Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sue Bradford's record

It's hard to feel sorry that Sue Bradford is leaving Parliament - even more so considering it's on the basis of not getting co-leadership of the Greens. I got the impression she started out well, protesting at things that were unjust, but somewhere along the line she seems to have lost a sense of morality. Family First provides the following evidence of her voting on family and moral issues:

She voted for the decriminalisation of prostitution, civil unions and the accompanying relationships bill, euthanasia, anti-smacking law, Care of Children Act, and the failed Electoral Finance Act.

She voted against parental notification for teenage abortion, raising the drinking age, banning street prostitution in Manukau City, and the Marriage amendment (defining marriage as between a man and a woman). She also voted against increasing the penalty for possession of child pornography being increased to 5 years, against P being classified as a class A drug, and would have supported the decriminalisation of marijuana.

Yup, I think it was definitely time for her to go.

PS (2.10.09) In the light of one of the comments to this post, I'm including the link to Chris Trotter's assessment of Sue Bradford and why she didn't really 'fit' into the Green Party. It's probably more positive than I or others might paint her, but he probably knows her a lot better than I do.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Up


My daughter went to see Up today with some other members of the family, old and young, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd heard it was good too, so tonight my younger son and I went. He's great to go to a funny movie with: he just gets on and laughs uninhibitedly, which makes everyone else relax.

And there's plenty to laugh at in this movie. As with all Pixar productions, it's full of detail, and the storyline is satisfying. And it has its emotional moments too. Apparently my nearly-three-year-old grandson said when the main character's wife died very early in the piece: that's very sad, isn't it, Mum? Now this young fellow's astute, but it's still interesting that at his age he picked up on what happened since it's not spelled out.

Most movie buffs will be familiar with the story, even if they haven't seen the movie yet. An old and lonely man, Carl Fredricksen, decides that rather than have his house torn down - and himself carted off to a 'retirement village' - he will tie hundreds of helium balloons to the house and sail off to Paradise Falls in South America, the place where his childhood hero, Charles Muntz - a famous explorer - was last known to have gone. Inadvertently he takes along with him a little boy, a seemingly annoying child looking to get his final Wilderness Explorer badge. Incredibly, they find their way to Paradise Falls, and discover the explorer still alive - but not quite the hero he's been made out to be.

Of course there's humour in such an odd couple, and even more humour when the various dog characters make their appearance. It would spoil the movie to tell any of the jokes, but suffice to say there are plenty of them to suit all sorts of tastes.

The animation is more in line with The Incredibles than the Toy Story series (a third episode of which was being advertised at this movie). The various humans are human enough, but also strongly caricatured (and the bit 'players' have faces very similar to those of bit players in The Incredibles). The dogs are wonderfully done, full of dogginess, and true to their natures. Only the bird, Kevin, seems a little out of tune with the movie. Perhaps it's because it's the brightest creature on the block (colour-wise that is, not intelligence-wise), it stands out against the mostly muted background colours. This is hardly a flaw in the movie, however, and most likely the strong difference is intentional.

When I first saw The Incredibles I was rather disappointed: it seemed overlong, and lacking in humour. Subsequent viewings from our hard drive copy has shown that the pleasures in it grow with each viewing. Hopefully Up, which appeals much more readily on first viewing, won't lose the flavour on further viewings.

I mustn't forget to mention the short film that accompanied Up. Partly Cloudy takes a wonderfully simple idea - storks delivering babies (all kinds of babies, human, animal and scary) - and shows how these babies are produced by some delightful cloud beings up in the sky, including one who seems only able to produce slightly off-the-wall creatures. His stork is constantly in danger of being damaged by whatever new 'baby' arrives. And that's pretty much it. But it's a wonderful idea superbly executed, and if your cinema isn't showing it along with the main feature, complain to the management.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Structure and Dance

Earlier this month I mentioned that I'd been reading Blake Snyder's book on screenwriting, called Save the Cat. The one I read was a sequel to another book with the same title - they have different subtitles, however.

I've just finished the original book (guess you're thoroughly confused by now) - it's called Save the Cat - the last book on screenwriting you'll ever need. It's written in a style that the average teenager could probably read (if he/she wanted) but that's not to say that its ideas are aimed at someone with the low mental capacity of some teenagers.

The best thing about the book is its focus on structure (the sequel has the same focus but comes at it rather differently). Okay, we may not all be wanting to write a blockbuster, or a top comedy, or a thriller or whatever, but the points Snyder has to make about structure are worth considering whether you're a screenwriter, a playwright or a novelist. You may not feel that everything he has to say is relevant to your craft - you may feel that you're above the kind of advice he gives (obviously people have told him they are by the way he pokes fun at them) - whatever you're reaction to the book it's still worth considering in the light of STRUCTURE.

Did I shout? Sorry, but structure, as I've mentioned on innumerable occasions, is what makes a book, movie, play hold together in a way that's satisfying to the reader, viewer, bum on seat.
I guess you could say the problem with Snyder's approach is that he's thinking only of making movies that are top dollar sellers; lesser movies, indies and so on, don't really get a look in. (He gives Memento a few snide side-comments.) This is fair enough, but obviously not everyone wants to write a blockbuster. However, Snyder's points on structure still stand for most stories: many a decent non-blockbuster movie has fallen over because the structure doesn't follow some of the best principles. Geniuses might get away with a lack of structure (Shakespeare and Dickens, for starters) but most of us aren't geniuses, and we need the backbone that structure gives.

On another topic entirely, my wife and son and I went to the Dunedin City Baptist Church Ball last night (yup, Baptists dance). The Church has held a few of these over the years, and of course there have been 21st birthdays and weddings notable for their dances too. It's good to get together with a bunch of people, many of whom you know, some you don't, and relax by dancing.

I wasn't desperate to go, because I was fearfully tired in the late afternoon after a day of cleaning up and particularly after an hour and a half spent in the garden, where I seemed to run out of energy completely. However, dancing seems to revitalise the body as well as the soul, and I danced most of the dances on the card last night. Pulled out of the line dancing as I just couldn't get to grips with the seeming lack of flow, but otherwise enjoyed what we did.

For some reason the music accompanying the Gay Gordons dance was out of sync with the steps - otherwise things were fine.

It's quite delightful seeing the big grins on people's faces - especially people who are often serious in the day to day - and seeing them skipping around the floor like children. I suspect there'll be a good deal of dancing in Heaven!

Photo by Andrew West of people doing the Gay Gordons: opening section. It looks rather more sedate than our version last night, and the room's a lot less crowded.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Two extracts from Finding Sanctuary

Finding Sanctuary is by Abbot Christopher Jamison.

In February 2004 BBC Television broadcast a programme entitled 'What the World Thinks of God.' As part of their research they commissioned Bradford University's Peace Studies Department to carry out an audit of wars over the last hundred years, with specific reference to the role of religion in causing those wars. Looking back at history, they analysed the actual mechanisms by which religion might case war and found several possible ways in which this occurs. These mechanisms might be the promise of salvation to those who fought the infidel, or the intention of religious leaders to seize holy places - both key factors in the medieval crusades. Or they might be the desire ot convert the enemy, as in the wars of the Reformation.

The researchers then analysed the thirty-two wars of the twentieth century. Their conclusions were that only three had a significant religious element. They considered the Israeli-Arab wars, for example, to be wars of nationalism and liberation of territory (and I would ad that the same is true of the Irish wars and conflicts). They noted that the current campaign being waged by Arab terror groups is largely about political order in the Arab countries, especially the presence of foreigners there. These groups use the language of religion, but the use of religious language to justify terrorism is disowned by mainstream religious leaders.

Political leaders use differences in confessional faith as a way of mobilising support for political wars, and it is mainly in this way that religion becomes a factor in war. Furthermore, the main wars of the century (the two world wars, the Russian civil war leading to Stalin's regime, the Chinese civil war leading to Mao's regime) claimed seventy-five percent of all casualties of war in the twentieth century: they killed 150 million people. None of them is attributable to religion. The recent conflicts in which religion has played a significant role have killed only one per cent of the number of victims of secular wars.

This study provides evidence that religion is not a major reason for war in modern times. But the two great moments of violent religious conflict in Europe, the Crusades and the Reformation, have cast a long shadow over the popular mind, so that even though there have been no truly religious wars for many centuries, even intelligent commentators still insists that religion causes wars. The reality, however, is that in the modern world it is governments, and not religions, that cause wars. (pp 165-6 Weidenfeld and Nicolson edition 2006)

And on another tack entirely:

I offer a final story from the desert fathers and mothers. A young monk once went to see his superior: 'Father, ' he said, 'I must leave the monastery because I clearly do not have a vocation to be a monk.' When the older monk asked why, the younger monk replied: 'In spite of daily resolutions to be good-tempered, chaste and sober, I keep on sinning. So I feel I am not suited to the monastic life.' The older monk looked at him with love and said: 'Brother, the monastic life is this: I rise up and I fall down, I rise up and I fall down, I rise up and I fall down.' The young monk stayed and persevered. (pg 172 ibid)

And in spite of the title of this post, one more:

You may be wondering whether such an approach to scripture is only for monks, so I offer you this thought from St John Chrysostom, the great fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople. "'I am not,' you will say, 'one of the monks, but I have both a wife and children, and the care of a household.' This is what has ruined everything, your thinking that the reading of scripture is for monks only, when you need it more than they do. Those who are placed in the world, and who received wounds every day, have the most need of medicine." (pg 66 ibid)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Flying car doors

Reached the tidy sum of 1200 posts on here yesterday with my piece on webinars. And my fun piece on Grandparents' Rules that I posted on Gomestic yesterday has taken off; for some reason it appeals to other grandparents, who seem to like the idea of a bit of anarchy amongst us older bods.

I was reading on Facebook a few minutes ago about a well-known church leader in Australia who was just opening his car door when someone drove past and blew it off its hinges. I saw this happen in town once, many years ago. A woman opened her door to get out of the car and a passing truck struck it and sent it flying way down the road. You have to be driving close to a car to do that. And hopefully not still holding onto the handle.

You might not mind such an event if your car was a cheap and nasty little vehicle, full of rust and about to be sent to the tip. But if you had something a bit more classy, a Lamborghini, Maserati and Ferrari, then the thought of replacing the door would be very upsetting. Ferrari parts, I imagine, ain't cheap - nor are those for Lamborghinis or Maseratis - though I guess it would be your insurance company that would be upset more than you.

I suppose most Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati owners would have insurance - unless the car had cost them so much they had nothing left over to cover the car.

Photo of the Ferrari by Bob Henry

Thursday, September 24, 2009

First Webinar Status


This morning I rose at 5.45 am in order to have the experience of going on a webinar. A webinar is a web-based seminar, as the link says, and "a key feature of a webinar is its interactive elements - the ability to give, receive and discuss information. Contrast with Webcast, in which the data transmission is one way and does not allow interaction between the presenter and the audience."

So there you have it. This was free webinar, which was just as well in view of what happened. And it was on a subject which I wasn't anxious to know more about; I was happy to listen to the seminar, but wouldn't have been cast down if I'd missed it. Which was just as well.

I'd booked the webinar about a week ago, and worked out from their little dinky linky thing that if it was 3 pm on Wednesday at the place where the webinar was coming from, it was 6 am on Thursday here in New Zealand. It was very kind of them to tell me so.

I gave myself a bit of time to sit down and get set up and discovered the first issue. I had to download a little programme in order to participate. Okay, not such a hassle.

I then realised, of course, that webinars require you to use a phone line, and so I rang the number (in the States) and was told that my access code was invalid, in spite of it being the one they'd sent me. Nothing would persuade the machine voice otherwise.

And then I realised that even if I'd got on the phone, it was going to cost me the price of an international toll call - for the hour I was on there. A change of plan was required (by this time the webinar had well started). I went and got the Skype earphones, and then realised (it was one of those mornings) that the plugs for these earphones are in the back of the computer - not the most accessible of places.

My wife - listening to my pacing back and forth from bed - got up and told me the sensible thing would be to use the laptop, which has a plug in the side. Went and got the laptop from the other room, carefully leaving the earphones behind as I did so.

Got Skype set up, found the earphones after some bewilderment as to how they could have wandered off on their own, and then found that we couldn't ring Skype to Skype, we had to ring a telephone number.

This required topping up the Skype account - in Euros. (Don't ask me why NZ has to use Euros.) Topped up the Skype account, and then discovered that I couldn't just copy and paste the phone number into the Skype box because it was one of those on-screen key pads. Had to go and check the number again. Type it in. Finally hear the sound of the seminar coming to an end and the question time beginning.

Had the joy of listening to questions about a topic I hadn't heard.

Nevertheless, I achieved first webinar status. At the end, when it was all over (it went from 6 to 7 our time) the person hosting the webinar forgot to turn off the connection at their end, and I had the joy of listening to her discussing with one of her colleagues how the thing had gone, how many people had joined in (180) and how few had 'put up their hands' to ask a question. They may be connected still, but I had to go to work.

Photo of a lady in red listening into a webinar by Pete Gray.

Whatever happened to?

For quite a while there's been something puzzling me.

When I used to go on the buses - which wasn't often, because for years my wife picked me up from work on her way home from her job - people basically spoke to the driver when they got their ticket and that was that.

Since I've been getting the buses again, over the last several years, I've noticed that a new thing has come in. People, particularly young people, say 'Thank you' or 'Cheers' or something similar to the bus driver when they get off. While this is a good thing - the acknowledging of the driver - it's odd that the same people, especially the young people, won't give other people the time of day. How do I know this? Because these same people who are so happy to call out to the driver, can't even say 'Excuse me' if they need to get past you - especially if they're sitting next to the window and you're on the aisle. They just expect you'll notice that they're about to alight, and that you'll get up.

Which is fine, except what happened to 'Excuse me'? We seem to have done a colon cleanse of 'Excuse me' and a silicon job on 'Thank you,' if you can see the analogy...

Photo by Thomas on Flickr.com

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sans Guacamole

It's my older son's birthday today, and he and his wife, his toddler, my middle daughter and her five-year old, my wife and I all went out for a meal together. And then went onto my son's house where we had some of his birthday cake. I won't be able to lose belly fat at this rate.
My younger son, meanwhile, is on a diet of rice, porridge and a few vegetables this week. It's being done by a number of people in the church to give them the opportunity to empathise with people round the world who are hungry all the time, and also to help them put some money aside to offer some aid to the poor. By what I see on Facebook, some of the others doing the 'fast' aren't enjoying it much!
I'm afraid I haven't taken the fast on myself; I know in advance I wouldn't make it. There was a time when I could fast - for the 48 Hour Famine, for instance - but these days it just doesn't happen, however good my intentions are. It probably needs a change of mind as well as diet, but....
For our meal we went to a place on the corner of Filleul St that was originally built as a pub (by someone we knew reasonably well at the time); it's been a variety of things since, and is currently a Mexican-style restaurant. The food was good, but oddly, when we got our meals, there was no guacamole on anything, even though it was listed with most things on the menu . (Guacamole, for those - like me - who don't know what it consists of, is made of squashed ripe avocados, tomatoes, onions and some other items.) When my son queried this with the waiter, he was told that they'd received hard avocados instead of soft ones, and so they hadn't been able to make guacamole.
A bit odd not to mention this to the customers, though! And then my daughter's dish arrived without sour cream, which was also listed on the menu. Again we had to chase up the waiter.
Full marks for the food we got; several demerits for being rather casual with information.

The superb photo, Sol del guacamole, is by Hale Popoki

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fracture and Breach

Two movies with a similar prime theme: an older (experienced) man versus a younger (cocky)
man.

Fracture is the one that worked less well, I felt: Anthony Hopkins plays a man who murders his wife and is certain he can get away with it. Hopkins does yet another variation on his Hannibal Lecter creep. Ryan Gosling plays a young lawyer full of himself who needs taking down a peg or two (quite a few people in the movie try, but only Hopkins really succeeds).

The problem is that Hopkins is a totally unsympathetic character from beginning to end, even when he's beating Gosling at his own game. Gosling deserves being pulled down but he's actually the one in the right, so the audiences' sympathies are pulled different ways. More importantly, Fracture never quite takes off. Hopkins has things his own way for too much of the movie, and Gosling's character, for all the build up it gets as a super-whiz kid, doesn't really seem to have the goods. It's almost a matter of luck that he figures the problem out in the end.

Breach starts slowly, and seems as though it isn't going to gain steam, but by the end it has really gripped the viewer. For once 'based on a true story' doesn't mean a lack of dramatic impetus. Furthermore, Ryan Phillipe and Chris Cooper inhabit their characters thoroughly - Hopkins and Gosling, in the other film, seem more to be just performing their roles.

Cooper has always been able to play characters we find unpleasant without switching us off completely. We always hope for some redemption (there's none here, by the way). In this movie he's an FBI agent who's been double-crossing his country for decades, and no one's been able to catch him. Phillipe is given the role of being his stooge, pretending to be a lot dumber than he is, in order to bring him to heel. This requires the ability to be both quick on the uptake and apparently slow at the same time, and the tension frequently results from him playing out both sides of the character at once.

The person played by Cooper remains an enigma throughout, full of contradictions and frequently thoroughly nasty. It's an excellent performance. The movie is mind against mind - there's virtually no violent behaviour in it, and the only shooting occurs either on a target range or briefly at the end as an excuse to frighten the younger character.

The Magic Flute

By chance I came across Ingmar Bergman's film of The Magic Flute on DVD at the library the other day. I'd just been talking about it to a friend a few days before, not having seen it since it came out in 1975.

I watched it last night, and I can't say it's Bergman's greatest movie. But then, it was made for television, and doesn't have the feel of a 'real' Bergman movie as a result. Still, he doesn't just film a stage production, but gives the impression that he has, even though there are extreme close-ups and camera viewpoints out into the audience. And in the intermission there's a lovely moment when the singer playing Sarastro joins a little boy (playing a Moor) and they both look out through peep-holes in the curtain to see who's in the audience.

There are a couple of other moments when the 'stage' version approach is broken by having the camera invade the backstage where the singers are already into their characters, and playing them offstage as well as on.

But it's Mozart's music that makes the thing worth watching; again and again the delight of the music for this particular opera strikes home. It must surely be his most 'perfect' opera overall because of the wide variety of musical characterizations and the felicity of the accompaniment. (I'm sure others will vote for different operas; I vote for this one.)

When I say it's his most perfect opera, of course, I'm thinking of the music rather than the libretto, which is basically a fairy story that turns into a load of old tosh as it moves forward. All the super serious stuff that Sarastro and his brotherhood discuss tend to pull the story away from its basic fairy tale origins: prince and princess, bad witch, good uncle, a couple of low characters (Papageno and Papagena) and a Moor thrown in for good measure. The way the libretto goes it makes it almost a war between genders: bad mother, good father, with the kids caught in the middle. But that isn't worth worrying about; everything else is wonderful about it.

The man (Josef Köstlinger) who plays Tamino is a bit earnest (Tamino is a bit earnest, but he doesn't have to be played quite that way), but Håkan Hagegård as Papageno is a lot more fun, not just because his character is livelier anyway, but because he is obviously happier in front of the camera. (The Papageno/Papagena duet with a gradual disrobing of the winter gear - right down to shoes and socks, is a delight.) It appears that most of the cast are/were opera singers primarily, rather than actors, but Bergman gets good performances out of them in general.

The staging is full of fun moments: it appears at first to take place on a fairly small stage but Bergman expands it at will, while still keeping the scenery as painted backdrops and flats. Within that framework he produces some lovely effects however, winter turning into spring, stars appearing, the mechanical balloon with the three boys and so on. And then there's the stage dragon, and the various animals that appear when Tamino plays his magic flute.

My suspicion is that The Magic Flute is almost indestructible, and an artist of Bergman's calibre would be hard pressed to make a bad film out of it. He didn't.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The saga continues...


On Sept the 8th, there was a meeting with John Boscawen, Bob McCoskrie, Jim Evans and Larry Baldock on amending s59 of the Crimes Act to decriminalise the use of reasonable force for the purposes of parental correction. (That's the 'anti-smacking' bill for you bods out there wot didn't understand that legal language.0

Madeleine Flanagan wrote on the blog, MandM about the meeting, and gives a short rundown on what each of the speakers said, as well as reminding us of the difficulty Sue Bradford apparently has with everyday, ordinary plainspeaking language. She doesn't do her party any favours, and it would probably be best for them to forcibly retire her as soon as practically possible.

Unless, of course, she can come up with a real solution to the problem of child abuse in this country, something she so far has predictably failed to do.

Incidentally, I hadn't come across the MandM site before - it's run by Matt and Madeleine Flanagan - you can read all about them here. I like their style, and have signed up to the Twitter page to give myself an idea if they're the sort of people I'd like to keep track of (!)

People's Train & the Consciousness Plague


About three days ago I finished a book I've been struggling my way through for what seems like weeks (but probably isn't). It's one I had to review for the Otago Daily Times, and I did my best to like it, but pretty much failed, as you can see from what will be the review when they publish it.

The writer is Tom (sometimes Thomas) Keneally, perhaps most famous for Schindler's List, the book that inspired the film of the same name. (Actually the book was originally called Schindler's Ark, but you won't find new editions of it with that name now.)

I've read other books by Keneally, one set in Australia and to do with priests and priesthood, and another set in the Antarctic, about explorers there who see someone from Scott's party who should have been dead long since. (It's also a murder mystery of sorts.) I enjoyed both of these.

But this latest book, The People's Train, has structural problems, or perhaps just narrative problems. It's told by two narrators: one takes up about 250 pages, the other the rest of the book. The first, a Russian exile living in Brisbane at the beginning of the 20th century, is a man focused so much on socialism and the revolution that he seems unable to connect with people, even though he has a kind of charisma about him. Unfortunately this makes him a very dull storyteller. Not that there isn't 'story' to tell; it's just somehow his approach to it is dull.

The second narrator, whom we've already met in the first part of the book, is a 30-something Australian journalist, with a taste for adventure. He joins the Russian when the latter returns to Russia in the days leading up to the Ten Days that Shook the World, and tells things from his viewpoint. However, he hero-worships the Russian, to a degree, and takes on board all the socialist/Marxist stuff that's spouted to him - spouted from every quarter. 'These Russians can certainly orate' he notes, after one particular day on which they rave on hour after hour.

The reader, for better or worse, seldom hears any of the discussions. They're all reported at secondhand. This may be a good thing. Politics isn't my greatest joy, and discussions of politics even less so. Innumerable other events are reported, however, from the grim to the violent to the vicious. Yet they're all seen through a kind of objective window, as though neither the Russian or the reporter can feel any real emotion about them. Keneally somehow manages to keep us at a distance throughout the book, and we rarely feel anything for the Russian, or even for the other characters as they struggle through difficult and tumultuous times. Only in the very last pages, when one of the characters attempts to rape a woman and is stopped by the Russian and the reporter, do we have any sense of outrage. Perhaps Keneally knows that the huge events are just too huge, and has to bring the horrors down to a personal level. Yet he's done this throughout the book, and for me, very little of it affected me.

Perhaps I've become tuned out to the emotions that are portrayed here. Or perhaps something about the book just didn't take hold and nothing it could do would please me...!

On the other hand, I happened to come across Paul Levinson's The Consciousness Plague at the library while looking in the sci-fi section for something else. Levinson's book can hardly be called sci-fi, except in the most loose sense. It's far more a detective story, with a lot of scientific stuff thrown in - the main character is a forensics man. It has two 'mysteries' on hand. The first is why people are starting to lose patches of their memory after taking a new flu antibiotic; the second is why a number of young ladies have been murdered over a period of six months or so.

The murders occupy quite a bit of the book and cross over with the scientific stuff, but for me that part of the story was left at something of a loose end. Probably as a result of reading too fast (and having too many names to keep track of) I wasn't sure that the murder side of things got thoroughly solved. On the other hand, the issue with the bacteria that's affecting people's memories is possibly the more interesting part of the story, and whether it's scientific or baloney it comes across as very well.

Perhaps the strangest thing about reading this book is that it's so close to the hype that's surrounded swine flu...

The God Gene

John Cleese, looking considerably older than he does in the endless re-runs of Fawlty Towers, explains some new findings in the gene programme, including the one the makes us believe in God.




Keep your ears open; this is smarter than it seems...!

I've published this on the National Mission blog as well...think it's appropriate for both places.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Theatre of the Oppressed


Some quotes from Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed:

"This book attempts to show that all theatre is necessarily political, because all the activities of man are political and theater is one of them.

Those who try to separate theater from politics try to lead us into error -- and this is a political attitude.

In this book I also offer some proof that the theater is a weapon. A very efficient weapon. For this reason one must fight for it. For this reason the ruling classes strive to take permanent hold of the theater and utilize it as a tool for domination. In so doing, they change the very concept of what 'theater' is. But the theater can also be a weapon for liberation. For that, it is necessary to create appropriate theatrical forms. Change is imperative.

I came across this book this morning while reading a blog post by Alan Roxburgh, who writes a good deal about Christian mission and being 'missional.' When you consider what Boal is saying it's intriguing to see this book listed on Roxburgh's site, since it's plain from the few statements above that Boal views things from a Communist/Marxist point of view, where everything is political. The trouble is, everything isn't political. I've just read a fairly dreary book called The People's Train, by the Australian writer, Tom Keneally. The main character in that book is full of socialist thinking, particularly Leninism, and the book - to me, at least - is as dull as ditchwater, because the main character is so dull; his views on everything are political.

Roxburgh takes up Boal's approach somewhat differently, I suspect. Here's a passage from the blog post in question.

One [woman] spoke briefly of research she had done for her doctorate. It involved listening to the conversations of women in the communities where she ministered in the UK. Her interest was in spirituality and spiritual formation. She brought to those interviews with these ordinary, everyday women the reflections of a variety of feminist theologians about women and spirituality. In the interviews, she discovered that while the theologians had been partially correct in their proposals, these women’s stories were telling her much that she would never have known apart from sitting among them and listening to their stories. These women wanted to talk about their experiences and spirituality but had little sense that they had ever been asked or listened to. There is a chorus of voices in our communities and neighborhoods longing to be heard and screaming to be given voice.

Now Roxburgh doesn't go from there to insist that we all get political. What he's saying at the beginning of the post is that one of the values of Twitter, Facebook and the like is that ordinary voices can be heard.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Well meaning, but....

I don't know what Richard Dawkins will make of this, but one of the leading scientists and atheists in the UK has come out saying that perhaps religion - God, even - will save us from ourselves in the coming catastrophe of Global Warming, or Climate Change, or whatever we should increase our home insurance on this week.

Lord May, who was brought up a Scottish Presbyterian but went through an "inverse epiphany" at the age of 11, (which strikes me as fairly mature for an eleven-year-old) says, “A supernatural punisher maybe part of the solution.”

Plainly Lord May hasn't discovered that God is Love, rather than being some nasty big daddy in the sky who beats people up when they don't behave. (Yes, he does have a bit of that too, but it isn't his major characteristic.)

A typical evolutionist, he adds that in the past a belief in a god, or gods, that punish the unrighteous may have been part of the mechanism of evolution that maintains co-operation in a dog-eat-dog world. Evolutionists can't ever say anything without bringing evolution in as some kind of pseudo-explanation, however absurd and unfounded the argument might be. (When you think about it, isn't the usual idea that evolution is survival of the fittest? Where would co-operation come into that?)

He goes on, "Given that punishment is a useful mechanism, how much more effective it would be if you invested that power not in an individual you don't like, but an all-seeing, all powerful deity that controls the world." Okay, now let's try and connect this to something ordinary: Does that means that when I put my grandchild to bed I should threaten him with a nasty deity who will thump him if he doesn't go straight to sleep? (In the light of the anti-smacking law we could then say to the judge, when we've been arrested for smacking our children, that God did it. Okay, I'm just joking....)

To listen to the esteemed Lord May a little more: while religion maybe one possible answer, it remained, at the moment, very much part of the problem as it had teetered ever more towards fundamentalism.

So religion is both the solution and the not-solution. Hmmm.

In less troubled times religions had become softer and less dogmatic, and embraced a more humane set of values, he said.

Um, Lord May doesn't seem to sure about his religious history. In the early days of the church, for instance, at times of often intense persecution, and when Rome had a plague (both fairly troublesome times, one would think) Christians were known for being softer than the normal Roman, and far more humane. It was the Romans, after all, who committed infanticide with great frequency, and the Christians who stayed with those who were dying and suffering when the Romans fled the cities.

But that pattern was now reversing with the rise of fundamental Islamic and Christian beliefs.

The rise of fundamental Christian beliefs? Umm, Lord May, fundamental Christian beliefs have never gone away, so they've no need to 'rise.' The basic Christian beliefs are the same today as they were in the beginning.

Sometimes you have to ask yourself: do atheists actually listen to what they're saying?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A handshake

I was just reading a book called Finding Sanctuary: monastic steps for everyday life, by Abbot Christopher Jamison, when I came across a photograph about halfway through of a handshake. It accompanies the section on Community, and the photograph shows two men shaking hands, though all you can see are their unclothed arms from about the elbows down.

I don't know why this photo struck me as particularly interesting, and I thought I might have a quick look on the Net to see if I could find a copy of it. (I didn't, but you can see something similar here.)

Well, so far I haven't, but to my astonishment, I found hundreds of photos of handshakes on Google images. Each Google image page (on my computer anyway) brings up 18 images. There were 55 pages, making nearly a 1000 images of people shaking hands. Some of them are images connected with the idea of handshakes, but the majority are either of two people shaking hands, or of someone offering to shake their hand. Drawings, photographs, clipart, the lot.

Why is this so extraordinary, you ask, since people shake hands constantly - on an average day in a small country like New Zealand, with some 4.5 million people, there could well be a million handshakes a day.

That in itself is striking. This sign of peace between people goes on minute by minute throughout our nation, and throughout the world - at least in all those places where a handshake is the norm.

The photo on the left is by David Swart, Flickr.com

Norman Borlaug

More than 30 years ago, Norman Borlaug wrote, "One of the greatest threats to mankind today is that the world may be choked by an explosively pervading but well camouflaged bureaucracy."

He still believes that environmental activists and their allies in international agencies are a threat to progress on global food security. Barring such interference, he is confident that agricultural research, including biotechnology, will be able to boost crop production to meet the demand for food in a world of 8 billion or so, the projected population in 2025.

Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and was still teaching, in 2000, at the age of 86. He was the 'father' of the Green Revolution, the dramatic improvement in agricultural productivity that swept the globe in the 1960s, achieved by the production of high-yield dwarf wheat. His team's dwarf wheat varieties resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than the traditional varieties, and were shipped to countries where wheat was struggling to grow. As a result both Pakistan and India have been able to feed themselves in spite of huge population growth.

Information above from an article in ReasonOnline. Norman Borlaug died at the age of 95, on Saturday, Sept 12th, 2009.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Where's the focus?

A certain kind of seriousness is a pitfall when we deal with an artform in a religious context. It arises from several sources: confusing the artform itself with what motivates the artist, insecurity about technical and choreographic skills, and secret uncertainty about the appropriateness of art in church.

These confusions and uncertainties account for the unfortunate self-importance of some dance made for religious settings. It is time for us to admit that the ludicrous stiffness and - dare I say it? - self-absorbed earnestness of this kind of 'religious' dance is not only highly questionable theologically; it is down-right off-putting to those who watch.

We may respond that we are not dancing for the watcher, we are dancing for God. But is that really what we are doing? Surely we do not believe that God needs our dance. We may be helped out of this confusion by remembering that even the Benedictines, those unsurpassed singers of Gregorian chant, emphatically state that they do not chant 'for God;' they do not chant because God somehow needs their chant. To be sure, they chant 'to the glory of God.' But they are quite clear that it is they - the community - not God, who need the healing, soaring, timeless beauty of the chant.

In the same way, it is our communities that need the communication our dancing has to offer. When dance is made to be watched, its primary flow of communication is outward toward real people, people like us.

What I am trying to say is astringently summed up in the comment of a cleryperson about dance he had recently seen in a cathedral liturgy. Very perceptive about the arts in the church, and also aware of his own physical reserve, he expressed his disappointment wit what he had seen by remarking, 'It was so tight and solemn! I could have choreographed it myself.'

This is from pp 34-5 of Performer as Priest and Prophet, the book I wrote about the other day. I found this comment about the Benedictines chanting to the glory of God rather than for the glory of God something that strikes a particular chord with me. When I played in church regularly, I always found it difficult to somehow get myself into a place where I was focusing on God in the playing. What I was mostly focusing on was my own self and my playing and whether it was good, bad or incredible; what I also focused on was the response of the congregation, not to me, but to what the music itself was doing amongst them.

The first of those two is something I suspect most artists have difficulty with: getting yourself out of the road. But there was considerable joy in having a sense that the music and you and the congregation were at one.

On the other hand, being a performer is a gift. The music will be different if you
don't perform, if you merely play it. In church, if you don't lead the music, and draw the congregation along in that leading, then things are half-hearted and dull. Whether a performer can ever stand outside him or herself and just let the music take over is something I'm not sure about. I hear great artists saying it happens; I'm not sure that I'm convinced.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Concert tonight

Concert tonight, and it's one of those waiting-around days, when you're not really sure what to do with yourself. I've done some practice, though not as much as yesterday, and played through some other music to try and stop myself feeling a bit stale at working on the same pieces over and over. (The thing is, if they're not right now they certainly won't be any better tonight!) But I need to have my fingers up and running when I start, as there won't be any second chances. (Although, at the last concert, one of the singers missed an entry twice, and we finished up doing the first 10 bars or so three times...!)

So:
I've done the Sudoku in the Otago Daily Times, and the easier of the two cryptic crosswords;
we've been to the e-day and taken an older printer there and a couple of cellphones (and met my son, who was volunteering);
we've done the food shopping for the week, plus getting some items for the supper tonight;
I've planted a bunch of dahlias in the garden by the drive;
I've listened to my daughter bewailing the problems she's had with what was a very expensive digital camera with a great movie function that she can't edit on her laptop. This problem has been going on since she got the camera, and is now exacerbated by the fact that the video section of the camera is virtually full and she can't download the video - even the software's not working properly. At the moment she's managing to get it backed up to my PC, but it's going to take all night by the looks of it...!

I wonder if this is how Mozart, or Beethoven or some other equally esteemed composer spent their Saturday before going off to the Konzerthaus...?


My photo of dahlias in our garden towards the end of summer, along with the red stalks of the silver beet.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stranger than Fiction

Watched the movie, Stranger than Fiction, last night. I didn't realise my son had recorded it onto our hard drive recently, and was pleased to catch up with it.

Will Ferrell does a great job as the very uptight hero, Harold Crick, who would have got on with his exceptionally boring life if it hadn't been for the fact that he's occasionally begun to hear a detailed narration of his life. Somehow he communicates boring without being boring; he's quite endearing, in fact. His narrator is the ever-wonderful Emma Thompson, here playing a famous writer so stricken with writer's block that she's gaunt, drawn and haggard, and as uptight in her own way as Harold is in his his.

Queen Latifah and Dustin Hoffman round out the main roles, and the somewhat surprised romantic female lead is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (whatever happened to the days when film stars had names that rolled off your tongue?)

Zach Helm, the scriptwriter, has carefully avoiding explaining too much: we have no idea why an apparently real person should suddenly find himself to be a character in someone's book, and no idea how this all works at the end, when 'character' and author eventually meet. By sidestepping that possible complication, Helm is able to focus on the people in the story, and give us a few comments on life and death and the fact that like it or not, we all face death at some time - even if, as Harold remarks rather tearfully, it's just not convenient at the moment. It's also slightly unlikely that someone as wild as Gyllenhaal's character would really fall so readily for someone so boring/oddball as Harold, but somehow it works in the context of the movie. Only Ferrell, perhaps, could make the line, 'I want you' sound both romantic and physical.

Looking back at the list of quotes on imdb.com I realise again that the dialogue - and narration - in this movie is a lot sharper than you first think. And the humour is subtle; very little of it has that TV sitcom style of: person A makes an odd remark, person B caps it with a laugh line. And there's quite a lot of fun had with the idea of what a story is, how it works, whether it's a comedy or tragedy, and whether all of us have this kind of sense of being part of a story written by someone else.

In the trivia section related to this film, there's this interesting paragraph: The last names of all the characters (and the bus line and publishing firm names) are the names of mathematicians, scientists, engineers, artists, etc. (Harold) Francis Crick: with Watson and Wilkins found the structure of DNA; (Ana) Blaise Pascal: French mathematician and philosopher; (Karen) Gustave Eiffel: engineer and designer of the Eiffel Tower; (Penny) M.C. Escher: Dutch graphic artist; (Dr.) Magnus Gustaf Mittag-Leffler: Swedish mathematician; (Professor Jules) David Hilbert: German mathematician; (Doctor) Gerardus Mercator: 16th century Flemish cartographer; (Kronecker Bus Line) Leopold Kronecker: German-born mathematician and logician; (Banneker Press) Benjamin Banneker: free African American mathematician, astronomer, clockmaker, and publisher; (Dr. Cayly) Arthur Cayley, 19th century British mathematician. Even Dave (no last name) seems to be a reference to the main character from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

It's hard to know how people pick these things up, but it's interesting that they do! (Even harder to know what sort of people pick up the goofs on movies....are they totally focused on looking for inconsistencies?)

Karismatic!

Just reading up on the Karisma hotels site again, where they feature, amongst other things, all inclusive vacations.

One of the 'all inclusives' I noticed was that in the bars they have 'real swings or hanging beds.' Crikey, that might be iffy! Just imagine getting out of a hanging bed when you're had a little too much to drink. But these 'inclusive' features must be part of the sleek and sensual sit-down locales and fashion-forward bars. Don't you just love the language here? A sensual sit-down (as opposed to a sensible one) conjures up all sorts of ideas, as does a fashion-forward bar. Let's not go further down that track, perhaps.

The Riviera Maya has two famous bars, Los Cotorros and Las Guacamayas; both feature real swings (as opposed to unreal ones). Apparently the adjective, cotorro, can mean any of the following: chatty, talkative, loud, noisy. The first two sound enticing; not so sure about the second two, but then, as people claim, I'm getting old. A guacamayo is a macaw, according to one site, so I guess that the colourful aspects of that bird would be incorporated here. Hopefully the accompanying noise might be left at home...

Azul Beach Hotel focuses on families. Seemingly parents are pampered not only with with adult-sized indulgences (let's not go there either) but extras like strollers, cribs, baby milk heaters, beach games, colouring books, refrigerators for milk and medicines, and kid-sized bathrobes. That lot'll bring the 'adult-sized indulgences' down to earth pretty quickly!

Regrettably the Riviera Maya (Mexico's Caribbean) is just a little too far away for our current vacation budget. If we make it to Moeraki (not Otago's Caribbean) this year we'll be doing well....!

Photo of the Macaw by Eric Heupel

Concert tomorrow - background notes

Just been doing a run-through of all the pieces for the concert tomorrow - that is, everything I've got to play. It's a curious thing that at this stage of the game things that have never gone wrong before suddenly go wrong, added, of course, to the things that are already not quite going right. It's most disconcerting, but something you have to live with.

Yesterday I printed out the programmes (while cooking tea, incidentally), and got some background information on the various poets who wrote the texts for the songs we're doing. Some intriguing stuff came out of this. The poem by Anne Sexton - Welcome Morning - is a lovely piece with a great sense of refreshment and joy in the small ordinary things of the day. Yet Sexton was in and out of depression from her late twenties, attempted suicide more than once, and finally committed suicide in her mid-forties - after having tidied everything up for her publishers.

Helena Henderson (also known as Helena France, and sometimes as Paul Henderson!) was a New Zealand poet whose Catholic father was so opposed to her marrying a non-Catholic that he feigned suicide the night before the wedding! She went ahead with the wedding, however, and for the first three years of the marriage she and her husband lived on a yacht he'd built. It was moored in Lyttelton Harbour, and she used to row him to work every morning.

Ain't people's lives intriguing?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Intuition and Structure in Composing and more...

I bought a copy of a book called Performer as Priest and Prophet a few months ago, but hadn't got round to reading it. I first came across it at work, where my boss had a borrowed copy from the Hewitson Library. Something about it rang bells, and I bought a secondhand copy (it's out of print). However, with all the shifting around in the house due to the renovation of the kitchen, it kind of got shelved in more ways than one.

The book is by Judith Rock, a professional dancer (and former auxiliary NYPD police officer!), and Norman Mealy, a liturgist and musician (and occasional hymn-writer) - Mealy died before it was completed, but still had a great deal of input.

I only began reading the book this morning (in the bath - a great place to read: the mind seems more relaxed, and absorbs more, and is less distracted), so I can't really comment on it overall. But one thing struck me, and that was Rock's comments on intuition in the arts. (She wrote the Introduction.)

It made me consider how I write music. To an extent, I've tended to put down my way of composing. For the most part, I start at the beginning and finish at the end. Sometimes I do some chopping and changing on the way (particularly now that I work half between the piano and half between the Sibelius program), and at all times I'm looking for the right note or chord in relation to what goes before and after. But I seldom start out with a 'plan,' and sometimes the music just doesn't go - even though it seemed promising at the time - and gets abandoned before it reaches the end. Sometimes something that seemed promising is promising, but it takes a patch of time away from it to realise it. My piano piece, the one that wound up with the title, A Cowboy Learns the Tarantella, is a case in point. I woke up with the 'theme' running around in my head, went to the piano, jotted it down and then thought: that's pretty basic. But a few days later it came together, and 'basic' or not, it works. And Schoenberg Plays with his grandchildren - another piece that didn't in any way start out with that title (the titles tend to come later) - also started out with what seemed a great idea, but it just didn't want to work. It was only after I came back to it some time later than I saw the potential: same kind of material, but different approach.

I kind of find the music as I go along, rather than having it all worked out beforehand. Even with songs, it's as if a particular idea connects itself to the opening words, and we go along from there. It's very possible that a totally different idea could work - in fact, more than possible. What gets written on Tuesday may not have turned up on Thursday.

Structure suffers a bit in the process - I've discussed this several times in this blog - and there have been pieces, particularly pieces for larger forces than just a piano, or piano and voice, that have required some considerable sorting out. That's perfectly normal, of course, for any work, and I probably do it more with the piano pieces and such than I remember afterwards. It's just because they're smaller scale and more manageable in terms of tidying up structure.

What I'm saying is that I suspect far more composers work intuitively than we're led to believe by musicologists. The latter find all manner of connections in works afterwards; the composer doesn't think 'rationally' about these connections at the time; he or she tends to be so focused on getting the thing down on paper (preferably before it all blows away and he or she loses concentration) that he/she doesn't pick up a number of the connections.

But when you go back over your own work - particularly some time later, after you've forgotten the sweaty stage - you can often be surprised by what's turned up.

And talking of that, in one of the posts I just picked up regarding structure, I find that I was writing about a screenwriter called Blake Snyder. I'd forgotten his name altogether, but now realise I've just read a book by him called Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies: the screenwriter's guide to every story ever told. It's a sequel to Save the Cat! the last book on screenwriting you'll ever need. When I got Save the Cat! on interloan, I thought it was the first of the two books I was getting; it was the second. This second title goes through about fifty well-known movies and shows how each and every one of them follows a structure that's virtually identical.

Now whether that's really true is another matter. Whether the scriptwriters sat down and said: here's the structure, what story can we tell, is another matter altogether. I rather think Snyder has come along, like a musicologist, and made these films fit his theory. In the end the book isn't very inspiring. I'd still like to have a look at the first of the two books, though I suspect it's title is a little overblown. Yes, certain facets of storytelling turn up again and again, particularly in the movies - and there's a certain satisfaction in that. But quirkiness in movies, oddball approaches, the thing that is different, is also satisfying, and it would be horrible to think that we would have to endure endless movies all plotted along similar lines forever and ever Amen.

(Incidentally, I've just seen that Snyder died just last month of a pulmonary embolism- he was only 52.)

Well, I've strayed a fair way from my opening, but that's what happens when you don't have to go to work for a couple of days, and can relax while blogging!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I'm looking around

Our local Operatic Society, which used to put on very good shows which didn't cost them the earth to produce or the customer the earth to watch, have, over the last decade or two put on extravaganzas that involve heaps of cash and aren't cheap to attend.

There are two parts to the problem: one is that the Operatic Societies around the country decide together each year or thereabouts to produce a big show, something like Les Miserables. They club together and pay for the sets and costumes to be trundled around the country so that each society can have a turn with the goods without having to build and make them from scratch.

The other is that these shows cost a huge amount to put on in terms of royalties. Seth Godin had something to say about this in his blog the other day. He pointed out that even in the States to put on a now-rather-tired-old-show like Grease still costs the average musical comedy society or high school a good deal of money. $US3000 in the case of this particular musical. And the reason for this is that a small band of licensers have a kind of 'monopoly' on how much should be charged.

Here's Seth's solution. He writes:

Here's the opportunity that the net provides (in this case and so many others): someone should organize the customers and negotiate on their behalf.

Imagine contacting 3,000 high schools and finding 500 willing to join together and agree to act as a buying cartel. Now, the organizer can poll the directors at these schools and find thirty plays they'd be willing to put on next year. Go to the rights holders of these plays and say, "We're going to pick six of these plays. Each of the six will get a huge number of customers as a result, perhaps twenty times as many as you usually get. But to be among the six, you need to lower your price by a factor of ten."

Now, if you're the rights holder, you have a dilemma (but not a huge one). You can agree to lower your price and thus double your annual revenue on this dusty old play, or you can stay where you are and make zero.

As Seth so often does, he makes good sense. It's just a matter of having someone to champion such a process and get it off the ground. I'm looking around....

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Next week and then after


Concert's now only a week away - less in fact, since it's on Saturday - and the artists all seem pretty much up with the play. I'm getting to the point where I don't feel I can do any more with the piano pieces I play; if I don't get some things right now, I probably never will, but I'll need to keep practicing anyway. That's the problem with writing music that has passages in it that are just a bit beyond your own capability!

As for after the concert, well, I've got another play coming up, one that was to have gone on late last year, but didn't make it for various reasons: some health issues, as far as I recall. This one's A Christmas Carol, and I'm playing a couple of parts (as are some of the other actors): Marley's Ghost, and Mr Fezziwig (or is it Fizziweg? can never remember). The cast includes people from both When We Are Married and The Diary of Anne Frank, so it's kind of being amongst family.

What after that? I'd like to get on and finish the Children's Opera I started writing way back in the 70s, and which I've added some more to over the last few years. What's been holding me up was a lack of libretto. I did a kind of synopsis about a year ago, and things have stalled again since then. So I really need to sort this out.

I'd like to see if the three movements for brass band can get a play through. I've talked this over with a couple of the players from the St Kilda Band. It's up to me at this stage to go further with this, and I just need to get myself into gear, print out a full score, the parts and go from there.

And something else - something that I've already started on: while I was going through all the problems related to my prostate op late last year and early this year, I wrote a number of posts on another blog, WorkReport.net. Sometime after most of the hassle was over, I got an email from someone who was going through something similar, saying that the posts had helped him get some perspective on things. So I'm planning on turning the posts into an e-book, with some additional comments. I'm not sure how I go about putting an e-book out there, but we'll be working on it. (The link on WorkReport is a typical sample of the posts that were being written about this time. )

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Blade Runner re-viewed

I watched Blade Runner again last night - seems to be a season of catching up on older movies. It was listed as the 'Final Cut' and certainly, even though it's quite a few years since I first saw the film, there were scenes that didn't seem familiar at all. Whether that was just memory or alteration I'm not sure.

The story, when you think about it, can be summed up very easily. Four baddies on the loose. Kill them. The Harrison Ford character, Deckard, changes very little from the beginning to the end - if anything, he's even less enamoured of the job than he was at the beginning (we're not given any indication as to why he should have to go ahead with his particular job, since he's 'retired'). He has a sort of relationship with a girl, who is a 'replicant' - or human-like robot of the most sophisticated kind - and it kind of goes somewhere, but really has to struggle to hold its own with the violent episodes that are required to dispose of the four nasty replicants who are on the loose and shouldn't be.

The hunting down of the four replicants is pretty haphazard when you think about it. Deckard somehow finds a bit of reptile skin which he knows is synthetic, and this somehow leads him to the first of the replicants, a woman (Joanna Cassidy) doing some kind of sleazy act with the synthetic, but very lifelike snake. (Fortunately we don't get to see the act.) She cottons onto his cheesy performance as some kind of pervert inspector, and lands him a couple of solid blows to the neck (I think). But Deckard is a Dick Francis type of hero: you can mutilate him to within an inch of his life and he'll be back on his feet in minutes. He chases her and shoots her. Hmm, not much detective work there. The second replicant then finds him, and again practically kills him, and is shot in turn by the 'good' replicant girlfriend. Seems she can do anything if she's programmed for it, even things she didn't know she could do, like playing the piano.

The last two nasties, played by Daryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer (whose English varies between clear and incomprehensible) are the strangest of the lot. Hannah's character is plain oddball, and, if I got it right, a kind of killing machine. Hauer has a bit of a poet's heart, but isn't averse to doing the nastiest murder in the film. Hannah meets a frenetic, screaming end - and boy are we glad to see the end of her. She's just creepy.

Hauer is perhaps creepier, sometimes seeming to have popped over from the set of some horror movie, like the Friday the 13th series, but winds up, in the version I saw last night, dying quietly in the rain because his time has run out. (The replicants only get four years of 'life' - a rather short period of time, considering how superbly constructed they are.)

The film is full of oddball characters: William Sanderson as J F Sebastian, a genetic something-or-other who makes human-like toys; and Joe Turkel as the father/creator of the replicants, to name just a couple. Sanderson plays the most endearing character in the movie, but comes to a probably nasty, but thankfully unseen, end.

The thing that makes the movie most striking, perhaps, is the film noir approach: most of it takes place in a kind of perpetual night, with searchlights flicking across the screen for no apparent reason, and lots of neon lighting, and a kind of endless drizzle, (and sometimes it's pelting down). Chinese seems to be the prime language (though not for any of the main characters) and apart from advertising (Budweiser and Coca Cola in full view) most of the signage is in Chinese, and most of the food being served on the usual best fat burner from the street stalls is Chinese - and most of the lesser characters are Asian. It's a crowded noisy world, obviously unpleasant to live in, but taken for granted by the characters.

It's set in 2019, which isn't that far away now (the film was made in 1982), and while we have the usual flying cars and video phones and a few other clever futuristic things, the Internet is noticeably missing - to viewers in 2009. Barely thought of at that time, of course, and perhaps almost inconceivable.

There's one odd scene with a unicorn in the middle of the movie: perhaps Deckard is having a dream of some sort, but its pastoral tone comes out of nowhere, and vanishes almost as quickly. What was that about? And why does Darryl Hannay spray black stuff across her eyes (not a particularly healthy thing to do, I'd think) at one point? There are quite a few unanswered questions here...

Plainly the various versions of the film have had to be reassessed by reviewers: Roger Ebert has four reviews on imdb.com, the Guardian two, and BBCi films three. One or other of them might give me a clue as to the various shape-shifting this film has had.

PS. Here's what the Guardian has to say about the various versions of this movie:
You've probably seen Blade Runner: in 1982, on the release of the International Cut, or, if you happened to be in North America, the Domestic Cut. Then there was the Director's Cut, which actually had very little to do with the director. The one he did approve is called the Final Cut, which is the newest version - although it's not as new as the Workprint, which is the earliest one of all.
Confused? Warner Brothers feels your pain. As well as a new two-disc DVD of the Final Cut, they have issued a five-disc box set that includes every incarnation of Ridley Scott's film known to man, plus a multitude of extras. But why did we end up with so many versions? And is it worth shelling out for what sceptics may suspect is, essentially, the same film five times over?
This review is worth checking out if you want to have some idea which version is worth watching - I don't think it's really the one I saw last night.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Michael Chabon


In a sense, Chabon writes, "all literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction. That is why Harold Bloom's notion of the anxiety of influence has always rung so hollow to me … . All novels are sequels; influence is bliss." Influence is bliss because reading is bliss, and one of the gifts this book [Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands] brings is its exploration of writers—as varied as Cormac McCarthy and Philip Pullman—for whom other books, previous books, are living beings with which (with whom) we converse and from whom we draw both instruction and delight. They have the breath of life in them, like Adam inspired by God, or the golems brought to life by the rabbis of old.

Books as living beings....I might not have quite put it like that, but it rings as a truth.

The quote is from Alan Jacobs' article on Michael Chabon (co-screenwriter of number 2 in the Spiderman series and author of numerous books).

Spirituality of Creating and Anne Lamott

John Chandler has written a post about the Spirituality of Creating, which is worth reading. But in it he quotes Anne Lamott (it's from her book on writing, called Bird by Bird, one of the best books on writing around):

You are going to have to give and give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver.

There is no cosmic importance in getting something published, but there is cosmic importance in learning to be a giver. That's a statement to chew over during the day....

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Vole

Sometimes dreams are so memorable you think, This must be significant.

I woke around four this morning, decided to go to the loo (as one does) and came back and eventually went to sleep again (as one hopes to do). I dreamt that our cat got stuck out in the laundry with a vole. How I knew it was a vole I have no idea, because when I thought about it after waking, I had no picture in my memory banks of what a vole actually looks like. It certainly doesn't look like the creature that appeared in my dream. [The picture at the left is of a vole, which is something like a mouse.]

Anyway, in the dream, I went into the laundry discovered the vole in there and...went for help. The vole in the dream was about the size of a mole, but not the colour. It was furry, and possibly grey or brownish. And it seemed to be in no hurry to go anywhere.

On going for help I went back to the front of the house, which, as houses in dreams do, had expanded sufficiently for there to be a large party going on with heaps of young people, some of whom I apparently knew. I found my wife and told her about the vole, and we headed back through the house, through the kitchen, (which, like the rest of the house had become rather large, and where there was some woman in charge who was not impressed to have anyone else in her domain) and out to the laundry. There we discovered that the vole had bitten the cat's tail off. In spite of having a kind of hole where the tail should have been, the cat wasn't particularly perturbed, which even in the dream I found a little surprising.

My wife, without hesitation, picked up the vole and dumped it outside on the back steps, discovering in the process that it had a collar around its neck, as though it was someone's pet. The vole sat on the steps, no more perturbed than the cat, and obviously not inclined to head for cover.

One could go on about there being some significance in everything being larger than life (or at least larger than normal) in the dream, from the vole to the kitchen to the front room. But the largeness of things wasn't the aspect that most struck me; the vole was what seemed most interesting.

Certainly I knew the word, 'vole,' from somewhere in the past, but it's not exactly a word I'd use in everyday speech. We don't have voles in New Zealand, as far as I'm aware, and I don't think I've ever seen one anywhere. What would cause the brain to conjure up this word - and attempt to picture it in my mind (even to the extent of providing a wrong image)? Why was there such a lack of angst about the cat losing its tail? And how come the laundry was the only room in the house that didn't grow larger than usual?

Dreams are intriguing, but I don't usually get left with such an interest in them....