30 março 2007

The Taste of Color

The Art of Bjorn Lindberg

Europe Smokes


Publishing company McGraw-Hill announced yesterday the release of a new language-learning utility compatible with iPods called the iSpeak. The series currently comes in 4 languages: Spanish, French, German, and Italian, and is available on CDs to be downloaded into your iPod for both audible and visual reference.

Perhaps the best thing about it is the way you find phrases; if you're familiar with iPod navigation, it's a breeze. Just dial up the Artist to choose a theme (restaurant, perhaps) and then the Album (ordering, for example) to find "I'd like a cup of fresh fruit with my beer, please."

Quisiera una taza de fruta fresca con mi cerveza, por favor.

28 março 2007

Our Daily Bread

In sealed rooms, as sterile as computer microprocessor factories, chicks hatch while being closely monitored. A huge hose sucks salmon out of a fjord. Metal teeth chomp up fields of sunflowers which, thanks to chemicals, have withered at just the right time. On mechanized conveyor systems, chickens are cut up and pigs are gutted in seconds, although cows take a little longer.

OUR DAILY BREAD reveals the little-known world of high-tech agriculture. In a series of visually stunning, continuously tracking, wide-screen images that seem right out of a science-fiction movie, we see the places where food is cultivated and processed: surreal landscapes optimized for agricultural machinery, clean rooms in cool industrial buildings designed for maximum efficiency, and elaborate machines that operate on a 'disassembly line' basis.

There's little space for humans here. They almost seem like flaws in this system: undersized and vulnerable, though they adapt as best they can, with chemical suits, respirators, ear protectors, and helmets. They do the jobs for which machines have not yet been invented.

Dispensing entirely with explanatory commentary or 'talking-head' interviews, OUR DAILY BREAD unfolds on the screen like a disturbing dream: an endlessly fascinating flow of images, an insistent gaze, accompanied only by the persistent industrial soundtrack—whirring, clattering, booming, slurping—of the ingenious marvels of mechanization employed by agri-business.

While this remarkable documentary will likely engender fascination, awe and even shock amongst viewers, OUR DAILY BREAD simply aims to show the industrial production of food as a reflection of our society's values: plenty of everything, made as quickly and as efficiently as modern technology permits.

Trailers, pics and website are here

27 março 2007

An idiot's guide to French cuisine - by Mr Bean

On my recent return from an excellent gastronomic romp through France, what an honour it was to be begged by the editor of Food Monthly to contribute to these highly esteemed and extremely posh pages, though the words 'time', 'ruddy' and 'about' rose and browned soufflé-like in the hotly miffed fan-oven of my mind (food writers, watch your backs).Said editor's grovelling aside, she'd come to the right man and I'll tell you why. It's because I'm probably the only French food expert that'll tell you straight that there's no mystery to the blinking stuff. You don't even have to understand the lingo for crying out loud. 'Oui', 'non' and 'gracias' are all you need to get yourself fed and watered in France and if you're too stupid to remember those three words then pointing at something on a menu and then at your gob is 'feed me' in anybody's language!

Quite frankly, given the Frenchies haven't got enough of their own words and so have stolen and misspelled loads of ours, all sorts of recognisable delicacies can be teased out of the most unhelpful of Parisian menus. 'Moules Mariniere', for instance; any twit with a vague knowledge of the alphabet can get from 'Moules' to mules and 'Mariniere' to mariner and safely come out with seafaring donkeys. Another squeeze of the old loaf and bingo: seahorses! They don't get my taste buds a jumpin' but there you go.

'Gratin Dauphinois'. There's another one. Grated dolphin. See? Easy. On a more sinister note, 'Les Poissons' on a menu is a friendly warning that Les, the chef, is on tonight, Paris St Germain are three-down to Man-U, so we Brits better check our garlic seahorses for strychnine.

You get my point, I trust. There's no need to starve over there if you keep your wits about you.

It was deep in the lovely French countryside that I found myself slightly more comfortable with the nosh, I must say - the TGV train from Gare de Lyon firing me into its depths at 200 miles an hour to halt at some delightful, though unpronounceable, rural village where walrus-faced men rode bicycles and ancient, dust-drenched women trudged along, towering stacks of firewood on Gallic shoulders too tired to shrug. (Food writers, beat that, suckers.) T'was amid this rustic idyll that I fell upon a deliciously exquisite delicacy the natives call 'coq au vin'. (That's chicken in wine if you're thick. And if you're not thick, it's still chicken in wine.) I don't know if you can get it over here but it's nothing you can't knock up at home. Gordon Ramsay, wash your mouth out and write this down:

Coq au vin

1. Get a chicken drunk on red wine.

2. Wait until the chicken falls asleep and wring its neck. Or get an alcoholic chicken that was dying anyway. Or get one from the shops (recommended).

3. Fry onions and garlic in a big pan.

4. Add dead chicken.

5. Add bottle of red wine.

6. Simmer for two hours.

7. Add more wine.

8. Add garlic.

9. Simmer for another couple of hours.

10. Go out and get more wine.

11. Add more wine.

12. Boil for three hours then serve (with glass of red wine if you've got any left).

It's the absolute dog's trousers. Have that one on me, Gordon, you'll clean up with it.

My esteemed editor reminds me that I haven't said anything about the country's fine wines. She's right. I wasn't going to but ... Oh, all right then, she's the boss and I want her to plug my book at the end.

French wine

French wine or 'plonk' as the natives call it, like all wines from around the world, tastes like cough medicine to me. Cook with it, fine, but just half a glass down my gullet and I'm bumping into the furniture and jabbering like a basket case. So that's the wine covered then.

There is a certain item of French cuisine I advise the inexperienced traveller to steer well clear of: 'Fruits de Mer'. Fruits de Ruddy Nightmare, more like. This stuff is evil on a plate with ice. Ice! It arrives on a three-tiered-platter contrivance writhing with seriously ugly marine crustaceans hellbent on eating you alive. Literally. They're alive and they literally eat you! The little monsters sneak off your plate and take chunks out of your wrists while you're grappling with a tricky artichoke or something. Look, I'll try anything once: snails, frogs' legs, larks' tongues, a sparrow on a stick. Ox bowels? Bring 'em on. But food that physically attacks your person? You can stuff it. It's typical of French chefs, if you ask me. They flout every health and safety directive sent from Brussels and set raw, man-eating grub on you simply to save a few euros on the ruddy gas bill.

And artichokes! What's that about? Dismantling one is a three-hour surgical procedure ending with chucking most of the stupid thing into your finger bowl. And no wonder. It's a ruddy thistle, for crying out loud!

So the only mystery about French food, as far as I'm concerned, is why anyone eats half the blooming stuff. For a nation that gets so much right; art, culture, crochette, culottes, how does it get so much wrong? Driving on the wrong side of the road and stinky cheese, for instance. The country's knee-deep in cheese and it's really not anything to write home about. Try this at home if you've got the stomach for it (Gordon, get out that pen and paper):

Stinky French cheese

1. Take an ordinary piece of English (non-smelly) cheese.

2. Prepare a smelly sock by wearing it for two or three days.

3. Insert cheese into sock.

4. Leave in sunny spot in the garden for a week.

5. Remove cheese from sock with gloves and tongs before serving, and enjoy friends' comments such as: 'Hey, this cheese really stinks. Is it French?'

On re-reading my excellent article thus far, I feel I'm possibly painting a too disparaging picture of the country's eating habits. After all, I was but merely passing through, as 'twere. For all I know, Monsieur Pierpoint, the local brassiere owner, may well sit down with the kitchen staff and tuck into Cumberland sausage and mash of an evening while the rest of us are locked in mortal combat with the ruddy Fruits de Mer out front. Les, the chef, probably enjoys fish and chips behind closed curtains with Madam Les and the nippers in front of the football. Could the French really be fobbing us off with home-grown haute cuisine while actually tucking en masse into meat'n' two like the rest of us? It puts a whole new slant on secret eaters, doesn't it?

Well, two can play at that game, when you think about it. In fact, next time I go through the Channel Tunnel I'll be armed with a suitcase stuffed with sandwiches. Oh yes. Then once seated in some extremely posh brassiere off the rue de Longchamp, or somewhere sounding just as silly and having successfully ordered a grated dolphin (via the old 'point to menu then to gob' technique) I've got at least 15 minutes to demolish a couple of egg-and-cress sandwiches under the table. Once replete, and the snooty waiter having returned (with something looking nothing like a grated dolphin), my task is to now dispose of whatever muck's on the plate in front of me.

Am I daunted? Am I buggered. I've found most posh restaurants to be amply equipped with handy receptacles in which to dispose of inedible food morsels. The floral table arrangement, obviously. The depths of a silver sugar bowl. The palatial Gucci handbag belonging to the woman sitting behind. And, if I'm lucky, when the irritating accordion player sidles up to serenade her with some Parisian dirge or other ... Plop! What's left slips off the plate into the back of his pantaloons. Bingo. Bring on the second course. But that's next time. This year's gastronomic romp is far from over.

I arrive in Cannes, on the French Riviera, in time for its famous film festival, where, being the kind of man I am, I'm soon rubbing shoulders with the cream of the moving picture industry. It was while in conversation with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola (a director I think), Stevie Spielberg (ditto) and Gerry Depardieu (?) that I discovered what I'd been looking for all along. For whilst waiters zigzagged amidst the stars on the red carpet, foisting foie gras and truffle vol-au-vents on unsuspecting foreigners, Stevie Spielberg invited me to his hotel suite for hamburgers and Coke! He'd had them flown in from Hollywood fresh that day! They were absolutely brilliant, just like English burgers but better.

We all had a good laugh about that later, though, because, as Frank Coppola pointed out, there's a dozen blinking burger bars on every corner in Cannes! How we laughed ... and Gerry Depardieu (French actor, as it turned out) announced he was opening a ruddy fish and chip shop on the seafront so French people could get what they've been missing out on all these years! My kind of guy, Gerry. I stuck around yapping with Nicole Kidman for a bit then came home.

So like I said, there's no need to starve in France if, like me, you've got half a brain cell. Happy eating, gracias and adieu.

20 rural retreats in Portugal

Spain has its haciendas, Portugal its quintas - country estates with bags of character. Some are hidden in the hills, some on the coast, some cheap, others very chic, but glorious scenery and a slower pace of life come as standard. In this preview from the new edition of his book, Alastair Sawday picks his favourites.

Rustic chic

Quinta das Sequoias Estremadura

Hidden in a deep forest, this long, two-storey white quinta, dating from 1870, is full of delights and dream-like views of palaces and castles. Corridors and walls are adorned with paintings and sculptures from some of Portugal's foremost artists, alongside fascinating older pieces from all over the world. Bedrooms are individual, with carved beds and polished mahogany furniture, with rugs on tiled floors. In front of the house the garden descends on lawned terraces, with pergolas and lush foliage, to a burbling stream below and a swimming pool with views for miles.

· Estrada de Monserrate, Estremadura (00 351 219 230342); Doubles €145-€160. (Unless stated, prices are per night for a double room with breakfast.)

Quinta de Alcaidaria-Mór Ribatejo

The wisteria-clad manor has been in the family for 300 years and is every inch the grand country house: stately cedar-lined drive, box-hedged gardens, 14th-century chapel. The main house is a cool, gracious building - light streams into lofty, elegant rooms with marble floors, arches and delicate plasterwork. An attractive self-catering house is just up the hill, while the B&B rooms are in the main building - and very special they are, too. Expect antique dressers, beds, comfortable chairs, perhaps a grand bathtub with clawed feet. Add to this great views, a peaceful pool and the natural kindness of your English-speaking host and you begin to get the measure of this charming place.

· Ourem, Ribatejo (00 351 249 542231); Doubles €90-€120.

Quinta Dimalago Algarve

Silves is the oldest city in the Algarve and Quinta Dimalago has a fantastic view of its Moorish castle, gorgeous when floodlit at night. The big, beautiful, tropical garden with its natural pool and waterfalls is on a migrating path for birds and is a wildlife haven. Choose between the renovated 200-year cottage - stunning with its Sri Lankan doors, Dutch antiques and Moroccan suite - and the newly built quinta, whose modest shell hides a strikingly decorated and superbly well-furnished and equipped interior.

Generous rooms have natural ventilation, while solar panels and rainwater harvesting reflect the green consciences of the relaxed and delightful Dutch owners. They live opposite and welcome you on arrival with a glass of sparkling wine. Heaven.

· Silves, Algarve (00 351 282 445776); Self-catering cottage for four from €595 per week, house for 12 from €1,950.

Quinta da Fonte Bispo Algarve

Enjoy the benign climate and closeness to the sea in the gentle hills of the Algarve hinterland. This old farmstead is a long, low, white building with pretty chimney stacks and broad bands of blue around doors and windows. Parts of the farm are 200 years old but it has been completely renovated. The six suites in the converted outbuildings, fronting a cobbled central patio, were designed with families in mind: open-plan sitting rooms have beds which double up as sofas and open fires for cosy winter days. The restaurant serves Portuguese food (delicious cheeses and chorizo), and there is a sauna, table-tennis, pool and mini-gym.

· Fonte do Bispo, Tavira, Algarve (00 351 281 971484); Doubles €65-€95.

Quinta da Bouca d'Arques Minho

In the grounds of a grand, 300-year-old manor, these modern apartments are sheer minimalist chic. There are old stone walls, contemporary glass panels and modern art, while the luxurious bathrooms have hand-painted tiles, deep baths and fluffy towels. Start the day with breakfast on your own terrace or in the sitting room with its deep sofas; then move to the wooden loungers by the pool before exploring the courtyards and vineyards.

· Vila de Punhe, Minho (00 351 226 179431); Apartments sleeping two from €595 per week.

Close to the coast

Quinta dos Raposeiros Estremadura

Surfing is the owner Tiago's passion. Since childhood, he's searched for the perfect wave. Together with his wife, Sao, he spent two years looking for the ideal spot to live and here it is, perched on a hill. Views sweep down a pine-strewn valley to the beaches around Ericeira, one of Europe's finest surfing spots and a 20-minute walk.

The views, the tantalising waves, the sun and the walks are very special. The modern apartments, neatly tucked in a low building of peachy coloured stone, are fresh, simple and uncluttered; their style is clean and crisp, their colours bright and sunny. Think bold paintings, cool tiled floors, large French windows and sleek wooden furniture.

· Marvao, Estremadura (00 351 93 616 2638); Doubles €100.

Quinta das Achadas Algarve

The approach is a delight, through groves of olive, almond and orange trees that give way to a subtropical garden where maguey and palm, geranium and bougainvillea, pine and jasmine jostle. The living is easy here; there's a heated saltwater pool, a cabana with 'honesty' bar, a hydromassage Jacuzzi and a small children's playground.

The bedrooms, each with a small terrace, are in a converted barn and stables and overlook the gardens. They are Algarve-rustic, with wooden ceilings, white walls, modern art and beautiful country antiques. In colder weather you breakfast in a cosy dining room but most of the year it's mild enough to sit out on the rooftop terrace with views.

· Estrada da Barragem; Algarve (00 351 282 798425); Doubles €80-€110.

Quinta de Santo Amaro Estremadura

Looking out to the Arrabida mountains, this gracious quinta has a deliciously homely feel. The lovely garden has shady walks and a discreet pool. It's the sort of place you won't want to leave. Breakfast is a help-yourself feast of homemade breads, jams, cheeses, eggs and bacon, home-grown oranges and the neighbour's strawberries when in season. Lisbon is an easy drive, the beaches of the Setúbal peninsula are nearby, and the local Fonseca wine cellars are well worth a peek.

· Aldeia da Piedade, Estremadura (00 351 212 189230); Doubles €90. Apartment sleeping six from €255 (€1,680 per week).

Quinta da Cebola Vermelha Algarve

This old farmhouse, 15 minutes from the sea and away from the hustle of some of the Algarve's resorts, has lots of personality. Much of the mood is Moroccan and the bedrooms sparkle with colour. The swimming pool is huge, set about with straw parasols and smart recliners, and with a lawn fragrant with orange trees to one side - bliss for a lunchtime snack. There are also some very gnarled and magnificent old olive trees. Let our inspector have the last word: 'I defy anyone not to like it here: it is utterly gorgeous.'

· Campina, Algarve (00 351 289 363680); Doubles from €95.

Quinta das Vinhas Madeira

Stay at one of the oldest manor houses on this Portuguese island. It is flanked by the mountains and has views that sweep over its vineyards to the sea. The 17th-century homestead - all flagstone floors, wooden ceilings and hand-painted tiles - exudes tradition. The owner's family, of English origin, once ran the biggest sugar cane mill in Madeira. Now the dining room - where food and wines are delicious - is in the old kitchen, and the old prayer room is a reading room; both are adorned with elegant antiques. This peaceful and gracious atmosphere extends to the lush grounds, where you may stroll among the tulip trees and the angel's trumpets, and perhaps pluck a passion fruit or two. Then back for a glass of the quinta's very fine madeira.

· Lombo dos Serroes - Est Calheta, Calheta, Madeira 00 351 291 824086; Doubles €75-€100. Cottages sleeping two or three from €560 per week.

Bargain boltholes

Quinta da Mata Chaves

The food at this beautifully-restored 17th-century house is a treat: for breakfast, miniature pasties, homemade bread, Chaves ham and smoked sausage; for dinner, served at a table for 12, a hearty stew perhaps, and a good wine from Valpacos. The bedrooms are equally special. The chestnut floors, dark panelled ceilings, stone walls and hand-painted tiles are the perfect backdrop for Arraiolos rugs, crocheted bedcovers and antiques, and the lingering scent of woodsmoke add yet more character. In the well-tended gardens are two tennis courts and a pool. There are bikes to borrow and peaceful walks through the wooded slopes of the Brunheiro mountains.

· Estrada de Valpacos, Chaves, Tras-os-Montes (00 351 276 340030); Doubles €80.

Quinta do Rio dao Beira

This is perfect for lovers of the great outdoors: the setting is a dream. The house hides in a stand of old oaks on the banks of the small lagoon. Bedrooms are not large but have a sunny feel; bathrooms are modern, and there are lots of verandas and captivating views down to the river. In summer, life is spent mostly outdoors; birdsong at breakfast, and, at night, the lights of Santa Comba dao twinkle across the water. With canoes, a rowing boat and a windsurfer for guests to borrow, this would be an idyllic place for a sporting holiday.

· Santa Comba dao, Beira (00 351 232 892784); Doubles €55-€65.

Quinta Vale de Marmelos Alentejo

Here you can see Spain from your bedroom window, across orange, lemon and olive groves. It's a farmstay, set in a neo-gothic building with extraordinarily high ceilings. Friendly and impressively integrated in local life, owners Tim and Ann are English and strike a beautiful balance between being welcoming and leaving you to your own devices. Rooms have their own separate entrance and are simple and clean, furnished with Alentejan hand-painted furniture; ask for the one with a veranda. In the rambling, shady grounds are a pig, sheep, snoozing cats and, come twilight, a resident pair of tawny owls. Oh, and a brand new pool.

· Elvas, Alentejo (00 351 268 626193); Doubles €55-€75.

Quinta de Sao Vicente Minho

The dogs dozing in the shade set the pace for this traditional bougainvillea-clad Minho farmhouse, ideal for those who love peace and tranquillity, country walks and birdsong. An enormous drawing room feels more like a conservatory, with high windows opening on two sides, family photos, a woodburner and plenty of sofa space. The dining room is off to one end; at breakfast there will be a big spread and a chance to admire the large collection of old porcelain. In warmer weather you eat out under the orange trees with views of surrounding hills and the farm's kiwi fruit vines. Bedrooms are large and filled with unusual antiques.

· Lugar de Portas, Minho (00 351 253 632466); Doubles €70.

Quinta do Passadouro Douro

This is a typical port-wine producing quinta, perfectly positioned above a small river, imbued with a homely yet stylish decorative touch. Ronald, the Dutch owner, is ex-wine trade and organises walking and wine tours. His partner, Jet, cooks, and dinners are great fun. Your hosts live in the next village but return to prepare a fine breakfast before you've stirred from your pillow. Views stretch over the valley to the vines beyond and through the olive and juniper trees you can glimpse the river below. It's bliss to laze in a deckchair on the lawn, dine on the terrace, or catch the train at Pinhao for a trip along the douro. The whole place is exceptionally peaceful and relaxing, and great value for money.

· Vale de Mendiz, douro (00 351 254 731246); Doubles €62.50.

Away From It All

Quinta do Barranco da Estrada Alentejo

Hugging the shore of one of the Alentejo's largest lakes, the quinta is heaven if you love wild beauty. The whole area has a micro-climate that keeps the water warm enough for a long swimming season and nurtures an amazing range of plant and animal life; visit in spring and the wild flowers will enchant you. The eco-friendly renovation of the original low house took a decade to complete and then a row of guest rooms was added. They are light, cool and pleasingly simple and their terraces have stunning lake views. There is a vine-festooned terrace for sultry summer days, while a further series of terraces have been planted with hibiscus, oleander, palm, jasmine, plumbago and cactus. Follow the path to the jetty where you can canoe, fish for crayfish, sail, water-ski or walk the shoreline.

· Santa Clara a Velha; Alentejo (00 351 283 933065); Doubles €70-€150.

Quinta das Mestras Beira

The old farmstead in its hillocky seven acres is surrounded by pine forests and olive groves; the Serra da Estrela, Portugal's highest mountain range, rises nobly beyond. Bedrooms are named after the colour of each of their sloping wooden ceilings: Green, Yellow and Pink. Green is perhaps the nicest, with its own terracotta bathroom and ochre-painted wrought-iron beds. Up on the hill, sharing a bathroom, are two self-catering cabanas - simple and private. A fun, wacky place to stay in one of Portugal's prettiest green corners.

· Nogueira do Cravo, Oliveira do Hospital, Beira (00 351 238 602988); Doubles from €33. Cabanas sleeping two €200 per week.

Quinta da Pindella Minho

Though you're close to Porto, it's blissfully quiet here. The 80-hectare organic farm is in a wide and beautiful valley and has been in the family for 600 years. The self-catering cottages are hidden well away from each other, and from the lovely 15th-century main house. Soutelo, the largest cottage, is 17th-century, solid and traditional - a typical Minho dwelling. Built of honey-coloured stone and facing south, it has big comfortable bedrooms with separate bathrooms and a well-equipped kitchen with masses of space. Bouca, once the farm manager's house, is contemporary, elegant and truly charming. Whichever you choose, you will be looked after by a delightful bunch of young people in love with nature, and eager that you should enjoy life on their farm.

· Vila Nova de Famalicao, Braga, Minho (00 351 252911204); Self-catering cottages for four to six people from €75-€160.

Quinta do Rio Touro Estremadura

The Reino family have planted mor than 5,000 trees on their farm in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Lush organic gardens heave with fruit - peaches, bananas, strawberries and, above all, limes. Feel free to pick your own. Scented jasmine tumbles over the entrance and other fragrant bushes tempt you into the gardens day and night. Choose between the rooms in the main house with their balconies and sea views, or go for a more private room in the little house at the foot of the garden. The locally sourced and organic breakfasts are outstanding: home-laid eggs, local pastries, fresh cheeses, their own honey, ginza jam and pumpkin chutney.

· Sintra - Cabo da Roca, Estremadura (00 351 219 292862); Doubles €100-€200.

Quinta da Dourada Alentejo

Irrepressible Nuno has left careers in bullfighting and international publishing to restore his heritage: a pretty farm in a very lush setting. The apartments are single-storey and rustic in style, with dark beams criss-crossing ceilings and simple rugs softening black slate floors. Walls are white, spotlights sparkle, sofas have throws and table lamps create a cosy glow. There are smart white showers, teensy kitchenettes and white linen bread bags to hang outside your door for the morning delivery. Pathways edged with dry-stone walls lead to the remains of an old sweet-chestnut plantation and a blissful pool.

· Serra de S Mamede, Alentejo (00 351 937 218654); Doubles €80. Apartments sleeping two €560 per week.

The Observer

That Film’s Real Message? It Could Be: ‘Buy a Ticket’

Three weeks ago a handful of reporters at an international press junket here for the Warner Brothers movie “300,” about the battle of Thermopylae some 2,500 years ago, cornered the director Zack Snyder with an unanticipated question.

“Is George Bush Leonidas or Xerxes?” one of them asked.

The questioner, by Mr. Snyder’s recollection, insisted that Mr. Bush was Xerxes, the Persian emperor who led his force against Greek’s city states in 480 B.C., unleashing an army on a small country guarded by fanatical guerilla fighters so he could finish a job his father had left undone. More likely, another reporter chimed in, Mr. Bush was Leonidas, the Spartan king who would defend freedom at any cost.

Mr. Snyder, who said he intended neither analogy when he set out to adapt the graphic novel created by Frank Miller with Lynn Varley in 1998, suddenly knew he had the contemporary version of a water-cooler movie on his hands. And it has turned out to be one that could be construed as a thinly veiled polemic against the Bush administration, or be seen by others as slyly supporting it.

In the era of media clutter, film marketers increasingly welcome controversy as a way to get attention for their more provocative fare. The companies behind the Dixie Chicks documentary “Shut Up & Sing” and “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” for example, positively reveled in it.

But the dance can be more delicate when viewers find a potentially divisive message in big studio movies that were meant more to entertain than enlighten. The danger is that an accidental political overtone will alienate part of the potential audience for a film that needs broad appeal to succeed.

Spontaneous debate on the Internet and around the office can be a film’s best friend when, as with a picture like “The Passion of the Christ,” even potential negatives, like accusations of anti-Semitic undertones, feed curiosity.

“Whatever the question is, it’s wonderful for the movie,” said Peter Sealey, a former Columbia Pictures executive who is now an adjunct professor of marketing at Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker School of Management.

Yet studios can be wary of seeming to foster it. Walt Disney largely sidestepped arguments about whether its Pixar-created animated film “The Incredibles” was quietly channeling Ayn Rand. “We feel that the longer we either refute or debate a subject like that, the more the story will live,” said Dennis Rice, senior vice president of marketing for Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures unit. “So we chose to do nothing.”

Executives at Warner, which is releasing “300” in the United States on Friday declined to discuss the studio’s approach in marketing the film. Billboards and trailers, seeming to mirror Disney’s tack with “The Incredibles,” have focused heavily on the picture’s battle action and visual flamboyance — “Prepare for Glory!” runs the most oft-repeated advertising line — while avoiding some deeper story elements that are stirring unexpectedly heated reactions, especially abroad.

Shortly after his press-junket grilling Mr. Snyder — an established commercials director, whose best-known previous credit was a remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” — ran into some surprising reactions at the Berlinale film festival in Germany. Some attendees walked out of a screening there, while others insisted on seeing its presentation of the Spartans’ defense of Western civilization in the face of a Persian horde as propaganda for America’s position vis-à-vis Iraq and Iran. (By contrast it drew applause at a Los Angeles screening last month.)

“Don’t you think it’s interesting that your movie was funded at this point?” Mr. Snyder recalled being asked in Berlin. “The implication was that funding came from the U.S. government.”

When a Feb. 22 report on Wired.com carried a brief mention of the question about Mr. Bush’s proper parallel in the film, Web commentators in the United States began to lock on its supposed political vibe. Yet attempts by both the left and the right to appropriate the lessons of Thermopylae clearly predated the movie.

Mr. Bush has been compared to Xerxes at least since his “axis of evil” speech in the wake of 9/11, for instance, while the Spartan cry “Molon labe,” or “Come and take them,” has long been a rallying call for supporters of the right to bear arms.

According to Deborah Snyder, Mr. Snyder’s wife and an executive producer of “300” (which has more than a dozen credited producers of various levels, including Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari), some changes to Mr. Miller’s original story may have inadvertently amplified its political resonance.

In a key twist Mr. Snyder and his collaborators expanded the presence of Gorgo, the Spartan queen and Leonidas’s wife, including, among other things, a sequence in which she inspires a wavering populace and weak-willed council to resist the Eastern armies even at the cost of battle deaths. “Her story is that she is trying to rally the troops,” said Ms. Snyder, who dismissed as irrelevant a question about her and her husband’s personal political philosophies.

Mr. Snyder acknowledged that Mr. Miller — who declined to be interviewed for this article — had opened the door for contemporary comparisons with his passionate, if not entirely accurate, portrayal of the ancient Spartans as saviors of Western civilization. “He’d be on their side regardless of who they were fighting, because he just loves them,” Mr. Snyder said.

Thanks to computer-generated effects that contribute to “300’s” highly stylized look, the film’s cost, according to its makers, was considerably less than the outsized production budgets of “Troy,” which did relatively well for Warner, and “Alexander,” which did not. But Warner could use a hit after finishing last year behind several competitors at the domestic box office. (A success in the second half of 2006, like “Happy Feet,” could only do so much to make up for duds like “Poseidon.”)

And the enormous expense of making and marketing any major studio picture — the combined costs appear likely to exceed $100 million in the case of “300” — sharpens the risk in alienating a portion of the hoped-for audience.

In any case Mr. Snyder said he was pleased about the debate, though he never meant the movie to provoke it. “If that’s a by-product, that’s good,” he said.

26 março 2007

New Tolkien Book Released 'The Children of Hurin'

The first new Tolkien novel for 30 years is to be published next month. In a move eagerly anticipated by millions of fans across the world, The Children of Húrin will be released worldwide on 17 April, 89 years after the author started the work and four years after the final cinematic instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of biggest box office successes in history.

The book, whose contents are being jealously guarded by publisher HarperCollins - is described as "an epic story of adventure, tragedy, fellowship and heroism."

It is likely to be a publishing sensation, particularly as it is illustrated by veteran Middle Earth artist Alan Lee, who won an Oscar for art direction on Peter Jackson's third film The Return of The King. Lee provided 25 pencil sketches and eight paintings for the first edition of the book, one of which is reproduced here for the first time in a national newspaper.

Tolkien experts are already tipping The Children of Húrin - which features significant battle scenes and at least one major twist - for big budget Hollywood treatment. Takings from the Lord of the Rings trilogy box office takings to date total some £1.5bn.

Chris Crawshaw, chairman of the Tolkien Society, said: "It would probably make a very good movie, if anyone can secure the film rights.

"Tolkien saw his work as one long history of Middle Earth: from the beginning of creation to the end of the Third Age. The Children of Húrin is an early chapter in that bigger story."

The author's son Christopher, using his late father's voluminous notes, has painstakingly completed the book, left unfinished by the author when he died in 1971. The work has taken the best part of three decades, and will signify the first "new" Tolkien book since The Silmarillion was published posthumously in 1977.

"It will be interesting to see how it stands up today alongside all the Tolkien-alike literature that we've become familiar with," said David Bradley, editor of SFX magazine.

23 março 2007

The Sphere Project

My favorites, so far

Thanx to Mawalien Invasion

Map proves Portuguese discovered Australia

A 16th century maritime map in a Los Angeles library vault proves that Portuguese adventurers, not British or Dutch, were the first Europeans to discover Australia, says a new book which details the secret discovery of Australia.

The book "Beyond Capricorn" says the map, which accurately marks geographical sites along Australia's east coast in Portuguese, proves that Portuguese seafarer Christopher de Mendonca lead a fleet of four ships into Botany Bay in 1522 -- almost 250 years before Britain's Captain James Cook.

Australian author Peter Trickett said that when he enlarged the small map he could recognize all the headlands and bays in Botany Bay in Sydney -- the site where Cook claimed Australia for Britain in 1770.

"It was even so accurate that I found I could draw in the modern airport runways, to scale in the right place, without any problem at all," Trickett told Reuters on Wednesday.

Trickett said he stumbled across a copy of the map while browsing through a Canberra book shop eight years ago.

He said the shop had a reproduction of the Vallard Atlas, a collection of 15 hand drawn maps completed no later than 1545 in France. The maps represented the known world at the time.

Two of the maps called "Terra Java" had a striking similarity to Australia's east coast except at one point the coastline jutted out at right angles for 1,500 km (932 miles).

"There was something familiar about them but they were not quite right -- that was the puzzle. How did they come to have all these Portuguese place names?," Trickett said.

Trickett believed the cartographers who drew the Vallard maps had wrongly aligned two Portuguese charts they were copying from.

It is commonly accepted that the French cartographers used maps and "portolan" charts acquired illegally from Portugal and Portuguese vessels that had been captured, Trickett said.

"The original portolan maps would have been drawn on animal hide parchments, usually sheep or goat skin, of limited size," he explained. "For a coastline the length of eastern Australia, some 3,500 kms, they would have been 3 to 4 charts."

"The Vallard cartographer has put these individual charts together like a jigsaw puzzle. Without clear compass markings its possible to join the southern chart in two different ways. My theory is it had been wrongly joined."

Using a computer Trickett rotated the southern part of the Vallard map 90 degrees to produce a map which accurately depicts Australia's east coast.

"They provided stunning proof that Portuguese ships made these daring voyages of discovery in the early 1520s, just a few years after they had sailed north of Australia to reach the Spice Islands -- the Moluccas. This was a century before the Dutch and 250 years before Captain Cook," he said.

Trickett believes the original charts were made by Mendonca who set sail from the Portuguese base at Malacca with four ships on a secret mission to discover Marco Polo's "Island of Gold" south of Java.

If Trickett is right, Mendonca's map shows he sailed past Fraser Island off Australia's northeast coast, into Botany Bay in Sydney, and south to Kangaroo Island off southern Australia, before returning to Malacca via New Zealand's north island.

Mendonca's discovery was kept secret to prevent other European powers reaching the new land, said Trickett, who believes his theory is supported by discoveries of 16th century Portuguese artifacts on the Australian and New Zealand coasts.

Thanx to Filó ;)

22 março 2007

Wishlist, because books will never be out of fashion

Especially if they start resorting to
Kenaf fibre paper:

I mean, if Sir Paul McCartney goes Starbucks, we can bloody well start lobbying Kenaf ;)


This one I have, it's the biggest book in da house ;)

How to make a surrealist film

Dress for dinner

Ideally, your movie should feature lots of couples immaculately attired in tuxedos and ballgowns. The spectacle of people dressed this way, at once intensely conventional yet utterly bizarre, is a staple of surrealist movies from Luis Buñuel to Monty Python. Somehow, it can always be made to seem more strange and subversive if they appear in the proper context: at a ball or a dinner party.

Made in 1962, The Exterminating Angel, one of Buñuel's finest movies, features upper-class dinner guests who find themselves inexplicably unable to leave the party, even as the lavish house of the host, Señor Nobile, is reduced to rubble over the course of the next few days. There is no explanation for this destruction, nor for the sheep that is slaughtered and the couple who commit suicide in a closet, although it is safe to assume that bourgeois values are being attacked.

Repeat scenes shamelessly

Do this wholesale in different locations with small, enigmatic variations in dialogue. The great example is Alain Resnais's Last Year in Marienbad (1961). The technique subverts our ideas of time and narrative, our assumption that if B follows A, there must be a causal relationship that sheds light on the film's constituent narrative elements.

The technique can be somewhat exasperating. It holds out the possibility of meaning, only to withdraw it in favour, by implication, of a different, elusive, poetic sort of meaning. Or, of course, no meaning at all.

Incorporate sudden scene changes

Have the picture change sharply and bafflingly from a noisy interior to a vast, empty outdoor landscape, such as a wheatfield or lonely stretch of beach, into which you can introduce incongruously dressed characters from the previous scene, as in Michel Gondry's new movie, The Science of Sleep. Or, better still, leave it utterly empty for several minutes with nothing but the swaying corn or distant waves to look at.

This sudden shift to the great outdoors is used by surrealist Humphrey Jennings in his wartime classic, Listen to Britain - a celebration of the nation's wartime spirit that uses sound to convey mood, emphasis and narrative climax. There is something about the hugeness of nature, untenanted by humankind, that is always disquieting.

Let a seashell co-star

Use an elaborate seashell as a weirdly inappropriate prop. The shell can be normal size, or grotesquely large.

The curious potency of this image was harnessed in what is sometimes considered the first surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman. In it, a clergyman wrestles with his own erotic imaginings and society's constraints - and a shell keeps popping up. The 1926 French silent was directed by Germaine Dulac and used a succession of images devised by Antonin Artaud, who was drummed out of the surrealist movement for refusing to renounce theatre as a bourgeois commercial art form. At the film's premiere, Artaud, displeased by what Dulac had done to his screenplay, shouted at the screen and called her a cow.

The British Board of Film Censors banned the work, saying: "This film is so obscure as to have no apparent meaning. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable."

Slice open an eyeball

Have someone slowly and sadistically slash the eye on a Spacehopper's smiley face with a razor blade, in a homage to Buñuel and Dali's 1928 collaboration Un Chien Andalou. Follow this with a big close-up into the sliced, orange, rubbery eye. If possible, this shot should be paired with a rotting donkey and a man using the tablets of the 10 commandments to drag a piano, as in Chien. The more outrageous and striking your images, the more likely they are to be interpreted as a complex Freudian comment on the hidden meanings lurking within dreams. Which brings us to ...

Insert a dream sequence

No self-respecting surreal movie is complete without one. Spellbound, Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 attempt to "turn out the first film about psychoanalysis", has dream sequences by Dalí on the theme of mental delusion, a condition afflicting the movie's hero Gregory Peck, who flips whenever he sees vertical lines. These dream sequences include floating eyes, distorted landscapes and a faceless man in, again, dinner attire. You may find these elements difficult to film.

Some would say that the dream sequence is the sine qua non of the surrealist film; others that it is a sell-out, reducing the surreal vision to something subordinate or inauthentic. Reality is the waking world, it implies, and this is "only a dream". Buñuel is notable for attempting to collapse the distinction. Perhaps your dream sequence could take up the entire film.

In 1976, David Lynch raised the bar with his startling debut, Eraserhead; it features a dream within a dream, in which a head is whacked off and replaced by a pencil eraser. Again, you may find this difficult to film; but, should you succeed, your movie may be hailed as a dark comment on sexuality.

Think Plasticene

Use stop-motion animation in your movie - not fancy digital animation, but good old-fashioned Plasticene figures morphing into figures, clocks, knives and household objects, all skittering around on table-tops and forming into faces. The great Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer did this in films such as 1983's Down to the Cellar, in which a little girl goes down to the basement to fetch some potatoes, and finds all her hidden fears there, depicted in animated form. Svankmajer's childlike energy inspired Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton. Stop-motion has a raw, rough-hewn quality - it has the unsettling, tactless power of a bad dream.

Sprinkle with sex

Sex is arguably very surreal in itself, and surrealism has always valued the fortuitous encounter, with its potential to be disturbing, bizarre, astonishing - not in any obviously transgressive form, just in ordinary vanilla. It is always the same, yet always different; its participants experience it in their own way, and so do the onlookers; yet the intensity of pleasure creates the sense of eternal novelty.

David Lynch's 2001 movie Mulholland Drive boasts a great erotic scene between an aspiring actress and a woman who has lost her memory - two individuals for whom sex is the crowningly appropriate activity. They are people whose serendipitous meeting, whose simple juxtaposition, has already liberated them from the constraints and worries of identity and behaviour.

Hire diving suits

Have a Q&A session before the first screening of the film, and have it conducted by the director and his interviewer in deep-sea diving suits, complete with big, heavy helmets, thereby making speech entirely incomprehensible - in tribute to Dalí's appearance at the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936 in London. A plastic shower curtain decorated with fish could be hung in front of the pair to enhance the effect. This session will last at least three hours, until someone releases the two with pliers - a charitable service English surrealist David Gascoyne performed at the exhibition.

Sell tickets made of sandpaper

Issue tickets for the world premiere that are the size and weight of doormats, and made of an abrasive material, thus making them disagreeable to handle - scouring pads, for instance. This is in homage to the first edition of writer and film-maker Guy Débord's 1959 book Memoires, which was bound in sandpaper so that it would damage all other books placed next to it.

21 março 2007

How well do you know David Lynch?

Question 1 In the opinion of his one-time backer Mel Brooks, David Lynch is...
"The boy next door, if you live next door to a lunatic asylum"
"Jimmy Stewart from Mars"
"Crazier than a shit-house rat"
"As American as apple-pie and the death penalty"
Question 2 What is "The Angriest Dog in the World"?
Lynch's nickname for the dark side of his personality that helps him make movies
The name of David Lynch's independent production company
The great unreleased Lynch movie, shot in 1993 and suppressed by the studio for its alleged cruelty to animals
A long-running weekly comic-strip he used to write and illustrate for an American newspaper
Question 3 Lynch turned down the chance to direct which 1980s blockbuster?
Beverly Hills Cop
Return of the Jedi
Top Gun
Question 4 Lynch's daughter Jennifer directed which screen turkey?
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Boxing Helena
Shining Through
Town and Country
Question 5 Who turned down the opportunity to star as Jeffrey in Blue Velvet, reportedly labelling the script 'pornography'?
Matthew Broderick
Keanu Reeves
Michael J. Fox
Val Kilmer
Question 6 Why did Laura Dern pass out during the making of Wild at Heart?
Lynch forced her to stand motionless in 110-degree heat for 20 minutes while he lined up a camera shot
Lynch made her wear a dress that was two sizes too small
Lynch insisted that she chew on a live cockroach in the motel room scene
Lynch forced her to smoke four cigarettes simultaneously
Question 7 Lynch's official biography at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival ran to a mere four words. What did it say?
Sick director, comes cheap
Eagle Scout, Missoula, Montana
Creator of Blue Velvet
Lawns mowed, garbage emptied
Question 8 Complete this classic Lynch film quote: "The whole world's..."
"...wild at heart and weird on top"
"...a stage and all the men and women merely players"
"...comin' to an end, Ma!"
"...a straight story in search of a punch line"
Question 9 "A 21st-century noir horror film. A psychogenic fugue. A graphic investigation into parallel identity crisis". Who said it, and what were they talking about?
David Lynch explaining The Straight Story
Critic Pauline Kael describing Eraserhead
Dennis Hopper on Blue Velvet
David Lynch describing Lost Highway
Question 10 Lynch has been nominated for all the following awards. Which has he actually won?
Academy Award for Best Director, The Elephant Man
Palme d'Or for Wild at Heart
Academy Award for Best Director, Blue Velvet
Palme d'Or for Mulholland Drive

Why Philip Pullman Writes

What was your favourite book as a child?
I used to like the Moomin books of Tove Jansson, and another favourite was 'The Magic Pudding', by the Australian author Norman Lindsay.

When you were growing up did you have books in your home?
Yes. My mother used to read a lot, and so did my grandparents. I found a lot of books that interested me on their shelves; not just children's books (the ones they used to have when they were children) but adult novels, too. I remember reading the Don Camillo stories by Giovanni Guareschi, which were popular in the 50s when I was young. I don't suppose anyone reads them any more, but they were tales of a genial and amusing sort, in which the decent country priest Don Camillo confronts and defeats the communist mayor Peppone, who is himself fundamentally decent anyway, when cornered. It was right-wing cold war propaganda (to put it very crudely) showing the goodness and honesty of ordinary simple Christian villagers, the generous wisdom of Don Camillo's Christ, the wiliness and untrustworthiness of the communists. Well, a lot of people liked that sort of thing, and so did I, when I was about 10.

Was there someone, a relative or teacher who got you interested in reading and writing?
Not especially. They had the best attitude, which was to take no interest whatever: neither encourage nor forbid. Consequently I thought I'd discovered the world of books for myself, and it was my own big secret.

What made you want to write when you were starting out?
The desire to have a story in which I liked everything and not just parts of it.

Do you find writing easy?
It gets harder and harder. Every day is a turning point. Every day I have to force myself to go and write, and every day (more or less) I still do.

What makes you write now?

How do you write?
I go to my table and sit down and pick up my pen, and write three sides of narrow-lined A4 paper - and then I stop.

How do you survive being alone in your work so much of the time?
It's not a question of survival. I welcome it. I like being on my own for that time. As a matter of fact I think I'd go mad if I didn't have that time of solitude.

What good advice was given to you when you were starting out?
"Don't. You'll never make it. You'll never earn a living. Get a decent job and forget all about it. It's a silly idea. There's no future in it."

What advice would you give to new writers?
"Don't. You'll never make it. You'll never earn a living. Get a decent job and forget all about it. It's a silly idea. There's no future in it."

What are you working on at the moment?
A sequel to His Dark Materials. But I can't say more than that. It's going to be a long book, and I'm only part way through it.

O Metro de Lisboa

Entrecampos - (Biblioteca Nacional :) by Bartolomeu Cid dos Santos

Zoo, by Júlio Resende

Parque, sculpture by Federica Matta

Parque - Hommage to Aristides de Sousa Mendes by João Cutileiro,
that for the life of me I never noticed before :(

This because of a postcard that Kseniya sent me from St. Petersburg underground,
that I will be posting soon soon, and that got me to checking that
there are no decent Parque station photographs anywhere :((

Françoise Schein's artwork (the ceramist of Parque station)
is on exhibit at Galeria Ratton and Museu Nacional do Azulejo.