Thursday, April 30, 2009

Panic mode

Seth Godin's blog is one of the few I read virtually every day. Though it's primarily focused on marketing and business, he manages to sneak in quite a bit of ordinary everyday commonsense into his posts. Well, 'sneak' might be understating it; often he publishes posts that are plain commonsense.
I don't always agree with his posts, and I found his latest book, Tribes, not that exciting, even though the concept is worth a thought.
But the post for the 28th April (Might as well panic) I agree with entirely. There's a mindset now in the world that if there's a possibility of something going wrong, or even if something does go wrong, we should all rush around like headless chickens. YK2 was the prime example, and the World Trade Centre attack caused so much panic that the US went to war over it - without any real justification. Then we had the bird flu pandemic. Pandemic? How many people actually died in that pandemic? Far fewer than are killed on the roads of many major countries each day.
Along came the RECESSION. Well, that's supposedly what it was. Yes, I know people have lost jobs, and there's a great furore over the behaviour of the banks and CEOs and their billions, but in fact, this is not a crisis like the Great Depression, and may well not get to be. For the most part it's a sorting out of the poor financial management of a number of large companies.
And our latest cause for panic is swine flu. It's dreadful that even a few people have died of this in the world, but again, the actual number of people who have died have been miniscule in terms of the population (or compared to the Great Flu that followed the First World War). I agree with Godin that it seems in the nature of human beings to panic. My suspicion is that this is a fairly recent phenomenon, aided by the media needing something to get excited about.
Godin ends his post by saying: "We have enough caution. We don't need an abundance of caution. That's too much."
Mr Godin, I concur.

Monday, April 27, 2009


A while ago I said I'd let you know when the review for Flashback Forward was available. You can find it on the Otago Daily Times site - just scroll through the various short reviews.

Last night we caught up with the quirky movie, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. That it was shown at all given the current media tendency to avoid films and TV shows that talk about suicide was something of a miracle. Even more so since the film not only shows Wilbur trying to kill himself at least three or four times (he's already tried several other times), but also has his brother kill himself at the end (he's already dying of cancer, but that's not quite the point).

Apparently it was advertised as a comedy (!) prior to its showing on TV last night. Yes, it certainly has some very funny moments, and the characters have a great tendency to respond to someone else's lines with something seemingly inconsequential, but comedy? Only in the sense that it has a kind of happy ending.

Apart from suicide there was the deceit factor: Wilbur's brother, Harbour, doesn't tell anyone he has cancer - it's left to a hospital worker to blurt it out at a dinner; and Wilbur's wife (their marriage is very short-lived), who loves him dearly, is also passionately in love with Wilbur - and the brother never finds this out. Or perhaps he suspects it, but there's no confrontation scene.

The wife is the catalyst character - along with her ten-year-old daughter. They restore what's well and truly broken in the brothers' family, but it's not quite in the way you'd call straightforwardly moral. I guess the thing the movie has going for it is that it never follows our expectations; and it offers a damaged personality (who has immense charm, it must be admitted) and manages to bring him through a crisis time. How realistic this might be in real life is another issue; although the effect his suicide attempts have on other people is realistic enough.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The only time I've been disappointed by a Liam Neeson performance was in the dreadful '1st' episode of Star Wars in which he and Ewan McGregor slept-walked their way through what should have been mysterious, action-packed and superb. I'm willing to allow Neeson one error of judgement in his film career, however, because I suspect most of the blame for the problems with that episode of Star Wars has to be laid at the feet of the director.

Which leads into my saying that Neeson manages to invest even more than his usual depth into his role in the extremely violent Luc Besson movie, Taken, and avoids being dull for even a fraction of a second. Not that he gets many seconds to be dull in. He plays an ex-'Preventer' (which apparently means someone who 'stops bad things happening' - whatever that actually means) and when his utterly naive 17-year-old daughter is kidnapped in Paris before she's had a moment to do any Green shopping let alone ordinary shopping, he's on her trail so fast he doesn't have time to pack a spare pair of socks.

Of course, being the world-wise Preventer that he is, he did warn his ex-wife, and his daughter, that it was a big nasty world outside of the good old US of A, but they, being so full of their big plans pay absolutely no attention, and deserve almost everything that happens.

Once he's in Paris, the place piles up with dead and maimed bodies until the cost of employing bodyguards inflates exponentially. Neeson, playing Bryan Mills, is a one-man destroyer of bad guys - and the film gives him umpteen bad guys to destroy. He's not to be messed with. Even Bond wouldn't stand a chance against him.

It's all ridiculous, of course, and it's only the fact that Neeson plays his character with such integrity and emotional depth that you sit and watch the thing. Did I say 'ridiculous?' His gun never runs out of bullets; he dodges machine-gun fire with a flick of his head, he always knows who's on the other side of the door - unfortunately for the aforesaid bad guys; he can drive a car while spending most of the time looking in the rear-view mirror, and/or while driving the wrong way down a one-way motorway. And if he gets injured, well, he'll be all right in the next scene.

Stephanie Zacharek, on, says: "Taken" is the latest hyperkinetic chicken to emerge from the semi-cracked egg that is Besson's brain, " and she's right. Besson co-wrote it, and produced it. He's an entertainer, first and foremost, but he's never logical, and he's often extraordinary, as the superb Bruce Willis movie, The Fifth Element, attests.

So don't expect a movie that requires debriefing afterwards; and be warned that there are an awful lot of fairly grim deaths (rather too many broken necks for my liking). On the plus side, it's a thriller that carries you along without missing a beat - and you can tell what's going on in the action sequences, which is more than can be said for Quantum of Solace.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Totally random quote

I just had to copy this passage when I read it, because of the delightful use of words...

After an 'unexpected' mid-life crisis, the author notes:
Thus cognitively defocussed and emotionally defused for a number of months by the subsequent bit of deep-deep immersion, I realized I would never last the course of direct experience in the netherworld of love. I also recognized from that bit of dysserindipitous soul-spielunking that I should launch studies of physical attraction, such as studies of beautiful women, the ultimate winners (and losers, it turned out) in the great love selection game.

I'm not sure what 'deep-deep immersion' actually is, but it seems apt for the idea.

From the Preface to
Creative Interviewing, by Jack D Douglas, published Sage 1985 (pg 13)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

One Off

There's seems to be an excessive amount of advertising on the Net at the moment for weight loss pills. Is someone trying to tell me something?
And, apropos of the above not at all, I've sometimes wondered if actors should only ever make one movie. When you see a movie where the main actor is someone totally unfamiliar to you (as Ryan Gosling was to me in Lars and the Real Girl) you take that person as more real and their acting approach as perfectly right for the character. I saw a movie recently called The Grocer's Son, and because the actor (Nicolas Cazalé) was quite new to me, I took it on trust that this person and the character were the 'same.' Does that make sense?
When we see Julia Roberts and Clive Owen (and a bunch of other familiar faces) strutting their stuff in Duplicity, they bring a pile of baggage from other movies, and get between you and the character.
Of course it's plain uneconomic to have new actors for every new movie - even I realise that - and I can't see that actors will think it's a good idea. But it reminds me of something from my childhood. I saw a movie when I was a kid in which, at the end, there was an underwater fight: two guys with knives attacking each other. One got stabbed, of course, and (as a child) it seemed to me that moviemakers must go through an awful lot of actors if they killed them off so often in the movies...

Friday, April 17, 2009

The artist matters more than the instrument

This week on the Concert Programme, they're giving away a CD called Homage in which James Ehnes (pronounced Ennis) is playing a bunch of well-known short violin pieces. The unique selling point is that each piece is played on a different violin from the Fulton Collection (in Washington) of Stradivarii and other famous instruments. Somehow, playing on instruments that are at least 300 years old is supposed to make the pieces sound more wondrous. So far, to my ear, that doesn't seem to be the case. They could be being played on any decent instrument.

So it was interesting to read the following paragraph from Mike Figgis' book, Digital Filmmaking, page 10.

"I'll make an analogy with music. If you go to a concert and hear a really great violinistplaying a Stradivarius, you'll be witness to a magnificent sound and a great performance. Now that violinist could take a twenty-dollar Chinese violin made for schoolchildren, tune it and play it, and I guarantee a lot of people couldn't tell the difference from the Stradivarius - because of the musician.
Similarly, a great drummer can pick up a wooden packing case and make it sound like an amazing set of drums. A photographer - let's say a Cartier Bresson - could pick up a Kodak Brownie and without a doubt take great photographs.
The point is that it doesn't really matter what the equipment is. It really matters who the artist is, and what their attitude is. So a serious filmmaker will pick up an Arriflex, 16mm or 35mm, or a Panasonic video camera, nad you will see immediately that there is a serious intention in the way they're holding the camera and the way they're recording the image. It will not be ambiguous. It will not be negotiable. It will not be in doubt. They will state their relationship to the caemera, like the musician and the violin, the drummer and the packing case. The way that you pick up a camera and the way that you address the camera is fundamental."

I've always held this contention myself, when other pianists have said to me: that piano's crap or it's too hard too get any decent music out of. Pianists, often having little choice about what instrument they play, have to make the instrument do the best it can. It relies heavily on the musician to bring the music alive on whatever instrument they're faced with.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

All too much - almost

I make mention on my other blog of not needing to look for the best diet pills on the market even though I seem to have put on weight as a result of my recent(pre- and post-op) inability to exercise as much as usual, or even to walk at a reasonable pace. Thank goodness I'm now (literally) back on my feet and (generally) walking at my old (near-frenetic) speed. In fact, it was only today that I realised I'm no longer conking out at work from tiredness, or having to come home and have a lie-down from exhaustion. So I am making progress. (Though not with my overexcessive use of brackets.)
We've had time off rehearsals for the play this week; there's another play on at the theatre, so rehearsals are out. But next week we're back into it with a vengeance, and I'm trying my best to have my Act II lines under my belt before we start rehearsing that section. As in Act One, I only have one scene, but this one is a two-hander with one of the other cast members, and goes on for about five pages. I've taken it in sections, so as to get a handle on it, and have been practicing tonight with my son reading the other part. But it's still not all there. And it doesn't help that in this scene the character is somewhat drunk and tends to repeat himself. I learnt the worst bit of repetition first, since I thought it would take longest to get into the brain, and I was right...
Meanwhile, our church is getting back into short dramas - they're to accompany a special series of sermons. I was at the brainstorming session last night, and somehow wound up with a part. Not just a short bit in one short drama; the characters in these dramas will appear fairly regularly throughout several weeks of plays. Of course the first drama will be on within a few weeks, while the rehearsals for the other play are still going, and as well I'll be trying to get my head around the Varsity work (which, thank goodness, finishes the week after the main play).
I tried to get them to cast someone else in the role they were suggesting for me, but it looks as though that may not be a goer. However, there's a suggestion that they'll avoid having me in the drama that goes on the day after we start performances of the main play! I should think so, too. Who do they think I am? Laurence Olivier?
Kind of apropos of what I've just been talking about, it's curious how rehearsing in a particular place seems to embue that place with some kind of residual emotional feeling. Every time we've spent several weeks rehearsing in a particular building, I can't pass the place by without feeling a kind of nostalgia. And when I first appeared in the Narnia series of plays, which were performed in the same auditorium in which we had church at that time, I used to find that whenever I passed the dressing rooms I'd get all emotional. Weird.
Check out some photos from that first production - I'm playing Mr Beaver and appear in the first and third photos.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The lack of style

Check out almost any book on 'how to write' and you'll find absurd advice about not using adjectives and adverbs, avoiding split infinitives, making sure you rarely use the passive voice. For a while I used to think this advice had some value behind it, but I became convinced in the end that most of it was valueless: it lessened the ways in which you could write with style, and was usually at odds with the way real writers actually write.
It seems as though much of the blame may be put at the feet of the venerable Strunk and White book, The Elements of Style. In an article entitled, 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice, Geoffrey Pullum certainly believes the blame should be. He lists a number of downright errors in the book, and shows how even the two authors inadvertently ignored their own advice - within their own pages.
As Pullum notes, William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte's Web, took English with him in 1919. (White was also the author of Stuart Little.)
Nowadays, if I read a book on writing, I tend to ignore the stuff about passives and so on. A darn good passive in the right place is an apt thing. A split infinitive handled well is beautiful. And as for dislodging adjectives and adverbs, it seems plain that Strunk and White must either have used a simplified version of English in their everyday speech, or else wrote the book as something of a hoax!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter trading

Easter, and what's most visible on the news radar? The same 'impoverished' retailers who, every year, fight the law about not being allowed to trade on Easter Sunday or on Good Friday. Yesterday, on the news, we had a bunch of them boasting at how clever they were to do what they were doing. One stood there saying: I didn't ask any of the staff to come into work; I didn't make these customers come out and buy stuff.
And, yes, his shop was full (it was one of the Odering's garden shops) as was the Real Groovy shop (in Auckland, I think) that was shown.
But how essential was it for these places to be open? Not in the least essential. These shops are open because retailers - some retailers - have got to the point where they can't bear to be closed, in case they lose a few hundred dollars. It's plain greed, and has nothing to do with serving the customers, who would quite happily find something else to do if the shop wasn't open. (Probably something healthier.)
People do not die of retail deprivation. In spite of the notion that 'retail therapy' is supposed to be good for you, no demise on the planet has yet been attributed to a category - cause of death: 'could not shop.'
Nehemiah, in the Book of the same name, shut the city gates on the traders who insisted on coming into the city on the Sabbath, and cleared them off the city walls. No doubt there were Jews in the city then who said: but we can't do without shopping on the Sabbath! Nehemiah proved they could. Perhaps it's time for those who deal with recalcitrant retailers to do more than just charge them a nominal fine.

Friday, April 10, 2009


I finally made an effort and finished John Cairney's Flashback Forward, which I wrote a little about in an earlier post. Sadly the book doesn't improve. After getting to the point where the big incident happens and the main character is somehow split in two, things ramble on in an interminable fashion for another 200 plus pages (!) Cairney can write well, but he's relied on the big incident at around 100 pages to make his book. It doesn't. There's no plot, no characters that go anywhere or grow in any way. No interaction of people apart from some fairly bland relationships, and even those don't move forward. Very disappointing.
So it's been a relief to get my teeth into (an appropriate phrase to use in the circumstances), Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, which I'd had on reserve at the library for a month or more, and which finally turned up on Friday. It's obviously very popular, and you can see why. Perceptive writing about people who have some reality about them. Clever quiet humour; a neat idea that holds our attention from the beginning (I had some idea of what was coming, but it didn't spoil the reading in any way); and writing that's just as stylish as Cairney's. A lot of American writers are very stylish, but not all of them write well. Meyer certainly does. I'm already 172 pages into the book, and only started it around 1pm. (It's now 4, and I haven't been reading continually through that time.)
It's intriguing to find that this book was Meyer's first; it's accomplished, sure of itself, perhaps a little long (but you don't care), and creates a very real world with characters that come alive quickly. A bunch of high school students could easily get confusing and interchangeable: these ones don't. Furthermore the romantic angle is never slushy or over the top. Bella, the main character, is mostly level-headed and mature (for her years).
I'm looking forward to carrying on reading it before I have to go back to Varsity study and learning lines for the play and so on!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Busy - and Duplicity

It's been a busy week, too busy to do much in the way of blogging. I had a 1500 word assignment to do for my Varsity course, and wanted to get that out of the way before the weekend, when we were celebrating my wife's 60th (her actual birthday was last Thursday, but that was a quieter affair). Plus I had a couple of music transcriptions to do (putting them on Sibelius and then transposing them down), and rehearsals for the play, and....
Well, anyway, it was busy. The birthday 'party' went off well (thanks for asking) and we managed to keep most of it a surprise until the last minute. Which was a major achievement.
My wife and I went to see Duplicity on the Thursday (since we weren't officially celebrating the birthday that night) and it was mostly enjoyable. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts brought off a tricky script in fine form, managing to keep the human side of things to the fore in the midst of all the complications. For some reason Roberts was made to look less attractive than she can be; dark hair, awkward shoes (to walk in), little 'gloss'. A pity, really, because I think people still go to see her because she's got an unusual beauty, and that's worth promoting rather than undercutting.
Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson make the most of their venal roles and the absurdly ridiculous slow-motion fight at the opening of the movie.
The plot was complex and the revelation of the sting at the end a bit unfair on the audience. Plus there were a couple of cheats in the last stages, I think, and the lack of explanation for these slightly undermined what was otherwise a fairly well crafted script.
Stephanie Zacharek (one of my favourite online reviewers) writes in
...the structure of "Duplicity" is its own worst enemy. In his efforts to keep us on our toes, Gilroy [the scriptwriter] tosses in so many plot reversals that what he's reversing ceases to matter -- we know it's only a matter of time before he'll turn the tables again, and thus the plot's alleged slipperiness becomes just another kind of predictability. Worst of all, Gilroy saves the biggest twist for the wrap-up at the end, leaving the wrong characters -- and the audience -- stranded and screwed. The overall effect is one of convoluted slickness.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Music as Mnemonic

I get a daily email from a crowd called Catapult Magazine. The emails are usually a quote from one of the short articles that appear in the magazine itself - and every week (I think) they send out a list of the articles. Some of the quotes are worth keeping track of and reflecting on, but I don't often read the articles through lack of time.
However, there was a quote that appeared today that sparked my interest in the article itself. It's by Josh Mosey, and is entitled, Music is mnemonic (as you can see from the title, I think it might be better as music as mnemonic, but that's a matter of opinion).
Like most articles on Catapult, it's fairly short; their articles always seem to me as though they're only just getting into their game when they stop.
Anyway, here's a quote from it:
A friend recently gave me his definitive mix album. It is made up of the songs that best represent his musical tastes. But it is more than that. What my friend gave me was a stained-glass window into his life experiences. This is why we relate well to people who share our musical preferences; we share bits of our soul.
John Mosey supposedly hosts a site called ThoughtCrimeMarketing, but the message after you've clicked on the link says it doesn't exist. Anyway, Josh exists, because this is a photo of him. Supposedly.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Couple of McKean quotes

Sometimes a line in a book just strikes you as having a certain melifluousness about it. The following is an example.

God, mammon, and provincialism thus formed the sometimes ugly amalgam that was to be shaped into loyalty to the Synod of Otago & Southland.
pg 9

And another quote from the same book, this time in regard to Thomas Burns, one of the founding fathers of my home city, Dunedin, and a staunch Presbyterian.

There was considerable evidence that while many settlers frequently resorted to ‘cups o’ kindness yet’, Burns was not censorious about drunkenness. He remarked that in New Year celebrations of 1850 ‘some in their first-footing did not exhibit very sure footing.’
Pg 35

Both quotes from: The Church in a Special Colony: a History of the Presbyterian Synod of Otago & Southland 1866-1991, by John McKean.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Rehearsing the play

We're well into rehearsals now - three nights a week at present for those who are in any particular act.
I'd thought I was only in Acts One and Three, which meant I'd have a couple of weeks out in the middle of the rehearsals, and then one of the other cast members, who'd done the play before years ago, said, You're in the Second Act as well. We debated this a bit, because I was sure I'd checked, but of course she was right: I have a whole scene with just one other character in the middle of the Second Act. Which means more learning of lines, something I wasn't anticipating quite!
The trouble with line-learning these days is that the recording system is great still, but the playback isn't so hot.
And it doesn't help when you have (slightly drunken) lines like this:
Ah, yes. Always together...side by side....through all life's sunshine and storms....hand in good times and bad ones...with always a loving smile. [The other characters says a couple of words.] In sickness and in and poor....still together...side by side...hand in hand...through all life's sunshine and storms. At which point the other character, not surprisingly, tells him he's repeating himself!
However, it's a fun part, and certainly more enjoyable to do than the part I started out with.

And in a footnote regarding my post headed up Major Biosecurity Alert!!!, I noticed in the letters to the editor in the D Scene last week that someone else had thought using a
Botany Department Masters student as a source of un-information was also a bit below the standards required of your average newspaper. The writer said that making a major headline out of a piece of non-news wasn't really doing the freebie paper any good. Hear, hear, I say!