Friday, 17 September 2010

Some reflections on His Hole-iness' visit to the U.K. (so far)

I'm feeling aggrieved, disappointed, surprised and dismayed at how much adulation the Pope is getting here on the second day of his four day-visit. This was largely unexpected and, sadly, it's giving great satisfaction to the throngs of the 'faithful'. The BBC in particular is giving his visit saturation coverage - totally unwarranted as it's officially a 'state-visit' by the ruler of a really tiny state. They certainly wouldn't be giving a visit of, say, the King of Monaco anything like the same coverage, even though the latter is much larger than the Vatican City. But of course Pope B. is also considered a 'pastoral leader', so that gives added 'oomph' to his physical presence and means that we British taxpayers, whether we like it or not, have to fork out for the costs of his protection, something which, apparently, God himself is unable to provide. The BBC is, irritatingly, largely portraying 'His Holiness' as a misunderstood, though gentle and loveable, even cuddly, old man. Still, it's not over yet and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Papa Benedict will reveal his true, unacceptably intolerant colours soon. He's already come very close to that in sternly warning against a 'new and aggressive secularism and atheism' which needs to be confronted and defeated. The logic of this is, of course, that secularism and atheism are, at best, undesirable, and at worst, downright evil. Indeed, this morning I was appalled on hearing a female member of this morning's service congregation gushingly saying, without even being challenged, that one "needs 'faith' in order to be good", the inference being that having 'faith' is a pre-requisite to benevolence - a sine qua non, if you will. So there's never ever been one good person who didn't have a 'faith'? What utter tosh! Furthermore, which particular 'faith' does one need? All the major religions conflict with each other on a large number of issues. Even Christians can't stop squabbling among themselves - and within the very same branch of Christianity, too - but their leaders and spokespersons don't seem to want to talk about that. It's not mentioned that, for instance, although Islam holds Jesus Christ to be one of Allah's true prophets, not a single strand of Christianity gives Mohammed any status at all, either blotting him out of history or when he is mentioned, condemning him as being in error or blasphemous. Similarly, Buddhism is considered as a respectable religion although it doesn't believe in a Creator or a worshipful, interventionist Deity. Or Hinduism, with its range of gods and goddesses displaying a spectrum of characteristics, some positive, some negative, or sometimes boiled down to a trio of god(desse)s or, ultimately, one single hermaphroditic god/dess with multiple personalities some of which are disposed towards evil. And exactly which 'faiths' are included as acceptable? How about the Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, Paganism, Shamanism, Voodoo, Rosicruciansim etc? (Is Astrology okay?) No, it seems that the greatest hostility is reserved not for those beliefs which in another time would have been condemned and persecuted as evil heresies, but for those who profess not to believe in any of them. Very strange.
So the 'Holy Father' continues going here and there, wagging that Papal finger at us for not allowing religion to discriminate in the ways that he wants, while making soothing assurances that the Church is 'doing penance' for the child-abuse scandal. What form exactly does this 'penance' take? Silent reflection and prayers for forgiveness to the 'Big Boss upstairs'? Big deal! (but very humbling, no doubt) Why not show real, positive contrition by handing over the Vatican's records to the civil police authorities? It's not good enough to respond by saying that most of the guilty or suspect priests are dead now anyway. Even if there is just one suspect figure still alive who is not yet known to the police, that has got to be sufficient reason to hand them all over - and anyway I'd bet that there are still a number of Vatican staff alive and working who were part of the disgraceful cover-up and who surely must now also be prosecuted. But, of course, that is just what the Church authorities are most afraid of - the coming to light of yet more damaging revelations! I wonder if all those who are supporting the Pope's oh-so-contrite attitude by saying that it's all history and that we now need to 'move on', would be so forgiving if one of their own relatives were victims, still living with their own mental life-sentences and scars.
So do we really need 'faith' then? No, especially not when the justification is simply and literally beyond all belief!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

'Metropolis' - latest restored version

It was encouraging to see a large cinema about 80% full as early as 11 a.m. today for this showing of the 1926 Fritz Lang film - newly restored at 2 hrs 25 mins to almost original length, following the discovery of a near-complete, but damaged, copy of the film in Buenos Aires. Of course one can nowadays smile at the absurd melodrama, the histrionic gestures (though as it's a silent film, that's understandable) and the simplistic portrayal of 'mad', and see the film as little more than a museum-piece, but visually it really does retain its grandeur - and now with a consistent orchestral soundtrack added, which I found much preferable to that rather odd, though not totally unsympathetic, electronic backing by Giorgio Moroder when a shorter version of the film was released in 1984 (which I actually saw in Munich). But this new version is likely to be the closest we'll ever get to Lang's original conception. It finished this morning to general, well-deserved applause. A rare and memorable cinematic experience. Great stuff!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

When our beloved pets pass away.

It's now over six hours since I read two distressing blogs about a dog and a cat passing on. This affected me so deeply that I still feel 'bruised' inside. I always find it so easy to identify with others in this situation.
Anyway, not wishing to dwell unduly on the profound sadness of such circumstances, it got me thinking of a certain event in my early schooldays which left a mental 'scar' on my sensitive mind.
I would have been 9 years old and our teacher for that year was the eldest (and sternest) of the teachers in my primary school. (The school headmistress was a nun, as was the most senior teacher. The remainder, apart from two men, were all lay women and all, incidentally, unmarried.) I'm not sure how the subject arose, but it was probably during a religious class when this class mistress asked the class as a whole "What's the difference between humans and animals?". I recall vividly a ginger-haired boy putting up his hand. "Please, Miss. An animal has no soul." The mistress allowed a slight smile of satisfaction across her wrinkled face "That's right. An animal has NO SOUL!" she said, slapping down on the desk to emphasise the last two words. I was stunned. I don't remember anything that came after. I think she coldly moved on to the next subject as though what she'd just said was of no great import, while I sat there flustered and wondering - "But that means if they've got no soul they can't go to heaven. There can't be ANY animals in heaven, then." (As long as I can remember, I've always been an avid animal lover, coming from an animal-loving family, though out of the seven members it was my mother and myself who were the most fond of them. By the time I was at the age of this 'discovery' we'd already have had two or three cats.) I think this little incident - 'little' in terms of time, major in terms of effect - was the first time that I'd experienced real conflict between myself and the religion I was being taught. I'm pretty sure I thought that if there are no animals in heaven then I didn't want to go there either. I wanted to go where the animals went.
Right through my life I can never understand the dismissive attitude nearly all religions have towards animals. In my re-reading of the Bible, for instance, at the beginning of Leviticus, it tells how animals (cattle, goats, lambs etc) are to be sacrificed and their bodies to be burnt as 'a sweet savour to the Lord' (re-translated in the New English Bible as 'soothing odour to the Lord'). Clearly this God has such 'refined senses' that He requires men to slaughter blameless, sentient beings and dispose of their corpses by fire so that he can delight in the 'aroma' so produced. Strange that if He likes it so much, the Almighty is unable to conjure up the equivalent sensation by Himself. And, to add a further absurdity, if priests or common men commit 'sin' they are to offer up the prescribed number animals in sacrifice to atone for their own misdeeds. WTF! It's not the animals fault, for goodness' sake! Yes, such a 'compassionate' God - NOT!
Throughout my life I've been accused explicitly or by implication of caring more about animals than humans, and more than children in particular. That's unfair and untrue. I cannot bear to witness deep grief for anyone, man or beast, having to switch channels if there's footage of, for instance, the recent floods in Pakistan. I find it impossible even now to watch re-runs of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (There was a 2-hour TV documentary here on the event just a couple of nights ago. Couldn't watch it! Too under-the-skin!) But when it comes to animals too few societies and countries recognise their true value and worth - and the fact that they feel pain, distress, fear etc. There are just too many countries that have no laws at all against animal cruelty. And there are too many religions which continue to peddle the primitive belief that animals are there to be 'used' - actually put here by a 'God' for that very purpose.
But I will concede one admission. I do find animals generally easier to get on with than any human being that I've personally known - and I know for a fact that I'm not the only one.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Noodles is a real virtuoso on the keyboard. This is he this morning playing 'Lullaby in A flat-out'.

Both my pussies have a rota of where they sleep, and then change it after a few weeks. But this one has chosen my keyboard (always the treble end) every day for at least two months now, to rest himself during the day after an exhausting night out on the prowl. A bit odd when there are so many more comfortable places to have a 'cat-nap'. Means that when wanting to play myself I've either got to omit the top notes or move everything down an octave. And while I'm struggling with my transposed fingerwork do you think he cares enough to move away? NO!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Glorious Day

Most bloggers write about their social visits and adventures, which I enjoy reading, although I never write on the subject myself for the simple reason that I don't experience any. Not so yesterday, when I went to Brighton to spend the afternoon with a friend whom I'd got to know in Amsterdam nearly 30 years ago when he was then working in the gay hotel which I frequented, and whom I haven't seen for 12 years. David is actually originally English but has lived in Holland all this time - now earning his living there practising Shiatsu massage. He was spending a few days in England and brought with him a very nice friend from London of Turkish Cypriot extraction, probably early 40s, and another long-time female friend who was the eldest of the four of us. David was the only one of us who hadn't, in the past, lived for some years in Brighton, or even ever properly been to this gayest city in the country - so it was a visit of some 'discovery' for him.
Of course being a bank holiday weekend the crowds in the centre and around the 'sights' were even denser than usual but, what with the perfect sunny weather, it didn't deter our enjoyment in any way. Much catching-up, much earnest conversation, much banter and much laughter both over our meal in a Japanese restaurant and then walking around, he snapping his camera madly all over the place, then on the sea-front where there was so much activity of many descriptions - rock groups, vendors' stalls, sports, - and seeing conspicuous groups of gays 'queening' it around, it was lovely. David was particularly happy to witness two middle-aged men walking along hand-in-hand - still, sadly, a rare sight in England. Stopped at length for coffee and cakes at the open-air 'Meeting Point' cafe - and talking extravagantly about gay-life, politics, religion, life in general - but as all four of us were on the same wavelength regarding just about every subject we could say what we liked without fear of causing offence to any others (except to any who might have overheard our raucous, OTT, laughter-saturated bitching about those we didn't like. Some might well have thought that we were all high on 'grass'!). I was sorry when thoughts of my cats, whom I knew would have been pining for my return, caused me to make my excuses to leave. But I left on a definite, real 'high', with hugs and kisses all round - and promises to 'do it again' sometime. For me, one of those very rare 'days to remember'.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

One of the things I don't understand about (most) women.

Why do they wear make-up? What is 'disguising' their real self supposed to achieve - to make them appear more attractive than they actually are? I, for one, have nearly always found that women look nicer by not wearing any make-up - just like men, in fact. As long as they are clean and tidy I don't see any point in their painting their faces. Some psychologists opine that lipstick, for instance, is sometimes applied (unconsciously, of course) to present a visual resonance with the vulval labia for (hetero) men, though I imagine that many women, and quite a number of men too, would reject that suggestion outright and with horror. I don't know if that's true or not though it seems quite plausible to me.
The most homophobic person I ever worked with was a (then) young lady about 4 years younger than me - who, when she found out that I was gay, couldn't resist not only quoting (inaccurately) the Bible at me but also accused me of leading an 'unnatural' lifestyle (which, as any informed person knows, it isn't, of course. Minority maybe, but totally natural.) I think what had initially bewildered her was not only that I was almost certainly the first 'out' gay she'd ever met (this was 1979 - and at that time I was the first and only such in a department of 90+) but what had really thrown her was that I wasn't ashamed of what I was, while she, to deliberately rile me further, would openly say to others, within my earshot, things like "Queers should never be trusted near boys." But apart from all this, she'd come into the office every morning, face thick with foundation cream and with lipstick generously applied, painted like a circus clown, hair tastefully permed and with what smelt like at least half a bottle of perfume dabbed here, there and everywhere - and she had the gall to call me 'unnatural'! Thankfully it wasn't just me she was unpopular with. There was much mocking and chuckling behind her back - and I wasn't the only one who thought she was in reality a repressed lesbian. Her manner of communication with her co-workers was so overbearing, bullying and aggressively 'macho' even to the extent of tomboyishly threatening physical violence if others didn't do what she said (examples - "I'll throw this adding machine at you in a minute!" and [I kid you not] "How would you like your teeth kicked in?"), yet all the while making exaggeratedly clear to everybody how much she liked men - in general, of course, but no specific one in particular. Btw she did get married (for appearances sake?) after she left following just a 2-year term working with us. We heard later that it had lasted less than one year before she returned (childless!) to live back with her mother!
Anyway, getting the above off my chest has rather sidetracked me. I was talking about my bafflement on the need to wear make-up. But another mystery to me is high-heels. Why do they have to wear them at all, anywhere? I've never tried but they must be terribly uncomfortable, tricky and sometimes even dangerous to wear, as well as limiting one's manoeuvrability. And to what purpose? To make the wearer appear a couple of inches taller than she actually is? We know through Shakespeare (e.g. in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream') that shorter women were once considered inferior and less attractive than those taller. But I honestly would have thought we'd have got past that by now.
And don't get me even started on those ridiculous long fingernails!........

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.