Thursday, December 31, 2009
I keep a list of the books I've read through the year, and one that's just going to sneak into the list before 2010 comes along I picked up yesterday for $2 in a secondhand bookshop a few doors away from where I work. It was a kind of serendipity acquisition - the book was probably in the bargain bin because the shopowner thought no one would want it at any higher price. I thought it was a great find, and having read it since lunchtime yesterday, and finished it this evening, have had that confirmed.
The book is by Arthur Miller, the playwright, and is entitled, Salesman in Beijing. I always enjoy books that relate to the making of a play or a movie (for instance I have books on the making of Titanic, Sense and Sensibility and Casablanca, and one interesting one on the making of The Glass Menagerie, a film directed by Paul Newman, and starring his wife, Joanne Woodward, and John Malkovich)
Miller's book is a day-by-day account of the production of Death of a Salesman that he was asked to direct in Beijing in 1983. This was only six years before the tragedy of Tiananmen Square and it's not hard to see how such a disaster could be so close at hand when you read this book. The people in China were coming out of the long years of Mao's reign - and that of his viciously ignorant wife - but things were still in a great deal of transition, and no one knew quite where they stood. Intellectuals (a category that included artists of all sorts) had been treated not just with great disdain during the period of the Cultural Revolution, but were often subjected to unspeakable horrors (there's a brief story in this book of a woman imprisoned in a cupboard for two and a half years, with no means to go to the toilet, and the threat of having her children executed. I remember seeing From Mao to Mozart a number of years ago. It was filmed in 1981 and in it a professor of music tells of having the same thing done to him: the cupboard became his 'home' for a similar period of time. Isaac Stern, who is the focus of the movie, listens in bewildered silence.)
The actors who became the cast of Miller's production had also been subject to privations: made to work at menial tasks such as being sent to the country to pick rice. Ironically, because they were part of a state company, they were also paid their normal wages during this time - not that those wages were anything to write home about. The main female actress had only managed to keep her daughter from being raped by hiding her under a blanket. All through the book is this strange twenty-year history just behind these people, a history none of them have quite come to terms with yet.
Miller speaks no Chinese (although his artist wife speaks it very well, along with several European languages) and has to work mostly through interpreters. The main male actor speaks very good English and was one of the people who got the production off the ground. But language isn't the only barrier: Miller sees the play itself, initially, as primarily American in tone and nature and not adaptable to a Chinese environment, in spite of an excellent translation by the actor just mentioned. However, as the rehearsal period progresses, Miller comes to see that the universal aspects of the play far outweigh the American ones, and his biggest difficulty is in getting the cast to work naturally. At this point in their theatrical history there are lots of grand gestures, a lot of playing to the audience, many signs and signals and other paraphernalia that get in the way of a straightforward playing of the piece. Once the cast grasp this, the performances become as good as any Miller has ever seen.
There are other frustrations: the Chinese are used to making themselves up heavily for performances - Miller has to discourage this. They would usually all wear wigs; again he has to find a way around showing them that these aren't, for the most part, necessary. He has to search his brain for Chinese stories to help them interpret the script. The lighting system is so antiquated it can only have so many cues before a blackout is necessary. The sound system consists of one elderly tape recorder. Many of the costumes have to be worked out from photographs in American magazines. Some of the props required are of objects that the Chinese don't even recognise; and some of them are made out of papier mache - including a fridge that is so well constructed and painted that it's not obvious to the audience that it could be picked up with one hand. Everywhere in the corridors of the theatre you can smell the ammoniac stench of urine, and the theatre itself, a large place seating 1300 people, has seating whose fittings are so worn that when a seat is put down the noise is like a pistol shot.
All these difficulties are somehow overcome - the actors and the backstage people may seem to exist on a different planet, but they know their stuff, and when push comes to shove, they produce the goods. Miller is often humbled by the odds they overcome.
A couple of quotes from right towards the end of the book to finish:
When I visit the dressing rooms, where they are getting into makeup, the behaviour of the actors reminds me again of the replication of human life that a production represents. The actor begins in helpless dependency, gradually grows up to feel strength, often rebels against the director/author, and finally in maturity faces the world as though he had invented himself. Where once they loved me like a parent, now they can't help overdoing gestures of affection to their onetime leader, for whom they have no real need anymore. The hairdo's the thing now, the eyebrow, the necktie, the fingernail, and the teeth. Now I am rather in the position of a beloved aunt who taught them as children to play the piano; they are overjoyed to see me, and to see me go. [page 246]
The art of acting is the mastery of a contradiction: its object is to place the actor in 'the now,' the moment, but at the same time he has to be planning his next move, building his climaxes with modulations of voice and emotional intensity. By virtue of training and temperament the Chinese actor creates feeling by acknowledging his debt to his objectifying techniques. He does not 'throw himself into the part' but builds a performance by pieces of knowledge, as it were, of story, character, and specific circumstances. [page 251]
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
As far as I know there's been no insurance taken out by the average parent to cover the loss of their children's adult teeth. Yet this is something most of us experience as some point. You could have partial cover (just the wisdom teeth), or cover for those ones that are most annoying when lost (the molars, or the grinders), or full cover for losing the lot.
Well, be that as it may, in the future there's a possibility that if/when you lose your teeth, you'll be able to grow them again. Yes, you read that right. In The Guardian online this week, Paul Sample writes: "Instead of false teeth, a small ball of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing one used to be."
"The procedure is fairly simple. Doctors take stem cells from the patient. These are unique in their ability to form any of the tissues that make up the body. By carefully nurturing the stem cells in a laboratory, scientists can nudge the cells down a path that will make them grow into a tooth. After a couple of weeks, the ball of cells, known as a bud, is ready to be implanted. Tests reveal what type of tooth - for example, a molar or an incisor - the bud will form."
Of course it's all going to be too late (and no doubt too expensive) for me. But it will be great for all those people who discover that the wisdom teeth they'd spent so long growing have to come out because they just don't fit. (What was God thinking of?)
And since I've been reminded about this just now - the piece is playing on the radio - does anyone else think that Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade music is one of the most boring in the musical canon, with its constant use of the same 'rolling sea' phrase? It must be tedious to perform. Even its better parts are repeated and repeated....and repeated.
I've just been reading an interesting (and long) blog post by Kevin Kelly (cartoon at right) called 1000 True Fans. I was alerted to it by Seth Godin a few days ago. The Kelly post is actually more than a year old, but suddenly seems to have taken on new life, possibly because Godin 'advertised' on his blog.
Anyway what Kelly has to say is that those artists who are probably never going to make it big-time -or perhaps don't even have the inclination to do so - may, however become well enough known by focusing their attention on 1,000 'true fans.' (Plainly 1,000 is a round number and doesn't have to be adhered to.) Not only will these fans support them financially, but they will keep the artist in a manner which allows him or her to work solely at their art, rather than trying to hold down a day job as well.
These true fans don't have to spend up large to keep the artist going; they may spend only a $100 a year. But that figure by 1,000 adds up to a reasonable sum - in fact most artists probably wouldn't need as much as that to survive comfortably (or to pay their low cost health insurance.)
As I said, the post is long, and there are two subsequent posts that offer further thought on the subject. It's not an original idea from Kelly - he tells us about others who've discussed the possibility before - but he pulls the thing together.
I found one other thing on Kelly's site which I thought was worth sharing. Just when you thought you knew everything about the World Wide Web (does anyone call it that anymore?) here's a different take on it...
Sunday, December 27, 2009
This is a Holmes so at odds with our usual movie concept of him (and of Watson) that you have to change your thinking about the characters. I've just been reading the Christianity Today review which points out that the two characters as played here are actually much more like the original Conan Doyle protagonists than the way they've been portrayed in many other movies.
Russ Breimeier notes:
Doyle describes [Holmes] as "eccentric" and "bohemian"—both perfectly describe this new portrayal. In one scene, Holmes seems to use a hallucinatory drug to gain insight into his enemy's plan—also consistent with Doyle's depiction.
Watson here also differs from his traditional Hollywood portrayal. Doyle's stories never depicted him as the portly, befuddled sidekick; he's originally described as a veteran of the Afghan war, thin, strong, and packing a revolver. Yes, he's a foil to Holmes' intellect, but more as an intelligent everyman for the detective to play off, not merely for comic relief....
Well, there you go. I knew Holmes had an eccentricity about him, but wouldn't have thought of him as the 'wild man' Downey portrays here. Watson is certainly contrary to any previous depiction - his limp comes and goes (I wasn't sure whether it was due to his career as a soldier or the innumerable fights he gets into during the movie), and while I knew the names of Lestrade, Hudson and Baker St from the back of my trivia-filled brain, I'd never heard of Irene Adler or Mary Marstan.
So that rather undercuts some of what I was going to say about the movie. Holmes may be closer to Doyle's version after all - though he never gets to play the violin in this movie. He plucks at it in a seemingly absentminded way, but never goes into full flight - there's not even a bow in sight (though given the absolute clutter in his flat that's hardly surprising).
Taking the movie, therefore, on its merits we have the following:
- a solid storyline (we don't get the explanations of several features until almost the end)
- frequently frantic pace
- banter along the lines of many other Hollywood male partnerships (think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
- superb renditions of a period London done in incredible detail (presumably with the help of considerable CGI)
- heart-thumping music by Hans Zimmer (we were right beside one of the speakers and the violinists' bows were almost whipping our ears off)
- excellent cinematography by Philippe Rousselot (read the list of his credits and you'll have an idea of his style) in which the camera sits still only when necessary
- an almost method-acting approach to Holmes by Robert Downey Jnr, which just manages to avoid the absurd
- an intriguing storytelling approach by Guy Ritchie in which we are sometimes see the action before it happens, sometimes have a few moments of flashback to bring us up to speed, and all the time have to rely our wits to keep up with the manic way films are made these days - no wonder we think older movies are slow.
Put your preconceptions about the characters aside, and you'll enjoy this thoroughly.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
It may be a little over the top, but at least it's a review. It was sent to the editor at the Otago Daily Times, but they offered no comment just as they offered no review of the play when it was on.
Review of THE CHRISTMAS CAROL Production:
"Laughter and Tears"
Review of THE CHRISTMAS CAROL Production:
"Laughter and Tears"
Thanks to the actor Scrooge and his Contemporaries, I feel Richer indeed! The CHRISTMAS CAROL performed in the setting of the illustrious Mayfair Theatre (a Dunedin Treasure which deserves tender loving care) was "Bruuullient".
The Talented line-up of actors which included well known professionals, performing-arts students and children, drew you into the scene in such an animated way (like live performance can) that at times I had to remind myself I wasn't actually there in Scrooge’s Lounge. The humorous old Spinsters, the choreography of the little Dances in contrast to old Scrooge’s brooding moods, was up-lifting! The costumes and Set were a Dicksonian [Dickensian, perhaps!] Treat, the special effects around the Spirits, were moving, but I wish everyone could experience the EMOTIONS that were stirred through the acting; laughter, Love, tears and relief which gave an all over refreshing 'in-touch with reality' and reminder of what is important in this stressful pre-Christmas season.
What was even more surprising, even though the Saturday Night show was only $20, all profit proceeds from the week-long production were going to Habitat for Humanity.
Thank-you to all those lovely people that gave their time to the charming event, may they themselves be blessed. Cheers to Bert the lead role, and Liz Nisbet the courageous Director! It was no Amateur performance!
Came across a book at the library the other day called, Don't Swallow Your Gum! - myths, half-truths and outright lies about your body and health. It's by Aaron Carroll and Rachel Vreeman.
It's basically disputing a number of the commonly-held 'beliefs' about things many of us now take for granted as being true, or have had foisted upon us by the health community. One that I was particularly pleased to see downgraded from medical 'truth' to basic twaddle was the idea that you should drink eight glasses of water each day. This has been hammered home for a couple of decades now, but has no basis in fact at all. The authors give reasons for all their conclusions, which are too detailed to go into here, but frequently ideas such as this come out of a small piece of study, or an article, or even from urban mythology, and take hold. You will not get dehydrated if you fail to sip water constantly; furthermore, too much water in your system is actually bad for you!
So all those who carry water-bottles from A to B and back again - forget it. You can blame the bottled water industry for much of this myth.
'You only use ten percent of your brain' gets the works - it's twaddle. 'Your urine should be almost clear' is untrue (it's quite normal for it to vary from yellow to clear - though obviously constant dark brown or darker is worth mentioning to the doctor). 'Men think about sex every seven seconds' - I've never heard it being reckoned as quite so frequently, but whatever the supposed frequency is, it's untrue. As the authors point out, if men thought about sex as often as they're supposed to, they'd never get anything else done in life, such as building bridges, making road, putting up houses, writing books, making movies, composing symphones and painting Sistine Chapels.
There's a great deal more, but these were the particular ones that appealed to me.
PS Just came across another review of this book - seemingly in Chinglish
Friday, December 25, 2009
These days if a writer starts to tell me (without any evidence) that something evolved in such and such a way - and particularly if they introduce this without any necessity - I stop reading, or switch off. Evolution has become the catch-all approach to science, and is basically so nonsensical in the way much of it is used that I just can't be bothered to follow these sorts of 'arguments' through.
You could say that my own 'bias' is showing here, and that I should 'inform' myself by reading things that I don't agree with. I do, if there's a good reason to do so, but when someone supposedly claims things happened by evolution and does it without anything to back up the statement, I know I'm in the presence of a writer who hasn't really thought through the implications of what they saying.
And in case you think that my bias is showing and that I should read things I don't agree with in order to be more informed, check out Dr Cornelius Hunter on the same subject. I quote:
...evolutionists have a seemingly never ending list of mechanisms they use to explain everything in between. Whatever we find in biology, evolutionists say it must have evolved. Their predictions and expectations are often falsified and they have to patch their theory repeatedly. And there is no distinction between a new, fantastic design and a repeated design--both are equiprobable under evolution.
If a new, fantastic design appears such as the trilobite eye, then evolutionists ascribe it to natural selection. If similar designs are found in different species, then it is ascribed to common descent. If later cousin species are found to lack the design, then common descent can be dropped as an explanation and the design can be said to have evolved independently. The evolutionary explanation is extremely flexible.
More on Cornelius Hunter here.
Monday, December 21, 2009
I first came across these panels at the Hocken library (here in Dunedin) when it was still within the University compound and not at its current ex-cheese factory site. They're typical of McCahon's 'written' art works - the words scrawled over the canvas without any obvious style, and the background painted in various gloomy colours. They're interesting, rather than masterworks, in my (humble) opinion, but because they've got the name 'McCahon' on them, they are highly rated.
The other good thing about yesterday, besides the visit of my wife's brother (and his wife) - the first time my wife and her brother had seen each other in forty years - was that I found that some of the old material that used to be on geocities is still hidden away on my computer, under 'oldharddrive', a place where it was put by an IT guy who increased the memory on the system and did some other work a couple of years ago. So this means I can begin using it elsewhere on the Net again.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
So, next time you're listening to someone telling you with great authority that this, that and the next happened a 1000 years ago, or a billion, consider taking it with a grain of salt.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Admittedly the middle section sags, and it's hard to credit that the three main characters would really spend so long in hiding doing nothing except arguing about how to find the Horcruxes. Rowling has the problem (she's set it herself) of covering the whole school year again, and this drags things out; it also means that a lot of people who don't appear in that middle section seem to have done nothing while waiting in the wings. However, the first and third parts of the book more than compensate for the trough in the middle, and Rowling has surprises galore up her sleeve. She even manages to interrupt the final battle section with a long flashback - and get away with it. Of course, it's vital stuff, and there was no way she could reveal her hand earlier.
There are deaths on every hand: adults and youngsters (many of them major characters) die in this book - along with Dobbie, the elf. And some of the deaths are particularly touching: when Fred - one of the Weasley twins - dies suddenly and without warning, it creates a huge emotional hole. There is chaos too, and there are scenes of great violence - even before the climatic battle. Luna Lovegood's house is virtually destroyed, as is the house belonging to the old woman, Bertha. Gringotts, the goblins' bank, suffers considerable damage when a dragon is let loose inside. And Hogswarts suffers tremendous damage at the end. This book is a long way in tone from the first in the series - though it surprisingly has more real humour in it than the sixth.
There are also many warmer scenes: Bill and Fleur's wedding is a prime example. Apart from the sagging in the middle of the book, Rowling's allowing herself plenty of room to tell the story shines up particularly in such sections. And her imagination seldom flags; we're constantly introduced to new pieces of wizardry. We're also given some breathtaking moments that are written with immense verve.
I found it intriguing that I remembered hardly anything of it except the fact that Fred died, that Molly Weasley dispatches Bellatrix, that the middle sagged (but I couldn't remember why) and that Neville Longbottom came into his own somehow at the end. Beyond that virtually nothing. I probably read it in an enormous rush (in my brother-in-law's house in England) and didn't absorb it much!
The Guardian newspaper has recently run a series called 'The people who ruined the decade.' Harry Potter is included, mostly because, the writer complains, there have a been a lot of 'wannabies' in the movie business supposedly imitating the series. However, The Chronicles Of Narnia, Lemony Snicket, The Golden Compass, The Spiderwick Chronicles are hardly imitations. The first Potter book came out in 1997 - Pullman's book is a couple of years older and Narnia is more than forty years older. Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events are roughly contemporaneous with Potter, and only the Spiderwick Chronicles is younger. Plainly the writer isn't a Potter fan. Too bad.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Once upon a time there was a man coming down a road in Dublin and he gave himself the name of Dedalus the sorcerer, constructor of labyrinths and maker of wings for Icarus who flew so close to the sun that he fell, as the apostolic Dubliner James Joyce would fall deep into a world of words — from the "epiphanies" of youth to the epistomadologies of later years.
James Joyce, poor joist, a funnominal man, supporting a gay house in a slum of despond. His name derived from the Latin and meant joy but at times he thought himself otherwise — a jejune Jesuit spurning Christ's terrene body, a lecher, a Christian brother in luxuriousness, a Joyce of all trades, a bullock-befriending bard, a peerless mummer, a priestified kinchite, a quill-frocked friar, a timoneer, a pool-beg flasher and a man with the gift of the Irish majuscule script."
Totally Joycean, though it could easily be read as a parody rather than a eulogy.
There seems a bit of confusion about O'Brien's birth date: in the Wikipedia entry, she's listed within a few lines as having been born in both 1930 and 1932 (!) The Encyclopaedia Britannica lists her birth date as 1930, but the Writer's Almanac says 1932. Either way she's a good deal older than she appears in the photo above.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I've quite often quoted or mentioned Seth Godin in this blog. He's an entrepreneurial kind of guy with a whiz of a brain and plenty of ideas - so many in fact that you could be excused for thinking he has too many. He's a bit like someone who's always throwing seeds around - virtually anywhere will do - and expecting that a good number of them will come up in the harvest. Sure some of them fall on rocky ground, some in poor soil, but there are so many going that at the end of the day you'll have something. (He'd probably argue with my analogy - he gives the impression of aiming to make his ideas hit the target every time.)
Sometimes he can be annoying in his blog posts; sometimes I think he's just plain wrong about what he's said (not often, mind you); sometimes he's not talking to me, and that's fine.
Anyway, all this is by way of introducing his latest 'book' - ebook, that is. It's called What Matters Now and you can download it. The book isn't by Godin himself, although he's had a big hand in it: it's written by some 60 or 70 authors who each contribute a page (a screenful, in other words) and who each take some word (parsing is the one I happen to be looking at just now) and reflect briefly on it, in all sorts of creative ways. Some of the pages are 'normal,' many are colourful - some are handwritten. Some are focused on marketing (Godin's speciality) most are not.
Much of what is here will be quoted in the future all around the Net; in fact, this book is already written about on blogs all over the place. This is just one more post to add to the mix.
Incidentally, can that photo be real? It's ubiquitous on the Net, but it has a slightly doctored look about it. Perhaps it's just making the most of the uniqueness of this particular face...
I'm loving the quotes that come through from artsharknet on Twitter. A couple of today's examples.
No degree of dullness can safeguard a work against the determination of critics to find it fascinating. Harold Rosenberg
Art is like an ill-trained Labrador retriever that drags you out into traffic - Annie Dillard.
The links to the two authors are to Wikipedia articles, of course (and by the way, have you donated anything to the site yet?). I've been reading one of Michael Mayne's books again and yesterday looked him up on Wikipedia - last time I looked, probably a couple of years ago, there was no entry for him. And now I discover he died three years ago, and wrote a book about his last year when he had cancer of the jaw (something that I wouldn't wish on anyone). The photograph is of him, by the way.
The two books by Mayne that I've read (This Sunrise of Wonder and Learning to Dance) are a mix of reflection, wonder at creation in its detail, quotes from poets and diarists and nature lovers and some biographical stuff. They have a structure, but it's pretty loose. Of the two, I've read the first three times and enjoyed it each time. The second is the one I'm re-reading now; it's worth re-reading, but doesn't quite gel with me the way the other does. Still there are plenty of good things in it.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Some time ago I bought a copy of Good Poems, a selection by Garrison Keillor of mostly American poetry. (I set one of the poems to music for my last concert: Welcome Morning, by Anne Sexton.)
Keillor's selection tends to poetry that is more accessible rather than less, with some well-known material, but much that isn't. I discovered late last week while looking for a something called Wedding Poem for Schele and Phil that Keillor is associated with the daily Writer's Almanac, and that a host of similar poems are listed there.
Today's (13th Dec, 2009) is Suits by David Slavitt, and with its discussion of not wearing the best suit because the best occasion hasn't arisen yet, it reminded me of a piece I wrote a while ago (it originally appeared in the Star Midweeker back when I was writing a weekly column for that paper).
This piece, called Missing - Again, bewailed the fact that I had yet again missed out on the Queen's Birthday honours list (a thing that isn't likely to happen any time soon either!) Slavitt writes in a similar vein:
I have not been named
ambassador to Malta; I am not on the board
of any college or large corporation; I shall not
receive a major prize today and pose
Yup, that pretty much sums up my life too. No holidays in Bermuda hotels as a celebrity, no standing on the Town Hall steps in the Octagon before crowds of fans while wiping away unexpected tears, no regular commission for merely being who I am...and so forth. Some of us are just born to be (fairly) ordinary.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
In another article, Richard Tol talks about the Disaster of Climategate - following up on the hacked emails. Tol is a research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin and professor of the economics of climate change at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.
He writes: From the outside, the impression is simple. Something fishy was going on. They do not want to talk about it; it must be a cover-up. The scale of the political fallout is beginning to emerge. Climategate has apparently pushed a few Australian senators to vote against the climate Bill, which failed to pass by a few votes. Saudi Arabia will table a motion for a full investigation at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen. The US Senate will probably start an inquiry also.
Last Friday, the university announced that an independent review would investigate whether data was indeed manipulated. It may not be sufficient to quell the outcry. Climate change is a complex problem. We will need 50, probably 100 years to resolve it. We will need global co-operation. We will need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars.
Tol is a supporter of the Climate Change movement. Mike Moore is more skeptical calling it the Theology of Green, and there's no doubt that there's a lot more philosophy floating around in regard to ecology, climate and such than science. Regrettably for the pro-climate change people, there's just as much of it in their camp as in the deniers....
I doubt if I could commit to a year of only re-reading (the library is far too close to my workplace for that to happen) but I think some re-reading is a good idea. Not entirely as a result of this (perhaps more because I watched the DVD of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the other day - and was only slightly more impressed the second time around than I had been at the cinema) I began to re-read the Half-Blood Prince again.
Not surprisingly, it's far more detailed than the movie - the latter chops characters and incidents out on every side - and I was kind of pleased to have it confirmed that one particular scene in the movie hadn't been in the book at all - the one where the Weasly's house is attacked by death eaters and then burnt - because I remembered thinking both at the cinema and while watching the DVD that it wasn't part of the story. I'm not entirely sure what it's doing in the movie at all, except perhaps to reintroduce some of the characters. As a scene it doesn't entirely work in plot terms (Harry would probably be annihilated, as would Ginny, when they run out in the marshes). In cinematic terms, of course, it's fine.
However, I was surprised to find that the book turned out to be less-well written than I'd remembered. It lacks the quality of the writing that made me stop at the corner of Filleul St and St Andrew St after I'd bought the first Harry Potter book a decade or so ago and just read. Here the language and style is rather more prosaic, especially when dealing with some minor characters. The main actors in the story still have their individual voices, pretty much, and Voldemort as the child and teenager is as appallingly scary in the book as he was in the movie (both the boys played him very well), but some other scenes are just there. They have a feeling of being written, but not written with much passion.
That aside, I still found it worth reading again; there are some great set-pieces, and the gradual unfolding of the plot (which of course happens at a much slower pace than in the movie) allows things room to breathe - perhaps a bit too much room (especially when it comes to the snogging), but that's okay. Rowling's world became so full after a while, it was a bit as though she wanted everyone to enjoy it as much as she did.
In consequence I'm now re-reading the last in the series (Deathly Hallows). This opens with a lot more energy, and after several chapters that same energy remains. Hopefully that's the case throughout.
I haven't read this since it first came out back in 2007 - we ordered copies in England while we were there, and had it delivered to our door the day it was released - so once again I've forgotten a huge amount of it. It's very dark, naturally, and it's going to get darker. But man, it's a page-turner! I've only one quibble. There are now so many characters that you virtually need a name dictionary to keep up with who's who.
"With modernism came this new notion that poetry is something that is not as direct or accessible, and poetry became something that needed to be deciphered, a kind of riddle.
And, of course, a lot of people are put off by this. A lot of people read poetry, and they don't understand it and it makes them feel resentful. They also tend to think if they don't understand it that means it's good poetry because you're not supposed to understand poetry.
You can have poems that are clear enough, accessible enough, that people can understand. The best of these are not going to be any less original than those poems that are obscure."
Good sense from Mr Lux, whom I'd never heard of until today. He's a year younger than me - which only tells you something if you know how old I am. I wonder what he'd say about postmodern poetry...?
On another tack altogether, I wrote about how my old geocities website had been demolished, and that I'd decided to kind of revive it over at jimdo. The only problem is that jimdo doesn't seem to get googled; so far nothing I've put on there has turned up in any searches I've done, while geocities was very visible in that regard.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Until I put it through the washing machine. Well, that didn't actually stop it working, but the suspicion was that the water must have damaged it in some way, and eventually the data on it would get corrupted. I've been loathe to throw it away - in fact, I'm going to check it some time soon just to see if it still functions (it's now a few months since it went through the wash).
The photos of unusual flash drives are from Flickr.com - the homemade Subaru is by Rebecca and Bernhard and the green frog by Scott Beale (aka Laughing Squid - appropriately!)
Sunday, December 06, 2009
We need somebody to write a script, compose the soundtrack and paint a picture. Give me a call at Dreamworks! Best, Steven.
All very weird: I don't know anyone called Steven who's travelling at the moment, and the whole thing seems a bit like a hoax. It also seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to play a trick. Well, maybe the answer will come in due course.
On another front, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of works by Tom Kreisler, an artist I'd never heard of. At first I thought the stuff was all a bit pseud - too much wordplay and not enough art, but the curators of the exhibition have wisely included a lot of memorabilia relating to the works on the walls, and as a result you begin to see that this is an interesting artist, more accessible than it first appears, and with an interesting sense of humour. (This in itself is enough to make me feel more enthusiastic about him.)
On the programme guide there's a paragraph quoted from an interview with Kreisler:
It's just a bit of rubbish I wrote one day, and it says: "Having lived with myself as a Foreigner, an outsider to most cultures, I know what I like in my work, and I try to shape it accordingly. Hate pretentiousness, cleverness, boringness, being respectable, that is deserving of respect. Artists who set themselves up as monuments of excellence, social toadiness. I like that art that constantly questions itself, that appears to be aloof, but is passionate, that looks at ordinariness and ordinary things without wishing to colonise them. I don't like art that is so aggressive that it excludes and destroys all that it touches, but I do like an art that understands the totality of its own existence, that is at the same time conscious of its own fallibility. I am more concerned with thoughts and attitudes than appearances.
Well that gives a bit of insight into the man. There are a lot of images of his work on the Net (as well as at the link above) - just Google Tom Kreisler nz for them. (It looks as if someone's made plenty of directory submissions on Kreisler's behalf, or else he's just a lot more popular than I know.
It just goes to show: you think you have a bit of a handle on the 'names' in the art field, or the music field, or whatever, and time and again, a new name pops up that's never been on the radar before.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Meanwhile, I've watched a John Cleese video on creativity twice now, and find it useful for just rethinking what I know about creativity. It isn't one of his humorous ones, but it does give some sensible advice about how to be creative - even if you're a businessperson, as most of the audience in the video are.
In it he talks about the amazing way our subconscious finds solutions when our conscious mind is short of them, the need for space if you're going to be creative (and space that is itself created, rather than just grabbed), the way in which having to rewrite something you've created (if you've lost the original, say) often gives you a better work than the one you had originally, and the way in which you need freedom from interruption if you're working on anything that requires the kind of multi-tasking that a script involves (particularly in relation to writing in the 'voices' of several characters).
It's about ten minutes long, so put your feet up, stop perusing the latest catalogue of truck accessories, and check out what this man has to say.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Art validates us beyond what anyone else can do for us. Anne Copeland
I'm not sure who Anne Copland is - as often happens when I write that, the person in question responds, so here's hoping!
Incidentally there's an intriguing video (see below) on the same site of the eight years of photos of the blogger passing by in just over a minute. The music's pretty awful (to my ears) but the video's worth watching.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Notice, however, his constant denigration of those who debate the climate change case: "Climate sceptics have lied, obscured and cheated for years" - "climate change deniers have made wild claims which the material can't possibly support" - "climate change deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry, who often – as I documented in my book Heat – use all sorts of dirty tricks to advance their cause" - the climate scientists' "opponents might be scumbags, but their media strategy is exemplary" - "despite many years of outright fabrication, fraud and deceit on the part of the climate change denial industry, documented in James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore's brilliant new book Climate Cover-up, it is now the climate scientists who look bad" - "the deniers' campaign of lies, grotesque as it is, does not justify secrecy and suppression on the part of climate scientists."
This would all be fine if it were only loud-mouth politicians and money-makers who were involved in the denying of climate change. But there are a large number of scientists - yes, those self-same creatures who promote climate change - denying it as well. The pro-climate change people will invariably tell you that they don't have the right credentials - they don't know enough of the 'right' science, in other words. But these people are no fools. And that's what Monbiot (who is 'only' a zoologist, incidentally) wants to make them out to be.
The global warming scaremongering machine has been so successful that developing countries at Copenhagen will be asking nations like New Zealand to front up with an estimated $250 billion to tackle climate change – and according to some sources, that could be each and every year!
The details of what is being proposed at Copenhagen can be found within a document penned by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change working group. This virtually impenetrable 181 page draft contains a bewildering array of negotiating options. However, what stands out is that the bottom-line purpose is money, power and control!
Through this Copenhagen treaty, the United Nations wants countries like New Zealand to agree to ambitious emission reduction targets (up to 95 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 is one of the targets being proposed), to provide huge financial support to developing countries for the purpose of adaptation, mitigation and compensation, and to support the establishment of a proposed new governance body.
Is this really what we want? No wonder Mr Key is keeping out of it. The problem is that Nick Smith is going, and so far he hasn't shown himself to be the wisest person in the country when it comes to climate issues.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Unfortunately Habitat for Humanity, for whom we were fundraising by putting on the show, probably won't do very well financially out of it. However, their view is that it raises their profile further (as did our connection with them with The Diary of Anne Frank) and that's good for them in itself.
Within an hour of the performance finishing, the set was already in a state of deconstruction, props were being loaded into cars, and it was as if the show had never existed. Such is the nature of theatre, of course. But another feature of theatre which is always intriguing is what the audience doesn't see.
When you go to a play or musical or any other piece of theatre, as an audience member, your focus is almost entirely on what you see on the stage. What exists beyond is seldom thought about. The set and the actors are 'real' for you for the time being, but of course they're not in the least bit real for the actors.
Standing backstage you will see the person who's just come off in tears laughing at some whispered joke made by another actor. You will see two stagehands kneeling on the floor, on either side of the french windows, ready to pull the doors open as one of the Ghosts walks back through it. (The effect for the audience is magic; the reality is a lot more prosaic.)
You will see me bounding down the stairs after a serious scene as Marley's Ghost, tearing off his costume, racing up to the make-up girl, wiping off all the carefully applied talcum powder, having my face made up for a second time - this time as Fezziwig with bright pink cheeks - while the wardrobe lady helps me into my multi-buttoned waistcoat, ties a long blue tie around my neck, helps me on with my coat, and sends me pounding back up the stairs again to the stage where, breathing a little heavily, I wait to turn into a character who couldn't be more different from the bitter and twisted Ghost.
You will see the eight-foot high Ghost of Christmas Future backing out through a revolving door, taking a couple of cautious steps to turn himself to the left (otherwise he will walk straight onto the head of the prompt) and then, all scariness gone, being helped down two or three behind-the-set steps supported by the arms of a stagehand, without whom he would likely take a very serious tumble. You will see the same stagehand hoisting up Tiny Tim onto Bob Cratchit's shoulders: after several failed but hilarious attempts during rehearsal to do it on his own this was the only speedy way to get the child up there.
You might also see the fire warden wandering his regular route through the building during the show; he is probably the only real safety aspect available. It's not that safety products are unknown in amateur theatre (or in professional, if it comes to that) but they're few and far between. And accidents do happen. In this show we managed to get through with no more than a single skinned knee (another one of the Ghosts); in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we had chips and bruises and cuts galore - some plays are more dangerous than others!
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The first item is about the 'fluid' piano that a composer called Geoff Smith has invented. It allows the musician to micro-tune each individual key and thus hook into music that is tuned differently to Western music, such as Indian or Iranian. My first (biased) reaction was that it sounded pretty much like most out-of-tune pianos I've come across over the years (including my previous piano, which resolutely refused, in its later life, to allow the bass notes to stay in tune for more than a few days). I guess it takes a bit of getting used to, and certainly the pianist is going to have to rethink their whole approach to playing when they use one. Will it build an audience? The world is littered with instruments that never quite made it, so it will be interesting to see what happens.
The video is here, and an article (from the Guardian) here.
Improv Everywhere is the name of a company (?) that does surprising seemingly improvised and random things literally everywhere. The example below takes place in a supermarket, and is typical of the average modern American musical.
Third on the list today is a question and answer piece (again from the Guardian) in which various artists are asked a random list of 50 questions, and provide some wonderfully random answers about art, photography, acting and more. All the little things you wanted to know such as how does an orchestral triangle player earn his living?
And finally, from a blog called First Things, a list of the blogger's top 100 spiritually significant films. Don't just read the blog post - check out the comments, in which a bunch of film buffs come up with more (and sometimes better) spiritually significant movies.
People like the look of things: the sense of authenticity about the costuming; the way in which the lighting creates a good deal of mood (along with smoke machines) - this morning I came out to oohs and aahs from the kids in my appearance as Marley's Ghost. The smoke helped, of course!
And the play swings from the humorous to the bitter and twisted (Marley again, and Scrooge himself) to joyful to emotional. There are some great moments in it.
Looking forward to seeing you there...!
I've noticed that people who read a lot of blogs and a lot of books also tend to be intellectually curious, thirsty for knowledge, quicker to adopt new ideas and more likely to do important work.
I wonder which comes first, the curiosity or the success?
Well, that's the sum total of the post, so I hope Seth won't object to me copying it in full (quoting just ten percent might make the quote a bit incoherent!) I'm not sure quite what he means in his second sentence - it doesn't seem quite to follow from the previous one. Successful people aren't necessarily curious, I'd think. And curious people aren't necessarily successful. Actually when I read the first sentence again, I'm not even sure that intellectually curious people really do adopt new ideas more quickly. Maybe I'm just getting picky because the post was so short!
Monday, November 23, 2009
People tend to dismiss Wishart as an investigative journalist, and yes, he probably does get some stuff wrong like anyone who's working at full bore all the time. However, it's interesting how often he comes up trumps with information that others would prefer to be kept secret. And survives.
Apart from that, this latest 'scoop' isn't his, anyway - he's merely passing on a pile of information that others have discovered and discussing it. The basic theme is that various scientists have been pushing their own agendas for a number of years and now the truth is becoming inconvenient for them.
I've been something of a climate change skeptic for some years; hopefully the truth is finally being allowed to climb out of cupboard.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Art is an attempt to understand, yielding pleasure in the attempt whether or not we understand. Robert Brault
This is one of those quotes that you wonder if it's saying what it says, but I thought it was worth a mention.
Secondly, there's a verse in chapter 13 of the Book of Proverbs: Hope deferred makes the heart sick and this is a considerable truth. But as I realised today, hope isn't dead in this verse, so perhaps it should read: hope deferred makes the heart sick, but that isn't the end of hope.
Incidentally, I don't know who Robert Brault is, but when you look him up on Google, all you find are references to his quotes. It's as if he never wrote anything but quotes. In fact, one result comes up with the complete Robert Brault quotes. Isn't that an oxymoron?
PS 3 days later - when I wrote the post I didn't know who Robert Brault was. As you can see, he's kindly pointed me in the right direction, and you can find out more about him on his quotes Reader.
This is a year of reading from home, by one of Britain's most distinguished authors. Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again. A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill's eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. "Howard's End is on the Landing" charts the journey of one of the nation's most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.
Now I haven't actually read this book, but the idea behind it sounds great. My life is spent not reading the old books I've got on my shelves (most of which I have read at some point) and Hill's idea seems a great one. But could I resist the tempation of all those other books that I don't possess that I haven't read....?
Thursday, November 19, 2009
In response to an article in the NZ Herald with the heading: Would you be happy to have your eye or fingerprint scanned to prove your identity, someone - supposedly from Iraq - wrote:
This is a stupid proposal. What's wrong with the current process? This will only cramp our hospital's with people suffering from missing finger's and empty eye socket's. Let's focus on technology which can identify fraudulent document's, liscence's etc.
Plainly the apostrophe/plurals thing hasn't quite penetrated this person's grammatical radar as yet, but more than that, it's very hard to work out whether this is a tongue-in-cheek response or a genuine one. If the latter, it presents a worldview that's rather different to that of the average New Zealander...
Photo by Thomas Christensen
Monday, November 16, 2009
Charles Dickens' famous story comes to life on stage at the Mayfair Theatre, Dunedin, with Bert Nisbet in the role of Scrooge, that inveterate miser, whose experiences with a succession of ghosts changes his view on life forever.
Fred, his nephew, (played by Dominic Crowl) is a complete contrast: having little money, he still manages to make other people happy, including the impoverished family of Bob Cratchit (played by Graham Wilson). Their little boy, known as Tiny Tim, is a cripple, and in spite of his optimism (and that of his family) seems not to be destined for a long life.
The play is directed by Liz Nisbet, and other members of the large cast include Carol Krueger, Helen Wilson, and Cherrianne Parks.
The play will be presented from the 25th November until the 29th. Evening performances are at 7.30 and there is a matinee on the Sunday at 4 pm.
Tickets are available from Beggs' Musical in Moray Place.
Seniors and Students: $16
Family and block booking concessions are also available.
The play will be presented on two mornings to large numbers of Dunedin schoolchildren.
Proceeds from the play will be donated to Habitat for Humanity.
The picture shows Bob Cratchit carrying his son, Tiny Tim.
Check out the Dunedin Events website
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Which rather makes me think that the use of elate in this context is just a little over the top. Okay, the offer is 55% off the normal price. That's pretty good - but 'pretty good' isn't 'elated'. We already have enough words being drained of their full value (awesome is just one prime example) so for me 'elate' is definitely out of place in this example.
Some copywriter has decided that he or she had better come up with a snappy little word that's full of zest and excitement to fit in the very small box in which this survey question would be asked. But he/she has grabbed hold of the wrong word. Elate has a long history, as the quotation from George Bernard Shaw below shows, but it's always a word that needs careful treatment (in fact, Shaw seems to give it rather peculiar grammatical treatment).
He, standing a little way within the field, was remonstrating angrily with a man of his own class, who stood with his back to the breach and his hands in the pockets of his snuff-colored clothes, contemplating the procession with elate satisfaction.
from An Unsocial Socialist by George Bernard Shaw
While I make no claims to be in Mizrahi's class when it comes to talent I understand the idea of not being a specialist. I've played the piano since I was about seven and have performed on it, and accompanied singers, ever since. Yet at the same time I've always written - endlessly, as anyone in my house will attest: the place is full of old notebooks of written material. I have my first stage script still, which I typed out on the first typewriter I bought. I have several novels in various forms of draft, and a determination one day to get at least one of them published. (I even have the very first story I wrote, when I was still in primary school - it has something to do with finding whiskey under the bed, although at that time I probably had no idea what whiskey was.)
I've composed music throughout my life - but have also acted. I must admit that there was a long gap between my early acting experiences (I'm not including the time I was a little elf in a brown suit made by my mother) when I was in my teens, and my more recent ones. It's only in the last few years that I've really had the chance to get my teeth into some acting, but I've had a long relationship with the theatre.
At one time I even painted pictures, hardly any of which survive. This was perhaps my least successful talent, but that may be because I've spent less time on it than on any other of the art forms. So a specialist I'm not. I can't imagine the dedication required to spend eight hours a day practicing the piano but that doesn't mean I don't use the talent I have. I just spread the eight hours around...
Apropos of none of the above, an Anglican chaplain whose tweets I keep up with put a link on Twitter to the Twitter episode of 2 Hot Girls in a Shower. You probably have to be in the mood to watch these videos, none of which are more than a minute and a half long, and none of which (at least amongst those I've seen) are as salacious as the series title might suggest. They consist of a blonde girl and an Asian girl standing side by side in a booth which, as they explain in one episode, is only a movie set with a sound effect of a shower in the background and a bit of misting on the camera. We see nothing untoward.
But what we do see are a couple of talented actresses (Kim Evey and Julie Wittner) 'explaining' all manner of things; the blonde girl plays the slightly dizzy blonde and the Asian the seemingly sharper character. Their explanations, of everything from Sudoku to Father's Day to where to go on a first date, are off in the left field somewhere, and I found them quite mad.
[PS: Occasional moments in the videos are borderline.]
Sometimes however, when requested to include a link in a post, it's a bit of a task to get the brain going. I have to revert to consulting Wikipedia, that great oracle of information (and the great grandchild of the Encyclopedia Britannica), as when I was asked to jot a few notes on the subject of gold bullion (about which I am only partially informed, as opposed to bouillon, which we all know is a town in Belgium - as well as a form of soup). When gold is referred to as bullion no one is thinking of making some shining soup out of it; rather it is the bulk form of gold, before it is turned into things like gold coins, or wedding rings, or gold hammered out into a form that is so minutely thin that it would go half way round the world and back again. (I jest.)
Apparently a gold coin can be worth less in its face value than it is worth as bullion. How this can be is a bit of a puzzle, although Wikipedia does its best to explain all this under the topic of precious metal. Seems to me to be somewhat the equivalent of telling me that I'm worth more dead than alive, which in terms of life insurance is, I suppose, true. In terms of personal worth to those around about me it is blatantly false. (I hope.)
I attach a picture of a gold visa credit card taken by Cheon Fong Liew. These are not usually made out of gold bullion.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Let me write that one more time.
I am a writer.
My heart sings when I write.
I declare this is the truth.
The next step of the path is the scribbler's step.
From the 'dedication' page of Brainlash: maximise your recovery from mild brain injury, by Gail Denton.
These lines, which she heads with: Journal entry, April 26, 1993 (three years before the book was first published), apply equally to me, though maybe for the word writer I'd substitute the word, 'artist' which covers everything I do, the writing, the piano playing, the composing, the acting - the performing in general.
Thanks Gail, for these encouraging words!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Remembered on the way home that I hadn't mentioned reading Ian Rankin's latest book, The Complaints. My wife and I became a great fan of Rankin while in England where we read several of the Inspector Rebus novels while travelling around. (I seem to remember we discovered him in Florence - someone left one of the novels in the hotel we stayed in.)
The Complaints doesn't feature Rebus (who may have been 'retired' by Rankin, I think) and the main character doesn't quite have the edge that Rebus possesses, nor the sheer bloody-mindedness that makes the latter so enjoyable, but he's a person in his own right, and he has a side-kick who kept me guessing throughout as to whether he was on the side of the angels or not.
The Complaints are a section of the Scottish police force who investigate other policemen, those who've been suspected of corruption, or bribery, or anything else that's against the law. When the story opens they've just finished a major case, and the main character (whose name escapes me, as does the copy of the book for the moment1) is settling on his lees until he finds that he might also be in the poo. Typical of a Rankin tale there are complications galore, and you have to keep your wits about you to know why who did what did it when; as well, there are some impoverished relationships, and even the ones that are working seem likely to fall apart if the participants aren't careful.
I don't know that it's my favourite Rankin, but it's certainly a page-turner, and his writing style is, as always, superb.
1 Just saw that the main character's name is Malcolm Fox, a name that gets played around with quite a bit in the story.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
On Saturday morning my wife and I were clearing out furniture and stuff from the other 'half' of the kitchen, the dining room part that didn't get renovated when we did the kitchen itself. Things were going along swimmingly until my older son arrived with his little boy. My son went into the bathroom, struggled a bit to shut the door (which has been sticking lately), shouted out about the it, and, in attempting to do something about the door - God alone knows what - I managed to catch my finger in it just as he was shutting it.
Fortunately I also managed to pull my finger back in time enough not to get it stuck. It would have been goodbye finger. However, the door sliced a quarter inch long piece off the middle finger on my left hand, up beside the nail, and there was blood everywhere in seconds.
The Concert was pretty much all I could think about...
After huge apologies from my son (it hadn't actually been his fault at all) and much stinging and agony (particularly the latter) from my finger, we managed to get a couple of plasters onto it and stop the bleeding. My son told me to take Paracetamol straightaway because the initial adrenalin rush would quickly stop (children are so informative) and would leave me feeling very sorry for myself. And then he went out and got me a chocolate bar, supposedly because chocolate is good for pain. Sounds like a great theory.
Amazingly the finger survived the piano playing at the concert. It was still wrapped up in its plasters and didn't bleed all over the keyboard, but was a good excuse for any bum notes that occurred.
I've had plasters on ever since and only today let the finger try and survive without any cover. Typing on the computer keyboard is fine, but with piano playing there's a lot of accidental knocking of the fingers on the edges of the keys - it's quite normal, at least when I play - and so when I had a go at playing a piece by Jacques Ibert just now, I was feeling that I had to be a bit more cautious than usual. Didn't try anything requiring a lot of running around the keys, just something simple out of his histoires...
Which brings me to something about this publication of the histoires... Whoever did the editing seems to have thought that if a note has an accidental in the first bar, then a sharp or flat should also appear on any notes tied to it in the subsequent bars. This is contrary to normal practice and it's rather confusing to the eye. I don't think I've ever seen it done anywhere else, and I don't think it's just a French way of doing things - the Debussy music I've got is done in the normal fashion.
The set of pieces is published by Alphonse Leduc, of Paris. and the front cover and title page appear to be handwritten. Leduc is still going, incidentally; you can find their 2009 catalogue on the Net. They began in 1841, so they've had a long history.
The photo of a cut finger is the nearest I could find to one that looked like mine - it's actually a lot less gross a photo than a number of those on Flickr.com. Fuschia Foot took it.