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Published 22 October 2008, doi:10

Le Rossignol (The Nightingale)

by Christian Chaudet, Director
ARTE France, 2005
50 mins., col. n.p.
Distributor’s website:  http://www.virginclassics.com.

Reviewed by Richard Kade
Ubiquitous  Iconoclast


Recent inclusion of the word "twerking" in the on-line Oxford English Dictionary (or was it added? [1]) as a result of a certain dance performance on the 2013 MTV Awards Show brings to mind the progression (degeneration?) from earlier telecasts as well as my favorite thumb-sucker: "If the Gutenberg printing press made us all readers and the office copier started us down the road to becoming publishers, what will people fifty years from now say the 'net in general and the web in particular 'made' us?" [2]

One must stipulate that each succeeding generation's sensitivities tend to ease a bit in terms of what is deplorable to opprobrious as they relate to newer shifts in music and the language (including "body language"). The 1920s saw distain for flappers until Sinatra (and his effect on bobby-soxers) seemed bland to those up in arms over Elvis ("Pelvis Presley"). The next wave to hit was the Beatles, followed by Michael Jackson (crotch grab, etc.), Madonna, (from "Like a Virgin" to the 1993 MTV Awards Show kissing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera -- already two decades old [3]) and who-knows-what we should expect for the 2033 performance. Somehow Lady Gaga seems dull by comparison and a throw-back to earlier performers.

Putting MTV into historic context, the 25th Anniversary Awards Show rendering of "Billie Jean", where the "moonwalk" was premièred, was 1983 and explains why today's youth see Jackson as retro.

What has any of this to do with the Stravinsky-inspired DVD? Contextually, nothing and everything.

This innovative version of an entire opera is perfectly suited in every way to the music and libretto. Christian Chaudet's Rossignol is replete with clever special effects and prefaced by the quote from Stravinsky himself, "It is not enough to hear the music. One must see it as well!" HC Andersen's tale of ancient China, sung in Russian, has everything.

The lush visual imagery is salient and seems almost MTV-esque (think of the Michael Jackson-style of computer-generated video treatment ... not so much as seen in Thriller, but as in the opening sequence of the DVD music video collection Michael Jackson: HIStory Part II -- replete with helicopters and about fifteen or so "soldiers," digitally replicated to "amass" a cast of thousands). A tad more attention to the MJ collection is warranted in order to better understand the 2005 DVD of Rossignol as an extension of this genre.

That opening sequence is clearly more striking than the moonwalk. Were one to strip away the special effects from these videos (because, certainly Jackson did not do those himself but, obviously, relied upon the expertise of others) few things stand out as the "genius" that was the "king of pop" beyond showmanship and a fairly accurate grasp of what, in a song, causes people to go out in large enough numbers to purchase CDs, DVDs and tickets to performances on a tour. (Think also of Steve Jobs who was not an innovator so much as a master of marketing with an amazing sixth sense of what would be perceived as "cool.")

Thriller remains the all-time best-selling album. The money paid to John Landis to direct video rendition of the number (seem to remember it was a little over $1 mil.) was unheard of. Watching that one piece all these years later, seems tame (bordering on lame). Even the voice-over at the end by Vincent Price is silly.

Back to the thumb-sucker above, attempting an accurate prediction to such conjecture is no doubt the height of absurdity but even the oxymoronic "social networking" hyped by "Net 2.0" fans (those who live on FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, Flicker and other such sites) is clearly overblown.

Any contemporaneous contention that Tahrir Square was a "FaceBook Revolution", when considered with benefit of 20/20 hindsight now in late 2013 as these words are strung together, is clearly as bloated as most other such assessments. (Who, today, credits the collapse of the Berlin Wall to the use of fax machines as the technological means of evading Soviet proles?) Alas, Tahrir Square in retrospect is as much a failed exercise as was Tiananmen Square nearly a quarter century earlier.


[1] "No, 'Twerk' and 'Selfie' Have Not Been Added to the Oxford English Dictionary and Stop Saying So." http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/08/28/_twerk_and_selfie_added_to_oxford_english_dictionary_nope_and_stop_saying.html . [Brow Beat. Slate's Culture Blog ... Even The New York Times went with the headline "Oxford Dictionary Learns ... ] See also, Wortham, Jenna, "Oxford Dictionaries Online Adds 'Selfie,' 'Emoji’ and Other Tech-Oriented Terms" NY Times, 28 August 2013; posted at: bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/oxford-dictionaries-online-adds-selfie-emoji-and-other-tech-oriented-terms/?_r=0.

[2] Leonardo Reviews -- Lange, David L. No Law: Intellectual Property in the Image of an Absolute First Amendment, http://leonardo.info/reviews/june2009/kade_no.html.

[3] Leonardo Reviews -- Changizi, Mark Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man. See, also, (as relates to fn 2) http://leonardo.info/reviews/aug2011/kade_changizi.php . Changizi's review of Lanier posted at: http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_web_is_not_a_gadget.

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