Tag Archives: World War II

From sewer to sunlight

Scene from "In Darkness" from Sony Pictures Classics

The sun felt especially warm and bright as I exited Harkins Theatres Shea 14 this afternoon, and I took special note of chirping birds and bits of green in bloom. Normally I leave this particular movie theater with a single burning question: To gelato or not to gelato? But today I had something else on my mind. Sheer unbounded gratitude for the freedom to walk to my car and return home in safety.

I was still dabbing tears from my eyes as I left the theater, feeling profoundly moved and nearly breathless after watching a film called “In Darkness.” It’s based on the true story of a Polish sewer worker and petty thief named Leopold Socha who saved several Jews from certain extermination at the hands of Nazis by hiding them in the sewer system under Lvov, Poland in 1943.

The sewers, filled with filth and rats, become a sort of microcosm of society for the folks who must live there if they are to live at all. Everything we experience above ground happens below ground too — from sibling spats to sexuality — often as noise from life above seeps in. Bombs, beatings and machine guns. Even liturgical fare.

Everyday objects once taken for granted wield new power in this world. Scissors. Crayons. A fringed scarf. A raw onion. Even a belt ripped from frayed pants by a father fraught with desperation. Children see things they ought not witness. Parents make choices that they, and others, will have to live with forever. A couple delights in an odd sort of “Cinderella” moment. And adults are comforted by a little girl’s hushed lullaby.

It feels easy to tell the good guys from the bad as “In Darkness” opens, but things change in a hurry as a simple man is confronted with complicated choices. And days spent in hiding wear down body, mind and soul. Still, nothing in this film feels contrived — a credit to both screenwriter David F. Shamoon and director Agnieszka Holland.

“My main hope,” shares Shamoon, “is that Loepold Socha’s example will inspire others as much as it has inspired me. Like many of the other Righteous, he was no saint, which is what makes this a universal story. He was just an ordinary man who made some crucial choices that led to extraordinary deeds.”

Films that capture the complexity of human nature, at once beautiful and ugly, are rare — as are films that question so exquisitely the place of God in the human picture. Parents, in particular, will appreciate the choices made and chances taken by those in the sewers — and leave wondering how they’d act living either in the sewers or above them.

— Lynn

Note: “In Darkness” is an Agnieszka Holland film from Sony Pictures Classics starring Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader and Herbert Knaup. Rating: R. Languages: Polish/German/Yiddish/Ukranian (English subtitles). Click here to read the reflections of those whose directing, cinematography, music, production design, costume design and editing make this such a truly exceptional work.

Coming up: Exploring the Anne Frank Center’s new home, Wall of words, A journey home


A veteran’s take on “South Pacific”

Thanksgiving Follies scene from Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific on tour, which comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe Jan. 10-15, 2012 (Photos: Peter Coombs)

When the touring production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific” comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe in early January, Valley audiences will enjoy a cast that includes Vietnam veteran Robert John Biederman, who describes his portrayal of Captain Brackett as “a salute to all the veterans in the audience.”

Biedermann was a naval officer working in cryposecurity, and his father was a captain during World War II. He praises “South Pacific” for its portrayal of something central to the experience of serving in the military — camaraderie between service members, and shares that he wears his father’s military dog tags during every performance.

Hammerstein and original director Joshua Logan adapted stories from James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific” when writing the book for “South Pacific” — which features music by Rodgers and lyrics by Hammerstein. Biedermann praises the revival’s director for “taking the storyline so seriously” — treating the piece as “a straight show with music.”

Marcelo Guzman as Emile de Becque and Katie Reid as Nellie Forbush

“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific” follows two World War II romances in which race plays a significant role. “Racial issues are front and center with this musical,” reflects Biedermann. “My favorite word in the show,” says Biedermann, “is when Nellie says colored.” Seems Nellie falls for an older man who’s been widowed, but gets cold feet after learning his children had an Asian mother.

Meanwhile, an island mother dubbed “Bloody Mary” lures a young sailor named Joe to court her daughter Liat. The song “Happy Talk,” says Beidermann, is actually the mother’s way of saying “I want you to take my daughter so she doesn’t have to go through what I went through.”

Cathy Foi Mahi as Blood Mary in Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific

“Racial issues exist now as they did in World War II,” says Biedermann. “It should make you feel uncomfortable,” says Biedermann. “It’s all about how you were raised.” Apparently songs like “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” weren’t well accepted by some folks in the American South when the musical opened in 1949.

There’s plenty that’s lovely and light in the musical “South Pacific,” but those looking for deeper meaning will surely find it. And maybe it’ll serve to remind us all that only 1.7 million of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II are still with us, and that there’s much we can learn from their stories.

Biedermann says he’d love to welcome WWII veterans who see the show backstage, but you’ll have to check with ASU Gammage on how they handle such things. Click here to learn more about the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and here to learn more about the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.

— Lynn

Note: “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific” comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe Jan. 10-15, 2012. Click here for show and ticket information.

Coming up: Valley youth tackle “Les Miserables”

Chandler tales

I’ve long suspected there was at least one cub reporter in my midst. Sure enough, my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth is showing clear signs.

Before heading out to the Ostrich Festival in Chandler Sunday afternoon, Lizabeth asked if she could take my camera along. We gave the battery a quick charge and off she went — with a couple of goals in mind.

First, to meet a young actor from the Nickelodeon television show titled “iCarly” who was making a guest appearance at the event — a plan she wisely abandoned after seeing the line that appeared to be several blocks long.

Lizabeth did the mental math, and soon realized that waiting hours for a few seconds of time and a quickie autograph was a high investment/low yield enterprise.

Second, she wanted to get her fix of cute (and even not so cute) animals. Ostrich races. Pig races. And sea lions clever enough to avoid the racing gig altogether. Mission accomplished there — and more. Think goats, cattle, emus, sheep, water buffalo and yaks.

Lizabeth came home eager to share her photos (which I’ve assembled for the slide show below). Many evidence her offbeat sense of humor. The photos of signs and a recycling bin suggest she’s been either channeling or mocking me. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

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I was impressed by her keen reporting of the events — and her wit in recounting them. Knowing attention to detail is important to the journalism craft, I asked her what types of food were available at the festival. Her answer was simple and plenty accurate: “Fried.”

I was sorry I’d asked when Lizabeth offered further details. Hot dogs on a stick. Pizza on a stick. Fry bread. Funnel cakes. Snowcones. Catfish. Even ostrich burgers. “That,” she quipped, “must be what happens to the losers.”

Apparently the pig races were particularly amusing — largely because the pigs belonged to various groups with names like “Hollywood pigs,” “Rock & pop pigs,” “Country pigs,” and “Political pigs.”

Seems one of the “political pigs” (dubbed “John McPig”) had a hard time deciding which starting box to enter as his race drew near. I’m told he tried the boxes of each of his opponents before wandering off, only to be redirected by a race official to his designated stall.

But alas, there’s nothing artsy about an ostrich or pig race — so check out some of these cultural events coming soon to Chandler if they’re more your style:

Chandler-Gilbert Community College Performing Arts presents an original CGCC production titled “Get a Life” March 24-27 at the Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center.

The Chandler Symphony Orchestra presents a concert coupled with a food drive (as part of the 2011 Orchestras Feeding America program sponsored by the League of American Orchestras) March 27 at the Chandler Center for the Arts.

The East Valley Jewish Community Center (in partnership with the City of Chandler and Chandler Unified School District) presents a film titled “An Article of Hope” April 5 at the Chandler Center for the Arts.

The Chandler Children’s Choir presents “Summer Camp 2011” June 13-17 (for ages 6-16) at Tri-City Baptist Church in Chandler.

Enjoy your time in Chandler — and be thankful your kids have yet to come up with the idea of parent races.

— Lynn

Note: Watch the daily online calendar of events at www.raisingarizonakids.com for ongoing news of upcoming events with a family-focus in the Valley and throughout the state.

Coming up: Thoughts of Japan

More movie tales from Narnia

My oldest child, Christopher, has always been more of a doer than a reader. He wants to explore his own world rather than read about the worlds of others. 

But “Narnia” was a rare exception when he was in elementary school. I recall reading to and with him from C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” series — and the excitement we shared each time we finished one and got to hit the bookstore for another.

We always bought the hard cover editions with gorgeous cover art, and regarded them as real treasures that would transport us on adventures of the mind and imagination.

Recently we enjoyed an advance screening of the latest “Narnia” movie — titled “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I was eager to see it because I quite enjoyed “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” when it was in theaters several years ago. (As a Colorado native transplanted to Arizona, I was especially fond of the forest scenes and snowy settings.)

“Dawn Treader” has less snow, but more sea. The movie was filmed in a few places, but none more stunning than Australia. It’s a visually pleasing work with or without the 3-D experience. Plenty of scenes take place aboard a ship, so it’s a fab flick for pirate lovers and seafaring souls.

Who knew one could enjoy a swashbuckling adventure in the absence of Johnny (originally a “Christopher”) Depp? This was true revelation. (Of course, there’s always the new movie “The Tourist” for those of you desperately in need of a Depp fix.)

I typically balk when I hear assertions like “there’s nothing new under the Sun” or “no idea is a truly new idea.” But I am starting to develop an annoying habit of finding oodles of other movies in every new movie I see. “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” was no exception.

Picture “Indiana Jones” meets “Pirates of the Caribbean” — then add a touch of “Ghostbusters,” “Harry Potter,” and final scenes of Disney’s “Enchanted.” Even echos of the television series “Lost.” Happily, it works. And that’s all that matters.

“Return of the Dawn Treader” is a sort of swashbuckling story meets theological treatise — with emphasis, luckily, on the storytelling. The religious views of C.S. Lewis, original author of the “Narnia” tales, inform much of his work — as do prevailing issues of the day. What’s the balance of destiny and free will? What gives the dark side of man its power?

I tend to view such films as gateways to analysis and dialogue. What was the historical context when C.S. Lewis wrote these works? What about the time period in which the action supposedly takes place? How does art reflect life in Lewis’ work? And what value are books and film in naming and critiquing individual values and cultural mores?

Then again, you can just wing it with the flying dragon vibe. No theological study needed to embrace the humor of the movie’s fencing mouse — or the other land, sea and air creatures the children encounter in their quest to save “Narnia.” (The creatures who bounce playfully on a single large foot are my favorites.)

If you favor thinking of the lion Aslan as a diety, then go for it. If you’re happy to leave his lionhood at that, you’ll still enjoy the tale. But either way you’ll notice religious and ethical concepts, such as the power and necessity of belief, throughout.

My one frustration with attending the UltraLuxe Scottsdale theater was that they have yet to work out a few of the kinks.

Clearly the person who designed this venue, despite its lush decor, wasn’t mother to a preschooler who needed a shelf in the bathroom stall, a super speedy concessions line or a cup holder that squared with the large size drink.

Take note theater folk: The truest test of a family-friendly venue is the ease of using it for the parents whose patronage you seek. Because this cinema has some nifty parent and child-friendly programs, I hope they’ll make some more strides in these areas.

Still, two out of my three “kids” have experienced this theater now — and they both give it high praise. The seats are comfy, the sound is excellent, and the staff are friendly and courteous.

But check it out yourself — and let me know both what you think of the luxury cinema atmosphere and what you think of some of the new movies out there this holiday season.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) from HarperCollins Publishers. And be sure to stay as the movie’s credits roll to enjoy delightful drawings by original illustrator Pauline Baynes (1922-2008) and the new Carrie Underwood song titled “There’s a Place for Us.”

Coming up: James Bond meets 39 Steps

Ring in a glorious new year

For days the airwaves have been full of year and century in review perspectives. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m practically pining for some of those American Idol misfits. I’m tired of Tiger’s trysts, Blogojevich’s banter and Sanford’s shenanigans. I miss the good old days, when William Hung sang She Bangs, when Sanjaya Malakar sported a mohawk, when Nicole Tieri gave us “scooter girl.”

I could hold out for the premiere of American Idol’s ninth season, coming to Fox television Jan. 12th and 13th, but I just can’t wait that long to get my idol fix. Instead, I’ll be enjoying opening night of Phoenix Theatre’s production of Glorious, a musical about a “wanna-be” idol from a bygone era whose self-certainty might rival that of Adam Lambert, runner up for American Idol’s eighth season.

Glorious recounts the musical misadventures of wealthy American widow and socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, who lived from 1868 to 1944. It’ll be a refreshing change from media too mesmerized by the pseudo-celebrities of our own day and age, whose only claim to fame is fame. After speaking with Glorious cast member Toby Yatso, who plays Jenkins’ pianist Cosme McMoon, I expect to discover something infinitely more complex in Jenkins than in the subjects of so many of our modern day tell-alls.

Yatso, by the way, was recently honored with a 2008-2009 AriZoni Award for best principal actor in a musical with a contracted theater for his portrayal of Leo Bloom in Phoenix Theatre’s production of The Producers. I don’t yet have a full roster of the cast for Glorious, but knowing Phoenix Theatre, there’s not a mediocre one in the bunch. If I recorded here all the accolades and awards they’ve received through the years, you’d be reading well into 2011. (It’s enough for me to know that neither Carrie Prejean nor Kanye West will be anywhere in sight on opening night.)

If you attended the late night version of Phoenix Theatre’s production of The 35th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (sponsored by Echo Magazine), you know that a naughty word or two can sometimes slip into one of their productions. (In all fairness, however, they make it well known when profanity might be paramount.) Yet Glorious, quips Yatso, is almost annoyingly devoid of innuendo.

The good news, of course, is that Glorious is appropriate for audiences of all ages. Imagine the conversations that might result from three generations in one family seeing the show together. The piece is full of World War II references—and I can’t imagine a better bridge for older generations sharing reflections with younger ones who might otherwise never discuss this period in our nation’s history.

Yatso notes that although Glorious is set in the 1940s, “the story is so current.” Like today’s “reality show culture,” Glorious makes us wonder what it really takes to be a star. Is it talent? Is it chutzpah? Does it really matter? In the absence of talent, does something else give a person star quality—and is that okay? Apparently Jenkins was devoid of talent but drowning in ego. How then, you might wonder, does she make it all the way to Carnegie Hall?

Ours is a culture, reflects Yatso, that can’t look away from a human train wreck. We know it’s wrong, but something compels us nonetheless. Candidates for a modern day train wreck award might include Kate and Jon Gosselin, Nadya Suleman, or Richard and Mayumi Heene. (The fact that you may not recognize these folks without their media monikers is further proof of their depersonalization as they lay on our tracks.) “Jenkins,” says Yatso, “is one of these people but in the 30s and 40s.”

Still, Yatso’s admiration for Jenkins seems strong. He describes her as a philanthropist, influential in New York society circles, who did about as many things as a woman could do during that era. “She was just such a robust woman,” he says. The complexity of her character, and Yatso’s enthusiasm for it, leave me genuinely intrigued. A show like this—so off our everyday radar yet so steeped in the issues of our day—doesn’t come around that often.

It sounds like a glorious way to ring in the New Year…


Note: If you have art-related topics you’d like to see covered here, please comment below with your ideas and suggestions. Thanks!