Friday, June 29, 2012

On Ceilings

I briefly mentioned Nora Ephron in my last post, and was looking back in my Evernote clippings and noted that the article from The Guardian on her mentions 'ceilings'.  She was addressing her Alma Mater at the time:  "Don't let the New York Times article about the brilliant success of Wellesley graduates in the business world fool you – there's still a glass ceiling. Don't let the number of women in the workforce trick you – there are still lots of magazines devoted almost exclusively to making perfect casseroles and turning various things into tents..."  I like that last bit because I came across an article on the Net yesterday suggesting the use of sheets of bubble-wrap as an insulator on windows.  In spite of the fact that we've actually insulated the house recently, under the floor and in the ceilings, the last few days have been particularly cold.  The heat pump has been working overtime, which doesn't bode well for the power bill, and it's still been less than comfortable in some living areas in the house.  I'm getting old, so the cold obviously affects me more than it used to, but...

Anyway, I don't know that we'll be putting bubble-wrap up on the windows at this point, though it may come to that in due course.  This morning I've left the curtains shut in two of the living areas to try and keep some heat in.  

When we were in Idaho at the beginning of the year, in what was their winter (it turned out to be more like our winter, which is often relatively mild), the house had a ceiling fan that spread the heat around the main (large) living area.  I guess that would help here too - it might stop the heat sitting up at ceiling level and keeping our feet cold.  Casablanca ceiling fans are one kind of model [see example to the right] but I'm sure there are others.

Amongst my clippings is a poem The Hinge Seasons, by Therese Lloyd.  It was highly commended in this year's Caselberg Awards.  Here's a 'ceiling' quote from the last few lines:

alive to the simple generosity
of that saucer of rainwater
sending up light to the ceiling.

Here's a line from the prospectus for the old cinema that became the London Opera Centre, where I did a year's course back in the sixties: Auditorium with rich Art Deco plaster work to walls, ceiling and proscenium; side walls include large panels of delicate ornamental grillwork and original lights. Large, enriched 3-tier ceiling fitting providing illumination and air conditioning outlets.

The cinema was built in the days when cinemas were next to palaces in design, though by the time I got there it had had additional rooms built in and walls shifted and all manner of odd redesigning done to it.  

Here's Seth Godin talking about the pricing of ebooks: Certainly less than $20 (a ‘moral’ ceiling related to the price of a paper copy) and probably more than $10 (which is the floor set by Amazon as the price of a bestseller on the Kindle).  He's not talking about 'ordinary' ebooks, but books with a 'provenance.'   Sometimes Godin strikes me as a bit of a snob, especially when it comes to the marketing of his own materials.  Anyway a 'moral ceiling' is a nice concept. 

Back in November 2011, there was an article in The Guardian (yes, I know I quote them a lot) about an overzealous cleaner unintentionally destroying an artwork called When It Starts Dripping From The Ceiling.[See right]  She mistook it for an eyesore that was badly in need of a clean.   Enough said, I think. 

In the light of what directors can do to a play, check out this extract from an article on modern theatre productions: Before I went I’d been warned by my agent, by at least two other writers and by one literary manager that I would hate it. They’ll wrap all the actors in cling film and swing them from the ceiling on meat hooks, take out all your text and add in new text by Michel Houellebecq they suggested to me. They were wrong.

Sebastian’s production blew my mind.

Simon Stephens goes on to say what they did do with the play - and he approved of it - but I'm not sure that every playwright has had such an enlightening experience with their work.  

And finally, an extract from a blog post by Jason Goroncy, in which the ideas of ceiling are introduced in relation to theology: When we enter a cathedral and we look up at the majestically-high ceiling, we are reminded that God is big, that God is far away, and that we are small. But in our modern multi-purpose entertainment centres, the ceiling feels almost within reach, and God is not so big, and we are not so small. This reflects a change in theology – both in our thinking about God and about ourselves. God used to be bigger and we used to smaller. But now God is not so big, and we are not so small! Or so modernity’s narrative goes.

Gender-imbalance, light fittings & Ephron

There's a awkwardly-written article on the Guardian website with the headline: Subsidised theatres have too few female roles, Equity says - Actors' union finds male roles outnumber female roles by average of two to one in publicly funded companies. 

I say awkwardly-written not because of its content but because there's one sentence that appears to be unfinished: "But despite contacting the theatres twice, the union received a "disappointing" response, with only eight ." Note the gap between 'eight' and the full stop.  Seems like something's missing there.  And further down we have a paragraph that tells us about various plays currently showing that are dominated by male casts; in the next paragraph we have the same information all over again in a barely rearranged fashion.  Curious. And most unusual for The Guardian, whose online website is one of the best, I find. Or at least one of the best that I actually read.  

The subject of gender inequality in theatre productions intrigues me.  For one thing you can't necessarily blame the production companies, especially those committed to producing classic plays.  If you're going to do Shakespeare, for instance (and two of his plays are among those noted) then you're bound to have a gender imbalance, since the parts for women in these plays are severely restricted.  I went to an evening a while ago in which a group of young people, male and female presented much truncated versions of three Shakespeare plays.  Depending on the director and the casts these worked - the version of Hamlet, in particular was very well done, but the version of Cymbeline was a bit of a mess.  In these the casts were pretty evenly mixed between male and female, with many of the original male parts being played by girls.  However this isn't something you can readily do in a professional theatre production, I don't believe.  

And here in Dunedin, when we were trying to find men for Grimhilda! back at the end of last year and the beginning of this one, we struggled because two other musical societies in the town were producing two very heavily male-dominated productions: Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.  So we had a problem with gender imbalance from a different perspective altogether.  

Two other productions the Guardian writer, Alexandra Topping, mentions are Billy Budd and Chariots of Fire.  Hmm, you'd be hard-pressed to add any women to the roles in those productions.  Billy Budd is set aboard a ship where women weren't present anyway, and Chariots of Fire is about a race in which only men appeared.  It's probably coincidence that so many of these pieces are on at the moment.  

What are production companies to do?  Certainly there are plays in which there are plenty of women's roles, and good ones, but theatre has tended to reflect a society where men have the active roles and women don't.  That society has changed is certainly true, but it seems that playwrights aren't yet reflecting that enough.  I can't think of any play, off the top of my head, that's female-dominated in terms of roles, and certainly there aren't that many plays that have only females in the cast.  

Perhaps it's an issue as to what producers will put on.  Although playwright Stella Duffy [at right] says that women make up the majority of the audiences - 70% according to her - producers still produce plays in which men take the leading roles, or, if the women have leading roles, there are also plenty of males roles as well.   It may also be indicative of a society in which men take the leading 'active' role in stories, like it or not.  There are female superheroes, but not as many as there are males.  And if you really want to check out inequality in gender, look at the movies that are made.  Males dominate there too.  Except perhaps in so-called 'chick flicks'.  But are chick flicks addressing gender imbalance, primarily?  And what is the theatrical equivalent of a chick flick?  

Looking a totally different question altogether, I'm intrigued to see metal switch plate covers being advertised.  These are things that you put over light-switch fittings to stop the children playing with the wires - or to prevent adults inadvertently plugging themselves in instead of the electrical device.  Metal seems an odd choice for this.  I haven't seen metal fittings for years (we used to have old-style round ones in the house) - plastic seems to be the norm.  I guess metal is less likely to go on fire if anything goes wrong, but equally isn't it likely to pick up an electrical charge more readily than a plastic cover?

Just a thought - it made me go and check out a couple of the round switch plate covers in our bedrooms.  It just occurred to me that we might have metal ones after all.  Nope, they're some other material, but they aren't metal.

And one final thing.  Nora Ephron, a screenwriter whose movies balanced out male and female roles with ease and delight, has died - this is already 'old' news, I'm sure.   The Guardian wrote an article about her too, but it linked to a list of things Ephron said she wouldn't miss, and things she would miss. The two lists are a great deal of fun, and warmth and humanity.  Just like Ephron's stories.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Quiz and a couple of movies

Last night my wife and I went to a fundraising quiz at one of the local taverns.   Nice and warm inside, but a bit of a shock to come outside and find a skiff of snow on the ground.  There'd been snow forecast, but nine times out of ten it doesn't arrive.  Anyway, it wasn't anything much and we drove home without incident.  This morning there was a bit more snow on the ground, but still not enough to stop my intrepid wife from driving part of the way to work and then walking the rest.  

I haven't been to many quiz nights like this: it was a combination of quiz questions (the winning team got a prize, of course) and endless raffles, and another thing where you got a celebrity name (I was Pavarotti) and if you're name was called you went up and got a prize.  They had prizes galore - obviously firms are happy to donate to these sorts of things, though they must get called on constantly for support.  

Pubs are noisy places, with the televisions going up on the TV mounts on the walls, and the filling of glasses at the bar, and the general chatter (including from those who aren't participating in the quiz night), and the restaurant area making its usual sorts of noises. 

We did quite well, all up, though we didn't get placed.  We needed to do better than our top score in a section, which was only eight.  I think we got down to five points in another section.  The sports questions were the worst, but a bunch of answers beginning with S restored our confidence.  And it turned out we had a 'rabid royalist' in our group (according to her friend) so she helped with the section on the monarchy.  

On Monday night my wife and I caught up on the film, Precious.  She'd been wanting to see it for some time, and certainly it was worth seeing, if only for the performances alone. Gabourey Sidibe is a revelation in the lead role, and Mo'Nique, who's apparently tended to play comic roles in the past, is a nightmare as the abusive and self-centred mother.  Mariah Carey also eschews her star presence and appears in a few scenes as the social worker.  Great film, though it was sometimes difficult to pick up on what the younger actors were saying because of their individual 'dialects.'  

We went to see the movie version of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the other day, too.  Delightful movie, though I think it takes some liberties with the storyline as well as casting Kristin Scott Thomas as the PR person - this was a male character in the original.  However, Thomas does a great job with it, scary as hell, and plainly awful as a person.   The book's telling of the story through diary entries, emails and other notes is lost to a great extent - although Skype replaces some of the communications, and there are emails written at various points, with the text running over the screen.  I think the movie also changes the 'love story' between the two main characters.  It's several years since I read it, but I noted on this blog at the time "the romance aspect is quietly handled, and there’s no shattering of marriages or sudden changes of direction for the characters," something that isn't quite like the movie, where the two main characters obviously go off into the sunset with each other at the end, leaving the uppity wife and the returned soldier on the sidelines.   I'll have to check the book out again sometime and see how it deals with this.  

However the movie stands on its own feet quite comfortably, and retains at least one of the most delightfully funny lines from the book.  Fred, the main character, has had a bit of an argument with his so-superior wife, who always expects everything to be on her terms.  “The rest of the evening was a bit of a frost, but when we went to bed, I think Mary must have felt a little guilty about the way she had changed her plans. Suffice to say, my new Marks & Spencer pyjamas were not required for the early part of the night. A relatively rare event in our marriage of late. Afterwards Mary said, ‘There now, darling, that should keep you going for a bit.’” (Page 30)

Ewan McGregor is great in the main role.  He fits it like a glove, and of course, rolls his accent around the lines with great enjoyment.  McGregor has sometimes seemed out of 'fit' with his film roles, such as the young Obi Wan Kenobi, or in Moulin Rouge or in a sci-fi the name of which I can't remember at present.  But here everything works, and it's a joy to see. 

Monday, June 25, 2012


If this ad doesn't make you go 'OUCH!' at least once then it's a lot less effective than I think.   It's an ad that shows you how, when you've cut yourself, you can also supply a little blood to a bone marrow company, thus offering them the possibility of a donor for someone in need.

It's done in a slightly daffy style, but it works....

Southern Concert of Voices concert

Yesterday my wife and I went to the Southern Consort of Voices' Concert in the former Dominican Nuns' chapel behind St Joseph's Cathedral.  This is a lovely venue, and one that's unfamiliar to most people in Dunedin, I suspect.  Certainly I've never been there before, though admittedly when I was younger the building would have been off-limits to most people, particularly males.  It was part of the large Dominican convent complex, and the only other time I remember being in the complex was when we performed a play in the Hall. How that came about I can't remember, but I think it was quite a daunting place for the audience to find!  (The play was An Inspector Calls, the first play produced by the Marlowe Players, a group long since disbanded.)

The Dominicans have long since moved on from this complex, and it's now cared for by the Diocese as a whole, I assume.  I imagine the building gets a certain amount of use by the local parish these days.

The choir was somewhat bigger than the last time I saw them, at least as far as the women were concerned, and was in very good voice.  Their programme was focused around Otago composers (with a couple of ring-ins who only just made it because of some connection with the area) and was an interesting mix.  Four of the eight composers were in the audience: Corwin Newall, Alan Edwards, Alex Campbell-Hunt and Anthony Ritchie.  Newall is a current music student at Otago, and Campbell-Hunt has just completed a Mus B there.)

Newall's piece was a setting of the Ave Maria and was quite an ambitious piece for the choir to open with, but they did it well and it communicated itself to the audience.  This was followed by two pieces  composed by Richard Madden, both of them familiar: Bullulalow and I Sing of a Maiden.  Madden has a lovely expressive gift and the second of these two pieces has one of the sweetest tunes around.

Leanne Veitch's Sing Christmas is a boisterous piece that leaves the choir gasping for breath at the end - effective, but not something you'd want to sing twice in a row.  Alan Edwards' I will sing to the Lord was short and didn't make a particular impact on me on first hearing.  I suspect it's a piece you need to become familiar with to enjoy thoroughly.

The final piece in the first half (all the pieces here had some religious link) was The Lord Bless You and Keep You.  It was composed by Michael Winikoff in memory of his father - Winikoff is a regular member of the choir but was overseas yesterday.  The words of the blessing are ones that Winikoff's father would use to his family and they are sung in both English and Hebrew during the course of the piece.  There's also a violin obbligato.   The piece has a lovely, slightly unusual setting of the English words, and then gradually introduces the Hebrew.  Finally the two are sung together forming a rich and evocative sound.   This piece went down well with the audience. 

In the second half we had three settings of poems by Emily Dickinson, composed by Christopher Marshall.  To Hear the Oriole Sing was lovely, I'm Nobody a delight and the piece that the audience responded most quickly to; Hope is the Thing with Feathers was less engaging on first hearing.  One difficulty with choral works is that the words can easily be lost in the mix of harmonies and counterpoints.  A couple of pieces suffered a little from this, particularly the third of the Marshall songs.  Without the words, the music can lose its point to a degree.  As a listener you resign yourself to not being able to tell what's being sung, but this isn't ideal.  Naturally it requires a great deal of effort on the choir's part to communicate the words distinctly, and often with the complexity of the music taking up much of their attention, this gets put in second place.  Anthony Ritchie's piece, Piano Practice, which came later in the concert, began with clear words.  These became more obscured, however, as time went on, and the point of the poem got lost - for me. 

Alex Campbell-Hunt's piece, Late Wisdom, is another that probably requires two or three hearings to get the feel at home with.  Not that it was particularly complex; it just didn't pick up the ears quite so readily on first hearing. 

Anthony Ritchie's three pieces were last on the programme.  In the Summer Fields has a Hungarian 
flavour to it, and came across well.  As I said Piano Practice missed out in terms of words, but is a lovely piece otherwise.   Song of Hope was another of those pieces that require some familiarity.   There's nothing that can be done about this in the process of a single concert!  

This was a pretty ambitious concert overall, with the singers being required to sing complex parts and pitch some difficult leaps - some also had to whistle, play bells and a bodhrán.   There were many beautiful moments when chords hung wonderfully in the air and on the ear, and when harmonies shifted magically.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cloud options

The last few months have been a time when I've been aiming to get better backup online - on Cloud. I'd used Dropbox before, at my last job, but found that when my son sent a whole pile of photos through on it, the office internal backup system decided it needed to back all these up as well.  Perhaps there was some issue with the way it was set up.  Anyway I was bit loathe to use it again, but decided that there was sufficient free gigs to use it for some of my stuff, and so I did.  

I don't particularly like the way you have to back up stuff manually yourself, but it works well enough.  

I also discovered that I could get a certain number of gigs free on SugarSync.  This is a better system in the sense that any changes you make to the folders you've specified to be backed up are backed up automatically. However, you have to specify the folders, and if you decide to go and add another folder  that's not on the list, you're up for a manual job again.  Still SugarSync was a step up.  

So far at least both of these were secure data backup systems, which was a plus.  And then I came across JustCloud, which again offered so much free backup.  The only problem with them was that they assessed how much room you'd need to backup things and then expected you to pay for that space.  Well, at this point I decided, what the heck.  I've got the money on PayPal, which they were willing to take, so I went for a two-year plan and got some huge number of gigs in terms of space.  At this point I'm using less than 10% of it, and all my photos are backed up (it took a couple of days!), and all documents, and music files from Sibelius and some other odds and ends.  However they don't backup some other things - the wav files from my concerts, for instance, didn't go automatically.  I'll have to investigate what the story is there.  

So at this point I have three places backing up either some or most of the items that are on this computer.  There are two external hard drives as well around the place that have everything on them - except that because they're not connected to the computer all the time, they don't have the more recent stuff.  It's a bit of a hit and miss thing, this backing-up.  You do your best, but you can bet your boots something you wanted to keep will just vanish in the process!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Scrub that idea!

My son used to think the TV show, Scrubs, was great - he recorded a bunch of episodes on our DVD hard drive. I can't say the show appealed as much to me, however.  I didn't mind the 'postmodern' approach to scripting/directing that went on in the show but I found it unnecessarily crude.

Like many people, I suspect, I'd never heard the word 'scrubs' used in this context - I was more used to the idea of scrubbing in the sense of 'scrubs the clothes' - not that many people do that anymore.  The use of the word scrubs for men and women's hospital uniforms came into common use in the latter part of the last century, according to one commentator, supposedly because you only wore this gear in a 'scrubbed environment.'   Curiously enough, you'd think that these scrubs would only be worn in a hospital to save bringing in outside infections, or taking infections home with you.  That doesn't seem to be the case.  On my last hospital visit, I was surprised to see staff walking in and out of the hospital, as shifts changed, in their scrubs.   There didn't seem to be any concern about the transfer of infections, which is ironic, given how much fuss is made about infection once you, as the patient or visitor, are in the hospital.  

Internet phrases

Day after day on the Internet you see phrases and lines from sentences that strike you as having some nice poetic turn about them.   See these examples from Twitter, which I worked at turning into a poem yesterday.  This sort of approach to poetry is sometimes called 'found' poetry - sometimes it's called a 'mess' because it doesn't always come off.  However, I think the Pantoum works, though it doesn't make obvious sense.  Of course, poetry doesn't always make obvious sense, and sometimes it's left up to the reader to find things in it that even the poet (or in this case, the collage-maker) may not have seen. 

Here's an example of a phrase that struck me as having a bit of rhythm about it: cheap plus size homecoming dresses, (though if you read it often enough it starts to lose all sense!)  It has a nice rhythm: bom!, bom bom, dum dada dum dum.  Not an easy rhythm to use over the long haul, but here's a possible approach:

Cheap plus size homecoming dresses,
Big, fulsome bosomy dresses,
Wide-stretching wallpaper dresses, 
Eye-catching full-flowing dresses. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Big Noise Orchestras

I have a friend whose work has focused on dealing with POS hardware for a number of years; not so much in the way of selling the stuff, but fixing it.  We don't give much thought to what goes on behind the scenes when we pay for our groceries, or buy a book in a shop, or any one of a hundred other things that we use POS for.  It's a kind of modern miracle in its own way.

And if you want to see a different kind of modern miracle - in fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a picture of the kingdom of God at work - check out the article on the Guardian website on the Big Noise orchestra.  This is a movement that started in Venezuela, as an attempt to bring young children off the streets from their poverty-stricken lives and give them a community experience and discipline that would stand them and their community in good stead over the years to come.  It's been a roaring success, and now Richard Holloway, the former bishop of Edinburgh, has brought the same idea to the Scottish community of Raploch, where it's also taken off.  80% of the children - 80%! - are involved with learning music as a result of this initiative.   That statistic is extraordinary.

But even more extraordinary is the video that goes with the article.  You have to watch this, even if you don't read the article.  There's a bit of talking head stuff, but much of it shows the two orchestras at work - they met together in the town of Raploch.  One is the adult orchestra from Venezuela, and the other is the children's orchestra.  But further on in the video (it's only about eight minutes all up) the two orchestras combine.  There's a wonderful moment when one of the Venezuelan players gives the thumbs up to one of the Scottish kids - it's gone in a flash, but it's moment of pure delight.   And the enthusiasm!  You have to see it to believe it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Favourite Hitchcocks

The Guardian has an article in one of the latest papers asking, What's Your Favourite Hitchcock?  The writer lists several in his article and then the commenters take over.   It's impossible to say any one movie by Hitchcock is your favourite. A whole range of them have things you're glad he did, even if there are things you wish he hadn't. So here are some comments about a big bunch of them that I've enjoyed - or haven't.

The ones I'm not desperate to see again, first.

I've never been able to go back to Pscyho or Frenzy because I was scared out of my wits by the first, as a teenager, and I hated Frenzy*when it first came out.  No doubt there are some plusses in it, but I'm not sure that I'll chase it up any time soon. Family Plot was a mess, and even the performances are pretty rough really. The car without brakes scene is one of Hitch's low points. The Birds is just nonsense from go to whoa; worst is the non-ending. For once Hitchcock seemed to be short of an idea. [1.8.12 Though see this post by Xan Brooks]

Let's get onto some goodies:
North by Northwest - almost perfect in every way, even if Cary Grant is only a year or two younger than Joyce Landis as his mother.
Rear Window - immensely watchable: wonderful duo in the leads, and a great cast of 'tenants' in the apartments. [I wrote about this again in November 2015]
Vertigo - this turned out to be a revelation when I caught up with it again. Apart from the long opening exposition scene, and the impossibility behind the story, it's just a dream movie.
The Man Who Knew Too Much - both versions have climaxes that are just a bit too much, but the lead-ups in each case are wonderful. And the casts! - even Doris Day does well in the second version.
The Wrong Man, and I Confess. Hitchcock's 'film noir' period, you might say; two slightly oddball movies, but still full of brilliant moments: as is often the case with Hitchcock, the movies are somehow better than their stories.
The Trouble with Harry: Hitchcock has a field day with black humour, and Mildred Natwick is just one of the many delights in this movie.
To Catch a Thief.  So-so. The story is a bit weak, and there is some dreadful back projection. Even Cary Grant can barely save this one.
Dial M for Murder Hitchcock hardly deviates from the play that this is based on. Surprisingly it works well (the play is excellently-crafted), and the fact that it was made as a 3-D movie barely counts. For another play that Hitchcock managed to turn into a fairly decent movie, check out Juno and the Paycock, one of the least Hitchcockian movies of the lot, except for the way in which the performances work in the ensemble scenes. Hitchcock was always good at shooting scenes around a table - it would be interesting to consider how many there are and how they vary - and there's a wonderful one in this movie.
Strangers on a Train - absolutely fabulous, as is the other movie in which homosexuality features strongly: Rope.  
This book is a great source
of information about Hitchcock
and his movies. 
Stage Fright. A slightly over-the-top performance from Richard Todd (one of the many leading men to disappoint Hitchcock over the years because their performances didn't sync with Hitchcock's intentions), a definitely over-the-top performance from Marlene Dietrich (even a song shot almost entirely in one take). The movie is made more delightful by a brief appearance from Joyce Grenfell, and the total hamming of Alistair Sim.
I haven't seen The Paradine Case since the 50s or 60s so can't comment on it, and I've never seen Under Capricorn. 
Likewise it's a long-time since I've seen Notorious or Spellbound, but I remember them as intriguing movies, which I'd like to catch up with again. The former has a great supporting cast; the Dali dream sequences in the latter were severely hampered by the producer's mucking around with them. [Saw Notorious again in August 2015]
Lifeboat is intriguing; not so exciting on a second viewing as when I first saw it years ago, but Tallulah Bankhead's chewing of the scenery is matched by Walter Slezak's hammy performance as a sleazy German attempting to sabotage the situation. The rest of the cast are great.
Shadow of a Doubt is good, but the best thing about it for me is the supporting cast. I find Teresa Wright too intense now.  Her family, however, are, as is so often the case, a delight. They're cast for their comic abilities rather than anything else and they bring their performances off superbly. This is the case with Suspicion too, where the English supporting players bring something to the movie that is essentially Hitchcockian - almost more than the suspense factor, I think. I like the movies as a whole, but since we know how it's going to end, now, it doesn't quite have the punch it once had.
It would be interesting sometime to discuss the comic roles in Hitchcock movies - as well as the 'table' scenes.  
Saboteur is full of great stuff (supporting cast again, particularly the circus troupe) even though Hitchcock wasn't much impressed with Robert Cummings in the lead role.  
I've never seen Mr and Mrs Smith, but I did catch up with Jamaica Inn on the Internet recently. It was an appalling copy of the movie, but that didn't make much difference. This is also one of Hitchcock's worst, in spite of Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara and Robert Newton all giving in-your-face performances. The Daphne du Maurier story is treated badly, and the filming is uninspiring. 
I last saw Foreign Correspondent decades ago, and remember vividly the plane crashing into the sea sequence, and also a shot of dozens of umbrellas filmed from above: one of those Hitchcock joke moments in which the hero 'vanishes'.
Rebecca, and The Lady Vanishes. Utterly wonderful movies. One with all that Hollywood could offer in the way of technical expertise, the other filmed a bit more off the cuff in England (with model trains at one point). Both have top notch leads, and wonderful supporting casts. As different as possible - one is all dark and gloomy, with little humour, the other is all froth and bubble in spite of its serious subject.  
Young and Innocent is based on a Josephine Tey story - 'based' only in the sense that one of the characters still appears by name; the rest is pure Hitchcock. Not a bad movie, and another one in which a marvellous family around a table appears. And a delightful child at a petrol pump. 
Now we start to head back into ancient days, with only one major movie still to look at: The 39 Steps. Not quite a total rewrite of Buchan's book, it's basically is a riff on the original idea with wonderful scenes and excellent playing from the leads. John Laurie appears at his best (after being given a dull, melodramatic part in Juno and the Paycock), and there are plenty of other excellent supporting actors.  
The remainder are a mixed bunch: I think I've seen Blackmail, but can't remember enough to comment; Sabotage has its points** (and like Saboteur includes newsreel footage that fits into the action) but to me it's most memorable for the performance of the boy who gets blown up on the bus.  
The remainder are mostly films in which Hitchcock is either restrained by the studio's intents, or 
working with material that he doesn't find compatible.  
So what's my favourite....too difficult a choice!

*Update 12.10.18. I caught up with Frenzy a few weeks ago. Though it still has a couple of very unpleasant and grotesque scenes, it's not a bad movie, and Jon Finch is better than I'd remembered in the main role. But it peters out at the end rather suddenly, even though the 'plot' is worked through.

**Update 16.11.20 I saw this again a few weeks ago. I'd read the original book in the meantime: it's quite surprisingly vicious, especially Mrs Verloc's behaviour after she's killed her husband. And the fellow-saboteurs are a very unpleasant lot - they barely appear in the movie. As always Hitchcock retains something of the original but recasts the story quite considerably to give it an (almost) happy ending. Not a bad movie, though there's some ponderous acting by Oscar Homolka. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Band's Visit

I caught up with the charming movie, The Band's Visit, the other day.   It's an Israeli-made film, but its focus is on a number of Egyptian characters, the members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, who find themselves lost, and somewhat at sea, in a little Israeli town they've arrived at by mistake.   A confusion over the sounds, P and B, hasn't helped.   The Orchestra, with its odd combination of instruments, seems unlikely to make much of an impact on anyone or anything, since it consists of so few people - eight or nine in all.  And during the course of the movie, when we hear one or two of them playing (the clarinettist, for instance, who presents the page or so of his unfinished concerto, and the trumpet player - who also doubles on the violin) we think they're not going to impress anyone.   But at the end of the movie, they come together for their concert (in the right town) and are superb.  They need each other to perform their best.

Sasson Gabai
The film, while it's about music and its effect on people, is more focused on relationships.  It doesn't primarily set out to tell us we should all love one another, and that Israelis and Arabs should just get along, though it does achieve this as a by-product.  It's about resolving things from your past, and being honest and open.  In other words, it's a film about real - and delightful - people.  The 'messages' come naturally with the content of the story.

The casting is superb.  The orchestra's conductor is played by Sasson Gabai, who was born in Baghdad of Israeli-Iraqi parents.   He's a withdrawn person who finds it difficult to communicate directly with anyone - though he does come alive when conducting, which is perhaps why he never lets his next-in-charge take over the role.   In the little town he meets Dina, the owner of a small cafe.  She's played with wonderful fire and life by Ronit Elkabetz.  Dina seldom minces matters and her up-front honesty eventually breaks through to the conductor and allows him to tell her what little we need to know about him to understand him.

The youngest member of the band, the trumpet/violin player, Khaled, is played by Saleh Bakri, a Palestinian who was born in Jaffa, and now lives in Haifa.   He seems to be out of place in this group of middle-aged and older men, and certainly he gets under the skin of the conductor more than a little.  However, he's the one who is prepared to make the most of life, and who can encourage others to do so.  In one of the film's most delightful scenes he shows an unconfident and scruffy young Israeli how to court the woman he's been landed with in a blind date.  The interplay between the three actors has to be seen to appreciate the subtleties and humour.

The film doesn't just show everyone as being happy about the situation.  One of the unemployed young men who hangs out at Rena's cafe takes three of the bandsmen home with him, much to the annoyance of his wife and her mother.  They remain intransigently opposed to these visitors, undercutting the Jewish ideals of hospitality in no small measure.  Only the young man and his father-in-law respond positively to the three bandsmen.  In a later scene we discover that the young man is the father of a baby, who's sleeping in a cot in his room.  We don't know whether this is why his wife is at such odds with him, or whether it's because he can't find a job, or whether it's because they're stuck in this awful town  - and it is awful: Rena shows the conductor the 'park.'  It has no grass, no children's play equipment, nothing.  The streets are bare, and the landscape barer.  The roller-skating rink is half-empty, and even those who are there seem lacking in much energy.

But this gloomier section of the movie can't undermine the joy that's apparent in much of the rest of it.

Apropos of my comment about the mix-up over P and B in Arabic and Israeli, in the last two or three weeks my wife and I have been learning Arabic.  (There's a reason, but I won't go into that at the moment.)  Pizza is bizza in Arabic, and potatoes are bitatis, so we were already aware of this confusion when we saw the movie.  In fact we got the movie out of the Library in part because it was in Arabic and we wanted to hear people speaking the language.  As it turned out, of course, it's only partly in Arabic.  The Jews speak Israeli, and when the Arabs and Jews speak to each other they mostly use English!

I was thinking about this because of the brand name, Vater Drums, which I came across today.  Vater is the German word for Father, and in German/English there are a number of corresponding words that are virtually identical apart from the F/V substitution.  Years ago I did a course in England that showed how many words had connections between the two languages.  Unfortunately someone borrowed the notes I'd been sent by the person who wrote the course, and I never saw them again.  And so far I haven't found anything similar on the Net.

Vater percussion accessories are big time, apparently, though not to me.  Although I've been around percussion players and drummers a good deal over the years, I've never paid much attention to the brand names on their instruments, although I know that these instrumentalists are very aware of the better brands.  Vater produce accessories for drums: the sticks, the mallets, brushes, etc, rather than the drums themselves.  And they make the holders as well, along with holders for the all-important drink bottle!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


The King's Singers performing Masterpiece in which a range of famous composers get their share of the limelight, with their names being used as the words of the song.   The ensemble work here is terrific, and the humour delightful. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Twice in the last month or so I've been part of a nine-person focus group looking at a particular company that sells dairy products. At the first of these two groups, which were held in the Southern Cross Hotel in Dunedin, we were primarily given choices of three brands of cheese and asked to make a number of comments about them, the packaging, the design, the way they were packaged, the detail on the packaging, and much more. We discussed them with the coordinator of the group and with each other.  Everything was recorded - with our permission - and there was also another woman there who took notes throughout. These focus groups are going on throughout the country at present on behalf of the company that's paying for them.

The three brands were Mainland, Anchor and Rolling Meadow. The first two were familiar to everyone in the room and everyone had plenty of opinions about them. The third was one that most of us didn't recognise at all, and yet they're the number two brand in the country in supermarkets in terms of dairy, in particular, and, unlike most other dairy products in New Zealand, aren't owned by Fonterra.

But the curious thing is that even though we didn't recognise Rolling Meadow, most of us have brought the butter with this brand on it, and we've also bought the cheese. In fact, when I got home I found I had Rolling Meadow butter in the fridge. I'd bought it because it was on special, I guess, and it's probably the way most people buy this brand. (They also have another brand name for their cheese - Alpine - this is sold by the Progressive chain of supermarkets. Rolling Meadow is used by the Foodstuffs chain.)

Anyway, these focus groups are happening because the company that produces Rolling Meadow and Alpine - DairyWorks - wants to increase its visibility. It doesn't advertise on television, which is interesting, so it's a surprise to find it's doing so well in the marketplace. The fact that the product is good, of course, will help (!) and their current packaging is attractive in a simple, straightforward way.

But they are looking to redesign their look, and this is what we were part of. In the second session we were given possible types of colours and design ideas and fonts that might be used and had the chance to 'vote' on these. Our vote is put towards the overall impression these things make on those running the focus groups and this is reported back to the owners. The owners, incidentally, are very hands-on people. Though the business has expanded a great deal from when it began in an old cheese factory in Temuka, near Timaru, and is now functioning nationwide, the owners still know exactly what's going on where, and will assist in an emergency, as they apparently did recently, when supplies of the cheese didn't make it to one of the Dunedin focus groups.  One of the owners made the trip to Dunedin (from Christchurch) specially, to make sure that we got the stuff.  And then did a survey of the supermarkets to see how things were going! (For those who don't know how far Dunedin is from Christchurch - on average it takes about five hours each way, if you don't get held up by traffic issues.) This is what's called having a heart for your company!

Having now 'discovered' the company, I'll be interested in keeping an eye out for the results of these focus groups (as will the rest of the people I shared this task with).  I'm pleased I decided to take the chance to get involved!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Some random thoughts on "Housekeeping"

I've recently finished reading Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, the first of her three novels, which I  hadn’t got round to reading before.  Like the other two that follow, it’s extraordinary in detail, vivid in imagination, and seemingly plotless.  It's surprisingly readable, and superbly written. 

At least that was my impression before I got to the end of it. 

My enthusiasm for it waned a little towards the end because, unlike the other two books Robinson has written, this one ultimately goes nowhere.  It’s a long sad story of a family broken first by the tragic death of the grandfather in a train accident, then the departure of one of his three daughters to the mission field – she’s never heard of again – and then the suicide of the mother of the two girls (the grandchildren) who are the focus of most of the book.  

The lake near the town of Fingerbone plays a huge part in the story, but there are times when the whole metaphorical approach to storytelling just about takes over, and not a great deal actually happens. By the end of the book, the younger sister has gone off to the ‘world’, you might say; she’s making something of herself even though what she’s making doesn’t seem to be much approved of by her sister or aunt.  The aunt is a drifter who finds it hard to settle anywhere.  That she stays as long as she does, caring for her two nieces, is quite something, but by the end of the book she’s taken off again, this time with the remaining niece, the one who’s the book’s narrator.  And their lives seem to go nowhere.  At least the drifting character in the other two books has something to say for himself when he appears, and has actually done something, acted in his life.  Housekeeping is about women (there’s hardly a male in sight) who can’t get up and take action.  They’re seemingly so overwhelmed by the tragedy that took place decades ago that they just drift through life as well as through the geography of the planet.  Quite why they do this is never explained in so many words; we get metaphors for it, but not much clarification.  Perhaps the book, like the others, needs a re-reading to get to grips with what it’s about, because story is almost what it isn’t about.  That’s not to say there are no stories.  The remaining aunt offers a great number of somewhat inconsequential stories – they never seem to be terribly relevant to anything, and none of them are very straightforward.   And it’s not to say there’s no action in the book at all.  Towards the end the aunt and niece try to burn the house down (there’ll be no ‘housekeeping’ after this) but are as unsuccessful at this as they are about pretty much everything else they do together.  I don’t think we’re much meant to admire the other sister who goes off and gets on with life, but at least she does do something. 

Robinson's every word is carefully chosen; nothing is out of place, and there's a philosophical thinking under her writing that's rare in storytellers.  Perhaps the narrator explains a little too much - when I say 'explains' I mean that she philosophises just a bit more than necessary.  For someone who's willing to go drifting and do nothing with her life she still thinks very deeply.  The character of the narrator is elusive in some ways; she's nowhere near as sharply drawn as the narrators of the other two novels.  She doesn't interact much; she reacts, but it's still a very passive reaction.  There's little that she does (especially as she grows older) that's initiated by her.  And her aunt: what does she do all day, except dream, perhaps.   She's also an unfocused character, almost a ghost.  She has no connection with anyone in the town and seemingly is happy to stay in the house day in and day out, or to be on her own out in the country that surrounds Fingerbone, or on the lake.  

The book is something of a mystery: what is the story that's being told here?  There are so many unanswered questions that after reading the book you feel as though you've never had any grip on it.  It's not unmemorable - Robinson creates a very particular world - but it seems to be inhabited by people who've got no grip on life themselves. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dragon and Foyle

Last year I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  It's certainly a page-turner, but, as I said at the time, it's also very graphic in its sadistic detail.  This is something I puzzle over, since Larsson was supposed to be very much against abuse towards women.  Does a book in which sexual abuse is so graphically described really make abusers turn away from their behaviour?  Does it make us more aware?  I haven't read the other two books in the trilogy, which I've now discovered are linked to the first in a number of ways.   I'm still not sure that I want to.  

Nevertheless last night we watched the Swedish movie of the first book in the series.   We fast-forwarded through the abuse scenes (including the one where Lisbeth, the girl of the title, takes vengeance on the man who's abused her) because we really didn't need to see these.  Both my wife and I remembered them from the book without having them portrayed here.

But the film, of course, is a good deal more than abuse; it's an excellent thriller and detective story, and that's its major appeal, I suspect.  (Do many readers go to a book to read about sexual abuse?)  I know that the English version of the movie has been well-received and is highly-regarded, and no doubt Daniel Craig can play a world-weary journalist as well as anyone, but he'd have his work cut out to do better than Michael Nyqvist, whose battered face gives him a head start anyway.  And Noomi Rapace would be hard to beat as Lisbeth (in fact I hear that she does beat her English-language equivalent).  

So in terms of excellent contemporary filmmaking, Dragon Tattoo comes out on top.  Pity about having to fast-forward some parts, though. 

As a total contrast, we've been watching episodes of Foyle's War, a television series set during the Second World War that's been airing since the early 2002, and is due to be revived this year (the series hasn't aired every year).  These are very mild detective stories, relatively-speaking (the three murders in the last episode we saw were exceptional).  The degree of detective work varies; as is so often the case, the earlier episodes had better mysteries than the later ones, but the real pleasure of this series is watching Michael Kitchen, who, as Inspector Foyle, has a wonderful role as a humane policeman who not only aims to see justice done, but more often than not, tempers that justice with mercy, even to some who least deserve it.  

The curiously-named Honeysuckle Weeks plays his co-opted driver (Foyle can't drive a car) and Anthony Howell plays his offsider, who began the series with a prosthetic leg.  This seems to have been forgotten as time goes on!  There have never been more than four episodes per season, so there's no sense of staleness about the series, or the characters.  The earlier episodes were interesting because of a couple of now famous names that appeared in smaller roles: David Tennant (Dr Who) was one such.  

Two classics

In this current round of catching up with movies on DVD (courtesy of the Public Library's very reasonable prices) my wife and I watched Babette's Feast yesterday, and I watched Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St Francis this morning.   (We also watched the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, about which I'll write later, since it's quite a different kettle of fish to these other two movies.)

I've known about these two movies for a long time - the Rossellini since I was a teenager, I'd imagine - so it's good to catch up with them at last.  I feel a bit as though sometimes I'm trawling my way through the 1000 movies I should watch before I die, but that's not really the case.  Some movies just stick in the brain as being classics that it would be good to see at some point.

Federico Fellini had a hand in writing the script for the Rossellini movie, and I suspect there are scenes where his influence is quite strong, such as in the crazy bit where the simple brother, Fra Ginapro, decides to prepare fifteen days worth of food at once so that he can go preaching.  The slightly senile old grandfather who's joined the brothers helps him by throwing the wood for the fire into the pot where the food is cooking (as he's done in a lesser way earlier on).   Or the scene where Ginapro is allowed to go preaching, winds up in a camp of soldiers and their hangers-on who are holding siege outside some town, and meets the commander who spends most of his screen time encased in an absurd suit of armour that's still being built around him.  Interestingly enough, the man playing the commander is the only one in the film who was a professional actor, yet he comes across as though he was playing in some silent movie, with wide eyes, large gestures, the lot.  The rest of the cast are rank amateurs, drawn in part from the Monks of the Nocere Inferiore Monastery.  Brother Nazario Gerardi played St Francis, though he's not credited in the movie.  He brings a deep seriousness to the role, a great deal of warmth, some humour, and occasional exasperation at the incompetency of some of the other brothers. 

The movie is simply made in every respect - the only 'big' scene is at the siege camp, where there are a large number of extras, horses, wooden structures, and a fire destroying everything at the end.  Everything else is done in the open air, and the buildings that the brothers make early in the film are the simplest of constructions.  Much of their time is spent tramping through open countryside, with few roads or paths.  The opening scene has them spending a great deal of time in the pouring rain, and towards the end Francis and another brother are thrown into the wet mud - learning what happiness is in the process (!)

The script is based on the well-known stories of St Francis.  There are nearly 80 of these parable-like tales called The Little Flowers of St Francis but the movie uses less than ten.  However, in a very detailed review of this movie on epinions the writer points out that the reason Fra Ginapro takes such a prominent role in the film is because more than half the stories were based more on The Life of Father Ginapro rather than on the The Little Flowers of St Francis.

The film is episodic in the extreme, with little in the way of character arc or climax, or the usual techniques of storytelling.  The filmmakers rely on the spiritual strength of the stories being acted out by people who themselves have no airs and graces.  In fact, there are several scenes where the brothers are more like children than adults - one usually skips everywhere when the brothers are heading somewhere, and at the end they're told to spin round until dizzy in order to find out where God wants them to go.  It's a bit of a joke on Francis' part, I suspect, but none of them regard it as unusual.  Another scene is nothing more than Francis discovering a leper walking slowly past in the dark, his bell clinking as a warning.  The man's face is covered in sores, and Francis breaks into tears, and then follows the man, finally embracing him.  And then the man goes on his way - a little puzzled!

Babette's Feast is a different kettle of fish, yet presents its spirituality in as equally quiet a way, avoiding overt preaching (we never hear the Franciscans preach in the other movie either), and showing how a purposeful act of love can affect people deeply.   The film focuses on two sisters, the daughters of a strictly religious man who has formed his own little following in a tiny village in the Jutland region.  The daughters are both courted by young men at different times, but their father's gentle persuasion keeps them from accepting the men.   As the film opens we see them as old women.  Their father has died, and their servant Babette, (Stéphane Audrana Frenchwoman who fled the civil unrest in France, has been with them fourteen years.  The little community of Christians has reduced in number, and is still squabbling, much to the sisters' dismay.  Babette, who was sent to the sisters by one of the men who'd come courting so long ago, wins 10,000 francs in the lottery and decides to blow the whole amount on an extraordinary French cuisine meal for the little community.  The ascetic community decides they can eat the food, but not approve of it, and that they won't speak any good about it.  But in spite of themselves they're won over by it, and begin to enjoy a freedom of the spirit, and a joy that they've never previously exhibited.  A general is also at the meal: he courted one of the sisters years ago.  Having had experience of life outside the confines of the village, he realises that the person doing the cooking is a chef of the highest order.   In fact, he gradually recognises the menu as being one he's experienced in Paris many years before, a meal that cost 10,000 francs for twelve customers.  His continual delight and surprise is wonderful, as is the held-back delight of the other people at the table.  They may hold their tongues but they can't contain their joy.  And an audience watching the movie won't be able to either. 

The film is beautifully photographed in soft, warm colours; even the mists and rains are filmed with an eye to their colours.  The interiors, houses sparse in furniture and fittings, are filmed in a fittingly cooler style - except the kitchen where Babette works, which is alive with colour.  She has two companions in there on the night of the feast: a boy from the village who does all the serving, and who manages to imbibe a little along the way, and finish off some of the leftovers, and the coachman who brought the former suitor (now a general) and his aged aunt.  This man not only benefits from being in the kitchen, but sees the feast being prepared.   His delight is a joy to see.  

The pure and joyful asceticism in the Francis movie, in its context, is an apt expression of love for others.  The humanity that overcomes misaligned asceticism in Babette is an equally apt expression of love for others.  There's the wonderful line spoken about Babette by one of the sisters when she realises how impoverished Babette's life has been with them for fourteen years: In Paradise you will be the great artist that God meant you to be. Ah, how you will delight the angels!  This is in response to Babette's heartfelt cry: Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to do my very best. 

This movie is superb, and original. 

Friday, June 08, 2012

O Fortuna!

This is certainly random, but well worth including.   A video that matches the music of O Fortuna! from the cantata Carmina Burana with some daft animation and some even dafter (supposedly misinterpreted) words.

I'm sure I've told everyone in the world this story before, but I was listening on the radio to Carmina Burana back in the early seventies (I think it was around the time my wife and I were newly married and living in Tooting Bec, in London).  And during the big baritone solo, when he has a long high tessitura section (in other words, he sings at the top of his range for some time - had to throw the word in there just to show how knowledgeable I am) there was a sudden stop in the singing, and a good deal of banging and crashing.   It turned out that in the heat in the Albert Hall, the baritone had fainted, and fallen backwards into the first violins.  

I caught up with this on television a day or so later, and watched the scuttling and kerfuffling amongst the poor old string players as they tried to save themselves, their music, and their instruments from this unexpected debacle.  

But the further twist to the story was that in the audience was a young singer who'd in the week or two before this event had sung the baritone role up in the north of England (if my memory serves me rightly).  He rushed back stage, told the management he could sing the role, was put into a tuxedo, and sang.  I don't know what happened to him subsequently (or to the original baritone) but I'm sure it was a great boost for his career.   I'd love to know if anyone remembers this incident.  Of course, having now said that I looked up Google, and the details are there!  Fantastic.  

The original singer was Thomas Allen, whose career didn't suffer particularly from the incident.  The young singer was Patrick McCarthy, who went on to push his range up and became a tenor, and then gave up singing in favour of conducting.  The understudy for Allen was a doctor who was singing in the choir, and, since he was attending to the unfortunate singer, couldn't take over the role!  And I was correct about the year, 1974: the year I was married. 

On a different subject, the Spellchecker for Blogger must be having a day off: it didn't recognise tessitura, or kerfuffling (it can be forgiven for those, perhaps), or, most surprisingly, tuxedo!  

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Made in Dagenham

We watched Made in Dagenham last night (thankfully, they didn't go all clever and call it Maid in Dagenham, which must have been a temptation, I'm sure.)   Even though it's based on a real-life event, a strike by the women workers at Ford's car factory in Dagenham, the story arc is as traditional as a thousand other movies that involve someone who doesn't think they've got much going for them deciding to stand up for their rights (Mr Deeds Goes to Washington, to name just one famous example).   So you know that once Sally Hawkins (playing Rita O'Grady - the real O'Grady appears in the film clips during the credits) gets her mettle up, it'll be click/click/click and all the nasty blokes holding the women back will go toppling like ninepins.  You know that there'll be a scene where her husband finally breaks down from being tolerant and gets mad, and then has to be told he has no reason to get mad, and that he's not a saint, and that a few scenes later he'll be apologising for being a twat and will be backing her to the hilt.  You know that one of the women will try to use the situation for her own ends, and will be brought back into the fold.  And you know that it'll all end happily ever after (this isn't Italian neo-realist moviemaking, after all).

If I sound cynical, it's only because there is a degree of predictability in the movie, and there were times when you wish the filmmakers had given the thing a bit more edge.   Seeing the real-life participants in those final clips, you wonder what they thought of what had been done to their story, which is treated fairly light-heartedly throughout (even given the situation, and a suicide late in the piece).   Having to strip down to your underwear in the factory because it was so hot in the summertime, or putting up umbrellas in the winter because of the leaking roof has a certain humour, but the reality would have been much less pleasant.  And that horrible moment (it happens two or three times) when there's a loud switching-on noise, and all the sewing machines suddenly come to life and expect the women to get on, like it or not, is something that's just accepted.  The feeling of being chained to those sewing-machines is never explored.  Perhaps there's a different movie - a neo-realist one - waiting to be made.  In the meantime, we have The Full Monty version (which also had a suicide, as I recall, but still managed to remain a comedy) and on its own merits this is an enjoyable movie.  After all, every one of us likes to see the underdog biting the heels of the bullies and overlords (including, here, Richard Schiff as Ford's American pit bull terrier - sans his usual beard, and with a wig covering his normal baldness).  The fact that those nasty overlords can be really vicious is only hinted at.  The winners here - we know it all along - are the 187 women who went on strike.  (The only time they don't win - at least initially - is in relation to a bullying school teacher played by Andrew Lincoln; he has one scene and leaves the otherwise garrulous Sally Hawkins speechless.)

Hawkins isn't my favourite actress.  There's no doubt she has bundles of talent, and uses her oddly-shaped face to considerable advantage.   However, when I twigged where I'd seen her before, as Poppy in Mike Leigh's Happy-go-Lucky, and remembered how we nearly went mad watching the manic performance she gave there, it was hard to see her objectively in this movie.  Some of Poppy's endless twitches, giggles and wriggles appear in this role too, though they're toned down considerably.  This is a problem when an actor appears in a role that you dislike; it can be hard to see them clearly in any other part.  Danny de Vito is a case in point, for me; I don't know what film it was that I first saw him in, but it put me off him almost completely - plus the fact that he does tend to play obnoxious little men.  And yet when he appeared briefly in an interview recently (he'd been voicing the Spanish version of The Lorax), he came across as a genuine, humble man, one who's been married happily to his wife of many years.  A complete opposite to the (often venal) characters he usually plays.   When I think about what I've just said, my comments are further undercut by the part Bob Hoskins plays in Made in Dagenham: he's another actor who's played some roles that have set my teeth on edge; here he's just wonderful.  Redeems himself!  LOL.

There's a wonderful moment towards the end of the movie, when Miranda Richardson, playing the inimitable Barbara Castle (no mean promoter of women's rights herself) comments to Hawkins about the dress she's wearing, which the latter admits she has to return from on loan when she gets back.   Richardson mentions the 'label' - it's been commented on a couple of times before in the movie - and Hawkins says about Richardson's dress: Isn't that a C&A? C&A is the equivalent of Marks and Spencer's: good, solid workaday clothing, but hardly fashionable.  Richardson says it is: she gets all her clothes from there.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to DC shoes.  The only connection here is that they're an item of clothing.  I wondered when I first saw the name whether they were shoes that you wore if you were travelling to Washington DC, or were the kind of thing politicians would favour when trotting through the Capitol Building.  In fact the DC stands for Droors Clothing, a label that's no longer in existence, I'm told.

As you can see from the picture, you'd have to be a fairly unconventional US politician to wear these around the Senate, though they might be comfortable enough.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

"Existenzielle Fragen an christliche Themen"

Once again HitTail has provided me with a startlingly random set of search items so I thought I'd use them in a little poem.  The first in the list, 'the smiling Christ artist' refers to Johannes Wickert, whose 'Smiling Christ' we saw while in Luxembourg back in 2007.   'Brad Crowl' doesn't appear on the blog, though Brad Greenburg does, along with Brad Pitt, the animator Brad Bird, and Brad McGann, a NZ film director.  I'd never thought what the name 'Brad' might mean till now, and of course, it's a shortened form of Bradley (usually), and it means a 'broad meadow.'   So there you go. 

Here are the four search items: 

the smiling Christ artist
clippings converter
brad crowl
winnie the pooh symbolism

Another HitTail poem

Wickert's Christ smiles; 
not quite such an 
anomaly as you might expect.  

he whose paintings are 
often existential questions
on Christian themes

might well be ready to put a 
smile on the face of Christ.  
But how curious it is that  

while in the German language 
Fragen has a capital, 
in line with German nouns, 

christliche does not.  Of 
course the word's adject-
tival, but to the English 

eye, and to the average
Spellchecker, christlike sans
capital seems unkempt, 


A clippings converter seems
to me the machine to translate
hedgerows into leaf litter,

or even leaf-litter-
leftover.  Brad Crowl, I 
suspect, in spite of being a 

spurious adjunct to my 
blog, seems just the man to
deal with such a shrubbery

issue, whilst contemplating, 
between conversions,
Winnie the Pooh symbolism. 
 At the same time can be found in his paintings are often a sign of hope or a new perspective. Many of his images can be understood as an existential questions on Christian theme