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Showing posts with label The Waste Land. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Waste Land. Show all posts

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Strange transmissions

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

11 February

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)

Sokurov is often referred to as Aleksandr, but is here credited as Alexander. In any case, his directing gives us a screen-world that mixes (as T. S. Eliot has it*), memory and desire, except that it is memory and desire and dream… Dreaming, though, where son can talk to father from outside it (and vice versa), and ask what it is like, which Russell Hoban prefigured by publishing Amaryllis Night and Day in 2001 (hardly uniquely, since it is likewise the stuff of Ursula Le Guin and Earthsea, which has its roots elsewhere).

In no way repeating Mother and Son (1997), but not disappointing those who watch Father and Son (2003) by the strength of the performances or the writing, Sokurov dwells on the awkwardnesses in life that bring us so close or so far apart (as Peter Gabriel puts it**) : British and Russian politeness / society are not poles apart, and changing the subject is just as much part of (Chekhov or) this film as is suddenly talking about the weather.

A delirious moment, of nigh-febrile intensity, begins the film, bringing us at once inside the physicality of Alexei and his dad’s life and love, both for others and for each other. To this kind of soldierly behaviour, not only Britishness may not easily relate, and so find in it the homoeroticism that Sokurov seems to have wanted to dismiss [NB link is to a review that mentions Sokurov's reaction], even if there is quite intentional ambiguity about so much in what we see.

So, in a beautifully crafted and cut-together scene, where Aleksei Neymyshev (Alexei) talks to Marina Zasukhina through, and around, the narrow aperture of a window, we do not even know for sure though we may surmise, since this is in a barracks why the window cannot be opened more widely, let alone who they are to each other, or why Alexei’s father (Andrei Shchetinin) has also come to visit. Later, the script has Alexei almost stumble upon an encounter that almost mocks, perhaps, Shakespeare’s balcony scene, yet at the same time bringing out the tension and sense of daring in wooing, as in any interaction.

To say little more, because the film needs to speak for itself and to a willing recipient, the dialogue, and Sokurov’s tight direction of scenes, both keep at the human level. Even so, the filming introduces visual distortions, say, with the tram, or has us impossibly trying to follow ‘the action’ of Alexei with, and in the company of, his fellow military colleagues, wrestling and struggling in pursuit of exercise and expertise in hand-to-hand, unarmed combat watching too closely, or trying too much to follow, and missing what else is in the film-frame.

If Chekhov is a struggle (because we cannot see, or relate to, what is unsaid in all that is said in, say, Uncle Vanya, or The Seagull), or if Pinter’s wordy silences seem awkward (which serve a similar purpose, at times, of making us aware of the underlying sub-texts to our lives and actions ?), that may disincline us to watch Father and Son. Yet one could still try it, but by giving oneself to 83 mins in the undiluted medium of cinema without trying to understand how the reimagined musical scores or its interplay with the soundscape work, or the heightening and lowering effects with light : so, surrendering, as to a dream-world that is another’s life, to what the camera shows us, chooses to show us.


* In the very opening of Book I (‘The Burial of the Dead’) of ‘The Waste Land’ (although only a cursory look at the Faber & Faber facsimile and transcript that Valerie Eliot edited soon has one wondering whether it is Eliot’s poem, or that of Ezra Pound, to whom (in 1925) it was dedicated, and who is credited : Il miglior fabbro). Whilst we are contemplating Eliot, the fact that filming took place in St Petersburg and Lisbon has given something of the effect of his ‘Unreal City’ (via Charles Baudelaire) in Book III (‘The Fire Sermon’, heading the fourth block of lines).

** To quote the lyrics of the track ‘That voice again’ on the album So (or is it So ?).

*** Symbolically, does either desire it or, rather, to continue to peer through the crack, or through the bottom of the pane ? Cinematically, which is what is posing these questions to us, the effect caught is unnerving, electrifying, and perhaps infuriating both in and outside the action, as we try to address what we are seeing…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Miming in the choir*

This is a review of The Railway Man (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

22 January

This is a review of The Railway Man (2013)

* Contains spoilers *

I’m still at war, Eric Lomax comes to realize when he has gone to confront his persecutor, but, before he does so, there is the bulk of one tautly reined and powerful film, amongst whose many strengths are the conviction of the cast, the inventiveness and crispness of its cinematography, and how the highly effective score (by David Hirschfelder) employs instruments as varied as cello, oboe, gamelan and Japanese flute** in an integrated whole, which works with the film despite our consciousness of it.

As a young Lomax, Jeremy Irvine*** more than fulfils the potential that he showed in Now is Good (2012), even catching the rhythms and mannerisms of Colin Firth, his older self, and forming a tight triangle with Patricia Wallace (Nicole Kidman), the woman whom he loves (known as Patti). Only it will not work as a triangle****, and, despite fellow survivor Finlay’s (Stellan Skarsgård’s) initial dismissals of Wallace as a Florence Nightingale who wants to work on Lomax and who is underestimating what Lomax and he and others went through in captivity under the Japanese army, he agrees to help, acknowledging the happiness that she has brought Lomax.

Lomax’s other love is trains, and we all know the type, which gives a matter of factness that is part of Lomax’s charm and attractiveness. Kidman and Firth handle the scene wonderfully, with the clincher being what the accompanying sailors had been shouting when her older relatives watched Brief Encounter (1945), another triangle, and a promise from Kidman to behave better. Already, in the things that Lomax asks her, we know that he is revealing things about himself, and his view of life, with his suggestions for where she might travel on the Scottish West Coast. He only, though, confirms his feelings to himself by telling another, Finlay, of what happened.

It is a form of validation, and no wonder when we learn of what happened to him in the Second World War (with the worst revealed till last). Finlay only hints at what Lomax’s life was like before he met Wallace, and she only realizes what Lomax’s experiences are like when they have married, but is fiercely loyal to him : she says that she had twenty years in nursing, and she may well have known others who had been hurt by what happened to them.

The scene where we realize what dogs Lomax, with the world of the Burma railway stealing into his mind and obliging him to go back there, against his will and with physical force, is highly imaginative, mixing not so much memory and desire (T. S. Eliot’s verse from the opening of (‘The Waste Land’) as memory and despair. We do not need to be shown again what his inner life is at these times, but we see him struggle to resist change in his life with Wallace, and how the remnants of the past that she finds chill her, but embolden her wish to help her husband.

Nothing in this film feels gratuitous (and it is very graphic in places, which strike home), and things are not shown in the interests of reviving hatred for the perpetrators of these acts on prisoners of war. As the film develops, Lomax knows no more than we what we might do, and the exactness about him that we see in Irvine, when is trying to explain that he really likes trains, is there when he challenges the words that are being used to describe his friends’ and his treatment.

Be reminded that this is a film, and not Lomax’s book – until we get to the end of the film, it opens incomprehensibly, because that is the typical artifice of films, to sow a seed – and the reconciliation and friendship with Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada) actually happened quite differently from how portrayed, but would not have made such a good film.

In his acting, Irvine has just the right qualities to be bright eyed, knowledgeable but not brash, in pain, selfless, proud : he is our guide to the older Lomax, and Firth and he mirror each other. To its credit, the film did have the services of a psychiatrist available to it, and it also does not seem improbable that a man who had experienced what Lomax did would have ended up as he does later on in life, though what the onset of that behaviour is unclear.

It seems that Firth and Kidman met Patti and Eric Lomax, and that, although he died before it could be seen, she has supported the film***** and said that Firth caught her late husband on camera. Factually, it telescopes and inverts the order of many things, but this does not seem to have bothered the Lomaxes, who, if so, must have appreciated that telling a story in a film is different from doing so in Lomax’s own writing.

If it encourages people to read The Railway Man (with Lomax's delirious poem), then all to the good, but it does stand complete in itself, and whilst more could be made of the input that Patti Lomax had to her husband’s regaining his equilibrium, doing so was not necessary, because, from the lead performers’ portrayals, we never doubt their love for each other, and that is the strength from which they built.

This film does what it needs to, by evoking bravery, self-sacrifice, and the very depths of love and friendship.


* This is how Finlay, in his role of Uncle to his fellow prisoners when in captivity, describes to Patti his feelings of inadequacy to be a continuing support to them.

** That description may fit a typical East / West musical pastiche, but this is so much better, quite possibly one of the top scores for the last twelve months.

*** Whom it seems Colin Firth suggested for the part.

**** Because Lomax of 1980 is dragged back by the one of 1942 and his experiences from fully being with her. Somehow, the physical hurts then have to be healed in his mental life now, and Lomax is almost certainly subject to, at the very least, post-traumatic stress disorder. Significantly, unlike the Marnie (1964) type of film, she is not the one who (directly) finds him the healing.

***** According to IMDb, The real-life Patti Lomax attended the film's world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013. She received a standing ovation upon the screening of the film.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

'Cutting out' blogging

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 August

Bogus Derivations 'r' Us ?

In other words, the Internet being what it is (a dustbin with ~0.005 % reliable content), don't take seriously the etymologies that you read there, founded on the scholarship that led to The Hitler Diaries (and that fairly amusing film Schtonk ! (1992))...

So we are told that blog is short for web-log / weblog, but - I have to ask - who in the heck, other than some would-be Captain Kirk, would call such a thing such a thing ?

Captain's log, Stardate 45 point 78 point 69 B theta minus Cosine ABC

It's less whether we can establish that there is any truth in the assertion (which, of course - for a suitable Jim-Rockford-type daily rate plus expenses - one could look into) than choosing to swallow it. For me, I don't, because it sounds like a crap guess dressed up as Fact :

To my ear, blog sounds far more like the sound that a woodpecker sort of bird might make*, which - in its typical formulation - is what blogging is, the knock knock knock of sense out of our heads by the endless repetition of tired arguments, debateable points of view, and assorted nonsense that supposedly sounds good just for the saying.

Going back to Hitler and 'that whole endorsement thing' (as some would style it), possibly it is no more schocking than Ossian / Macpherson (in 1760), or what Wikipedia® calls the free-wheeling translations by Edward FitzGerald (I like that description) in the following century, but plus ça change is a bit of a cop-out, is it not ?

Anyway, my guns and pump are primed, so Anything could happen - all in the Best Possible Taste, Cupid !

As they say, Watch this space...


* I need to check, in that facsimile of what T. S. Eliot really wrote (before Ezra Pound got his hands/ pen on it - no wonder Eliot states / quotes 'For Ezra Pound : Il miglior fabbro' at the front (in 1925) !), whether that bird-noise was notated in 'The Waste Land'.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Harold at sunrise

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

16 October

Well, Siobhan Redmond, Harriet Walter and Juliet Stepphenson* in a sub-Pinteresque radio play for their trio of voices - a dilation on the nature of memory / experience / forgetting ...

Nods in the direction of Beckettt's 'dramaticule' Come and Go, and The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson, but most reminiscent of The Waste Land and Harold's Old Times, and what else isn't derivative doesn't impress.

But most radio plays sound as though, with the same forces to perform them, anyone could write them : this one sounds as though very much written against the grain, because a commission.


* A third, whom I forgot / couldn't place when I originally made this posting...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Some poets

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

13 June

Passing for quirky observation, a string of abuse

At readings, some poets:

* Are just better at reading poetry - theirs or that of others (though not necessarily 'alike')

* Apologize for their poetry, in either of two principal ways

* Either explaining how it came to be written, or by saying - in more or less so many words - Here it is, for what it's worth

* Need to be told, in response, that it probably weakens hearing the poem to have it explained, and that, if they do not have confidence in their work, maybe they should not have had the confidence to say that they would take part

* After all, not even in his notes*, does T. S. Eliot, I think, apologize for quoting Wagner texts in The Waste Land, or otherwise, in the opening lines, suddenly introducing the German of Bin gar keine Russin**

* Forget that, as some have noted before, those listening just will not 'get' every reference (even if they study a text), and feel they need explanation

* Do not stop to realize that it appears curious to have put the references in, but still feel obliged to say what they mean, unless they are to be construed as boasting what they have seen, done, heard or read

* Read too quickly, not letting their words / lines / metre speak or sing

* On account of reading too quickly, and not allowing the reading to breathe, also underplay the end of each poem

* Maybe do not want to leave the final line hanging in the air, but there is little danger, as they are already finding the next book-mark, or starting with further words to introduce the next poem (whether its title or an explanation), and which mingle with the closing words

* Would, if they do not easily let each poem have a time just to be when read, benefit from applause between one choice and the next, which might slow them

* Might feel less frightened, and exude less fear, if they had the feedback of applause, although it seems sacrilege in poetry-reading circles


* Which, I am assured, were to fill up space, and not to be taken seriously, however fascinating the fisher-king.

** We have all heard of The Baltic States now, so Stamme aus Litauen / Echt deutsch that follows might mean more.