Thoughts on the film Where To Invade Next

Two things really moved me in Michael Moore’s film Where To Invade Next. He visited prisons in Norway and interviewed inmates and staff. Prisons there are extremely humane. There is no capital punishment, no life sentences, and little or no rape and violence in the prisons. Each inmate has a cell with a door they can lock with a key.
When they get out, they have to be fit to live in society, and the prisons work toward that end.
Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 4.11.38 PMIn comparison, when you think about American prisons cheaply warehousing huge numbers of minority inmates, run by corporations for profit, providing cheap labor, allowing rape and violence to occur, it’s easy to see Michael Moore’s point that our prisons are a socially condoned, legal form of slavery. 
The other moving thing was his visit to Germany to see how it deals with its history of Holocaust. Students learned empathy for a Jewish man who had to put the belongings he most cherished into one suitcase, because Nazis were forcing that onto him. The students then put their most cherished belongings into a suitcase. One by one, in went the cell phones, photos, keepsakes, etc. You could see it made a deep impression on them. 

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Dance, ecstasy, Pina, play

Today I had three dance experiences, which made it a wonderfully memorable day.

  1. I participated in Ecstatic Dance Austin this morning.
  2. I saw the film Pina by Wim Wenders, about the late German dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch, her work, and her dancers.
  3. My friend Peggy and I walked and played our way around Town Lake.

There is a shortcut to ecstasy. It’s called dance. ~ Gabrielle Roth

I am in love with Ecstatic Dance Austin, feeling so grateful that I have two hours every Sunday morning as an outlet for my energy, movement, physicality, playfulness, experimentation, and connection.

Today it occurred to me that if I didn’t have this, I’d curl up in a ball and die, or at least be really depressed. When I’m struggling over relationships, finances, work, decisions, politics, life, this is a place where I can give all that heaviness over to Spirit and just move, feel, connect, play, and be present. Life becomes a dance.

It is joy to walk into a big dance studio with a great sound system playing the kind of music that invites movement. I move out onto the floor. I begin moving.

Because there’s no talking, I connect with people using eye contact, smiles, and sometimes hugs. Sometimes I create my own space by closing my eyes and dancing.

I smile a lot because I feel so radiant and happy. There’s joy in the present moment, of course. My more personal joy is that I’ve worked on my health for years with bodywork, yoga, and a clean diet, and I feel great. My stamina is good — I stay moving, even through the burning fire of dancing all-out chaos. My creativity is good — there’s no end to discovering rewarding movements that morph into new grooves. My capacity for living and dancing from joy is good — although I have moments when heavy thoughts arise in my awareness during dance, I can move through them and return to joy.

I find ecstatic dance to be a great healing antidote. If I’m suffering relationship woes, I can dance with men who appreciate me, move with me, play with me, honor me. They don’t know my story, and I don’t know theirs. We just dance. A couple of dances can restore my sense of being valued as a woman by the other sex.

And for days when I’m fed up with male egos, I can have playful, fun dances with women.

And of course, I can have dances with men or women, or men and women, any time for no reason at all except that we’re together in the studio, there’s some great music playing, and we share the joy.

The physicality of it, the improvisational nature of ecstatic dance, the freedom and goodness I feel in my body, the wave of rhythms that peaks somewhere in the middle just clear me out until nothing is left but sweat, breath, and oneness.

Afterward we sit or lie spent in a big circle on the floor and give ourselves a couple of minutes of silence. We say names. We have announcements. We mingle and leave.


Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost. ~ Pina Bausch

Pina, the film written, directed, and produced by Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club), is showing at the Violet Crown in downtown Austin. The film has been nominated for Best Documentary for the Academy Awards. (Click the link to view the awesome trailer.)

Pina Bausch worked with Tanztheater Wuppertal in Berlin from 1973 until her sudden death in 2009. Rather than being a biographical documentary, Pina shows her choreographic work and the dancers who danced her work speaking about her.

Here’s a clip (it’s in 3D, by the way — first dance film in 3D, that I know of — thanks, Wim Wenders!):

And here’s another:

And another:

She painted with dancers, movement, costumes. Her dances are not ecstatic dance — they are choreographed — but from what I could tell, she started with improvisation, asking for instance for a dancer to show her joy. Although some of the dance is highly structured, it retains its aliveness.

The film is a revelation — about life, love, pain, loneliness, longing. And creativity and playfulness.

No, there was no hurricane that swept across the stage,
there were just … people performing
who moved differently then I knew
and who moved me as I had never been moved before.
After only a few moments I had a lump in my throat,
and after a few minutes of unbelieving amazement
I simply let go of my feelings
and cried unrestrainedly.
This had never happened to me before…
maybe in life, sometimes in the cinema,
but not when watching a rehearsed production,
let alone choreography.
This was not theatre, nor pantomime,
nor ballet and not at all opera.
Pina is, as you know,
the creator of a new art.
Dance theatre.

I loved seeing the dances, dancers, costumes, settings. This film inspires me. I want colorful, flowing, sexy evening gowns to dance in. I want to play with movement, to experiment, to have fun.


I can trust my friends. These people force me to examine, encourage me to grow. ~ Cher

Peggy is a dancer and choreographer and a dear friend of mine for years. Having just seen the film and danced our way out of the theater, we walked around Town Lake incorporating playful movements — stepping stylishly between two trees, walking on benches, doing asana on bridges, mimicking the arm gestures we saw in the film, striking poses, waving arms, adding twirls and hops into our walk.

We made our walk into a dance, and you know I’m such a sucker for dancing in unlikely places. The hike and bike trail is as good a place as any, maybe better than most.

It was a beautiful cloudy cool winter afternoon, and people were out enjoying themselves on the trail, walking, running, biking. Our play gave them a little extra enjoyment. People can be so serious, it’s like an illness. We put smiles on their faces.

As we played, we talked about creating dances. We shared some hilarious, outrageous, fun, engaging ideas for dances.

I hope we do them. I’m moved!

Movie review: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

On Saturday, I got to see The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which I posted about earlier (see Fantastic prehistoric cave art movie).

I enjoyed Werner Herzog’s narration in English with a soft German accent, completely understandable. He’s so earnest, it’s easy to make fun of him, but when you realize he’s the only filmmaker that’s been allowed to film the oldest known art, the precautions they had to take, his love for cave art since he was a child, and what an awe-inspiring experience this must have been, and you understand and forgive him. He’s a treasure of a filmmaker.

The art is pretty remarkable.

The “supporting cast” (the archeologists and other experts who shared their insights) was good and interesting. One man dressed in clothing made of reindeer hides is the type of colorful character that Herzog loves to include in his documentaries.

A young archeologist, Julien Monnet, stood out for helping Herzog give the film its title. This young scientist with a ponytail (formerly a circus juggler and unicyclist) spoke about his initial response to the cave. He said that when he first went into the cave to do scientific work, he was dreaming every night of lions — of real lions and of paintings of lions (they are depicted multiple times in the cave).

In his dreams, the lions weren’t attacking him, they were being peaceful, but their presence in his dreams was quite powerful.

Being exposed to the cave art was such an emotional shock, after five days, he had to stop going in. He needed time to absorb the experience. The cave art touched something deep.

Here’s a link to a clip of Herzog interviewing him from the film.

That was a profound response to this art, the kind of experience that can reorder your map of the world and who you think you are, and perhaps why Herzog chose to title the film The Cave of Forgotten Dreams. There is something dreamlike about seeing these fresh, lively images intact inside a cave and realizing they are over 30,000 years old.

Watching this film feels like rooting around in your forgotten ancestral memories. Something ancient becomes very, very fresh and new.

The film offers an opportunity for the collective unconscious to become a bit more mindful, for us to reflect on our evolution and deeply appreciate the lives of our forebears from the time before recorded history. 

We can now connect to these unknown people because they have become more known to us.

Thank you, Werner Herzog, and thank you, French authorities who decided to use extreme preservation methods yet allowed this film to be made.

In a postscript at the end, Herzog shows us a biosphere heated with water from a nuclear power plant 20 miles away from Chauvet Cave. The biosphere has been especially hospitable to alligators, and some of them are albinos. The camera lingers on images of albino alligators.

At first, it seemed like a rambling nonsequitur to include this in a film about prehistoric cave art, but I had a sense that Herzog was affected by the images of these albino alligators in a nuclear-heated biosphere in the same way the pony-tailed archeologist was affected by the images of lions in the cave.

The proximity of the ‘gators to the lions, the biosphere to the cave, a nuclear power plant to ancient drawings of animals, somehow stretch the boundary of what we think of as possible — and we humans played a role in the creation of both environments. The juxtaposition of the new and the old, the natural and the unnatural, the images and the collapse of time in this film and in our psyches is deeply powerful and disturbing, like the best art.

Do we humans like who we’ve become?

I liked it when Herzog’s cameras lingered on the art. The 3-D is subtle. There are no tricks that make you jump. Instead, the curves of the cave’s walls and features are made more visible. It adds life and depth to the imagery.

The perspective of seeing the beautiful wild countryside in southern France, with pockets of vineyards, massive geological formations, and deep rivers, was also integral to the beauty of this film.

The musical soundtrack seemed very well-suited for the film, although I might have wished for more silence at times. The soundtrack is due to be released on October 11, 2011.