Thursday, December 31, 2009

Salesman in Beijing

I keep a list of the books I've read through the year, and one that's just going to sneak into the list before 2010 comes along I picked up yesterday for $2 in a secondhand bookshop a few doors away from where I work. It was a kind of serendipity acquisition - the book was probably in the bargain bin because the shopowner thought no one would want it at any higher price. I thought it was a great find, and having read it since lunchtime yesterday, and finished it this evening, have had that confirmed.

The book is by Arthur Miller, the playwright, and is entitled, Salesman in Beijing. I always enjoy books that relate to the making of a play or a movie (for instance I have books on the making of Titanic, Sense and Sensibility and Casablanca, and one interesting one on the making of The Glass Menagerie, a film directed by Paul Newman, and starring his wife, Joanne Woodward, and John Malkovich)

Miller's book is a day-by-day account of the production of Death of a Salesman that he was asked to direct in Beijing in 1983. This was only six years before the tragedy of Tiananmen Square and it's not hard to see how such a disaster could be so close at hand when you read this book. The people in China were coming out of the long years of Mao's reign - and that of his viciously ignorant wife - but things were still in a great deal of transition, and no one knew quite where they stood. Intellectuals (a category that included artists of all sorts) had been treated not just with great disdain during the period of the Cultural Revolution, but were often subjected to unspeakable horrors (there's a brief story in this book of a woman imprisoned in a cupboard for two and a half years, with no means to go to the toilet, and the threat of having her children executed. I remember seeing From Mao to Mozart a number of years ago. It was filmed in 1981 and in it a professor of music tells of having the same thing done to him: the cupboard became his 'home' for a similar period of time. Isaac Stern, who is the focus of the movie, listens in bewildered silence.)

The actors who became the cast of Miller's production had also been subject to privations: made to work at menial tasks such as being sent to the country to pick rice. Ironically, because they were part of a state company, they were also paid their normal wages during this time - not that those wages were anything to write home about. The main female actress had only managed to keep her daughter from being raped by hiding her under a blanket. All through the book is this strange twenty-year history just behind these people, a history none of them have quite come to terms with yet.

Miller speaks no Chinese (although his artist wife speaks it very well, along with several European languages) and has to work mostly through interpreters. The main male actor speaks very good English and was one of the people who got the production off the ground. But language isn't the only barrier: Miller sees the play itself, initially, as primarily American in tone and nature and not adaptable to a Chinese environment, in spite of an excellent translation by the actor just mentioned. However, as the rehearsal period progresses, Miller comes to see that the universal aspects of the play far outweigh the American ones, and his biggest difficulty is in getting the cast to work naturally. At this point in their theatrical history there are lots of grand gestures, a lot of playing to the audience, many signs and signals and other paraphernalia that get in the way of a straightforward playing of the piece. Once the cast grasp this, the performances become as good as any Miller has ever seen.

There are other frustrations: the Chinese are used to making themselves up heavily for performances - Miller has to discourage this. They would usually all wear wigs; again he has to find a way around showing them that these aren't, for the most part, necessary. He has to search his brain for Chinese stories to help them interpret the script. The lighting system is so antiquated it can only have so many cues before a blackout is necessary. The sound system consists of one elderly tape recorder. Many of the costumes have to be worked out from photographs in American magazines. Some of the props required are of objects that the Chinese don't even recognise; and some of them are made out of papier mache - including a fridge that is so well constructed and painted that it's not obvious to the audience that it could be picked up with one hand. Everywhere in the corridors of the theatre you can smell the ammoniac stench of urine, and the theatre itself, a large place seating 1300 people, has seating whose fittings are so worn that when a seat is put down the noise is like a pistol shot.

All these difficulties are somehow overcome - the actors and the backstage people may seem to exist on a different planet, but they know their stuff, and when push comes to shove, they produce the goods. Miller is often humbled by the odds they overcome.

A couple of quotes from right towards the end of the book to finish:

When I visit the dressing rooms, where they are getting into makeup, the behaviour of the actors reminds me again of the replication of human life that a production represents. The actor begins in helpless dependency, gradually grows up to feel strength, often rebels against the director/author, and finally in maturity faces the world as though he had invented himself. Where once they loved me like a parent, now they can't help overdoing gestures of affection to their onetime leader, for whom they have no real need anymore. The hairdo's the thing now, the eyebrow, the necktie, the fingernail, and the teeth. Now I am rather in the position of a beloved aunt who taught them as children to play the piano; they are overjoyed to see me, and to see me go. [page 246]

The art of acting is the mastery of a contradiction: its object is to place the actor in 'the now,' the moment, but at the same time he has to be planning his next move, building his climaxes with modulations of voice and emotional intensity. By virtue of training and temperament the Chinese actor creates feeling by acknowledging his debt to his objectifying techniques. He does not 'throw himself into the part' but builds a performance by pieces of knowledge, as it were, of story, character, and specific circumstances. [page 251]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Teeth and Scheherazade

There's been insurance invented for practically everything you can think of, from the ordinary life insurance and mechanical breakdown insurance to extraordinary insurance that covers having to pay for everyone in the clubhouse if you hit a hole in one at golf, or, if you're Mariah Carey, insurance to cover your legs (which seems odd, since it's her voice that people focus on....I think).

As far as I know there's been no insurance taken out by the average parent to cover the loss of their children's adult teeth. Yet this is something most of us experience as some point. You could have partial cover (just the wisdom teeth), or cover for those ones that are most annoying when lost (the molars, or the grinders), or full cover for losing the lot.

Well, be that as it may, in the future there's a possibility that if/when you lose your teeth, you'll be able to grow them again. Yes, you read that right. In The Guardian online this week, Paul Sample writes: "Instead of false teeth, a small ball of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing one used to be."
"The procedure is fairly simple. Doctors take stem cells from the patient. These are unique in their ability to form any of the tissues that make up the body. By carefully nurturing the stem cells in a laboratory, scientists can nudge the cells down a path that will make them grow into a tooth. After a couple of weeks, the ball of cells, known as a bud, is ready to be implanted. Tests reveal what type of tooth - for example, a molar or an incisor - the bud will form."

Of course it's all going to be too late (and no doubt too expensive) for me. But it will be great for all those people who discover that the wisdom teeth they'd spent so long growing have to come out because they just don't fit. (What was God thinking of?)

And since I've been reminded about this just now - the piece is playing on the radio - does anyone else think that Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade music is one of the most boring in the musical canon, with its constant use of the same 'rolling sea' phrase? It must be tedious to perform. Even its better parts are repeated and repeated....and repeated.

1,000 True Fans

I've just been reading an interesting (and long) blog post by Kevin Kelly (cartoon at right) called 1000 True Fans. I was alerted to it by Seth Godin a few days ago. The Kelly post is actually more than a year old, but suddenly seems to have taken on new life, possibly because Godin 'advertised' on his blog.

Anyway what Kelly has to say is that those artists who are probably never going to make it big-time -or perhaps don't even have the inclination to do so - may, however become well enough known by focusing their attention on 1,000 'true fans.' (Plainly 1,000 is a round number and doesn't have to be adhered to.) Not only will these fans support them financially, but they will keep the artist in a manner which allows him or her to work solely at their art, rather than trying to hold down a day job as well.

These true fans don't have to spend up large to keep the artist going; they may spend only a $100 a year. But that figure by 1,000 adds up to a reasonable sum - in fact most artists probably wouldn't need as much as that to survive comfortably (or to pay their low cost health insurance.)

As I said, the post is long, and there are two subsequent posts that offer further thought on the subject. It's not an original idea from Kelly - he tells us about others who've discussed the possibility before - but he pulls the thing together.

I found one other thing on Kelly's site which I thought was worth sharing. Just when you thought you knew everything about the World Wide Web (does anyone call it that anymore?) here's a different take on it...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Went to see Sherlock Holmes last night, with some rather mixed expectations. My son had described it as an action-movie-cum-murder-mystery, and yes, there was plenty of action - the film hits the ground running (and then goes even faster) and at first I didn't even realise it was Holmes who was doing all the knocking down of sundry rogues and vagabonds. Then Watson turned up and my mind had to do some readjustments.

This is a Holmes so at odds with our usual movie concept of him (and of Watson) that you have to change your thinking about the characters. I've just been reading the Christianity Today review which points out that the two characters as played here are actually much more like the original Conan Doyle protagonists than the way they've been portrayed in many other movies.

Doyle describes [Holmes] as "eccentric" and "bohemian"—both perfectly describe this new portrayal. In one scene, Holmes seems to use a hallucinatory drug to gain insight into his enemy's plan—also consistent with Doyle's depiction.

Watson here also differs from his traditional Hollywood portrayal. Doyle's stories never depicted him as the portly, befuddled sidekick; he's originally described as a veteran of the Afghan war, thin, strong, and packing a revolver. Yes, he's a foil to Holmes' intellect, but more as an intelligent everyman for the detective to play off, not merely for comic relief....

Other familiar details are still present here: the flat at No. 221b Baker Street, landlady Mrs. Hudson, Watson's soon-to-be wife Mary Marstan, Inspector Lestrade of the Scotland Yard, and even Irene Adler, the beautiful and mysterious woman who bested Holmes and stole his heart in one classic short story.

Well, there you go. I knew Holmes had an eccentricity about him, but wouldn't have thought of him as the 'wild man' Downey portrays here. Watson is certainly contrary to any previous depiction - his limp comes and goes (I wasn't sure whether it was due to his career as a soldier or the innumerable fights he gets into during the movie), and while I knew the names of Lestrade, Hudson and Baker St from the back of my trivia-filled brain, I'd never heard of Irene Adler or Mary Marstan.

So that rather undercuts some of what I was going to say about the movie. Holmes may be closer to Doyle's version after all - though he never gets to play the violin in this movie. He plucks at it in a seemingly absentminded way, but never goes into full flight - there's not even a bow in sight (though given the absolute clutter in his flat that's hardly surprising).

Taking the movie, therefore, on its merits we have the following:
- a solid storyline (we don't get the explanations of several features until almost the end)
- frequently frantic pace
- banter along the lines of many other Hollywood male partnerships (think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
- superb renditions of a period London done in incredible detail (presumably with the help of considerable CGI)
- heart-thumping music by Hans Zimmer (we were right beside one of the speakers and the violinists' bows were almost whipping our ears off)
- excellent cinematography by Philippe Rousselot (read the list of his credits and you'll have an idea of his style) in which the camera sits still only when necessary
- an almost method-acting approach to Holmes by Robert Downey Jnr, which just manages to avoid the absurd
- an intriguing storytelling approach by Guy Ritchie in which we are sometimes see the action before it happens, sometimes have a few moments of flashback to bring us up to speed, and all the time have to rely our wits to keep up with the manic way films are made these days - no wonder we think older movies are slow.

Put your preconceptions about the characters aside, and you'll enjoy this thoroughly.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Let's blow the old trumpet!

Just received this review of The Christmas Carol from a friend of the director. She'd come down from Wellington to see the play. (That's friendship for you!)

It may be a little over the top, but at least it's a review. It was sent to the editor at the Otago Daily Times, but they offered no comment just as they offered no review of the play when it was on.

Review of THE CHRISTMAS CAROL Production:

"Laughter and Tears"

Review of THE CHRISTMAS CAROL Production:

"Laughter and Tears"

Thanks to the actor Scrooge and his Contemporaries, I feel Richer indeed! The CHRISTMAS CAROL performed in the setting of the illustrious Mayfair Theatre (a Dunedin Treasure which deserves tender loving care) was "Bruuullient".

The Talented line-up of actors which included well known professionals, performing-arts students and children, drew you into the scene in such an animated way (like live performance can) that at times I had to remind myself I wasn't actually there in Scrooge’s Lounge. The humorous old Spinsters, the choreography of the little Dances in contrast to old Scrooge’s brooding moods, was up-lifting! The costumes and Set were a Dicksonian [Dickensian, perhaps!] Treat, the special effects around the Spirits, were moving, but I wish everyone could experience the EMOTIONS that were stirred through the acting; laughter, Love, tears and relief which gave an all over refreshing 'in-touch with reality' and reminder of what is important in this stressful pre-Christmas season.

What was even more surprising, even though the Saturday Night show was only $20, all profit proceeds from the week-long production were going to Habitat for Humanity.

Thank-you to all those lovely people that gave their time to the charming event, may they themselves be blessed. Cheers to Bert the lead role, and Liz Nisbet the courageous Director! It was no Amateur performance!

Janet Adams


Don't swallow your gum

Came across a book at the library the other day called, Don't Swallow Your Gum! - myths, half-truths and outright lies about your body and health. It's by Aaron Carroll and Rachel Vreeman.

It's basically disputing a number of the commonly-held 'beliefs' about things many of us now take for granted as being true, or have had foisted upon us by the health community. One that I was particularly pleased to see downgraded from medical 'truth' to basic twaddle was the idea that you should drink eight glasses of water each day. This has been hammered home for a couple of decades now, but has no basis in fact at all. The authors give reasons for all their conclusions, which are too detailed to go into here, but frequently ideas such as this come out of a small piece of study, or an article, or even from urban mythology, and take hold. You will not get dehydrated if you fail to sip water constantly; furthermore, too much water in your system is actually bad for you!

So all those who carry water-bottles from A to B and back again - forget it. You can blame the bottled water industry for much of this myth.

'You only use ten percent of your brain' gets the works - it's twaddle. 'Your urine should be almost clear' is untrue (it's quite normal for it to vary from yellow to clear - though obviously constant dark brown or darker is worth mentioning to the doctor). 'Men think about sex every seven seconds' - I've never heard it being reckoned as quite so frequently, but whatever the supposed frequency is, it's untrue. As the authors point out, if men thought about sex as often as they're supposed to, they'd never get anything else done in life, such as building bridges, making road, putting up houses, writing books, making movies, composing symphones and painting Sistine Chapels.

There's a great deal more, but these were the particular ones that appealed to me.

PS Just came across another review of this book - seemingly in Chinglish

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Wake, by John Caselberg

I'm (very slowly) restoring stuff that used to be on my geocities site to the new jimdo one. Yesterday I uploaded John Caselberg's poem, The Wake, which doesn't appear to be on the Net anywhere else, as far as I can see. The only other reference to it is in relation to Colin McCahon's canvas panels on which he painted the entire poem (not always very readably).

I first came across these panels at the Hocken library (here in Dunedin) when it was still within the University compound and not at its current ex-cheese factory site. They're typical of McCahon's 'written' art works - the words scrawled over the canvas without any obvious style, and the background painted in various gloomy colours. They're interesting, rather than masterworks, in my (humble) opinion, but because they've got the name 'McCahon' on them, they are highly rated.

The other good thing about yesterday, besides the visit of my wife's brother (and his wife) - the first time my wife and her brother had seen each other in forty years - was that I found that some of the old material that used to be on geocities is still hidden away on my computer, under 'oldharddrive', a place where it was put by an IT guy who increased the memory on the system and did some other work a couple of years ago. So this means I can begin using it elsewhere on the Net again.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

History of the Beatles...Not

I love the perfect aplomb with which these year 3000 historians pontificate on the the story of the Beatles, with their constant mis-references, and scary allusions to things they claim happen - even though we know they didn't.

So, next time you're listening to someone telling you with great authority that this, that and the next happened a 1000 years ago, or a billion, consider taking it with a grain of salt.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Deathly Hallows

Just finished re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I must say I enjoyed reading this again this far more than episode six, which didn't seem to have the zest and life this last book in the series has.

Admittedly the middle section sags, and it's hard to credit that the three main characters would really spend so long in hiding doing nothing except arguing about how to find the Horcruxes. Rowling has the problem (she's set it herself) of covering the whole school year again, and this drags things out; it also means that a lot of people who don't appear in that middle section seem to have done nothing while waiting in the wings. However, the first and third parts of the book more than compensate for the trough in the middle, and Rowling has surprises galore up her sleeve. She even manages to interrupt the final battle section with a long flashback - and get away with it. Of course, it's vital stuff, and there was no way she could reveal her hand earlier.

There are deaths on every hand: adults and youngsters (many of them major characters) die in this book - along with Dobbie, the elf. And some of the deaths are particularly touching: when Fred - one of the Weasley twins - dies suddenly and without warning, it creates a huge emotional hole. There is chaos too, and there are scenes of great violence - even before the climatic battle. Luna Lovegood's house is virtually destroyed, as is the house belonging to the old woman, Bertha. Gringotts, the goblins' bank, suffers considerable damage when a dragon is let loose inside. And Hogswarts suffers tremendous damage at the end. This book is a long way in tone from the first in the series - though it surprisingly has more real humour in it than the sixth.

There are also many warmer scenes: Bill and Fleur's wedding is a prime example. Apart from the sagging in the middle of the book, Rowling's allowing herself plenty of room to tell the story shines up particularly in such sections. And her imagination seldom flags; we're constantly introduced to new pieces of wizardry. We're also given some breathtaking moments that are written with immense verve.

I found it intriguing that I remembered hardly anything of it except the fact that Fred died, that Molly Weasley dispatches Bellatrix, that the middle sagged (but I couldn't remember why) and that Neville Longbottom came into his own somehow at the end. Beyond that virtually nothing. I probably read it in an enormous rush (in my brother-in-law's house in England) and didn't absorb it much!

The Guardian newspaper has recently run a series called 'The people who ruined the decade.' Harry Potter is included, mostly because, the writer complains, there have a been a lot of 'wannabies' in the movie business supposedly imitating the series. However, The Chronicles Of Narnia, Lemony Snicket, The Golden Compass, The Spiderwick Chronicles are hardly imitations. The first Potter book came out in 1997 - Pullman's book is a couple of years older and Narnia is more than forty years older. Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events are roughly contemporaneous with Potter, and only the Spiderwick Chronicles is younger. Plainly the writer isn't a Potter fan. Too bad.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Writing in the style of...

Edna O'Brien begins her biography of James Joyce (in the Penguin Lives series) in this way:

Once upon a time there was a man coming down a road in Dublin and he gave himself the name of Dedalus the sorcerer, constructor of labyrinths and maker of wings for Icarus who flew so close to the sun that he fell, as the apostolic Dubliner James Joyce would fall deep into a world of words — from the "epiphanies" of youth to the epistomadologies of later years.

James Joyce, poor joist, a funnominal man, supporting a gay house in a slum of despond. His name derived from the Latin and meant joy but at times he thought himself otherwise — a jejune Jesuit spurning Christ's terrene body, a lecher, a Christian brother in luxuriousness, a Joyce of all trades, a bullock-befriending bard, a peerless mummer, a priestified kinchite, a quill-frocked friar, a timoneer, a pool-beg flasher and a man with the gift of the Irish majuscule script."

Totally Joycean, though it could easily be read as a parody rather than a eulogy.

There seems a bit of confusion about O'Brien's birth date: in the Wikipedia entry, she's listed within a few lines as having been born in both 1930 and 1932 (!) The Encyclopaedia Britannica lists her birth date as 1930, but the Writer's Almanac says 1932. Either way she's a good deal older than she appears in the photo above.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Matters Now

I've quite often quoted or mentioned Seth Godin in this blog. He's an entrepreneurial kind of guy with a whiz of a brain and plenty of ideas - so many in fact that you could be excused for thinking he has too many. He's a bit like someone who's always throwing seeds around - virtually anywhere will do - and expecting that a good number of them will come up in the harvest. Sure some of them fall on rocky ground, some in poor soil, but there are so many going that at the end of the day you'll have something. (He'd probably argue with my analogy - he gives the impression of aiming to make his ideas hit the target every time.)

Sometimes he can be annoying in his blog posts; sometimes I think he's just plain wrong about what he's said (not often, mind you); sometimes he's not talking to me, and that's fine.

Anyway, all this is by way of introducing his latest 'book' - ebook, that is. It's called What Matters Now and you can download it. The book isn't by Godin himself, although he's had a big hand in it: it's written by some 60 or 70 authors who each contribute a page (a screenful, in other words) and who each take some word (parsing is the one I happen to be looking at just now) and reflect briefly on it, in all sorts of creative ways. Some of the pages are 'normal,' many are colourful - some are handwritten. Some are focused on marketing (Godin's speciality) most are not.

Much of what is here will be quoted in the future all around the Net; in fact, this book is already written about on blogs all over the place. This is just one more post to add to the mix.

Incidentally, can that photo be real? It's ubiquitous on the Net, but it has a slightly doctored look about it. Perhaps it's just making the most of the uniqueness of this particular face...

Art Quotes & Michael Mayne

I'm loving the quotes that come through from artsharknet on Twitter. A couple of today's examples.

No degree of dullness can safeguard a work against the determination of critics to find it fascinating. Harold Rosenberg

Art is like an ill-trained Labrador retriever that drags you out into traffic - Annie Dillard.

The links to the two authors are to Wikipedia articles, of course (and by the way, have you donated anything to the site yet?). I've been reading one of Michael Mayne's books again and yesterday looked him up on Wikipedia - last time I looked, probably a couple of years ago, there was no entry for him. And now I discover he died three years ago, and wrote a book about his last year when he had cancer of the jaw (something that I wouldn't wish on anyone). The photograph is of him, by the way.

The two books by Mayne that I've read (This Sunrise of Wonder and Learning to Dance) are a mix of reflection, wonder at creation in its detail, quotes from poets and diarists and nature lovers and some biographical stuff. They have a structure, but it's pretty loose. Of the two, I've read the first three times and enjoyed it each time. The second is the one I'm re-reading now; it's worth re-reading, but doesn't quite gel with me the way the other does. Still there are plenty of good things in it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Being (fairly) ordinary

Some time ago I bought a copy of Good Poems, a selection by Garrison Keillor of mostly American poetry. (I set one of the poems to music for my last concert: Welcome Morning, by Anne Sexton.)

Keillor's selection tends to poetry that is more accessible rather than less, with some well-known material, but much that isn't. I discovered late last week while looking for a something called Wedding Poem for Schele and Phil that Keillor is associated with the daily Writer's Almanac, and that a host of similar poems are listed there.

Today's (13th Dec, 2009) is Suits by David Slavitt, and with its discussion of not wearing the best suit because the best occasion hasn't arisen yet, it reminded me of a piece I wrote a while ago (it originally appeared in the Star Midweeker back when I was writing a weekly column for that paper).

This piece, called Missing - Again, bewailed the fact that I had yet again missed out on the Queen's Birthday honours list (a thing that isn't likely to happen any time soon either!) Slavitt writes in a similar vein:

I have not been named
ambassador to Malta; I am not on the board

of any college or large corporation; I shall not

receive a major prize today and pose

for photographers.

Yup, that pretty much sums up my life too. No holidays in Bermuda hotels as a celebrity, no standing on the Town Hall steps in the Octagon before crowds of fans while wiping away unexpected tears, no regular commission for merely being who I am...and so forth. Some of us are just born to be (fairly) ordinary.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

FIrst hack, Now leak

A week or so ago it was hacked emails upsetting the Climate Change worldview people. This week it's a leaked text in which we learn that developing countries react furiously to leaked draft agreement that would hand more power to rich nations, sideline the UN's negotiating role and abandon the Kyoto protocol, according to the Guardian.

In another article, Richard Tol talks about the Disaster of Climategate - following up on the hacked emails. Tol is a research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin and professor of the economics of climate change at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.

He writes: From the outside, the impression is simple. Something fishy was going on. They do not want to talk about it; it must be a cover-up. The scale of the political fallout is beginning to emerge. Climategate has apparently pushed a few Australian senators to vote against the climate Bill, which failed to pass by a few votes. Saudi Arabia will table a motion for a full investigation at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen. The US Senate will probably start an inquiry also.

Last Friday, the university announced that an independent review would investigate whether data was indeed manipulated. It may not be sufficient to quell the outcry. Climate change is a complex problem. We will need 50, probably 100 years to resolve it. We will need global co-operation. We will need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars.

Tol is a supporter of the Climate Change movement. Mike Moore is more skeptical calling it the Theology of Green, and there's no doubt that there's a lot more philosophy floating around in regard to ecology, climate and such than science. Regrettably for the pro-climate change people, there's just as much of it in their camp as in the deniers....

Re-reading Harry Potter

I came across a book recently (the name of which I've forgotten) which was about re-reading the books you had on your shelves. The author had spent a year going back through the books in her home instead of buying or borrowing new ones. (I wrote about this somewhere else, but have forgotten that too!)

I doubt if I could commit to a year of only re-reading (the library is far too close to my workplace for that to happen) but I think some re-reading is a good idea. Not entirely as a result of this (perhaps more because I watched the DVD of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the other day - and was only slightly more impressed the second time around than I had been at the cinema) I began to re-read the Half-Blood Prince again.

Not surprisingly, it's far more detailed than the movie - the latter chops characters and incidents out on every side - and I was kind of pleased to have it confirmed that one particular scene in the movie hadn't been in the book at all - the one where the Weasly's house is attacked by death eaters and then burnt - because I remembered thinking both at the cinema and while watching the DVD that it wasn't part of the story. I'm not entirely sure what it's doing in the movie at all, except perhaps to reintroduce some of the characters. As a scene it doesn't entirely work in plot terms (Harry would probably be annihilated, as would Ginny, when they run out in the marshes). In cinematic terms, of course, it's fine.

However, I was surprised to find that the book turned out to be less-well written than I'd remembered. It lacks the quality of the writing that made me stop at the corner of Filleul St and St Andrew St after I'd bought the first Harry Potter book a decade or so ago and just read. Here the language and style is rather more prosaic, especially when dealing with some minor characters. The main actors in the story still have their individual voices, pretty much, and Voldemort as the child and teenager is as appallingly scary in the book as he was in the movie (both the boys played him very well), but some other scenes are just there. They have a feeling of being written, but not written with much passion.

That aside, I still found it worth reading again; there are some great set-pieces, and the gradual unfolding of the plot (which of course happens at a much slower pace than in the movie) allows things room to breathe - perhaps a bit too much room (especially when it comes to the snogging), but that's okay. Rowling's world became so full after a while, it was a bit as though she wanted everyone to enjoy it as much as she did.

In consequence I'm now re-reading the last in the series (Deathly Hallows). This opens with a lot more energy, and after several chapters that same energy remains. Hopefully that's the case throughout.

I haven't read this since it first came out back in 2007 - we ordered copies in England while we were there, and had it delivered to our door the day it was released - so once again I've forgotten a huge amount of it. It's very dark, naturally, and it's going to get darker. But man, it's a page-turner! I've only one quibble. There are now so many characters that you virtually need a name dictionary to keep up with who's who.

Thomas Lux on modernist poetry

"With modernism came this new notion that poetry is something that is not as direct or accessible, and poetry became something that needed to be deciphered, a kind of riddle.

And, of course, a lot of people are put off by this. A lot of people read poetry, and they don't understand it and it makes them feel resentful. They also tend to think if they don't understand it that means it's good poetry because you're not supposed to understand poetry.

You can have poems that are clear enough, accessible enough, that people can understand. The best of these are not going to be any less original than those poems that are obscure."

Thomas Lux

Good sense from Mr Lux, whom I'd never heard of until today. He's a year younger than me - which only tells you something if you know how old I am. I wonder what he'd say about postmodern poetry...?

On another tack altogether, I wrote about how my old geocities website had been demolished, and that I'd decided to kind of revive it over at jimdo. The only problem is that jimdo doesn't seem to get googled; so far nothing I've put on there has turned up in any searches I've done, while geocities was very visible in that regard.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The flashest drive

Last year my two colleagues came back from the major biennial meeting of the Presbyterian Church each with promotional flash drive - and one spare, which was handed onto me. Apart from the promotional factor (some advertising that would appear at the beginning if you weren't quick enough to forestall it) it was the best flash drive I'd had up to that point. The advertising, which consisted of a short video, didn't seem to take up any 'space' on the disk, so obviously the drive area was separate to this. In other words, it wasn't just four gig of memory (or whatever the space was) but that and more. Not only was there plenty of space but it worked like a dream.

Until I put it through the washing machine. Well, that didn't actually stop it working, but the suspicion was that the water must have damaged it in some way, and eventually the data on it would get corrupted. I've been loathe to throw it away - in fact, I'm going to check it some time soon just to see if it still functions (it's now a few months since it went through the wash).

The photos of unusual flash drives are from - the homemade Subaru is by Rebecca and Bernhard and the green frog by Scott Beale (aka Laughing Squid - appropriately!)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Dreamworks and Kreisler

The other day I received a postcard from the States with writing on it that seemed vaguely familiar, a proper USA postage stamp and a couple of pictures of Hollywood on the front. The message read:

Hi Mike
We need somebody to write a script, compose the soundtrack and paint a picture. Give me a call at Dreamworks! Best, Steven.

All very weird: I don't know anyone called Steven who's travelling at the moment, and the whole thing seems a bit like a hoax. It also seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to play a trick. Well, maybe the answer will come in due course.

On another front, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of works by Tom Kreisler, an artist I'd never heard of. At first I thought the stuff was all a bit pseud - too much wordplay and not enough art, but the curators of the exhibition have wisely included a lot of memorabilia relating to the works on the walls, and as a result you begin to see that this is an interesting artist, more accessible than it first appears, and with an interesting sense of humour. (This in itself is enough to make me feel more enthusiastic about him.)

On the programme guide there's a paragraph quoted from an interview with Kreisler:

It's just a bit of rubbish I wrote one day, and it says: "Having lived with myself as a Foreigner, an outsider to most cultures, I know what I like in my work, and I try to shape it accordingly. Hate pretentiousness, cleverness, boringness, being respectable, that is deserving of respect. Artists who set themselves up as monuments of excellence, social toadiness. I like that art that constantly questions itself, that appears to be aloof, but is passionate, that looks at ordinariness and ordinary things without wishing to colonise them. I don't like art that is so aggressive that it excludes and destroys all that it touches, but I do like an art that understands the totality of its own existence, that is at the same time conscious of its own fallibility. I am more concerned with thoughts and attitudes than appearances.

Well that gives a bit of insight into the man. There are a lot of images of his work on the Net (as well as at the link above) - just Google Tom Kreisler nz for them. (It looks as if someone's made plenty of directory submissions on Kreisler's behalf, or else he's just a lot more popular than I know.

It just goes to show: you think you have a bit of a handle on the 'names' in the art field, or the music field, or whatever, and time and again, a new name pops up that's never been on the radar before.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Cleese on Creativity

I started out writing a post on here about the loss of my longstanding geocities site but shifted it to the more appropriate Webitz, which is where I tend to write about Net-related things. You'll also find some info about my new website (replacing geocities) at Jimdo.

Meanwhile, I've watched a John Cleese video on creativity twice now, and find it useful for just rethinking what I know about creativity. It isn't one of his humorous ones, but it does give some sensible advice about how to be creative - even if you're a businessperson, as most of the audience in the video are.

In it he talks about the amazing way our subconscious finds solutions when our conscious mind is short of them, the need for space if you're going to be creative (and space that is itself created, rather than just grabbed), the way in which having to rewrite something you've created (if you've lost the original, say) often gives you a better work than the one you had originally, and the way in which you need freedom from interruption if you're working on anything that requires the kind of multi-tasking that a script involves (particularly in relation to writing in the 'voices' of several characters).

It's about ten minutes long, so put your feet up, stop perusing the latest catalogue of truck accessories, and check out what this man has to say.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Couple of arty things

Just came across this quote on Twitter (via the ArtSharks link)

Art validates us beyond what anyone else can do for us. Anne Copeland

I'm not sure who Anne Copland is - as often happens when I write that, the person in question responds, so here's hoping!

Incidentally there's an intriguing video (see below) on the same site of the eight years of photos of the blogger passing by in just over a minute. The music's pretty awful (to my ears) but the video's worth watching.

Living My Life Faster - 8 years of JK's Daily Photo Project from JK Keller on Vimeo.