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On the Internet, Things That Are Lost Are Occasionally Regain’d

When I was a young fellow living in The Castilian dorm in the late 90’s, I would occasionally visit the TV lounge on my floor early in the morning and study there. Being a bit of an odd bird in that I would rather “sleep less and get up early” versus “stay up late” this would mean that the lounge was empty ( save the odd beer can and cheetos wrapper before the morning cleaning staff came through ).

The cable provider in Austin at that time carried Classic Arts Showcase which follows a roughly MTV-like format where a clip is introduced by a title-card in the lower left describing the music and the visual, and then the art plays.

It’s a very enjoyable program and far more educational than the sea of infomercials playing in the same time slots. I saw 2 things on Classic Arts showcase in those wee hours that have stuck with me all these years that I wish to possess:

  • “O Fortūna” from Orff’s Carmina Burana with this amazing Tarot-esque stage setup with plague carts and overdone European motley references
  • A video of bowler-clad, Edwardian English society types each walking up to a keyboard to play the progressive downbeat note to something of Chopin’s that I surely saw on “Looney Tunes”. I think it must have been a Hungarian Raphsody, but I failed to make a note of the name…
  • {I didn’t see this at that time, but in a similar vein…} Anna Netrebko singing the same famous opera song ( I think I translated it as “Oh what am I pretty!”, something along the lines of “Wat bin ich schon”) in a variety of settings, but with the video stitched together

Well thanks to the video revolution of the internet, I’ve found the first of these lost treasures.

It’s Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s réalisation of “O, Fortūna” that so struck me lo those years ago.

While the film quality shows its age ( 30+ years ), the scope and subtext of a devil and an angel turning the rotam fortuna as begging kings, dwarves, whores, and clergy beg for the coins of its favors was something that would really sear your gray matter at 3 in the morning as you worked memorizing logic formulae for your test later that morning. It features a certain sensibility in European theatre of the time that recalls the work of Werner Hertzog, the Italian Sci-Fi epics ( “Dune” / “Flash Gordon”), and Carnivale.

Death reigns resplendent as the tool of of the blind, turning, dog-faced bitch, Fortune in the misty vale on the other side of the wheel-structure as the archetypes dance ( Major Arcana, no? ).

This is a video that hits the collective unconscious tuning fork deep inside my skull with a chi-punch.

Check it out:

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