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Recently, a single red balloon found its way into my backyard, its bottom booted by trickster winds under brooding skies; its redness plummeted me within the experience of Pascal, the kindergartner in the Academy-Award winning short, The Red Balloon (1956) by Albert Lamorisse. Filmed in the run-down Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris, still recovering from the war’s devastation, the mood is somber, its grayness pervasive. Spare is the dialogue amidst the noise of street life.

On the way to school Pascal happens upon a red helium balloon snared within the crook of a streetlamp, frees, then, tames it: its brightness emboldens his fragile sensitivity, easily bruised by the crimped world of adults and hooligans around him; it becomes his confidante. A playful lei-motif traces their developing relationship, with its pranks, foolishness, joys, and grief.

But The Red Balloon is not just an ordinary movie. Its opening scene engages our imagination and plunges us into the world of symbols; some of the following are notable: grey clothing: mourning; the Cosmic Suffering Christ: red balloon; wetness: cleansing; the Divine Child: innocence; stone stairs: heights and depths; and redemption: the cluster balloon ride—thereby imprinting this story upon viewers for decades.

Even today, eyes quicken with smiles whenever the story of Pascal and his red balloon is shared.

Do treat yourself. Both the book and the short are still available on Amazon—even a freebie on YouTube.

 

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It is cold—very cold—and it is still winter.

Somehow that matters little in my warm study when enveloped within Winter Dreams, the subtitle of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor (1866) played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Yuri Temirkanov. The first movement, fragile and effervescent, evokes inchoate scenes. Like hesitant sparrows, words surface—putting something out there that wasn’t there before:

Moonlit snow-scapes—wind-startled frozen lakes—flocked mountain pines—brush-filled meadows—gust-sculpted cathedrals—critter-tracks meandering over hills—color-splashes angling down slopes and crisscrossing paths.

Beneath this frozen world, deep smiles thaw my imagination; trickles of water create wiggle-room for my breathing. Like the first morning of creation, Beauty still evokes such things through Tchaikovsky’s Winter Dreams.

Joy surfaces, again and again. We’ve only to receive it.

 

 

Goats from Bob’s Mobile Petting Zoo munch the begonias along the front walk of the brownstone. On the front stoop, kids bottle-feed spring lambs and pet others. Nearby, a saddled pony tosses her blonde mane and waits with her handler for the next rider. Ducks squawk as a neighbor, broom in hand, shoos them from her roses. Rock music and squeals of laughter pour through opened windows, their lace curtains frisked by winds within the froth of play.

It’s Chris’s surprise party for his twelfth birthday.

Inside, multi-colored streamers festoon the walls and fixtures, helium balloons smooch the ceilings, paper plates drip with remains of pizza and ice cream. Upon the dining room table dances the father who organized this after-school party; Chris and his buddies gyrate in tandem with him. In all the rooms more kids wearing party hats jump on sofa cushions and dance.

A sense of concerted play makes complete sense of this apparent mayhem until abruptly ended by the return of the irate mother, an interior design executive. “The party’s over,” says the father, and their shared camaraderie fizzles.

So the 1994 movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, begins.

Had not the mother axed this party, it would have continued into the evening; its momentum, open-ended and spiced with joy, fired imaginations of the participants and blessed them.

Imagine if Mrs. Doubtfire (the father’s later disguise) would throw a similar party on Capitol Hill—It would have to be a surprise.

 

Available on Amazon

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