|Courtesy of Sabah Songs blog|
Friday, May 18, 2018
I remember feeling somewhat disappointed in the movie, which also stars Hugh Grant as her husband, and Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon, the pianist who accompanied her in her later years.
Not only do we discover that her husband, adoring of her, and deeply in love with her, also had an apartment (paid for by Jenkins) where he kept his 'girlfriend.' In fact, he and Jenkins were never officially married: Jenkins may not have been divorced from her first husband, the one who gave her syphilis.
A number of things in the movie are based on fact, but equally there are curious distortions. Hugh Grant's character, St Clair Bayfield, is seen as a failed and fairly amateur actor. In fact, he had a long career in the theatre, and was plainly able to act much better than is shown in the movie.
It's hinted fairly strongly in the movie that McMoon is gay, though this may not have been the case. Helberg camps the character up with constant simpers, quirky looks, and a generally effeminate air. I much preferred the down-to-earth version of Cosmé that appeared in the theatre production.
Meryl Streep, as always, is brilliant, performing the awful singing with ease (presuming it is her voice, as Helberg seems to indicate in an interview), and she creates a character who is seemingly unaware of her awfulness while being wonderfully generous to those around her - and plainly needing all the love that she can get.
In the last week we also watched The Imitation Game, supposedly a story about Alan Turing and the breaking of the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park, and supposedly based on true events. Yes, there are a few true things scattered about, some actual persons portrayed, but for the most part this is a script based on the idea that it's good to wrap propaganda up in dramatic form, using fine actors to play the main parts and then forget about whether it actually connects with substantiated history.
Thus Turing's difference (both his homosexuality and his genius) is made a basis for a theme about not bullying people who are different (though Turing is portrayed as even more of an arrogant bully in some scenes, as a man with no regard for the concerns of others). The feminist angle comes in by warping the history of highly skilled person, Joan Clarke, proving, for the feminists, that women can be just as clever as men. In fact more clever, because she solves the crossword in six minutes instead of the required eight. The fact that she was already at Bletchley before Turing arrived is ignored.
(The same sort of approach was taken with Hidden Figures in which the black women were treated in the movie as astonishing the male characters - all white, of course. This doesn't align with the facts that appear in the book the movie was made from. But it pleased the female audiences, who cheered at the men being 'put in their place' when we saw it at the movies.)
Cumberbatch adds another of his people-don't-understand-me performances to his CV (it's frequently on a par with his arrogant Sherlock Holmes) and while it's been highly regarded in some circles, he presents a character who isn't any easier to warm to than Holmes was. Quite honestly, when Keira Knightly slaps him, you think, About time.
Monday, May 07, 2018
|The Mornington Brass Band which became the|
St Kilda Brass Band in 1912.
(I've played for its soloists on a number of occasions)
Thursday, May 03, 2018
The first mention of writing comes on the 18th of April, 1989, the day after that initial typewritten diary began. It's interesting that it also discusses ideas. Whereas in yesterday's post, the extract was lamenting a lack of ideas, at this point - when I was still doing the Writing Course - I seemed to have an abundance of them!
As I mentioned in a previous post, there's money available in writing for small magazines - and less competition from more established writers. I usually profiled some person with a disability (I was actually warned off calling them 'disabled people' at one point, though not by the editor) and met a number of interesting people as a result. It wasn't hard to find candidates for the profiles, and almost every interview I did turned into an article.
In fact, there are still a number of magazines relating to disability being published in New Zealand, which means, presumably, there are plenty being published elsewhere. This online page gives a list of them. It may be out of date - NZ Disabled had changed its name to Without Limits by the time this page appeared, and the link shows that under that title it didn't last long. But careful research through your local library will enable you to find a number of smaller magazines that can be approached with articles.
If you're just starting out, this is a great way to get experience.
Wednesday, May 02, 2018
|Courtesy of Danny Steaven|
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
Much of the stuff, of course, is private family material, but in 1989 I'd been unemployed for six months, and had started doing a writing course by correspondence. (My father, Frank Crowl, used to play chess by correspondence.)
By 1990 I was well through the writing course and between being father of a family with five children and working as a manager of a bookshop, I found time to write articles and the occasional short story. Most of the articles got published, because I'd been advised to aim not only for the major New Zealand magazines but for the small ones: trade mags and special interest magazines. The latter proved to be the place that was happy to publish my work. More on that in later posts.
Anyway, scattered with varying degrees of frequency throughout the diary are references to my writing joys and woes. I thought these would be of interest on this blog, and have decided to include posts with extracts from the diary as and when I can. I'll keep an index of these on the blog for reference.
Here's a brief opener from the 6th of January, 1990.
I'm not sure that I took my advice about doing writing exercises as seriously as I should have, subsequently, but I do recommend this all the same. There are other ways to do exercises, of course. Blog posts are a great writing exercise, as are typing notes galore for the children's book I'm currently writing. In fact, anything that gets you putting down words on the page/computer is worth doing, even if those particular words aren't ever used as part of something publishable.
I have an interesting book called The Exercise Book which lays out dozens of ideas for exercises, some of which various people have turned into poems, stories, books. The book is by Bill Manhire and others. Manhire is one of New Zealand's literati, and a creative writing teacher. Don't let that put you off. The exercises are the thing, along with the stimulation of approaching writing in a different way.
See also an earlier blog post from 2014, in which I mention Peter Elbow and Anne Lamott, both of whom saw first drafts and writing even without any aim in mind as of great value.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Here it is:
A group of heroes work in our city show conditions would make most wharfies pale. I'm talking about music teachers.
And I speak from experience - for a few years I taught piano from three till whenever, after spending a frenetic morning as a postie. I must have been mad.
Utter dedication is required of anyone who decides to take on this job as a permanent career. (I didn't.) The frustrations from pupils who don't work combined with the frustrations from those who do work but will never play anything with the slightest hint of musicality, have to be experienced to be believed.
One in a hundred pupils may have the spark of musical life in them; the sort of spark that makes you think they may achieve something. The other 99, however earnest they may be, will fall by the wayside, and during their mid-life crises will gloomily say, 'I wish I'd carried on playing the piano.'
Or worse, 'Why didn't Mummy and Daddy make me practise?' Have you ever tried to make a child practise? Their attention manages to be focused on everything but the keyboard.
I recommend the 1953 fantasy movie, The 5000 Fingers of Dr T, to anyone who doesn't know what I mean.
Music teachers sit for hours in the same room, often seeing only an endless stream of children. It's like being a solo parent. The occasional adult pupil may or may not be a bonus, depending on their reason for learning.
When everybody else is out socialising in the evening, music teachers are teaching. When other people are having a leisurely meal at home with their family (something we still haven't achieved - the leisurely part, I mean), music teachers are teaching.
When other teachers are enjoying up to eight weeks' paid holiday per annum, music teachers are forced to spend those same weeks unemployed, eking out the income they've earned during the rest of the year.
And in spite of using new material as it appears, the basic details of what they teach hasn't changed much in decades: there is no New Music to go alongside New Maths. Scales are scales are scales. They have to be learned. However much most pupils may dislike them, (I used to enjoy them actually, but then I'm a bit unusual), no musician worth his salt can afford not to learn them.
I write with a sense of awe to think that one of my former music teachers has been teaching for nearly 60 years.
Originally she lived and taught in Sawyers Bay. She commuted to Port Chalmers to teach as well, but being without a car (of course), she had to walk. Usually it only took half an hour. It took somewhat longer in the Big Snow.
Later she rented rooms in town, and still later, during the war, had a room in the Glenpark Presbyterian Hall. When she calls it the 'dug-out' or 'dungeon', you have a pretty good idea of what it was like.
Mice were frequent visitors. Boy pupils had to empty the mousetraps, to their disgust. (I'm pleased to say I was still a twinkle in my father's eye when the war was on.)
By the time I was her pupil, she lived in a pleasant house in Mornington. The comfortable music room was built over the garage; moving the two pianos up there must have been a nightmare.
Sounds like music teaching pays after all, I hear you say. Well, maybe it does, if you're prepared to put in endless hours of dedicated and concentrated work, you only contact with the outside world being your pupils.
So all hail to music teachers - they never go on strike. Many workers who do hardly know they're born.
A few notes: The teacher's name was Olive Perry. She never married, and her mother lived with her until she died. Olive herself has been dead for a number of years. Her house was actually in Maryhill, only two minutes walk away from where I now live.
The Glenpark Presbyterian Hall was replaced at good while ago, perhaps fifty years. The new one has no dungeon, and probably fewer mice.
At least one of the two pianos in that upstairs room was a grand.
A short letter to the Editor was attached to the clipping. Unfortunately there's no indication as to who wrote it.
In his column today, Mike Crowl has some nice things to say about music teachers and some less kind things to say about the job itself. Perhaps it's not really so bad. The one thing I've noticed over the years is how many music teachers keep on going to a ripe old age, many well into their 80s. Is it a 'soft' lifestyle that allows this, or is it the daily challenge of taking each of their pupils just one stage further that keeps them alert and active?
The pianist who gave me these two clippings commented that she has been teaching for nearly 70 years. Another teacher in the city, a man, has only recently retired: he's in his early 90s. Miss Perry herself certainly taught for a long time.
I wrote Column 8 for around five years in the early nineties.
Wednesday, March 07, 2018
I happened to hear an interview (more like a friendly discussion) with him on the Concert programme today. Apparently he turned 50 recently - except that his birthday is on the 29th February, so he's strictly speaking only twelve and a half. He made the comment that in a couple of years (I think it was) he'll be thirteen. 'Gareth Farr the teenager!' he cried.
Farr's relatively new Cello Concerto (from May 2017) was mentioned, and I was pleased - and surprised - to see a video of the piece's premiere performance online at the Publisher's website. I'm listening to it as I write, and after its wonderful, slow, eerie opening - repeated three times - it moves into Farr's usual energetic approach, as well as more lyrical sections. And of course there's lots of percussion.
Sébastien Hurtaud is the soloist. His facial expressions while playing remind of those of Stjepan Hauser, who's one half of 2Cellos. Hurtaud isn't quite so manic though...which is probably a good thing!
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
The theatre should have been full: this is a wonderful movie about Vincent van Gogh. It's not the greatest movie of all time - the script is a little undercooked. It's probably not even the greatest animated movie of all time, but it has a certain unique quality that sets it apart.
If you don't already know, the movie was shot with live actors in front of a green screen. There are a number of well-known faces in the cast, such as Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory and Chris O'Dowd. Intriguingly they all speak with British accents rather than French or European ones, so that we hear Irish and Cockney amongst others. This takes a little getting used to, but it works.
Once the live action was shot, paintings by van Gogh were 'composited' into the background and the film was edited as normal. Then each frame was projected onto a blank canvas, and one of some 125 hundred artists painted - in oils - over the projection, using the techniques Van Gogh himself would have used.
The result is a movie rich in colour, with real depth and texture. None of the artists had worked on an animated movie before, so they brought a different sense of colour and animation to the screen.
Initially, the eye is almost overwhelmed with the movement - clouds never stay still, trees continually reform their leaves, even people's hair moves from frame to frame. It's a little disorientating. And it's wonderful seeing so many of Van Gogh's paintings coming to life during the course of the movie.
The story is more straightforward, almost a detective story. Armand Roulin, the son of the postmaster who was a friend of van Gogh (both of them appear in well-known van Gogh portraits), has been charged with delivering a one-year-old letter that Vincent had sent to his brother, Theo. It had gone astray. During the course of trying to get the letter to its rightful home, Armand discovers that things were not entirely as they seemed in relation to Vincent's death. Being impetuous, he often jumps to conclusions, and he's led astray by the variances in the stories people tell him about Vincent's last hours.
The audience is also led astray: one minute feeling that new revelations about Vincent's death have come to light, the next finding that another character contradicts what we've heard. It leaves the viewer with a kind of emotional confusion, and an increasing sadness at the shortness of Vincent's life, and the reasons behind his death.
I found the movie very moving for reasons I couldn't put my finger on. The reason for that doesn't matter. Both my wife and I were overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of it.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
There's a theory that when there's lot of action you should take your time over it, writing more rather than less. And I think this is useful. Most readers will have noted how, when the climax of a story is coming, the author gives more and more detail, expanding the big moment, even though it may in real terms all be over in a couple of seconds.
I'm in the middle of the draft of my fourth children's fantasy. It doesn't have a name at this point, so it's just book four. It picks up some leading characters from the other three books and throws them together in a new story, but one that hopefully connects back to the earlier books.
I've got a note to myself that in the climax of one chapter, where a villain is (probably temporarily) dealt with, that I need to fill this out more. Everything is over for the villain in a couple of sentences.
But today I've been trying to write a small fight scene, where the three main characters overcome three people on the opposite team, as it were. They can do it, but getting it all down on paper has required considerable writing and rewriting - even though this is still only the first real draft of the book. I don't want to skimp at this point because it's likely that what happens here will affect later scenes.
Who does what to who at which point, and who gets in first, and how do the baddies retaliate, and so on, all have to be taken into account. If I'm not careful the baddies could easily end up winning the scene!
|Grimhilda intends to shoot Toby, |
but his father stands in the way.
Photo by Ian Thomson
When I'm writing a book I'm not only the scriptwriter, but the director as well. This has its advantages, but it means you've got to careful to keep things tight as well as clear. You can't give one of your characters the upper hand by extending out how long they have to win when the rest of the characters have much less time. (Though you do see this done in the movies all the time.)
While your readers may be so excited at the fight itself they'll allow you as the author to get away with certain inconsistencies, I think it's valuable to know that if they fight was staged for real, it would work. Just one of those little disciplines we writers have to live with!
Child, to my surprise, writes with a real 'seat of the pants' approach. He starts writing with an idea in his head, and stops when he doesn't know what to do next. He never writes a second draft. The first draft is it. With Make Me he wrote 500 words and stopped for several days. But the thing was, within those first 500 words were the seeds of the rest of the book, only he didn't know at the beginning how all those seeds would come to fruition. He didn't even understand what his characters were actually doing, or who the person was that had just been killed.
There are plenty of seat of the pants writers around; most of them write a quick first draft and then go back and revise and revise, often producing several more drafts, usually with substantial changes in them. I've never heard of any other writers who work to Child's method - unless of course you count 19th writers like Dickens and Trollope, who seemed to start at the beginning and write until they were finished. (Trollope supposedly could write 'The End' to one book, and then go straight on into chapter one of the next.) But Child's refusal to rewrite anything is more unusual for modern writers, I suspect.
The other difference in his approach is his refusal to hurry. If he doesn't know what happens next, he waits, waits until he can see how things will develop. So in a sense a lot of his writing obviously goes on inside his head while he's doing other things - and this book gives the impression that he does quite a lot of other things.
I need to put things down in order to be able to think. What I put down may seem dislocated and shapeless, especially when it's in note form. I don't regard these notes as planning the novel structurally, by the way, and anyway, they often arise after I've started to write the first draft, especially when I've got stuck. But those notes usually spark off the next stage of writing.
Unlike Child, I'm not good at 'writing' in my head.
Thursday, January 11, 2018