Sunday, 22 August 2010

Musicals on film - an experience that's SO second-best.

Like many gay men, I'm a BIG aficiando of musical theatre as well as being a long-term cinephile. Yet somehow these two media almost never seem to satisfactorily mix, and I wonder if they ever can. When compared with the immediacy and dynamism of a live theatrical show, there's something unsatisfactory about preserving an art-form on film where the essential complicity between performers and audience in one is totally absent from the other. There's an almost electric 'charge' in a well-delivered live musical which is unique to that medium which cannot be emulated or transferred via the artificiality of the screen. But as that is the only way we know how to keep a permanent record of it, one has to admit that it's probably better than not attempting it at all. Incidentally, it does irritate me when people claim to have 'seen' a musical when what they mean is that they've seen just the one film version of it, a form for which, of course, the vast majority of musicals were not originally written - and they've never attended a live theatrical production of it. Even scores that were originally written for film, such as 'Singin' in the Rain', 'Gigi', and 'Mary Poppins' can have an even more memorable longevity when later re-interpreted for the stage, so no one can ever look on filmed musicals as being the definitive version. They can always be improved upon.
Just one of the many reservations I have about filmed musicals is that they invariably omit a number of the songs ('Sound of Music', 'Oliver!, 'Cabaret' etc etc) - and, moreover, often mercilessly 'prune' even the ones that are there. To name but a mere two of the scores of examples of the latter - the witty 'Zip' from 'Pal Joey', 'I'm Gonna Wash...' from 'South Pacific' and so many more. (Needless to say I've seen all the musicals I've just named on the stage too.)
But having laid out my stall I'm now going to cite those three films (just from off the top of my head) that I think were the biggest travesties of their original music stage-show heritage - and not only are they all from the same period of late 1960s/early 1970s, but the latter two both have the same director! (Coincidence?) :-

Fiddler on the Roof
Jesus Christ Superstar.

There, I've said it. I'd be very interested to know of other 'nominations' to this category of worst filmed musical as a film.

But any idiot can criticise. So, to be fair, I ought to mention those which I think were quite successful in their own terms and can bear repeated watching. So, without having done any profound or lengthy thinking, three that come to mind are:

The King and I
The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show.

I could write a long blog on the pluses and minuses of the individual entries on both lists, as well as on many more films - and may well do in future - but it would be nice to get get other peoples' thoughts on the subject. After all, there is so much written on both films and musicals, but I've yet to read anyone voicing opinions on the success or failure in attempting to combine the two.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Richard Dawkins - why is he so often cast as a villain?

Yesterday there was the first of a short series of TV progs by Dawkins (unfortunately on one of our less-viewed cable channels) in which he articulated his concern about the rapid growth of faith-schools of all religions in the U.K., the mushrooming number of which was largely instigated by Blair when he was Prime Minister. In just one instance, it was so sad to see him speaking to a group of burka-clad girls in a Muslim school, with their burka-clad teachers present, not a single one of whom (pupils and teachers) believed in evolution. One pupil even stated that "All science is contained in the Koran" whilst her teacher nodded approvingly. (Yeah, right! Such as Quantum Mechanics, Cosmology, Laser technology etc. Though having read the Koran eight times to date, in five different translations, it's strange how I managed to miss such references.) And these same pupils being taught in a faith-school are supposed to represent humanity's hope for the future? Shame that that particular breathtaking assertion was left unchallenged.
Since I first became aware of Dawkins quite some years ago, any mention of his name was always coupled with the qualification that he was a 'fanatical atheist' and every bit as bad, or even worse, than religious fundamentalists. But I've yet to see him in this oft-cited mode of swivel-eyed, crazy fanaticism. Indeed, his arguments always seem to me to be cogent and measuredly expressed, whereas the people whom he confronts are the ones who start shifting about nervously and even raising their voices at him. Actually if I get frustrated at all it's that he never seems to press his arguments far enough but tends to let the other side wriggle free and let them have the last word. I think he is even too well-mannered sometimes. His extolling the virtues of the language of the Book of Common Prayer and certain passages of the Bible was sensible and accurate. I too could see the beauty of the English prose in those works before I was even aware of Dawkins. And yet...and yet....there is so much widespread visceral hatred directed towards him. I can only assume that the belief of his critics is so shaky that they feel particularly fragile and vulnerable against his arguments and so they attack in the only way they know, i.e. to get personal. But having seen and read quite a lot of him now, and having last year read his book, 'The God Delusion', he is definitely becoming, if not quite one of my personal 'heroes' (though he is getting there), then certainly one of the people living today whom I would most like to meet.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Sleeping alone - can't beat it!

I've often wondered why so many couples sleep together. Is it just me who finds that sleep is an activity best carried out in solitude? Don't get me wrong - heaven forfend that I should advocate abstemious celibacy! No, what I mean is that a large/double bed is very useful for certain 'pleasures', but when it comes to slumbering I'd far rather be alone. Actually it's been many years now since I even had such a choice, but I must admit that on those occasions when I did, either in my own home or that of friends (or even strangers!), manners prevented me from saying what I really felt once the, erm, 'physical business' was over with, and we both wanted to sleep. Even in my more affluent days when I had my own large place with a spare bedroom and bed I could never bring myself to suggest we sleep separately for fear of offending my visitor. So I spent the night 'suffering in silence' whilst we spent the night turning over at different times, me getting very little sleep indeed, (I'm also told that I tend to kick out in my sleep) or, even more irritating, being held with the other's arms around my chest (or somewhere else) whilst trying to sleep. Often I just wanted to yell out "GET OFF ME!". Then there's also the issue of the other person snoring.
I just wonder how many more there are out there who feel as I do, but who daren't voice their true feelings. Only hope I'm not causing arguments to break out. But maybe I'm a rarity.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

'Inception' - my own penn'orth.

Yesterday I went to see this film for the second time - and it certainly was money well-spent. I know some say that it tries to be 'too clever by half', but I don't think so.
Thought it might be useful to register a couple of comments.
On first viewing I hadn't quite grasped the significance that in dreams events take place in a world which moves faster than reality. In the film 20 times as fast is stated, though I don't know if that's based on any research. But the basic point is correct. We've all experienced an extended dream which seems to cover hours and then woken up to find that only a few minutes have elapsed since we fell asleep. I wonder if the film might have been helped by having just an occasional split-screen, maybe for just a half-minute or so, to show what was happening simultaneously on the different levels of consciousness. Just a thought. It might have explained to me why, on first viewing, that van was taking so long to fall into the river. (Maybe I was just slow on the uptake?)
Normally C.G.I. effects leave me feeling unmoved and uninvolved ( as in 'Avatar', for example). The physically-arduous old-style of creating spectacular action scenes used to excite me much more. However, 'Inception' is different. I thought the effects were quite awesome, perhaps aided by the fact that although in dreams they appear quite matter-of-fact and 'normal', actually seeing them created so realistically on screen was mind-blowing. The fight in the hotel corridor was particularly brilliant. (How on earth did they do that? Multiple shots in a free-falling airplane at zero G? Surely too intricate just for green-screen and superimposition?)
Btw, although I'm going to get a few raspberries for even mentioning it, I'm not sure that every member of a cinema audience gets the cinematic 'wink' that Chris Nolan gives in choosing a particular song to provide a 'kick' out of the dreams whilst having Marion Cotillard among the main cast, who won the Oscar for her lead role in 'La Vie en Rose' a couple of years ago. (No, I hadn't seen or heard it referred to before I saw the film.)

Right, now should I pay to see the film for a third time? Maybe I ought.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

I'm re-reading the Bible - but don't worry, folks!

This is going to be the sixth time I'll have done a cover-to-cover read, but emphatically NOT for religious reasons, though the first couple of times maybe were. (How many 'true' Christians have read the Bible right through, even once? Only a minority, I would suggest.)
When I'm asked "What made you 'lose' your faith?" I take satisfaction in replying "Reading the Bible." which rather stymies the nosy enquirer, as their antidote to disbelief would almost invariably be to read the Bible more. (And why do they always refer to one as losing one's faith? It seems to imply that one has misplaced something valuable that one would like to have back again. I didn't lose it - I intentionally discarded it as being both erroneous and useless!)
Anyway, as with my previous reads it's very much a piecemeal affair - maybe a couple of chapters every morning, taking notes as I go and scribbling in the margins. (My own most overworked word on previous readings has been "WHY?".) Each time it usually takes over a year to get right through.
My reason for undertaking this seemingly masochistic task is partly to get even more informed as to what I'm talking about when countering 'Bible- thumpers' and 'God-botherers' but also to get further ammo for any future confrontations (not that I'm actually looking for any).
But having so far re-read only the first few chapters of Genesis it's again so evident to me what a hodge-podge of half-baked ideas and inconsistencies the Bible is. As the chronological history it purports to be, it's in hopelessly incoherent and contradictory order. Presumed to be written by Moses, you'd think that God might have made a better job in 'inspiring' him to write this sequence of events properly (even if intended to be allegorical) with some logical flow. How so many maintain that it's directly the word of the Creator and it's got to be taken literally is just beyond me. You'd think that they (and God) would grant us the intelligence with which we are supposed to be endowed and favoured.
Could continue further in this vein but I'm sure there'll be loads to say on the subject in future blogs.

Btw I don't intend to make myself out as viciously anti-ALL Christianity - or, indeed, all religion. I only direct my fire at those who see the Bible or the Koran (which I've now read eight times in five different translations - so far!) etc as set in stone and absolutely not susceptible to interpretation in the light of subsequent (scientific, biological and other) discovery and social changes. Actually I do have admiration and considerable respect for Quakers, certain other 'sects' of Christianity and Hinduism, but probably most of all, for Buddhism with its emphasis on taking personal responsibility for one's own actions and their consequences. That's religion that I have no argument with.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

When Noodles wants a snooze there's no stopping him.

This afternoon, for my own entertainment and relaxation I was playing the wonderful Irving Berlin when Noodles decided to jump up and 'accompany' me. The song? - 'I Love a Piano'!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Great news from Spain

I was so heartened to hear yesterday that the Catalonian regional Government has voted to ban bull-fighting throughout the area. (Actually I thought that it had already been outlawed in Barcelona but it seems that there was one officially operating bull-ring in that city - until now.) I've said before in these blogs that I personally extend the usual rule-of-thumb that one "should be able to do as one likes as long as it doesn't harm another" beyond just humans but to all animals too. I appreciate being in a minority here and that my views on not using animals for 'pleasure', be it their slaughter to provide food or clothing, most especially when there are alternatives available, or for 'entertainment' purposes (circuses, hunting, shooting, even fishing) are enough to give a perception of me as being nothing but a crackpot, a spoilsport, a fuddy-duddy interferer, and probably even an over-fanatical 'enemy'. But I do feel bull-fighting has always been indefensible - with the entire pack of cards in the hands of the matador - not to mention all his other assistants waiting on the ring periphery to rescue him if he gets into trouble. Blunting the creature's horns so that it can't even defend itself, indeed! If one is going to argue that it's a sport of 'skill' then at least have the guts to grant some equality of attack and defense and have the option of allowing the animal to escape. That might be more plausible, though it's still grossly unfair as the bull is not given a choice whether to participate or not.
But I know that even with this particular banning move there's still some way to go. I hear that bull-fights (fights? Ha!) are most popular in the south of Spain as well as in Madrid. But I'm still encouraged by this start - and I feel and fervently hope that it's the sort of move that is rather more likely to spread to other regions rather than being overturned. Surely, in time the sport is doomed. All progress on this and other so-called similar 'entertainment' can only move in one direction.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Surprising revelations re my downstairs neighbour

When he moved in almost exactly a year ago I was immediately complaining about the disturbance he was making, mainly by frequent playing of loud music into the early hours. Well, that has abated, though not stopped - it's now about once a week at the most instead of most nights. (And it's still usually the Stones or Susan Boyle - such an unlikely combo!).
I feared worse things about 10 days ago when, hearing me going out - "Hey, Ray, have you got a computer?" I wished I'd been a good liar but had to admit it. (I just can't tell bare-faced untruths, especially to someone in my physical presence - stuttering, red face etc.) It turned out he wanted a favour as he'd just got a job as a solar-panel salesman and needed to be informed each evening of the addresses of potential clients to call on the following day, though he did offer to pay me. So, unwisely perhaps, I gave him my e-mail address to pass onto his firm. But after a week of giving him daily details he jacked in the job. He now intends to be a double-glazing salesman, work he says he's done before, so I may still be needed for the same reason. Anyway, as he was telling me all this I gently enquired about his previous life. It seems that not only did he used to own a pub in the west of England, which, he said bitterly, had to close down due to loss of business following the national smoking-ban of a few years ago. But before that he'd been an army 'tank-commander' in the first Gulf War. However, to cap even that, it turns out that he is also a published author - and he gave me as a gift a hardback copy of a book published in 1998, which he inscribed to me. It's a 220-page modern fable of animals and humans fighting to prevent a motorway being constructed through a rural area. It's not a children's book, even though the animals are anthropomorphic - wearing clothes, talking among themselves, even smoking and drinking. All this is witnessed by one little girl who, uniquely, is able to interact with them - the other humans see the animals as 'normal' (unclothed and only making animal sounds). Notable, though, is how most of both the animals and the humans are continually smoking - cigarettes as well as cigars and pipes. There's hardly a scene in which one of the characters of both types isn't lighting up. (It's clearly an issue with the writer.) The obvious comparison of the book is with 'Watership Down' though I think my neighbour's book is better. (I found 'Watership' a difficult and actually quite a turgid read.) But I'm very impressed by my neighbour's command of language with such vivid imagery that's so alive - writing which is quite at odds with what I would have expected from a man who's not infrequently the worse for drink. But so many writers were (and are) heavy drinkers - and, indeed, smokers. But it is a pretty good book, I must say! I've checked on the web and this is the only book of his I can find. Even so, it's an unlikely and welcome surprise.
I don't know much about his personal life at all - whether he's married, been married, and/or if he's gay - though there's no 'indication' of the latter, and no acknowledgement of 'gayness' in any characters in his book, even while reading between the lines and looking for 'hints'. But additionally the guy, who must be about 40, is just not my type. The only visitor he ever gets is an old (older than me, that is!) fellow who sometimes comes round to walk his dog. I've never seen or heard any other visitors in the year that he's been here. His beautiful dog, by the way, still comes out to give me a sniff, but no wagging tail now - and then she walks away. I'm clearly just a crashing bore! It gets occasional excitements out at the back by lunging at my two furry flat-mates when they sit on the garden wall, but who scamper off at lightning speed as soon as they see her.
Before he moved in below my landlord had told me that one of the potential tenants was a guy who'd hit financial rock-bottom and had been reduced to living in a tent on grass verges. I reckon it must have been this guy - who had came back to this, his birth area, after his pub business collapsed. For that I have some sympathy as more than once I've come within a whisker of being in the same situation myself. So learning more about him has altered my perspective quite favourably. But I don't think we have enough in common to make me want to socialise with him. (He did invite me in for a whisky and a chat but I excused myself) Besides, there's all that smoking!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Wallowing in premature self-pity?

Getting increasingly obsessed with things I want to do before it's too late - like travelling abroad again, particularly re-visiting those old European haunts I got to know so well when I had not only money but also the energy it required to experience them 'properly'. In addition I so much miss not having the means to go to the theatre regularly, particularly to London's West End when I used to see practically everything of note - great plays, big musicals, huge stars, immense enjoyment! Then there's all those books I've yet to read and re-read for maybe one last time, music to hear, all sorts of experiences to have.......
Now as I start to approach my 64th birthday in October I'm becoming terrified of suffering something such as a stroke which would incapacitate me physically while I frustratingly retain all these unfulfilled desires, a true living hell. Not only that, but because I've never had a true 'relationship' or even a single long-lasting deep friendship, there is no one around who would really care and I'd be left to the mercy of one or more carers with all their well-meaning (I hope), but synthetic, sympathy. Particularly heart-breaking would be the fate of my two dear pets. Of course all this is a 'worst case' scenario which may never transpire, but just the possibility of it happening is making life a worrying experience!