Mouffe at the Movies: “What Happened, Miss Simone?”

One of the films generating buzz at this week’s Sundance Festival is a documentary about Nina Simone, What Happened, Miss Simone? The title comes from a poem by Maya Angelou. I want to see this one.

  • What Happened, Miss Simone? – Clip – Netflix [HD] – YouTube
    Classically trained pianist, black power icon and legendary recording artist, Nina Simone lived a life of brutal honesty, musical genius, and tortured melancholy. In the upcoming Netflix original documentary, Academy Award® nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus interweaves never-before-heard recordings and rare archival footage together with Nina?’s most memorable songs, creating an unforgettable portrait of one of the least understood, yet most beloved artists of our time.
  • 8 Nina Simone Facts We Learned from the New Netflix Doc – 012715
    Nina Simone wished she could downshift her singing career from artistic pursuit to mindless job, where it could be more about delivering sound than soul. She couldn’t do it. Simone gave everything to her melodies, each syncopated, rambunctious, fully-charged musical numbers drenched in emotion. Whether the songs were about love, loss, or fighting for equality, they had to emerge from her heart, a task that took its toll on her mental and physical health over the years. Nina Simone remains one of the greatest performers who ever lived and it came at a price. | In What Happened, Miss Simone?, documentarian Liz Garbus (Bobby Fischer Against the World and Love, Marilyn) strings together never-before-seen archival footage, long-lost recordings, and talking head interviews with some of the singer’s closest friends and family, to present an expansive look at Simone’s life. The film debuted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival this week. | Fans of the recent docudrama Selma will recognize proud and horrifying moments from the Selma-to-Montgomery protest march that led to the Voting Rights Act’s passing. A ferocious activist, Simone descended upon the town to perform for the protesters. A particularly stirring clip from the film shows the singer belting “Mississippi Goddam,” a Civil Rights-themed song written in the wake of Birmingham, Alabama bombing that killed four girls. | Simone’s life hit major turbulence in the ’70s, when she fled America to Liberia and eventually Paris. At her lowest point, struggling for cash and looking “like a street urchin” (her friends’ words), the musician managed just a few hundred dollars per gig playing for small French crowds in surrounding cafes. According to Simone, few people turned out for the shows. No one believed it was actually her, so why go? Time, medication, and rehab eventually revived the Simone that fans once knew, though her daughter believes the singer lost certain octaves, notes she never sang again, during this down period.
  • ‘Stronger Than Ever’ Sundance Docs Tackle Scientology, Campus Rape : NPR 012715
    Over in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival is in full swing. Critic Kenneth Turan tells NPR’s Renee Montagne about some of the festival’s must-see films, including documentaries about Scientology, rape on college campuses and Nina Simone, and a romantic drama based on a novel by Colm Tóibín. | KT: “The first one that played on opening night is called What Happened, Miss Simone? It’s about the singer Nina Simone. The title is from a poem by Maya Angelou, who wondered about the gap in Nina Simone’s performing career. And this looks at the entirety of her career — how she started, why she turned to singing in the first place. She had a major involvement in the civil rights movement, then she had a lot of personal difficulties, and this film really shows us what her life was like in a very intimate way.”
  • Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam – YouTube
    Holland 1965

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Rescuing Images From Entropy’s Oblivion

When people speak of losing everything after tragedy strikes – fire, flood, tornado, earthquake – they speak heroically of saving or failing to save the memories that cannot be replaced: the family photographs. “I grabbed the family album just before the roof blew off,” one says on the TV News, while others sift through the rubble searching for rain-soaked image scraps that can save their stories from oblivion.

Rescuing photographs is now a cultural trope. I told one of my own rescue narratives here on Christmas morning. The agent of destruction in that story was not some natural disaster, but a self-imposed need to clear away the clutter. Out of boxes of moldering paper, entropy-enhanced scrapbooks, and cheesy chachkas – all of it headed to my dump truck – I retrieved one startling hand-tinted print of my mother and sister made in 1944. It speaks to me, inviting me to imagine the stories it can tell about war and the Home Front.

The Rescued Film Project struck a similar chord this week with its video documenting the painstaking process of developing long-forgotten rolls of WWII-vintage film. No one knows the name of the American GI who took the pictures. Others will have to imagine the stories for him.

Undeveloped World War II Film Discovered from The Rescued Film Project on Vimeo.

  • The Rescued Film Project Archive
    The Rescued Film Project is an online archive gallery of images that were captured on film between the 1930’s and late 1990’s.  Each image in our archive was rescued from found film from locations all over the world, and came to us in the form of undeveloped rolls of film.  We have the capability to process film from all era’s.  Even film that has been degraded by heat, moisture, and age.  Or is no longer manufactured.
  • Rescued Film Project | Facebook
    An archive of images that the photographer never saw. But now you have.
  • Undeveloped World War II Film Discovered on Vimeo
    The Rescued Film Project discovers and processes 31 rolls of film shot by an American WWII soldier over 70 years ago.
  • Long-lost WWII photographs are found | 012615
    Interview by Kai Ryssdal: In late 2014, Levi Bettwieser bought 31 undeveloped rolls of film at an auction in Ohio. They turned out to be photos from World War II. | “I knew that I potentially had something special just from the look of the rolls themselves and what was written on them,” says Bettwieser. “But you never know what you’re going to get because obviously you have no idea what the condition of the images might be that are still on the film.” | About two years ago, Bettwieser, a video producer and film photographer in Boise, Idaho, founded The Rescued Film Project to salvage undeveloped rolls of film from around the world. | The rolls had hand-written notes that hint at what they might contain, but most are labeled with various location names, like LaHavre Harbor, Lucky Strike Camp or Boston Harbor. “One was labeled ‘Roll of French Funeral,’ and so we were able to actually recover some funeral pictures of a French officer,” Bettwieser says.
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DJ Maria’s New Year’s Resolution on WNYC

Listening to the Studio 360 podcast this morning, I was surprised and thrilled to hear my friend Maria Thornton talking with WNYC’s Kurt Andersen. Maria is one of four artists whom Studio 360 will follow this year to encourage them to lean in and complete long-imagined creative projects. Maria plans to return to her reggae roots. Good luck, Maria – Yellow Springs will be a better place to live as a result!

via New Year’s Resolution: A DJ Gets Back on the Mic – Studio 360:

At the end of 2014, we asked for your creative New Year’s resolutions, and we’ll pick several people to follow throughout 2015. More than one hundred people got in touch, including Maria Thornton. She fell in love with reggae music in her youth, moved to St. Croix, and became a part of the music scene, DJing and performing with bands. All that feels very far away, now that she’s a mother of three living in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Recently, Thornton was listening to a reggae station on Pandora and was surprised to hear herself, singing backup on Ras Shaggai’s track “Work Together.” She decided that 2015 would be the year she’d get back in the game.

Thornton admits that she has some work to do on her skills. “People are doing all kinds of stuff these days,” she tells Kurt Andersen. “I feel like I’m a little bit of a dinosaur. When I was DJing in college, I was mixing with two CD decks and one turntable.” She hopes her work will culminate in a reggae New Year’s Eve street party.

In 2015, she says, “the world needs more positivity. Now more than ever.”

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Guided by Her Perfumed Scent, a Blind Photographer Shoots Ad Campaign with Bollywood Movie Star Katrina Kaif

Imagine the elevator pitch for this marketing campaign: “O.K., it’s a bar of soap, but it’s more than that, it’s perfume. A lusciously beautiful model uses the soap. You can’t smell her in the ads – not yet – so we get one of these blind photographers we’ve been hearing about to do the shoot. He gets the shots by following her luscious scent. Beauty is more than what meets the eye.  A picture might be worth a thousand words, but a good back story is worth a million. Whadaya think?”

When the beautiful model is Bollywood movie star Katrina Kaif, and the photographer is Bhavesh Patel, the audacious concept sounds like it could come straight out of a Salman Rushdie novel. To my mind, there is no higher praise. He used to be an ad man, you know.

The promised back story is delivered in three YouTube videos documenting the photo shoot, the photographer, and the video director. Until I get some kind soul to read the video subtitles to me, I’ll withhold comment about representations of beauty and blindness. What I like most about what I find here is the portrayal of skilled image professionals doing their work. It’s good to know that a talented blind photographer is getting the work.

Blind photographer Bhavesh Patel snapped this glamor shot of Bollywood movie star Katrina Kaif for the Lux Perfume Portraits ad campaign. [Image source: Daily Mail]

About the images: [Above] Blind photographer Bhavesh Patel snapped this glamor shot of Bollywood movie star Katrina Kaif for the Lux Perfume Portraits ad campaign. [Below] Katrina Kaif works with Bhavesh Patel in the studio. [Image source: Daily Mail]

Bollywood movie star Katrina Kaif works with blind photographer Bhavesh Patel for the Lux Perfume Portraits ad campaign. [Image source: Daily Mail]

The Back Story

Behind the Scenes at the Katrina Kaif Photo Shoot:

Behind the scenes with Photographer Bhavesh Patel:

Behind the scenes with Director Sunhil Sippy:

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Books: “Gateway to Freedom” by Eric Foner

Book cover for "Gateway to Freedom" by Eric Fonervia Interview: Eric Foner, Author Of ‘Gateway To Freedom’ : NPR Fresh Air 011915

“Until 2007, when it was unearthed by a Columbia University undergraduate, few scholars were aware of the record of fugitive slaves written by Sydney Howard Gay. Gay was a key Underground Railroad operative from the mid-1840s until the eve of the Civil War. He was also the editor of the weekly newspaper the National Anti-Slavery Standard.


When historian and Columbia University professor Eric Foner saw the document, he knew it was special: It listed the identities of escaped slaves, where they came from, who their owners were, how they escaped and who helped them on their way to the North.

“A lot of information we have of the Underground Railroad is really memoirs from a long time after the Civil War and you know … people’s memory is sometimes a little faulty, sometimes a little exaggerated,” Foner tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “So here we have documents right from the moment these things are happening — and it’s a very unusual and revealing picture of the world of these fugitive slaves and the people who assisted them.”

Foner’s new book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, focuses on New York. According to Foner, the city was a crucial way station in the railroad’s Northeast corridor, which brought fugitive slaves from the upper South through Philadelphia and on to upstate New York, New England and Canada.

“This was a great social movement of the mid-19th century — and these are the things that inspire me in American history,” Foner says, “The struggle of people to make this a better country. To me, that’s what genuine patriotism is.”

 On how the Underground Railroad was organized

“We think of [the Underground Railroad] as a highly organized operation with set routes and stations where people would just go from one to the other, maybe secret passwords. It wasn’t nearly as organized as that. I would say it’s better described as a series of local networks … in what I call the “metropolitan corridor of the East,” from places like Norfolk, Va., up to Washington, Baltimore, in places in Delaware, Philadelphia, New York and further north. There were local groups, local individuals, who helped fugitive slaves. They were in communication with each other. Their efforts rose and fell. Sometimes these operations were very efficient; sometimes they almost went out of existence. The Philadelphia one basically lapsed for about seven or eight years until coming back into existence in the 1850s.

“So one should not think of it as a highly organized system. … What amazed me is how few people can accomplish a great deal. In New York City, I don’t think more than a dozen people at any one time were actively engaged in assisting fugitive slaves, but nonetheless, they did it very effectively. … I developed a great deal of respect for what a small number of people can do in very difficult circumstances. After all, they are violating federal law and state law by helping fugitive slaves.

On the myth that white abolitionists were the heroes

“The No. 1 myth, which I don’t think is widely held today but certainly had a long history, is that the Underground Railroad, or indeed the entire abolitionist movement, was [the] activity of humanitarian whites on behalf of helpless blacks — that the heroes were the white abolitionists who assisted these fugitive slaves. Now, they were heroic — and I admire people like that who really put themselves on the line to do this — but the fact is that black people were deeply involved in every aspect of the escape of slaves. …

“In the South, [escapees] were helped by mostly black people, slave and free. When they got to Philadelphia or New York City, local free blacks assisted them all the way up. …

“The Underground Railroad was interracial. It’s actually something to bear in mind today when racial tensions can be rather strong: This was an example of black and white people working together in a common cause to promote the cause of liberty.”

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Café Mouffe: Astha Tamang-Maskey

Ms. M and I spent a delightful evening in Toronto last November with Astha, who told us about recording this song when she was in Nepal on her latest music tour. This video has been viewed more than 25,000 times since she posted it on Dec. 26. See more of her music videos on Astha’s YouTube Channel.

Astha writes:

Please download the song at — 100% of the proceeds go to the CWIN Balika Peace Home.

This new song is dedicated to the beautiful children of CWIN Balika Peace Home. I fell in love with these girls when I visited them for the first time in 2012. I am so happy to have finished this song for them this year. These young women have been through unimaginable struggles and seeing their positivity always inspires me to become a better person.

Special thanks to my mother Susan Maskey for writing the wonderful and uplifting lyrics, Rohit Shakya for producing the song, Fuzz Factory Productions for the gorgeous video, and CWIN + Sumnima Tuladhar didi for giving me this opportunity to help and connect with these incredibly talented young souls at the Peace Home.

Lyrics written by: Susan Maskey –…
Music produced by: Rohit Shakya –…
Music composed by: Astha Tamang-Maskey –…
Vocals recorded at: Range Studios
Face painting by: Pooja Shrestha
Music video by: Fuzz Factory Productions -…


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Café Mouffe: Bernadette Peters Sings Sondheim

In a flight of fancy disguised as a play treatment I suggested to Ms. M that, if our love could be translated into musical theater, maybe Bernadette Peters could play her part. Ms. M was dubious, reluctant to accept any simulacrum. I pleaded with her, “Not even for Broadway?”

So here are three clips to persuade her to change her mind. All are songs by Stephen Sondheim, recorded at Royal Festival Hall in London in 1998. Thanks to Eric Martin for sharing the DVD excerpts on the net.

Being Alive (Company) | Children Will Listen (Into the Woods) | No One Is Alone (Into the Woods)

Encore: From the same London concert, listen to Unexpected Song (Song and Dance) by Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber.

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Avett Brothers – “the love that let us share our name”

As the holidays approached I kept thinking of a line from a song I heard on Pandora. Didn’t know who sang it. Didn’t know the name of the song. Wanted to post the song as a Christmas greeting for my family. Googling a scrap of lyric (“the love that let us share our name”), I figured out that the song was called “Murder in the City” – not exactly the title I expected for such a lovely refrain. So I didn’t post the video for Christmas. Here it is now.

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Remembering “the love that let us share our name”

Mary Lou Willis with her daughter Diana circa December 1944.

Here’s my Christmas surprise for 2014. I was throwing out boxes of obscure stuff when something made me dig through the trash one more time, searching for something I’d missed or lost. It was a photo of my mother and sister, Mary Lou and Diana. It must have been taken around this time in 1944. I know it was a difficult time in Lou’s life. She was a single mother worried about her soldier-husband’s fate somewhere in northern France as the war raged on. I hadn’t seen this image before; it astonishes me. How happy she looks! I offer it here for all her children and grandchildren as a token of “the love that let us share our name.”

Many thanks to Ms. M for taking this smart phone photo of the original print, which made it immediately sharable.

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WWII Armed Forces Editions: “When Books Went to War”

Book cover for "When Books Went to War" by Molly Guptill Manning [Source: NPR] Molly Guptill Manning, Author Of ‘When Books Went To War’ : NPR 121014

“During World War II, American publishers wanted to support the troops,” author Molly Guptill Manning tells NPR’s Renee Montagne. “And so they decided that the best they could do was print miniature paperback books that were small enough that they could fit in a pocket so the men could carry these books with them anywhere.” | Guptill Manning’s new book, When Books Went to War, is a history of these paperbacks, known as Armed Services Editions. They included all sorts of literature — from Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare to mysteries and Westerns — and were the culmination of earlier efforts on the part of American librarians to get used books to servicemen with help from book drives. Well-intentioned though they were, the results of these book drives were mixed, turning up titles like How to Knit and Theology in 1870. So the focus switched to designing and printing books that soldiers actually wanted to read — no easy task since these Armed Services Editions had to be battlefield ready.

  • Best Cookbooks Of 2014 Offer Tastes And Tales From Around The Globe : NPR
    2014 was a year for far-away cuisines to take up residence in U.S. kitchens — cookbook authors cast their nets for flavors from Paris, the Middle East and Southeast Asia; from the ancient spice routes and every point in between. Meanwhile, the food world’s leaders struck out in unconventional directions, and some of the year’s most interesting books stray far from the glossy, aspirational approach we’ve come to expect from the big names. A food editor who claims she’s “not a great cook” goes to chefs for advice, while another starts a farm. One chef raids the pantry for its most common ingredients, while another swoons for mushrooms alone. And apples, glorious in their variety, spill from between the covers of a cookbook with hardly any recipes at all.
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