Month: June, 2007

The burdens of genius

Monday, June 4th, 2007 | All Things, Film

Looking out the window of Yum Thai on West 44th Street:

Times Square neon

The penultimate film seminar of the season. Tonight: Vitus, Switzerland’s shortlisted submission to the 2006 Academy Awards. The dialogue is in Swiss German with English subtitles, making it the third consecutive foreign film shown this year. As with our last non-American film, there was no guest speaker, so host Scott Siegel led tonight’s post-screening discussion solo.

Scott Siegel

Childhood is often a struggle, but for Vitus (pronounced: VEE-tus), the highly precocious boy of the title, it is more complicated than for most. As a young piano prodigy, with an off-the-charts IQ, he is forced from an early age to figure out how to live with a gift that has become a burden.

He is preciously portrayed as a wide-eyed six-year old by Fabrizio Borsani in his acting debut. By the time he turns twelve, much of the joy seems to have been drained from young Vitus, now played by real-life Canadian-Romanian prodigy Teo Gheorghiu (who also happens to speak perfect Swiss-German.) Vitus’ well-meaning parents (Swiss stage actors Julika Jenkins and Urs Jucker), aggressively cultivate their only child’s talents, at the seeming expense of his personal development. In a lesser film, the couple would have been portrayed as nightmarish caricatures of stage parents; not so here. One senses quite vividly, that theirs is a close familial unit, borne of much love and (albeit sometimes misguided) support. In his classes, among teenagers who regard Vitus as a freak of nature, the boy alternates between arrogant and sullen – defense against his internal struggles with social awkardness and loneliness. Vitus’ primary companionship comes in the form of his kindly, eccentric grandfather, played by Bruno Ganz, an award-winning Swiss actor heretofore best known for his portrayal of Adolf Hitler in 2004’s Der Untergang – Hitler und das Ende des Dritten Reichs (The Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich). It is during their afternoons together that the germ of an idea forms in Vitus’ mind: as his grandfather advises, to decide what you must be, you sometimes have to part with things you love.

What follows is an elaborate ruse, in which Vitus feigns a head injury which renders him no longer gifted, or rather: absolutely normal. His mother, who has invested her entire life in nurturing his special genius, is bitterly disappointed. Vitus, however, is liberated, finally making friends his own age, and reveling in his new freedom. Almost imperceptibly, the film shifts tone from drama to almost comedy, to fantasy, as Vitus and his grandfather (his only co-conspirator) devise ways to employ their secret to the family’s financial advantage.

Along the way, there are some delightful scenes between the boy and his grandfather, and a few between Vitus and Isabel (Tamara Scarpellini), his former babysitter, now 19. When he invites her to a fancy restaurant to propose marriage, his argument is serious and utterly rational: informing her that she is the love of his life, and attempting to convince her that their seven-year age gap coincides perfectly with the difference in life expectancy between men and women, and with the discrepancy in the ages of their respective sexual peaks.

Haha, go, cougars!

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Sheep Meadow

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007 | All Things, NYC History

Central Park’s Sheep Meadow served as home to a couple hundred Southdown sheep for seventy years, until 1934, when Parks Commissioner Robert Moses had the sheep transferred to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. (Their shepherd was assigned to the lion house in the Central Park Zoo.)

The rural Victorian Gothic structure which had been the sheep’s pen was transformed into Tavern on the Green, host to countless events and film shoots (and the occasional high school prom.)

Central Park

Central Park

Nowadays, the expanse of lawn is popular with picnickers, sunbathers, and bare-torsoed frisbee players.

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Japan Day 2007

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007 | All Things, Events

At SummerStage for Japan Day at Central Park, an event organized by the city’s Japanese community, with the support of the Consulate General of Japan, to showcase Japan’s contemporary and traditional cultures. The day kicked off in the early morning with a traditional Shishimai (lion dance), followed by a 4-mile “Japan Run” race.

By mid-afternoon, 14,000 New Yorkers had descended upon the park – check out the line to get in – to take part in the day-long program, which included food, activity and exhibition stalls, karaoke and anime costume contests, live music and cultural performances.

Japan Day line

Inside the “Video Game and Robots” tent, there was a somewhat predictable gender split among the attendees.: boys and young men were huddled around the flashing, beeping game consoles; girls gravitated toward Paro, the furry white, robotic baby harp seal. The award-winning robots, which were developed by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science, respond to human touch, and are used for elder therapy in Japanese nursing homes and in hospitals by autistic and handicapped children.

Japan Day robots

The enthusiastic women of the Japanese Candy tent. Other food tents included Gyudon (Beef Bowl), Gyoza , Soba Noodle, and Temaki Hand Roll Sushi.

Japan Day candy tent

I spied several people whom I assumed were Anime Costume Contest participants, but given some of the outlandish Japanese street fashion, and the eclectic attire adopted by the East Village “freeters” — it’s not always easy to tell the difference.

Japan Day anime

Japan Day anime

Japan Day crowd:

Japan Day audience

NY1 political reporter Sandra Endo emceed the main stage events, including a surprise appearance by the newly crowned Miss Universe (and Heroes  hopeful) Riyo Mori, who earlier in the week won the title handily over the USA’s balance-challenged entrant, Rachel Smith.

Sandra Endo

And just before the rains: a musical performance by Miki Hayama, jazz pianist.

Japan Day music

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