Monday, 31 December 2018

El mal querer

by Rosalía

I first heard Rosalía’s name a couple months ago from one of my students during a “one-to-one” English conversation session. “Sure, she sings flamenco”, she said, “but young people are actually listening to her”. Needless to say, the very evening I went to YouTube to look Rosalía up and was promptly blown away.

[It was also irritating to see those endless comments criticising her for cultural appropriation, for singing flamenco while being neither gypsy nor andalú, for not singing flamenco (“¡Esto no es flamenco!”), for — whatever. Do yourself a favour, don’t waste your time reading them.]

El mal querer, which was conceived as Rosalía’s university thesis, is an unashamedly conceptual album. Every song has a second title, corresponding to a chapter in an XIIIth-century Occitan romance Flamenca, of which history has preserved neither beginning nor end. Musically, it is all but straightforward — if interested, watch a fascinating although at times a bit too technical analysis by Jaime Altozano (recommended by yet another student). But, before doing that, try to listen to the whole thing several times in a row without distractions. I was doing just that and kept discovering new things.

As great (and it is great) as the studio album is, there is more to Rosalía. Six months after its release, Malamente is a cultural reference as integral to the Spanish landscape as anything you can think of. (Just watch the parodies by Los Morancos and Polònia (Lentamente) and you’ll see what I mean.)

On 31 October Rosalía played a free concert, sponsored by Red Bull, at Plaza de Colón in Madrid. The concert was also streamed live on the Red Bull website. This stream was recorded and published by somebody on YouTube, only to be taken down a few days later (Red Bull blocked it “on copyright grounds”). I was lucky to see it, in its entirety, before it disappeared. The live performance, with dancers and all, seems to be even more impressive than the videos.

I don’t expect Rosalía’s detractors will ever shut up. This matters not. It is not just Spanish “young people” who are listening to her: she is gaining audience worldwide. Now that my beloved Ojos de Brujo, Canteca de Macao and Chambao (all great flamenco fusionistas, but how many people outside of Spain know them?) are no longer performing, it is up to new generation of musicians to make flamenco cool again.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Spider-Man: Un nuevo universo

a film by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman

The only way to get rid of a so-so film aftertaste is to watch a really good one. And so, on Boxing Day (even though nobody celebrates it here) we all went to see the latest instalment of the Spider-Man franchise. And what a great movie it turned out to be!

You don’t need to be a fan of Spider-Man to enjoy it. In fact, it is the only Spider-Person film you’ll ever need, or want, to watch. The superheroes — Spider-Men, Spider-Women and Spider-Ham — are super diverse (to rhyme with “Spider-Verse”), the villains are delightfully evil, the animation is breathtaking... What’s more, it is both very clever and side-splittingly funny. At least, in Spanish it was. What are you waiting for?

According to Wikipedia,

The film’s directors all felt that the film would be one of the few that audiences actually “need” to watch in 3D...
Well we saw it in 2D and it was still great, although in the beginning I was wondering if they were by mistake screening an anaglyph 3D version without giving us the red/cyan glasses. Wrong! This is a deliberate design feature, one of the devices the film creators employed to bring the original printed comic book alive. (Another one is the use of halftones.) To quote the film’s animation co-director Patrick O’Keefe:
To stay true to the medium, we decided to go with a CMYK offsetting as our blur. The film actually has no motion blur in it, but, instead, borrows from certain anime techniques to replicate the feeling of motion with a frame. At first it was a real problem because you’d get a lot of [visual] chatter. Despite our best intentions, you still need a “lens” that can focus. So we decided, all the [sense of] focus is done with a CMYK offsetting like you’d get off a four-pass printing press.
So be warned: your eyes may hurt a bit.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

a film by Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher
Is this the real life or is this just Battersea?
Robert Rankin, Armageddon: The Musical

This Christmas day, Timur and I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody (in English) in Monopol. It turned out to be neither that good nor, and especially nor, that bad as I heard or read.

Of course, it would be naïve to expect a biopic to be 100% accurate. It is not the film’s historical inaccuracies per se, and even the fact that they were rather knowingly (as both Brian May and Roger Taylor were involved in the making) introduced for extra drama or something. Not that the story of the Queen-size band needs any extra drama. Neither it is that the film focuses almost exclusively on Freddie Mercury, as if the other band’s members did not have lives offstage, in spite of the mantra of “the family”. And it is not the happy, of the sorts, ending where “Mr. Bad Guy” finally gets his dad’s approval along the “good thoughts, good words, good deeds” lines. All this is forgivable but, unfortunately, also forgettable. And that is, in my humble opinion, unforgivable. I am not sure if Sacha Baron Cohen would make better Freddie (than Rami Malek’s), but I am quite sure he would make the whole affair funnier, more alive and outrageous and, as such, more truthful to the spirit of the band as flamboyant as Their Majesties.

On the bright side: Malek’s performance is brilliant, the other band members are not bad either, and the music is, well, by Queen.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018


a film by Nicolás Pacheco

Don’t know how but I spent six and a half months in Santander without venturing even once to the cinema. And then, during my few days in Valencia, I just went to see this tragicomedy I’d never heard about before.

Jaulas is the first feature film by Nicolás Pacheco (Seville, 1980); to me, it is a work of a mature master. Perhaps inevitably, the critics note the influences of Kusturica, Almodóvar and Buñuel — and why not, they are all great influences. Yet Pacheco has got a gorgeous style of his own.

I am a bit uncertain as to when the story is set. (Where = Seville, no doubts about that.) It could be taking place right now, yet mobile phones are conspicuous by their absence. 1990s, even 1980s, perhaps? And does it matter?

Watch this film, if you can find where.

Monday, 24 December 2018

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson

One evening in February 2003, Larsson’s character Mikael Blomkvist

went to the cinema to see <the 2001 film> The Lord of the Rings, which he had never before had time to see. He thought that orcs, unlike human beings, were simple and uncomplicated creatures.
One day in November 2018 I picked up a paperback with rather horrid cover design which had been gathering dust in the teacher’s room. As it happened, I also had never before had time to read this book. The English translation of the international bestseller was published in 2008.

I don’t read Swedish so can’t really offer my opinion on “needless prettification” [1] but I also was not impressed by this particular translation. Nor am I into crime novels. Even so, I was gripped. I spent several nights reading into early hours and now, surprise surprise, I want more.

(Meanwhile, the book is back to its former place, waiting for the next reader.)

Ah, Sweden. Beautiful country, it is. Each part of the novel is preceded by an epigraph. Here they are all:

  • Eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man.
  • Forty-six percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man.
  • Thirteen percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside a sexual relationship.
  • Ninety-two percent of women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the incident to the police.
No source of these data is quoted, but the (still depressing) statistics is available elsewhere [2].

Larsson’s wish notwithstanding, the English title makes more sense than Swedish Män som hatar kvinnor, “Men Who Hate Women”, as Lisbeth Salander, “a grown-up Pippi Longstocking”, is a (super)heroine par excellence.

Also, as I just realised, it is an almost perfect Christmas story.

  1. According to Wikipedia,
    Both Larsson’s longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson and English translator Steven T. Murray have said that Christopher MacLehose (who works for British publisher Quercus) “needlessly prettified” the English translation; as such, Murray requested he be credited under the pseudonym “Reg Keeland”. The English release also changed the title, even though Larsson specifically refused to allow the Swedish publisher to do so, and the size of Salander’s dragon tattoo; from a large piece covering her entire back, to a small shoulder tattoo.
  2. The 2014 EU-wide survey shows that famously egalitarian Nordic countries also lead Europe, percent-wise, in terms of physical, sexual and psychological violence against women. This contrasts with self-perception of the frequency of said violence: for instance, only 9% of women in Finland view the gender violence as “very common”, compared to Spain’s 31% and EU-28 average 27%, while 47% of Finnish women experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15 (22% in Spain, EU-28 average 33%).