Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"What's Mine is Yours..." Measure for Measure, RSC Swan Theatre: Theatre Review (matinee) Saturday 28 January 2012

Well, as Helen inimitably stated "That was a first - I've never seen Shakespeare delivered through a gimp mask before."

Yes folks, this production kicks off the brothel scenes with high S&M and lewd abandon. It was like 'Marat/Sade' all over again!

But it would be unfair to labour this alliance in tone with the play as a whole: for 'Measure for Measure' is an awkward play of dark and variably high comedic tones. For example, Raymond Coulthard made for a dazzlingly magical Duke, beautifully comic and with a great turn in sleight of hand. Joseph Kloska was similarly engaging - his performance as the pimp Pompey showed an inventiveness and interaction with the audience worthy of any heir to William Kempe. There were a (small) number of judiciously included asides and 'improvisations' to the audience that had us in fits of giggles: as aptly quipped, "I've got work with what I've got here."

Interestingly, given that my main exposure to 'Measure' is the short scene of David Tennant as Angelo, seeing Angelo performed more as a scared and confused character (rather than manipulative) was actually rather intriguing. It made for a very different dynamic to the scenes between Isabella and Angelo which was very good to see after multiple watchings of the YouTube scene.

(Additionally, given the lewd tone of the brothel scenes, we were pretty grateful that Tennant was not taking a role in this production!)

Anyway, we thought it was very good and I wish that it hadn't sold out so much that tickets to take Neil back are unlikely to be feasible. Boo.

As penance for the filth of this play though, we saw 'Written on the Heart' in the evening and this time I saw the whole play! Morally better for us for sure...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Decoy Bride - I'd be a decoy...

Frothy fun!

New carpets

We has carpet on our stairs and landing upstairs!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Random book finds: 10p purchases

Love on the dole by Walter Greenwood. Priced to suit the unemployed. 10p secondhand.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Favourite Artwork - a MediumRob question

MediumRob asked his question of the week as 'what is your favourite artwork?'

One? Just one?!

Heck. Not do-able.

Firstly, there is the picture above: John William Waterhouse, and one of several versions of Ophelia. I love this particular one as I think it is the only one that captures here is a woman who has gone mad.

However, at the opposite of the art spectrum, I could sit in the Rothko room at Tate Modern from morn til night and not be bored with their shimmering radiance.

A painting a wish I had purchased when I had the chance was a work called 'Lost and Found" by Emmy Bridgwater. It was well out of my price-range (a poverty stricken student) when I first saw it back in the early 1990s. It went to a good home - I don't know if it is still there or not - but I loved it with a passion. It was small, and delicate and fierce all at once.

Bizarrely, the chronology page I created on Bridgwater back then is STILL hanging about on the InterWeb, unable to be updated with a new contact address....

Back when Trafalgar Square was still accessing traffic in front of the National Gallery, there was a sound installation: Wave Memories by Bill Fontana. As you descended the steps either side you suddenly heard this enveloping sound of waves crashing on the shore - it was being projected live from the coast - and it was magnificent. As you walked away, the sound was muffled under the traffic sounds, but in the lower ground are near the fountains, it was like being by the sea.

Architecture-wise, I still inhale sharply at the elegance and beauty of the Express Building in London (especially inside)

I still think one of my best experiences was on the Open House day several years ago when I got to see inside this beauty. A great experience.

Frock - I HEART their dresses!

Frock. Oh my, roll on a warmer day as I am LONGING to wear my new dress from this shop...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Oh Sherlock, our Sherlock --- a spoilery-tastic reflection on "The Reichenbach Fall"

Spoilers - spoilers - so if you haven't seen the 'finale' of 'series' two, "The Reichenbach Fall", then look away now.

I said NOW.

Looking away? Waiting til you have seen the episode?


Oh flipperty-gibbets, WHAT a finale!

From the opening despair of John Watson visiting his psychiatrist ("I haven't seen you in eighteen months" - oh we know, we KNOW! [1]), and the streaming rain of tears outside her window... we were in for bumpy emotions. Dear lovely sweet John Watson, all military stiff-upper lip and rod-back, stumbled towards saying what he did not want to acknowledge: "Sherlock Holmes is dead".

We were promised "tears before bedtime" (thanks Mr Gatiss for the warning, though more importantly, thanks - *sob* - Mr Steve Thompson, whose pen delivered this 'final problem'.)

Those familiar with the original stories [2] will know that 'The Final Problem' is where and Holmes meets his doom at the Reichenbach Falls along with Moriarty. This modern re-working of Holmes took the demise and gave its modern setting twists galore.

There were nods to all manner of cultural reference points here: Moriarty (probably Andrew Scott's best performance in the role) channelled the spirit of Gary Oldman in Leon with his neck-cracking, classical music-listening criminal actions; and was it only our house that thought 'SETEC ASTRONOMY' at the mention of a code to break all codes? [3].

Additionally, where the original tale had assassins AFTER Sherlock, this re-visioning has the assassins protecting him (in a fashion). Of course, their ultimate and actual task is revealed to be far more horrific to contemplate - to kill three of those closest to Sherlock, should certain conditions not be met.

The role of the media was crucial in both creating and presenting Moriarty with a solution to 'The Final Problem' - given Holmes' massive public profile as a genius to rival Moriarty - not least in saving for the nation Turner's lost masterpiece 'The Great Falls of the Reichenbach', what should Moriarty do to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes?

And so Moriarty devises - in no small part thanks to the ineptitude of pompous brother Mycroft Holmes - a falling down to rival the fight at the Reichenbach Falls. To publicly undermine Sherlock's genius in the public eye - to make him seem 'human' - would have been one thing; but Moriarty engineers events through his alter-ego as Rich Brook, actor, to make it seem that Sherlock has been deliberately generating crimes to solve, faking the whole thing, even to hiring Brook to 'play' Moriarty.

Of course, the idea that Sherlock would go so far as to create crimes to solve and show off solving is a fallacy that the detestable Sgt Sally Donovan and the equally obnoxious pathologist Anderson eagerly believe in, overruling Lestrade's instincts to stand by Sherlock. I was fair shouting at the TV by this point saying "why do you believe them?!"

But then Holmes can be, inherently is, a show-off. Watson: “Don’t try to be clever. Intelligent is fine, but let’s give Smart Alec a wide berth.” Holmes: “I’ll just be myself.” He's caught too much public eye, but he can't help but be smart, to see the connections, to follow the trails. Sherlock cannot help but show the limitations of slower, normal human thinking: no wonder he baulks so viciously at Katherine Parkinson's not-fan/journalist: "You repel me" (a line she turns back on Sherlock when she is in thrall to Richard Brooks as the hired actor who has played Moriarty to Sherlock's ego).

It is not just about the dialogue though: it is in the performances as a whole that the elegance really shines through. Cumberbatch playing a rattled Sherlock is a glory to behold, but that it is acutely observed by the adoring Molly is a touch of tear-choking genius. Her recognition that he's sad, something she sees when no-one is looking, like her dying grandfather could not cover over either, is heart-rending, not least for the confused sense of feeling some emotion that Cumberbatch conveys in a twitch of his eyes. In the end, he asks a favour of Molly: by the culminating seconds of the episode - oh please tell me it is so - we should know what that may be.

Before then, there is the roof: Moriarty at his maddest, his most frustrated, and Sherlock at his most diminished, triumphant and then despairing. Caught in a lock-down, battling wits and nerve against each other, showing puzzles that were not and revealing puzzles 'unexpected'... Moriarty shoots himself to avoid 'defeat' (is he REALLY dead?), and Sherlock, knowing that unless his own body is seen, three of those closest to him will die [4] ... well, Sherlock shows his humanity and falls gracefully, thoroughly, to his death.

Or does he?

Sherlock talking on his mobile with a returned John Watson from his hoax errand (another nod to the original tale), is a masterpiece of dialogue, emotion and delivery, but after watching the fall, Watson is knocked over and crashes to the ground - he is at best dazed when absorbing the sight of his friend on the pavement, skull crushed and bleeding.

So we come to the final graveyard sequence [5]. If you weren't crying by now, then Watson's choking rebuttal of the lie was wondrous to watch, and his line "Don't be dead" was the final straw.



And then the final shot. Sherlock, watching John walk away from the grave.

Back for more?

I cannot wait to see what they do next.


[1] Launched on an unsuspecting world in summer 2009, Sherlock has been an instant hit. How and why the BBC could not have foreseen that and re-commissioned the series on completion is baffling. Still...

[2] And if you don't know the original stories, go read them now! What on earth are you doing watching this stuff and not familiarising yourself with the origins of the character and concept?

[3] Go watch 'Sneakers'. Now. It's fab.

[4] Why Watson, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade (rather than Molly as the third)? Because Moriarty never really got the Molly thing: he wouldn't understand her maintained belief, to do anything to help Holmes...

[5] Again, no Molly... whatever she knows or does not know, whatever part she has played in what happened at the fall, she would not be able to bear being at the grave.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My nice edition of The Pilgrim's Progess

It's lovely to be reminded of the great books we have when sorting through them.

US viewers - look out for 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' on Masterpiece schedule of PBS

This week the UK got to see 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood', the latest of - incredibly - many versions of Dicken's unfinished novel.

The adaptation by Gwyneth Hughes was utterly suitably melodramatic, but it was also spectacularly entertaining. With a great cast it shone in virtually every respect but Matthew Rhys as John Jasper was stunningly tormented and yet not entirely hateable. A resolute air of grace also shone through Amber Rose Revah's performance as Helena Landless (see what Dickens did there with the orphan's surname? never one to pass up a naming opportunity was old Charlie boy).

And both the magnificent Ron Cook as Durdles and Alfie Davis as Deputy added the required dose of Dicken's humour.

Additionally, it looked wonderful - the cinematography (telephotography?) was beautiful, and the settings were used to great effect.

The narrative itself has all kinds of problems, as befitting its status as an unfinished work: finding a satisfactory solution to the myriad balls left metaphorically in the air by the author will always leave some unsatisfied, but Dickens himself was prone to bodged conclusions and abandoned subplots, so it seems churlish to moan at Hughes' efforts when dramatically as a piece of television these performances proved so entrancing and satisfying.

The USA, thanks to the wonders of PBS Masterpiece schedule, will get to see Drood - and the Xmas Great Expectations - over Easter (April).

Enjoy people: Drood is a treat.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One use only - using existing music in films

Kim Novak has very publicly criticised the score for 'The Artist' for using - with a credit - part of the score for 'Vertigo'.

In doing so she makes problematic use of the term 'rape'. Sorry Ms Novak, but I am increasingly of the opinion that the word 'rape' is too specific as a term for a criminal act, often sexually/power motivated, to be any longer in its more general sense.

So what SHOULD be the use of music written for a specific film or context? By Novak's implied meaning, music can be used once, and once only, for its original context --- and never ever again.

I get that in this instance, the film director went with the 'temp' holding score of pre-existing music rather than a (later provided) original piece by the composer Ludovic Bource. One one level, it is a shame not to make more use of original music. However, it is not unknown for directors to get so attached to hearing a pre-existing piece alongside their first cut footage that the two become indelibly entwined. Sometimes you go with your instinct.

I accept that for some the use of the music from another context may well jar them from involvement in 'the moment' of the film narrative. But music is so often used and re-used that it is hard to imagine of the practicalities of Novak's implied meaning that music has a once-in-a-lifetime purpose. I appreciate that re-use of a particular piece of 'scoring' may work differently to the use of a song or even a classical/jazz piece of composition, but does it really jar THAT much? I'm quite familiar with 'Vertigo' and it didn't detract for me any more than the use of Duke Ellington or any of the other jazz pieces used here. Indeed, the smooth integration of existing music with the actual Bource score only succeeded in reinforcing for me how well Bource captured the essence of silent and classical Hollywood film scoring and live music performance.

I'm therefore glad that those involved in 'The Artist' have defended their use of the existing music. It does seem a petty dispute.

Monday, January 09, 2012

In Praise of Sherlock (Moff and Gatiss)

With each episode 90 minutes long, it is all to easy to forget these are actually feature films. So whilst we may be weeping that there have so far only been two 'series' of 3 episodes each, that's the equivalent of six feature films.

We've got one more left here in the UK but despite my understanding the film length it still feels too little. But these are fabulous works. And I will be watching them again soon.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

"With pleasure": a cultural day review including Film Review: The Artist

We had quite a cultural day yesterday - started off by going to Nottingham Contemporary to catch the Klaus Weber exhibition before it closes today; walking around St. Mary's Church in Hockley; going to the Broadway Cinema to see The Artist; and ending up by watching the first couple of episodes of Borgen, our new Scandi Saturday drama.

All in all a very lovely day and I will try and post some pictures here soon of our day out.

In the meantime, I want to focus on commenting about "The Artist" which is quite possibly one of the loveliest films you could possibly hope to see this year (if you have not already been lucky enough to see it).

You can imagine the pitch:
  • it's in black and white (though interestingly it used colour stock and then was altered to black and white because the contrast was not quite what was wanted in proper black and white)
  • it's largely silent with VERY limited diegetic sound and has intertitles
  • it's in 4:3 aspect ration (how I squealed with delight at that little detail, instead of the screen widening as it started)
As Neil said of the executives, he could imagine them asking "but it's in 3-D, right?"

A rather sniffy review in Sight and Sound (the BFI's film magazine) dismissed it as a 'novelty', and it's true there is unlikely to be a resurgence of new films made in this way. I'm not expecting the new year to bring in dozens of 'silent' movies. However, the review did really irk me when I read it after coming home from the screening thoroughly uplifted.

Whilst it would be wrong to hold individual reviewers to be 'stand-ins' for the magazine (let alone the BFI as a whole), Sight and Sound does have an unfortunate tendency to sometimes grant the most gross-out populist film serious credence and credibility than it would ever deserve; to be so harshly dismissive of an undeniably populist film as 'The Artist' which has much higher ideals underpinning it seems at the very least hypocritical.

So a gross-out film aiming for the populist 15-24 year old is more 'honest' than a beautifully observed homage to the silent (and classic) eras of Hollywood appealing to an audience encompassing everything from children to grandparents?

I know which 'honesty' I think deserves more analysis.

[Link to "The Artist" trailer - sorry: could not embed]

I've come to a conclusion about films and their audience: if you get to the end and the audience starts applauding, I think you've got something special on your hands as a feel-good movie. Most times, people just filter out. They may be smiling and happy even, but I do think that applause in a cinema is now a rare enough commodity to mean something.

The storyline is simple: a heroic romantic, daring-do-action film star meets a wanna-be actress. She is on the way up; he is on the way down. This is because soon after they meet, talkies arrive. Our leading man - elegantly captured by the performance of Jean Dujardin as George Valentin - is not someone who talks: indeed his first intertitle 'line' is "I will not speak." Our leading lady, the suitably named Peppy Miller (played by Berenice Bejo) is, in contrast, positively entranced by talking. Will their attraction lead to happiness? Can there be success for them both?

During "The Artist", there were many sequences where, with no music either (despite a luscious near-continuous score by Ludovic Bource), there was just pure enraptured silence in the room. Nevertheless, we laughed at the utterly adorable Jack Russell (Uggie) who deserves an Oscar in his own right; we wept at the sight of an intertitle reading "BANG!"; we grinned with delight at the dance sequences - everything about this film is so perfectly pitched to carry the audience along with it.

The visual tropes deployed are not all from the silent era - there are a number of sequences owing much to Citizen Kane for example. Overall then "The Artist" plays with and looks affectionately upon those 'tricks' of both the silent era and some of the classic period Hollywood cliches. We read lips well, but not always well; we understand that when a dog runs up to a policeman he needs his attention for an emergency; when a producer/studio owner sees dollar-signs, he doesn't care if it's the old or the new as long as it works.

Nostalgic? Yes, this film is undeniably infused with a lifelong passion for film. Will it encourage audiences to look again beyond the latest 3-D widescreen fad to older films? One can only hope. And in the meantime, expect the sentimentality of the BAFTA and Academy Award committees to shower "The Artist" with awards. For once, one lives in hope they do...

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Film Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US version)

Back in 2009, Neil and I skipped ahead of the UK release date curve for the Swedish version of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'. This involved being in New Zealand - in a cinema I sadly suspect no longer exists thanks to the earthquakes: sniff for the Kaiapoi PictureHouse Cinema.

Then they announced there would be the inevitable English Language film remake(s) of Larsson's book(s).


Once I had forgiven them for not casting Douglas Henshall in the role of Blomquist, I got on with grumbling more generally about the film(s).

Because by now having seen all three original Swedish films, I had fully accepted Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. Sure, she was not the near-anorexically thin character as portrayed in the books, but within the constraints of actually being able to be portrayed by an actress, she was a good approximation.

For the English language remake, they chose Rooney Mara.

Now, to give Mara her due, she does make a good stab at the role. They certainly give her the appropriate level of punky-spikeness... but...

It just tries too hard.

The thing that Rapace captures in her performance is that strange mix of vulnerability, aggression and frustration with the world.  Let me give an example:
In the original version of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', Salander is staying at the cabin in Hedesby with Blomquist. Suddenly, without warning, she strips off and has sex with him. Done, she gets off and wanders away immediately. Salander is venting an urge - one she doesn't want and like an itch, she scratches it, rids herself of it and bolts. She is angry at herself for wanting and needing to do this 'act'. She satisfies the need. And that's it.

The US/UK version plays a much greater sense of emotional attachment both in that scene and afterwards. That is WRONG - just wrong.

In some ways the English language film version IS truer to more of the book (though it makes a bizarre and unnecessary change in the narrative for reasons I cannot fathom apart from the chance to film in the UK). But since when did a film version of a book have to be utterly faithful to all aspects of the narrative? No: it does not need to be accurate to the letter, but it should be true to the spirit of the text. For all that this new version is an excellent film - it has the budget both in English-language-recognisable casting and great photography to show for it - it still does not quite work for me.

Craig is okay - yes, still grumbling about that - and I like the 'glasses-hanging-off-one-ear' quirk that they give him. But he is too buff, not 'middle-aged' enough. He looks gruff, but that isn't the same thing at all.

And I still maintain that all the film-makers have missed a trick with regards to them failing to include in the dialogue any of Salander's infuriated references to Kalle F...ing Blomkvist or Kalle Bastard Practical Pig Blomkvist. Indeed, that whole Astrid Lindgren thing with both Kalle and Pippi Longstocking from her books is a real loss to the narratives, not least as in the final tale it plays a crucial part in Lisbeth accessing technology.

Like I say, it IS an excellent film. If I didn't know and love the Swedish originals so much maybe I would be more forgiving (can I just say as well, the opening title sequence is astonishing and surely the mark of Fincher shown best in the movie). But this English language version doesn't quite sail for me, and I cannot see me re-watching it multiple times in the way I have done with the Swedish version.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Layout - new year

If Cloud can have something new as his backdrop, so can I. Of course he got there first so he gets the spiffy books background (sniff!) but this will be a nice stop-gap.

Books ahoy!

It's been a reading kind of a weekend - I've devoured my way through Madeleine L'Engle's excellent "A Wrinkle in Time" (every bit as good as I recalled it from childhood), Oliver Pötzsch's very atmospheric "The Hangman's Daughter" (set in the mid 17th century in Germany) and am now reading Cloud's recommended "Temporary Perfections" by Gianrico Carofiglio.

All excellent stuff.

All this and interspersed with seeing in the New Year by watching Bellowhead's most recent live DVD of 'Hedonism'.


Was Elliott wrongly accused or guilty?

Neil found this left behind shopping list and its ominous PS at the bottom of a shopping trolley.