Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Clowns Are Cute!

Are they?

You remember Pennywise the Dancing Clown from It, don't you.
You will recall the Joker, won't you. We shouldn't need to mention, should we, Pogo the Clown, a true serial killer and rapist who used to entertain children at parties.

Who isn't afraid of clowns?
I haven't met in my whole life a single person who won't find clowns disquieting to say the least.
I used to hate clowns when I was a child, but do other children actually find clowns amusing?
A clown's face is totally covered by a thick coating of white foundation; physically, white is considered a non-color. The whiteness of the face is contrasted by the bright tints of the nose, of the hair, and of the lips (variations on the theme are frequent, of course). The mouth is, through make-up, usually enhanced into a large smile which stays on regardless of whether the person is smiling. But the most disturbing characteristic of a clown's facial traits is, to me, the eyebrows; these are usually also covered and hidden by a dense layer of make-up; a fake pair of eyebrows is drawn exaggeratedly above the original ones, practically on the person's forehead.
We never know whether the clown is actually smiling. The eyebrows, the part of a person's face that, together with the eyes, better reveals our emotional states, are hidden in a clown; his fake eyebrows are, instead, nicely twisted in grotesque arches characterized by an eerie fixity.
A damned mask!
How can anything good and pure lie behind that infernal non-color?

I don't think great directors like Stanley Kubrick, writers like Stephen King, or some among the most famous expressionist artists randomly chose clowns to portray evil, beast-like or, in the best scenario, extremely melancholic characters.
Just think of the historical and mythological beginnings of clown figures. Harlequin was probably one of the first jesters to exist, and clowns derive from him. Harlequin, modern for Hellequin (Herla Cyning, or King Herla, often identified with Woden, a Germanic god of fury and war), is originally an emissary of the Devil in French and Anglo-Saxon mythological tales, an archetype of exquisitely pagan craft.

Clowns and their devilish nature have been the object of psychological studies and a new word has been recently minted to identify the fear of clowns: coulrophobia.

Do you also have coulrophobia, or do you just adore clowns?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I was supposed to write about a different topic today. It can wait.

After seeing Amaluna, Cirque Du Soleil's new work, I just couldn't help but dedicate a few lines to it.
The show I attended was one of the general rehearsals preceding the actual performance, which will premiere April 19th, 2012.

Walking, ticket in hand, towards le Grand Chapiteau, a huge heated tent which will host the show for the next two months, I was transported by the typical itch that a passionate of time philosophy will experience at the idea of opening the glass door of a pendulum clock.

The setting, in its simple bamboo-like patterns, was itself a work of art evoking the romantic, dangerous, and fable-like atmosphere of a tropical island.
Yet, I could never have expected the degree of marvel that was to follow.
A spectacle of lights and flying little creatures suddenly floating around, complex acrobatic exercises performed in and on the edge of a glass hemisphere full of water; a white swan whose mysterious grace would fascinate and condemn to unfulfilled love any sensitive soul and the shady charms of a lizard that turned into a most dexterous and disquieting evil juggler hindering with his powers the love between a gracious creature and a modern-times young Ulysess; blue erinyes flying in like dei ex machina and elegant dancers tangoing on suspended ropes; a young bride kidnapped from the sky and her lover desperately climbing up a pole to rescue her; curious and beautiful cyclogynaikas gliding around on their wheeled foot and skillful women acrobats in red maillots spellbinding the audience.

Throughout the show, my mind was haunted by the most colorful adjectives and it anticipated writing this article. 
To draw a comparison, I could say I was involved in a mixture of Avatar and Greek mythology with a sprinkle of Alice in Wonderland, The Golden Ass, and a pinch of The Never Ending Story to taste. The difference is that no special effects were used, the performance was much, much more touching and encompassing, and the performers some among the best in the world.
I would watch the show over and over again.

Have you heard of Cirque Du Soleil?
Have you ever watched one of their shows?


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Way of the Dragon

Quod Natura fecit, Ars perficit.

When I started practicing Kung Fu, I had been driven for years by a serious and profound interest for Asia. I was awe-stricken by the way the Chinese and the Japanese people had been able, thousands of years ago, to incorporate martial arts into the tiniest aspects of their life. Including art. Even the smallest and apparently most meaningless daily actions were perfection in motion; each single activity was accompanied by an inner grace which was the quintessence of discipline, aesthetics, practicality, and economy of movement.   

For me, Kung Fu had become a necessary completion to my cultural approach to Asia. Practicing it, my models started assuming a more definite shape; I began admiring more and more the Eastern physical dynamism over the heavy Western body; mass systems were quickly substituted, in my vision of life and art, by kinetic systems based on revolving energy. 
Bruce Lee was for me the ideal model who successfully blended together the Eastern and Western physical, mental, psychological, and philosophical dimensions.  

I soon discovered, though, that there was potentially something more to it. I started pondering about the possibility of combining Kung Fu to my dearest artistic passions, acting and writing. What would the result be? "Certainly, not a bad one", I resolved!
So, I gradually let it work its way into my activities and, on a broader sphere, into every single detail of my life. Of course, this doesn't mean I write or make pizza while keeping my leg raised in a side-kick stance! Well, sometimes I do... But my point is, could I ever succeed in fusing it into my acting, my writing, my life, turning a physical stance or movement into a mental and psychic attitude? 

What good would it do to art anyway, you might ask. 
Let me tell you:
the essence of Kung Fu (and of all martial arts) is based on centering our body weight on what is named Dan-Dian. This is a spot about 2.8 inches below the navel; the same kind of balance is sought in singing, acting, dancing (especially Tango), Yoga, and whatnot. 
I personally believe that complete actors will be able to make use of their whole body when the context requires or allows them to; Kung Fu made me more body-conscious than I once was.
Breathing in Kung Fu is very important: it all happens in the belly; it's another way to connect to our center, the Dan-Dian. Singers are taught to breathe exactly in the same way when singing. The same rule applies to actors when talking. Teachers too, or their vocal chords at least, would be better off if they did so when teaching. 
Not to mention the respect for life and nature that Kung Fu naturally instills into the sensible practitioner. 

And so, since then, I've been trying to make Kung Fu into an invisible mechanism that moves me, unseen, from inside, adding a grain of grace, charm, power, elegance, and the ability to better express my personality in any way that I choose. 

Have you ever practiced a martial art? 
Is there an activity which is not directly related to your acting, writing, painting, or playing, but which you think might bring great benefits to it?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Olden Craft of Writing

Last week I finished reading an old book on the craft of writing I got from the library. Its title was Good English, by Percival Gurrey.
To give you a faint idea how old the book is, the last time someone borrowed it was in 1976.
The date on its first page is not clear because the library, ages ago, has printed its logo on top of it. But doing some research on its authors, I can assume the work was published around 1945.

I am aware that many of its concepts might be outdated by now; the way writers write today is much different than the way they wrote before the 1940s. Yet, their works have become part of a classic canon, their writing skills are praised as being unequaled, and they are read and studied in schools and universities much, much more than the books written today are.

This makes me think that, although their ways of writing reflect ages that are no more, maybe there is still something we can learn from the "old-school" and "obsolete" tips that contemporary teachers and professors seem to hate so much.
How beautiful would it be if we could find a way to blend old-school writing skills with the 21st century writing trends and tendencies!
Following is a summary of the most interesting tips I found in the book:

1) Opening Sentence
Use a crisp opening sentence!
Your purpose is to secure your audience, arrest them with a sentence that will make them read on.

2) Sentences
They can be of any length, but remember that what is written must be easy for the reader to grasp.
It is necessary for a practicing writer to become sentence-conscious. For example, deliberately alternating simple sentences with longish ones you will automatically make the writing more varied and, therefore, less dull for the reader.

3) Paragraphs
A paragraph is normally a subdivision of a much larger topic.
The opening sentence of each paragraph should lead right into the subject; the rest of the paragraph is then an extension of the initial statement.
The length of a paragraph should vary according to the needs and the complexity of the your thoughts.

4) Planning
A good way to start is by listing as many aspects of your broad subject as you intend to cover. If you find this difficult, it is likely that you don't know enough about it, and must study it further.
When the list is made, consider the order of the topics: do they flow logically?
A plan, of course, can be altered as your writing proceeds. A plan doesn't have to be followed slavishly, but should be taken as a rough sketch of the novel or story.

5) Wordiness, Clichés and Journalese
The commonest fault is writing too much, often using words and phrases to be avoided.
Clichés are some of them. They have a particularly deadening effect on the writer's prose; our mind has become so familiar with them through constant repetition that they have lost the freshness and force they originally had.
Journalese is the most extreme form of wordiness! It makes faulty use of redundancy and over-elaborated metaphors and similes. The best tip in this case is to "cut the cackle" and get to the point using straightforward and simple English!

6) Brevity
Say what you have to say in the most effective way. Keep in mind that, often, the most effective way is the shortest.
Long words and sentences, unless justified by the context, only reveal the writer's pompous personality.
Of course, the riches of a language are meant to be used; but if you come up with two sentences of equal strength for your purpose, you should choose the shortest.

I personally find these tips very useful.
Do you think they still apply to today's writing techniques? Is there anything you would like to add to complete them?