Saturday, 10 July 2010

'Mockingbird' at 50

There's been a number of radio and TV programmes here recently marking the half-century since the Harper Lee novel was first published and this has been the spur to my re-reading it. But I won't pretend. I only first read it a mere 6 or 7 years ago, though I'd seen the film at least twice and found it pretty good, but maybe not in my all-time Top 100.
There's just been a first-rate TV documentary in which the presenter travelled to Monroeville, where the authoress still lives, and which is almost certainly the town of 'Maycomb' where the story takes place. I hadn't known that the writer had been the direct neighbour of Truman Capote and that he is pretty well certain to be the model of the 'Dill' character in the book.
The cameras went to celebrations of two anniversary events, a party and a fete - but what surprised me was that virtually all the faces there were white, save for two black waiters. How ironic! However, there was only a few minutes of footage so I might have got an erroneous impression. On the other hand it seems that even though there's no more segregation in law there is still a disappointing amount of unspoken 'social segregation'. But I'm hardly in a position to be sanctimonious. It's only just hit me forcefully that not only are all the blogs that I follow exclusively those of Caucasian males (all gay, too!) I've never in my life had one friend who wasn't white. It's not exactly something of which to be proud.
In this TV programme the presenter talked to maybe half a dozen people at the anniversary celebrations - and unbelievably, not a single one of these had read the book! ("I haven't quite got round to it yet." Yeah, right!) But again in just the short time shown it might not have been a representative sample., although I had assumed that 'Mockingbird' would have been one of those seminal books that all Americans would have read one time or another. How wrong one can be, it seems!
However I must say that in this country, for example, I have never met one other person who, like myself, reads Shakespeare for pleasure. I've read one of his plays every single month for the last 40+ years - and the level of profundity astounds me more and more on every reading. ("How could a human mind have thought of that and expressed it in that way?" I'm always saying to myself.) People like to keep reminding me that the plays weren't intended to be read. True, but I'm blowed if I'm going to sit around just waiting for a live staging to come to a local theatre or to watch repeat showings of films (some excellent) on TV. Besides, I like to read at my own speed which allows me to savour the words, and every now and again to stop and marvel at the language. In this country, as I would imagine everywhere else, people find him hard-going, and he certainly does require effort - but what rewards one is returned! Despite the fact that most are put off from the idea of actually sitting down to read him, yet still millions from both home and abroad flock to Stratford on Avon - for exactly the same reason as they do to Monroeville, I suppose.
Anyway, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is even more impressive and enjoyable this time around than before, having, as I do, more background information. If I ever happen to meet someone and the conversation turns to books and I find they haven't yet read it I wouldn't hesitate to make a strong recommendation. It's what I'd describe as "a very good read."

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Woody Allen - never disappoints, except when he does.

I'd been so looking forward to seeing 'Whatever Works' too. It wouldn't have mattered either way that it got critical acclaim here ("Allen back on form!" - what again?) but, on previous experience, I'd been expecting to really like it anyway. As it turned out..... oh dear, what a downer! It must only be me, though. His trilogy of London films made over the last few years were all panned by the critics. Indeed, I recently heard 'Match Point' referred to by a BBC critic as his worst film ever - a mighty big claim, but I really liked it. Same goes for 'Cassandra's Dream' which no one else apart from me seemed to admire. (The third film, 'Scoop', didn't get a theatrical release here, so I'm eagerly watching for it to appear on TV.) But this 'Whatever Works' is back in his familiar NY milieu. Apart from his too infrequent brilliant flashes of wit in the script it largely left me cold. Noteworthy is that in the final few minutes there's a gay character, though the situation and what it develops into in the very final scene is treated so ineptly and rings so false as to jar. I say 'noteworthy' because it's Allen's most up-front acknowledgement that gays exist at all since Meryl Streep played the lesbian mother and Allen's character's former partner in 'Manhattan'. Even just mentioning gays in his other films is very rare and never more than just a passing comment. But I'd given up on 'Whatever Works' long before these final moments anyway.
However, having said all that, I definitely am pleased to admit that the release of any Woody Allen film is a real 'event' for me. I've found that out of all his prolific output there is only a small handful that do not repay further viewing(s) though this latest film will, regretfully, be in that category.
I know that most critics and, perhaps viewers too, consider that his best films are 'Annie Hall' and 'Manhattan', both of which I also like a lot (though in the former, the scene of the escaped lobster in the kitchen makes me uncomfortable - Laugh at me if you must!) His own favourite in terms of the finished product coming closest to his conception is 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', also pretty good. For me though, his summit of achievement has got to be 'Hannah and her Sisters'. An excellent script that feels 'true', unbeatable ensemble acting (with Michael Caine in particular never having been better and fully deserving his Oscar), great soundtrack music choices....so much going for it that I can readily forgive the too-pat 'happy ending' given to Allen's own character. I'd give it an easy 9/10. But 'Whatever Works'....well, 'cos I want to be generous, a modest 4 at most, just for those all-too-few precious moments!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Ghosts

I was going to write a blog today on whether there is some sort of existence after death - then I've just seen on the Perez Hilton site that the film 'Paranormal Activities 2' is about to be released. (The first one affected me deeply. In fact it scared the pants off me. Figuratively, of course!)
Even though I seriously doubt the existence of a Deity (most especially an omnificent, interventionist and totally benevolent one), I find myself unable to categorically say "No. There's absolutely no survival after death. Definitely not!".
I think there are too many missing explanations for phenomena such as (for want of a better word) 'ghosts'. Of course I accept that a high proportion of such witnessing is unreliable and that many of the 'appearances' are products of trickery or charlatanism. But every single one of them? Maybe, but I can't help thinking that there's something happening, for which we haven't yet discovered the whys and wherefores. I've never had such an experience myself but have met maybe two or three who do claim to have witnessed them, and I don't have any reason to think they were just kidding me. It's strange how many of these occurrences are in oldish houses, mansions, castles, churches, theatres etc in which a mysterious figure walks or glides across the floor and disappears through a wall. In each viewing of this apparition the figure seems to do exactly the same thing every time - rather in the manner of a short film being replayed over and over again. There is a theory that somehow the walls or surroundings have 'recorded' this somewhat insignificant act of the subject in the past and, in a manner at present not understood, this is what is being replayed. If the apparitions really are genuine and are not mere visual illusions then this explanation seems to me no more ridiculous than thinking that they really are authentic 'beings'. At least it would knock on the head the idea of a parallel existence in a 'spirit world', which I find more comforting than the thought that there really is another existence to which we are consigned or trapped inside.
As for seances, I don't know what to think. They must all be fake or something very troubling is happening. I don't understand why all the 'voices' maintain that they are 'happy' where they are, and they are never asked to describe or explain their surroundings. That's what I'd most like to know.


By the way, I see from the very short clip of the new 'Paranormal Activities' that a dog is featured. I'm always put off from wanting to see any film which includes animals because I know my emotions are just too easily manipulated - particularly when the animals are hurt or, heaven forbid, killed - although I'm aware that such wouldn't be allowed to actually happen in a film made in the America or Europe. But anyway I'm now not sure whether I'll be wanting to see this one. Pity. (The thing I most remember about the original 'Amityville Horror' film was my desperately hoping and willing that the family dog would get out alive - and was so relieved when it did.)

So ghosts - real or not? I dunno! WhooooooooOOOOOOooooo!!!!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Poignant annniversary day

Today is not only exactly 5 years since my mum's funeral (she died June 11th 2005), it's also exactly 31 years since my dad died. I'd give so much to have them both back - though in good health. (My mum lived until she was 89 - a fine, long run, for all that. Dad died of a sudden stroke, out in the garden, at 69.) It was good, though, that I at least really started to appreciate them before it was too late, though in both cases only really in their latter years. Lucky also that, unlike several I've known, there was no ill-feeling at all towards either of them or from them to me - ups and downs, yes, but certainly nothing even approaching the severing of communication that some have experienced. So in that I appreciate that I've been fortunate. Love you, mum, dad!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Why do I pay good money to see such uncomfortably violent films?

In 2002 it was 'Irreversible' with its graphic and prolonged vicious assault and rape in a subway as well as a seeing a man beaten to death (also in 'loving' detail) with a fire extinguisher. Then last year we had 'Antichrist' with the Charlotte Gainsbourg character snipping of her own clit and knocking unconscious the Willem Dafoe character before shooting a bolt into his calf which she uses to chain him to a large stone weight. Then, hot on its heels, we've already got this year's gore-fest offering. I've just come back from seeing 'The Killer Inside Me' and, boy oh boy! NOT for the faint-hearted - unless you really want to see two females gut-wrenchingly battered as surely never been shown on screen before (at least in a commercially produced 'mainstream' film) one of them with her face repeatedly punched, beaten almost literally to a pulp. But do please note these acts were committed because the perpetrator, erm, 'loved them'! Although in all these three films, such was their notoriety, I'd heard in advance what was in store for me, and I wondered if I'd be able to keep my eyes on the screen . I knew I'd flinch, to say the least. But it seemed a bit of a challenge to see if I could watch without looking away. I failed - but only averting my gaze for mini-seconds.
The psychology of wanting to watch such films is troubling. I've never assaulted anyone in my entire life - not even an animal. (Why did I just say 'even'?) But I dare say there are individuals around who will get a vicarious thrill from seeing two women get smashed up in extremis. So why do I go? Partly because, having been an ardent cineaste since I was 20, these are, after all, 'significant' films. But I suppose there's also an element of a sort of 'badge of honour' in having sat through them. What's also worrying is that I actually purposely avoid seeing films where I know that there will be the depiction of violence done to an animal - even if I know it's done by screen effects and that no animal is actually hurt. Of course similar screen tricks are also employed in showing violence against humans, but cruelty towards animals presses additional buttons in me - I just don't want those scenes rattling around in my head.
So there's another film which is going to linger and linger and give me nightmares. Oh well! Now, what shall I have for dinner?