Very few people in the West know these stories. Perhaps they have some dim memory of Adladdins lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves or Sinbad the Sailor. But, these are only a few of the tales told over those 'Thousand and One Arabian Nights' and they are taken out of a very meaningful context.
The story of how these tales came to be told is a most wonderful tale in itself. Indeed, this story not only provides the context for all the other stories, but, it comprises the fundamental food upon which the others are sprinkled as spices. Like a jewel laying forgotten in the forest, they have been passed over without being noticed. I believe, that to read the stories that Scherazade told, without knowing why and how she came to tell them, is to miss the most wonderful story of them all.
This short slideshow-movie presents the story behind the stories that were told by Scherazade to a Persian/Arabian Sultan/King. It goes like this: Once upon a time, an Arabian Sultan had been deeply hurt by the infidelity of one of the women from his harem and in that hurt he felt betrayed by all of them. From then on, after making love to any one of the women, he would have her killed. Night after night, whenever a new girl came to him, each of them sought to please the Sultan with her beauty or charm or enthusiasm, but none of them, once they had been called to his bedchamber, ever returned to her sisters in the harem . . . Not until the Sultan called Scherazade to his room for the night.
This movie presents the story of Scherazade, the woman who told the story that went on for almost three years, for a 'Thousand and One Arabian nights'. Her story demonstrates the power of the feminine in the midst of a male dominated society. Her story offers wonderful psychological insight into the wounded heart of a man and how to cure it. Her story gives insight into desire itself and what the heart is seeking. Her story looks at the limits of sex and what can be attained, sought or offered in sexuality alone. Her story shows a unique insight into the play between man and woman. While all the women of the harem sought to please the Sultan's body, mind and senses with their beauty, enthusiasm and charms, it was Scherazade who tried something 'different'. After seeing all her sisters fail and subsequently be killed, Scherazade engaged not just the Sultans' body and senses, but his feeling heart and imagination. She told him a story.
Here is the story of the story of "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights", told with images taken from the vast trove of the Orientalist painters from the late 1800's, who fantasized about and gave romantic form to, the European dream of that Middle Eastern world. Since I was a boy, I was intrigued with the foreign world of the East as shown to me by the Orientalists. Their romantic vision of life, of virile and vital men, of slaves and concubines, kings, queens and the beautiful women who lived there, all filled with sensuality, eroticism, vitality and cruelty. That world represented something that I seemed to recognize, but, had absolutely no experience of in my own life, growing up in a middle class Jewish household of idealistic humanitarians in the America of the 1950's. The Orientalists showed me a world, that whether true or not, represented something both foreign and exotic, abhorrent and fascinating. As Jung would say, they showed me a world that was my own shadow. I thrilled to it.
Most of the tradition and paintings of the Orientalists comes to us without a story. They come to us with only a name for the picture and the artist who painted it. The art exists only as a collection of distinct images. In this movie/slide show/story, I have put together many of the painted pictures from the artists of that period and shaped them into a coherent story. When, like the pieces of a puzzle, they were put together, I found they gave exquisite support to the imagination of this tale and the wonderful story of Scherazade gives more life to their imagery.
I am currently working on a book form of this story. To see the preliminary draft please go here:
Music in this slideshow/movie: Ancient Echoes/ Music from the Time of Jesus
This is the beautiful music of the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble (SAVAE). They have done much research and study to produce this music.To
read and hear more about them and what they do, please go to an interview with them on NPR: www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php
Their website is: savae.org/echoes1.html
Movie and narration: Peter Malakoff
Art: Various artists from the Orientalist Tradition of art of the 19th century