Monday, December 31, 2012

Django - German heroes, soaring eagles, and some good storytelling

Taking a break from all the end-of-year madness and the fact that the heating is still broken in the house, I went to see Django Unchained last night. This is not a movie review - all I can tell you is I personally had great fun with it. Tarantino once again knows what he is doing, and he is pulling all the stops. Fair warning: in this one, violence is the answer, and it feels sinfully justified. You just want to dunk Leo's head in a toilet anyway.


I just wanted to make a short post about the role of storytelling in the movie. Because there is storytelling in the movie, and not just in the film studies "getting the plot across" sense of the word either. Cristoph Watz makes a wonderful job of telling a campfire-side version of the story of Brünhilde and Siegfried from the Niebelungenlied (*insert heart throb here*). That would be worth a blog post alone, but the movie goes way beyond that: they make a point of showing why that story is directly relevant to the plot of the film.
For one, and this is fairly obvious, the lady in need of rescuing was named by her slave-owners after Brünhilde (she also speaks full frontal German, on screen, good Tarantino style). As the good doctor-slash-bounty-hunter explais, Django's story echoes Siegfried and Brünhilde's - he has to "climb the mountain, fight the dragon and cross the hellfire" to rescue his love (luckily for them, the metaphor ends here, and the storyteller spares his audience the bloody-gory end result of the original legend... well, gory for the heroes, anyway, there is plenty of gore left in the movie for the bad guys).
The other point of relevance is that the good doctor, when asked why he is helping a slave to rescue his wife, brings up the story as a reason: as a German, he says, he feels obliged to aid a hero trying to save his Brünhilde. (*insert sqealing part-German storyteller in the audience here*) In this form, the old story (and the telling thereof) plays a very direct role in the movie plot. Also highlights why stories are important and relevant and all the stuff storytellers work hard to remind people of.
Nice work, Mr. Tarantino.

Another nugget that I caught: at one point in the movie, the doctor compares Django to a "soaring eagle" that is superior to chicken. This is nice as it is, as a metaphor, but storytellers will know there is a story behind it, connected to flight and freedom: The Eagle who thought he was a chicken. I personally have heard it in the masterful telling of Antonio Rocha, and also the delightful adaptation of Brenda White Wright at the JC Umoja festival (complete with singing!). Both of them tell it with a much happier ending. Not many people will catch that reference, but it made me smile all the same.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A very Catholic movie

So, talking about the Advent dinner: the fabulous Cathy Jo and I combined two very important and festive things into one evening:
1. Education about Catholic holidays, and
2. Education about Hungarian Christmas

Since I am in the process of being educated in American Chrismtas through full immersion - I watched the entire Muppet Christmas Carol, and White Christmas on the big screen! - I thought it was time to show people a glipmse at Hungarian Christmas TV programs. Most of our holiday movies come from the USA, so nothing really intriguing there, but I did manage to find a movie that plays every single Christmas on TV, and it has never been released in America. I think I have figured out why.

The movie is called State buoni se potete (Be good if you can) and it is about the life of St. Philip Neri in the Rome of the 1500's. It is a very Catholic movie. There are tempting devils being burned by holy water, and an entire entourage of contemporary saints e.g. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the stern yet cuddly founder of the Inquisition. Don Filippo is raising a horde of orphan children in an abandoned church, and is pretty much the most awesome saint you can watch movies about when you are 5 (minus the trauma of the burning devils). He even plays soccer.
Adding to the entertainment factor of the movie was the fact that the English subtitles were the courtesy of Google Translate from the Hungarian original (or at least that was my best guess since it contained random sentence fragments like "Crosstown Pálinka!"). It was like watching a train wreck meet a Chinese user's manual, and it was all kinds of hilarious.
The reason why this movie probably never made it to America (apart from the whole Catholic thing) is probably the fact that the devil is played by a "Moorish" woman, and that Don Filippo cheerfully smacks kids upside thet head when they misbehave. Granted, it was made in 1984, and nobody sues anybody in Italy/Hungary for stuff like that anyway.

Also, the movie comes with a very catchy title song that gets stuck in your ear for days. You are welcome.

Hungarian Christmas dish from Georgia

As in, Georgia the country. Okay, so there is really nothing Hungarian about this dish, except that I love it and I decided it was festive (not to mention easy) enough to be featured at our storytelling Advent dinner last night. Then again, my family's traditional Chrismas dish is Chinese soy beef that my father makes, so if you expect paprika and goulash from me, I am really sorry to diappoint you.

Anyhow, here is the recipe.

Georgian turkey breast (for 6 people, if some of those people are guys, otherwise you shall have leftovers)

3 lbs of turneky breast
Half a pound of butter
Curly parsley
1 box of cream (second to smallest box)
2 cans of corn
2 cans of baby mushrooms (whole)
1 can of baby carrots

First you chop the turkey into small pieces. (If you have a roommate at hand who used to work in a butcher shop, leave the chopping up to her.)
Then you melt the butter in a big pot (this is a one pot dish) and when it is melted, toss the meat into the pot. Stir carefully until the meat is starting to get golden brown in small patches and it is thoroughly cooked (the butter should be all gone but if you used too much like I did, you can take some out with a spoon). If it burned down too badly on the bottom of the pot, move the salvageable meat into a new pot. (Not like I had that problem, personally, but it could happen).
Once the meat is golden and smells awesome, pour the vegetables into the pot. Stir carefully (don't break the baby carrots!) and add half a teaspoon of nutmeg, a pinch of pepper and salt. Let it start boiling again. When it is hot, pour the cream into it and stir again, add the parsley. Once the cream warmed up to the rest of the dish, you can turn the stove off. Yay!

Serve it with rice. If you made way too much rice, plan on making stir fry tomorrow.