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Sunday, 27 November 2011

I was once (nearly) a steward at Cambridge Wordfest... (2)

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27 November

Interestingly, the web-site wants to boast this:

Every year the festival needs a crew of friendly, reliable and unflappable people to act as stewards at the venues for day and evening events. Stewards collect and sell tickets, show patrons to their seats, assist wheelchair users where necessary, are trained in each venue's safety procedures, answer questions and provide the friendly face of the festival. In return, stewards receive free entry to all events where seats are available.

Well, I've already made mention of safety procedures. As for wheelchair users, it was apparently sufficient that the programme would have told them that there was no access to one of the venues (or not all of the way, but maybe as far as the foot of a flight of stone steps), so I am sure that there will have been no disappointments on the day, and, of course, it's pointless to consider why a place without such access would be chosen for a public event.

Even suggesting that, once off duty from the four-hour shift, other stewards might want to change out of the required uniform of the Wordfest T-shirt was misconstrued as 'not being in the right spirit':

Well, I was actually thinking, believe it or not, of the paying public!

It is scarcely a help for people to be picked out by their clothing as helpers, when they have actually finished working. If they appear to be stewarding, but don't actually know the behind-the-scenes details of the event (because they are seeking to attend it - one of the perks of stewarding), one of two things happens.

They either have to get involved (possibly leading to confusion), or else cannot safely direct the person in need of help to someone else in a T-shirt, because he or she may be in the same position.

(Allegedly, then, no marks for being 'friendly'.)

I also think that I must have proved myself not unflappable, if I bothered to wonder about realities such as where people should assemble in the event of a fire. At any rate, I believe that I have seen behind the friendly face of the festival...

Saturday, 26 November 2011

I was once (nearly) a steward for Cambridge Wordfest... (1)

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26 November

I even got given the T-shirt, when, on Monday evening, I attended what was billed as a training session that was vital, necessary, apparently, because of their complying with health-and-safety regulations.

Vital because, when we were shown that there were two fire-exits at the back of one of the venues, no one actually knew, when I asked, where they led to, let alone where the fire assembly point was! - and we'd been told that we couldn't steward, unless we attended one of these vital sessions.

So was it sour grapes that led to the e-mail on Thursday morning, telling me that they had reviewed their needs, and I wasn't required to steward?

Dunno, though I'm suspicious...

As to the vital training, if you're going to any of Sunday's events, I wouldn't plan to be ill, as nothing was said about what to do in a medical emergency, and I'd pray that there is no fire, as, in addition, none of us was told where the fire extinguishers were, how to raise the alarm, or what the alarm sounded like!

They also thought, when muggins again asked on your behalf, that written instructions, with no diagrammatic representation, were all that was needed, so I hope that everyone is well up on the more obscure reaches of Trinity College...

The Physics of Poetry

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26 November

Well, you've heard of The Tao of Physics (or even The Tao of Pooh), so why not?

What I mean is a poetry reading, rather than reading (or writing) poetry, and looked at from the point of hearing of a member of the audience (screw the poets – for they choose to do this, and they, or their contacts (or their contacts’ contacts), then involve the listeners in being there, perhaps as witnesses, perhaps as priests, offering or withholding the sacrament).

It is both a very physical (sometimes exhausting) experience – closet close in quiet, concentrate on confessions, confused by colour, word-choice, syntax – and one that, unlike interactions that have a chemistry, is a creature of physics. Why physics, not biology?

OK, the larynx, the vocal-chords, they are necessary participants, just as are ears and auditory processing (What did he just say? Oh, he did slip in ‘fuck’ after all – have I caught what he said next?), but they are in what we call chemistry, what, when there are more people present, we like to call ‘the group dynamic[s]’.

No, this is physics, because bodies are in rotation or opposition about or on the fulcrum of the reading, and they could be as massive as planets, or as tiny as motes (probably not at the same time). Into that void, from who knows where, the reader-poet advances a proposition, a poem (or the so-called prose-poem, as if there could be a cigarette-cigar, for a cigarillo certainly isn’t it), which might be met by a laugh or two, shocked inhalations or a snort, but largely by silence.

Is it even over? Is usually not registering, even by the crude measure of applause, a proper response until what follows I’ll finish with this one is clearly finished just borne out of fear of jumping in too soon? Or is there some more delicate formality in play, some respectful reverence into which sounds other than those that escape us despite ourselves (no, I didn’t mean those) are not meant to intrude?

Perhaps, with some reader-poets, each poem is a letter, spelling – or threatening to spell – the name of God, but one succeeds another, and some of them almost seem to found their sense of success (and succession) on how much distortion and noise they have added.

I do not believe that it can always have been like this with public performances, but I must research it to see if I can find how, for example, a reading of his works by Robert Browning or, better still, Lord Byron was received. (At the opposite extreme is the recital where, despite a clear indication that songs accompanied by piano are to be treated as a group, those present insist on clapping after every one, utterly with the potential to put off the soprano or counter-tenor for (or by) whom a sequence of three or four songs had been conceived as part of the whole.)

And, if I had ten or a dozen poems that might even be worth being heard, I’d allow those present to see the text of what they were hearing (or not, if they preferred the mental crossword-puzzle of fathoming form and content from sound), and I’d memorize those poems (so never do it, as my memory doesn’t favour input in a prescribed form), and I’d learn to look around at those around me, to engage them and engage with them.

I know that I should, because a guy called Mark Waldron did it the other night. Moreover, he didn’t use language to show off his knowledge (or what passes for it), he didn’t just entertain with his rich conceits, and he recited in such a way that I was quite clear of his literal meaning, without abnormal accentuation or the obscurity of the prized referent that has to be explained first.

Poor man’s contumely? There’s always that danger, but I hope the recognition that there is more of stand-up in reading poetry than is given credit for – the comedian needs to know whether the audience is being reached (imagine the straitjacket of no spontaneous applause during a set), and the audience needs to feel that the comedian is reaching out to them with his or her words, not just delivering a joke or story with flatness and expecting their approval as if his or her due.

Congratulations on making it to this page !

Why not celebrate by looking at Fifteen Fine Festival Films ?

Or even @THEAGENTAPSLEY's concise guide to Catalan cinema - and what to expect from it at Cambridge Film Festival (with links to reviews from 2012 and 2013) ?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Blogging at the Tate (from 4 September)

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23 November

To give this another home, I have lifted the content of my - long! - posting (but the Tate Blog is also worth seeing for the views of some the exhibits):

I do not know whether those who purchase a ticket on the day are allowed re-entry (and I have heard people in the past talking about ‘doing a show’ in 90 minutes because they have an art-history background), but I tend to find these Tate Modern exhibitions quite demanding, because they are so extensive and there is often almost too much to look at.

(I have seen some comments about the ticket-price: maybe the exhibitions will seem expensive if, apart from the availability of toilets (and they are not very obvious), one understands that the only time to look around is the two or three hours before needing lunch or dinner.)

If not, this is where Tate membership is a real benefit, because I am free to go off to have a coffee or something to eat, if I am getting fatigued and realize that I am no longer taking in what I am trying to look at. I can then go back into the exhibition once or twice more, or even leave the rest of it until another day.

However, in this case, apart from the Barcelona series – which I left to the end and only had time to spend a few seconds in front of each print – there was no one group of exhibits that represented a very significant amount of time needed to look at it properly. (I would say that the display-cases in the Gauguin show represent the other extreme.) Room 1 had been seen on another day, but I managed to look around yesterday in the five hours until 10.00 p.m. that I had available.

That, too, is a benefit of Friday and Saturday evenings, with the gallery thinning out towards closing time. Others have commented on the two rooms with two triptychs each (Rooms 10 and 12, although the fireworks triptych was displayed differently, and well), but it was only later that one could get a clear view of all three canvases, and I deliberately waited until past 9.30 p.m. to view them.

They were stunning, both pairs, and I will hope to see them again when the gallery is quiet, but I wondered whether they really needed a little more space to themselves, and the fact that they were back to back meant that a viewer standing away to take in one triptych as a whole, as I did, would inevitably (if there had been anyone there then) have been in the way of anyone wanting to see the other.

With an artist as prolific as Miró (and I had not been aware that he was working at his death until I saw the video, which was not in its normal place at the exit), the exhibition was inevitably selective, but it was a very good selection, not least for the Constellations series, and, again, the triptychs.

That said, including the burnt pictures but not having footage from the video that I saw displayed on a screen in Room 11, which could have showed the artist burning a canvas (and even stepping on it and leaving red footprints) was, I believe, a mistake: with the video where it is, not everyone would see it, and I consider it as of much more interpretative value to have something relevant to the creation of a series of works in the place where they are being shown.

Above all, I now appreciate that Miró related to series (and, although he is quoted as saying that two and two do not make four, he had some sort of personal mathematics that related one item in a series to the next), and also to sequence, so it was also unfortunate that the captioning in Room 7 did not more clearly draw attention to his request for the Constellations to be displayed in order. They were displayed in order, but the casual viewer would not obviously have known where to start, or (except from the date on the caption to each painting) that they were in any definite order.

Which takes me to my final few observations about the exhibition and how it was curated:

1. Unless I am much mistaken and misunderstood the footage, the curators of the exhibition themselves (shown, on the video, visiting Miró’s studios, both of which he had used since 1959) confused the studios, and seemed to be saying that works created in one were the product of the other.

In any event, it would again have been helpful to understand the artist’s working life to have had the history and views of the studios, and his way of working, set out in the gallery (not just references to them in the captions).

2. Inevitably, the captions to the paintings (as well as those for each room) tease out meanings, and make suggestions as to how work and life relate: the ones in this exhibition were generally suitably tentative, but, after a while, the proposition introduced by ‘maybe’ kept eliciting my quiet retort ‘who says so?’. (What evidence is there for what the ladder imagery mean, I want to ask.)

On this level, not least when the video footage of Miró gave a very different impression of the genesis of the burnt canvases, and set his producing them in a different context, I sometimes felt misled by what was being suggested as to his motivation or meaning (Room 11, for example).

3. Finally, the fact that the chronology of his life was (as it usually is) outside the exhibition, but was essential reading to flesh out one’s understanding of Spain and its history did not help. (I do not even recall a map of Spain for that matter, showing where Mont-roig and other significant places are, and not everyone has yet visited Barcelona.)

This was a particular problem where such help was most needed: I was being asked to understand the paintings from 1931 onwards against the background of what was happening, but I could not tell from what was presented to me when Franco actually gained power, or when the Spanish Civil War began and (how it) ended.

Details of that war as a whole, including German involvement and the anti-fascist movement, seemed to have been assumed to be common knowledge, which I doubt is true: information and images would have informed viewing the paintings greatly. The Phoney War was also referred to, but we were not even told (it was the anniversary on my visit) that Britain (and France) declared war on 3 September, or when Germany invaded France and The Low Countries.

Unfortunately, I end up thinking that I will have to look out texts on the civil war myself to understand better the times in which Miró was painting.

Anthony Davis

Copyright Belston Night Works 2011

Dimensions - a love that outlasts the years?

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23 November

Oh, don't get me wrong - the love and the longing do, and, on this third opportunity for me to see the film, at a special educational event about, broadly, getting into and developing film-making (held at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge), I could really sense what Stephen finds so special in Victoria, and the days with her, that he wants to recapture it all, and I realize that I had not properly valued this young actress's (Hannah Carson's) performance, as it is radiant: before, I was standing back and not quite going with Stephen's trying to regain her.

I watched the film from the back of Screen 1, sitting with Ant and Sloane. When asked, I hadn't noticed what they had trimmed to take off 3 or 4 minutes, but I did feel the mood set by Ant's scoring for the opening titles, and I did find some scenes even more evocative than before, particularly various scenes at the well-head, starting with that of grief - the well-head is, in fact, literally that, a well-spring of all that happens, a source.

I've been trying to come up with a catchy tag since being in the bar afterwards with Trish Sheil (who was stage-managing the event, and interviewed come contributors), Ant and Sloane, the impetus being that I do not think that the emphasis is right in calling this a sci-fi love story (as it is a love story with sci-fi elements), and this is probably the best so far (a love that outlasts the years), better than:

* conquering time for love

* a love that outstrips the years - in either version, 'the years' could be 'time', e.g. A Love that Outlasts Time (or have I stolen that from somewhere? - nothing very specific in the two pages of results from Google, anyway)

* love beyond hope

* longing beyond all reason

* longing conquers all

* a search to regain special summer days

* longing for youth's tranquillity, etc., etc. - point probably made

There is a special evening on Thursday for possible distribution, and I hope that it generates the interest that is deserved amongst those who see this lovely and nicely put together piece of work...

An empty future

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22 November

A great director, an Allen, can write for him- or herself perfectly and bring it off.

Miranda July has created, in Sophie, something that she could not inhabit - yes, the character is meant to have an awkwardness about and with herself, but the July behind it is not comfortable with that*.

By contrast, I can imagine a younger Diane Keaton playing this role brilliantly, with all of the nervous energy, but actually being a credible - not just rather irritating and inadequate - Sophie. Is Keaton one of July's heroines? I'd be very surprised, if not...


* Actually, it's a bit like Rapunzel - children might accept the story, and not think of the physics behind golden tresses being let down and the handsome suitor climbing up (which, by the way, is not the least of Marshall's charms, even if he is a bit Kirk Douglas - more Frog Prince than Prince Charming), whereas wiser heads can appreciate that she remains attached by her own to the tresses, and the whole of her, or it, will end up being pulled swiftly out of the tower window.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The cat in The Future

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22 November

The cat in The Future

No, not what we will breed friends like my Molly to be, as I understood our Egyptian colleagues did some millennia back to give rise to her (with her red streak of tortoiseshell), but rather who gives Paw-Paw spoken words in this rather dismal no.

I am sure that someone claimed that it was Ms July - if only that didn't have connotations - but, at the same time, I recollect someone else having a credit :

Now that's, maybe, where I have been misled by the credits, as, now that I think of it, some animal actors have names that are indistinguishable in form from those of a human actor... I was, perhaps, looking at the form of Paw-Paw as shown in the only shot that I saw where he is not just animatronic, and not very convincing (in fact, it seemed like a pretty poor attempt to gloss over the failure to have engaged a co-operative animal actor, now that I think of it).

Can one rely on what IMDb tells us, in the absence of any desire to see this again? - or opportunity, as it lasted just two weeks at my cinema, from which I infer the lack of an audience (maybe 20 people watched it when I did, on its last day).

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Thoughts arising from a programme note for the Dante Quartet

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20 November

I have not found a source, which means that I cannot put these words in context, but Dvorak (the accent on the ‘r’ will not reproduce, so I have also left that on the ‘a’) is often quoted as having written (and seemingly in English, as the form of the words does not differ):

To have a fine idea is nothing special. The idea comes of itself, and if it is fine and great, then that is not because of the person who has it. But to develop the idea well and make something great of it, that is the hardest part – that is art!

Well, obviously, for all the apparent modesty of saying that there is no merit in having ‘a fine idea’, there is an immense amount of self-congratulation in being able to employ ‘art’ in order ‘to develop the idea well’. (Besides which, Dvorak envisages the idea being ‘fine and great’ without that conferring any merit on the recipient, but then envisages, of the already great idea, ‘mak[ing] something great of it’, by ‘develop[ing it] well’: so is the idea great already, or is something great made of it?)

Dvorak seems also to miss out some other points in his enthusiasm for this argument that stresses art, i.e. his art as a composer:

1. Ideas may – indeed, I would say, are more likely to – come more often, or more easily, to someone who is or has become receptive to them. And if, which he must, as he is talking as a composer, he means musical material, then the notion of everyone being an equal participant in ‘hav[ing] a fine idea’ just does not stand up to inspection. I wager that it is not that members of the public in general are regularly having musical themes come to them, but simply then do not have the art to develop them and make them great – no, they do not think compositionally at all, and do not have such ideas.

2. If I am right, then having an idea is, after all, something to do with the person who has it. Whatever that receptivity may be, or consist in, it is not that people as a whole are having fine ideas all the time, but that they will probably come more often to those who make use of them – and whether they have made use of them well or ill may fall to be judged by someone else, even in Dvorak’s case.

3. In the case of the Diabelli Variations (or, properly, 33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120), I cannot believe that anyone will seriously contend that what Beethoven did with what Diabelli composed did not transcend the original so as to make it inconceivable that its origins could have been so slight. Likewise, there are (not that the only great works are in variation form!) parts of the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988, published as ‘an aria with diverse variations’) in which Bach transforms the source material, as if alchemically (Arnold Schering’s thesis that the aria is not the composer’s own theme appears discredited). Certainly support for the notion that ideas might come to those not best placed to develop them, but lesser musicians than Beethoven and Bach might still record them in cases where, if fine ideas came to all and sundry, they might be more likely, if we conceive of ideas in general, to die stillborn.

Dvorak is also recorded writing the following, in which I see scope for, if not necessarily antithesis, then synthesis:

As for my new Symphony, the F major String Quartet and the Quintet (composed here in Spillville – I should never have written these works ‘just so’ if I hadn’t seen America.

If there is something antithetical, it is in acknowledging that experience – here, having visited America, and, in particular, this enclave of immigrants from Czechoslovakia – has shaped the reception of ideas (unless Dvorak just means that his art of developing them was what was influenced), which appears at odds with saying that ‘To have a fine idea is nothing special’, and, I would say, supports arguing that receptivity may vary immensely, and also may well be capable of being cultivated.

There may be a capacity to have a fine idea, there may be a capacity to do something great with it – whether those capacities, on all occasions, are the same person’s may depend, but, almost certainly, it will be the judgement of others that may determine whether something great has been achieved, and will be a significant (but not the only) influence on its survival for other generations to value in their turn. (I am thinking, as I do so often, of Mendelssohn’s important championing, in his time, of works of Bach’s such as the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232), which, along with others that were rediscovered, we would now take for granted as being great, if not necessarily to our taste.)

Maybe more on Nicola Malet...

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20 November 2011

My very impromptu little piece about Nicola Malet, written on the night that I visited her recent exhibition, seemed to attract such interest that I am inclined to see whether she would like me to feature an interview with her, or a longer look at her work.

(As I told Nicola, I had hoped to create something along the lines of the latter whilst the show was still on, but proved to need to devote myself to an extended piece about Woody Allen's 45 years in film, which is due to come out soon in a special publication from New Empress Magazine.)

How does a film work?

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20 November

Well, when it works, you don't need to ask: not that there's any real magic involved, just movie magic, where something has been put together with care.

When it doesn't work, the holes leap out at you, because the thing doesn't bear thinking about coherently - if the music and fast action have just dazzled you, there is still time for reflection - if the plot has taken you somewhere where you weren't convinced to go, you will know why later.

OK, so getting back to The Future, who has time for a couple of 35-year-olds who glibly reckon that, if the next five-year period is taken up with caring for a cat, they will then be 40, which is effectively just 50, which is effectively just decline, decay and death? For this analysis, dismissive of the rest of their lives (except, of course, the month remaining before they collect the cat), is so assinine that:

(a) It can't be the supporting premise for everything else that happens (let alone our believing that they treat it as one)*;

(b) What happens, in Jason's part of it at least, proves him (factually) wrong; and

(c) If anyone should have been given this denial to deliver that they have any future, Miranda July should have given it to her own character, Sophie, as Jason is a little more knowing and less likely to utter such nonsense.

Unfortunately for these two, only Sophie appears to have any friends (or family), she only appears to have two, and they seem as poor at contacting her as she them (although Jason does mention their names at least twice, which is helpful when they do make a brief appearance - too late). July may not have deliberately plotted this, but their 'experiment with living' can then happen in a vacuum: starved the oxygen of publicity, it deserved to die.

Oh, and two things about the cat / veterinary centre:

(1) In these days of concern for humane treatment, so many such places carry out at least home visits, if not other assessments, prior to 'adoption';

(2) But maybe this one, which cares so little for a cat that has been waiting with it for a month for an injury to heal (and yet the cat still has the bandage on its paw), is therefore quite content, as it advertised*, to exterminate the animal that it has housed (at whose cost?) for all that time when those due to collect it do not turn up until a day later? - or can they not afford the cost of a telephone call or e-mail (but can that of the necessary euthanasia injection)?

*For me, these starred items are just the scars of lazy film-making, of July wanting Sophie to have an affair with Marshall without being troubled to come up with any - or any convincing - scenario.

Let alone her taking the step of calling a number that she expertly reads upside-down, which may be a charming non sequitur, but then why bother with making the cat out to be the impetus for all of this?

In fact, I almost wish I had bothered to watch Revolutionary Road...

Beckettt, the alleged adherent to Buddhist thought

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19 November 2011

Brought to you from where I posted the review on Amazon*:

One academic writer, supposed to be an authority on Beckettt's work (see my review of one of his books, Beckettt and Eros), finds - or claims to find - deep Buddhist thought, philosophy, and probably even practice in it.

I wonder if he has considered Waiting for Godot in the following way...

The play has five characters, six if you include the named, waited for and talked-about Godot, who, we are told, has sent the last of them to appear (the Boy) to Vladimir (also known as Didi) and Estragon (also known as Gogo - the full name is the French one for tarragon), who have been (one, then the other) on stage from the start, and almost without break throughout the two Acts (although the end of both is, crucially, different - please see below).

The remaining two characters, Pozzo and Lucky (the atter is also known as 'pig', 'hog', 'scum', and a number of other offensive names, by Pozzo) arrive together, halfway through each Act, but seem mightily changed between them: in fact, we actually have no direct way of knowing how time passes, in this timeless and largely featureless space that keeps the characters in it or draws them to it (or through it), such as these two.

Pozzo is grand, pretentious even, and certainly cruel. However, he may not actually have the power either in the place where we see him, or in the relationship beyond his transit of these lands with the other man, Lucky. (At one point, Pozzo asserts or implies (but he alleges many things that we cannot verify) that this is his part of his land). Even so, he openly abuses Lucky before us, whilst - in the phrase used by another Beckettt writer to describe a scene of reported dialogue in the earlier novel Watt - often employing a 'language of bizarre civility', as well as some of the accompanying manners / mannerisms. His cruelty draws out that, alluded to earlier in speech largely, of Vladimir and Estragon, too.

Beckettt calls Waiting for Godot 'a tragicomedy (in two acts)', but it is often played for pure comedy, which jars with the obvious brutality and unpleasantness of what human beings (Didi (or Gogo) pronounces that 'People are bloody ignorant apes!') do to pass the time when bored, but have to be somewhere.

Are we, perhaps, reminded of the random torture that SS officers and the concentration camps gave rise to (this play was first performed in around 1953 in what had been Nazi-occupied Paris, and Beckettt, who had served in the French resistance - is this where the references (shared by the contemporary novel Molloly) to beatings during the night by an unspecified 'they' come from?), would have had some bitter experiences / memories of the recent war.

After Pozzo and Lucky leave the stage (for the first Act), there is an exchange between the Didi and Gogo that their appearance had passed the time. The retort is that it would have passed anyway, replied to by agreement, but that it would not have passed as quickly.

Another exchange is:
What keeps us here?
The dialogue.

This is a play of quick wits, and comments and counter-comments batted back and forth, and one character (probably Estragon) is asked whether he cannot 'return the ball once in a while'.

As has been said, Pozzo and Lucky return, much changed, in Act II - Lucky, who was loquacious on demand, is, if not mute, then does not 'think' for us again on stage as he did before, and Pozzo - we are told, anyway - is blind (so now led by his Lucky, whom he could previously lead before, and jerk quite cruelly to the ground by his rope). Yet Vivien Mercier, another Beckettt 'crrritic' (from when Gogo and Didi decide to play the game of orally abusing each other) trying to be clever, described the play as nothing happening - twice.

When had Act I been? Whenever it was, the title-page to Act II tells us: 'Next Day. Same Time. Same Place.' And this is where the Buddhism trail comes in more clearly: only Vladimir remembers - and does not (really) doubt remembering - Pozzo and Lucky from Act I, but there is scant or no recognition or recollection on the part of the other three (four, when we include the Boy - please see below). He knows that they passed this way the day before, and is appalled at the change (the Buddhist doctrine of and teaching on the transience of all things?), but all the rest muddle through.

Of them all, if he could see this for what it is, he could break through the unreality of life, of striving, of searching after the wrong things, whereas they are locked in it, so busy, seemingly, living these frantic and tortured lives that they have both little self-awareness (a step on the Buddhist path to acquire it). Since they cannot capture the keys and clues to reality, they struggle, battle and scrape on, as if that struggle, battle and scraping, rather than rejecting it as meaningless, is the essence of life, of what life is.

As things stand, Vladimir is doomed to be trying to remind others of their own (past) lives. (This play can, it is argued, be seen as a presentation of a (potential) voyage towards enlightenment - whereas people seeing the play may think that it is for their entertainment (distracting them from life), which is a further distraction, this time from what the narrative thrust (yes, Professor Mercier - there is one!) of the play is trying to focus on.) For he does not twig (yet?) what it means. So this includes interacting with the Boy, who comes (alone, and to him alone) at the end to apologize that Godot will not come that day (after all).

The Boy, as has been seen with the others, has no knowledge that he came at the end of Act I in the same way. In consequence of that, and because Vladimir only knows how to respond by just being frustrated that even this young being is blighted and trapped by not even remembering his own life, he lashes out, orally and physically, against a weaker force, with the brutal streak that we have witnessed - with a shudder? (although Lucky seemed weak, subservient, and capable of being picked on, in Act I, he proved not to be wholly so) - most clearly when Pozzo and he are on the stage.

The play does not end, though, with the frightened Boy running off the stage at what the stage-directions call Vladimir's 'sudden violence' (a contrast both to the placidity of this scene, and to the previous encounter in Act I (although Estragon did then briefly participate, laying hands on the Boy, and accusing him of lying before Vladimir intervenes). It is Didi and Gogo, again, hoping and fearing for another day, for hanging themselves, if they bring some rope, and that maybe Godot will come then, after all, and (they do not specify how) 'We'll be saved'.

Yet the words with which he has, two pages back in the text, heralded trying to grab for the Boy (as Estragon had done in Act I), and sent him running off instead, should ring in our ears:

You're sure you saw me, you won't come and tell me tomorrow that you never saw me!

He wants, at this stage to be witnessed, to be credited with existing and having existed in relation to another, but needs to let go. His search is for something else. Lewis Carroll had another faith, but wrote (for Isa Bowman, a child friend like the more famous Alice):

Is all our life, then, but a dream
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time's dark resistless stream?

Bowed to the ground with bitter woe
Or laughing at some raree-show
We flutter idly, to and fro

Man's little day in haste we spend
And, from its merry noontide, send
To glance to meet the bitter end


* A kind person called M. McCartney was moved to add the following comment (on 9 March (2012)):

Fascinating review, well worth following up. But who is the academic you mention, and what is the Buddhist Beckett book? I looked in your reviews, but it isn't there.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

IS this The Future?

Writing about The Future (2011) is / as post-trauma therapy

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18 November

* Contains spoilers *

Writing about The Future (2011) is / as post-trauma therapy

One should be wary of having expectations of any film, based on a write-up in the cinema, or even a trailer.

Amy told me that the cat narrated the film, but that it was all right, when I said that such a thing could be dreadful. Thankfully, it did not narrate any more than its own part, in a slightly soporific or perhaps just lingeringly slow way, a little reminiscent of Miranda July’s own speech-patterns. (It is supposed to have lived on the streets, and dreaded the nights, but it just seemed like a perfectly likeable and well-adjusted tabby to me.)

If July’s character Sophie or that of Jason, the man with whom she lives, were not regular partakers of illicit substances, which I guess would not be shown in a film rated 12A, it would be surprising. The way that it showed these people, both wedded to their Apple laptops as they shared the sofa from opposite ends, and with Jason saying that he was just getting comfortable, when invited by Sophie to bring a glass of water, was telling: it seemed that neither of them wanted to do anything for the other that did not have to be done.

Four initial elements, which are dwelt on, are where ‘the development’ starts: the cat, which cannot be picked up until 26 April, by when its injured paw should be healed, and, as they are told when they go to collect it, they euthanize at the clinic; the drawing of a child and her pet, which Jason buys for Sophie when he talk to the girl, and then her father (who drew it), at the rescue centre; Jason’s claimed ability to stop time; and Sophie’s secret friend in the form of a sweat-shirt, bearing the legend C’est la nuit, which would not endear her to the cat.

They had gathered that the cat would be with them for just six months, but I missed the very opening, unless this was just Paw-Paw narrating in the dark (which does not make for easily finding a seat). The short-term reward is seemingly part of what attracts the couple to adopting the cat, but when they learn that, with good carers, the cat could live for five or six years, their balance is thrown, nay their whole lives (and let’s suspend disbelief as to what they would have been told before). It’s as if, perhaps reasonably, they are too meek to say that they cannot make a commitment of that length to the cat, and too caring just to leave it until 27 (or 28) April to collect it.

So the premise is that they must not waste time and make the most of the intervening month (four weeks ?), which, Jason reckons is the only worthwhile part of their lives left. After they have both left their jobs, it paralyses Sophie, and leads Jason into searching for patterns (which he duly finds), but, with very little self-knowledge (neither character possesses it the cat can tell us more about who it is, what it thinks, and why), she dismisses the sweat-shirt from her entourage for not helping her inability with a self-imposed project for which she does not seem the ideal candidate, and, finding numbers on the back of the drawing, contacts Marshall, who made it.

When Sophie has done more with her time sexually then Jason, who spends it at the house of a man from whom he bought a hair-dryer (seemingly, Sophie and Jason did not have one), Jason invokes his power of stopping time to prevent her telling him about Marshall. He talks to the moon (who sounded a lot like Sophie’s lover), who tells Jason what the changing date is: the moon is not female, as we might think, or changeable, but powerless, and fixed as a full moon).

With everything halted outside, Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor seems an obvious inspiration, but I wonder whether Superman stopping the earth turning and sending it backwards to save Lois Lane is a stronger one, though without the hero’s supreme effort and emotion. July gives us an image of a world that is frozen, until Jason goes to the ocean and assists the moon, by breaking the waves (it does not bear thinking what the moon should have to do with this).

This is not really Jason’s motivation, but to rescue the cat the moon tells him that there are a few hours left of 26 April, but, after the trip to the beach, Paw-Paw is nonetheless not rescued in time on 27 April. Paw-Paw tells us how waiting became death in the cage (not quite my understanding of how pet animals are put down), and concepts such as ‘I’ ceased to exist as he came to bathe and rejoice in the light.

An ambiguous reunion occurs when Sophie looks out Jason, and he offers her nothing, which she accepts; he also offers for her to stay the night and then leave for good; she seems to have longer than that Time itself has become rather ambivalent and maybe they will drift on together. (Equally, she could go back to Marshall.) Perhaps they, too, will come to the comfort of which Paw-Paw talks.

The dilemma is whether this film was bound to be what it was, or could have offered me something else in ‘a last-ditch bid to taste freedom’, which depends on an artificial countdown (except for Paw-Paw’s continued existence). Obviously, people do end up having affairs on a rather slight basis, and perhaps Sophie’s is about what she can still do and is more of a revelation to her. (If, that is, one doesn’t suppose that something must have happened in the 31 years before she met Jason, though maybe his way of being with her has knocked her faith in herself.)

In any case, she is suspicious of him being happy when she is not; he wants to hold time where it is and see if he can prevent her revealing her infidelity although he knows with whom and must know what. As I said, both of them seem only to be prepared to do for the other what has to be done. As, from memory, one of my favourite group’s Ezio’s, songs says (and maybe some of these songs say a whole lot more in five minutes than in ninety):

You only share the things you don’t own
Makes me fear that you’ll be forever alone

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The shakes and Melancholia

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13 November

I have already made a couple of postings about this film. However, there is something reassuring about seeing one's views echoed in print.

In my first response,, I commented on the camerawork, so I was drawn to a letter about Melancholia called 'A pan too far', which appeared in December's issue of Sight & Sound.

It is from a correspondent in Tenterden, and I quote the relevant part (the edit is a comment about film-makers in general using this practice of hand-held cinematography):

But what is it with this handheld camera stuff? [...] I found the first half of the film quite dificult to watch as the extreme fast panning and wobbling of the frame made me feel quite dizzy. I can understand the representation of manic-depressive urgency that came over as a result, but I do feel rather glad that the film was not showing in IMAX!

It is unclear whether Mr Bruce's concern was for others who might have seen it projected in that way, or relief that he had not, but his point was well made:

I did not see the need to be made anxious to understand another's anxiety, not least since it is my experience that being anxious inhibits one's ability to empathize with someone else's feelings.

However, Mr Bruce also found:

The opening sequence with Wagner's music was quite thrilling, evoking memories of 2001.

I do not disagree about being reminded of Kubrik's film and how it used the tone-poem of Richard Strauss, but I also thought how monumental Kubrik's use had made a piece that had not previously been much known, and now Also Sprach Zarathustra automatically has connotations of the vastness of space and man in it.

The Wagner, by comparison, already has well-established connotations of grand Germanic and even Nordic mythology, and it still seems to me that they were being appropriated, rather than the pure music itself. To my mind, this part of Wagner's canon is too well known for a use such as Kubrik made in 2001 or even, much later, in Eyes Wide Shut.

The link that I see between the music and camerawork is as if the director is saying:

I want to make my images in the opening music seem grand, so I will use imposing music to import that quality. I want the scenes at the wedding to seem as awkward as possible, so I will use camerawork that impinges viscerally on the viewers' senses to unsettle them and so cause them to share the sense of unease in an extreme way.

So is that legitimate - as a critique, or as a director's prerogative to use what is available?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

More unlikely than Mary Poppins

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10 November

Any excuse to mention Julie Andrews (as sharp-eyed readers of this blod - blog? - will have noticed)!

When I saw this advert*, though, imagine what I thought:


Chimney Sweeping

It should have been - but I missed it - the pun on the surname with what is burnt, and the smoke goes up the chimney...

No, what I thought was 'Oh dear, poor Cheryl must be down on her luck!' (or not, as chimney sweeps have some sort of claim to luck).

The rest of the advert suggests otherwise, but I'm wondering whether using the name Craig, and dressing as a bloke, might be an excuse to get into people's premises - only to strip off the overalls (held together with velcro, of course) and start performing a few vocal numbers.

It would certainly be a new take on home entertainment...

* It's in a glossy listings magazine, imaginatively called The Listing, that gets delivered to residents of the villages in my area.

A wee conversation

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10 November

If anyone wants to join in, it's with Lindsay, a writer in and / or from south-west Pennsylvania (I loved being told, at school, how the state got its name - from penn to pennsyl!), about AI and on her blog (Writer's Rest) at:

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Unnatural selection - Ezio Lunedei got there first

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9 November

I think that it's in a track on his first echt album with his Cambridge-based band Ezio, fronted by him on vocals and guitar and his amazingly virtuosic fellow guitarist Booga (otherwise known as Mark Fowell), that these words appear:

Perhaps not a reference to Python's (or is Rutland Weekend Television's?) chocolate assortment with such fillings as crunchy frog, but one can dream...

Sunday, 6 November 2011

By way of apology for never reviewing Sarah's Key (4)

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8 November

Here, in one place (I think that only three are on
Rotten Tomatoes), are the works of criticism - some would say metacriticism - of the four reviews that appeared in the UK press...

Finally, (althought he didn't appear to put his name to it) Tim Robey at:

To which the retort, on 20 August, was:

Sadly, this review is not to be trusted, and I would, also sadly, doubt that there is only one such review a summer.

(Is there even such a word as 'dismayingly'? Is the use of the word 'tenterhooks' meant to be echoed by the use of 'dramatic hook' later in the sentence? How can filmmaking embody 'tongue-tied worthiness' (and what is it anyway)? Where, when and with how much thought was this assemblage of paragraphs dictated?)

'The role of Julia Jarmond, an American reporter in Paris, is dismayingly routine, for all the empathy and conviction she manages to summon.' Should this be interpreted as:

She plays the role of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris, but, despite the empathy and conviction that she manages to summon to it, her character's situation dismays by being so routine.

(Obviously the crafted comment of someone who knows when 'wincingly wooden English-language exchanges' (of which there are very few in the film) are shown on screen, and could do much better!)

So what is routine about finding out what Julia does about the place where her husband's family used to live and taking off in search of some answers, and without explaining to anyone what she is doing?

Oh, I forgot that's to be dismissed by writing that 'the trail of flashbacks and letters and far-flung familial ties stretches far across the horizon of head-slapping cliché'.

Funny that no one was doing this head-slapping on either occasion when I saw the film, because people seemed engaged, and even - which is very rare - waited for the credits to finish.

Perhaps this reviewer, who thinks that the Jews were just, albeit devastatingly, 'arrested' (which is what they hoped, of course), was actually confused, as Philip French was, by following the trail, although, in fact, there's very little far-flung about the connections, which, in geographical terms, are France (where we start), the States, and Italy.

And there was nothing (to consider 'far-flung' as meaning 'improbable') unrealistic about the motives that would cause someone to go to the States, and someone else to make a home in Italy.

It is likely to mean improbability, because the dialogue in English 'turn[ed] all plausibility to mincemeat'. However, whether or not anyone speaking that phrase would have turned it to better effect, it is unclear whether this criticism is intended just for the meetings between the staff of the magazine for which Julia works, or also for the ones in the States and later, where she is talking to people unknown to her (some of whom may be more used to talking Italian, as she may be to speaking in French).

Maybe, though, a back-handed way of approving the French dialogue ... whereas the general approach of such phrases as 'a grimly tasteless suspense device' (on my reading of it, taken from the novel) is to try to slap the film about the head.

Oh, but not with anything like a cliché: with coinages that ring as little true as a wet fish wielded (in Python) on a quayside by a military John Cleese.

By way of apology for never reviewing Sarah's Key (3)

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8 November

Here, in one place (I think that only three are on
Rotten Tomatoes), are the works of criticism - some would say metacriticism - of the four reviews that appeared in the UK press...

OK! Then Nicholas Barber at:

Who, just for the moment, seems to have disappeared my comment...*

And I can't find it on Rotten Tomatoes as a review...


* Not even there in a saved copy of the web-page (as checked, including its source, on 18 March 2012).

By way of apology for never reviewing Sarah's Key (2)

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7 November

Here, in one place (I think that only three are on
Rotten Tomatoes), are the works of criticism - some would say metacriticism - of the four reviews that appeared in the UK press...

Right! Next came Philip French at:

My comment (on 10 August):

These very short Guardian reviews, this one running to just 169 words, are inadequate in their very nature.

One might be forgiven, just from the humour - or at the attempt at it - in the opening sentence to think that Mr French has 'lost it', as has been suggested. Certainly, the quip wasted around one-sixth of the total length, and gives us little credit for knowing how things work, if we are supposed to believe that he was really so misinformed.

Or is it, for him, just like a conveyor-belt, with a voice announcing what comes next and which he mishears to make some sort of joke, sadly misjudged when, as he admits, the reality is inhuman treatment and genocide?

As for much of the meat of the review, I can live with it, probably, though it is inexplicable why Julia's (Kristin Scott Thomas') husband is deemed 'dodgy' - he may be uncaring about her real needs, and superficially appearing to take account of them, whereas he is really looking to his career. If so, then these mini-reviews don't have the time to say what they mean, and are a shorthand that is not even clear to someone who has already seen the film.

I have seen the film, and I will see it again - I did so with I've Loved You So Long, and it 'worked' just as well as it did the first time, even though I knew where it was going. I full believe that Sarah's Key will too, and, if someone who is used to film found this confusing, then what hope for watching, say, Chinatown?

It's just that certain films require rather more work from the viewer than others, and it really was not difficult to keep up with Julia's quest (for that is what it is, or becomes) at all - I have no idea how the unfolding of what she finds out, and what happens in consequence, relates to the novel, but I shall find out.

In the meantime, I will be finding more in the complexity that this reviewer took for something else: the complexity is not in the plot, it is in the emotional response, all excellently acted, of at least five characters (Julia, her husband (dodgy or not), his father (her father-in-law), and in Sarah's adoptive parents (particularly her father) and her son), and little of it overplayed or drawn out by the score.

But, finally, what about 'Thomas is good as always' - is this a text-message that just happens to be related to a rating of four stars, or is it foolish to be asking why the reviewer is (a) assuming that we know how good she is, and (b) not bothering to tell us more than she has done her job as she should? Five casual words, when thirty-seven were wasted on the opening sentence!


By way of apology for never reviewing Sarah's Key (1)

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7 November

Here, in one place (I think that only three are on
Rotten Tomatoes), are the works of criticism - some would say metacriticism - of the four reviews that appeared in the UK press...

Ah, yes! Peter Bradshaw, where it all began, at:

Seemingly, on 8 August, I replied:

When I read this review, which headlines as one of Sarah's Key, I found myself straightaway reading about another film, which, the more that I think about it, seems to be its real subject-matter.

I was initially unclear whether this was a review in two parts (or, even, the film that I have just seen,
Sarah's Key, was being referred to under another title), but it is actually the vehicle of comparison to criticize, with faint praise, the new release for not being 'a decent attempt' at dramatizing those events that The Roundup and it have in common. For, otherwise, it is difficult to make sense of the following two sentences as anything other than implying that, in some way, the screenplay and director of Sarah's Key have spiced things up:

The depiction of the dehumanised conditions in the velodrome is appreciably tougher here than in The Roundup. This movie shows a desperate suicide and also what happens when thousands of people are confined for days in a sports arena with no lavatory facilities.

I simply cannot tell whether this is intended to be (which, for me, it fails as) a mere statement of fact, but I find myself forced back on these words 'deceent attempt', and, perhaps, the implication that the attempt in Sarah's Key fails by going too far in showing these things.

Again, this is meant to be a review, but I am given no real clues as to the meaning behind the comparison, except in:

It took what might be called a top-down view of this event: narrating the story and showing the political machinations of high-ranking French and German officials who had decided on this horrendous action.

By implication, since one has to tease out what the reviewer, presumably, means in telling us his summary of how The Roundup works in what is meant to be addressing the merits (or otherwise) of Sarah's Key. Otherwise, it is a mere juxtaposition, not a review.

However, at this point, all that I can see is that the headlined film only gets three stars, and it is unclear whether there is again implied criticism of it, by making the comparson, for not dealing with the same story. (I also have no idea how the film of comparison is rated at all,)

Yet it is clear enough that this story starts with Sarah (she is in the opening shot) and that the events that the films both depict are, it seems, their only (and factual) point of contact - the film is not about why what happened took place.

Yes, it is a given (with challenges to our complacency that we would not have been complicit, both in the exchange between neighbours looking out of windows in the same building at the Jews below them, and when Julia (Scott Thomas) challenges her female colleague), but only what needs to be told for the much wider story, which appeared to have lost the reviewer's sympathies or patience (but was the powerful, emotional heart of the fil for me), is shown.

My feeling is that the existing title of another film Secrets and Lies, comes close to saying what this film's message is, and it does not seem fair to it to suggest that there is just one past, and then the present, as there is an unfolding of past events, as Julia follows her trail (and why she does it, when her daughter and then husband ask, leaves her struggling to explain at first) if people finding out who they are, what matters to them (e.g. keeping a baby), and achieving peace and reconciliation is simply 'a bit TV movie-ish', then so be it, yet, to bear any relation to the novel, putting it on the screen is more or less bound to have the broad outlines of its trajectory, and one might just as well dismiss the novel, too, for telling that story.

I saw several strong performances from male actors (for example, from Julia's father-in-law, her husband, and the man who cannot, at first, believe what he is told about his mother), which all admirably showed the feelings that emerged from being confronted with a past, but no one at all is given any credit for them in this review.

Oh, actually 'Kristin Scott Thomas gives it [the TV movie-ish film] weight', which I should like to believe is an appreciation of what I thought was a very strong piece of work. but it could just as well be telling me that she, just by adding her name to it, puffs up something otherwise less worthy (and makes it a three-star release).

I am sorry to be critical, Mr Bradshaw, but I cannot see that this review does what it is supposed to do, i.e. give some proper basis on which to understand the star-rating, and, more importantly, actually talk about the acting at some point.


'I got plastered last night'

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6 November

I didn't, but we know what it means:

Why does it mean that?

* Rhyming slang ('plastered wall'?)?

* Corruption of another word (mastered?)?

* Cultural reference (e.g. a film in which getting covered in plaster, as Laurel and Hardy do all the time, has something to do with booze)?

Answers on a comment or, if you prefer, a tweet

Saturday, 5 November 2011

‘Inspiration’ over a pint

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6 November

Passing the bar, I chimed in when I heard talk of someone wanting an iPad (a son of the speaker’s family, I think):

Never mind eye-pads, knee-pads are better – and cheaper!

A little consternation, but I persisted, pointing to the lower half of the body, and repeating the claim of superiority for pads for the knees.

Duly enough, others who had half-heard also checked their hearing, before taking it up, and it was then the Admiral Lord Nelson impersonations, etc.

Sheer inspiration! Or was it only ‘inspiration’ as opposed to ‘expiration’, breathing in fumes from the nearby log-fire leading to confused thinking…?

In any event, England Expects England’s Glory – match that!

Notes on a performance: Grief, 'a new play by mike leigh'

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5 November

Mike Leigh explicitly works on plays and films by freely involving the cast in improvisation, role-play, etc. – does this make for a less tenable notion of a play being 'by him' than with a film? (The short answer: probably not, but it feels as though it should, feels as though someone who sat in on a development session and contributed a line 23 minutes in, when everyone was stuck, might have something to say…)

Although the script of a play may, after experimentation, become fixed (as I understand Leigh’s does), with a film there is a set of performances whose nuances are captured (i.e. more than one take might be made, and then there would be a choice, but the choice, once made, would be in the cut).

With plays in general, how the words are delivered, or the stage-directions observed, can vary immensely from one show to the next, let alone one theatre – or one production - to the next. Admittedly, less likely to be so, if the actors are good ones, and the writer/director keeps an eye on things.

If the film credit says 'BUBBLEPOP - A Mike Leigh film', we know that, in studio speak, that may mean more than 'Presented by Dead Parrots Pty' or 'A Clint Eastwood production', but, perhaps crucially, who claims ownership or authorship of the script in the credits? The massed dancing bands of the city of Brno?

At any rate, the programme tells me - in a note on Leigh by Michael Coveney - that the gesture used to be 'devised and directed by', and maybe I'm happier with that.

Anyway, as to Grief, it needs to be judged whether it really works, but it is not, I believe, a great piece of theatre.

It all happens on one set, changing only as to time of day, which is shown largely through the large bay-window, stage right (but also through the light entering into the hallway, which is also stage right, through the room’s entrance in the long downstage flat). Light within the room, when it needs to be turned on during a scene, is always done by Dorothy (Lesley Manville), otherwise by the stage crew between scenes.

That said, there are various curiosities of this household, as we see it move from late 1957 into mid-1958, and which crucially relate to the staging (and what is staged):

* The only bell that we hear is the doorbell - the telephone (if there is one) never rings, is never referred to (or used), and visitors just turn up unannounced, starting with Edwin’s GP friend, Hugh (David Horovitch).

Yet this is not the provinces, but suburbia: which means not only that people may have come from a distance to happen by, but also that, though it is still early days for television, it is not for a telephone. As we know how the play has developed, this approach to people calling will be a given, but how true is it to its period?

* For the simple reason that, if visitors did turn up unexpectedly, there would be somewhere to receive them, houses of the time had two reception rooms: what we are shown here would have been the front room, almost exclusively used to keep neat and show guests into (whereas another might have doubled up as a dining-room, which Dorothy’s household has).

Guests simply would not have seen the living room in the way that is shown here, and those social niceties were alive well into the 60s and 70s (and beyond). We are, unrealistically (because anachronistically), presented with one room with the shared function of those in the household coming together and of receiving guests, i.e. what is now a lounge.

* Dorothy would have been viewed very strangely by her other well-heeled ex-telephonist friends from wartime, let alone the cleaner, if she had really had a home on the principles shown§. As to the telephone, I do not know, but it seems surprising, as does the absence of radio.

For radio would have been a large part of people’s lives at the time, but there is no evidence of one, or of anyone listening - only a reference by Gertrude (Marion Bailey) to a song that she asks Victoria (Ruby Bentall – more of an exciting name than her stage character’s) whether she has heard. (She has, much to the glee of 'Garrulous Gertie', who herself wants to seem young.)

Fine, with the second point, a number of those in the audience would have known that there was a conflation of function being shown, but younger viewers would not, and then one asks how much, if it is meant to be one, this is 'a slice of life'. It is a compromise, and one that, I imagine, one would not make in a version of the script for film - but I may imagine wrongly...

Of course, it is done just because it is a convenient way of having one large area on the stage, not the separate rooms often depicted in a set in a search for naturalism, but does that fatally flaw the integrity of trying to show a household in Britain where there is so much emphasis on a war that is not much more than a decade over, and of trying to (regain or) maintain reality? (Victoria is even told by her mother how good she was during the war.)

However, on another level, the five songs (including 'Goodnight, sweetheart' and 'Night and Day') that are burst into would not have had such a place with the presence of radio, the central one being Gertrude, Muriel and Dorothy singing 'Black Bottom' together. Otherwise, the songs are started in equal measure by Edwin or Dorothy, with the other joining in, complete with harmony at the end of some of them.

Edwin abruptly breaks off 'Night and Day', seemingly either through his own, or his sister's imagined, awkwardness: perhaps at the sentiments, although they do not differ vastly from other songs, perhaps from some connection to his bachelorhood. I was reminded not so much, as some might have been, of Dennis Potter, as of Pinter’s play Old Times, which Leigh surely knows, with its snatches of song shared in the same way.

Poor Edwin, unlike the eccentric - and, the more that we hear of him, rather irritating* – Dr Hugh, is doomed to exist more in his memories: both Dorothy and he are, and they take comfort in a familiar pattern of songs when holding their sherry, finishing with the usual ‘chin chin’, led by Edwin.

Before the final scene, with retired Edwin at home from May onwards, Dorothy and he seem like Winnie and Willie from Beckettt's Happy Days, presumably a deliberate reference by Leigh: Edwin calling out snippets from the newspaper, which make less sense to the person who cannot see it, whilst Dorothy tries to make conversation with him, but he is then immersed in this, or whatever else, he is reading. He has been warned about just slowing down rather pointedly by Dr Hugh, and the play is called Grief.

All of the cast were excellent, so I do not see the need to single any one out for praise, although, since they were necessarily on the stage for much of the two hours' duration, one's admiration for the leading players is greater.

As, though, to whether what they performed really amounted to much:

1. Grief had an end that always seemed likely (though it was unclear what we were to infer had happened to Edwin - a stroke?). Was the pain in his knee an aneurysm?

2. For the reasons stated, it was not true to its time (there were also momentary snatches of dialogue that seemed too modern for their time, e.g. Victoria saying ‘I hate you!’ to Dorothy, and largely getting away with it); and

3. Both in the 'steals' from other playwights, and the kind of life, rather empty except for remembering other times, and talk (or cross-talk) listened to by other characters with a sense of frustrated toleration, it lacked originality. Not that everything has to be new, and there were some amusing moments, but so what?

Unless it was deliberately anachronistic, and was trying to show us, by mixing times, that the 60s and 70s, and their attitudes, had their roots in the behaviour of the post-war period, which would, with war-time, have been all that Victoria knew.

* ’All's well that ends’ was fun as a quip the first time, but not by the second repetition: David Horovitch appeared in the Shakespeare, and he may have brought it to the party as a cast-joke. He seemed like a witty doctor, in a Chekhovian British vein, with his ‘Where there's death, there's hope’.

§ Not that the modern style of living with which we are all too familiar, with the emergence of the lounge-diner (or even the studio flat), had not begun in the 50s, but the window in the set showed that the house of which we saw part was not a new build of that type at all - if it had been, all well and good, and people getting used to others living that way would have been got out of the way well before the scenes that we witness, but what we were clearly shown was from an earlier property, not this.

Awaiting a report from - or about - Wallingford...

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5 November

Although I already had a ticket, my friend Chris couldn't join me on his way (sort of) from Grantham home to Bicester for a screening of Dimensions at the Festival, as it had already sold out.

However, he had a chance to catch up with it last night at the showing at the Corn Exchange in Wallingford. He was going to resist reading the review that I put on IMDb till afterwards, and I didn't hear from him after the screening, so I wonder where that has placed him.

Still, with ratings of 8.1 on IMDb, it has a good body of support behind it, and I've just found these goodies to look at, too:

Links to BBC Look East Behind-the-Scenes of Dimensions

Friday, 4 November 2011

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5 November

Back at the blog with no name, I looked at what was happening, to find that, one second earlier, Luke McMullan had posted:

At the last analysis, the provisional will come to mean only itself.

This called out for a riposte, but, possibly for that very reason, none was possible there, so:

What we call the last of anything is only when we can't imagine a sequel


Our best analysis is itself only provisional - until something betters it

Or, as John Pilling seems to have written about Beckettt in Beckettt before Godot*:

To discover the 'provisional' was Beckettt's ambition, because it could give his scepticism a limitless domain in which to operate

* Even Google, once more reliable, did what I wanted with the search-string '"Molloy"+"provisional"+"Beckett"', though I was really after Molloy's own words...

Funny Games v. Melancholia

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5 November

Isn't Lars von Trier's Melancholia, perhaps, like Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997)?

In an interview with Haneke about the original film in German (but it may be applicable to the US remake, bizarrely also made by this director, ten years later)*, and elsewhere (there appears to be, if I could find it**, an essay of his called 'Violence + Media'), he said that it was a healthy response to have had enough and (in the cinema) walk out or (otherwise) eject the DVD before the end. (Indeed, on the cover of one DVD release, on Tartan Video, one is asked 'How far is too far?')

Or, maybe, Moira Buffini's play Dinner**?

It's supposedly witty, etc., and opens the wittiness with the guests for the title's meal being served with lobster. Only the lobster under the cover is alive!

Hungry people (does no one eat something before a meal out, just in case?) faced with needing to kill / cook - for some reason, in whatever class they (are supposed to) hail from, they have not done this before.

If, however, as it is not really a culinary (but a cultural) rarity, one of them had, then no premise for all the distress, as he or she would simply have cooked for all - unless that was against the rules: I forget.

Those who found Dinner simply provocative (i.e. provocative for no very good reason, and, in that sense, like the torture and violence of Funny Games, for no reason other than 'Because I can') might not have stayed.

It was in the first half of the 2010s, but I'm fairly sure that even one of the guests does just that - or maybe that's not allowed within the rules of the evening: I forget.

Either there was a hint to take, and I took it when I could (always easier with an aisle-seat), or I vacated my seat for a longer interval than others may have enjoyed.

With Melancholia, when I came to leave its realm / influence / phantasy, was not pushing the same buttons of 'I do this, and I defy you to continue watching', but almost - far less overtly, but still something there to challenge one's continued attention.

Not entirely seriously, I wonder whether the screenings of the film were a nationwide psychoanalytic study:

By and large, because some people go to films socially (rather than alone, just because they want - or think that they want - to see the film), and one may have chosen this one without, in some cases, the other(s) even considering it, there will have been some basis on which the audience has selected itself.

If it is a screening in a multiple sense, what does it say about the people who 'stick the course', as it were, rather than giving up on it as one might Funny Games or Dinner by walking out?

I think, if I am right, rather more than about those who leave - those who don't get secretly tagged, and followed until a convenient point to invent a spurious medical appointment at which a more durable microtransmitter (plus, depending on your fantasy, microchip, transponder, etc.) can be inserted. (Or is that, given where we started, the scenario of one of Haneke's other films?)


* Strangely, the two young men who - principally, but not exclusively - play the games are described on the IMDb web-site as 'psychotic' when writing up the original (in US English, if arguably not in British English, that word is a synonym for 'psychopathic') and 'psychopathic' for the English-language follow-up (and so not using the word 'psychotic', although it seems more current in the States).

** Incidentally, when a search-engine not only wants to default to what it thinks that the appropriate search-string should be (as an afterthought, offering up one's choice as an option, and only, and after protest, letting the string in the search-box be edited), but will not find a play from one's recollection of author and title, it's time to say 'Goodbye, Google - hello, Amazon!'. (As things stand, the software on the latter's web-site allowed me to find the play, despite the misremembered name.) With the Haneke essay, having the title did not even help!