shewhomust: (mamoulian)
  • As agreed, the bathroom fitters arrived on Tuesday morning to start work on the downstairs bathroom. They ripped out all the fittings, and took up the floor. They discovered, what we had already told them, that there was damp underneath the floor (this, indeed, more than a desire for a shiny modern wet room, is the reason why the downstairs bathroom heads the list of home improvements). "I thought there would be joists under the flooring," said the boss, and we made sympathetic noises, and refrained from saying that we had told him the floor was solid (and he had confirmed explicitly that he felt competent to take on a job which was likely to involve remedial building work). The work will take longer and cost more than the original estimate, but this hasn't come as a total surprise. The most unnerving thing is hearing the excited Polish conversations and not knowing what they are about.

  • To the cinema, to see Their Finest. It is based on a novel called Their Finest Hour and a Half, which strikes me as a clever and witty title: I wonder why they changed it for one which people are forever getting wrong? But the film was enjoyable, if you didn't think about it too hard. Apparently it is still inevitable, if a man and a woman are on friendly terms, that romance will ensue (and I don't think that can be regarded as a spoiler since it is, as I say, inevitable). It also has to balance - or perhaps juggle - a humorous depiction of the making of a film which will boost morale during the Blitz, with the depiction of the Blitz itself, which isn't in the least funny. This dissonance was amplified by the fact that the film within a film is a sentimental account of Dunkirk, and one of the trailers preceding the main feature was for a particularly bloodthirsty account of the same event.

  • We walked home over Milburngate Bridge, which we haven't done for some time, as parts of the route (not always the bridge itself) have been closed for various reasons. We had a fine view of the pile of rubble where the Passport Office used to be - literally, in that the plan is to use the debris of the old building as a platform on which to build the new, so raising it above the main flood risk. The heron was strolling along the weir, admiring his reflection in the still water above it.

  • Yes, election day. We, like many other parts of the country, have county council elections. You are forgiven for not noticing. The news media have occasionally mentioned the elections for the new powerhouse mayors (thankfully, we have escaped this one so far), but county councils are beneath their notice: London doesn't have one, so it can't be anything important. Finally, today they had to notice. The Today programme this morning kept announcing that 'we aren't reporting on politics today' in what I thought was a very passive-aggressive manner.

  • For what it's worth, I'm not convinced that reporting on the issues - such as they are - of the General Election would have had much influence in this ward. We have been showered with leaflets by both Greens and Lib Dems, who have good grounds for claiming that neither Labour nor Tories have a hope. I'm quite insulted that the Labour Party haven't felt it worth making an effort: they control the County Council, and seem to resent that the City is an enclave of dissent, but they haven't tried to win us over. The other contender was an independent - a semi-detached Green, and I wonder what the story is behind that? Anyway, the polls have just closed - the count is tomorrow.
shewhomust: (Default)
We have just watched the final of University Challenge; as always, I am amazed at the things the contestants know. It isn't just a matter of knowing the subjects they are studying: they are impressively well informed about the history and geography of far-flung parts of the globe. They have their blind spots, though: asked to identify the film maker whose works included Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, they hesitated, then ventured "Jean-Luc Godard?"
shewhomust: (dandelion)
So, La La Land: Does it end happily or unhappily? Both. Let me explain that at inordinate length, and with spoilers: )

So, La La Land: did it win the Best Picture Oscar, yes or no? Both.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Another movie: at this rate I'm going to have to make a suitable icon! We have worked out that if there is a five o' clock showing on Wednesday, we can go to the pictures and then get something to eat at the Elm Tree before the pub quiz, and this arrangement suits us very well. It also means that if there is a film we are interested in seeing we can say OK, let's do that on Wednesday, instead of meaning to see it sometine and then forgetting about it. Win all round. Plus, the more we go to the cinema, the greater the chance we will be tempted by seeing a trailer (though on the whole I'm as likely to be deterred by the trailer as attracted). Anyway, we had seen the trailer for Hidden Figures, and thought it looked promising.

Am I missing something about that title? (Also the title of the book on which the movie is based.) It's a fair indication of what the film is about: the women (figures) whose mathematical work (figures) is little known, deliberately overlooked (hidden). I can't help feeling that it's a pre-existing phrase, but one I don't recognise? Am I being dim, or just too demanding? THat's my only niggle. And I'll tell you what, forget La La Land, this is a feelgood movie. Three Black women triumph because they are intelligent and determined: with mathematics and space rockets. What's not to like?

Like Denial, this is a piece of comparatively recent history, and like Denial, it struggles to create dramatic tension despite the likelihood that its audience already knows how things turn out. Will John Glenn survive, or will the capsule burn up on reentry? What do you think? On the other hand, I was sceptical about the last minute hitch when the computer figures don't match up, and Glenn says he's ready to take off providing "the girl" checks the figures - and this turns out really to have happened (though not, NASA points out, quite at the last minute).

Anyway, you can't make assumptions about what people know and don't know. It is our habit to watch the credits through to the bitter end, by which time we are not infequently alone in the cinema with - well, I still think of him as 'the projectionist'. He's not that young, but he was shocked by the depiction of a segregated America: "But this was in the sixties!" Well, yes. And he's right to be shocked, because it is truly shocking. But I did know about segregation as something that happened, and that people were fighting to end.

The thing that struck me as a surprise (of sorts) was the extent to which anti-Russian feeling outweighed any pleasure or excitement in the Soviet space programme. Of course I knew that this was the 'space race', that the American space programme was in competition with the Russians, and I knew, too, that 'duck and cover' air raid drills must have had some success in making people genuinely frightened. But could the scientists who were directly involved with trying to put a man into space have seen that it was possible and thought that this was entirely bad news? Have thought 'they've done it and we haven't' without thinking 'but we will - if they can, we can'? Perhaps. Perhaps I'm being naïve, and this is just the result of being brought up left wing, that I remember how thrilling it was to hear the news of Gagarin's flight?

This was the one sour note in the film for me. Oh, there were plenty of moments where people acted meanly or without considering what their actions meant to others, but this was the only one where I felt that something was wrong and the film didn't see it as wrong. Elsewhere, one of the things I liked was that it was made very clear how far a rotten system was perpetuated by people who thought they were doing right by the protagonists, but could and should have been doing more. This is made explicit in the character of Mrs Mitchell, the (white) supervisor, who consistently fails to support Dorothy Vaughan in her quest for promotion. When she finally adresses her as 'Mrs Vaughan', it would be easy to dismiss the change as too little, too late. But Hidden Figures sets this tiny triumph in the context of the genuine, historic triumphs of NASA's unsung number crunchers, which removes the sting.


Feb. 7th, 2017 10:44 pm
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Reviews of the film Denial have been pretty mixed, but I think Peter Bradshaw sums up the issues pretty well: it may be a bit pedestrian at times, he says, but it's an astonishingly timely film, telling a story that needs to be told right now. I'd agree with that.

The timeliness, though, is actually one of the puzzling things about it. How long does it take to get a feature film from green light to a screen near you? David Irving's libel action was decided in 2000; Deborah Lipstadt's book about it (on which David Hare based his screenplay) was published in 2006. Somehow the film, after showing at festivals in the autumn of 2016, manages to reach UK cinemas in the early days of the post-truth presidency; I saw it within a week of the Holocaust Memorial Day from which the White House had managed to exclude the Jews. Did someone know it would be needed right now?

I suspect that some of the criticism of the film's 'clunky' exposition (yes, Hadley Freeman, I am looking at you) is just critics saying "But I already know this! Doesn't everyone?" But if you concede the need for any exposition at all (and if you don't, you probably don't see any reason to make this movie) then the way it was done was methodical and thorough but I didn't mind it (and yes, I did know quite a lot of it already). I found it funny rather than irritating that you could tell when the scene had shifted to London because it was raining.

There's a related problem, I think, that people who remember the case will also know what the verdict was, which makes it difficult to create dramatic tension on that account. Even if you don't remember the case, you might feel that the tone of the narrative made one outcome by far the most likely. I certainly felt that the narrative was working quite hard to supply an alternative source of tension, in the relations between Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her legal team. Deborah Lipstadt initially assumes that she will take the witness stand. No, say the lawyers, your testimony is in your (allegedly libellous) book, and it is our job to destroy Irving's case, not yours to defend yourself. She isn't entirely comfortable with this, although we have already seen a prologue in which David Irving tries to derail one of Lipstadt's lectures, and she declines to debate with him (saying that you can debate opinions, but certain things are facts). Later the disagreement takes a different form: a woman who has been watching from the public gallery reveals herself as a Holocaust survivor, and asks, when will our voices be heard? Again Lipstadt agrees with her, and again the lawyers win the argument. Only when the case has been won can the rift be healed by Lipstadt's realisation that her barrister (Richard Rampton, played by Tom Wilkinson) was truly committed to the cause, that his reactions on their visit to Auschwitz showed not indifference but a mind already at work on the case, and that through his onslaught on Irving the voices of Hitler's victims have indeed been heard.

This is touching - and for all I know it may really have happened. It felt a little trivial, and beside the point. There was a reminder, too, that the task of the barrister is to represent the client, whoever that client may be, in the passing remark that in a previous case, Rampton's client had been McDonald's. Wait, what? Yes, that McDonald's libel case: representing the full might of McDonald's against a couple of Greenpeace activists doesn't look quite so much like the work of a knight in shining armour - though he can't have known at the time that the case was even murkier than it appeared, the allegedly (and partly) libellous leaflet having been co-authored by an undercover police officer.

If Hollywood demanded that the good guys not only do the right thing but also display their impeccable motives, it also left no room for doubt in its handling of the bad guy. Timothy Spall's David Irving is almost a pantomime villain. Watching the man himself on Newsnight (a clip from which was recreated in the film) he is loathsome, but not - even when playing up to an audience - grotesque.

I won't embed that video, because it's not something you'd want to come across unawares, but it's a very interesting half hour. Better than the movie? No, despite my reservantions the movie is an important story well told. But it's good to have a little reality as a chaser.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
1. Hull...
The Guardian offers an insider's guide to the City of Culture, including a hotel recommendation. Not that I'm planning a cultural jaunt to Hull, but it might be worth a stopover if we were, say, taking the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge. And we might be planning something of the kind. First, though, I need to renew my passport.

2. ...and high water
It's been raining, and when we crossed the river on the way to the pool yesterday morning we were both impressed by how fast the water was flowing. Also, vacation is over, and the student swimmers are back, occupying a third of the pool and making waves.

3. ...with gently smiling jaws
The press report as good news Donald Trumps statement that he'll be only too happy to do business with a post-Brexit Britain, and none of this nonsense about delay or going to the back of the queue. Folks, when a businessman tells you that he's only to happy to make this deal, and don't you worry your little head about those pesky details - well, maybe that's the time to slow down.

4. From Hartlepool...
The Reading Group has been discussion comics set in England, and as always, relying heavily on members contributing items from our own collections - but this week I've been reading a book from the library's collection, The Hartlepool Monkey by Wilfrid Lupano and Jérémie Moreau. This is a first in the current discussion, I think, a French perspective on an aspect of England - though publisher Knockabout are very discreet about that origin: only a little sticker on the cover, saying "Winner of the Rendez-vous de l'histoire Award 2013 gives the game away. Identifying the book as historical BD, a mainstream genre in France, makes a lot of sense, and the story - that during the Napoleonic wars the people of Hartlepool hanged a monkey as a French spy, earning themselves the nickname 'monkey-hangers' - has become more widely known since the electoral success of Stuart Drummond.

Lupano's narrative is carefully pitched: there's just enough pathos to season the farce. The people of Hartlepool don't come out of it well, though to be fair, nor does the French captain who appears briefly in the opening scenes; Moreau's art has a scratchy, cartoony quality that reminds me of Ronald Searle, and his scribbled landscapes give a fair impression of Hartlepool's Headland (there are some samples in this review).

There's a sting in the tail in the closing pages, with the identification of the doctor who has involuntarily broken his journey in the town and witnessed the grotesque events, accompanied by his young son. I'm ambivalent about this: as far as I can discover it has no historical basis, and the respect with which he is treated (visually, in his clear lines and blocks of colour, as well as verbally) suggests what while the poor are fair game for satire, the wealthy are exempt. It's a neat little twist, though, to close the story which otherwise does just what it says on the tin.

5. La La Land
To the cinema yesterday, for La La Land, accompanied by J. who did not like it At All. This may have cast a dampener on my own reaction, best summarised as:Fun movie, what's all the fuss about? We both enjoyed the references to classic films, but we both thought it went on too long. And really, if you're going to remind me of Singin' in the Rain or An American in Paris, you risk me feeling that that was very nice, but actually I'd rather be watching Singin' in the Rain or An American in Paris.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
We had a very good weekend. The Bears were visiting, and we did many interesting things:
  • On Friday afternoon, [ profile] durham_rambler and GirlBear and I went to Woodhorn Colliery museum, while BoyBear worked on his t'ai chi with a friend.

  • Saturday was the day of the Durham Miners' Gala. It rained. Fortunately, we had time to see much of the procession and to hear many of the bands before the rain set in for good. If the sun had been shining I'd have been happy to sit on the grass and wait to hear the speakers, but as it was we left before they even started. We walked home via Palace Green, and saw the banners waiting outside the cathedral, which I haven't done before.

  • On Sunday afternoon, there was music at Old Durham Gardens. We listened to a consort of (three) viols playing rather hesitantly, then avoided the Scratch Choir and wandered around the gardens instead. They seem to have planted lots of old roses since I was last there.

  • And in the evening, we deposited the Bears at a Sacred Harp House Sing, and went to see Gail, who showed us Dracula's Daughter, a curious 1936 movie, which starts very carefully at exactly the point where Stoker's novel ends, and then veers off into comedy cockney policemen (in Whitby), a Hungarian countess with hypnotic powers and a love interest called Janet who seemed to have strayed in from a screwball comedy being shot in an adjacent studio.

I have plenty more to say about any of these things, and I took pictures, too. But our builder has interpreted We will get our bedroom ready for you to start work in there on Monday 18th as Book the decorators to start on Monday 18th, and we will give you access far enough in advance to remove the fitted wardrobe, make good and allow the plaster to dry. So instead of having all this week to clear the room in an orderly fashion, we have been desperately trying to clear enough space around the wardrobe for the builder to start work on it first thing tomorrow.

Which means, I suppose, that we'll need to be up early, and that it's time for bed now. Have some old roses:

Old roses
shewhomust: (dandelion)
From time to time I have backache; of course I do, I'm a grown-up, who doesn't? By now I know how to handle it: take painkillers, keep moving, wait for it to go away. I have no idea why it struck this last few days...

Three nights ago, I had twinges: lying in bed, a position that ought to be comfortable was - not. But I could find a comfortable position and go back to sleep. Two nights ago, no position wwas really comfortable and some were seriously painful - within definitions of serious pain that are, I know, pretty trivial really. I slept badly, was still stiff when I woke up, spent yesterday treating myself gently: this wasn't all bad. I started the day with a hot bath (because at last we have fixed the bath tap, and it delivers hot water at a reasonable speed). I opted out of the street party (part backache, part general misanthropy), and pottered around at home, making some progress with small tasks. Had an early night, slept carefully. Considered whether we should defer swimming until tomorrow, and decided not to (because then we'd hace to swim on Thursday after a late night Wednesday) - but I'm not sure this was the right decision: I was still short on sleep, and although the back was much better, the cold water didn't help (I know this because the hot shower after was so wonderful). Now, within three days of the first manifestations, I'm almost back to normal and wondering, what was that about?

At the cinema this evening, I was maybe feeling more need to stretch than usual, but nothing worse. The film was Love and Friendship: should that be 'Freindship'? The Guardian gave it a rave review, including an attempt to justify giving the title of one book to an adaptation of another. I liked the use of captions to introduce the characters, and I was entirely entertained and amused. It's probably unreasonable to feel that this leaves something lacking.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
The Queen and I appear to have reached a tacit understanding: she doesn't make a fuss about my birthday, and I don't make a fuss about hers. Shakespeare is another kettle of fish entirely, and we have been enjoying a week filled with Shakespeare-related activities, mostly but not exclusively organised by the Lit & Phil, and starring the fabulous Gail-Nina Anderson.

We started with Gail's Tuesday lunchtime lecture on Shakespeare in Art: when does a painting depict a scene from a play, when a scene from a performance and when is it just a portrait of an actor in a particular rôle? Why did the pre-Raphaelites choose the most exquisitely awkward moments from the plays, and why did the Victorians think it was acceptable to paint naked women as long as you said they were fairies? Time ran out just as we reached photography.

Wednesday early evening was Gail again, this time with portraits of Shakespeare. We got caught in traffic and roadworks and other miscalculations, so we missed the beginning, but I hadn't previously come across the Sanders portrait, so that was intriguing. I've known the Droeshout engraving as the face of Shakespeare for so long that I don't suppose I'll ever imagine him differently, however strong the proof, and it really isn't that strong. Even so... Then back in time for the pub quiz, which this week had a Shakespearean theme. This could be pretty oblique (for example, a reference to the "rude mechanicals" introduced a round of questions on mechanics). The Elm Tree had clearly not got the memo, and was festooned with Saint George's crosses.

On Friday, the Lit & Phil's contribution was a showing of Rivette's Paris nous appartient (good grief, it's available on YouTube, all two and a quarter hours of it - one of Rivette's shortest films!). As Shakespearean theming goes, this too was pretty oblique: yes, the thread which holds the film together is a doomed production of Pericles, but the film is not in any sense about Shakespeare. I don't care: screen a Rivette movie and I'm there. The film deserves a post of its own, but it would just be a series of questions - actually, that's a temptation. So much to post, so little time! I would have told you that I had at least a rough idea of the plots of all Shakespeare's plays, but Paris nous appartient revealed that I have no idea at all what happens in Pericles: so that's a bonus, of sorts.

Saturday being the actual birthday, that's when we hit peak Shakespeare, starting with the morning paper: two sonnets by Wendy Cope, and a 'commemorative' crossword to entertain us on the train (no, it wasn't about Cervantes).

Back at the Lit & Phil, Gail-Nina gave us one woman's view of A Midsummer Night's Dream, complete with monkey glove puppets, inflatable bat-wings and more paintings of nude fairies. Gail takes a strictly practical view of the duties of the jobbing playwright, and explains the origins of the Dream by a desire to get some use out of that ass's head that was hanging around in the props cupboard. Why was there an ass's head in the props cupboard? Well, says Gail, it must have been left over from Shakespeare's lost nativity play - no, think about it, it's completely plausible, a well-established dramatic genre, the virtuous couple, the ruffianly innkeeper, some comic shepherds, a dramatic wicked king (Burbage would have made a fine Herod) an ox and an ass... Lost, presumably, because it was suspected of displaying Catholic sympathies, leaving the company with an underused ass's head. Come to think of it, this is why the setting, this very English woodland, is displaced to "near Athens" - at some point there must have been a scene, which didn't make the final cut, in which Theseus relives his triumph over the Minotaur (the ox's head).

Thereafter, there was winding down in the pub across the way, with good conversation and late lunch. There was shopping at Richer Sounds, with the help of [ profile] samarcand and her magic phone (despite which we have hit a complication: more on that some other time). Then [ profile] durham_rambler and I gatecrashed a World Book Night party at the Great North Museum: we were invited, but the party was primarily organised for the reading groups and library staff who had been involved in the 'Great North Book Run', a collaboration (if I've got this right) between PanMacmillan and the Reading Agency to promote reading for pleasure. You don't often get to commune with a narwhal over a glass of wine, so that was special. We also chatted briefly with Ann Cleeves, and with Alison O'Donnell who plays Tosh in the TV Shetland series - which handed her rather a plum in the last storyline. We barely talked about that, because we were too busy talking about Fair Isle.

Back home, we half-watched the live broadcast of the RSC's Shakespeare celebration, reading the paper through the hip hop Shakespeare and the opera Shakespeare, but enjoying the chunks of the plays. I was entertained by a sketch in which a gaggle of Hamlets correct each other's reading of THAT line: "No, it's 'To be OR not to be, that is the question'" "'To be or not to BE, that is the question'". My preference goes to "'To be or not to be, THAT is the question'", but I suspect we were supposed to take "'To be or not to be, that is the QUESTION'" as definitive, since the Prince of Wales, who had been very visible in the audience, came down on stage to deliver it. I know it was a joke, but how often do you get even five minutes of textual analysis on Saturday night television? The show closed with the ending of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I was impressed by David Tennant as Puck.

Next weekend, something completely different: back to the Lit & Phil for Newcastle Noir!
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
In the last week, among other things, we have been to the cinema twice (for some reason, both films included a piece of the Flower Song from Lakmé), been to two book launches (by coincidence, both books brought together images with poetry by a number of poets; that being the case, it's no coincidence that some of the same poets were at both launches) and entertained a house guest (D., who is still with us, except that he has gone out to do his own thing this evening). In brief, then:

First film: Anomalisa
Peter Bradshaw's glowing review in the Guardian; Mark Kermode's more ambivalent review in the Observer.
Does that excuse me from producing an opinion of my own? The midlife crisis of a motivational speaker, staying in a corporate-type hotel before giving a corporate-type speech. Here he meets a young woman who seems different from everyone else. This is familiar territory. But the actors are stop-motion puppets, which is not only an interesting gimmick but opens up possibilities: Lisa genuinely is different from everyone else, she has her own face and voice, while all the other characters (except Michael himself) have the same face and are voiced by the same actor. There's something called the "Fregoli delusion" apparently, which is that everyone is really the same person, and this is referenced in the name of the hotel - the Fregoli Hotel. So that was a clever reference that I didn't pick up on, and had to have pointed out to me. On the other hand, I did spot that the film on the tv in Michael's room was My Man Godfrey, and wonder why (because, says the internet, unlike Casablanca, it is in the public domain).
Extremely clever, and the character of Lisa is actually very touching. These two things ought to enhance each other; yet I react as if they were in conflict.

First book launch: Two Rivers and the Sea
Inspired by the work of Rachel Carson, poet Lisa Matthews ans visual artist Melanie Ashby spent a series of four residencies on the Northumberland coast, the circuit of A Year in Beadnell. They blogged, they took photographs, they filmed life in the rock pools, they wrote poems, they invited other poets to visit and observe with them, and they have published this record of the year.

Second film: Marguerite
Strange enough that there should be one film about Florence Foster Jenkins, but stranger still, two have come along at the same time. This is not the one with Meryl Streep, this is the other one, the French one, "based on a true story" but fictionalised. This has the drawback that you can no longer point to the story it tells and say "Incredible though this seems, it happened." It has the advantage that you are free to tell whatever story you wish, and to relocate it to the 1920s, with all the fun that offers: the frocks! the Dadaists! The tone wanders uncertainly between comedy and pathos, and there are aspects of the story whose truth I questioned which have nothing to do with Florence Foster Jenkins. But I didn't feel I'd wasted my time.

Second book launch: NORTHbound
Vane Women celebrate their silver anniversary with an anthology built around Pat Maycroft's photographs. The women themselves and invited guests contributed poems inspired by one of Pat's photos, and many of the contributors were present at today's launch, so we had an unusual reading at which each poet read a single poem. Highlights included Pru Kitching's Franz Kafka in Durham City (a moody black and white view up a vennel that could well be in Prague's Old Town), Diane Cockburn's Heloise takes the Veil (a cat at a lace curtained window) and Bob Beagrie's Amanita Muscaria (what it says in the title, with Andy Willoughby taking second voice, reading the 'shadow poem', so that I half thought the magic was in the performance until I saw how ingeniously the poem was built on the page).

Bonus art exhibition: Cercle d'Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise
The NORTHbound launch was at mima, and while we were there, we saw the current exhibition of sculptures by Congolese plantation workers. I wish I had taken my camera. Failing that, imagine a bright white room containing a number of brown sculpted figures and portrait heads, and interspersed with leafygreen potted plants. Each piece is moulded from clay, scanned and the data transmitted to somewhere (I've forgotten where) in Europe where it can be reproduced in Belgian chocolate through multiple technologies, including 3D scanning and printing. Evidently the purpose of the project is to generate income for the cocoa plantation workers, and who knows how suitable a material chocolate is outside this context. I'd have photgraphed, too, the sign on the wall saying that mima was supporting the project by purchasing one of the pieces for £3000 (through a gallery which would take its usual 50% cut): surely the starkness of the statement was intended to make me want to photograph it?
shewhomust: (watchmen)
After skipping a year, we returned to Kendal for the third Lakes Comic Art Festival. We rented the Marketplace Hideaway: hidden away indeed, to the extent that, when we arrived yesterday evening, after road closures leaving Barnard Castle, after a scenic drive through scenic Cumbria, with sun and clouds (mostly clouds) making patterns on the hillsides, after twice round Kendal's one way system, and braving signs saying "No Entry Except Deliveries", because we were delivering ourselves and our belongings, weren't we? - when, after all this, we identified our landmarks between which we would allegedly find our path, we still couldn't see it. Closer still, though, and all was as described, and we have a choice of bedrooms, a small but perfectly adequate kitchen, a bathroom and a downstairs lounge. (TripAdvisor has some photos.) There was no wifi - which is to say that if you stood outside in the garden, Kendal Wifi was intermittent, and [ profile] durham_rambler connected with the Cloud, probably via Caffe Nero next door. So I wrote this a bit at a time over the weekend, and am uploading it now with (I hope) a minimum of editing - I'd rather put my time into adding pictures and links than fretting about tenses.

It's all about the crabs )

Revolution in the Council Chamber )

Lunch at the Castle Dairy )

Vinyl is not dead. )

It's all about the yards )

From the pub to here - via the Sydney Opera House )

Why we didn't make the McKean treble )

Coda in Elephant Yard. )
shewhomust: (dandelion)
There is a comic strip - it first appeared in The Beezer in 1962, but it still exists - called The Numskulls in which a person's activities are explained in terms of a team of miniature people living inside their head: the eyes, ears, brain etc. each have their own department. There's a classic example here, but an image search will turn up plenty more.

We went to see Inside Out at the cinema yesterday. It starts from a similar premise: Riley's actions are determined by the little people inside her head. But where the Numskulls divide their host's inner workings along functional, almost mechanistic, lines, Riley's inner life is controlled by her emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. I boggled a bit at this point: Disgust? Really, Disgust is one of the five big emotions? But she's a great character, Riley's inner teenager just waiting for the chance to manifest herself, and I didn't feel the need to take the analysis too seriously.

As a comedy, Inside Out works well enough: it has some great moments, some snappy one liners, and its heart is in the right place. But I did feel that I was being asked to take it more seriously, to admire its psychological insights, to learn its lesson; the didacticism is not subtle, and the happy ending consists in both hugging and learning. I enjoyed it, I'm glad to have seen it, I laughed: but I don't see where all these superlatives are coming from.

That seems to be my conclusion, so what follows must be postscript, two random thoughts about narratives in which human emotions / qualities are personified:
  1. My, the Roman de la Rose is all over the internet, isn't it? It even has a Twitter feed. And so many pretty manuscripts: I like this one, from the Bibliothèque Nationale.

  2. There were scenes in Inside Out in which Sadness bore a strong resemblance to Despair, of Neil Gaiman's Endless. But in that family, the equivalent of Joy, the perky but practical one, the elder sister - I don't need to spell it out, do I?


Feb. 22nd, 2015 10:01 pm
shewhomust: (dandelion)
On Friday afternoon we went to the Gala to see the Shaun the Sheep film: it was a lot of fun, and that's really all I have to say about it.

We should go to the cinema more often. The Gala isn't the greatest cinema - its programming is very 'family' oriented, which isn't a bad thing in itself but excludes many of the films I would otherwise go and see - but that's all the more reason to go when they are showing something good. As it is, I suspect that the last films we saw* were the ones [ profile] weegoddess showed us on out last night in Woburn last September.

We'd spent a happy Sunday wandering around Mount Auburn cemetery, and returned to Woburn to eat at Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe, about which J. had heard good things - which were entirely justified by the hand-pulled noodles, chunky strips of almost-dumpling in a spicy and fresh-herby broth, with which I spattered my grey sweatshirt (somehow, I always encounter the messiest foods when I am wearing my only pale-coloured shirt).

Back home, we settled down for movie night, front-loading our inflight entertainment. [ profile] weegoddess had been offering a showing of Brave, of which she is very fond, and I was interested to see this film which had been so warmly embraced by the Scottish tourism industry. Not to mention that Chris Stout had told us he played on the soundtrack. And, well, now I've seen it. I was entertained, but rather uneasy at the level of cultural stereotyping: is it OK if the Scots join in?

After that, we watched The Voyage of the Dawn Trader: [ profile] weegoddess recommended Prince Caspian, and since I had previously seen The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe this would have been the logical sequel: but I wanted to see the Dawn Treader herself, and I was not disappointed. I thought it an entirely respectable adaptation. I didn't agree with all of its choices - in particular, I thought that Lucy was older than she should have been, and that this created a number of problems - but it felt as if those choices had been made by someone who understood what they were doing.

And that was our last day in Massachussetts well spent. Time to say goodbye to [ profile] weegoddess and J., and fly out to California. Logan airport seemed much improved since our last visit: we'd been there a full quarter-hour before anyone even tried to sell us a lobster plushie. In gratitude, I bought a t-shirt.

*ETA: [ profile] durham_rambler reminds me that we also, in the interim, saw Mr. Turner.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave Inside Llewyn Davis five stars, and called it "exquisitely sad and funny". I found it the basis for an entirely enjoyable evening on Sunday, meeting S. for an early showing and then going off together to talk about the film, and other things, over pizza; hold fast to that thought, that I did enjoy the film, because it may not be obvious from what follows. BoyBear hated the first forty minutes, after which he went home. Nobody's opinion is binding on anyone else.

But everyone is entitled to my opinion! )


Jan. 12th, 2014 06:13 pm
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Since I don't make New Year resolutions, I can't have resolved to go to the cinema more. But since it's something we don't do as often as we used to, or as often as we'd like to, and enjoy quite a lot when we do it - and since Frozen has been getting rave reviews from people like [ profile] helenraven and [ profile] ursulav - yesterday we took ourselves out to the cinema.

We hadn't intended to go to a 3D screening; we had bought tickets a week ago on the basis that by waiting a week we could catch one last 2D showing. But a technical hitch meant that we were handed 3D goggles and told that we could, of course, have our money back but there would not be another chance to see the film at this cinema. So I have now seen my first ever 3D movie (see above, not going to the cinema as often as we'd like). I was mildly surprised that the 3D worked for me at all, and the glasses were not so much uncomfortable as mildly, constantly irritating - I was never not conscious of them. The effect was occasionally spectacular, often pretty and only occasionally tedious (and let's the face it, at those moments when I was thinking "Oh, get on with it!" I would have been thinking the same thing if I'd seen the film in 2D). So that's something I've learned: 3D, not worth seeking out, not worth actively avoiding.

The film itself was fun. It was, as I said, pretty - very pretty. It was often funny. The Disney princesses got not to be total wimps, and the inevitable sickly romance turned out to be totally evitable. So that's all good.

It's probably a sign of my age that my big grouch about can best be expressed by wailing "But what were their parents THINKING?" How much can I say without spoilering? Well, it's part of the set-up that Princess Elsa has powers over ice and snow, and that after an accident her parents tell her to hide her powers, not use them, not admit they exist. The two princesses are then left to their own separate devices in a palace which is evidently not completely deserted (the girls are fed and clothed, and rooms are cleaned) but in which they appear to be denied all human contact. Am I the only one who thinks that this goes beyond neglect into child abuse? Even Kristoff's family, who are, let's face it, OK, maybe this is does spoil the surprise ) are warmer, more demonstratively affectionate. The lesson I took away from Frozen was: if you don't educate your daughters, terrible things will happen.

Well, I'm not arguing with that.

We stayed through to the end of the credits. Not so much for the additional scenelet at the end, which wasn't particularly interesting, but because we always do, and there's always a credit for something you haven't seen before. Frozen's credits were interminable, and included the team responsible for 'Caffeination'.

For anyone who has stayed through to the end of this post, a different kind of frozen, found via [ profile] mevennen's FaceBook post.
shewhomust: (guitars)
We went to two more Book Festival events over the weekend. On Friday evening we heard Gillian Allnutt and Peter Bennet reading in St. Chad's College chapel: two fine and contrasting poets, Peter all dream-like almost-narrative flow, Gillian pared-down precision (the right word, the right pause), and a venue that was new to me, a sort of ecclesiastical garden shed from the outside, a richly decorated chapel within. On Saturday there was Crime in the Afternoon, a conversation between Ann Cleeves (a friend of some standing) and Linwood Barclay (who I had never heard of, wasn't attracted to the promotional material, but warmed to in person and was intrigued by his pitch for his latest book), kept in order by Peter Guttridge, with great good humour. So that was fun.

Yesterday we went to the Sage to hear Stefan Grossman playing country blues guitar: about which I know only that it's the stuff that Stefan Grossman plays when he's playing that stuff, the stuff he learned from Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt when he was in his teens. And lovely stuff it is, too, played with power, dexterity and great warmth of tone. But I was thinking, too, about some of the other styles I've heard him play, over the years, remembering the first time I saw him, at the folk club in Old Harlow. He was remembering those days too, talking about his first trip to England, some time in the 60s, when he stayed with Tom Gilfellon's parents in Stanley. He must have played Harlow quite soon after that, because he was still struggling to process Mrs Gilfellon's offer to knock him up in the morning. Some of what I heard him play that first time he played again on Sunday (Candy Man, Creole Bell), but what I particularly remember from back then is that Stefan Grossman is the first person I ever heard play ragtime, and that's what I've been looking for on YouTube. So here's a young Stefan Grossman playing Dallas Rag, here's The Entertainer - and for a little variety, here's Elizabeth Cotton playing Vestapol.

Programming at the Gala cinema tends to be very mainstream, and they don't often show anything I want to see. You wait months for a movie you fancy, and then two come along together. So we've been to the pictures twice this week, on two successive days - I can't remember the last time that happened.

Tuesday lunchtime was Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. I've seen too many Dylan albums greeted as 'a return to form' to get my hopes up when Blue Jasmine was reviewed in those terms - but it is an interesting and entertaining movie. Jasmine's a monster, of course, and I was appalled and fascinated by her without entirely believing in her - and then began to think about how she got to be that way, the adoptive parents who had treated two daughters so differently, the absence of psychiatric support for someone who walks the streets talking to herself... The parental guidance notes on the film certificate, incidentally, warns of veiled references to sex and suicide, but doesn't remark on the constant self-medication with xanax ans Stolichnaya.

Yesterday's film was Sunshine on Leith, a feelgood musical which does for the Proclaimers what Mamma Mia did for Abba: takes their back catalogue and hangs a plot of sorts onto the songs. I like the Proclaimers, so that was fine by me. And the Edinburgh tourist board must have been delighted: lots of footage of the city looking gorgeous (Leith barely gets a look in: a quick pan over at the beginning, but once we reach Edinburgh we stay there. Who wouldn't?).
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
[ profile] durham_rambler read me this letter from Robin Nielsen, of Wickham Market, from this morning's Grauniad:
'Film of the Day', in your TV listings, is apparently Spielberg's 'Saving Private Lives'. Presumably in a double bill with 'Brief Encounters of the Third Kind'?
shewhomust: (Default)
A surprising number and variety of people recommended The King's Speech to us surprisingly warmly, so we went to see it yesterday. I enjoyed it, without really seeing what it was that people had found so special about it.

It's a buddy movie, in which two men discover an unlikely friendship as they work together to achieve something, defeat something, whatever - and of course it fails the Bechdel test. It has two excellent central performances, from Colin Firth as the stammerer and Geoffrey Rush as his therapist, and -

- Look, for once I'm not going to worry about spoilers. There are three strands to the story, and I don't see any reason to pretend that we don't know how they are going to turn out. Will Bertie become king? Yes, as the title of the film assumes you are aware (and part of the emotional impact of the story comes from watching this known future hurtling towards the characters). Will Bertie overcome his disability, will he be able to deliver 'the King's Speech' adequately if not flawlessly? Of course he will. Will he and Logue become friends in spite of the gulf between them? Of course they will - and I was quite impatient at the scene on the eve of the coronation in which Derek Jacobi as a silkily odious Archbishop of Canterbury almost succeeds in sowing discord between them. I wanted to shake Bertie and shout at him: "Has Logue ever pretended to have any qualifications? Have any of the properly qualified doctors you have seen done you any good? Has he been getting results? Has the Archbishop ever shown any sign of being on your side? What is your PROBLEM?" Even given that the man is not too bright, this struck me as a very manipulative piece of plotting.

Geoffrey Rush has enormous fun with the part of Logue, indulging his vanities and emphasising his quick wit and mastery of his chosen profession. Colin Firth's portrayal of a man with a debilitating stammer is utterly convincing - and has also convinced people who are better placed to judge it than I am. He is effective, too, at the subtler business of suggesting the origins of the stammer, at Bertie's ambivalence towards it, determined to do his duty and fit himself for a more public role, yet clinging to the stammer which protects him from the terrifying role of monarch. Helena Bonham Carter's Duchess of York / Queen Elizabeth says explicitly that she had been reluctant to marry into the royal family, but thought that her husband's stammer would limit how much could be asked of him: she makes a faintly sinister figure, all icy sweetness as she silently observes the doctor failing to cure her husband. This reading no doubt arises, in part, from the film's need to co-ordinate public and private narratives; in reality, according to Wikipedia, the stammer was under control by 1927, but the film drags out the treatment for another decade. This construction of the narrative also means that the film's triumphant moment, the eponymous speech, is the broadcast anouncement that the country is at war. Having successfully broadcast this bad news, the king emerges to the smiles and congratulations of all: but where they see only a difficult task successfully accomplished, the film's audience know what horrors the future is going to bring.

Nonetheless, Firth wins your sympathy for the effort and determination with which he battles his way, word by word, through the speech (conducted every syllable of the way by Logue). I have less sympathy for his misfortune being dragged reluctantly onto the throne. When he says "I'm not a king, I'm a naval officer," I think "Maybe, but a naval officer with a rather fancier lifestyle, one who spends less time at sea and more with his family than most." There are many professions whose members can reflect that if they have less money than the royal family, at least they have more freedom: but serving naval officers aren't among them. The Duchess of York may not want to be queen, but you must still use the proper form to address her. There's a charming bedtime scene with the family, a bedtime story for the two little princesses, at which the nursery staff are blurred into the background, to suggest that here is a bubble of natural affection with the wider dysfunctional family (I was afraid of my father, says George V, and my sons are going to be afraid of me!): looking at 'the Yorks' two generations on, you can only think that if this is the happy family, that others don't bear thinking about.

The younger of the two daughters (Princess Margaret, therefore) is played by Ramona Marquez (the youngest child of the Outnumbered family). She is only one of a number of very good and very recognisable actors who crop up in this film, and I found it distracting: a sign of my limited engagement with the film rather than of any deficiency in the performances. I was similarly pleasantly distracted by the filming, the astonishing wide angle shots of interiors, the cathedrals and the state apartments wrapping themselves around the characters, Logue's equally palatial (though shabby and partially furnished) consulting rooms, a beautiful image of the house the new King must leave, shot from high above the central atrium, all four walls of the well curved snug as a snail's shell. Outside all is mist and blurred distances, an ingenious way of removing anachronistic intrusions.

One last thought: of course, the film can't actually portray the King's speech as it was. The audience would not stand for the vowels of aristocratic speech in the 1930s; it doesn't even risk the accent of the present-day queen. Paradoxically, the BBC announcer in the opening sequence is given a posher accent than the son of the king, whom he is introducing. I do see that this couldn't be helped, but the same limitation applies to the film as a whole: it changes history to make it more appealing to the viewer.
shewhomust: (Default)
SIDE Cinema is holding a Powell & Pressburger season: "After all," said Graeme Rigby, introducing A Canterbury Tale, "Michael Powell came here, in the 1970s, for a showing of Peeping Tom..."

I'd wanted to see A Canterbury Tale ever since I read [ profile] sovay's remarks about it (continued here) and I was not disappointed; it is a strange and interesting film. But some of that strangeness surely comes simply from the date when it was made: the past is another country, and and a strange one. In addition, much of what the film is about is England looking at itself in the 1940s and finding itself strange.

The war brings three young people into the village of Chillingbourne, the final staging post on the ancient Pilgrims' Road to Canterbury, in the middle of the night. Like the set up for some classic joke, the British soldier, the US soldier and the Land Girl set off together, but encounter the mysterious Glue Man, who pours glue onto the girl's hair and vanishes into the darkness. This would be the place for the obligatory spoiler warning )
shewhomust: (Default)
We went to the Star and Shadow cinema last night to see Aki Kaurismäki's Leningrad Cowboys Go America - it's 21 years old, but somehow I've managed not to see it until now. I'm rather assuming that everyone else knows all about it already, I just wanted to put on the record that I enjoyed it very much.

No? OK, here's the Wikipedia entry, which tells you all you need to know about the plot (more, actually; all the plot you need is contained in the title, it's a road movie, there's a band called the Leningrad Cowboys, they are in America. [Oh!]*) And here's the IMDB entry, which doesn't tell you much about the movie, except that it's the kind of movie which prompts people to write IMDB reviews about how they were in the movie, because they owned a bar in which one of the Cowboys' gigs takes place (and the barber next door was played by , yup, the barber next door).

It feels like a session of tall tales: "I was in a band once, we had quiffs out to here -" "Well, I was in a band, had quiffs out to here -- and winklepickers to match." So that when one of the musicians stays out all night practising and freezes solid, the surviving members of the band transport him across America in a rough wooden crate / coffin, with holes through which his hair, the long points of his shoes and the neck of his guitar stick out.

It is astonishingly visual. Watching it, I thought of it as a picture book, in which the tall tales are triggered by a sequence of striking images: the band returning home across the tundra on a collection of tractors and trailers, the band packed - how many of them? Six or seven, plus their manager and that crate - into a Chevrolet, the band lined up on the beach (instructed by their manager to sunbathe). Afterwards I thought it would make a great comic, with the big beautiful splash pages alternating with pages of activity, in a style exaggerated just enough to be believable, never quite falling into caricature.

That would be a lovely thing - but it wouldn't have the music, which would be a serious omission, as at each new venue the Leningrad Cowbows produce a new musical style to meet local demand, and finally - no, that would be telling.

*Distracted by great sweep of peachy golden cloud glowing across my window. A Maxfield Parrish sunset.

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