when you slide your card through the lock. For safety reasons, you understand.

It’s really a matter of culture. Even the small towns in Brazil’s countryside, where years go by without any serious crimes, shelter their ATMs similarly. By the same token, dangerous places in the US like Detroit or New York keep their ATMs in the open, despite safety risks – see, for instance, the 1992 movie Night and the City, which begins with DeNiro being cornered at an ATM by two muggers. He found a very clever strategy to save his neck on that one, by the way (watch the movie to find it out, if you haven’t already). But I don’t think Austinites would need to resort to that.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Live Cinema Capital of The World

Let's skip the obvious tourist sales pitch about the city's live music scene (even though I'm utterly convinced it's not the least bit exaggerated) -- Austin has got to be the biggest movie industry city in the US after Los Angeles. Sure, we've got to think of New York and Shreveport, too, but you didn't come here for the statistics, did you? Good, because I have none. I prefer to support my claim with the following:

a) The Austin Film Festival
Possibly the only American film festival focused on screenwriting (certainly the biggest).

b) Austin Studios
Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Richarld Linklater are just a few of the heavyweights making regular use of Austin's 5-soundstage studio complex.

c) UT's RTF program
That's "Radio, Television and Film", FYI. One of the biggest in the country. Internship in LA mandatory.

d) The Alamo Drafthouse Theater
With frequent special screenings of older gems, often with directors and actors in attendance, the Alamo is arguably Austin's greatest asset to educate the public, expanding viewers' horizons beyond the latest blockbusters playing at the multiplexes. If that doesn't assure the emergence of new talents and an audience receptive to them, nothing will.

I could go on: SXSW has a movie component of its own, and Austin's independent video stores (Vulcan Video, I Luv Video) deserve kudos as well. But I think it's clear by now Austin has managed to build a thriving, consistent movie scene for professionals and public alike.

Don't take it for granted. It's a very unique scene. Compare it with Brazil: it's nearly impossible to produce and distribute a feature film without government grants or investments from Globo Networks, our controversial national media giant (roughly speaking, think Fox News with very little competition). By the same token, the Brazilian public is not as engaged: the national average viewer goes to the movies twice a year (Porto Alegre has the highest average in the country: four times a year). Of course, you've got to take statistics with a grain of salt. They are an average between people like me, who go to the movies at least six times a month, and people who'd rather stay home and watch TV, for whatever reason. But no matter how you look at it, what it all adds up to is that movie opportunities in Austin are unbelievably abundant when compare to other places (and I don't mean just developing countries: ask British or French filmmakers, it's no picnic in Europe either).

What makes a place movie-friendly is how much cinema has become a part of people's lives. If it feels too extraordinary, it hasn't been properly integrated into the city's reality. That's what makes Austin unique: it doesn't feel as big or special as it actually is. Austin makes it seem easy.

Hopefully this picture will illustrate how great it feels to be a part of it:

Celso with Chazz Palminteri after a screening of
The Usual Suspects
at the Alamo Ritz. August, 2008.

Welcome to my blog

It took me six months to put this blog together. That's how busy you can get in Austin. You've heard the cliché that there's always something going on in Austin, and that's certainly true (even though twelve hours of UT coursework, in my case, also have something to do with it). But now it's up and running. Long live Celso in Austin! (drumroll, please)

I'm Celso Lazaretti, an international exchange student at UT. I'm from Brazil (Yes, I know it's cool. And by the way, it's pronounced "sell-so"). Differences are to be expected whenever one moves abroad, for whatever period of time, and there are certainly many differences between my native Porto Alegre and Austin. This blog will feature the ones I find most intriguing, as well as general insights from my experience here in Austin.

Here's a little map to help you get your bearings:

When U2 released The Joshua Tree, bassist Adam Clayton said that up until that moment, they had been learning how to be U2, and that now they were ready to see what U2 could do. That's more or less how I feel about being in Austin. I've grown quite fond of the city since I arrived here last August. And now I've got a thing or two to say about it.

Welcome to my blog, and enjoy your stay.