Friday 26 February 2010

Thoughts on treatment on film of historical personages

I've just completed reading Lytton Strachey's quite excellent biography 'Queen Victoria'. Such lucid, stylish and fluid writing - even presented me with half-a-dozen 'new' words with which I was unfamiliar, which I like in a book. But we all know this monarch from early photographs as the squat, po-faced, matriarchal figure in advanced age. However, apparently even as a child, she had unprepossessing looks, a rather short, dumpy figure with projecting upper teeth and weak chin. Now setting this against her representation in last year's film 'Young Victoria' where Emily Blunt looks as though the character would have graced a 'Miss World' line-up, then one gets some idea of the extent of historical 'accuracy' of this film in particular. But this is hardly something new. All films, from whichever country, have glamourised their past. There have been so many films featuring Queen Elizabeth I but, as far as I know, not one of them has even dared to hint that even in middle age she possessed hopelessly rotten teeth (the ones remaining in her head, that is), that she became almost totally bald, and that in order to cover up the pock-marks on her face she wore face-cream, reputedly, up to an inch thick - the latter being some exaggeration, one might think. (Would a film featuring George Washington have the guts to display a portrayal of him with wooden teeth?) I accept that the 'truth' can often work against the success of a historical film but on the other hand I do believe that a little more attempt at veracity has its own dramatic potential, though maybe not in the way most members of an audience would care to see, sanitisation being rather more palatable. I could go on further at some length but at least I've got it off my chest.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Once again, the Pope cries "Boo!" and this cowardly British government jumps to do his bidding.

As though the recent submission to allow religious institutions an opt-out in discriminatory laws, by allowing them to dismiss gays or refuse to appoint them solely on grounds of sexuality, wasn't enough, I'm seething all over again at yesterday's shenanigans in Parliament in which our so-called' socialist' Government itself amended its own proposal to forbid discrimination in the teaching of sex education in schools. Now so-called 'faith schools' will be permitted to teach their own religions' sexual 'morality' - as long as it also says that there may be other views, without having to explain what those other views are and why they might have greater validity than those of the religion they are teaching. Critics have accused the move as allowing religions to indoctrinate their pupils with homophobia - not to mention the disgraceful acquiescence in permitting Catholic schools to teach that the use of condoms, in all circumstances, is 'sinful'. The government denies that it has 'watered down' their original very commendable proposals in the face of considerable opposition, especially from Christian and Muslim groups. So why change it at all, then? Well the fact that the official response from the Roman Catholic Church is that it is 'happy' with the outcome says it all.
Of course this couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that we'll be having a General Election within 2 or 3 months, could it? If they had refused to accede to the demands of the religious right then it would have been a gift to the Conservative opposition - who supported the concession, of course. (During discussion, one Conservative M.P. asked the Government for assurance that schools will still be able to teach that 'homosexuality is wrong'! The response being a repetition that schools will be allowed to teach the 'morality' of their own religion - in other words, 'Yes'. )
So there we have it. After years during which Tony Blair, despite his considerable faults, fought tooth and nail to achieve legal parity for gays in virtually all respects, we now have his very same party actually creating further discrimination against us in order to appease the right-wing, to thereby avoid losing votes. The only possible positive note is that with Parliamentary time so tight before an election the legislation may fall through lack of time. But even after the election, do I think the Churches will give up? Somehow I doubt it.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Film: 'Invictus' - impressive

Didn't expect to like this film as much as I did, having a dislike of films which feature any sport in a major way. Furthermore rugby, like cricket, leaves me cold and bored. (I still don't know what on earth they're trying to do in both sports, and have never had the inclination to find out.) But as it transpired, I thought 'Invictus' was a very good film. It would be churlish to complain that Morgan Freeman was only a visual approximation of the deservedly iconic Nelson Mandela, but he did get the voice uncannily close, I thought. Then there was also the beefed-up Matt Damon, someone whose looks haven't done much for me in the past, but in this film looking the best he ever has, at least in my opinion. The (very) rough-and-tumble of the rugby games was exceedingly well shot, even majestically, though that was helped by having sequences in slo-mo. Nevertheless it was certainly moving, my emotions having been kick-started by hearing the South African national anthem which, with the Russian and French, being the only such anthems that can bring tears to my eyes.
But our Clint does it again! I don't think he's ever made a duff film, certainly not as director. Even as actor he's always been a compelling presence. I remember seeing him as Rowdy Yates in the old black-and-white 'Rawhide' TV series long before he first he appeared on film in the 'man-with-no-name' trilogy. (We'll gloss over his almost wordless supporting-actor role in 'Where Eagles Dare' though at the time the film was a romping good boys-own adventure yarn. Btw. I only recently learned that it was Eastwood himself who suggested pruning his scripted dialogue in that role right back and to play his part mainly by facial expressions!) Then in the 70s came his first attempt at directing - and very accomplished it was too - for 'Play Misty For Me'. I've seen every one of his films on the big screen (with the sole exception of 'Million Dollar Baby' - Sport again!) and all of them can justifiably be described as 'significant' (rather like all Scorsese's film are too). I know that Eastwood can't be far off from retiring now, but whenever he does, for me it will still be too soon. But as for 'Invictus' - do see!

Monday 15 February 2010

Film: 'A Single Man' - BIG Disappointment

Had been really looking forward to seeing this film - but what a let-down it was. Talk about being ponderous and leaden! (It grieves me to say this as the director, Tom Ford sporting a beard, is such a hottie!) Although there have been reservations with the critics here about the film itself, they have been unanimous in saying that Colin Firth, as the titular gay man who had lost his lover through a car accident some months earlier, gives the performance of his career. Indeed he is nominated as 'Best Actor, for both the BAFTAs in London and the ensuing Oscars. I'm not going to argue with that though I do wish this film had been a more worthy vehicle. Is it just me? On the IMDb site I see that over 75% of voters have awarded the film a mark of 8/10 or over, with nearly a quarter giving it a perfect 10. That's ridiculous. I've yet to see a film in my entire life worthy of a faultless maximum score. In fact in my books there just have been only a handful of 9s - ever. So I have, maybe over-generously, given 'A Single Man' a 5/10, as have a surprisingly mere 2% of others. I couldn't honestly recommend the film - but the emphasis is on the 'I'.
Btw. Maybe one day there'll be an out-gay actor who is nominated, or perhaps awarded, or even just known, for playing a hetero character? I say 'out-gay' just in case ;-) there could possibly be others who were closet-gay (leaving a certain R. Hudson aside). But that is so unlikely, right?

Friday 12 February 2010

If only there were more hours in the day......

I certainly don't intend to die for a long, long time but as one ages one is ever more conscious that there's so much to be done and experienced while all the while the final time-boundary approaches. In my case it's to do with the particular arts I like - reading, music and cinema. As at now there's over 40 books I have here which are yet to be read, in addition to the numerous re-reads I've marked out. I keep passing a charity shop where second-hand paperbacks are on display on racks outside at dirt-cheap prices. Can't help myself buying - I'm addicted. Then just today I received an ordered box set of the complete Puccini operas on CD - while I'm still trying to get through, for a second time, boxed sets of the complete works of Bach, of Mozart and all the Haydn symphonies (106 in this set). Then in the coming week alone I want to - sorry, ought to - go to the cinema to see 'Precious', 'Invictus', 'A Single Man', and 'Ponyo'. While we're stuck with 24 hour-days a desirable alternative would be to sleep less at night but I've always needed more than average, more than likely because my brain is ever-active and there's so much 'clutter' in there. And somehow among all that I've still got to find time to ogle at men on the computer screen as a second-best to seeing them in real life. Oh, the troubles of human existence - it's exhausting!

Monday 8 February 2010

Noel Coward - 'The Master'

Getting enormous pleasure reading a biography of Noel Coward (1899-1973) - surely a 'one-off' in British cultural history if ever there was one. Can't think of another person being so multi-talented in so many fields - composer/lyricist, writer (of novels, short stories, factual articles), playwright - of works, both serious ('The Vortex' written in his twenties featuring drug-addiction still has power to shock) and light 'frothy' comedies (Hay Fever, Private Lives, Blithe Spirit etc), serious actor of both stage and film, director - and, of course, raconteur par excellence. Some of his critics maintain that although he did dabble in so many creative areas he never produced a really undoubted masterpiece in any of them. I think that's unfair. His plays alone stand up today despite being very much products of their time, set almost exclusively within an upper-class milieu which, with a less skilled writer, could look very dated and irrelevant - but the wit is still undoubtedly there, and effectively so.
One can fully understand why he always strived to keep his sexuality private at a time when all gay acts in all circumstances were illegal, despite his wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including politicians (Churchill, among them) and royalty (especially the late Queen Mother and Princess Margaret) knowing, so one has to read between the lines when words like 'companion' and 'close friend' are employed.

There are so many delicious stories of his repartee one could mention. One of my own favourites is from the early 1950s when he and a friend were emerging up the steps from a London Underground station and were confronted by a large poster advertising a newly-released film - "MICHAEL REDGRAVE, DIRK BOGARDE - 'THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM!" . Coward stopped, looked up quizzically at the poster, and then, in his inimitable clipped voice - "I don't see why not. Everybody else has!"

His verdict on seeing the opening production of the stage musical 'Camelot' - "Parsifal - without the jokes."
(Note: I had originally written 'Gotterdammerung' here but my memory has since corrected me. Like all Wagner's operas, 'Parsifal' is ultra-serious, with the appropriate parallel of being, like 'Camelot', based on legend, in this case the search for the Holy Grail - long, long before the Monty Python team got its hands on it ;-) !

After seeing 'Blitz', the stage musical by (gay) Lionel Bart (who also wrote 'Oliver!'), set in London's East End during the Second World War - "As long as the real thing and twice as loud!"

On seeing musical stage version of 'Gone With The Wind' - "Would be vastly improved by two cuts - to the second act and to the little girl's throat!" (That 'little girl' being the character of Bonnie, child of Scarlett/Rhett, played on the London stage by the then insufferable child actress Bonnie[!] Langford.)

After being told by a newspaper critic, who had just lambasted his latest play, that he acted much better than he wrote, Coward's reply - "How odd. I'm always saying the same about you!"

It's interesting that when the first of the James Bond films, 'Doctor No', was being planned, Ian Fleming wanted Coward in the role of the megalomaniac Doctor. (Coward and Fleming had neighbouring homes in Jamaica). Coward's reaction - "Doctor No? NO NO NO!" Although the virtually unknown Joseph Wiseman was quite acceptable in the eventual role I do think that Coward would have been a better choice had he been willing. He would have brought the necessary disdain and menace that the character in the book displays, albeit in the film being on screen for only a few minutes with just the one extended scene.
I regret not having appreciated the man when he was still alive, despite the fact that even by the 1950s he was being regarded as out-dated, though in the following decade there was actually a re-surgence of interest and re-appreciation of him both here and in the U.S.A. which must have been very satisfying for him.

As I said, I can't think of anyone else who covered such a wide gamut of cultural creativity, certainly not in Britain. I wonder if there is or has been a similar multi-gifted person in America - or anywhere else for that matter. I'd be interested to hear of suggestions.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Tony Blair's wife, as judge - spares man prison because he is 'religious'!!

I'm seething inside. News just out that Cherie Booth, Roman Catholic wife of Tony Blair (who has himself now converted), acting in her capacity as judge, has told a man who broke another man's jaw during an altercation in a queue, that she would not be sending him to prison because he is 'religious' (he had just visited a mosque) and that being so, he knows that such behaviour is unacceptable. Great - So that's all right then! The National Secular Society is quite rightly filing a complaint against her on grounds of her practicing discrimination. Can only hope she gets rebuked, but in this land where religion, most religions, still calls the shots, I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Nope to the Pope

Just signed an online petition by the National Secular Society objecting to the £20 million estimated cost of the Pope's proposed visit here, expected in September, to be funded by the British taxpayer generally, rather than by the Roman Catholic Church itself and members thereof. His proposed visit has suddenly become even more contentious as he's just been mouthing off about our country's 'unjust' laws (currently being heatedly debated in Parliament - Disgraceful update: See my comment below) which will prohibit churches from refusing to employ someone because s/he is homosexual or transexual. He says this move should be fought with 'missionary zeal'. I've heard of foreign leaders and governments criticising other country's discriminatory laws but to find someone calling for more discrimination against a particular group really takes the biscuit. Large demonstrations being planned not just by secularists and gays but also by pro-abortionists, victims of paedophile priests and others. Should be fun.