Monday, February 09, 2009

Was It Just the Haze of the 1990s?

Things left in the mind that we remember as being shining and glorious ultimately seem to be vaguely out of reach and haunting, even if they were really grimy, unpleasant inconveniences back in the day. When I wove through the snowy streets of SOHO to the film office where I worked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I sometimes tried to imagine which alley off Greene Street was where my great-grandfather Rosenbaum was murdered in early 1889 before a mysterious stranger took his widow and 11 children to the Oklahoma land run a few months later, giving her and the children his Anglo-Saxon name, Biggs.

But I would soon be pulled away from those musings to purchase my "light coffee" in the sacred We Are Happy to Serve You cup pushed towards me by the surly Russian deli worker who clearly took no pleasure in serving me.

I liked arriving at the film office before the others, but much to my chagrin I would find my coworker Laura who grew up in the Bronx and often shared stories of the year she spent with her Cajun husband in Baton Rogue. That year scarred her, she assured me. We could argue about many a topic, but one morning I made the mistake of telling her about having enjoyed a couple of years earlier seeing the Brazilian film Opera do Malandro, Chico Buarque's take on the Brecht-Weill classic Die Dreigrossenoper. She railed at me, as a fellow Jew and lover of Weimar culture. How could I praise this sacrilege and insult to this masterpiece that procariously managed to emerge just before the influx of the Third Reich?

Even our precious coworkers had no idea what we were arguing about and with such passion. And for years I've been trying to find a copy of the film, even on VHS, to see if my impressions now 20 years in the past were ill-advised. The clips below -- from the 1985 film and a recent staging in Rio -- suggest that I was not that off base. I have a couple of feelers out to capture this obscure epic, the most expensive Brazlian film ever made at the year of its release. If I was able to find Skidoo, surely this one will return to me as well.

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