Paul Hoecker’s “Abend,” 1897

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Monet, the Dutch Masters, and Mussels. Ya gotta love D.C.

Here are just a few more shots of Washington, D.C. and the National Gallery of Art this past weekend.  As I’ve lamented already, most of my photos did not turn out, so I am stealing many from my more talented friend.  If any of the shots below appeal to you, rest assured that they are not mine.

I’ve come to understand that I simply do not enjoy Monet and Van Gogh as other people do.  Their appeal is lost on me entirely.

But I damn sure enjoy Vermeer and Rembrandt.  Even to an utterly unschooled like my own, the Dutch Masters’ method of rendering light was amazing.  I told my friend that it almost seemed that sections of these paintings had light coming in from behind them … as though there were a hidden bulb beneath the canvas.

And I might have loved the incredible, sweeping, ethereal, dreamlike-but-detailed vistas of the American paintings even more.

That last shot should be recognizable to Civil War buffs, or even just those who can appreciate great war films.  It’s Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ 1897 memorial to Robert Gould Shaw, who filmgoers might remember being portrayed by Matthew Broderick in “Glory” (1989).  It’s huge.  It actually is an immense sculpture that takes up an entire wall, and is much larger than you might understand from its inclusion during the closing credits of the film.

I am precisely the sort of weirdo who enjoys “people watching” too.  And it’s easy at the Gallery, as visitors are so often occupied entirely by their objects of interest.

That gangly looking guy embarrassing himself in the video you see is me at the Canadian Embassy.  (Do we really need embassies with Canada?  We’re so chill.)  The sly Canucks have actually incorporated an … echo chamber into the building’s superstructure.  I know that sounds nuts, but it’s true.  If you stand withing that domed structure, it sounds as though every word you speak is amplified down at you.  It’s actually really incredible.

I was lucky enough to be treated by a rather generous friend to dinner afterward at La Belga.  It is a fantastic Belgian restaurant in the gentrified Eastern Market area above the Capitol, and it’s modeled after traditional European sidewalk cafes.

Good lord!  The “Mussels Diabolique” there were just … too damn good to describe.  They were the best mussels I’d ever had.  And that says a lot from a Long Island kid who grew up on seafood, working or chowing down in seaside restaurants.  Really.

Go there.  You’ll thank me for the recommendation:

http://www.belgacafe.com/

 

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Nolanferatu’s tip for a trippy vintage horror double feature!

Well there’s one thing I can cross off my bucket list.  (There’s a lot on there, and some of it’s weird.)  I finally saw F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: ein Symphonie des Grauens” (1922).

And am I damn glad I did!  I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  I love plenty of classic movies; “The 39 Steps” (1939) and “To Have and Have Not” (1944) are among my all-time favorites.  But I’m accustomed to modern horror — my tastes generally extend only as far back as “The Birds” (1963) and “Night of the Living Dead” (1968).

I waited until I was in just the right mood.  (This is the first silent film I’ve ever seen from start to finish — the only exception being Mel Brooks’ 1976 parody, “Silent Movie.”)  Then I began it shortly before midnight.

The movie just worked for me. It was sublimely creepy.

I think it helped that the grainy, flickering, black-and-white period footage made this expressionist movie utterly atmospheric for a modern viewer.  These, combined with the shots of Max Schreck superbly made up as “Count Orlok,” were damned unsettling.  Schreck also appeared to be a great physical actor, with his gaunt stance and stilted, inhuman movements.  (Was he unusually tall too?)

The vintage footage also enhanced my enjoyment of the movie in a way that Murnau probably couldn’t have expected.  I know this is strange, but … nearly a century later, the thought that occurred to me several times during this movie was this: “Everyone involved in this production is long dead by now.”  Yes, I know that is a morbid thought — I’ve never done that before!  I think it was just the film itself that did that to me — it’s about undeath and immortality, after all.

It also helped that I’d read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897), of which this film is an unauthorized adaptation.  The resulting lawsuit by Stoker’s estate is interesting reading: supposedly all copies of the movie were ordered by the courts to be destroyed, bankrupting Prana, the production company.  But a permanent cult following developed for the few surviving prints.

Anyway, I followed this up with the palate-cleansing “Night on Bald Mountain,” the final segment of Disney’s “Fantasia” (1944).  That combination, too, totally worked for me — I followed up the black-and-white nightmare-fuel of the seminal vampire film with some vivid, incongruously hellish Disney nightmare-fuel.

“Nosferatu” is in the public domain.  You can view the entire film on Youtube at the link below.

 

 

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“The Microbe is so very small …”

“The Microbe is so very small
“You cannot make him out at all,
“But many sanguine people hope
“To see him through a microscope.”

—  Hilaire Belloc, “More Beasts for Worse Children,” 1897

“Too bad the Hovitos don’t know you the way that I do … BELLOC.”

—  Indiana Jones, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” 1981

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