Monday, April 30, 2012

Radio Interviews

I'm now back at home after doing my second radio interview about Grimhilda! in a week.  The first was with Owen Rooney last Thursday morning - the day before Grimhilda! opened.   The second was earlier tonight, with Donald Saville-Cook.  It took place in exactly the same studio, at Radio Dunedin.  I've learned a bit about Radio Dunedin over the last week or so; it's always good to know more about your local community.

To my surprise, I've found both the interviews quite enjoyable, and I was a lot more relaxed than I thought I'd be.  It helped that I was talking about something which I'm thoroughly familiar with.  If I'd been working on a subject about which I knew a great deal less, things might have been different...

On a totally different tack, I've been looking on my computer for something relating to a motorcycle helmet.  Surprisingly there's very little there.  A comment about purchasing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance while we were in England in 2007 - I never actually read more than a few chapters before I gave it up as taking itself too seriously for its own good, and sold it on Trade Me.  It's a very popular book, but I wonder how many people actually get all the way through it - a bit like War and Peace in that sense!

One other reference was to an incident in Barcelona - this was in the same year, 2007.  I was wandering back to the place we were staying in when I sort of got caught up in a piece of moviemaking.  The film crew were filming a supposed robbery in which the robbers got away on a motorcycle.  The driver of the motorcycle had a helmet with horns on it for some reason.  Every time they filmed the robber running out of the building with the loot and getting away on the bike, the two of them had to go right round the block to get back again, because they were being filmed in a one-way street.  Not only that there was a cameraman on the back of a second bike, and of course they had to go round the block as well.  Such are the joys of moviemaking.

Friday, April 27, 2012

PledgeMe up and running

I think I first came across the wonderful site, Kickstarter, earlier this year, when Taika Waititi was raising money to promote his marvellous movie, Boy, in the USA.   He had a goal of raising US$90,000 and exceeded that by over $20,000.  The donations came in from around the world. 

Kickstarter is a site where you can promote a creative work of any sort and give people the chance to invest in it by offering a sum of money, usually anything from $5 upwards.  You become part of the creative process, a kind of mini-producer/entrepreneur as it were.  Your reward can be nothing at all, if you wish, or you can take up one of the rewards that are offered, depending on the size of your donation.   (Check out some of the hilarious but actual 'rewards' Waititi offered in relation to Boy.

If the project doesn't reach the target mark, then you don't pay anything.  It's disappointing for the project initiator, but as the site states, it's better to have the full funding you requested than trying to complete the task on partial funding.   Kickstarter has an excellent site with plenty of information about how to go about presenting your project and what you need to know. 

The only bugbear about Kickstarter is that it's based in the US and only connects to US projects.  (Which is why Waititi had to be there to get his funding off the ground.)

Now New Zealand has its only equivalent.  It's called PledgeMe and it subtitles itself: New Zealand's first crowdfunding platform.  Things are small-scale, at this point, with the number of projects under a hundred, but the quality is good, and there are some very interesting projects available.  Some, remarkably, have had no investment at all (To Go Viking in Moesgard - pictured at right - for instance).  Some are doing very well (the Gone Curling movie, for exmaple. It's centred in Naseby).  Often a video accompanies the project's details, which helps to give a good idea of what's up for grabs.   And, as with Kickstarter, people offer rewards to the investors. 

Unfortunately it's probably a bit too late for us to try and get some funding for Grimhilda! - though if anyone wants to help fund it I won't object!

Thursday, April 26, 2012


One of the great joys of life is finding a battery when you need it.  It's second only to the fact that if you have a cellphone, or an iPhone, or an iPad, you're forever having to recharge it.  Why batteries have such pathetically short lives I can't imagine.   It doesn't gain the manufacturers of these devices anything to have you forever recharging, so why don't they provide batteries that actually have a long life, instead of these wimpy things that die after a bit of use?

I thought about this after seeing advertising for Duracell Procell AAA batteries, but any kind of battery would have brought this to mind.  We use a lot of rechargeable batteries around our house, because things like cameras and remotes and dictaphones and MP3 players are always going on the blink when you most expect that they won't.   And we always think we've got the rechargeables ready to go, but of course when the need arises, they decide that they've had enough.

Time for a big rethink on batteries, I suspect, especially as the world moves more and more into the mobile age....

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Things that bug me

Why don't supermarkets put ice cream cones next to the ice cream tubs?   I remember to buy the ice cream, but forget the cones because each supermarket stores in them in a different place, like amongst the cereals, for instance (at Countdown) or in some quite obscure place which I can never remember (New World) .

Something that bugs me more, however, is why people in obituaries or reports about someone who died doing something that involved extreme sport - or even mountain climbing - insist on writing: He (it's nearly always a He) died doing what he loved.   Is that the best way to die?  I think dying in your bed overnight of really old age would be a much better way to go.

Do I really want to die typing a blog, or in the middle of composing a song, or playing the piano, or watching a great movie?   Nope.  Give me the quiet death in a bed in the middle of the night when I'm in my old age any time, when I've seen my grandchildren, when I've learned to live with someone for forty or fifty or sixty years.

The papers recently reported the death from cardiac arrest of a 30-year-old Southland woman (Natasha Harris) who'd been drinking at least eight litres of Coca Cola a day for several years without any other kind of liquid to counterbalance it - and often without any proper food.  The family, reportedly, said Coca Cola should be blamed.  (We like to have someone else to blame, these days.)  

Did she die doing what she loved?  Seemingly...

And following from that, here's another thing that bugs me: Peter Dunne, the MP, was quoted today as saying“Preventing suicide is everyone’s responsibility."  But is it?  People in high places always seem to be saying: stopping this or preventing that is the responsibility of everyone.   It's a concise way of saying two things: people in the community don't care (in fact they do), and it's not really our responsibility as leaders to do everything (no, it's not, but have you realised that you're part of the community, and therefore preventing or stopping these things is part of your responsibility, if you're going to mean what you say).   

I sometimes feel that when someone in authority adds this phrase to a report of someone's death or in relation to a serious accident, or whatever, that they really mean that you and I could have prevented this.  Well, you and I might have been able to, but equally we might not.  

The Southland woman was the mother of eight children - and she was only thirty.  Blaming the community in her case is ridiculous - the children had a father, the woman had a mother.  They knew how much she reacted to the Coca Cola - she was vomiting every day.  But no one close to her seems to have taken responsibility.  Surely preventing something begins at home, rather than in the wider community.  

You could say that perhaps these people were too close to her and that she wouldn't listen.  Well, there are plenty of health officials out there capable to dealing with something like this, and if she wouldn't listen to her family, surely they could have called in some professional help.  Or am I being naive and judgemental?  

I struggle with the limits of what I can be responsible for at the best of times, and always feel I don't live up to (my) expectations as to what I could do.  But blanket statements about everyone being responsible are nothing more than blanket: they mostly seem to be ways of avoiding the actual issue of who is responsible, and whether they're doing anything about it. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Sitzprobe literally means a 'seated rehearsal' and it's a term used in opera and musical theatre to describe the time when the singers first get together with the orchestra, before a production is presented publicly.  The aim is for the two groups, the singers and the musicians, to put the music together. The equivalent Italian term is prova all'italiana, which sounds to me as though it should mean to test everything in Italian, but obviously doesn't. 

Tonight the cast and orchestra of Grimhilda! will hold their sitzprobe.  The use of the word has had most of the cast asking, What the heck is a sitzprobe? because I don't think it's a term usually used in amateur musical theatre circles.  Perhaps people doing amateur opera use it; I'm not sure. 

I'm familiar with it because in the days when I worked with opera singers, the term came up constantly, and the event itself was always interesting.  The singers would get all theatrical and start to show off, and the musicians would turn on their slightly superior looks and pretend that actors/singers and musicians should barely be allowed in the same room.  However, after the initial impact of having to sit down together and get the thing moving, they'd all become friendly and it would go swimmingly.  

Well, 'swimmingly' might be a bit optimistic: it would go fairly well, because the first meeting of the singers with the orchestra is always quite stressful for the singers.   They've been working for weeks with nothing but a piano, and suddenly all those sounds they've been used to have been transformed into sounds they aren't used to, and it's quite off-putting.   Nothing sounds right. 

Which is why we hold sitzprobes (I'm sure the German plural is something different, like sitzproben, or whatever, but I don't actually know).   Tonight is going to be interesting, to say the least!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mr Frosty and BMX Kid

This three-minute film is well-known by now, but bears repeated to watch it on You Tube itself for the original formatting.

It's delightful to see the combination of veteran actor, Bruce Allpress (born 1930) and James Rolleston (from Boy), plus the wondrous New Zealand scenery.   Plus a Mr Whippy (or Mr Frosty as its known in this movie), a great icecream, and 'bombs'.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cards, Grimhilda!, Children of Men

Once upon a time I used to send out Christmas cards...quite a lot of them.   I haven't done this for years.  Instead I write a Christmas 'update' which brings the recipients up to date on what's been happening in the Crowl household - and email it.   It's always a bit of a challenge at the end of the year, but at least keeping a journal throughout the twelve months prior to that helps to remind me of what's happened.

In the last few years I've even added in photos of the various family members - which has only served to make the letter longer for those willing to endure reading it right through.   This is actually a bit of a step forward for me, since we never sent those custom photo holiday cards in the past that some people are wont (or were wont to do).  So we've actually gone from sending boring Christmas cards with barely an individual note on each one, to a major letter and photos.

Anyway, apropos of that in no way at all, Grimhilda! enters her final week of rehearsals tomorrow.   Sunday's rehearsal, in fact, will be the last time I actually play for the rehearsals.  After that, it'll be the orchestra.  I might not only be out of a job, but bereft!  Time will tell.

Last night I caught up with the version of Children of Men that I recorded some weeks back.  I'd once seen - on its own and out of context - the extraordinary long take that occurs towards the end of the movie, when Clive Owen stumbles and crashes and trips and climbs and eventually rescues the woman with the baby in the midst of a full-scale battle going on around him.  The set-up for this must have taken days, with an exhausted cast trying to deal with all the bombs going off and bullets flying and people dropping dead.  (Owen, in one of his best roles, looks exhausted through most of the movie.)  It's intriguing that directors seem to like doing long takes when it comes to battle scenes.  There's a famous one in the Russian version of War and Peace that travels across line after line of soldiers in various formations, but the most famous recent one (at least that I've seen) occurs in Atonement.  James McAvoy walks through hundreds of extras (as soldiers) doing all manner of things to while away their time before their rescued from wherever it is they are, and there are horses racing past, and things going on in the distance and in the foreground and stuff happening everywhere.  It's brilliant.  I'm not sure what it adds to the movie, but it's wonderful.

The long take in Children of Men has more point perhaps because it heightens the danger that Owen is in; we're with him all the way as he ducks and dives, briefly encounters the nasty character (Owen claimed earlier that he has bad breath) who seems to delight in shooting anyone and everyone, whatever side they're on, and finally finds the mother with the new-born baby.  But following that scene is the counterpoint: not another long take (although the camera still moves with the actors a great deal) but a marvellous quiet section in contrast to all the noise that's been going on: under Owen's protecting arm, the mother takes her crying baby out through the dozens of foreign refugees caught up in the battle and the soldiers who are struggling to keep the uprising at bay, and every one of them is reaching out to the child, quietly wanting to touch it, praising God for the miracle (the baby is the first in eighteen years in the known world).  The soldiers, whose faces all have that grittiness that comes with being battle-weary, are suddenly charmed into humanity by this tiny creature: men reflecting their potential fatherhood.  The women are like a thousand aunts all wanting to croon and chuckle over the infant.

I don't know whether I missed the point of some of the scenes in this film, but I never quite figured out how the clearance of foreigners from British soil connected with the loss of fertility amongst women worldwide. The two intersected a great deal, but in hindsight don't seem to have a connection.   Still it's a brilliant piece of filmmaking: wonderful performances, extraordinary sense of place (rubbish everywhere and detritus and a general air of things breaking down), a huge suspense in terms of how it's all going to work out, some extreme but believable action scenes, brilliant photography.   Stephanie Zacharek calls it the 'bleakest movie you'll ever want to see twice' and that's exactly right: it is bleak, but it's so superbly done from beginning to end that seeing it twice is virtually a must, if only to catch up on all the hundreds of details that aren't shoved into our faces but are there if we're quick enough to see them.

And apart from the wonderful moment when the child is paraded through the battling crowd, there's the delightful way in which the animals react in this movie, in particular to Owen: it's as if they trust him, see him as the one honest character amongst the rest.  Noisy farm dogs nestle towards him; a kitten climbs up his trouser leg.

Self-publishing in its various forms

According to Seth Godin, the following authors were all self-published.   In the light of the current chaos swirling around the world of publishing, and with self-publishing in a variety of forms becoming all too common, it's interesting to see who's on the list.  

Ben Franklin
Ezra Pound
Emily Dickinson
Marcel Proust
Dave Eggers
Thomas Paine
Jane Austen
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Walt Whitman
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Stephen Crane
Nikki Giovanni
Virginia Woolf

Of course, self-publishing isn't just confined to the world of books...what we're doing with my musical, Grimhilda!, is a form of self-publishing.  Someone said to me the other day, 'You're lucky to be getting it on at all'.   But in fact, it's because we've done it ourselves, to a great extent, that it's going on.  It would never have got off the ground if I'd waited for an impresario.   Although an impresario might have come in handy, given some of the difficulties we've faced!

Derek Paravicini

This You Tube video is from a 60 Minutes programme dating back to 2010.

It features a man in his early thirties called Derek Paravicini (the surname is the same as that of the character I played in The Mousetrap, last year) who they keep on calling a 'savant' in the programme.   He's blind, and has difficulty identifying parts of his body well ('can't tell his left hand from his right' says the reporter - something that many people aren't too good at!), but has been able to play the piano since he was a child, and these days can play any tune asked for in whatever key you specify and in whatever style you'd like.  He also raises money for charity with his performances, and enjoys playing for people in rest homes...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Prose Poems

I don't have a problem with so-called free verse, as long as that verse has some sort of basic rhythm (not necessarily a traditional metre), some sense of the use of words that isn't the way we'd put them together in ordinary speech or prose, some feel that there is a structure, even if we can't necessarily put our finger on it immediately.

But I dislike free verse that's so free that if you got rid of the short lines and turned it into a piece of prose it wouldn't make the slightest difference.  Which is why Robert Bly's prose poems (such as The Starfish) make sense: he doesn't do anything that's visually structural except use the occasional paragraph indent.  So why does he include them amongst his poems?  Because, ironically, his prose poems do have the very things I talked about in the first paragraph here: rhythm, a poetic use of words, structure and even drama.

I get a poem a day from The Writer's Almanac.  Many of these are fine poems, but quite often there are poems included that are really prose in disguise.  Quite well written prose, with some style, but truthfully, they're prose, or prose poems, and it would be far better if they got on and said they were, and didn't try to make us think that just because the lines are short they're what you'd call a poem.

An update: 24.4.12

Here's a prime example of what I mean.  The following poem by Anne Pierson Wiese, is called "Everything but God" and comes from her collection Floating City, published by Louisiana State University Press, 2007.   You can see the original layout here

In the book it's published as a regular poem, with short(ish) lines.   However, I'm going to post it as a piece of prose, and I bet your boots you can't tell where the lines end in the original version:

In Europe you can see cathedrals from far away. As you drive toward them across the country they are visible—stony and roosted on the land—even before the towns that surround them. In New York you come upon them with no warning, turn a corner and there one is: on 5th Avenue St. Patrick's, spiny and white as a shell in a gift shop; dark St. Agnes lost near a canal and some housing projects in Brooklyn; or St. John the Divine, listed in every guidebook yet seeming always like a momentary vision on Amsterdam Avenue, with its ragged halo of trees, wide stone steps ascending directly out of traffic.

Lately I have found myself unable to pass by. The candles' anonymous wishes waver and flame near the entrance, bright numerous, transitory and eternal as a migration: the birds that fly away are never exactly the same as those that return.  The gray, flowering arches' ribs rise until they fade, the bones so large and old they belong to an undetected time on earth. Here and there people's small backs in prayer, the windowed saints' robes' orchid glow, the  shadows—ghosts of a long nocturnal snow from a sky below when we did not yet exist, with our questions tender as burns.

This is a good, descriptive piece of writing - it could have come out of any book of creative journalism - but where is the poetry?   Even as a 'prose poem' it shows little sign of its poetic origin; only when you read the last sentence aloud do you hear the long o sounds coming through.  

A little about the author of this poem, a poet whose work is highly thought of, in fact.  
Although born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Anne Pierson Wiese grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She is a graduate of Amherst College and the New York University Graduate Writing Workshop, and currently lives and works in New York City.

Wiese won the 2006 Walt Whitman Award for her first collection of poems, Floating City, selected by Kay Ryan, which was published in 2007 by Louisiana State University Press. Other awards include a 2005 Fellowship in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and Second Prize in the 2004 Arvon International Poetry Competition sponsored by the Arvon Foundation in Great Britain. She was also a winner in the 2004 "Discovery"/The Nation Poetry Contest and received the First Place Poetry Prize in the 2002 Writers@Work Fellowship Competition.

Her work has been anthologized in Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn(New York University Press, 2006).   You can several examples of her poetry here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Just a little overview

While commenting on Facebook this morning, I thought that it would be interesting to list the number of different skills that have been employed since I began to work on the musical, Grimhilda!   It hasn't been quite a matter of everything and the kitchen sink, (as in Sienna Sinks stainless steel sinks) but it's felt close to that at times.

Of course, the first skill was writing the thing, in collaboration with my friend, Cherianne Parks (she contributed many of the crazier ideas, and is very strong on structure and plotting).

Then the was the writing of the music, first in a piano/vocal score, and then gradually this was orchestrated.   None of these skills, so far, were new to me.

Next, and these aren't in any particular order, I had to discover how to apply for funding and how to fill in applications forms to funders.  I was greatly helped in this by Sally-Anne Howes, who's done it before and made editorial comments and did the budgetting side of it.  As a result we got some $6000 of funding!

Then there was my involvement in the auditions.  I didn't make the final decisions on casting, but was involved in the process with the director and music director.   When we didn't have a complete cast as a result, in collaboration with the D and MD, I began the search through every means I could think of to find the additional actors we needed.  So you might say I acquired some casting skills...

Then there was advertising.  Initially I was doing this in a kind of ad hoc way, and then somehow it became my job altogether.   It's been interesting, and I've met some great and friendly and helpful people.   And been overwhelmed, as always, by the willingness of people to get involved.

I also recorded two selections of music and put these on SoundCloud, along with some of the instrumental music - courtesy of the Sibelius program.   And last weekend, I went through and checked (and corrected) the instrumental parts, and printed them out, and, with my wife's assistance, taped all the individual pages together into a concertina format, so the musicians don't have pages flying everywhere during the performances.  That was a much bigger job than I anticipated.   And then we'd no sooner done that than we had to add in a number of bars because the Director wanted a bit of dancing in one place.  Such is his prerogative, but it's surprising how much extra work that was.  It's much easier to cut stuff than add stuff!

And then there's what you might call my 'producing' role: finding things, and people to do stuff, and making decisions that something is far too expensive to go with and trying to find a better and more economic option.   Surprisingly the economic options are often because other groups in town, or people, are willing to be generous to a degree that continues to amaze me.  This week has shown me just how generous people can be - we were even offered a keyboard for the celesta part in the score after I advertised on Twitter.  Someone retweeted the original tweet, and within five minutes, I was on the phone to a resident saying he not only had a keyboard he was willing to lend (to a complete stranger!) but was willing to drop it off to the theatre.   Wow!

I've just been having coffee and liaising with the MD and the man who's going to look after the mics for us.  He's even willing to go chasing up additional items we need to get this part of the show to work properly.  Again, Wow!   (And he's been willing to come to rehearsals and see how things run and what needs to be done.)

My list of helpful people is growing - and I'll keep it for future reference!

Meanwhile, Cherianne has also played multiple roles: props person (collecting them and organising for them to be built where necessary); overseeing the making of the costumes and liaising with the scenic designer; ongoing script consultant and much more which she could tell you about better than I can.  And of course, she'll be Stage Manager during the show's run.

I'm sure there are other jobs I've been involved with (such as putting together the promo at the Library yesterday) but they're all beginning to merge...maybe I'll update this as the other jobs come to mind!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reality weight-loss

According to an article in the supplement that comes on a Tuesday with my daily paper, there were fewer than twenty reality shows just ten years ago. This season, however, there are a staggering 560 reality series available.  Good grief.

Reality shows are cheaper to make, of course, and many of them are surprisingly popular. That supposedly ordinary people would go on television and expose their lives in the way they do always seems extraordinary to me; even worse are those who seem to have no qualms about letting all their bad temper and behaviour show up on screen. Don't they see how offensive they are?

I watch some reality shows. Some drive me up the wall. Some are fascinating, and some plainly have left so much material out (like those ones where they take horrible teenagers and hand them over for just a week to a couple that's disciplinarian and loving) that you wonder why they bother to show the rest.

The article I referred to above initially relates to the very popular Biggest Loser series, which has evolved from a game-show style with comedy to something that aims to tug at the heartstrings at every point.   It's not a show I can bear to watch, personally, and sometimes the contestants seem to be put through some really awful processes to get where they're going. Knowing how tough it is to lose weight, and seeing these people do a supremely focused course in order to lose pounds, I always wonder how they fare in the long run? Do they stay at their new weight, or does nature take over again, and they find themselves pretty much back where they started?

And then there are the side effects of all this weight loss, not all of which are emotional. Certainly it's great for your health to get rid of all that weight, and often people who've struggled with diabetes and such find these areas improve greatly.  But what other side effects arise? I would guess that for the people on The Biggest Loser the side effects are mostly positive, unlike, for example, the Phenterex side effects - Phenterex is a diet pill. Diet pills, of course, are the 'easy' option. The fat is supposed to slide off you.  Yeah, right.

To name just a few of the side effects of Phenterex, for example, we have the possibility of headaches, nervousness, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, and the even more severe effects: raised blood pressure, heart palpitations and an increased heart rate.

If it's a choice between a miracle pill and the good old-fashioned approach of proper diet and exercise, the latter will count every time. It's just that for most of us (including those who watch the much-edited Biggest Loser) the seeming miracle of a quick method (as the reality show appears to be) will usually convince us that the quick method is best.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Stop it...

And by way of complete contrast (seem to be starting a lot of sentences with And today - but then, so did Mark, in his Gospel, so I'm in good company), here's Bob Newhart in a typically daft comedy skit, called Stop It.  No idea who the poor woman in need of therapy is, but she plays it beautifully.  And the sketch itself is beautifully constructed...

Evelyn Glennie performing...

A friend of mine (he's also a composer and arranger), Ryan Youens, alerted me to a You Tube video of Evelyn Glennie playing a piece called Libertango.  It's a wonderfully evocative piece, not sharp in the rhythmic sense in a way many tangos are, but warm and tender, with resonating bass notes rumbling along underneath.   And all done with four sticks.   I think piano playing is difficult sometimes, but creating this sort of music with four quite awkwardly-held sticks is a miracle.

And then, of course, there's the added complication in this performer's case, of being profoundly deaf. She lost her hearing at the age of 12....

Sunday, April 15, 2012

mics and voices

One of the complications of putting on the musical, Grimhilda!, is how much use do we use mics?  Some of the cast will be fine without them, but we have two kids in the show each night, and sometimes they have to talk over music playing in the orchestra pit, and, of course, they'll be singing with the orchestra.   It seems logical to use mics for them.  But what about other members of the cast?  Mics are an expensive item in the budget and supplying them to everyone isn't going to be an option.  Which means that the man controlling the mics is going to have his work cut out balancing miked voices with unmiked ones.    It's going to be an interesting process.  

When you're rehearsing a show there always seem to be some members of the cast who are comfortable with using a stage voice even when in a smaller rehearsal room, and some people who find the size of the space inhibiting.  Once they're out in the theatre their voices bloom, and you can hear them easily wherever you are.  But in the rehearsal space you sometimes despair of hearing them at all anywhere else.

And it's easy for inexperienced cast members to forget that they're going to have to throw their voices further than a couple of metres once they go on stage.  I don't know why that should be, but it is the case.  I prefer to be using a stage voice (somewhat modified to the surroundings) from early on in the rehearsal process.  It makes the transition from rehearsal room to stage a much easier one.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Two interesting lists

I happened upon Kindle's list of Most highlighted passages of all time today. What this refers to is the way in which you can highlight (like the old idea of using a highlighter in a book with real pages) a section of a book you're reading because you think it's important, or it struck you as of interest, or whatever.  These highlighted sections can be tracked later, if you want.

Considering that this list has the most highlighted passages of all time, they're a strange bunch. (All time being somewhat hyperbolic, I think.) Passages from the various books in The Hunger Games prevail, which presumably means that a huge number of people are not only reading these books on Kindle, but are highlighting more than ever.  Initially it's almost hard to find anything else in the list, but wait! Jane Austen is there, third in line with It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Let's hope they read further than the first paragraph.)  She manages to sneak in at eighth place as well.   Sherlock Holmes makes an appearance in the top 25 along with a book entitled: Heaven is for real: a little boy's astounding story of his trip to heaven and back.  Hmm.  

Dorian Grey gets in at around number 27, and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People makes more than one appearance in numbers 26-50.  After that it becomes open slather, with a real mix of books turning up.   The interesting thing about this list is that, unlike those lists produced by retailers and other places, where the greatest books of all time will include Harry Potter and suchlike, this list is actually related to what people are reading and highlighting.  The highlighting is the relevant factor.  It will be worth checking out this list again when The Hunger Games has run its course.

The second list is related to Twitter, and appears in the NZ Herald, where a list of NZ's Twitter top 50 appears today.  Taika Waititi, who made the film, Boy, appears first on this list, with 11,520 followers, though he's actually the second most followed tweeter.  Comedian Rhys Darby has over 79,000 followers, Cory Jane (the All Black) has around 53,000, nearly twice as many as TV3's John Campbell, who almost ties with another commentator, John Lai.  Except that Lai is a social media commentator.  

The interesting thing about this second list, for me, is that I don't follow a single person on it, although a few of the names turn up in retweets now and then, notably Hamish Keith.  There are quite a few New Zealanders I do follow, but none of them appear on this list.  Maybe they'll turn up on the Herald's second list, which is due out soon. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012


It's almost impossible to write about the Israeli movie Footnote without telling you the major crisis in the story, and the review that I read yesterday in the ODT gave it away, as does Roger Ebert in his review.  The major crisis centres around a 'simple' mix-up of names - a father and son obviously both have the same surname, both are professors at the same University.  That's probably all you need to know for me to write about this marvellous movie.

It swings between tongue-in-cheek humour and serious drama.   The most wonderful scene takes place in an academic's tiny office, where half a dozen academics are squashed together around a table they really could have done without.  They've called in the son to explain the details of the dilemma they're in, and the scene shifts from hilarious comedy to comedy so subtle you only just perceive it to a nasty confrontation. All within five minutes.  There's one lady academic - it's her office, and she's being as pleasant as possible (she gets about one line in the whole scene); there are several ancient male academics, including the antagonist, whose forehead (often seen in close-up) is like a dried-up desert where once water ran: it's full of deep creases.  To get into the office, with a chair, everyone has to move and pull the table back; in spite of this a physical fight briefly takes place as well.

The academic father, whose claim to fame is fairly insubstantial (he was pipped at the post by the antagonist many years ago), appears at the beginning in one of the most immobile shots you're likely to see - his son is droning on in the background telling a story that seems on the surface to reveal something of value between their relationship; in fact it's about as cruel as you can imagine.  The son produces academic works of a popular nature and knows that he doesn't have the acclaim of his own father.  Worse, he's passing on his anger to his own son, who's at that stage of life when he just doesn't know what to do with himself.

That all sounds fairly heavy, but the film is leavened by the subtle acting of the male leads and their seeming lack of self-awareness as regards each other.   Or maybe they have too much awareness of each other and of themselves.   That's one of the many questions the film raises.   And the opening half hour includes several sequences in which the background to the story is revealed in a series of 'slides' with a narrator or text giving the information.  These are the tongue-in-cheek sections, and they're accompanied (as are other parts of the movie) by a delightful score that stops and starts and plays with our ears while we catch up with the history.

However, there is one almighty shock in this film, and that's the ending.  Just when we feel as though things might at least appear to begin to be sorted out, the movie stops.  The credits roll, and roll, and there's just no more.  The audience gasped when the credits began, realising that there probably wasn't going to be any more, and all of us, insistently, stayed on till the very end of the credits just in case there was a last minute reprieve.  Nope.  The film was done.  It's up to you to discuss it with your spouse or friend or whoever and see how you think it all panned out given the information you now have.

Some reviewers have found the film too sour for their taste; some see as a serious piece that's undermined, or underlined, by comedy.  I enjoyed it, though I really, really could have done with an ending...

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Odd phrases, J S Bach, Moby Dick and Miss Pettigrew

Just a little catchup on the HitTail side of things....the following four phrases are the ones most used to get to my site this last week or so.  And what an odd collection they are!

brownlee finland
mother armwrestling
esther muir plastered
steve jobs graduation quotes

Gerry Brownlee is the man in question in the first phrase: he's a politician here in New Zealand, and recently made a bit of a gaffe in regard to some comments given in Parliament about the country of Finland. Supposedly the Finns got very up in arms about the comments.  Quite honestly, it seems unlikely.  Do most of them even know where New Zealand is?

Mothers and armwrestling seem to be a bit of an odd combination, although there are some You Tube videos showing mothers armwrestling with their teenage sons.    Last time armwrestling turned up on HitTail in relation to my site it was to do with a man armwrestling his wife.   Not sure how the mother got in on it. 

Esther Muir was an actress who had a role in the Marx Brothers film, A Day at the Races.  Like most women who wind up in Groucho's arms in these movies, she suffers considerable embarrassment at the hands of his brothers.  

I don't need to explain the last phrase.  Do I?

Yesterday I came across a site called Grooveshark.  It's a place where you can stream endless amounts of music, or buy it, if you wish.  Since it's Easter Weekend, I had a thought that I'd make an effort to hear Bach's St Matthew Passion.  I know a little of it, but not the whole wide mountain range of it.  Anyway, it's all available on Grooveshark, in several versions.  Curiously, the tracks from these versions are mixed up to glory, so playing them in the order they appear means you're hearing a random version of the Passion. This isn't an entirely bad thing, and some tracks get repeated straight away with a different choir and orchestra, or turn up further down the list.  I've just left the whole caboodle running for the last couple of days, when I've been here, and gradually Bach's music is making more of an impression on my brain than it has before.  

On another front, I'm starting to struggle with Moby Dick, the novel by Herman Melville.  I was enjoying it at first, when he was still writing an actual story, but he gets bogged down in side-paths, which, though they may be interesting in themselves, just feel like they're holding up the real meat of the book.  Ishmael ceases to be a character in the story, almost, and becomes just a narrator of events in which he often has no part.  It's taken a long time for Captain Ahab to appear, and when he does you rather wish he hadn't.  Keeping him mysteriously below decks on a permanent basis might have worked better.  He insists on speaking in a pseudo-Shakespearean mode, as though he wasn't living in the same century as the other characters.  Not only that, Melville starts giving 'stage directions', and these have a Shakespearean feel to them too, which makes the whole thing stop being a story and begin to be almost a piece of postmodern literature (and I'm not saying that in a complementary way). 

I'll persevere a little longer, in the hope that something actually happens. 

Last night we watched a film called Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  It was superbly designed: the colour coordination between costumes and scenery in particular was just wonderful.  It was pretty well acted too, given that most of it was a load of old twaddle.  I'm not really sure what it was meant to be about: surely not the idea that a young person can have a change of heart and settle down to a straightforward marriage after having had three affairs on the go at once and being in general a total twat. The change of heart wasn't convincing, because it was supposed to take place during one set of 24 hours, and be initiated by a woman who didn't appear to have all that much nous to begin with. Nevertheless Amy Adams did her utter energetic best as the ditzy girl; Frances McDormand did her best to turn from being a lifeless frump to someone who could let her warmth hang out and make other people feel all cosy; Ciarán Hinds played a bloke who designed women's lingerie but decided to go back to designing men's sox (don't ask me why) - somehow he fell in love with the McDormand character without anything much having clicked between them.  The inimitable Shirley Henderson (known for her role as Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter series, though she's had some marvellous parts in other films) played Ciarán's ex-fiancée, and was positively statuesque in spite of her limited height. She stole the show with her stylish playing, I felt, but her character was underdeveloped, and in the end had nowhere to go and dropped out of the movie. 

The sort of movie where you always hoped things would actually get up and go. Nope, they didn't. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Curiosities of Buses

Three buses leave from just near where my son currently works, down by Greggs factory.   One is the Balaclava, which drops me right outside my door, another is the Kenmure, which I can get as far as Elgin Rd, and then walk home; a third, I now discover, is the Bradford.   Having been thinking about going on a Bradford bus for some time to see where it actually goes, I asked the driver what stop was the closest to my place.  He thought the stop near the roundabout at Stone St would be closest, before the bus heads off into Kaikorai Valley.

So I got on the Bradford bus.  Talk about a roundabout route, but interesting.  It heads along George and Princes Sts in the same direction as the Balaclava and Kenmure, like them turns into Rattray St, but then at Harvey Norman's corner goes straight up McClaggen St, up Serpentine Ave, turns sharp right into Canongate, up Russell, along Arthur, up Rattray, up Ross, into Highgate, which then becomes Kenmure Rd, down Rosebery (I think) into Beaumont, up Napier, into Jubilee, and onto Mailer, where it climbs up to reach the Stone St roundabout.   I got off in Jubilee St, just before Mailer, courtesy of the friendly driver.

And walked up into Elgin Rd.  And found the Kenmure bus reaching the stop I normally get off at just as I approached it, and then found the Balaclava bus reaching my own home stop just as I approached it a few minutes later.  The latter would have been the most direct route, since it leaves outside my son's work and drops me off outside my own house...literally.

The Kenmure route used to be part of the Balaclava route in the old days, and never went into Stanley St, where I used to live.  Now there's a bus stop outside my old house. 

Furthermore, when I was at school, and had to come up the hill for a music lesson at the convent at St Francis Xavier's, I used to get the Maryhill cable car from Mornington.  It would go down the steep hill at Mornington, up Glenpark Ave, and stop outside my current house.   Where, one day, I fell off the cable car because I presumed it was stopping before it was.

I find all this very interesting.  You may not!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Cleary and Harding

Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding are a couple of dancers who've worked in the Riverdance stage shows.  Recently they've begun to perform 'hand-dancing' on You Tube videos.  The example above is one of their more intentionally  'po-faced' versions - in the America's Got Talent video, they actually smile a lot and move around the stage briefly.  I'm not sure what they're doing on AGT, unless they were a guest act.

You can see the Riverdance origins in the kind of constant, unstoppable rhythm that pervades these videos.  It's fun to watch two or three and then they become a bit much.   Try some others another day!

Cleary and Harding have their own website, under their 'trade' name of Up and Over It.  There are a variety of other videos on there, showing off different aspects of their dance style.

Hectic weekend

Spent the bulk of last Saturday at the Brass Band provincial contests.  I'd mentioned in a previous post how I was supposed to be playing Variations on a Welsh Themeand how the soloist had had to pull out.   What was the first piece I heard on arriving at the competition?  Variations on a Welsh Theme, being played (and very nicely too) by someone else.

As has been the case with most days recently, it was beautiful and hot on Saturday, and many of the brass banders would have been happy to have sat outside relaxing, I think, instead of having to perform before audiences.  Still most of them survived, and we had some good placings amongst the folk I played for, including two or three firsts.

In the evening my wife and I went to a 6 pm showing of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which has a cast that most directors would die for: director John Madden somehow managed to corral them all together for this relatively slight piece that's made enjoyable because of the people in it.  It concerns a disparate group of oldies who independently decide to take up the offer of a particular Indian hotel to accommodate them in what is effectively an old people's home without the use of that phrase.

Judi Dench takes a leading role, along with Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton and Ronald Pickup.  Dev Patel, from Slumdog Millionaire, is the hotel's young proprietor, a man with more ambition and ideas than commonsense.   Of course all works out well in the end - for him, anyway.  One or two or the oldies come a bit unstuck in the process.  Penelope Wilton, unfortunately, is saddled with the role of a whining woman who just never shifts from that position.  It's not far from her rather petulant mother in Downton Abbey, and it would have been nice to see her in a different kind of role.

Sunday, after church in the morning, I went to the rehearsal for Grimhilda!  Things are a long way from perfection, but we're getting there.  I've been acting as répétiteur (the common name for rehearsal pianist, but used less now than it used to be) for the rehearsals, and it's interesting to find that even though I wrote the music there are times when I don't seem to be hitting the notes too well.  Of course, when the music was being written, I was playing it all the time.  Now that the writing is some months behind me, it's becoming like any piece of music does when you don't practice it regularly: a bit slapdash.  Still, répétiteurs commonly don't play all the notes, so I'm not doing anything unusual!

At the rehearsal last night I took a photo of the Parrot in his (still to be slightly amended) costume: you've no doubt already noticed the photo.  It's not the best picture, and we'll get some better ones done in due course - this is just to give you a taste of the colour of this particular costume...

On Sunday evening, I had to play for a local singer, Sarah Oliver, in a concert put on by the NZ Foundation Youth Pipe Band.   The band was doing a very quick tour of NZ (four rather scattered centres) and then heading off to Sydney for an Australian contest.  Sarah was a guest artist, as had been other singers in other centres.   The rest of the concert consisted of performances by the NZFYPB - a group of young pipers and drummers from around the country, some dancers and a local pipe band from John McGlashan College. 

Sarah and I ensconced ourselves in a small dressing room, with the door shut, because the noise of the pipes in a theatre that size was pretty loud and made its way through all parts of the building.  The pipers were a talented bunch, there's no doubt, as were the drummers.  Very sharp and accurate and in general a credit to New Zealand.  I hope they're doing well in Oz. 

I got home about 10.30 feeling as though I'd done my dash for the week....