Saturday, December 4, 2010

Some of Belgium's Cultural Near Misses

Reading about Belgium reminds me of Portugal, always overshadowed. Amalia Rodrigues was overshadowed by Edith Piaf, and so on. These cultural near misses almost put the country front and center in the world's consciousness.

Les Damoiselles d'Antwerpen, Pablo Picasso, 1906. Picasso first got the idea for his famous painting in Antwerp. Unfortunately, he suffered the painter's equivalent of writer's block, painting several studies before burning them in frustration before his horrified friends. On the train ride home through France, he calmed down after a meatball sandwich in Avignon. He started sketching again and changed the title.

Party i Belgien, Stig Dagerman, 1950. Dagerman took an extended vacation to Belgium in 1949. He excitedly wrote about it for days, putting a roll of paper in his typewriter in an innovation parallel to Kerouac's. Dagerman's publisher said the manuscript ran counter to his image, in that it was, "Too festive."

Gidget Goes Belgian, 1964. After the movie was edited, producers decided that the genre was long in the tooth. It was shelved and nearly forgotten about. There was a resurgence of interest among film scholars once it leaked that the scene where she waterskis through the canals in Bruges inspired the waterskiing scene in Apocalypse Now.

A Briefcase Full of Oats, Sergio Leone, 1975. At the suggestion of Salvador Dali, Leone decided to shoot a surrealist western, set in modern Europe. A moody Clint Eastwood was filmed, dressed in a duster and cowboy boots carrying a briefcase overflowing with oats through seedy bars in Dunkirk. Financing fell through after the first day of shooting. Some of Leone's silent footage survives on YouTube.

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