Thursday, May 17, 2012

Busman's holiday

It's been a week or so of watching videos.  I'm kind of having a holiday after Grimhilda! you might say, although it's a bit of a busman's holiday, in that I've started on the ebook that I want to produce based on the musical, and I have a couple or three other projects in mind as well, including the sequel to Grimhilda!


The sequel?  At the moment it consists of a couple of pages of notes, but my collaborator and I haven't sat down and talked it through as yet (we only had a brief conversation one night after one of the performances) so it's early days.   And our church, Dunedin City Baptist (I feature briefly in their slide show at the top of their home page) - formerly Hanover St Baptist - is celebrating its 150th Anniversary next year, so I'm loosely thinking about doing something in the way of a drama/sound and light/something on Rosalie Macgeorge, who was the first Baptist missionary sent out by the newly-formed NZ Baptist Missionary Society.  We don't know an awful lot about her, but I'm hoping to be able to find out more than I already have (otherwise it might be a short piece!).  She was quite a pioneer, a woman well ahead of her time in how she thought about doing mission work, from her insistence on living with the people she was attempting to bring into the church rather than in a separate European compound, as was the norm; to her dressing as one of the people; to her refusal to take the wage paid by the Mission Society so that the people didn't think she was a wealthy foreigner.  She lived for only around six years in the mission field, became very ill and died on her way home to New Zealand.   She was only 31 when she died.

I've also been memorising poetry again - I'd stopped during the latter stages of the Grimhilda! production period because I found I just didn't seem to have the mental energy to cope with memorising.   Anyway, after reading Moonwalking with Einstein, I got going again, and have got four new poems pretty much under my belt, using some of the techniques Joshua Foer discusses in his book and some learned previously.  I've also started memorising music again, something that I've only done spasmodically in my lifetime, because I always felt I wasn't very good at it.  Like any kind of memorising, however, you only get good at it by doing it, and keeping on doing it.

For some time I've been 'collecting' poems from the Writer's Almanac that comes out each day as an email.  I don't keep them all, by any means, because some just don't grab me for one reason or another, but I've got about 160 on Evernote. One I'd like to learn, though it might be a challenge, is Barbara Hamby's Ode to Hardware Stores, a delightful poem with at least six beats a line and full of detail.  She mentions, at one point, nearly every nail you can think of, but she doesn't get onto acorn nuts, fortunately, or any of their innumerable brethren.  Equally naming her poem as an 'ode' is perhaps a little overstating the case, but it's done tongue-in-cheek.  As Stephen Fry says in chapter five of his book The Ode Less Travelled: 'In English poetry it [the Ode] was once the most grand, ceremonial and high-minded of forms, but for the last hundred years or so it has been all but shorn of that original grandeur, becoming no more than a (frequently jokey) synonym for 'poem.'"  Hamby's ode/poem is a great chunk of a thing full of wonderful words, plenty of rhythm and lots of energy.

Anyway, back to the videos - or DVDs, I should say.   Last night we watched The Iron Lady, with Meryl Streep as Maggie Thatcher, and Jim Broadbent as her husband, Dennis.   It's not a biopic in the usual sense.  Although it does take us through some of the political years, seen in flashbacks, it also focuses a good deal on the relationship between Maggie and her husband, and the dementia that was creeping up on Thatcher at the time the film is set.   Some American reviewers have complained that it's too British and doesn't explain enough about what's going on politically or historically.  That's right, it doesn't.  Some reviewers complain that it's not a 'proper' biopic, in that it doesn't take the person's life as the arc of its narrative.  And that's right too.  The scriptwriter and director (both women) have set out to do something different.  Being artists in what is still very much a man's world they have considerable sympathy with the way Thatcher was very much a woman in a man's (political) world.  But they don't forget that Thatcher was also domineering (especially in her later days) and wouldn't brook disagreement very readily.   She was unwilling to give an inch when the Falklands were invaded by the Argentinians, and was both loathed and admired for her strength in protecting what was still essentially a far-flung British colony.

But all this is undercut by the dementia she shows in the present - her continual hallucinations in regard to seeing her deceased husband (who keeps popping up to annoy her, it seems) and her very slow sense of what's happening mixed with occasional signs of her old passionate self.

Meryl Streep unfailingly gives reality to her portrayal of Thatcher; she has the ability to inhabit a personality in an almost uncanny way the voice, the behaviours, the stance, the characteristics of people she plays.  It's not just a performance; it goes way beyond that.  (Her uncanny and hilarious portrayal of Julia Child is a standout in this regard, but her performance in Mumma Mia was a disappointment, perhaps because she was playing such a one-dimensional character.)

Jim Broadbent and Harry Lloyd (apparently he's the great-great-great grandson of Charles Dickens) play Dennis Thatcher at different periods in his life; both are delightful performances, merging well into each other as the story swings back and forth in time.  The crazy humour that Dennis has is linked well between them.  I enjoyed the film, and was a bit surprised at the critics' dismissal of it.  Perhaps they didn't like the idea of a woman being at the centre either...?

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