Monday, September 26, 2005

Comments from 'readers'

I haven't had any 'real' comments from readers since I started this blog, but I have had some odd ones that lead to what appears to be advertising sites. For instance there's one that starts off with a comment - quite unrelated to what I'd been writing - about Katrina the hurricane, and then, without pause for breath, goes on about Health recipes, and has a link to a site that's selling, it seems, health recipes.

The next comment I find is actually related to my post - about looters in New Orleans. And does lead to a real blog. But a quote from Dorothy L Sayers is commented on by someone apparently promoting Xenical, and someone else promoting Direct Satellite TV. Very odd.

Sayers seems to attract these advertising gooks: her next quote has someone wanting me to comment on their dog house training tips, and someone else talking about electric scooters and downloading music, all pretty much in one breath.

The next comment is from someone whose site is at least a genuine blog, by the look of it, but rather ironically, in a silly piece I wrote about trousers and underpants, the comment is from someone who's a female Sikh. Hmm.

I wonder what brings these people to my site? Do the advertising ones just troll blogs, leaving their slimy trail behind wherever they go? The genuine bloggers, however, are a bit of a mystery to me. There are so many blogs out there (so many on Blogger itself that by the time I've uploaded my latest guff, I've already been surpassed by enough blogs to cut me out of ever appearing on the most recently uploaded site!) that it's a wonder anyone finds anyone any more.

Design 'Flaws'

I remember years ago a friend of mine arguing against the existence of God because if He’d been such an astute Creator as I made Him out to be, then He’d have created elbows that would go both ways, forwards and backwards. I didn’t have an answer for it at the time – I’m never much good with off the cuff responses – but as I remember it again in the light of other so-called flaws in the Creator’s handiwork, I’m surprised that I didn’t see how silly the statement is. Elbows that worked both ways would require arms and a body that could support them working like that; it would mean a complete overhaul of the whole system. Perhaps my friend was baulking at the limitation of forwards-only elbows. (Though for the life of me I can’t see what good they’d be working behind you anyway!)

There seem to be quite a few scientists, of the popular sort usually, who have these ideas that the human body hasn’t been well put together, or that it has particular flaws. I can’t remember who the tv scientist is who’s always presenting series on the body. He claimed that babies were born too soon and therefore had to be nurtured longer because they were quite incapable of looking after themselves, as other non-human animals are almost from birth. The reason for this was that women’s hips were too small to sustain the growth of a bigger baby, and the birth canal not big enough for a bigger baby to move down. This was therefore a flaw in the woman! Good grief, how many women would want to carry babies any bigger than 10 lb at the best of times; smaller babies are already a considerable strain on the woman’s whole system while she’s pregnant. Similar assertions are made in Bill Bryson’s book, though at least he doesn’t claim to have made them.

He mentions that some scientists think the human eye isn’t well-designed (and therefore we don’t have a Designer) because something in it is back to front to what would be more practical…according to their lights. But often these scientists, it seems to me, get stuck on one ‘problem’ and fail to see that that particular ‘problem’ is there in order to avoid other problems.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hitchcock as 'auteur'

William Goldman, in Adventures in the Screen Trade, demolishes the ‘auteur’ theory that was so prevalent when I was young, particularly in regard to Hitchcock. He writes that those young French filmmakers got hold of a theory and needed to prove it at every point, and, as far as Hitchcock was concerned, they exceeded all boundaries. Especially Truffaut, who admired Hitchcock so enormously, he apparently couldn’t see anything wrong with what he did.

There’s no doubt Hitchcock made some wonderful movies. He made some wonderful movies that had longueurs in them (since we’re into the French here) and he made some movies that were nothing but longueurs, The Birds and Marnie being particular examples. The Birds, as well, must be one of the silliest movies ever made (and Tippi Hendri’s constantly perfect hairstyle doesn’t help). More, it has no resolution whatsoever, and reviewing it again recently, it hasn’t stood up to the test of time in any way. At the end you just wonder: well, what the heck was the point?

Goldman reminds us of a few others duds in Hitchcock’s late period: Torn Curtain, Topaz and, worse of all, Frenzy, that dreadful English piece with a leaden leading actor (but a decent supporting cast), and some of the most grotesque violence ever to appear in a Hitchcock movie. The colour is appalling, as are the effects, especially some of the matte shots. It’s as if Hitchcock the master had badly let himself down. Goldman calls them ‘awful, awful films.’

And finally, there was Family Plot, that last gasp, in which again Hitchcock allowed extreme miscasting (Bruce Dern, for one), and let awful effects shots remain in the finished movie, and failed to edit a particularly bad sequence: the stupid car ride down the hill, in which both of the actors are expected to keep on performing the same idiocies over and over.

I think my favourite Hitchcock is The Trouble with Harry, and yet it’s not one of his better known movies. It too has some bad effects, but overall it has a superb cast, playing wonderful roles (Mildred Natwick’s part here is second only to her mad witch in The Court Jester). Along with the other films of Hitchcock’s top American period, it has a wonderful script (the funniest he ever directed, by far), and at the end of the day, in spite of the absurdity of the whole thing, you come out feeling you’ve watched a film that was worth watching.

Where would Hitch have been without his scriptwriters? This is something else Goldman points out: the auteur theory falls down hugely because there are at least eight or nine top creative artists involved in making any film (that’s not to speak of the dozens of other creative people at work), and to credit all their work to the ‘auteur’ is just a piece of nonsense.

Still, at the time, it seemed to make sense!

When you go back to the early Hitchcocks, you almost have to wonder how it was he became known as such a doyen of suspense movies. He was certainly an innovator, but in terms of suspense, a number of his films lack real tension, and even some of his top American movies are stretched out almost to breaking point (Vertigo, for example). Perhaps at the time they seemed more suspenseful than they do now, when suspense is so much tighter. (The first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much loses all it’s gained by the overlong shoot-out sequence at the end, for instance. And the later version of it almost collapses while Doris Day sings her silly Che Sera Sera over and over.) Older films often are often slower paced, even when suspense is involved, and certainly more ‘talky.’ But the better ones integrate the talk and the action effectively.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Lesley Martin and euthanasia

Watching the documentary on Lesley Martin a couple of nights ago, two things were striking about her attitude in it. Firstly, her conviction that ‘All New Zealand’ was waiting for a law change in regard to euthanasia. Secondly, her sense that she was somehow the chosen person to do the task, and that everything, including family relationships (particularly with her husband, who was struggling to see her viewpoint) were secondary to her cause.

At one point we saw a heated and hurtful debate between her and her husband, (while a third party stood embarrassed nearby saying nothing) in which she effectively berated him for not being enough of a man to stand beside her, and that if he wouldn’t stand by her she’d do it alone. He for his part wanted her to put an end to the campaigning; she was already on trial for killing her mother (something she could have got away with if she hadn’t published her book) and, as he pointed out, in spite of her belief, there was no foregone conclusion that she was going to come out of it without conviction. (She didn’t: she was sent to jail for a period).

It showed how difficult it must be to live with someone who is convinced they’re right about something, who have a call to do something and for whom everything else in life is a side issue. (It was interesting to hear the husband say that he just wanted to get back to ‘real life’ as soon as the trial was over. Of course, that couldn’t be, since she was put in jail.)

But besides the difficulty of living with someone who’s virtually prepared to be a martyr to their cause, the greater difficulty must be in living with someone who is convinced not only that they’re right but also that they have a majority of people standing behind them, even when there are no facts to back this up. Lesley Martin doesn’t have a majority standing behind her, and regrettably, because of the hard-nosed, stony-faced way she came across, there’s little likelihood that people would join up with her cause because it’s difficult to empathise with her as a person. Her mercy-killing of her mother never came across as something that was ‘necessary’ to anyone else except Martin herself – and that’s the difficulty she has in convincing others that she was right. However ill her mother was, we’re not convinced she right to do what she did.

Thou shalt not kill remains, for most of us, the norm.

The other interesting thing about the documentary that one of Martin’s closest friends didn’t feel she was right, even though she stuck by Martin as a friend. If you can’t convince those closest to you, who can you convince?

While looking up Lesley Martin on Google, I came across a quote from Wesley Smith, a person I hadn't heard of. "The overriding and implacable goal of the movement will always be what it has been from its inception more than one hundred years ago--legalized killing as a legitimate answer to illness and human suffering." I see he has a Blog, too, and one in which he obviously continually undercuts the false ethics of people like Martin and her ilk.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Tippett piano sonatas

I’m listening to one of a two CD set of Michael Tippett piano sonatas, played by Paul Crossley, whom I’d never heard of, but apparently he’s known and highly regarded for his championing of Tippett’s work. I bought the CDs because I wanted to check how a section in the first sonata was supposed to be played – now I’m not sure if I can even consider playing the jolly thing at all! Crossley plays it with such panache and ease (it’s not the most difficult thing in the world, but it isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination) that my fumbling efforts seem pathetic. Still, at least now I know how the odd bit goes – it’s worse than I thought!
I like the first sonata – it’s more melodic than the others appear to be (I only have the sheet music for the first, so I don’t really know the others from playing them – that is, trying to play them), and since I started work on it again recently, and have been listening to the CD, pieces of it keep floating through my head randomly. The other sonatas are a lot more off the wall: less melody and lots of crashing and banging. But at least it’s crashing and banging that seems to know where it’s going. For the life of me I can’t get with New Zealand’s high lord of composing, Douglas Lilburn. There are similarities in style between the two composers (at least before Lilburn went hiving off after electronic music), and you could almost sense that there is some connection between Tippett’s first and Lilburn’s first sonatina. But Lilburn just doesn’t seem to have any sense of direction; the first sonatina’s first two movements aren’t too bad in terms of having direction, but the last movement’s piffle – and the second sonatina is just a nothing. I’ve heard a lot of Lilburn’s music lately – they’ve been playing it endlessly on Concert FM since he died, but for the life of me I can’t get to like it much. It’s all bits and pieces; nothing holds together. Even Gareth Farr, who’s more of a one-piece-one-idea man, is more effective, because he’s consistently more interesting. I get the same feeling with Lilburn that I do with McCahon: the trendies have got hold of them in both cases and promote their stuff, and we all have to put up with it.
Oh, well, looks like I’m going to be a Philistine forever where these two are concerned.

Monday, September 12, 2005

World Press Photo of the Year

The following poem appeared in today’s Otago Daily Times. I’ve had to quote it in full, because otherwise the point of it wouldn’t be obvious.

World Press Photo of the Year
by Winifred Kavalieris

there were 36,265 entries
over 3,000 photographers
from 113 countries

12 judges agreed
the winning picture
was of an impressively
high standard and represented
the best of international
contemporary photography

this Cibachrome 210x297 mm print
was also awarded first prize
in People of the News category

the photographer used 217 rolls
of Kodak 400 ASA film and
a handheld 35 mm Leica

he said he faced extreme danger
to get this one perfect
photo of a woman

who had just lost
her 8 children
in a massacre

I don’t have any problems with it being regarded as a poem, and I’ve certainly seen and read other poetry that’s just as lacking in metre, rhythm, and interesting language. My comment about it is this, though: this poem can really only make it’s point on the page. Imagine trying to read out ‘36,265 entries’ or ‘Cibachrome 210x297 mm print’. These aren’t lines that would come across aloud. For starters, how do actually say, ‘36,265’ in this instance? Do you say straight numbers, 3, 6, 2, 6, 5 – or do you go for three thousand, two hundred and sixty-five, which is quite a mouthful to get your poem off the ground. The Cibachrome line isn’t any easier to communicate. It’s a visual poem, really, not a verbal one, in my opinion, like those poems that have a shape on the page, and look great – but how do you convey that in speech?

Is there any problem with this? Should poetry only consist of lines that can be spoken aloud? I’m sure there are plenty of people who’d say Of course poems don’t have to be spoken out loud – this isn’t a criterion for poetry, by any means. Yet, when you leave a poem on the page, especially one such as that above, it’s very easy to read it just as a sort of statement; the breaking up of the lines and lack of punctuation are only a pretence that this is a poem in any acceptable format. If we ran it all together, would it make any difference to the point – which is certainly a strong one.

‘There were 36,265 entries, over 3,000 photographers from 113 countries; 12 judges agreed the winning picture was of an impressively high standard and represented the best of international contemporary photography. This Cibachrome 210x297 mm print was also awarded first prize in People of the News category. The photographer used 217 rolls of Kodak 400 ASA film and a handheld 35 mm Leica. He said he faced extreme danger to get this one perfect photo of a woman who had just lost her 8 children in a massacre.’

Now it becomes little more than an effective piece of journalism.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Suitable Boy

"Many years ago you told me that until you were forty you were very concerned about what people thought of you. Then you decided to be concerned about what you thought of other people instead."

A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth. Chapter 7:9

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Wisdom and the Folly

Dale Ralph Davis on his favourite hobby horse: 'why can't scholars read the text that's in front of their nose?' I love the guy!

The problem with my view is that I’ve taken the testimony of the text at face value. Obviously, this is not good, furrow-browed scholarship. Many would hold that I fail to understand that the viewpoint in the text comes from later Judean editors who held an extremely anti-Jeroboam bias – hence one cannot depend on such texts. I don’t mind if they think such. It they do, they should be faithful agnostics, ie, they should deny that they can know anything accurate about Jeroboam’s cult since the evidence is tainted. This they do not do so; they deny the reliability of the texts yet proceed to do plastic surgery on Jeroboam. If the texts are unreliable, they should shut up. Instead they proceed to reconstruct based upon (essentially) re-written texts. This yields both bad history and perverse theology.

from The Wisdom and the Folly - footnote, chapter 13 (where most of Davis' rants are contained)

Olivier's Hamlet

I’ve been watching the rest of Olivier’s Hamlet on DVD – I bought it somewhere or other recently for a ridiculous price. It’s superbly done, very inventive in the camera work, wonderful music score, marvellous cast (generally – the guy who plays King (Basil Sydney) is a bit weak, especially in his prayer scene); stagey, of course, but then this is a fairly close adaptation of a play (except poor old Rosencrantz and Guildenstern got lost). And it’s gripping – even though I knew what happens, it still took hold of me and seldom let go. It’s only when Olivier is out of it for a bit (when he’s sent to England) that it loses a modicum of momentum, but otherwise it holds your attention.

I don’t think I’ve seen it since it was shown at Christian Brothers one night (we had to go back for it) in the old hall, when I was at school there. (We saw Julius Caesar about the same time). I remember it making a great impression on me then. I must catch up with the more recent version of it sometime, with Kenneth Branagh. I started to read the film script that was published of this, and it’s interesting how the comments he makes in the script give it a good deal more life, when you’re reading it.

Olivier’s version comes across as though the dialogue is just straightforward; no need to ‘recite’ this great poetry, just treat it as ordinary stage dialogue and it’ll work (Shakespeare obviously had a bit of an axe to grind when he wrote the scene where Hamlet berates the players for overacting). Only occasionally is it a bit too heavy-handed, as in the reciting of the words at the very beginning, or when the description of Ophelia’s death is given as a voice-over. Olivier’s soliloquies are well done too: partly voice-over, partly Olivier suddenly speaking out loud, all meshing together superbly. And the camera prowls around this gloomy castle with its bare stone walls and lack of furnishing and dressing and seems somehow to be able to move up the sides of the walls and sweep over the turrets. It isn’t, of course – some of it is model work – but it’s well done (especially for its time, when model work was often cheap and nasty).

Friday, September 02, 2005

Looting in New Orleans

The strangest thing about the New Orleans disaster is the looting. I’m sure plenty of other people have felt the same, that in a time of great distress for thousands of people a bunch of people have suddenly arisen, as it were, and decided to take advantage of the vulnerability of the rest of the community.

Where have they come from? Are they all native New Orleans people, who’ve been living in poverty themselves and now believe this is ‘their time?’ Are they gangs who’ve always been into theft and crime in the city and environs, and now are making the most of their chance to further their usual occupations in a really big way? Are they opportunists who see that there’s far less risk in doing evil at this particular time and feel they can get away with it with little likelihood of being caught?

It’s as if they hadn’t existed before, or hadn’t been known to exist before, and now they’ve come out of hiding like some plague that’s been lurking under the surface until the city is at its least protected.

The human reaction is to wish them all to drown in the middle of their wickedness, to be swept away by rising waters, their arms full of their ill-gotten but no longer valuable gains. But justice in this world being what it is, that’s probably unlikely. At best a few might get caught. The rest will have to wait till Judgement Day, when the justice that no one can escape finally catches up with them. Let’s hope they have a really, really good excuse for what they’re doing. They’ll need it.