A Summer Guest in October
Every year in July and August there’s a show, made by VPRO on Dutch television, called Zomergasten (Summer Guests). From eight till eleven PM one guest shows and talks about his favorite television clips. The guests can be anyone, from the prime minister or celebrities from the world of entertainment to scientists or designers who are largely unknown outside their own field of expertise.
Whining about the program is a kind of national sport. The skills of the host, the selection of guests and the fragments they choose, the occasions in which everyone is enthousiastic are very rare.
One would almost forget how unique the show is. A three hour talkshow with one guest, uninterrupted by commericals or news bulletins, in prime time on national television. It’s hard to find that anywhere else.
Probably everybody watching Zomergasten fantasizes about the television evening that he or she would compose. I don’t expect to be asked for the show in the near future. But fortunately I have a blog so I do not have to wait for VPRO.
It is not easy, though, to make a selection of fragments that are fun to watch, that somehow tell a kind of story about my life and that can be found on YouTube or Vimeo. But it looks like I succeeded.
And yes, I know that it is the end of October, and I better call this Autumn Guests. Sometimes it takes some time for a good idea to materialize.
Deputee Dawg – Heatwave
We start with some childhood memories. I could have chosen Tom & Jerry as well or something from the extensive oeuvre by Walt Disney. But I opt for a somewhat forgotten animation series: Deputee Dawg. Legendary because of the voices and quotes by Muskie, Vince and the Deputee, that were very well translated into Dutch. However, now that I do some research, I notice the piece in which Vince drills a hole into the icehouse was left out of the Dutch version. I have no clue why that happened.
There are several buildings that can claim responsibility for my decision to study Architecture. The Olympic Stadium in Munich, for example. Or the works of Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller (quite surprised to find themselves together).
The Evoluon certainly belongs in that list. If only because I knew those other examples only from pictures, whereas I could actually go inside that flying saucer in Eindhoven. This movie brings back many memories of all buttons and levers one could play with. Too bad that the building is, most of the time, not accessible to the public anymore.
Bruce Cockburn / If I had a Rocket Launcher
I could also fill an entire evening with musical fragments but that would make it a different kind of show. So I limit that part to one or two clips, which makes it rather difficult to choose from the long series of idols through the years. Abba, Kayak, DoeMaar, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Beatles, Dream Theater? Okay, let’s take Bruce Cockburn, because there are few people who master my favorite instrument, the guitar, so well. And also because the lyrics of this song, about a dirty war in Central America, left even a pacifist like me not untouched.
Werner Herzog – Nosferatu
I’m not a big fan of horror movies but this one is interesting because of its location. Werner Herzog shot the film to a large extent in Delft. That happened in 1979, a year before I started studying there. So I have not seen the shooting but I do remember an outdoor screening on a beautiful summer evening on the market square. A weird experience, seeing a Dracula scurry around between the rats on a boarded up square and at the same time enjoying the weather at another incarnation of the same square.
Peugeot car commercial
There is, apart from the Netherlands, no other country where I spent as much time as India. Some six months in total, I estimate. Plus a couple of months in neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. It all took place during two journeys in the nineties; I really should go back one day.
I do not know what people in India think about this TV commercial; I hope that they can laugh about. Except that it’s funny, for me it stands for the incredible ingenuity and creativity of the Indian people. Okay, it’s obviously completely over the top, but still: if it really happened somewhere in India, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Feng Zhu – Fantasy Landscape
Feng Zhu worked in the American movie and game industry as a concept artist before he started a school in that field in Singapore. Although he says he doesn’t make art – it’s all about visualizing ideas about locations and characters – I am deeply impressed by his skills in my favorite program Photoshop. Entire worlds come to life with a few digital brush strokes. He has put dozens of tutorials online and I’ve watched them all. This one is a fairly random choice from that series. Maybe a little too long for a Zomergasten fragment but some fast forwarding is allowed.
Tim Minchin – Storm
Also the following clip is beautifully illustrated, in a kind of fifties/sixties retro style. But that’s not even the main reason I want to show it here. The story that the Australian comedian Tim Minchin tells is extremely topical in this age of post-truth, alternative facts, climate change deniers and conspiracy theorists. In this virtuous rant he completely destroys the idea that science is “just an opinion”. And in the meantime he also teaches me some previously unknown English words like irrefutably, vacuous and unfathomable.
Marek Denko – Rooftops, rockets and adventures beyond
Marek Denko is a colleague of mine (as in: someone with the same profession) from Slovakia. Rooftops, rockets and adventures beyond is an artist impression that he made as a Christmas present for his children. At least, that’s how it started but modeling and rendering all the details took more time than expected. When you watch this making-of video that’s not surprising. If my walls wouldn’t be covered with my own work, I’d like to have a large-format print of this beautiful and touching image.
Erik Wernquist – Wanderers
And speaking of rockets …. Erik Wernquist, another colleague of mine, made a three-minute film about the conquest of the Solar System. Full of fascinating images of ringsurfers at Saturn, ice hikers on Europa, flyers on Titan and skydivers on Miranda. With the voice of Carl Sagan; we’ll hear him again later this evening.
What we see is explained here. Please let Wernquist make a full feature movie on the same subject!
Nick Jacoubowski – Springtime on Mars
“Martians, hahaha”. I’ve heard it too often as a co-founder, board member and webmaster of the Mars Society Netherlands. Around the turn of the century the world was not quite ready yet for manned trips to Mars. We proved to be fifteen years ahead of our time because now NASA is aiming for a manned Mars expedition in the early thirties. And Elon Musk has serious plans for a colony on the next planet out.
Only the newspaper I’ve been reading for decades, the Volkskrant, occasionally gets back into the nasty nagging mode when it comes to manned spaceflight. But I don’t take them serious anymore in extraterrestrial matters since they wrote that Jupiter is the largest planet of the universe. For local (earthly) news it remains my favorite newspaper, though.
And of course there is nothing wrong with jokes about Mars. But let them be funny jokes. Like in this animation by Nick Jacoubowski:
Jansoli – Colors of New York
Back to our home planet because that is still the most beautiful, most diverse world we know. And although there is rightly a lot of attention for the way our civilization is a threat to the environment, let’s not forget that we’ve also added a layer of beauty that was not there before. Look for example at this marvelous compilation of time-lapse movies of the most beautiful city in the world, New York.
New York, another place I should urgently revisit. The last time I was there I drank a Duvel at the bar on the top floor of one of the Twin Towers, unaware of the future course of history.
Koen Samson – Rotterdam Spring
I have made some time-lapse movies as well. Just put my camera on a tripod on the balcony, take a picture every thirty seconds and add them all to an animation. The result was not unpleasant but I think still images are my specialty. Making beautiful timelapses can be very time and energy consuming. Koen Samson managed to give that time and energy during a whole year. And he made four tributes to Rotterdam, one for every season, with a lot of attention for the details.
Rotterdam citizens have been convinced for decades that they live in the most beautiful city in the country, or perhaps even in the world. Lately the rest of the country, and perhaps the world, is more and more inclined to think they are right. The tens of the twenty-first century may be Roffa’s finest hour. Though of course we hope that the remainder of the century will just as great.
It’s hard to pick a season; they’re all pretty. Okay, the spring then.
Peter Veenendaal – Stad van Licht
It’s not common to show your own work show at Zomergasten. But Adriaan Geuze, not just anybody, did it once so there is a precedent. Moreover, my contribution to City of Light is limited to a minute at the end. The documentary by Peter Veenendaal tells the tragic story of the old Bijenkorf department store in Rotterdam with a lot of unique imagery.
I live a stone’s throw away from the site of Dudok’s masterpiece. And I’m fascinated by the fact that such a recent piece of history can vanish from the face of the earth without a trace. That’s why for years now I’ve been advocating the return of the facade sculpture of that old Bijenkorf store to its original location..
Sigur Ros / Heima
Apart from India, I have another candidate second homeland: Iceland. When I travel there I sometimes try to imagine that I’m on Mars, in the early stages of terraforming. It takes little effort: mosses, grasses and succulents do well; shrubs and trees have more trouble to win a place in the new world. Man tries to survive and succeeds to a certain extent but in the end nature is the boss.
Nothing is fitting better to that than the music of Sigur Rós. They’re a bunch of stubborn Icelanders who sing in their own language, make long, dreamy and symphonic tracks and still have become world famous with it. Heima was, in 2007, my first real introduction to the music of the band. It is a beautiful movie, telling the story of a tour around the island, along a variety of unique venues. From a local pub in which small children crawl across the stage to a square in Reykjavik where half the Icelandic population seems to be present.
John F. Kennedy / The Moon Speech
“We choose to go to the Moon [..] not because it’s not easy but because it’s hard.” With these words John F. Kennedy nailed it in my year of birth, 1962. Of course it’s sometimes fun to do something that goes smoothly but you get more satisfaction doing the things that take some effort.
This applies to travel to the Moon, but also to mundane things like public speaking. That was never my hobby until I discovered Toastmasters. Since then, I regularly stand in front of an audience and I think it’s fun too. Fifty-three years after JFK I did a re-enactment of the Moon Speech at a Toastmasters evening.
It’s clear I don’t get anywhere near Kennedy’s rhetorical skills (“Mr. Blok, you are not a Kennedy”), but the experience taught me, that Kennedy’s speeches were actually poetry. Every word is perfectly in place. More wise words about spaceflight and astronomy, by the way, can be found on my page of space quotes.
Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot
Kennedy’s words had the desired impact. I was only seven when Armstrong and Aldrin actually landed on the Moon. I loved it: the Moon, the planets, the stars, those were places you could go to if you wanted.
A few years later Carl Sagan with his TV series Cosmos made me aware of the scale of the Universe. That turned out to be a lot bigger than I could imagine at the age of seven. The Moon, that’s really just around the corner. Traveling to the planets will be a lot more difficult, not even mentioning the stars. But it can be done and it has to be done. Not because it is easy but because it is hard.
Sagan, who unfortunately died much too young, turned spaceflight and astronomy into much more than a technical story about rockets and telescopes. His texts were philosophical and poetic. And he also made it very clear why it is important to consider the larger whole that we’re a tiny part of. Not because we need to find a new planet where we can go when we’ve used up the old, like simple minds sometimes think. Listen to the beautiful words he spoke about a photograph taken by spacecraft Voyager 1, some 6 billion kilometers from here, in which the Earth can be seen as a tiny dot.
Hans Rosling – 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes
I would like to end the evening with an optimistic video. Just because I’m just optimistic about the future. If you read the papers, you might think the world is sinking ever further into chaos, poverty and pollution. And yet I think that we as humans are slowly moving forward. I am supported by the Swedish statistician Hans Rosling who shows that, over the decades and centuries, there’s an unstoppable trend in the right direction. And apart from the positive message, it is also a great achievement to visualize something boring like statistics in such an attractive manner.
Movie: The Lathe Of Heaven (1980)
The Summerguest also chooses an, often somewhat obscure, movie which is shown directly after the show. I sometimes wonder how many viewers make it till the end of the film, on Monday morning, say 1.30 AM.
My choice fell on The Lathe of Heaven, the film adaptation by the US public broadcaster PBS of the novel by Ursula K. Le Guin .
This amazing story is about a man whose dreams change reality: when he wakes up, the new reality always existed. The story begins in a very small setting, on the couch at the psychiatrist’s office. But pretty soon it moves heaven and earth.
Ursula K. Le Guin was way ahead of her time. She wrote about the struggle of the inhabitants of a forest planet against exploitation by Earthlings when James Cameron was still in high school ( The Word for World is Forest , 1972). And she described the adventures of a young man at a school for wizards when JK Rowling was a toddler ( A Wizard or Earthsea , 1968).
The adaptation of The Lathe of Heaven from 1980 feels slightly dated, but then again that retro aspect also makes it interesting. However a decent contemporary remake would be great. And so would an adaptation of two other masterpieces by Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. Also please give her the Nobel Prize for Literature and hurry because she in her late eighties already.
UPDATE: on 22 January 2018 Ursula Le Guin passed away. I guess that means no Nobelprize. Shame on you, Nobel prize committee. That prize would have been felt by science fiction witers and fans worldwide as a well-deserved recognition of the genre. Anyway, she leaves behind a rich and diverse oeuvre and will certainly not be forgotten.
Thank you for watching Zomergasten; those three hours have flown by, but I really liked doing this. And I hope you enjoy my film of choice, The Lathe of Heaven .