Building off our recent interest in foreign and independent films, Len and I went to see Kitchen Stories tonight, a Norwegian film about an absurd post-WWII Swedish study of the kitchen habits of Norwegian bachelors. The study is done to increase knowledge for designing a more efficient kitchen space, and the movie becomes a showcase for the idea that the act of being observed changes things, and that sometimes the observer becomes the observed.
Kitchen Stories features a home researcher named Folke Nilsson who is one of a handful of researchers sent to the hinterlands of Norway to study the kitchen habits of single male Norwegian farmers. His host, Isak, is an old man who clearly has no interest at all in having some strange person sit in his kitchen and observe him (he only signed up for the study for the free horse, which turned out to be a toy horse). In this bizarre and surreal study, the Swedish observers sit in high tennis referee-like chairs in the corners of the kitchen and are given strict instructions never to interact with their hosts so that they don't disrupt the routines they're trying to study.
Isak clearly doesn't like having someone in his kitchen observing him, and this very fact immediately disrupts his routine; he begins cooking his meals in his bedroom, and after the rare times he's actually in his kitchen, he very pointedly turns out the light on Folke, who's finding it difficult to do his research with such a host.
But after a mishap that requires Folke to interact with Isak, they begin talking. Once the floodgates open, the two become friends. Soon, Folke's all-too-serious boss begins berating him about disrupting the study. And all the time, Isak's friend Grant observes the growing friendship and begins to get jealous of Folke, and dangerously so. Folke soon learns that Isak has been observing him as well, and Folke's colleague Green, who has a host down the road from him, shows up at his trailer one night in a drunken stupor ranting that one cannot properly observe another human without interacting with them.
There were really two stories in Kitchen Stories. The first is the friendship that grows between Folke and Isak. The movie is a comedy here, and I remember what Len told me the night we looked at the poster and decided to see it: "Norwegians aren't funny!" Now I know they are, but they're just very subtle about it. Very, very subtle.
The other sub-story educated me a bit on the relationship between Sweden and Norway, something I'm completely unfamiliar with. At the beginning of the movie, Folke's boss is describing his disgust at having to drive on the left as he goes from Sweden to Norway, and how it made him want to vomit. It sets the tone for the broader scope of Folke and Isak's relationship, that of a Swede and a Norwegian. At one point, Isak casually comments that the Swedes were casual observers during the war, too, which in the setting of the movie had only occured maybe a decade prior. There is clearly tension there, and Isak and Folke occasionally run up against it, but their friendship smooths out these bumps. This part of the movie made me want to learn more about the relationship between Sweden and Norway, both the political one and the cultural one.
Both Len and I really enjoyed the movie. It was a very sweet movie with a bittersweet ending I won't give away (I had hopes that the movie would end slightly differently, namely that Folke would return before the critical moment). The comedy was very light and subtle, and the drama was as well. At the risk of getting too melodramatic here, it had a lilt to it that was very much like the Norwegian language: rolling ups and downs that sort of take you along gently.
I've learned a little Norwegian in my life, some from my grandfather when I was a kid and some as an adult when I began studying it on my own, and I had such a hard time understanding the Norwegian in the film (it was subtitled in English). I can read Norwegian pretty easily, but something about the spoken language escapes me — I have difficulty discerning words, even in sentences I would know immediately upon reading.
So the accent just eludes me. I was expecting that here, but I'd hoped to be able to at least understand some of it. I wondered if my inability to understand at least some of it was due to the fact that Isak was a remote farmer, which I'm guessing would be like a non-English speaker trying to understand someone from the Appalachians. I also noticed that Folke said "Jo" when he said "Yes" instead of "Ja" as you say in Norwegian; I wondered if the Swedes in the film were speaking Swedish and the Norwegians were speaking Norwegian. This would be about right if what I learned is true, that the two languages can be understood easily by their speakers, almost as if they were dialects of the same language (which I don't think is far from the linguistic truth). This also would have made it difficult for me to understand about half the dialogue in the movie.
I recommend you see the movie if a calm and gentle comedy/drama is your thing. We certainly loved it. Next on the list is Intermission, which we're going to have to see before Thursday if we want to catch it in the theatre.
Len and I really wanted to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind this weekend, since it looks really good, but instead we opted to wait until next weekend on that one and this weekend we took in a foreign film at our local indie artsy theater. That film was Goodbye, Lenin!. It was a German film subtitled in English, and we loved it.
It's the late 80's, and Alex is a young East German man watching his country flounder in the death throes of socialism. He and his sister contend with a mother who, after being left by her husband, throws all her energy into the socialist regime, becoming an ardent Party member and doing her part to further the socialist cause. But one evening during a protest, Alex's mother witnesses him being arrested by the cops; she collapses from a heart attack and goes into an 8-month long coma.
When she wakes up, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik is gone. Germany has been united and socialism and the Berlin Wall have both fallen. The doctors warn Alex and his sister, however, that even the slightest shock could kill their mother. So in order to protect her, Alex decides that she cannot learn what's happened to her beloved East Germany. He takes her home and ensconces her in the bedroom of their flat, and sets about recreating the DDR, complete with neighbors who are in on the act.
There are two wonderful things about the movie. The first is the comedy that comes from Alex's attempts at maintaining the old socialist regime and finding it very difficult to do. There are the constant appearances of things from the West that intrude that he has to explain away. There are the cravings his mother has for old East German "delicacies", like Spreewald pickles, that are unavailable (prompting him to find old jars from the garbage, sterilize them, and repackage the new food in the old jars).
The second wonderful thing about the movie is the satire. Alex isn't just recreating the old DDR. He's inadvertently recreating the DDR that his mother (and he) would have liked to live in. It's a strong DDR that people from the West flock to in refuge from capitalism and greed (at least, that's the explanation he gives when he's pinned by a discovery of his mother's of the outside world), not the weak DDR that buckled under the weight of the encroaching West. It culminates when Alex has to do what we've known through the whole film must come: he has to find a way to break the news to his mother. Rather than tell her the truth, he and his friends and family manufacture a "proper" send-off for the DDR that's infinitely more kind than the one history gave it.
Now, this sounds like the movie is making the political statement that capitalism = good and socialism = bad. It really doesn't. It's very neutral on the subject, showing the bad sides of both, but we sort of come to identify with Alex when he longs for a time where his mother was first and foremast happy and healthy, and things elsewhere in life were at least stable.
The only negative to the movie in my opinion was that it tried to be all things in one movie. It was comedy, satire, love story, and family story. There are two subplots that felt unnecessary: the love story between Lara and Alex (although it certainly added some dimension to the film, she didn't appear to be as integral to the story as I'd thought she'd become), and the subplot involving Alex's father (which I won't spoil; suffice it to say that the revelation about Alex's father is critical to the movie, but the later actual involvement of his father really wasn't). These parts didn't detract from the movie for me, they just didn't add anything to it and made it a tad longer than it needed to be, I felt.
I really recommend you catch it if you can. There's another movie playing at the same theater called Kitchen Stories, and it's a Norwegian comedy. I told Len I wanted to see it before it left the theater this Thursday, and he insisted that Norwegians are not funny, which prompted me to defend my genealogical honor. Now we've agreed to see it, and let me tell you...my people better be representin'.
Before I go into anything else here, I want to take a minute to say that Refracted Mandog
has posted its first screenshot of Psycho Saucers, our first game that we're currently working on. We don't plan to inundate viewers with daily screenshots, but since you can finally actually see something of the game in it, we wanted to give a little peek.
And speaking of Mandog, I was talking to Gabe "CodeDog" Kruger today about Activision, the company I primarily work for. I was remembering today the old patches that Activision used to give out for getting certain high scores in their old Atari 2600 and Colecovision games. What was funny was that when I said "patches", Gabe said, "you mean you could get patches for those games? Where would you download them?" Which made me laugh because I was talking about actual patches
— you know, the cloth things you'd sew on your clothes.
I had so many Activision games, and I got a few of the patches
. I was 8, maybe 9 years old, and this was before it was uncool to be so geeky. Barnstormer and Chopper Command were games I distinctly remember getting patches for. I had a little denim jacket and I begged my mother to sew on the patches. God, I was a geek. Things like that today would surely be met with name-calling and some good beatings from my peers, most likely.
And I was reflecting on how I can so clearly remember these patches and the games and the Activision logo, and it seems such a strange thing now that 20+ years later, I work for the company that has given me some of the most vivid and fun memories of my childhood when I really never set out to do that at all. I certainly never set out to work in video games. It was the love of my childhood, sure, but it was always something I did for fun, and astronomy was the thing I was going to do for a living. Funny how things turn out. If you'd told me years ago when I was playing Wolfenstein 3D on my future brother-in-law's computer during my first years as a science student that I would be working closely with the company that made that game years later, I'd have laughed at you.
So, new yarn. Len's sister Betty and her husband Gary came out from Phoenix to visit and we went yarn store visiting. She's a knitter, too (in fact, she taught me twelve or so years ago), and I took her to Velona Needlecraft up in Anaheim Hills. I found this beautiful slate blue, breezy soft cotton that I just couldn't put back down. It was the perfect color for me, so I think I'm going to make a double V-neck cap-sleeved sweater for the summer. I've already started it in a 2x2 twisted rib stitch. I've found that I like this kind of rib the best if I can do it because it keeps away that sloppy second stitch that happens so often when you do ribbing.
I start working around 7:30 in the morning. (I have no commute, so I'm up at 7 and ready to work in thirty minutes.) After about an hour of checking into the gaming sites, reading email, and organizing my list of things to do for the day, I load up Triplej, an Australian radio station that has this terrific blend of good talk programming and current, progressive music. I listen to them while I work; I have no office mates to speak to, no water cooler to gossip around, so this is my human environment noise, really. Triplej's morning show is better by leagues than any American morning show I've ever heard. Plus, they can say "fuck" on the radio, so that makes it instantly better.
So I listen to Triplej until the morning show is over (now that they've moved Steve Cannane's show to a 10:30 pm PST time slot, hmmph), and about that time I'm ready to listen to Radio Rossii (Radio of Russia). Radio Rossii seems to be a Russian kind of NPR — lots of interesting programs that run the gamut from political analysis, human interest, radio plays, music, and even English language learning programs. It's the radio dramas that really intrigue me. Here I can actually get some practice out of my Russian with dialogue and story narration that is far simpler than the higher level and more challenging news broadcasts (to help me with my formal, more educated Russian, I try to read at least one major news story per day in Russian off of either BBC Russia or ITAR-TASS).
By the late afternoon, the weekday's programming tends to be music such as opera or English music, so it's time to switch to something like either NPR or the BBC World Service, or Rhapsody's music service. In Rhapsody I have a large playlist, at least 25% of which is made up of artists I have never heard before I started using the service, represented by independent music labels or in genres that defy radio-friendly broadcasting.
All of these together made me realize today how the Internet has done two things. First, it has replaced my fascination with shortwave radio. When I was a kid, my family had a shortwave radio. I was intrigued by the idea that I could hear radio broadcasts from other countries and they would be picked up by that little receiver. Every night I'd mess with the dial, usually getting in the BBC World Service — and as pedestrian as that is, really, when it comes to the possibilities, even that excited me because it was foreign — but sometimes managing to get in a Chinese station, or a Spanish station, and sometimes, if the atmospheric conditions were right, Radio Moscow. For a long time I didn't have a book to tell me what was on and when, so each night it was a gamble as to what I'd pick up, especially since the atmospheric conditions play a huge part in shortwave transmissions.
Years later my husband bought me a shortwave radio when we lived in Wyoming and had a dial-up connection, and before stations really began broadcasting much on the net because of the bandwidth. I still have that radio, although we only use it now on park outings for the FM and AM bands. But this time he bought me program guides so I knew what was on. For a long time I listened faithfully to a Chinese station that would include Chinese-English lessons in its programming. I also caught a North Korean propoganda station out of Pyongyang that was fun to listen to for the novelty. And I even would regularly get those spy number stations, where they broadcast a series of numbers and that's it. It was truly thrilling to hear this stuff. It was from across the world! I remember hearing from one English-speaking station in another country that it was a tradition for many shortwave enthusiasts to record the details of a station they heard and might have difficulty getting again, and then mail them for a postcard from that station. It's the postal equivalent to putting pins on a map.
Nowadays I don't listen to the shortwave radio and instead I get my foreign culture doses in stations that broadcast over the net now that bandwidth is flowing freely. It's definitely an improvement in that I can listen to virtually anything anywhere without wondering whether I'll be able to pick it up later. But I miss the excitement of turning the dial and hearing foreign voices in foreign languages through the static and trying to decipher just what it is I'm listening to. Some days I think about getting a bigger, better shortwave radio just to keep the dying art alive.
Secondly, I realized just how much the net is changing how we listen to and learn about music. I have so many CDs now from bands I'd never heard of that were local acts I'd either heard about through people in other parts of the country or the world, all because I talk to them on the net. I bought a David Bridie CD, imported, after I'd heard his music on Triplej and had never heard it in the States before. It's such a liberating thought to feel free of the record labels and the cookie-cutter radio programming and be able to find and support bands that can use the net as their radio. Word of mouth has always been popular for a band, but moreso now than ever, I think.
One thing I have discovered through all of this, however, is that I'm not really into Russian pop music. It's very...well...pop-ish.