Films

Das Weib des Pharao

I watched the restored version of the 1922 Das Weib des Pharao last night.  The English title is The loves of pharaoh, although my rudimentary German suggests that Das Weib means The wife. It’s an interesting entry from director Ernst Lubitsch, who became associated in the US for his sophisticated, elegant, and wry comedies, and for whom the phrase “the Lubitsch touch” was coined.  This was his last German before he left for the US, and which he made to expand his repertoire to include epic films.  The story of the restoration of this film is fascinating, since no single print survived. It’s certainly not a film I have seen before, nor is it one that is shown much on television, so I am grateful to TCM for the opportunity to see it. The film is a shortened version of the original, since some parts have been lost forever; it includes also some still shots for scenes for which film is unavailable.  The story is clearly based on Verdi’s Aida, but no such attribution is provided. This film certainly lacks the Lubitsch touch, as no wit or humour is to be found.  As is the case with so many silent films, the acting is often over the top, which was the norm for this medium, but it is taken to some extremes in this film, particularly by the actors in blackface playing the Ethiopian characters.  The battle and crowd scenes are often stilted and clumsy; I don’t think this is surprising for an director who was known for his subtle and light touch. Perhaps because of Lubitsch’s lack of expertise in such a genre, the film and action sequences are too over the top, even by silent film standards. Still interesting to watch, however, especially because it is such an odd contrast to Lubitsch’s other films.

The film stars the controversial Emil Jannings, a favourite of director F. W. Murnau; in Hollywood, he is likely most known for his role in The blue angel, the simulataneous English-filmed version of Der blaue Engel. Janning’s work during the Third Reich in Nazi propaganda films meant the end of his acting career after the war.

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Animal welfare

Merchants boycotting Kopi Luwak coffee

WSPA has just announced that a number of merchants have decided to no longer sell Kopi Luwak coffee because of the often inhumane conditions under which the civets needed to produce this coffee are maintained.  I have had the opportunity to taste this coffee and, while it was delicious, did make me uncomfortable, since I avoid products that are derived from animals; I can see now that I was justified in my caution.  The Guardian published this article about the treatment of civets in the production of kopi luwak coffee.  Some pertinent observations:

“The conditions are awful, much like battery chickens,” said Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director of the conservation NGO Traffic south-east Asia. “The civets are taken from the wild and have to endure horrific conditions. They fight to stay together but they are separated and have to bear a very poor diet in very small cages.”

“There is a high mortality rate and for some species of civet, there’s a real conservation risk. It’s spiralling out of control. But there’s not much public awareness of how it’s actually made. People need to be aware that tens of thousands of civets are being kept in these conditions. It would put people off their coffee if they knew.”

My thanks to WSPA, an organization which I have supported for years, for bringing pressure on merchants to take a stand against this treatment.

Veganism

The surprising appeal of vegan baking (for non-vegans)

Baked goods can pose significant challenges for vegans, since these goods traditionally contain eggs and dairy.  I don’t bake often, as my passion lies in cooking, but when I do, I am always met with “but it’s so good” from non-vegans.  One becomes used to dealing with the assumption that a tasty vegan baked product is something that should inspire surprise, so I’m happy to share this post from a non-vegan’s perspective.