Little is as it seems in the village at the center of Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon." (Images courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Director Michael Haneke creates quiet worlds where nastiness if not flat out evil erupts for reasons which the audience only gradually come to learn. They are deeply disturbing works, scarring even, which can slither back into a person's consciousness weeks, months even years after seeing them.
I still think of scenes from "Cache" which give me goosebumps, even though I saw it in September 2005. Ask my colleague Chris Roberts about "Funny Games" (which Haneke made first in German in 1997 and then remade in English in 2007) and he physically shudders.
So why torture ourselves? Because Haneke's bleak view of the world tells us so much about the human condition.
His latest film "The White Ribbon," which opens in the Twin Cities this weekend, takes us through a few months in a village in northern Germany just before the outbreak of World War I. Outwardly it's an idyllic place, a quiet community where flaxen-haired children play in large courtyards amongst the chickens, as their parents work hard but cheerfully on the Baron's estate.
Yet very quickly we learn the village is uneasy as the result of a bizarre attack on the local doctor. Someone stretched a wire across a path near his home which trips his horse, and lands the doctor in a remote hospital.
It's just the first of a number of incidents which spread fear through the community, which (as it is after all the 20th century) is beginning to chafe under the semi-feudal system which has them under the thumb of the Baron. Suspicion swirls through the village, but as with all Haneke stories there are no easy answers.
As the film unfolds he provides glimpses into the families: the pastor who rules his children like a tyrant. There are the workers who are torn between their loyalty to and their resentment of the Baron. And there is the village teacher who gets to witness far more of this than he really wants.
At the center of the story are the children, who live a dual existance. When they are with their parents they are yoked into their place as determined by their family's social position. But away from the adults they have their own society, and it seems their own secrets - many of them quite ugly.
Haneke weaves the multiple stories of the villagers into a dense clump, using the soft tones of his black and white film to highlight the secrecy and hypocrisy of the place.
While he resolves some of the mystery, he leaves his audience teetering with the feeling that something worse is on the way. These are people who are about to be plunged into a world-changing war. And these are the children who will in a few short years be flocking to support Hitler and the fascist cause.
"The White Ribbon" has been hailed as Haneke's masterpiece, and it's easy to see why.
In 2006 Lee Zimmerman painted silk as part of a Silk Painters International Festival in Santa Fe
Duluth artist Lee Zimmerman paints on silk. But he didn't always:
I was an oil painter. Oil Painting is like painting with tooth paste - it stays where you put it and is opaque. I thought I wouldn't like silk painting because I was a poor watercolorist, but when I tried the media - something about it meshed with me. I love the intense colors and the way the dyes move through the fibers, and the sensuous way thet silk shimmers in the light.
Watching a painting being made is usually a long, arduous process. But not so with silk painting, says Zimmerman.
When ever I did paintings of people, they loved the fact that they see what I was doing. I already knew that the dyed paintings looked like stained glass with light coming through it. My technique in silk painting was different than most silk painters. I use what might be termed a wet on wet technique in watercolor. I was doing a lot of figure painting and painting onsite (Plein Air) and this pushed me to be very fast.Zimmerman decided to take his act on the road, as it were. He now will paint at events, sometimes to musical accompaniment. Tonight in Duluth, he'll paint as Kathy McTavish improvises on her cello, creating a sort of music/paint dialogue.
Can't make it to Duluth on such short notice? Not to worry, the performance is going to be streamed live at his website(currently you'll see the above video as a place holder - check back in a few hours).
Zimmerman says he really enjoys bringing the magic of creation to an audience:
I can't see the audience but I can hear - I love the moment when I start, and then they start to notice what's going on, and all of a sudden they get really quiet, and you can feel their eyes.
On February 18, Zimmerman's artwork will take a more theatrical turn in the Duluth Playhouse production of "The Secret Garden." In it, Zimmerman plays the garden.
There will be five 8' x 5' silk panels distributed across the stage. I will begin painting right when the music starts in the overture to establish my presence with the audience so they can forget about me as the real action starts. The first half of the show all the panels will be done in black and white. There will be specific images that will appear at the right time to tie into the action of the play. After intermission I will begin to hit all the panels with color. A little while into the second act, the actors sing a magnificent song about how the garden isn't dead, it is just waiting for Spring. When this happens I will begin to fill the panels with green. Leaves will start popping all over the place. This will accelerate until the finale when the Garden will be filled with the explosive colors of the flowers everywhere.
Zimmerman has a personal tie to the show; his 12-year-old daughter plays the part of Mary.