Posts from 24th September 2004
AMBUSHED BY UNEXPECTED EMOTION
(ps idea stolen from this guy)
ok so i only just got to watch it, and i kinda knew the deal already – except for the music involved – bcz it first aired in the US two years ago (and ppl talked abt it a lot), but the programme wz THE WEST WING (cf here for why i like this prog), specifically the pipe bomb ep (20 hrs in america), and the bit that floored me wz when it started to play “i don’t like mondays”
ok, so why this song, this part of this ep?
i. the structure is open-heartedly manipulative – CJ comes back to the podium to read out breaking news of the bombing as it comes into her earphone; leo sees her still on tv and wonders why and turns the sound up; leo josh and the v.blonde woman whose name i forgot (sorry v.blonde woman i am old and my memory is poor) are in a hotel lobby somewhere and FIRST the music starts playing, THEN leo goes to look at something (and we know what it is but we don’t quite KNOW we know), and what it is reveals as the others join him…
ii. and all the while yr listening and thinking, who is this singing this version of this song? (that’s to say, i think the strength of the affect is a bit related to my not knowing it wz tori amos which i only found by googling a bit later) (not cz i have opinions either way abt tori amos btw but instead bcz i kinda have NO opinion abt tori amos)
iii. i have just spent [xx] months writing a book abt a film in which a buncha kids end up shooting up their own school, a storyline which can’t help jarring up against (at one extreme) brenda ann spencer, whose “just for fun” massacre inspired the original boomtown rats song, and – since it unfolded while my mum was deperately ill in hospital, AND while i wz scrabbling to get the final corrections in and done – Beslan
iv. i think the “why” goes like this maybe: knowing exactly what’s happening and what’s about to happen and what’s being done to you PLUS the way the ideal-on-offer in the fiction gets to grate (you get to let it grate) against the awful wide-openness of the unfolding (actual real) event as you remember it, which of course doesn’t happen with the actual real event (where you don’t know what’s going to happen till too late, plus you rarely have an ideal art-perfect script handy to run it against at the time)
anyway i quite unexpectedly burst into tears
Good coverage of the MomArt fire of a few months back from the Guardian here: MomArt don’t come out of this terribly well.
There’s the text of an interview with Michael Craig-Martin, in which he comes off as being a reasonable sort of fellow. I like it when he says:
“There’s an idea that the only thing in the arts is masterpieces. Very little art is masterpieces. Most of arts isn’t, and most of contemporary art isn’t, and the things that may come to be seen as masterpieces may not be entirely visible to be so different from other things at the time when they’re being made; it’s not that they’re not valuable, but they may not be thought of as the greatest things of the period. That’s something that may happen historically but the fabric of a culture is to do with lots of people making lots of things and that’s the culture. Culture is really about the richness of that fabric, and it seems to me that in this fire enough was lost, certainly by certain people, that the fabric of that record, of that continuity, is lost.”
He’s ignoring the fact that any era’s ‘masterpieces’ from any other era must come from that section of ‘the culture’ which is actually selected for retention/curation, so it’s not quite as simple an equation as he makes out. And my model of culture would encompass a lot more than objects. But I know what he means.
Nonetheless, given that quotation, it’s a shame the Guardian didn’t mention more of the stuff destroyed which wasn’t High Art (see Mark’s Brown Wedge post from the time and maybe the ILE discussion, which you’ll have to ferret out yourself I’m afraid), but now I’m carping about a decent piece which tells an interesting story.
(NB if you really want to hear me carp, buy me two pints and ask about the Guardian Blog.)
kid-lit comment: wicked stepmothers vs the merely ill-advised:
(mild spoilers alert)
Hattie’s aunt in Tom’s Midnight Garden is classic fairytale wicked – unstintingly cruel and cold toward Hattie, her orphan niece, who in her loneliness dreams up an Imaginary Friend* to play with, who happens to be – as Hattie sees it – a ghost from the future: Tom. Tom’s IRL = the present (well actually the 50s; TMG won the Carnegie Emdal in 1958): he too is living unhappily with his aunt and uncle, while his brother recovers from mumps or similar. But they aren’t evil at all: just a bit misguided. Uncle Alan in particular is a Rationalist who likes to discuss science and truth and theories of time, but is alarmed by and suspicious of any glint of the (Child’s) Imagination.**
Wrong-headed Rationalists of this (strawman?) type are all over mid-20th-century kid-lit, of course, and always as, well, Aunt Sallies: they are Just Wrong and generally get a Comeuppance (though sometimes it’s of the Learning&Hugs kind). The chief ancestor-figure is probably Eustace-when-still-awful, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, whose hilarious sketched trendy-progressive ogre-parents (the original Narnia Kids’ uncle and aunt) have sent him to the famous EXPERIMENT HOUSE – I want to know more, really, about what social movement (and real-actual educational establishment?) inspired Lewis here. The hostility towards post-war rationalism – technocratic managerialism, really – was very widespread (it turned into the revolt of the 60s, if you like), and from a professional perspective any author writing fiction for children is obv likely to be pro-dreams and making stuff up and that. By the end of the 60s, this enablingly ultrasceptical figure seems to vanish – I assume bcz its models in the real world retired defeated, by cultural history on the march. Fantasy of a wide variety of types exploded into the mainstream of fiction for all ages, and a much more complex dialectic of truth-vs-fiction was (presumably) needed.
*(Are there any other stories written from the POV of an Imaginary Friend who is – i mean from from the readers’ perspective – the most “non-imaginary” character?)
**The implication is that, as a couple, their childlessness is a source of misery to them – they actully really want Tom to like them and go out of their way, not very effectively, to make him welcome. There’s a low-key background story in TMG about “Theories of Competing Types of Wisdom”: tom’s aunt knows things about Uncle Alan’s temper and digestion which seem to fall otuside the ambit of his rationalism, and Hattie’s wicked aunt is explicitly contrasted with a young gardener (and even some cows) which can see Tom.
FT TOP 100 FILMS
25: A Matter Of Life And Death
Martin Skidmore says: This has a great setup and it expands on it with imagination and extraordinary flair. It starts with a wonderful conversation between sexy aircraft coordinator Kim Hunter and doomed pilot David Niven. He’s about to crash and die – but the ‘angel’ (more or less) deputed to grab his soul wasn’t doing his job, and he miraculously survives – and wakes on the beach, very near the woman he had talked to. The angel is sent to get him, but he refuses. The woman is friends with a brilliant psychiatrist, played by the mighty Roger Livesey.
It’s a beautiful start, and the film from there on is packed with bravura scenes: the giant camera obscura, the frozen table tennis game, and most especially his trial in Heaven, played out in black and white (the real world is in colour) with countless spectators. It’s a magnificent set-piece, with hugely entertaining legal arguments, mostly defending Brits against Yanks, an extraordinary conceit at the end of WWII. It’s a film of boundless confidence, in its satirical script, its deft performance and sometimes outrageous direction from Michael Powell, funny and visually stunning. There are few films I love more.
Tom says: You can see this, if you like, as an ‘answer film’ to It’s A Wonderful Life. Of course I don’t know which was made first – but not only does AMOLAD flip the concept of IAWL (here the angel is sent to claim a soul, not save it), it also shows that you can be whimsical without being twee, or sentimental. This is a fairy tale for grown-ups, a film that takes its supernatural trappings entirely seriously but never uses them as an excuse for homilies or mystical waffle. In fact in the hands of actors less capable than Niven and Livesey it might be a rather dry film – but the perfect casting sidesteps that possibility. Niven in particular is superb: he may have been a caricature actor, forever locked into the role of the Decent Chap, but when that role was this richly written there was nobody better.
(apologies for slight hiatus)
The Ripped Backsides of Nougat City (or Where Not to Go When Yr Car Can?t Wink). Dr Vick’s Golf’s clignotants aren’t working so most of the day we scour the endless lookalike trading estates on the edge of Mont’limar for an honest electrician. Everyone glumly points us elsewhere (they never in fact get mended). There is a Museum of Nougat variously indicated on signposts (“Have fun learning everything there is to know about nougat making”), but we haven?t time for fun. Nor have we time to pay radical suburban hommage to Roland Barthes visiting the French equivalent of B&Q, brilliantly named “Mr Bricolage” (yes “Mr.” not “M.”). Interlude: lunch in Alba-la-Romaine – food nice but not fabulous – and a tough wander up and down its steep little winding alleys. It’s built on a hill, and towering above some of its streets is a great mervyn peakish crag w.a ruin perched on top. All around is lavender, bees and mulberry trees.
In N’mes again that evening so that Dr Vick’s mum can catch a place, we get lost in its strange shifting streets, trying to get to a mystical square w.a palm tree which we keep glimpsing, except then it vanishes before we get to it. High up in some streets are excellent gargoyles of dogs; scooting round the square with the big Roman Forum are several late-nite robot tamagotchi kids, all kitted?n?cuted up in multi-coloured helmets, leads, trainer bikes and secret remote control pads wielded by their showy-off parents in the shadows. (The hotel wz called THE TUILERIES: marie-antionette shd sue).