Friday, October 29, 2010

Another Commercial

Logo: The Dutch Language Film Festival


The camera is looking out at a sea of empty seats in a movie theater. It looks like the opening for a movie review TV show. In the center, there are two people sitting next to each other. The camera zooms in. We see Geert "Big" Mak wearing a big housecoat over his usual jeans and sweater. He holds a cigar butt that is obviously a prop. He is without his glasses. Next to him is Nelly Frijda. She wears jeans, a sweater and Mak's glasses. Both speak in Dutch with subtitles, unless otherwise noted.

NF: (It's almost time for The Dutch Language Film Festival.)

GM: (Do you think the Americans will like it?)

NF: (Sure, they'll like it better if they speak Dutch.)

GM: (Oh, is this a gag where the subtitles are different from what is said?)

NF: Badly dubbed by a woman with a completely different voice. (Oh no. In fact, even when the voices are dubbed everything will be accurately translated into English.)

GM: (Well, why will speaking Dutch make it better?)

NF: (It's the cultural context. You can translate, but still lose so much. For example, this commercial is hilarious, but only a Dutch speaker would know why.)

Five seconds of silence go by while they stare blankly at the camera. Then, they laugh uncontrollably for a few seconds, then stop.

NF: (See?)

GM: (Yes, but I think they'll enjoy the festival anyway. Do we have time for another joke?)

Logo: The Dutch Language Film Festival

NF: (No, the trailer's ending.)

Copyright notice: Feel free to link to this commercial or quote from it. If you produce it, that's €50 and a copy on DVD for my mother.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chapter 4

While reading this book as it is, I keep thinking of how it might be as a movie. Due to the nature of the visuals, this has to be moving paintings, not moving pictures. If this gets outsourced to a shop that sends back the usual flat faces one finds in animation, it will be terrible. It takes a lot to draw an expressive face. Matena's adaptation of Kaas is built around expressive faces. Even the shots of the man reading the letter add to the story.

While reading this short chapter, I listened to many Dutch language podcasts and watched today's nieuws. I keep trying to pound the language into my head. I understand more than in the past, but quite a bit goes by.

The story gets poignant in Chapter 4. We can see why the protagonist (Is his name Oscar? I saw a panel that makes me wonder.) gets taken in. He wants to be somebody. His skeptical wife makes some remarks I didn't quite understand. What seems to be good news isn't taken well. This is a man who was hired shortly after 1900 and rode out WWI. It seems he would have a lot to be proud of, but even during a depression, it's hard to stay at the bottom of the totem pole, especially after so long.

He visualizes saying, "Goodbye," to his friends at the bar. He wants his wife to share in his joy, but she is leery.

The chapter ends with him getting a telegram summoning him to the Hornstra company in Amsterdam. Although there is a promise to reimburse his expenses, it looks daunting.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chapter 3

At long last, I'm in familiar territory. The story has taken a turn to a formula I know well: Everyman gets swept away by events. It brings Hitchcock to mind, though this book predates when he hit his stride with The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps.

Mr. Van Schoonbeke draws our hero in closer, bringing him into a conversation with rich and powerful friends. We see him squirm as he remains largely silent instead of making a foolish effort to hold his own. He is introduced by way of mentioning his company. Those present are left to assume the rest, which leads them not to infer that he is a clerk.

The title comes from this chapter, as a Dutch friend, "In cheese," is mentioned at the close.

As I read this, I got to thinking about how it would work as a film. My recommendations:

1. Length: Let it be as long or as short as it needs to be. The book is already cinematic. What happened to Dr. Seuss' work should be instructive. He wrote great little books that made great little cartoons. Once lengthy back stories were added to make feature films, his work became very tedious.

2. Narration: Use a narrator. One problem with the art world is that it's a forum for those with no professed orthodoxy to invent their own or slavishly follow the -ism of the month. A major problem with cinema today is, "Don't tell me, show me." While Murnau made it work in The Last Laugh, it will not work every time. A book's "Uncomfortable 10 minute silence," does not need to be a 10 minute scene. It is worth noting that film noir moved fast because of skillful narration.

3. Subtitles or dubbing? The combination for export prints should be what I saw on an apparently rare print of Diary of a Country Priest. I have seen the film a few times, but I only ran across this print once. The narration was dubbed into English. The dialog was left in French and subtitled. In this way, reading was kept to a minimum, while original voices were preserved.

I read a few things about Kaas, and I saw that it has been a movie at least twice. Still, I think the Matena version is worth filming. If it doesn't work in Belgium, it might still be a good way to introduce the story to other countries.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Compromise your privacy!

Thanks to my brother, you can compromise your privacy and follow this blog on Facebook! You can also enjoy the limited benefits of being a follower with Google Friend Connect. Wow!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chapter 2

One big difference between Kaas and most American novels is that there is no, "Sensitive writer," nonsense. "I'm just the nice guy telling the story about these other people and their dysfunction."

Instead, we get a narrator who begins his story while drinking too much. From there, he goes home and unsuccessfully tries to go to bed without waking his wife.* Then, there's a knock on the door, and he's summoned to his mother's side. In a warm room full of people, the beer makes its presence felt. He narrowly avoids vomiting. He feels the appropriate emotions, but he's really concerned about how to make an exit. Finally, he leaves, following his brother out the door.

At the funeral, he meets Mr. Van Schoonbeke, whose name looks like a tagname that I can't quite render into English without a long explanation and speculation.

The family is obviously Catholic. There is a nun at the house when the mother dies. She is a kind of gentle angel of death. A priest is shown at the funeral.

The story started me wondering about religious diversity in Europe and how history is taught outside of the US. While learning about Europe, we hear about how it divided up into Catholic and Protestant countries. It is only later that we find out that such borders weren't so exact, and that after the religious wars, alliances were made along different lines that changed over time.

In the US, we learn about other countries in an American context. Consequently, we learn a lot about Britain before 1776. Britain reappears briefly in 1812 and again in World War 1, if the class gets that far. In the Southwest, as in Mexico, Spain disappears in 1810. The countries we learn about either had big empires or a big part in settling the country.

American classes on recent history cover modern Europe, but there is almost nothing about how it got that way.

Belgium mainly shows up on maps. Occasionally, it gets a brief mention as NATO headquarters or the capital of The European Union. The part of our population most aware of it is beer connoisseurs. Belgian beer is in vogue right now.

*I wondered about this course of action. If he succeeded, he could lie and say he got home earlier. He would run into trouble if she had gone to sleep 15 minutes before he arrived. She might think he arrived even later than he did. On the other hand, if he made no effort and let her wake up, she could look at the clock.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Charitable Contribution

One worthy organization that nearly missed the Nobel Peace Prize is Réclames Sans Frontières or Commercials Without Borders. Known to most as RSF, it reaches out to the economically disadvantaged to reinforce their basic human identity as consumers. Here in the Americas, hurricane season is upon us. RSF teams are already waiting to be dispatched to bring in displays of new cars, vacations and jewelry wherever disaster might strike.

My contribution to RSF is below. It's part of the second wave of aid. When media infrastructure is destroyed, it means that people can go without commercials for a week or more. While existing channels get rebuilt, RSF, to everyone's relief, will hit the airwaves right away.

TV Commercial

A middle aged couple is shown in a well appointed suburban home. One of their children comes through the front door, coughing. He struggles with the wind and rain to shut the door.

M: I can't believe it! It's one storm after another!
Steel drums build in the background and a ray of sunshine comes through the door.
Do you know what I'm thinking?

F: Not so fast honey. Music and sunshine fade away. Do you remember what it's like in the Carribbean? We don't need to travel for flies and mosquitoes. We'll have them here in a few months.

M: That's right. Plus, we'll have to get used to the heat again. And I thought summer would never end.

F: So why go back to it? Also, do want that pale yellow stuff they call "Beer" down there? It looks like Bono's old sunglasses. Theme from FC de Kampioenen fades in.

M: My goodness. Where can we take the family for a nice vacation?

F: Belgium!

M: Really?

F: Of course! You can get real beer. There are plenty of deserted beaches at this time of year, and we can eat Belgian waffles, Dutch pancakes and lots of fries! Besides, Julius Caesar recommended it back in the day. He said, "The Belgae are the bravest of all the Gauls."

M: No kidding! I'll bet that means we'll get great service! You're right honey, this is the best idea I've had in a long time!

F: Close-up, rolls eyes. Music builds.

Long shot of the family, bundled up and running happily through puddles on a rainy beach. Theme from FC de Kampioenen is dominant now.

Voiceover: Belgium. Come for the weather.

Copyright notice: Feel free to link to this commercial or quote from it. If you produce it, that's €50 and a copy on DVD for my mother.

Anyway, here are some Belgian links that go further to promote the country and culture:

Radiobooks: This is the link to Radioboeken in English. The series has been discontinued, but the episodes are still available. Dutch and Flemish authors read their works. Most are about half an hour long.

deBuren: This is the publisher that sent me Kaas. They also promote Dutch language culture all over the world. One of their current efforts is...

citybooks: Artists, writers and photographers riff on their favorite cities. Most pieces are short, and they give you a feel for the locations.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chapter 1

Kaas (Cheese) is more of a human story than a Belgian one. It begins with a letter that forms the basis for the book. We see J. Greshoff getting his mail. As he starts to read, the reader reads with him. The letter pictured doesn't look 283 pages long, but it does look bigger than usual.

The letter begins with the death of the writer's mother. It is very touching as he tells about her last days, her smile, her declining lucidity, her fidgeting as she slowly disembowels pillows and scatters the stuffing everywhere and finally, her mania for peeling potatoes. The family accommodates her, bringing her buckets of them to peel. While I have not known anyone to spend their last weeks doing such things, I feel like I should have. I have seen similar actions in those near the end, hanging on in odd ways.

Reading in Dutch remains challenging. I still use my dictionary and computer. I have graduated to the verb book. I use the computer dictionaries a lot less than I used to. It's faster if you can get by with books alone.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why bother?

I like Dutch language reading material, but I asked myself that question anyway. In my first blog, Learning Dutch with Geert Mak, I covered the novelty angle. I made it to the end. Unlike De eeuw van mijn vader (My Father's Century), Kaas is available in English. It is not exactly a best seller. It's somewhere around 350,000 on Amazon, which means that it sold to about 10 people, 3 of whom returned it because they wanted a book about food.

Still, there is some uniqueness to the book. I'm reading the graphic novel adaptation by Dick Matena. In terms of format, it's a first for me, maybe a 1.5. The last book I read in this format was a compilation from Mad magazine. Also, while Kaas is available in English, this adaptation is not.

This blog will be shorter for 3 reasons:

1. The book is shorter. The last one was 499 pages long, and it had very few pictures. This is a well illustrated 283 pages.

2. I can read in Dutch faster than I could before.

3. There will be far less cultural commentary. While the Dutch community in Southern California is small, the Flemish community is even smaller. Instead of hosting a festival, they meet at a restaurant when they want to get everyone together.

This blog will have additional ideas for promoting the language and Flanders itself. For the moment, I can't think of how to promote the place. A couple of years ago, I went to the Los Angeles Travel Show. There was a small booth for Flanders, where one lady was working alone. The booth featured Tintin, an international icon who is almost completely unknown here. Some better ideas might have been Audrey Hepburn, Hercule Poirot, Eddy Merckx, St. Damien or Django Reinhardt.