Ambassadors: The Native Jazz Quartet at Work
2013, 16 min.
Left in the dark
Following directly after the oddly different Berlin Recycles, the natural splendour of Urban Fruit and hoping for another musical success following opening night’s I Live to Sing (cross reference below), Just’s portrait of a swinging, mixed quartet (Jason Marsalis, vibraphone; Christian Fabian, double bass; Ed Littlefields, drums; Reuel Lubag, piano) was a bit tough on the ear and featured an ending that abruptly stopped rather than tidying things up with style.
In the crucial sound department—with an upcoming audition for the U.S. Ambassadors program being the narrative driver—the balance leaves a lot to be desired; Marsalis—oddly tight in some of his riffs—seems to produce a brittle tone with every mallet stroke that, hopefully, is far less severe in person.
Maddeningly, the crucial set before the judges is held behind closed doors. For a moment, it seemed as if the actual film had broken, only to be followed by a few frames of decidedly non-musical results as the intrepid band’s fate was revealed. JWR
Soldier in Art: Arthur Szyk
2014, 10 min.
Verging on jingoism
How appropriate that the world première of this homage to political cartoonist, Arthur Szyk, should take place in the same city as the soon-to-take-its-last-bow Fabulous Palm Springs Follies: both are unrepentant in waving the flag of freedom hoisted all around the planet’s trouble spots by the world’s only remaining super power.
The program description, “a wordless musical tribute” is inaccurate. Songs have lyrics and many slogans/headlines (e.g., “Cain where is Abel thy brother?”) flash onto the big screen. Richard Friedman’s original score is at one with the images, a delectably reedy clarinet also reinforces the mood. Necessarily, there is no balance in the artist’s singular view as to his adopted country’s place in history. JWR
The Agreement (Forhandleren)
Karen Stokkendal Poulsen
2013, 58 min.
One ever-suspicious step at a time
Political junkies and history buffs of all stripes will savour this behind-the-scenes portrait of two countries (Kosovo, represented by Fashionista/chief negotiator, Edita Tahiri; Serbia—which doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence—represented by rocker/diplomat, Borislav Sefanovic) trying to develop and approve an agreement that clearly identifies where and how citizens from both jurisdictions can safely comingle. The stakes are especially high for Serbia: without this agreement, entry in the EU will not be possible.
Accordingly, poetry-loving, long tie sporting (the clarinet is divine!) Robert Cooper is the EU’s tough-but-fair referee. With such fascinating, equally determined principals, Poulsen has abundant material; her toughest job must have been the edit.
With the result never in doubt (or why have a doc dedicated to failure?), the drama is slight; it’s the tactics that—to varying degrees—keep the viewer engaged. Incongruously, the success of the negotiators hangs on a single word: “intergovernmental.” By journey’s end, the real lesson is if there is such a high degree of mistrust and posturing amongst two “neighbours” that—thanks to NATO’s bombs—have put down their weapons, it surely won’t take much to rekindle the violence and get back to the ingrained business of settling centuries-old scores with death and destruction. That would be agreed upon in a heartbeat. JWR