'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

30 March 2011

The Gods of Man

Ancient Gods
For millennia the culture of many civilisations has been defined by their gods and the rituals surrounding the power that emanated from these beliefs. Nature in the guise of various fertility gods and mother goddesses sustain the richness of the earth. War and death have been under the control of the dark gods and to appease or sustain them, many have required sacrifice and offerings. Some gods need only to be remembered, others require food or drink and some took the ultimate offering of life either of animals or that of the conquered, youths, virgins or children. Offerings could be left, sanctified and then distributed to the priesthood and others were sent directly to heaven via the pillars of smoke from the fires of the alter. There are so many different approaches, but a remarkable number of similar rituals have grown in what appears to be disconnected lands. Was there a common memory of rituals that spread with each migration or does the observation of nature dictate a common evolution in belief systems? The Aborigines of Australia who had been isolated from the rest of the world for forty to sixty thousand years had the creators and other spirits that can be seen in other cultures, so did they have memories from further back in time or as I said do we all seek the same explanations and follow similar themes?
Paleolithic man pondered the appearance of life through birth and from this, creation ideas began to arise. The Dreamtime of the Aborigines of Australia explain creation in each of their various nations as beings who came to and passed across the land creating the landscape, the animals and men. They marked their points of arrival and departure to the heavens or the sea with rivers or rocks or remained in sacred spots and some were evident in the animals of the lands. Similarly in many cultures the gods and spirits vary from one centre to another and are not as unified as we like to believe in a simple fashion. We conveniently like to group various tribes and areas into a single country as we now 'understand' them to be but each separate group often developed separately. Egypt 's gods grew differently in each centre before the unification of the land when gods became associated with each other, such as Ra from Heliopolis and Amun from Thebes who became Amun-Ra, or in Heliopolis Ra grew to be Atum Ra. In Egypt the world grew from the primordial mound which arose from the sea of chaos (Nun). From this mound at Heliopolis the self generated Atum brought forth from his mouth or penis the beginnings of all creation. In Memphis Ptah evolved to be the creator. The gods of Mesopotamia were less concerned with creating the cosmos, but Nammu (the mother) gave birth to the gods. However later the Babylonian god Marduk had a promotion and became the chief god and creator by subduing the terrifying Tiamut and from the pieces of her body he creates the universe. Prior to that existed the watery chaos which predates the Hebrew Genesis story of the universe beginning when 'the earth was waste and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep'. The Greeks did not credit Zeus with creation, Zoroastrian belief later credited Ahura Mazdah with the good and Ahriman with the evil sides of creation and Indian and Chinese cultures paid little attention to creation of the world.
The Arrival of Man
The earth may have appeared eternal, but as ancient man saw the birth of a child or an animal his thoughts turned to the creation of the first of mankind. When pottery developed in the Neolithic period, the early images were of god as fashioning man from clay or as in Genesis he was 'formed from the dust of the earth'. Egypt seems to have mostly ignored the creation of Man except for some references to the fertility god Khnum fashioning a king and his Ka (spirit double) on a potters wheel out of clay. In Sumer, Enki creates mankind to out of clay to be servants of the gods and relieve them of the need to toil and provide food. He even found a position in society for eunuchs and barren women. In Greece man was also fashioned from clay by Prometheus. In Scandinavian stories the first living being was Ymir, a giant born out of ice and suckled by a cow. With so many things that have been created the overwhelming image of the creator is that of a man. Certain elements of strength and power have been associated with a god in the form of an animal who posses greater abilities than mankind, but we choose to see the gods as men. Often the imagination can not conceive of the great force without form. We treat the gods as parents so they must look as we do.
Out of the dust of the earth we have risen with passions, creativity, destruction and most of all wonder, for after all we are made of star dust.
Fertility of the Land, Life and Love
Apart from the act of creation the gods have also a sustaining role in the continuity of life be it either rainfall for a harvest or the birth of a son etc. In Sumer Enki impregnated Nininhursag to produce plants, the axe and the brick mould to sustain life. Isis was the mother and the Christian Virgin is mother to us all. The great god is father to mankind. In Egyptian philosophy no great role is mentioned for the creation of mankind, The fertility aspects of the gods were there for influence, but not direct control. In Greek mythology Zeus was a second generation god who fathered many gods and mortals, although not out of benign consideration, but usually by seducing just about anything that moved. In many societies the earth/mother goddess (sometimes with an overabundance of breasts) was responsible for the growth of life sustaining food, the richness of the soil and the newborn. The other aspect of the 'good' gods was that of romance and love. Often what would find no acceptance today was the genesis of the so called gods and goddesses of love. Deception, necrophilia and rape were often the source of their right to be called a god of love. Perhaps we should call them gods of sex. Often in what we know about these legends is the simple pattern of sex and incidental growth of life. Those who had passions and wept for love and loneliness are usually associated with other aspects of the human condition like poetry, music, warfare and their melancholy, their romances and their sadness are but byproducts of their grand adventures.
War, Sickness and Death
To explain the terrors of  death from battle or sickness there arose supernatural explanations and rituals to attempt to ward off or prevent what appeared to be beyond the control of man. In Sumerian times Enki made the diseased and the aged, but Ninmah could find no place for them in society because 'what was made can not be unmade'. Yahweh gave the knowledge of good and evil when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of life and lost immortality and having been evicted from Eden they now had to toil and suffer hardships. From any nation at war we can hear that 'God is on our side'. It must be a very special person who knows the thoughts of the gods. There have been gods of war, but today we all appear to have a god of love, peace and charity whom apparently is on both sides as the self proclaimed righteous seek vengeance in the killing of each other. Can a god be on two sides at once. Perhaps he can. Perhaps he is not accountable for the qualities which we like to give him. Perhaps he is - or not? What ever you believe it has always seemed to be the case that over the centuries the gods are linked to justifications for our sicknesses, our retributions, our justice systems, our wars and hatreds. Seldom is there an outbreak of love or compassion as wide spread as we see outbreaks of widespread sadness.
Life After Death
The Elysian Fields   Pindar 518 - 438 BC
'For them the sun shines at full strength - while we here walk in night.
The plains around their city are red with roses and shaded by incense trees heavy with golden fruit.
And some enjoy horses and wrestling, or table games and the lyre, and near them blossoms a flower of perfect joy.
Perfumes always hover above the land from the frankincense strewn in deep-shining fire of the gods' altars.
And across from them the sluggish rivers of black night vomit forth a boundless gloom.'

Often the thought of life ceasing when the world appeared to go on for eternity posed the question  'Is that all there is?' Freud saw man's creation of the gods as wish fulfillment, but this does not of necessity deny the existence of the gods, but perhaps merely reveals an instinct for what might be. Belief is personal and appears to be a need to cope with the many questions and stresses thrown at the thinking being. Death, being apparently so final, has been the most influential element in the understanding of spirituality. The rituals surrounding death and what may follow are the most complex and stylised, the most written about and the most important part of a belief in a god. He is the lord of what we can not see as well as the creator of what is. Some had a unique description of he, who ruled the underworld, the other world or heaven above. Many saw other deities involved in the passage from one world to the next. Some good, some bad. Some saw two worlds to come: that of the righteous and that of the damned. The Egyptians saw Osiris who was king of the earth murdered and swept below to be lord of the underworld, while Ra ruled the heavens. The distinction was not as we would describe as heaven and hell. The underworld had trials, but it had fields of peace and plenty. Hades was lord of the underworld in Greek mythology and he became synonymous with the lost world of the dead which was guarded by vicious dogs. The gods alone sat on Mt Olympus. To a Christian, Satan fell from heaven to rule in hell while God alone rules in heaven. Whatever the belief and our limited understanding of the beliefs of others the imagery is often similar. An evil lord is often an ugly fierce being, a creature of caves or deserts or flames, shown with sharp teeth, horns, a beasts tail or features of a snake, while the good and happy lords are attractive (sometimes old, wise and stern, but benign) bathed in light and gold or mysteriously lives within the realm of the light or the sky above or flower filled green pastures.
Into Paradise
This is a video worth a look.
Iris Brosch is an international photographer and director is mostly known for her ethereal, modern, Raphaelian and powerful images of women, but this glimpse of Paradise or the Elysian Fields has some powerful and beautiful men as well.
'Man made his gods, and furnished them
With his own body, voice and garments...
If a horse or lion or a slow ox
INPARADISUM IRIS Brosch 7 from Souvenirs from Earth on Vimeo.
had agile hands for paint and sculpture,
the horse would make his god a horse,
the ox would sculpt an ox...
Our gods have flat noses and black skins
say the Ethiopians. The Thracians say
our gods have red hair and hazel eyes.'
Xenophanes - philosopher poet c. 570 - 503 BCE

14 March 2011

Preserving Australia

click images to enlarge or play videos
Genuine History
Australian history with original music by a good friend Terry Bourke to old, rare and wonderful photographs taken by his father.
A Koala
In the horrendous 2009 Victorian Bush Fires a symbol of hope arose when a small Koala was photographed taking a drink of water from a fire fighter. The story and the photograph took off throughout the world and featured in newspapers here and as far as the New York Times. Sam The Kola as she became known suffered burns,and was looked after in a reserve, but later that year she was put down because of an illness. Sam appeared on a charity CD and trade mark disputes soon arose. Sam was stuffed and is now on display in the Melbourne Museum.
A Horse
The great race horse Phar Lap. After winning 36 races here during the Depression he was a symbol of hope for the people. However he went to the US and won North America's richest race, the Agua Caliente Handicap, in 1932. Two weeks later he died mysteriously and many suspected he was killed by mobsters. He now resides in the Melbourne Museum.

A Bushranger
The armour belonged to the Bushranger Ned Kelly one of the most historically significant cultural heroes of Australian folk lore. Below is the Skeleton of Ned Kelly just discovered at Pentridge Prison  and scientifically confirmed in 2011. Originally interred in Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880, but rumoured to have been moved to a mass grave at Pentridge in 1929
 A criminal perhaps by circumstance, he stood up to the police and he is much admired in this country. On display at the State Library of Victoria. Below is an extract from the 1906 film on The Kelly Gang made 26 years after he was hung and the first feature film in the world and made outside of Melbourne.

A Flag
Known as the Eureka Flag this tattered remnant is the southern cross which flew over a group of gold miners at the Eureka Stockade. Objecting to the imposition of a mining Tax of 30 shillings per month, they revolted on the 3rd. December 1854. It ended in less then 30 minutes and 33 miners and 5 soldiers lay dead. It is considered a defining moment in Australian  history and democracy. Held at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. It is huge.
Rock Art
Stretching across 50,000 sq km of northern Australia at around 100,000 sites are what are known as the Bradshaw Paintings. Due to the pigment being so old and becoming part of the rock they can not be carbon dated, but  one of the paintings is covered by a 17,000 + year old wasp nest. It is believed they are 50 -60,000 years old and could pre-date the migration to Australia of the people known as the Aborigines. This is much older than the oldest in Europe which date back 30,000 Years. The even greater significance is that they depict highly decorated humans and relatively advanced technology. They show people with tassels, hair adornments, and possibly clothing similar to ancient Egyptian paintings and relative to agricultural hierarchical societies. Such body adornments are usually only found in agricultural societies that have developed hierarchical systems of status not in hunter gatherer peoples. There is aslo a scene of a boat holding 29 people and another with a rudder.
Link to Australian Rock Art Archives - Bradshaw Foundation.
A Rock
In 1873 surveyor William Gosse named this phenomenon Ayres Rock after the -Chief Secretary of South AustraliaSir Henry AyersOn 26 October 1985, the Australian government returned ownership to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines. It's name has returned to the original 'Uluru". Most of the rock is beneath the surface as it is on its end and extends five and a half kilometres down. The piece of sandstone stands 348 m. high, is 863 m. above sea level, and measures 9.4 km. in circumference. Set in the centre of Australia it is the symbolic spiritual heart of the nation. Around 400,000 people visit the Rock each year and the numbers allowed to make the assent has been reduced to 20% of visitors.

10 March 2011

The Divine Marlene Dietrich.

1901  -  1992 
The woman knew how to smoke a cigarette.
Unfortunately I was never able to see Dietrich on stage. The day of my first trip to Europe in 1975  I  found out too late that she was about to appear in Australia. I was devastated, but on arriving in Paris I purchased a newspaper and discovered that she had suffered a fall during rehearsals and broken a leg so I guess I was sorry for her, but also selfishly relieved that I would have missed her anyway. Perhaps not a good emotion but true. Infortunately she never performed again.
Dietrich had more glamour than any person alive and she also astounded people by her sensuality and wearing men's clothing.
It was not until I had seen the 27 of her films that I have managed to find, that I realised that the stills were never posed publicity shots, but images lifted directly from the movies. She managed to move gracefully into the most exotic and erotic poses and make it look natural (for her anyway)

Dietrich and the War
Marlene Dietrich spent a considerable time from 1943 visiting and entertaining the troops close to the front line and the liberated peoples of North Africa, Europe and even Iceland. She worked for the war effort and the troops sang her songs. Dietrich  marched at the Liberation of Paris ceremony and she was decorated with the Legion d’Honneur and many awards from other countries throughout the world. One of my favourite stories is from the thirties, when Hitler had sent a personal ambassador to London to beg for her return to Germany as head of the German film industry, He promised an unlimited supply of money and a re-entry into Berlin that would rival Cleopatra’s entry into Rome; She showed him the door. Still remembering the war she put emotion into songs like 'Where Have all The Flowers gone' seen on this site.

The first great film "The Blue Angel'
At least the only one that almost everyone now remembers. Ignoring the 17 silent films she made before moving to Hollywood, sound, international fame and legendary status. It was based on the book ‘Professor Unrath’ by Heinrich Mann, elder brother of Thomas Mann.

The last great film 'Just a Gigolo'
As someone said - an old woman of 77 walked unnoticed into the studio in Paris, disappeared into a room, applied her own make-up and two hours later Marlene Dietrich walked out. The film made in 1978 by David Hemmings (himself a star of iconic cinema and boy soprano for Benjaim Britten) starred David Bowie as the said gigolo. Although they appeared in scenes together she was filmed in Paris and he in Berlin 

On my last and most significant tour of the capitals of European civilisation back in 1993 I made a pilgrimage to the grave of Marlene Dietrich in Berlin. Ben and I made our way to the small cemetery and stood a little lost I guess, because a man standing a few rows away looked at us and simply called out 'She's over there.". Buried there by her daughter, although she vowed that she would never return to the place of her birth. This act was perhaps the most sobering experience I have undergone in all my travels throughout the world. The marker of such a legendary woman was small, simple and said much. I have never felt such a closeness to a person dead, even though she was not known to me personally. The impact was unlike that of standing at the grave of Elizabeth 1st, the Popes or anyone, including my family. I have stood beside the tombs of many a great or powerful person, but the closeness of the remains of someone so proud, so beautiful, so arrogant, reduced to a simple plot of earth beneath my feet, became suddenly personal and humbling. Can we learn from the dead and the past? Is what we see too subjective? Do we interpret, misrepresent, and create a world that defines and then excuses ourselves? Is there a voice from beyond the grave, from the depths of time that speaks to all of us through our combined experiences? Does each generation add to the collective experience of mankind, so that history is within us, by nature?
When they discovered Dietrich had run out of money in her old age but wanted to continue living in France, the city government of Paris passed a special law: “Marlene Dietrich is not allowed to pay any rent in the City of Paris.” The city covered her rent quietly.
The following books are from my collection of Marlene Dietrich Memorabilia.
Dietrich - The Story of a Star by Leslie Frewin 1967
The Films of Marlene Dietrich by Homer Dickens 1968
Four Fabulous Faces - by Larry Carr 1970
Marlene - The life of Marlene Dietrich by Charles Higham 1977
Sublime Marlene - by Thierry de Navacelle 1982
Marlene Dietrich - My Life.  Her autobiography 1989
Marlene Dietrich - by her daughter Maria Riva 1992

I have three CD’s, twelve movies, three documentaries and one concert on DVD.
‘If she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart.’  Ernest Hemingway.

The  Dietrich Movies

Der Kleine Napoleon
1923 -
Dietrich had twelfth billing as a maid in her first film.
Tragodie der Liebe
1923 -
Her favourite early role and first role with Emil Jannings.
Der Mensch am Wege
1923 -
Dietrich first appears as a peasant girl.
Der Sprung ins Leben
1924 -
A tragedy with Dietrich playing a small role of a girl in love.
Die Freudlose Gasse
1926 -
Starred Garbo in her establishing role. Marlene unbilled.
Manon Lescaut
1926 -
She is raised to second most important female role.
Eine Du Barry von Heute 

1928 -
Directed by Alexander Korda. Released in the USA. Dietrich billed as Marlaine.
Madame Wunscht Keine Kinder
1927 -

Another Korda film. Dietrich plays an extra USA release

Kopf Hoch,Charly!
1926 -
Her first film for the Richter-Film Company
Der Juxbaron
1927 -
She plays farce for Willi Wolff
Sein Grosster Bluff
1927 -
Dietrich dresses up.
Cafe Electric

1927 –

Filmed in Vienna. Dietrich was appearing in stage production of Broadway. Much use of the famous legs.
Prinzessin Olala
1929 -
UK release Glamour is creeping in.
Ich Kusse Ihre Hand,Madame
1929 -
Dietrich stars Fred Zimmerman - assistant photographer.
DieFrau,Nach der Man Sich Sehnt   
1929 -
Her first femme fatale role. The first time Dietrich gets shot on screen.

Das Schiff der Verlorenen Menschen
1929 -
Dietrich appears in male clothes.
Gefahren der Brautzeit
1929 -
This film has five different titles.
Der Blaue Engel

1930 -

Von Sternberg directs, Dietrich sings, Far from a book by Heinrich Mann (Thomas’s brother).Filmed simultaneously in English and German.

1930 -

With Gary Cooper. Dietrich in Tails, then in stilettos- cocktail frock as she tracks across the desert. Kisses a woman.
1931 -
Dietrich gets tough
Shanghau Express
1932 -
The best of the von Sternberg films
Blonde Venus
1932 -
Dietrich in ape suit and diamonds as well as white tails.
Song of Songs
1933 -
First American film not directed by von Sternberg
The Scarlet Empress 

1934 -
As Catherine she rides into the palace on Horseback- all in matching white. Horse included.
The Devil is a woman
1935 -
Censored and not released until the late sixties
1936 -
With Gary Cooper again
I Loved a Soldier
1936 -
with Charles Boyer
The Garden of Allah
1936 -
Early and stunning Technicolor with Charles Boyer again.
Knight Without Armour 

1937 –

Alexander Korda. Dietrich becomes the most highly paid working woman in the world
1937 -
Her worst picture of the thirties.
Destry Rides Again
1939 -
James Stewart Rowdy Western, great songs and real fights.
Seven Sinners
1940 -
John Wayne. Continuing the action packed Dietrich image.
The Flame of New Orleans
1941 -
Much lost by the censors.
1941 -
Edward G Robinson. She is the sexy babe.
The Lady is Willing
1942 -
Fred Mc Murray. She plays a musical comedy star.
The Spoilers
1942 -
Randolph Scott and John Wayne but she got top billing.
1942 -
Same cast in War Effort film.
Follow the Boys
1944 - 
Many guest in this servicemen entertainment film.
1944 -
Dietrich dances in gold paint
Martin Roumagnac  
1946 -
Filmed in France where she had been entertaining the troops.
Golden Earrings
1947 -
The gypsy with lots of dark make-up
A Foreign Affair
1948 -
Dr. by Billie Wilder. She returns to glamour.
1949 -
A Hitchcock film, dressed by Dior, Cole Porter wrote some music
No Highway
1951 -
A subordinate role but you wouldn’t know it.
Rancho Notorious
1952 -
A poor mans Destry.
Around the World in 80 Days
1956 -
Cameo role.
The Monte Carlo Story
1957 -
Italian film with Vittorio De Sica
Witness for the Prosecution
1958 -
Tyrone power and Charles Laughton, Dr. by Billie Wilder.
Touch of Evil
1958 -
Directed by and starred Orson Welles.
Judgement at Nuremberg 

1961 -
Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster. Powerful and stylish film.
Black Fox
1962 -
Documentary of Hitler narrated by Dietrich
Paris when it Sizzles
1964 -
Audry Hepburn film. Brief but beautiful appearance.
Just a Gigolo             
Small role but a legendary last film appearance. With David Bowie.

1982 -

The documentary narrated irritably by herself with the very patient Maximilian Schell. She would not and could not appear on camera.
Way way back in the early 70's some friends and I held a Marlene Dietrich birthday party between Christmas and New Year (27th Dec). We contemplated asking her to come, but never quite got around to that. We did order a 4 foot square cake to be made and decorated at a bakery and then didn't pick it up. It didn't seem as irresponsible at that age. With all those failures we did have a great time and had around 400 guests turn up. I had overly large parties for 2-3 decades before I became less gregarious.
Finally is a poster that  I had framed and hung in pride of place on my walls wherever I lived for over three decades until it dried out and disintegrated.
Check out the Official site of the Dietrich collection from the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin. http://www.marlene.com/
Dietrich and Edith Piaf were close.
The Funeral
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