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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Twitter and Facebook: making language a dying art? (a report from Varsity)

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29 January

This story is carried by Varsity, but, since I do not go near Arsebook, I must post my comment here:

When, more than thirty years ago, there was a Cambridge Collegiate Examination (CCE), the only applicants who did not have to take an 'essay paper' were those studying English : I have no idea when the CCE was abolished, but, before then, colleges could bear writing ability in mind prior to interview.

Are these the days that Dr Abulafia harks back to ?

Actually, what is bizarre is that, first with text-messages, then with the Tweet, we so readily acceded to the reintroduction of the telegram (for the character-limit tends to relate to some sort of cost).

What Dr Abulafia, to be an historian of such matters, would really need to show is that use of telegrams by the classes that could afford them made them as dull as he makes out the so-called social - nearly said 'facial' ! - media have made recent undergraduates*...


* I like the alleged exchange between Cary Grant and a reporter (in which you will have to imagine the question-mark, because I do not recall how it was styled in a telegram) :



The Language of Mental Health

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29 January

I hope that I may be excused for using this Tweet to illustrate a point or two*...

First, for good or ill (and from such things as having mental health services and a Mental Health Act), the words ‘health’ and ‘mental’ are linked, but it is typical that, when we mean mental ill-health we might write mental health, and vice versa.

It might be personal to me, but I hate – I almost cringe – this idea that mental distress should be linked with suffering. Not that people do not sometimes have a very painful, tortured time with voices or with depression, but just that one of the things that people believe, because they are inclined to say (or think) Bloody pull yourself together !, and why make it easier for them to say that those who have mental-health issues are suffering self-indulgent martyrs ?

Interlude : I was at the One in Four conference four years ago, where the topic was that of this posting, and I just wonder how far we have come on, because it is my belief that even the mental-health world is not united in its use of language. You may not have spotted, but I have already used Mind’s preferred term, of mental distress, and one that those who have had contact with services sometimes use, of mental-health issues - Mind’s misses out the emphasis, still so prevalent, on health, whereas the other phrase focuses on the issues. Then again, the preferred words in One in Four magazine are mental health difficulty

So, there is no common language, which does not make communication any more straightforward, and the word depressed can mean, at one end, someone willing to undergo ECT not to be so numb and to feel something, and, at the other, someone a bit weepy because cooking dinner did not turn out right.
Back at our Tweet, the final thing that I wanted to say is that, when we wish that a friend with measles gets better soon, we do not look for – though it might be needed – some moral improvement.

However, I am not so sure that this sense is not imported into the language of mental health, because, on the sly, there is a belief that there is some sort of malignancy or turpitude in having a stay in a psychiatric unit, even if it is at the level of It’s all right for some ! from disgruntled colleagues or the like. (Talking, instead, about recovery does not make things any more palatable, for me, but creates more difficulties.)
We are urged to talk about mental health, by campaigns such as Time to Change, but do we have the words in which to do it that are not already laden with cynicism, connotation and criticism… ?


* Not to pick at the writer of this Tweet, but at what the instinctive choice of language tells us all about this subject

The shame, the stigma, of mental ill-health

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29 January

Of course it's shameful to be :

* dangerous

* self indulgent

* lazy

* a risk

* unemployable

* a nuisance

* untrustworthy

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Vermeer girl

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27 January (updated 10 February)

When Russell Hoban published his novel The Medusa Frequency in 1987, the dust-jacket bore an enhanced version of Vermeer’s painting Head of a [Young] Girl, as here

The painting was not referred to as Girl with a Pearl Earring*, because it was not called that then – Tracy Chevalier did not publish her novel, using that description, for another twelve years – but so popular has the title become since the book (1999) and the film (2003) that even the Mauritshuis in The Hague, where the painting ‘normally’ hangs (it’s not there when Hermann Orff, in the novel, goes to see it), is using it in favour of the name employed by Hoban (or Girl in a Turban and variants thereof, although Orff also does call her The Vermeer girl.

Looked at objectively, yes, the earring is there, but to assume (as the description does) that it is not one of a pair seems over-precise or even fanciful (as if the other side of the girl’s head-dress or even head may not be there, because we cannot see it), and, in comparison with the turban, the earring is not the most obvious thing in the painting, unless you are Chevalier and want to make it the centre of a mystery and a story concerning it, of course. (And several easily available images show her wearing earrings (plural), too.) Historical novelists do such things, after all.

Of course, a model for the painting might only wear the earring that can be seen, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t hold out to wear them both – just this once. I forget what Hoban has Orff say about the painting, but it is notable, amongst Vermeer’s work (it is thought to date to around 1665, ten years before his death), not only for not having a background, but also for having the face and upper body appear in complete darkness, save the light that we can see reflected from the young woman.

However, other models appear with not just jewelry, but pearls, such as the Woman with a Pearl Necklace (thought to be slightly earlier), which she seems to be holding out for someone the other side of the window to see (unless she can see her reflection in a mirror to the left), who also has earrings

So does the Portrait of a Young Woman (thought to be a couple of years later), but she has more elfin-like features than our Scarlett Johannson lookalike (but the same dark background)

Other than cashing in on notoriety, then, is there any real reason to have renamed with a title that does not exclusively describe the Hoban / Chevalier portrait, just because the latter writer gained attention by using it ? Could we imagine retitling the later works of Gorky to which André Breton helped him give names – I think that One Year the Milkweed and The Liver is the Cock’s Comb might have come out of that collaboration, but maybe they did not know best, and some marketing people could find even better names, which would have people search out these canvases worldwide.

We already have Duchamp’s La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même more conveniently known as The Large Glass, and then existing in multiple forms thanks to Richard Hamilton’s work and Duchamp’s endorsement.

On that precedent, artists who have sometimes used names, as Roni Horn has for drawings, that do not say very much, or others who, worse, insist on pieces being just Untitled, could have official titlers who go around after them, fixing them with names for good PR…


Of course, it has been known to be done before, but not in this Chevalier-type way :

1. The sitter is Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of Francesco

2. Thus the punning Italian title, La Gioconda (which is La Jaconde, in French), because the feminine form of the surname means one who is jocund

3. The form of address 'my lady', madonna, came, at that time, to be contracted to mona (though, nowadays, monna)

4. Therefore Mona Lisa - and not a historical novelist in sight, coming up with a new name, based on earrings...


* Though, rather foolishly (I feel), the official Russell Hoban web-site does use that name.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Jean-Luc and François meet Ben, Alice and Steve

This is a review of Sightseers (2012)

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24 January

* Contains serious amounts of spoilers – watch the film first ! *

This is a review of Sightseers (2012)

What did I expect from Sightseers (2012) ? Well, the Twitter name Mr Wheatley kept appearing, along with Catherine Bray reporting that she had seen the film five or more times, and I had tantalizingly seen the poster, so I was aware that a caravan was involved, and knew the faces of the principals (well, maybe not one of them as what wasn’t covered by a hat bore a frown and a beard). I knew nothing else, which is the way that I like it – except that (I forget how) I was prepared for a few deaths…

Those principals (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram), I now know, had written the screenplay (with additional material from Amy Jump, whose name was all over the credits), which need not be unusual, but seems to be, and which appeared to have led to a very full conception of who Chris and Tina (together, Christina ?) are, and how they will behave towards each other and react with others.

I was very much reminded - and still am - of À Bout de Souffle (1960), not because Tina and Chris are as stylish as Jean-Paul Belmondo (Michel) and Jean Seberg (Patricia), but because of the common enterprise (though I did, also, think of Thelma and Louise (1991)) – someone with whom I shared this comparison called Tina and Chris ‘plonkers’, but saw what I meant.

The more that I think about it, the more binds me to the notion:

* Both men kick off the chaos, and the women fall in with it

* In Godard’s film, the shooting of the policeman is imprecisely shown (Michel spread-eagled, his hand on the gun, the shot, and the policeman falling into a ditch), so that we cannot be sure how it happened – Tina, though, is present when Chris reverses over his first victim, and maybe is almost initially convinced by his sobs that it is an accident that has ruined the visit to the tramway museum

* In both cases, there is something ludicrous about what happens – Michel running across the fields like a long-legged hare, and the pathetic details of the man under the caravan and his shaking hand

* The women fall in with it for very similar reasons, and Patricia just as much knows that Michel is wanted for murder as Tina does that Chris has killed, but both women are doing it to please the man and as part of finding out whether they love him

* In one case with a caravan, both films feature dangerous overtaking, though Michel’s is more than anything part of his general frustration with others’ driving, rather than to beat a rival to a pitch

* The separate development of the stories apart, with no sense that Chris is exhausted by what is happening (only irritated that Tina has herself taken to killing, and in ways of which he does not approve), the films converge again with the choices, depending on their feelings for the man, that Tina and Patricia make

* Patricia uses the number that she has been given to report Michel, and is not expecting his response that he will not run any more – nonetheless, just before he dies, he is still calling her a louse for what she did (and so remains, to the last, an unreformed child, loving or hating things and people depending just on how they please him)

* Chris is with Tina on the edge of the viaduct, waiting to jump, and he does, but she looses his hand, and he makes no attempt to grab hers and pull him with him

Are these the choices that we make in life ? To run with a man and help him steal cars as long as one loves him, whatever else he has done, and to embrace casual slaughter of others, but maybe hope to pass all the blame onto the person who is dead and cannot contradict what is said ?

Yes, in the Godard, there is a death, but as I have hinted at, what happens in uncertain, although the consequences are not, with detectives somehow knowing who Michel is, reports in the papers, and then the more and more crazy banners and announcements that proclaim that the police are closing in. All of this, and the brisk and casual manner of the film (with the very long bedroom scene at the heart of it), makes for a jumpy but light-hearted quality, because Michel, despite keeping an eye on his pursuers, seems focused on getting his money and escaping to Italy with Patricia.

The feeling about the deaths, largely, in Sightseers is that they are passed off casually in a way reminiscent of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), although there is no attempt to disguise the bloodiness of the bludgeoning of victims 2 and 3. As with the Godard, we have the reports on the radio that alert Tina and Chris to what is happening, and likewise form part of the texture of the narrative (Michel’s photo is in the paper and so he can be recognized, and a description of Chris and Tina is also given).

So much for the comparison, although I think that there is a compelling case that the similarities cannot be there just by chance. Sightseers begins with Tina’s mother playing on her alleged weakness like someone out of Little Britain, and acting as a sort of Cassandra-like oracle by declaring to Chris I don’t like you ! and calling him a murderer. Later, whether sprawled for attention at the foot of the stairs, or surrounded by the remains of a Chinese take-away and by tonic and gin bottles, she punctuates the supposedly romantic trip.

Tina, with her nutty knitted bra and split-crotch panties, gets a disappointment when Chris feigns sleep on her, and it is only a couple of times what she might hope for (to judge from the rocking of the caravan, drawing fascination from the bystanders, when they first dive into bed). She is a confusingly entertaining mixture of innocence and its opposite, and, because of the matter-of-factness of the killing, it can be the backdrop to not so much the furtherance as disintegration of their relationship, as, another night, Chris gets drunk, rather than being with her.

We never really know who Chris is, or Tina, but that is not the point – whether he is ever telling the truth, e.g. about his job, injection-moulding, or Tina being his muse, the string that we saw being wrapped around pins at the beginning and mapping out their course is what we see unfold. And, with Tina, did the dog really die that way, and, if so, was it an accident, or a petty act of revenge ? Chris + Tina = Christina = two sides of the same coin… ?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Epiphany : my visit to Tate Britain II

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16 January

This posting continues from a survey of Elizabeth Price's place amongst the nominees for The Turner Prize 2012

As a starting-point (although it was the last of a triptych of films, shown virtually seamlessly), Elizabeth Price took material relating to a fire at Woolworths in Central Manchester (in 1979), and then built up her own vision to prepare for coming to narrate the events, sometimes using reporting speech, sometimes – as the film developed – giving us directly what seemed to be original audio.

Price’s work did so many things that were admirable – the following are in no particular order, and not an exhaustive list :

* Using different audio techniques, from a single beat that emphasized a visual (or a change of visual)* to processed sound

* Mixing styles of depiction, with, when showing stills, often a stereoscopic presentation (later, with footage of burning, this technique had a different effect)

* Risking an authoritative description of church architecture, which might have felt patronizing, and softening it by showing (apparent) source-material for the propositions argued for

* Not holding back from continuing the imagery from the second, dance-movement-related film, into the beginning of the third, when those who seemed to have been contemporary eye-witnesses to the fire from the exterior were saying what they had seen

* Partly in line with the lecture feel of (the opening of) the first film, using graphic design to show, in three dimensions, the feature being described, and integrating it with the appearance of text, and using coloured key-words

* A sure touch in matching the visuals to the audio, particularly in the central film, and in the transition to it, with the first suggestion that, whereas what has gone before has not been untruthful, it has shown material whose tone and style are being subverted

* Moving into the second film, Price blurs what has been precise and clear in giving detail about parcloses and misericords**, giving us sometimes tantalizing moving fragments of dancers or singers, and no longer allowing us the luxury of clearly reading the text that she employs

* This approach, coupled with the slightly crazy message about a definite movement of the right wrist, is all part of signalling that what went before was for a purpose, and that purpose is no longer served by the adjuncts of the lecture theatre (albeit at the behest of a lecturer disinclined to dwell too long on some feature or explanation)

* In the third film, after the initial eye-witness comments, it promptly moved to another level, with on-screen lettering to label the event, and shots of fire-fighters standing down their equipment (including a paced shot of a fireman winding up a compressed fire-hose)

* The stereoscopic device returned to pair slightly non-synchronized clips of flames, with the effect that the comparison between the right-hand (advanced) and left-hand (normal) images showed the change in the effect of the combustion over time, and hence intensified one’s appreciation of the destructiveness of the process of burning

Afterwards, seeing the video- and sound-editing software, on an Apple platform, that Price runs***, I found it evident that she manipulates her material with a skill that makes it look like ease.

The first film in the present work (from 2011 ?) appears to be one on which Price has since built. As the mini-feature also revealed, she says it can take her one or two years of continuing to work even on a video that she has exhibited (she tended to refer to works as ‘videos’) before she considers it finished, so I imagine it likely, if I am right, that the film Choir took a yet different one again when it was envisaged within a larger whole.

At some point, the submerged rhyme choir / fire that underlies the triptych must have occurred to Price, although it need by no means have been the first thing that, for her, linked the Woolworths event and the earlier film. That rhyme catches one up, because, if one knows that the work’s full title is The Woolworths Choir of 1979, the expectation is that a choir of real singers fits in somewhere, and so it catches one up****.

Whatever Price’s starting-point for transmuting CHOIR to be the first of three parts, it was clearly, at heart, the sense of confinement of the furniture store at Woolworths, a rectangular enclosure with similarities to the ecclesiastical space that has become the choir of a church or cathedral, which was the place where the fire started. No greater suggestion of similarity than that is made, save by the title, and Price eschews any comparison between the living physical fire that we see, as already described, in the clips that she has used.

This is Price’s greatest strength as an artist, save only to the skill with which she edits and manipulates her material resources, seen and heard : that she knows when too little is enough so that the work, speaking in its own terms, does so with her voice and stamp of authority.

Questions on Epiphany II via a comment


* I detected influences that may have been assimilated, ranging from Beckettt’s radio plays with a score, such as Words and Music, to his work for t.v., Quad Parts I and II, to the films of John Smith.

** Price did not deviate into giving too much detail here (just as she could have done, if she had wanted to explain the term rood-screen).

*** In the mini-feature, which each of the nominees had.

**** Not, one imagines, gruesomely by the victims’ screams, though we learn that cups were being thrown down into the street (perhaps to draw attention to a plight that was being thought ignored).

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The sexiest man on the planet - revealed

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22 January

Yes, we all know that it's AOL® having fun with some crap...


(1) If he is the sexiest, then - unless he's a hermit (if so, he might not want to be called the sexiest man on the planet) - we all know who he is

(2) And we all know that he will be white, muscular, in his early or mid-twenties, rather than the countless billions who do not match that description (on one or more counts)

(3) Can I even be bothered to find out who it's said to be... ?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Fuckin' Bruges

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20 January

* Contains spoilers *

I don’t know whether In Bruges (2008) made the city even more attractive to tourists, but it was so well shot by Eigil Bryld – even the set-pieces from the typical guide-book – that it should have done.

For this was certainly not a film that did as that year’s Woody Allen’s Barcelona-titled work (as it had funding to be filmed in that city¹) and just treated us to a picture-show (however nicely), but one that embedded Bruges in the development of the film right from the opening to the closing shots (as Allen’s Paris- and Rome-centred films then did three and four years later, although it may be fanciful, just by virtue of the comparison, to suggest that Allen learnt from what Martin McDonagh’s picture does).

I did not see the film when it was released, but was aware of it at the time of Brendan Gleeson’s excellent performance in The Guard (2011), and then at the recent run of Seven Psychopaths (2012), in the light of finding which dire a friend lent me his DVD, so I know why people expected better from McDonagh writing / directing again.

In truth, though, what seemed like an under-par performance from common link Colin Farrell (as Ray) threatened to have me stop watching (either because it was too close to the use to which he was put in Psychopaths, or, perhaps, because I had thought more of him in another Allen film, Cassandra’s Dream (2007)), which makes it less implausible that Allen had seen this other Farrell film. I am glad that I did not quit, because, around the time that Ken (Gleeson) goes to see Yuri to get a gun, the film picked up for me.

Until then, possibly because I like the place, I had been rather irritated by Ray’s opening condemnation of Bruges as a shit-hole, his refusal to join in with Ken’s spirit of making the best of being sent there, including a smart-arsed comparison with Dublin, and even by his baiting some overweight Americans into chasing him : most of those things came back to haunt, as does the accidental killing that has led Ken to bring Ray to Bruges, and make the ending powerfully effective. Yes, the final theme does owe something to the t.v. series Life on Mars (2006 – 2007), and maybe even to the feeling of The Truman Show (1998), but I did not see it coming.

Early on, there had been palpable references to the exchanges between Gogo and Didi from Beckettt’s Waiting for Godot, to the situation in Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter** (and, for good measure, to Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, as Ken is flustered and cannot remember which of the two aliases used is his), and I wrongly wondered how original the writing was going to be, before realizing that they were probably passing mentions (almost inevitable in a work with buddies).

Equally fleeting appeared the echoes of Dante in the theological chat, both in front of the Hieronymous Bosch painting The Last Judgement², of which we are shown details from the centre panel, at the art gallery, and on the bench afterwards. (Giving a message to Death, anatomy lessons involving human dissection, and gruesome, if miraculous, saints’ lives had all preceded the Bosch scenes, and pricked Ray’s sensibility (and conscience ?).)

Stepping back a bit, the film opens with these words, narrated over night-time shots by an unseen Ray :

After I killed him, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off my hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter, the instructions came through: Get the fuck out of London, you’s dumb fucks – get to Bruges ! [quotation truncated]

However, we may not have fully caught these words, and, because of hearing the voice saying that he did not know where Bruges was (and so momentarily feeling superior ?), may not later spot a mismatch. This occurs when a boy with adults, whom Ray sees walking across a square, gives rise to a flashback, at the end of which Ray is dragged (seemingly by Ken) from the scene where a priest and a boy lie dead (re-enter Pinter ?).

At the end, as Ray is being put on a stretcher, and, from Ray’s point of view, we see an oxygen-mask being lowered (shades of John Simm as Sam Tyler, and Beckettt’s doubt-filled trilogy ?), we hear him narrate again, as the stretcher slides inside an ambulance :

[…] And I thought, if I survive all this, I’ll go to that house, apologize to the mother there, and accept whatever punishment she chose for me. Prison, death – it didn’t matter. Cos, at least in prison, and at least in death, you know, I wouldn’t be in fuckin’ Bruges. But then, like a flash, it came to me, and I realized. Fuck, man - maybe that’s what Hell is : the entire rest of eternity spent in fuckin’ Bruges ! And I really really hoped I wouldn’t die. I really really hoped I wouldn’t die…

We have followed Ken and Ray thus far, latterly with their boss Harry Waters (another stunning role for Ralph Fiennes, that champion scene-stealer), as the triangle has been brought together by principle, betrayal, disobedience and sacrifice, centring in Bruges (words that unforcedly ring through the screenplay). Harry, who had professed a boyhood wonder for the place when he speaks to Ken, stalks through it, so fixed on his quarry that he scarcely seems to see it and its Christmas magic, which we, too, then feel less with the tense - turning to pounding and grinding - music of the chase, reminiscent of that of The Matrix (1999).

Both Ken and Ray still have life in them when, by rights (though I do not have the knowledge of the Flemish anatomists shown earlier) one might have thought that they should be dead. It is Ken’s bid to save Ray (just as it was when Ken, about to kill, stopped Ray shooting himself and put him on a train) that elevates matters above one killer (Ken himself) and whether he kills or is killed by another killer (Harry), although we are not really drawn to take sides (but cannot take the extreme behaviour of the ticket-seller of the belfry as reason for what Harry does in reprisal – one for McDonagh’s later tally of psychopaths !). (Stoppardian logic with the scene atop the belfry.)

Unknown to Ray, Harry has apparently wanted him to enjoy Bruges before being executed, but, from first to last, excepting that Chloe lives there (and, even so, he has to insult the city on their date), he never gives it a chance, whereas Ken has been soaking in the sights and experiences. Are there subterranean glimpses, here, of a meaning beyond the superficial, that Ken may be a Clarence to Ray’s George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)) – after all, there is Ray’s attempt on his own life, from which Ken, appointed to kill him, saved him (more Stoppardian logic), and, for example, when Ken encourages Ray to look at something during their canal-boat trip, he is hunched in his coat and does not even raise his head ?

Is Ken actually real, or no more so to anyone else than, say, Charles is to John Nash (A Beautiful Mind (2001), or Harvey to Elwood (Harvey (1950), although Harvey is, in fact, visible to others), because, of course, Ray is narrating the story and we only see what he envisages ? Enough in this film, I think, to give us pause whether Ray, like Sam Tyler, may be talking to us and / or himself from a coma, because of the horrific injuries from Harry’s dum-dum bullets (we have seen what one did to the head of Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), dressed as a schoolboy). If Ken is Ray's guide, is he a sort of Virgil to Ray's Dante ?

At the end of the film, the location of the film that is being made⁴ (on which Ray met Chloe) is peopled by some Bosch-like creatures, one of whom knocks Ray to the ground with his beak, and, somehow, Marie from the hotel is there, as well as Chloe (so even a bit of a feel of The Game (1997) or maybe (1963)).

When, after Chloe and Ray kissed (during which we saw Harry, intend on business with Ken, walk straight past, and Chloe said, of herself, ‘The most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen in all of your stupid life’ as a reason for what Ray has to stay for), they took a romantic drink together. When Jimmy came over, he said about his character and that night’s shoot that ‘the psycho-dork turns out to be some loveable schoolboy and it’s all some Boschian nightmare’.

Stephen, in Joyce’s Ulysses, says the much-quoted words History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. In this film (with Ray’s past of an accidental shot that killed a praying boy, whose prayers, clutched in his hand, Ray reads), Ray says of history, as a retort to Ken’s interest in it – just before, at the hotel, Ken was reading The Death of CaponeI used to hate history, didn’t you ? It’s all just a load of stuff that’s already happened !, and immediately rushes off, because there are ‘midgets being filmed’.

At that moment, Ray isn’t trying to awake from history, but avoid it, by chatting up (the willing) Chloe, and hearing about the dream-sequence that is being filmed, which, she tells him, is neither a pastiche of, nor an homage to, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973), but an overhead : the belfry and all the buildings do not interest him, but Chloe and Jimmy and the film do, and he is drawn to them.

He almost so wants to be part of the film-world that it is no surprise that he ends up on location again in the finale. Chloe had talked about site security, and Ray says that he evaded it, but there is certainly no evidence of any now. Does Ray have a little feel about him of Bill Harford from Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) (taken from a short story by Schnitzler) ?

However we interpret this film, there are a couple of constants – Ray’s lively, beetling brows (into which Farrell channels much of his acting), and his decorative shirt, which would seem to be the only one that he has (despite the fact that Ken and he are both shouldering bags when they arrive in the city). There are some shots where one can get a closer view of this shirt, and realize that what decorates it, which I took for music for a long time (trying to confirm which detracted from the action and drew attention to what seemed Farrell’s apparent one-dimensionality), is something else.

It cannot really be made out, but could resemble wild-card characters from an ASCII set together with a paper-trace-type pattern (when programs and data were fed in on paper-tape), or, put another way, the ones accessed from a font such as Symbol. Is that it ? Is Ray’s shirt a symbol – is it, as with the letters and numbers that, if one can see them, make up the world of The Matrix, an indication that he is – whether because he is really in a coma or in Hell (or Purgatory) – a piece of source-code amongst all this imagined reality, where Marie, Eirik, and Chloe are all somehow there to see his wounded body carried away ?


Whatever Ray may say about Bruges, acting as a dismissive gobshite, when Ken alludes to what has brought him there, he is figuratively on his knees, as he is in front of the vivid depictions in The Groeninge Museum. Although, as dinner with Chloe shows, he is capable of violence in defence of that image, it does not seem to be his inner nature, which is to be fascinated by Jimmy (because he is 'a midget' - a childish state of wonder), to talk blarney to Chloe, to be reduced to the fear and trembling of a schoolboy facing his doom.

As Ray lies wounded, probably likely to die, and is thinking, these parts of him combine in deriving an eschatology where being in Hell equates to being in Bruges : the part of him that hopes, though founded on this extreme aversion, does not want to die and end up there eternally, but, with his wounds, living will necessarily be at the cost of being there for quite a while. If, that is, the whole foregoing has not been confused by his near-death state and he has confused and deluded himself...

There is a little more information and comment here...


¹ For a screenplay apparently originally set in LA.

² The play is a big clue as to what instructions can eventually be expected. (The likeness to Father Ted, where Ken is an amalgam of Ted and Dougal, and Ray a more benign Jack, is less helpful.)

³ The work is a triptych, with the other two panels painted on the inside of doors that are hinged to meet in the middle, which, I gather, was a common method at the time for keeping the main painting concealed and protected when not required for devotional purposes.

Unusually for films, the work is where it is said to be, the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, although the opening sequence had, which is why I have checked, made me wonder whether all the gargoyles, statues, moons and the like had been shot on location (as well as whether the topography is fairly represented in the depiction of the scenes).

Psychopaths tries to repeat this, and other elements of Bruges (e.g. the Harry Waters character is mirrored by Charlie Brooker), with a film within a film, but it just doesn’t work.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Ulrich is the perfect K.

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19 January

Yes, truly. The actor whom many more will know as Wiesler from The Lives of Others (2006), Ulrich Mühe, makes an excellent K. I wouldn't have known it, and some luke-warm reviews hadn't put me off watching it, but Haneke's The Castle (1997) proved it.

Mühe had been in Funny Games (1997) (the original German film, which may have been made before the Kafka film), with Susanne Lothar, who plays Frieda, as his wife, and Frank Giering, the 'assistant' Art[h]ur, as one of the tormenting pair.

Sadly, according to IMDb (which nevertheless credits him with Nemesis (2010)), he died five years ago...

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Video: Myleene Klass hits the beach in bikini (according to AOL®)

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

Almost as stupid as stating Customers shocked with horse meat ! Would we expect delighted with horse meat ?!

And, with this...

Which is worth the 1,000 words, since there is patently water (or might it be a swimming-pool), and patently bikini-wearing going on.

OK, we might not clock that it is MK, but what's this rubbish about hit[ting] the beach', and don't many women wear bikinis (one at a time) on the beach ?


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The quartet that wasn't

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15 January

By way of explanation : I offered to write a review of Quartet (2012), since I had already written about it here, for the on-line content of New Empress Magazine (@NewEmpress), and I was asked to provide it by the end of the week.

Although I had no doubt what I wanted to say, limiting oneself to 350 words is not always liberating, but sometimes disabling of one's inspiration. However, I pressed on, and submitted well in advance, though I forgot to give a rating (1 to 5 'Torches of Truth' [sic]).

Remembering the rating had not been provided, I said 3, but then got back a request from the acting On-Line Editor (Martyn Conterio) to revise the 3, because the review had been negative*. As I said in replying, I do not like a 5-point scale, but said, in that case, 2, because 2.5 was probably nearer the truth (although 3 suited me).

I was then told in a most perfunctory way that my review would not appear**, but here it is...

Ronald Harwood’s play Quartet premiered thirteen years ago. Many will gather that the film, too, centres on achieving a performance of a four-part Verdi aria (a pièce de résistance in Rigoletto, Act 3), the retired singers being Pauline Collins, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, and Billy Connolly.

So far so good (or maybe raised eyebrows about plausibility, e.g. Connolly a tenor, and Collins as mezzo ?), but why mention the play, when it’s Sir Ronald’s own screenplay ? Simply because it is such a different beast that I believe that Harwood has virtually destroyed it to produce a film of lesser interest.

The play’s cast is just the four singers, so we only hear, say, of Jean Horton’s (Dame Maggie’s) rival, Anne Langley. A film cannot easily do that (Anne is played here by singer Dame Gwyneth Jones), and the cinematic medium cannot reproduce dialogue. However, the casualty is losing the sparse effectiveness,
seeing anyone else.

Instead, real interiors, peopled by people such as resident impresario Michael Gambon, in full loudmouth mode, and Sheridan Smith, an unlikely managerial role. For me, the play’s intimacy is overdiluted by staff and residents, and what remains is an imaginary portrait of a musicians’ retirement home –
the four, of whom only Jean looks like she might really have sung opera.

So why did Harwood bother reworking
for cinema ? Our readers will know that a gala screening, followed by a Q&A, took place last month, in which he participated: not unusually, the evening’s host absorbed most of the available time, and no one even asked Harwood why he wrote the screenplay.

Well, Giuseppe Verdi was born on 10 October 1813, which Radio 3 is already marking by broadcasting all his operas in 2013. The film is from BBC Films. So no tie-in there, then !

Call me cynical, but the facts – and seeing the play transferred to the screen – make me wonder whether Harwood’s heart was in the work, or it was a job that paid. Promoting films is tacky, but the tag-line ‘Four friends looking for a little harmony’ is appalling !




* 'I'm not quite sure about the reasoning behind the 3 Torches rating given it's a fairly negative review. Can you revise.'

** 'Given the current schedule and with the Quartet competition ending tomorrow, I am unable to use your Quartet review. Thank you for submitting. I cannot be drawn into any reasons for my decision, above those mentioned, and I hope you accept my apology.'

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Gala with a glitch

This is a Gala review of Underground (1928), screened in NFT1 at the BFI

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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10 January

This is a Gala review of Underground (1928), screened in NFT1 at the BFI

Confession : I am not very practised (or confident) with how to view silent film :

* self-perpetuating lack of exposure to the field

* which means that my lip-reading* never gets better

* and disinclines me to make the effort to choose silent

For I find the concentration needed even greater than for a poorly subtitled film, where there is the anxious race to read and make sense of captions before the next ones come up (and, necessarily, the one in hand disappears).

None of this deterred me from this gala screening:

It had all the elements : a Q&A (and hosted by Francine Stock, to boot); the buzz of a first night at the BFI; in Underground, the restoration, by the BFI, of a film 85 years old; the involvement of silent-film musical interpreter Neil Brand, not as accompanying musician this time, but as composer of the score; and the tie-in with the 150th anniversary of the tube, with a film that almost made a character of its tunnels, staff, trains.

It brought out all sorts, from the train enthusiasts (there was one on the panel, with a looping presentation of stills) to, as it were, the silent crowd, and, of course, film buffs in general (into the latter two categories of which Brand and Stock** fitted, as did Bryony Dixon (curator at the BFI) and ?? Ben Thompson ?? (from the team of restorers)).

However, there were only two drawbacks, the minor one that, with a panel of four, each of whom had to be given a say, there was only time for five (it may have been four) audience questions, and the major hitch, which had Brand leaping from his seat and disappearing within minutes, which was that the soundtrack was no longer in synch with the projection (which, apparently, it had been earlier).

So, for example, an urchin playing on some sort of whistle was heard before he was seen. As Brand had, of course, carefully scored each moment of the 84 minutes, it was immensely distressing for him (hence his sudden exit to voice his concern), but it seemed from the apology at the end from the BFI’s director that there had been a lack of confidence that stopping the film would have allowed the problem to be remedied***.

I asked for a complementary ticket to allow me to see it as it should have been, because, although there was no doubt of the power and skill of the scoring (and of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s performance****), the concentration involved in hearing a soundtrack that did not match the visuals compounded my interpretative impairment.
That apart, it was a grand evening, and I was pleased to be able to talk briefly to Neil Brand again and offer my congratulations (and commiserations). This is why :

I had heard Brand talking to Sean Rafferty last year, on Radio 3’s late-afternoon programme In Tune (one could equally say early-evening, as I choose not to say ‘drive-time’), and was very interested both in what he had to say about the film’s dynamics, and to hear not only some of the music, but also how it had been composed. So I knew that Anthony Asquith, son of the prime minister of that name, had been the art director, I knew a skeletal amount about what the film dealt with, and I had heard Brand’s palpable enthusiasm for this commission.

I knew, therefore, that I wanted to see it, and, when I saw Brand at the Silent Film Festival (I only managed to see one film, though, where he had been playing with Mark Kermode’s band The Dodge Brothers) and then at Festival Central, I learnt that all the attention was focused on a likely release timed with the tube anniversary.

This film – including in its original sense - is terrific, and there is no doubt that the patient work of restoration, of composing the score, and of recording and tracking it has been an excellent use of resources. I want only to say enough about it that is consistent with leaving it to unfold to a new viewer, but showing what there is to be appreciated.

My Tweet will have alerted to the scheming and self-centredness of Othello, but (in no particular order) there is also, as Bryony Dixon put it, a love quadrilateral, a fight and other moments of tension, shots of trains and escalators in and around Waterloo tube-station, a magnificent chase, and a picture of the metropolis and a romantic trip to (as a member of the audience asserted, since no one knew) Hampstead Heath. What more could one want... ?


* It is a useful adjunct to indistinct speech, as a clue (or cue) to what is being uttered, but a different proposition, I find, with no speech sounds. A film of this kind has few inter-titles (have they always been called that?), and for me, used as I am to the dialogue driving many a scene, there’s a frustration at not knowing what is said.

** Aurally, it has the ring of a partnership, warehousing, maybe, designer goods.

*** When I talked, at a later date, to Cambridge Film Festival director Tony Jones, he was confident both as to the nature of the problem, and how the technology caused would have made it not capable of easy remedy : he also seemed to know, but lost me in the detail of the technicality, how it should have been done, and so would not have been beyond repair on the spot.

**** Brand provided information about how the recording from a live performance at a screening last year, once the audience noise had been taken off, had to be intermixed with taping from that event’s rehearsal. Here, too, there had been a technical issue, because the frame-speed of the projection when the two had been recorded differed !

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Drab git - or summat !

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9 January

Oh, I know that there is that grand old tradition of The Grauniad, and I'm the worst for checking over my own postings before they go live, but I'm scarcely trying to tout celebrity stories to a global audience with this blog, whereas a typo in the relevant person's name might just damage the interest in or credibility of the guff in question, and thereby be to the detriment of the named Big Players !

As it was, quite a lot of people couldn’t have been doing their job of checking the web-site’s appearance and content, because the link was there for a long time. Yes, we do read what we expect to be there, and, for that and other reasons, reading a proof properly is harder than many imagine*, and I even think that some promotional material panders to the incorrect by using lazy English, which may be what their target customers would use :

By contrast with dfs, the unmistakable voice of Victoria Wood, sounding earnest and a bit posh, is now the voice of the Dyson brand (a few weeks ago she was, anyway, in the irritating pop-up advert before I could sign in and reach the comparative safety of my in-box), which one might not have envisaged – did our celebrated inventor leave that choice to others, or make it himself in an engineered way, one might wonder… ?

And, as some must know, from Freddie Starr ate my hamster in The Sun of late last century to some fire-fight or cattiness where X rubbishes Y’s work [interchangeable with looks], if X and Y agree (for others) to let it be known that they have their differences over these things (or how one of them supposedly treated Z), then it doesn’t matter a damn that it’s a made-up dispute as long as they do nothing to destroy the illusion that it is real.

And the newspapers, the Internet news-sites, the t.v., they know that it’s all hooey, but it goes all the way back to the closely kept secrets of Tinseltown, such as everyone knowing, and no one saying, that Rock Hudson was gay until the manner of his death (and choices that must have been made, leading up to it) made it known. We only know what we are meant to know, and, likewise, it was just generally accepted that it was better to interview Mary Pickford in the morning, before she had consumed ‘lunch’.

Just for good measure, that world of the law is no different : the various Companies Acts require various things of a company established in England & Wales, including that certain business (e.g. appointments of company officers) be transacted at the first meeting of the company. As one commercial lawyer, deputy senior partner in a City firm, said If Mr D. and Mr D.’s brother say that they met on such and such a day at such and such a time to conduct a meeting, who is to say otherwise ? - it was just for the Messrs D. to consult their diaries and say, for the purpose of the minutes, where this paper meeting took place.

Lying, any more than the story where Pitt sends some Tweet (as if a Twitter account were so personal to the individual that no one else could send it on his behalf, or at his cost) ? A legal fiction versus fabricated grudges, infatuation or rivalry ? Celebrity land and the world of law keep a foot in each camp, for who, other than the PR crowd (whose job, like the devil’s, is to persuade you that they do such extreme things that the innocuously everyday ones pass unnoticed), advises on the legal niceties of the deals that are struck behind the scenes for A to have it appear that B called her some name or whatever in return for payments to B and B’s sworn secrecy ?

Makes Bleak House and its grinding Chancery case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce seem like a fairy story !


* Besides which, it becomes terminally uninteresting, in the way that it does for a commercial solicitor who never sets food in a police station (except to reclaim lost property) to explain how his colleagues can represent someone in court whom they ‘know is guilty’, to point out why a proofreader is not responsible ‘for all these grammatical mistakes that there are in books nowadays’

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Epiphany : my visit to Tate Britain I

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6 January

Having been to Tate Britain for the last day of The Turner Prize show, I am not surprised that Elizabeth Price’s nomination won it for her in 2012: to say that there were no real contenders is a rather unhelpful way of asserting that she outclassed them all.

I already knew that to be true of Luke Fowler’s 93-minute film, which simply wasn’t art, even if it was going to have the massive draw of footage of Laing, the psychiatrist whom so many people have heard of (or feel that they know about, Fowler probably included). Fair enough, by having All Divided Selves (2011) in the show, Tate was committed to coming up with the means to provide a space in which people could be for that long, and, from what I could tell the solution was effective. That said, there were people sitting on the floor, and, although some of them may have been not only transient, but also the result of last-weekend numbers, that is scarcely something that many would choose to do at the cinema (where I think that Fowler’s film belongs, not in a gallery).

There are several things that bother me still about how a full-length film distorts such a show, not least when the exhibition-space persists on being on the corridor model:

(a) attrition / fatigue / pacing, when one gets to the entry for Fowler’s film first, and, although entry is not exactly limited to the screening-times (and, unlike a gallery of displayed work, one does not have to pass through it), they require one to take that part out of one’s visit to plan to get somewhere to sit* ;

(b) even if Price’s and Fowler’s films were of the same quality, is more than four times as much better, just by virtue of being longer ? ;

(c) on the same question of comparison, how weigh Paul Noble’s drawings with All Divided Selves, even if one did not think that, assuming if the latter were art (not just slightly arty documentary), the Laing factor wins it in a way that Fowler’s film about Cornelius Cardew would not.

Although no one, of course, is going to admit it, I’d be very surprised if a show has another film that long in a hurry. (Or that anyone makes one – not, at least, without being much closer to the spirit of film-making that being a recipient of the Derek Jarman Award might suggest.)

Paul Noble’s work was fine, but it just did not have the virtuosic command of its medium that Price did of hers. As to Spartacus Chetwynd, let’s just say that I have seen better work of this carnivalesque kind, and that I really did mean to watch the whole performance, but it was so much more inviting to go back to the room with the mini-features about the nominees…

This survey concludes with a review of Price's award-winning work


* If they do not have the benefits of coming in and out, as a Tate member, visitors are obliged to stay inside when they have bought a ticket, however much a coffee may call.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The face of things to come

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5 January

There are many ways in which we use this word face, of which I was encouraged to think of by glancing at a kitchen-clock (which I never look at for the time, as it is stopped at 2.10) :

* He looked at the clock-face

* She did an about-face

* Cromwell’s men defaced* many religious statues

* I can’t face it this time

* We will face out this embarrassment

* This tomb-stone has been defaced*

* This is the face of things to come

* The new face of Gucci

* The new face of Thatcherism

* Facing forward

* Facing into the storm

* At last, she is facing up to her past

* They have always been a two-faced pair

* Don’t deface these posters again !


* Certainly in the first case, the word means that the faces have been taken off, which is what de-facing literally means, and it might have been done, too, to the top layer of stone of a grave-marker.