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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Short films at Festival Central (3) - Scrubber (2012)

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29 November

* Contains spoilers *

Director : Romola Garria (although IMDb rightly credits her as Romola Garai)

Scrubber (2012) is, as the title is (and as A Gun for George (2011) is), an ambiguous piece of narration. In its literal sense, we see Jenny (Amanda Hale) scrubbing at the floor at one point; at another, when she is saying to a neighbour with whom she is leaving her daughter (Honor Kneafsey), she glosses over what she does by saying that she did work, and citing the house.

In what is the most lengthy of the shorts, though only a few minutes longer than George, there is playfulness shown between mother and daughter, for example with the shampoo beard, and, when we think that Jenny is alone, she has her next to her. Nonetheless, she is in the way, and Jenny leaves her with a relative stranger, rather than change her plans.

Particularly with the scrubbing, but also with reactions to situations where there is messiness, there are hints at a psychological dimension to Jenny’s actions. Yet, for all that she courts sexual encounter, we do not feel part of her motivations in the way that we are with Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967), and we are quite precisely kept on the outside, although we might hypothesize that Jenny hates herself for indulging what she craves.

Whether we think that such is a cinematic portrayal of such a disorder, not bearing a proper connection with the experience of those who have one, must depend on our knowledge and understanding: it is nevertheless one that would bear being seen again.

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Short films at Festival Central (2) - A Gun for George (2011)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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29 November

* Contains spoilers *

Director / Lead : Matthew Holness

For all that it, intentionally, raised laughs with The Reprisalizer and the gun-fixated nature of his activity (and where some shots had been directed), the film was skilfully playing with the audience’s sympathies for, and expectations of, Terry Finch - down to who George was, and what the balance of power was with others whom he, often confrontationally, encountered.

Finch is not exactly a Walter-Mitty-type character, but there are nods in the direction of sources such as t.v. private detective Jim Rockford (The Rockford Files) and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). That said, Matthew Holness in writing and playing the part, creates - in scarcely more than fifteen minutes - an identifiable breed of (would-be?) revenge-taker, and his own brand of hero. Finch selects himself for attention or ridicule by his style of dress and of appearance, but it is what he is happy with, because he has not moved with times that have deserted him and his sort of writing.

When we see that it has led to attacks on his property, we find out what matters to him, although, contrasted with the ludicrousness of his notions of heroism and reprisal, there is a clearly felt sense of bathos. In the last wish of a friend, both themes come together, with shots up to and down from a room several stories up suggesting a threshold, on which we leave Finch.

The whole film is pervaded by ambiguity, and keeps one working to piece together fact from fantasy in a way that mirrors the pressured nature of Finch's self-expression and behaviour. Well worth another viewing to see how the kaleidoscope changes !

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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Short films at Festival Central (1) - Long Distance Information (2011)

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28 November

* Contains spoilers *

Director / writer : Douglas Hart

Curiously enough, a 75-minute play of this name was directed by Stephen Frears in 1979 as an episode of Play for Today.

Be that as it may, because looking for the dates of these shorts has unearthed other exact or similiar matches on IMDb, it adeptly explores the characters' assumptions and ours about what is happening, and it is often what we - or they - hear, or imagine that they hear.

We are straight into the film, with Alan Tripney's head seen sideways on a stained piece of wood, and the sounds, as he rouses, of a raised Scottish male voice from below. Tripney makes clear both that he is used to this, and that he despises the man.

We begin to make assumptions about who this man is, where Tripney is, and, eventually, what he is doing when he picks up the phone and - unusually enough - literally dials a number, from memory. (As to how long the number was, marks off for not paying attention, but I had thought him pissed off enough to be ringing downstairs, although it was unlikely that he would know the number.)

In the meantime, we have been introduced to Peter Mullan, exercising his tyranny (and not seeing how it is received by Caroline Paterson) from a chair that bears a passing resemblance to the one in Tripney's room, and refusing a suggestion that he should watch The Queen, so we believe that we know where we are, for his cantankerous reign is conducted firmly, but not by shouting.

(There is, though, a feeling that Paterson just lets him think that his assured condescension rules the roost, and that asking him about the Christmas broadcast was done to irritate without him realizing.)

Once he stirs himself to answer the phone, there is just about a conversation during which Tripney and he talk to each other, though it is clear that they have nothing to say, and that the one question that gets asked - why the son isn't there - would have been better not asked. And then these males have it all turned on their heads, and the stunned response that comes from them is, seemingly, their pride jolted too much for their ease.

I'd gladly see this again, this time to see how it builds to an end. All three principals are excellent, with Tripney seeming like a son who would have such a father, but the accolade must go to Mullan, for embodying him.

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Short films at Festival Central

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28 November

Aline Conti presented six short films last night, some as short as five to seven minutes, which had been presented as an organized sequence under the umbrella The Joy of Six (which is also what a group of Cambridge poets have been calling themselves for many a year) by Soda Pictures and New British Cinema Quarterly.

In conversation with Conti first, and then answering questions from the floor, Dan Sully and Chris Croucher, the director and writer / producer, respectively, of the last two films, were present. They seemed to think of the choice 'a mixed bag', and, when asked, would not have been wished to be placed anywhere else in the running order.

That said, I thought that what connected the films was that they were all psychological in nature, and it was quite an anxious feeling to go where each was leading, and that few, except perhaps Friend Request Pending (2011), gave you an unnecessarily clear sense of who people were and what they were doing.

To do justice to each film, I will have a posting per film, to which the items in the listing below link (all now live - 3 December):

1. Long Distance Information (2011) (7:42)

2. A Gun for George (2011) (17:22)

3. Scrubber (2012) (20:56)

4. Man in Fear (2011) (10:50)

5. The Ellington Kid (2012) (5:00)

6. Friend Request Pending (2011) (11:58)

Cracking a nut

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28 November

It was, apparently, some dire ill of both members of unmarried couples having tax relief on their mortgage (MIRAS), a scheme soon enough taken away, that led to the massive distortion in the house market for purchases to complete by 31 August 1988.

A policy, and a decision to have such a cut-off date, that led to house-price inflation, a doubling of mortgage interest rates, and, for many people, this thing newly popularly called negative equity.

And all for what ? A hare-brained scheme to penalize those who weren't married, whereas MIRAS for everyone just became more and more worthless until it went altogether - if taking the latter step had been envisaged first, the folly of what went before could have been avoided for many, many households.

As I recall, the ill in question was that there was only one MIRAS allowance for married couples, so, equally, rather than give them the benefit, the Thatcher government desired to squeeze everyone else.

And now this minimum price for alcohol. If it is designed to stop people drinking so much, how has that been arrived at ? Where has this been done before where it did reduce drinking ?

It will stop us all having the same amount of alcohol for the money that we used to spend, because everyone's drink will cost more (as discussed). As if the people who buy a bottle of wine for £3.49 or three bottles, individually £3.99, but priced at £10.00, will buy them less often just because they have to pay a minimum amount, or will consume their contents more slowly.

So the whole range of prices rises for all alcoholic drinks, and more revenue is paid on every can, bottle, wine-box, etc. And what happened to curbing drinking ? What lessons have we learnt - or are still to be learnt - from the era of Prohibition ?

Policy is all very well, if it relates to its objective: here, we have the belief that the availability of cheap alcohol is what leads to problems with it or for society. It ignores the fact that you don't need to drink cheap beer, wine or spirits to have a drink problem or have alcoholism, and where is the evidence that these measures will have any effect on those drinkers ?

It also ignores the fact that establishing this minimum price will not stop future nudging it up in the belief that, putting it at the right level will achieve what is wanted, and ignoring suggestions that it simply doesn't work, because this isn't the answer to achieving the desired objective:

So, if it is set at 45 pence per unit, do not reckon on it staying there, and also do not reckon, once retailers have had to price everything with respect to units (cost and effort for them), that you'll necessarily be able to buy a drink containing 2.0 units for 90 pence, when it will probably end up at £1 or more...

Tweets about alcohol prices (with guest, Julian Huppert, MP)

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28 November

If you ever speak to anyone in the wine trade - and, yes, these people have a reason for you to believe what they say - he or she will say that the fixed costs of production and selling mean that there can be (choosing to spend one's money wisely) an appreciable difference in the quality of wines priced two pounds apart :

If the minimum price for a 12% ABV bottle were going to be around £4.50, then those once cheap wines would then be competing with the wines that would naturally be at that level of price, so the latter would inevitably go up in price, then those in the bracket above them, etc., etc. Price inflation for the sake of stopping people supposedly abusing cheap alchohol and themselves with it - as if the premum brands, in shops and in pubs, would sell for much more, if price were all that mattered to drinkers.

So, although the representatives of the drinks industry say that the minimum price will hit the poor, it will hit anyone who has a drink - and it will impact on the pubs, too, because you can't have the prices in supermarkets and in wine merchants going up, and have a reduced differential with pubs, and so the drinkers who are difficult enough to attract except by serving meals(as if anyone cared how many pubs are closing, if those people don't go to pubs !) will be yet scarcer...

Further thoughts here...

Monday, 26 November 2012

The origins of a perfectionist attitude...

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24 November

At kindergarten, maybe not every day (but at least once per week), you had a chance to look at the nice, big book about and picturing birds in lovely illustrations. You had a chance, if you came top in the 'all comers' compulsory (though never stated to be) spelling-test, probably out of 20...

It was irritating that getting to see the only book worth looking at meant coming top, and that an older girl called something like Naomi almost always go to hog this book as her prize, until she became old enough to go to a primary school, taking her talents at spelling and concomitant rights over stewarding the book with her.

But I did, once (maybe more), get to see the book, to hold it and turn the pages. A reward for excellence, but, to me, it became a rod for not being the best. If it had been a weekly (or however often) draw, then everyone, in theory, would have had as good a chance of getting to see it.

Unlike hearing about Dorothy and about Oz, which everyone could do, though, this looking at the book was a meritocracy (I think that the winner chose first), the merit being scoring highly in the spelling-test. So the message, at the age of five, was that you had to get things right, because, if you didn't, you'd never be valued by being able to look at a nice book.

I think that that is where it came from, and I've only recently realized, though I could quite easily have told you that, when I had reached primary school, it always hurt to lose marks, not to get 10 out of 10, not to get an A. And I was one of thosewho got good marks, so this relatively modern thinking that you damage the less able by competition didn't hold good for me...

Friday, 23 November 2012

Do I self-classify, or do others, sometimes more importantly, label me ?

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24 November

So, taking up that idea of self-classification, what about where someone else doesn't let me be what I choose or am ? :

1. I am descended from a couple who immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago at a time when the UK encouraged them to come here (albeit to drive buses or collect fares on them), but they were my grandparents, my parents were born here, and so was I. Yet those who stir up hatred and talk about 'repatriation' try to deny me two things: being - whatever that is - as British as they are, and relatedly the fact that this is my home country and culture, too.

2. I have a mental-health condition. Let's say that it's unipolar depression, and so I am prone to my mood going low, or that I have other conditions that fluctuate and which, when they are at their worst, mean that, if I can function at all, I can barely do so. If I have, before I learnt by experience, shared that I have such a condition, people may not actually say 'But there's nothing wrong with you', but you can see it in their face, in their eyes, because they see you when you are functioning. Worse, they are people with power to see you when you cannot function, and who think that you aren't trying, are pretending. And the same can be the experience of those with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), who can be taken for being drunk (so hurtfully) when there is lack of balance or control.

3. I identify as being female, and dress accordingly, but do not want to change my physical gender. Often enough, without reference to me, I'd be called a man in a dress, and people would make all sorts of assumptions.

4. In my local supermarket, in the throng around the reduced items, a female member of staff is talking loudly to her colleagues, saying 'All men always...'. By being a man, I am included in her extreme generalization, because:

All men always do X
I am a man

Therefore I always do X

And that is the pattern for much of this - lumping people into together because of one characteristic that they may (or are assumed) to share, and ascribing to them all (or most of them) some behaviour or other characteristic, ignoring who they are, or what they have to say about it: all benefit claimants are scroungers, for example...

Thumbnails and icons - the language of crap ?

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23 November

If you know anyone in the Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox traditions, and see their saints around the home in places that mean something to them, you might find it hard to relate those portable gilt pictures to the images on your desktop (so called, although it will often enough be the screen of a laptop, and, unlike any but the most exceptionally busy tops of desks, rarely seen), which link to My documents, Internet Explorer, or the Recycle bin (where there is little evidence of recycling - you can't even open the items in it without 'restoring' them, and who ever did more than take something out of a bin, not restore it?).

Now, I'll grant you that that rather uneasy word 'iconoclastic' has been with us in this world a very long time, but we never use it in its original sense, which is more akin to Cromwell's forces and the literal acts of de-facing, but more as a semi-Byronesque description of rocking the boat in a big way. Still, little explanation why these desktop images should be icons, any more than Madonna or Cher being 'a gay icon', or James Dean or Marilyn Monroe screen ones. (As I revise this, I find that my mind has done work for me, by bringing in what many an icon embraces - the Madonna and Child - by implication.)

Little explanation, unless you believe that, when terms were conceived for these purposes, the originators were laughing up their sleeves at the idea of everyone in the future talking about which version they were running. Just as if someone, in an alternative world, would be being urged not to click on an icon (or thumbnail), but, say, to touch a pussy, with different cats denoting what the swirly 'e' of Explorer or that stylized folder for documents (for some reason lying on its back) represent.

Maybe that fantasy's not true to whatever happened with these names, and I do quite like the word 'browser' (which people, though, little use), but what about these Chinese take-aways called things like Jade Gate, which I am led to believe directly translate to depicting the vagina ? Is that a big joke at everyone's expense ? And so, finally, to that Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch, with made up names for Thai food that sound like 'cock' and 'dick', and also the scene in Alas Smith and Jones where an approximation of the Javanese Gamelan is being played by our two: in one of the common bars' rests that are a feature of such music, Mel turns to Griff and simply says 'Is it me, or is this just crap ?', and then they carry on playing.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Not mastering The Master

This is a 'leave early' response (itself a response) to The Master (2012)

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21 November

* Contains spoilers *

This is a 'leave early' response (itself a response) to The Master (2012)

Other than Melancholia (2011), I can only think of anything at the film festival in September that impressed me so negatively that it was 'a walker'.

To-day, to my unexpected surprise, it was The Master (2012), because I had no notion that I would not be there for the full trip. But I can concur with the person (whom I would credit, if I could recall who it was) who recently (courageously?) said that Brando in the trio of films about The Godfather (1972) gave a terrible performance, because who wants to hear someone mumbling.

Much in the same way, I was, by fifteen minutes in, totally antipathetic to hearing Joaquin Phoenix (Freddie Quell) talking out of the corner of his mouth*, and so rendering parts of the script unintelligible, not least with an already difficult accent. Not, in itself, maybe quite enough to ditch a film, but :

The depiction of servicemen with 'shattered nerves' was so one dimensional that this film, unaided, could put back the average audience's appreciation of the issues of mental ill-health by decades: the painful scene with the Rohrschach test, the travesty of the scene in the photography concession of a store, even the very early sexual exploits with the sand-woman on the beach as merry South Pacific (1958) / On the Town (1949) naval ratings career and cavort on the beach in their white caps

For me, far rather watch, again, Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), or even, flawed though it is for its concept of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), As Good as it Gets (1997). No, The Master may not have the job of convincingly depicting, as such, the reality of mental-health conditions, but it does not even come close to a plausible backdrop to its main action with this !

But I do wonder this: what could David Byrne have done with this, not just with Phoenix's role, but with directing the whole thing...


* For the record, the left-hand corner.

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The what station ?!

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21 November

How I loathe, detest, and don't even like this relatively recent import from US English : 'an old warehouse opposite the train station'.

Listen carefully to Woody Allen films from the 1970s, and characters talk about 'the train station'. However, then it was not British English (and I'll fight for it never to be), but the station was just 'the station' :

Any other station, such as the bus station, police station, or fire station, needed qualifying, but we had (anyway) the word 'railway', if there were any doubt...

Or does anyone think that we should go further, and start using 'railroad', and other such terms from the States ?

As gratuitously added to (TAKE ONE's web-site) - more of the same at What do we need 'for free' for?

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Assisted suicide : Writer's Rest meets Unofficial Cambridge Film Festival

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21 November

Short story now Work in Progress (no Exagmination or Incamination involved)...

WIN SIGNED COPIES OF TULISA'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY (thanks to the generosity of Huffington Post)

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20 November

Huffington Post is good to us:

It knows that people run raffles (e.g. proceeds to pay for services at their local hospital) at Christmas Bazaars, and raffles need top prizes to catch the eye and ease the pocket open (e.g. £100 John Lewis advert, I mean voucher).

But they also need little stocking-filler-like items - and this is where the Post's priceless geneorosity (?) comes in, providing the opportunity to secure a celebrity book to be 23rd prize...

Video: Courteney Cox is bikini fabulous at 48 (according to AOL®)

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20 November

Do we, at last, see some variation in this twaddle about '[insert woman's name]'s bikini body' ?

Not what (semi-mockingly, as I recall) Fowler - in Modern English Usage (or was it The King's English?) - called elegant variation (because we might have our own go at something that actually works now...), but variation nonetheless :

* Fabulous in bikini - Courteney Cox at 48

* 48 years of Courteney Cox, and still fabulous in a bikini

* That bikini looks fabulous worn by 48-year-old Courteney Cox

etc., etc.

PS Other than Kinnock stumbling at the seaside, or Daniel Craig on the beach when he first became Bond, what other men at the seashore have been given any significant report and images circulated and perpetuated...?

Barbara - in two Tweets, and a bit of bloggin'

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20 November

* Contains spoilers *

To my mind, if you've seen Others (2006)*, viewing Barbara is inextricably linked with that experience, although I would, in no way, want to underplay the fact that Nina Hoss plays the title role brilliantly, and that this fact alone serves to distinguish Barbara from the earlier film** (together with the skill and genuineness that Ronald Zehrfeld brings to playing the co-starring part of André).

To keep, for a moment, on this bungling Stasi idea, a few observations (in no particular order) :

* Barbara disappears off on the train and thence to a lakeside restaurant to get cash left for her by her lover in West Germany*** (somehow she knows that it is there, which is never - fair enough - explained)

* She does all this (and stashes the money where, I think, he has suggested) without any more than her hours-long absence being detected

* However, the Stasi seem powerless / unwilling to punish her for her more or less obvious disobedience / suspicious behaviour (even at this stage : Barbara never presents, from the first shot, as someone who will tow the line), except by the humiliation of trashing her flat when looking it over

* Despite these disruptive looks-around her accommodation, they later fail to find the cash at the time when it is hanging from a thread down the flue of her stove

* They humiliate her, at the same time, by intimate strip-searches, but to no avail, as - whatever they think that they are looking for (i.e. they do not question her in any meaningful way, let alone interrogate her) - they never find anything (if I kept looking, and not discovering, when Barbara behaves as she does, I cannot imagine saying Ho hum!)

* She sneaks away and, seemingly undetected, spends (part of) the night with her lover - I recall no visit, no sanctions

Do I need to go on, to suggest that these Stasi agents are not the brightest matches in the box? Fine for a talented and compassionate, as well as highly intelligent, doctor to outwit them, but I got the impression that Minnie Mouse could have, too...

Barbara is no Minnie at all - she is hard to get to know, easier to like, and that is the joy of the film, and of seeing André interested in (and trying to soften) her supiciousness (which is her protective cloak) and her.

That part of the film is perfectly fine, but it is the business with the rude mechanicals that doesn't convince me, and makes the film overall the weaker.

Apologies for a bit of a rushed account of this, which (unless it is something that merits no polishing) may get it later...

Actually, what it's going to get is this Twitter exchange :


* IMDb suggests that there is a The Lives of Others (2013).

** Which is not to criticize Ulrich Mühe, but rather the limitations of his part, or Martina Gedeck, for whom, from Atomized (2000) I have a soft spot / a lot of time for her acting.

*** BRD = Bundesrepublik Deutschland, which we called FRG = Federal Republic of Germany.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Faulks, Fort Knox and fingers

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19 November

When the cover, for some reason, says Writing as Ian Fleming, does that say anything at all?

Is Sebastian thereby licensed* to write, or is it mediumship - transcribing the beyond-the-grave Bond of this so-called franchise**'s originator ?

And what, then, does the infamous 'statement' say, under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, on the imprint-page ?

The rights of Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming, to be identified as the author of this work have been / are hereby asserted under the [... CDA 1988 ...] ?

Aldous Huxley would never have allowed being dead to prevent continued authorship, as is attested by the account of A message from Aldous Huxley, deceased, and we can expect little else from the man behind Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang (Fleming, that is, not Faulks)...

And this would have gone on to talk a bit about Auric Goldfinger, but, just now, it doesn't !


* Or, as modern illiteracy has it, 'licenced'.

** In what sense of the term are films to do with Bond, Bourne or - for all that I know - Bono (Sonny or U2's own Paul Hewson) linked to someone granting a franchise in the way that Spar (or sometimes Costa) licenses the franchise-holder (or franchisee) to trade under that name and sell branded goods, or Rolls Royce authorizes a dealership to sell (and service) its vehicles ?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Couches aren't just for potatoes...

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19 November

I'm sure that I heard the first reference to a couch potato on British t.v. thanks to Clive James, and I'm also sure that the word 'potato' is utterly gratuitous in that phrase - it might as well have been couch wiener, couch tomato or couch ocelot for all the seeming relevance that potato has...

Which proves that Donald Sutherland (and Fellini) knew more about Casanova than we suspected...

(Incidentally, how did we end up with Casanova (2005) twice - was it 190 years since his last conquest or summat ?)

Svetlana steals the show

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18 November

Lovely and legendary artist Svetlana Baibekova from St Petersburg will have a solo show this December at The Tavern Gallery, Meldreth

Living in Cambridge and a member of Cambridge Drawing Society, Svetlana has the distinction of having one of her fish paintings (shown here) being admired so much that a young man stole it from one of the society's exhibitions in The Guildhall in 2009 to give to his girlfriend (as reported by Raymond Brown of Cambridge News, and on Anglia News)

After a very successful joint show held at Michaelhouse in Cambridge this autumn, and Burnished Burgundy, a recent solo display in Ely, as well as exhibiting previously in several venues in Cambridge, Edinburgh, London and her native Russia, Svetlana offers this change to become familiar with and immerse onself in the captivating universes that are her painted work

The exhibition will be open between 12.00 and 5.00 every day from Friday 7 December until Sunday 16 December, with a private viewing on the evening of Thursday 6 December from 7.00 till 9.30

The Tavern Gallery, so called because it occupies the premises of the former Railway Tavern in Meldreth, is easily accessible by transport from Cambridge or from Royston (and beyond), because its station is on the King's Cross to Cambridge line, and the gallery is a few hundred yards away from where one alights

This is Leicestershire - where comments cannot easily be added...

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18 November

Comment on : The report provides food for thought for all of us who want to see the best possible treatment, with in-patient units offering the most therapeutic environments

Because I can, I am adding my comment here :

I can say, from experience, that psychiatric units have provided a poor therapeutic setting for at least 15 years, during which nothing much has changed, despite :

1. Initiatives such as Mind's Star Wards

2. The merger of the Mental Health Act Commission with the Healthcare Commission (and a third commission, whose name escapes me) to create CQC, or the Care Quality Commission

3. Much public and parliamentary rhetoric

4. The (patchy and very late) introduction of services for crisis resolution and home treatment, as well as some services for early intervention

5. Any money added to - rather than cut from - spending on mental-health services

What we need is services, i.e. for someone to do something that helps those who are experiencing mental distress. That is therapeutic, whereas these (all too common) experiences are not :

a. Being told that the doctor wants to see you this morning, and waiting in for something that never happens ('Oh, Doctor Jones had people to see at the out-patients' clinic and couldn't get away after all'), rather than being able to go to the cafe or for a walk

b. Coupled with that, misinformation, doublespeak, denial about what someone else definitely said ('Oh, Richard wouldn't have said that', when Richard did), confusion ('Who told you that?', when it was someone who had never been on duty before and who didn't give his or her name)

c. Having no one listen when you report unpleasant side-effects such as constipation, being unable to sleep at night, awkward limb movements, or painful uncontrollable muscle spasms ('Welcome to the world of anti-psychotics such as haloperidol, designed to make you acceptable to the family, friends, neighbours and the requirements of "society in general" who may have had you sectioned or otherwise persuaded into being admitted to become transformed into whatthey approve of !')

d. Likewise with any existing physical-health condition, or a physical complaint that you may develop - these experiences get written off ('The side-effects are worth the therapeutic benefit') or dismissed ('The medication won't do that', even if you later get hold of a patient information leaflet and find it listed') by the doctor, and who are the multi-disciplinary team to challenge him or her (as with any doctor)... ?

Therapeutic environments ? Well, no !

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Before the Fall

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17 November

Myth, legend, symbol or allegory, we will generally be familiar with The Garden of Eden and what happens there.

Interesting enough, and, for some, the origins of a theology of original sin, but that begs a bigger question:

What was the nature of Adam and Eve before any of it happened?

My starting-point for asking (although there is almost certainly, as part of the theology of sin, a whole doctrine of our unfallen state) is that few, Pallas Athene and maybe Benjamin Button apart, come into existence as fully formed adults - their nakedness adverts to a state before clothes or fig-leaves, but also to the fact that (whether or not they have had sex) they did not come into being as a result of sex.

There are those who like to ask how incest was unavoidable, if their offspring were to procreate, but a better question is who they were, what they knew, and how they viewed their world. Was who they were - as well as what they knew - changed in the instant of eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Snow White (the pole to The Wicked Queen) only needs one bite of the Queen's poisoned apple; Neo just takes the red pill to see the mirror ripple and his arm silver; Alice follows the instructions (in the same Wonderland that Neo's pill keeps him in) and grows and shrinks. But a few examples of how a moment's ingestion makes a world of difference...

What would it be like not to know good and evil? We think of children (some of us think of the overturned legal principle of Doli incapax), we think of angels, and, though we were once children (and some feel closer to that than others do), and cannot imagine much more than the appearance of angels (except when Frank Capra and Luc Besson do it for us), none of this seems like the possibly timeless state that our pair was in.

Maybe Milton helps us 'flesh out' that notion of a state of being before culpability, or maybe our guiltiness, our sense of responsibility, failure and despair shuts out that possibility of actively identifying or imagining anything other than this - at best, maybe, the anthropologists of old, talking about tribes in a state of nature, wanted to read into them some sort of innocence or unknowingness that was never there...

I do not know, but I think, reminded as I am of Paradise Lost yet again, I shall go back to John Milton, and try to read a book on each day of Christmas.

Scorsese directed, not dissected

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

17 November

Friday, 16 November 2012

Bony and Rusty

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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16 November

* Contains spoilers *

I cannot, try to think of it kindly as I may (now that I have seen the film), believe that the title of Rust and Bone (2012) was the best that anyone had the wits to come up with from the original French title, De rouille et d'os, itself a shortening of Un goût de rouille et d'os, which is what the film credits as the title of the book.

That said, although Craig Davidson may have written originally in French (since he is Canadian), perhaps the title is from the English after all... At any rate, it is that of a collection of short stories, seemingly brought out to tie in with the film, although information seems a little hard to come by. (In French editions, there appears to be one in May with the full title, which names Anne Wicke alongside Davidson, and then one with the abbreviated title in July and no mention of her.)

The title isn't a massive - or any? - reason to be put off the film, but it is - as Ali is - a bit brusque (and does, say, as with The Woman in the Fifth, set up certain expectations): what about, rather than suggesting Monte Carlo or Bust! or Steptoe and Son, Of bone and of rust?

There are those who would criticize Untouchable (2012) (Intouchable) for being 'a buddy movie' between unlikely bedfellows, and find cliché in it - for all that Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) accepts Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) for who she is, he still tells her, on first meeting, that she is dressed like a whore, unthinkingly says to her (as he says to everyone) 'Ça va?' (although he knows that she has lost her legs, because he saw it on the news), and treats her - although she is, as the phrase has it, all thumbs - as though being an amputee makes her incapable of making him a coffee. All this is the territory of Driss with Philippe, who, though having arms and legs, cannot use them. End of polemic (sort of)...

With this film (perhaps because I learnt that the origins are in stories, but I thought this at the time), I find myself thinking that there is bittiness about it: there could be one story about a boy and playing with the dogs kept for breeders; there could be another about a woman who enters 'the man's world' of hustling bids for illegal fights (used, in the film, to give a moment of hutzpah and light relief), partly because she gets a thrill from seeing the man with whom she sleeps risk getting beaten up; a third about the antics of a man paid by managers of stores to instal cameras to catch out their staff.

Now, I'm not saying that it was put together that way, but where does this film really cohere in any better way than Driss becoming the best chum to Philippe that he has ever had and vice versa? It is, apart from the gender meaning that Ali and Stéphanie can have sex, not really much of a love story - Ali's dissatisfaction about how his son has been treated has taken him to be with his sister, whom he has not seen for five years, and away from his son's mother, and the business with the cameras gets her fired and him off the scene. (Off the scene, but not - one notcies - around to Stéphanie's flat.)

Both films sort of come together at the end, though with less extensive need for trickery to give Cotillard stumps, when one admits to valuing the other (which Ali had not done, when he went off to Strasbourg - or wherever it is), but plenty of things rang false in the meantime :

* A patient who had had her legs amputated being left to wake up alone and find out what had happened to her;

* She would once, and only on impulse, try to grab a scalpel in despair;

* When, with her sister, she thins out clothes that she thinks that she no longer needs, she would not have been told already what prosthetics could do for her (which information, at the point of her despair, would have lessened it, if not the understandable tendency to depression); and

* Cotillard is not so much left unmade-up, as made down, so that, later, with make-up and her killer smile she can shine the triumph of her process.

And now to a Tweet, relating to Schoenaerts :

Nothing wrong with that, except - they used to call it typecasting - that he seems drawn to the same type of character, only doing a lot more here, because the script permitted it. (Here is my review of Bullhead, for those interested.)

In that connection of boxing, body-building and fighting, this is an interesting insight into Davidson from :

Davidson also released a novel in 2007 named The Fighter. During the course of his research of the novel, Davidson went on a 16 week steroid cycle. To promote the release of the novel, Davidson participated in a fully sanctioned boxing match against Toronto poet Michael Knox at Florida Jack's Boxing Gym. Davidson was subsequently defeated in the match.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Mental ill-health is exactly like a broken leg !

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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2 November

If you've had chicken-pox, can you remember what it is like ? Or something else that you can compare with, say, having a bad dose of the flu ?

Does it make sense to compare one illness with another, so why is it a truism that depression isn't like a broken leg, because people can't see it ?

If you had appendicitis and had to have your redundant works removed, it's true that people wouldn't claim that you were shamming and just had to buck your ideas up, since you'd been admitted to hospital and they can credit that you have had surgery. Or wouldn't they ? Maybe they had ideas about how quickly you should be recovered, and didn't value how you or your medical advisers said that you should be acting and what you could or could not do and when?

So is a broken leg just a different case altogether from clinical depression, just because whatever the modern equivalent of a plaster-cast is on your leg and can be seen ? That as against feeling no value or warmth in the world, that you are worthless, and that there is nothing to live for.

Yes, we can see that your leg isn't (fully) functional, that you are using a crutch, but some officious, judgement-making person will - sooner or later - enquire how you came to break it : woe betide you, in the sympathy stakes, if it was on a skiing-trip, because you've clearly - the judgement goes - got too much money, and got what you deserved by doing something dangerous. (Forget the circularity that thinks what happened is proof that skiing is inherently dangerous, rather than any statistics as to how many broken legs per 1,000 novices.)

Because, with health, we all Get what we deserved - not quite, any longer (more often than not), in the This is God's punishment sort of way, but because (call it karma or come-uppance) we superstitiously and almost subconsciously believe that Things happen for a reason : whole films have been based on the premise, let alone novels or plays, or bigoted newspaper-columns.

Taking this back to the question broken leg versus clinical depression:

1. Assertion : people can see a broken leg

Well, when you've first fallen, or whatever happened, you might suspect a broken leg when there isn't one, or be surprised to be told that it is broken - it's a medic telling you whether it's broken or not that clinches it.

Same with depression. Someone who is depressed can quite typically, if it's never happened before (they've had glum days, as we all have, but nothing like this, this absence of feeling), not know that it is depression either. Maybe just been dragging oneself into work, but feeling really cold and isolated inside, and starting to drink to cope with it.

2. Assertion : because people can see a broken leg...

I have no idea what it is like to have a broken leg - the pain, the immobility, the disablement, etc. Sure, I know what a shooting pain in my back feels like, if I've put it out, but does anyone else who isn't a back-sufferer (albeit a part-time one) have any notion?

I have dropped descriptions above of what clinical depression is like : the sense of feeling an outsider to one's own life, of looking on one's family, responsibilities and hobbies and not caring about them or being able to derive any pleasure from thinking about them, of - depending on how it catches one - sleeping for England, or being so anxious and screwed up that sleep will not easily come.

These feeling, sensations, hurts, as with the other person who once broke a leg or once had or does have a bad back, will only mean much to anyone who has experienced them.

3. Assertion : because they can see a broken leg, they know what it's like

Really? If you've never had to use a crutch or a pair of them, you have a perfect conception of what becomes difficult, painful or impossible? I don't think so, and no more do I think so with depression.

Maybe not the person on crutches, or the person going through the hell of nothing mattering and everything viscerally feeling like rubbish, but someone who's been through that can tell you, the observer, what it's really like. If, as the observer, you love that person, maybe, with imagination, compassion and a lot of thinking yourself into someone else's shoes, you can understand what it's like:

Not ask the person with a broken leg to do something that is going to hurt a lot, or expect the person who is depressed to be as chatty as you are and be pleased to be alive, but be with that person where he or she is, not where we think that he or she ought to be.

That is caring in its full sense, not the cheapened one that wants to feel better about someone else (whatever he cost to him or her), and that is what it really means, using that other much misused word, to be concerned about him or her : to put those persons' feelings, needs and interests first, whether they cannot bend to reach something, or cannot get out of bed to-day to save their life.

Broken leg = visible suffering? No, I don't think so.