Thursday, 4 November 2010

Jazz - Why can't I 'get it'?

The scene: An Oscar Peterson concert about 30 years ago. Myself in the audience.
He starts playing piano. (I think it might have been 'Deep Purple'.) He's playing it straight, just as it was written. I think to myself "Crikey, this is so good." I settle down in my seat letting the glorious melody waft over me. He plays it once, straight through, his small group accompanying him unobtrusively. Then......
He starts from the beginning again, only this time, it's, well, different. I feel a bit let down. Why did he stop playing the way I liked it? But, hang on. There are mumbles of satisfaction from the audience - "Oh yeah......Mmmmm" - a few smatterings of applause, even audible laughter, heads start moving this way and that. I look round and see practically everyone else wearing what appears to be beaming smiles, almost ecstatic. The man himself turns to the audience with a wide grin and gives them a wink of complicity. But it wasn't meant for the likes of me. I was totally not part of it, excluded, shut out from this 'conspiracy' of shared pleasure. And so the rest of the concert proceeded in like fashion - me sitting there, cold and unmoved whilst everyone else was in raptures of delight at the master's dexterity in giving them just what they'd come for.

So it's been all my life. I have a passion for most types of music, - in particular classical, pop (well,, say 1950s up to around 2000) and musicals (Good heavens! Who would have thought it?). Country and Western I can listen to with ease and pleasure - rock, yes, up to a point, though not Heavy Metal (predictably). But jazz (I mean true jazz - 'trad' jazz is no problem) has always been a 'blind spot (deaf spot?) to me which I wish wasn't there. I've tried and tried over many years, not just attending the occasional jazz concert like the one I've just described, but also deliberately listening to jazz programmes on the radio. All the time I'm unable to tune in to that special jazz 'wavelength' in the brain which clearly gives so many people so much pleasure that I want to be a part of also.
I once met in Germany an American guy about my age, a serious jazz aficionado, and told him of my feelings of 'inadequacy'. He suggested concentrating on listening to the bass line rather than the embellishments that went on above it, which (he said) should automatically carry one along. So I tried that method. I mean really tried. But all to no avail. No matter how I listened it was always the same feeling of not being able to 'tune in'. In fact I was shut out.
I haven't re-attempted to overcome the problem for some years now and am wondering whether I ought to give it just one more go. Or maybe I ought to accept that I'm too old now and that if one hasn't 'got it' yet, one never will.
It still bugs me a bit that there's obviously something there that's giving pleasure to so many millions, yet because of some 'blocking' I can't be part of it. Well, perhaps I just ought to accept that we're all different. I bet there aren't many around who'd care for me to lecture them on the sublime, supreme perfection of Bach's choral and keyboard music - and why should they?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Films which spooked me the most.

(I was going to post this as a comment on Cubby's excellent 'Patently Queer' blog as an entry under his 'Hallowe'en Meme', but I found it kept growing and would have overshadowed his own original blog - so here it is separately, re-worded, with acknowledgement to Larry/Cubby for providing the idea.)

In chronological order of film release (all seen for the first time by me in a cinema, of course) :-

Even I was too young to see 'Psycho' on its first time round, but it was re-released in 1966 (in a double-bill with the 1953 'War of the Worlds'). To date I have still never seen a film which elicited so many screams from an audience. The film may appear to be old-hat now, having been dissected and analysed over and over again, and when we watch it again (it really does stand up to repeated viewing with Tony Perkins' performance surely being his best ever) it's more admiration for Hitchcock's artifice rather than for the original raw emotions, which can never be re-captured. If I watch it now, it's in an forensic way, observing how and why it was so brilliantly effective.

Seeing 'The Exorcist' in 1973 for the first time caused me more ensuing sleepless nights than any other film. It still holds up, nearly 40 years later - though it's a shame that the head-swivelling scene looks so artificial in those pre-CGI days. But that's only a few seconds out of a very disturbing and, yes, a good and extremely powerful film.

'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (original version, 1974 ) - banned from showing anywhere in Oxford (where I was living at the time) and also in many other areas of the U.K.. - and when I eventually did see it I could see why! Nightmare stuff!

John Carpenter's 1982 'The Thing' - the blood-test scene above all. Even though I know which scientist is the replicant it's still as chilling as hell!
Btw I could never understand why the same director's 'Halloween' (1978) is so highly regarded. One of the leading British film critics has called it 'the greatest horror film ever'! I agree that it's certainly a good film but I doubt if it would find a place in my 'Best 500 Films of All Time'.

I'm with Larry in nominating 'Paranormal Activities' as probably the scariest film of recent years. I'm going next week to see the sequel, but it's received poor reviews here, largely because the 'shocks' delivered are due more to sudden loud bangs on the soundtrack rather than skilful film-making. That's not clever, it's just lazy and it's cheating!

Honourable mentions:-
'Alien' - shame that after John Hurt's spectacular stomach-bursting scene, all the subsequent killings seem to be anti-climaxes.
'Poltergeist' - would have been more effective if curtailed before the final half-hour which culminates in the overblown cemetery upheaval and graves- and coffins-opening scene.
'The Amityville Horror' (1978 original) - despite less than enthusiastic reviews I thought it was probably the best among the glut of 'haunting' films made over the following decade. (My main concern was hoping that the family dog would escape unharmed.)

Looking forward to other suggestions by anyone who reads my blog. (Thanks again, Larry)


'

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Re:Jane Austen - It's so disappointing when one's bubble is burst.

About 20 years ago, after a long time of trying, I finally 'got' Jane Austen and since then I've been proud to quote her as genuinely one of my very favourite writers of all time - her prose light as a souffle (or as the lightest sponge cake, as I like to say), an enviably delicate prose style unrivalled by anyone else writing in English. One of the very cleverest people I ever knew (a work colleague in the early 1970s) said that if he could have one wish it would be to be able to write like Jane Austen. It was he who made me determined to try to see what it was that he was seeing in her works - and I finally managed it. I have now read all six of her novels several times each and re-read them regularly in rotation, getting so much pleasure that it's a true delight to be savoured and one not to be dulled by over-familiarity.
Then this morning I hear the dreadful news. After several years of research a (female) professor at Oxford University has concluded that Austen almost certainly owes most of her style to one of her editors, identified as one William Gifford, who polished her sentences, improved the vocabulary, and corrected her grammar, spelling and punctuation, the latter of which was, according to the original manuscripts, particularly poor. Apparently Austen also never even employed the use of paragraphs. Oh dear, what a thumping great let-down! It's not absolutely conclusive yet, but I have no reason to disbelieve the results of this painstaking and exhaustive research. It wasn't so much the plots of her books which were impressive - indeed there is a certain 'sameness' about the stories of unrequited love, long periods of courtship with ups and downs and doubts, the occasional example of scandalous behaviour (for the time) and 'happily-ever-after's. It was the impeccably crafted prose style that won me and many, many thousands of others, over. So now it seems that we've got to direct the praise elsewhere. Not that it makes the actual books any less worthy of admiration, but one can't help feeling a certain deflation. I only wonder how my former work-colleague, if he's still around, himself feels on hearing this news.
Now all I need to hear is that Beethoven got significant 'help' with his composing - and that it was his cleaner who wrote on some blank music manuscript paper "da-da-da-DAAAAH"!!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

In today's films why is so much speech mumbled?

I've just been to see 'The Social Network', about the creation of Facebook - or so I've read. Just as well I knew that beforehand because at least half the dialogue was totally lost on me. I find this a feature of more and more films these days. Clear diction just doesn't seem to matter as it once did. It's almost as though it's not really that important to understand what they're saying as long as you get the drift, though even that can be a challenge.
From the very opening scene of this film, between two characters in a crowded bar in which something about the Chinese population (I think) was mentioned , but managing to converse without raising their voices to be heard as I would have had to do in similar circumstances, the majority of ensuing scenes were similarly blighted. And yet the film has had such glowing reviews in the U.K. - one critic I read even calling it "probably the single best film of recent years". Did he then manage to catch the dialogue? I find that hard to believe It may indeed be a near-masterpiece, but as it's such a wordy film, where I, for one, couldn't understand what was being said, I'm not in a position to judge.
I don't think it's a case of deteriorating hearing on my part, or of the volume being too low. (In some films the incidental music soundtrack is just too ear-splittingly loud.) I certainly have no difficulty in ordinary face-to-face conversation. I think this practice of poor articulation started in the early 90s - and since then so many films have, for me, been marred by this indecipherable under-the-breath muttering. I really can't understand how anyone can follow it and I honestly wonder whether people are just too embarrassed to admit not having a clue about what the actors are saying for fear of appearing stupid. One theory I have about why this state of affairs came about is that as scenes are normally are shot over several 'takes', after a while everyone on set, the film crew as well as the actors, know the script so well that the latter become lazy or even bored, and no one gives a thought as to if an audience listening for the first time will catch the words.
Watch a film on TV made in the 1980s or before, and you can hear just about every single word - and that applies to American films as well as British, so the problem can't be one of accent.
Maybe 'The Social network' actually is a very good film. I can't really say. But on a scale of personal enjoyment, despite all the praise it's received, my own candid score would be a lowly 3/10.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Coming around again!

For me, tomorrow is the day that Macca sang about on 'Sgt Pepper' - but instead of 'Vera, Chuck & Dave' on my knee it'll be Blackso, with Noodles looking on - whether out of envy (but he'd be welcome too, if he'd only stay) or bemusement, it's difficult to judge.

Not doing anything special - but can't ever remember one single b/day I've ever had when I did.

Dinner will be my absolute favourite in the entire gastronomical history of the world - eggs, chips and beans (chips = French fries):-

Eggs - let's have four (five would be gluttony!), fried in veg oil, turned over for about 30 secs
Chips - in a heap. Maris Piper potatoes, chunky, and fried till they are deep brown and crisp
(Baked) Beans - in a separate bowl (so as not to cross-spoil). 'Heinz' from a tin, most of the sauce drained off and a large pinch of curry powder added.
- and perhaps a cheap and cheerful Shiraz might help ease the entire meal's path down my gullet.

Now, I defy anyone to suggest a dish more sublime than that. Simply unbeatable! The perfect celebratory repast.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

My few days away - the evidence.





Returned yesterday after my annual (sometimes bi-annual) visit to my sister's on Teesside, on the English north-east coast.
The seated trio is myself with my sister and her hubby, Ted.

During my stay visited Whitby, the best known town close by. It was once a thriving fishing port, and though it still has that industry, it's on a much-reduced scale.
Whitby was given particular additional fame by Bram Stoker who chose to have his Count Dracula land in England here.
In the final picture, on the summit of the hill are the ruins of St Hilda's Abbey, originally 7th century and sacked by the Vikings two centuries later, though nothing of the original remains apart from the site. It was restored in 1078 and remained an establishment of high national and indeed, international, significance until 1540 when Henry VIII dissolved all the country's monasteries on declaring himself head of the church in England in place of the Pope . (The little 'ship' in the same photo is a tourist sight-seeing boat for harbour and sea trips. Tacky, but also rather quaint.)

Okay, history lesson over. Now let's get back into routine.