Tuesday, January 19, 2010
An Education (2009). I was eagerly waiting for this movie for it stars none other than Carey Mulligan who has been one of my favourite actresses for four years. I believe I've seen practically everything she's done and yet she managed to completely blow me away in this extremely well-crafted piece. She deserved a Golden Globe for Best Actress so much, I'm really shocked she lost to Sandra Bullock of all people. I fell head over heels for this film - the story is simple. In 1961, a young woman, Jenny (Carey) who lives in a dull suburb of London and who dreams of going to Oxford to read English meets meets a charming older man, David. He'll show her everything she ever dreamt of seeing: Oxford, Paris, jazz clubs, nice restaurants. Jenny is greatly intelligent, she's not clueless at all (her approach to sex is actually quite refreshing for the era) and shows that intelligence isn't only book-smarts. I don't want to spoil anybody as to the plot of the whole movie but let's just say it's a reflection on education, on privileges and on happiness - all themes very dear to me. The movie is impeccable from beginning to end, the last sentence being so practically perfect in every way. There's also a moment, a tiny moment when Jenny has an important conversation with her headmistress (Emma Thompson, brilliant) about the point of education that is so clearly going to be the clip shown at the Academy Awards that it left me completely speechless. Oh sorry I really have to spoil you to express my feelings accurately, don't read if you haven't seen the movie or don't want to know the end:
Jenny: Nobody does anything worth doing with a degree. No woman anyway.
Ms Walters: So what I do isn't worth doing? Or Ms Stubbs does, or Mrs Wilson, or any of us here? Because none of us would be here without a degree. You do realise that, don't you? And yes, of course, studying is hard and boring...
Ms Walters: I'm sorry?
Jenny: Studying is hard and boring. Teaching is hard and boring. So what you're telling me is to be bored, and then bored, and finally bored again and this time for the rest of my life? This whole stupid country is bored! There's no life in it, or colour, or fun. It's probably just as well the Russians are going to drop a nuclear bomb on us any day so... My choice is to do something hard and boring or to marry my Jew and go to Paris and Rome and listen to jazz and read and eat good food in nice restaurants and have fun. It's not enough to educate us anymore Ms Walters, you've got to tell us why you're doing it.
(Ms Walters fails to give an answer)
Jenny: I don't want to be impertinent, Ms Walters. But it is an argument worth rehearsing. You never know, someone else might want to know the point of it all one day.
And on that note, she quits school. But after finding out David isn't who he is (and this part is handled so subtly) she realises she can't give up on her dream, she applies to Oxford and after a lot of hard work, she gets in (it's so eerie seeing Oxford on the big screen it's like seeing one's bedroom on the big screen, feels so personal). It made me question a lot of things. (I want to teach but at the time Jenny, because she's a woman had a choice between teaching and being a civil servant, a choice she resented. Did I chose this profession because I too felt it was the only one I could access? Worth thinking about, and terrifying of course). Jenny's fears and arguments make a lot of sense when you think about it. But this movie is incredibly smart - to me, Jenny realises she has to be her own self and discover this life by herself by getting there with a mind of her own, not because she's tied up to somebody else on whom she depends. The last line is all about that, self-discovery, education for the sake of education. Jenny dates other boys and "One of the boys suggested that we go to Paris and I said I'd always wanted to see Paris. As if I'd never been." I relate so much to Jenny it's as if the film had been written for me. One of the best movies I've ever seen, for sure.
I finally read my first play by Oscar Wilde - up till now I had read Dorian Gray, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I was looking forward to discover more of his writings, so I borrowed a copy of The Importance of Being Earnest from the library. I was not disappointed, this play is really good. It's a classic tale of mistaken identities with a lot of comedy thrown in, most of it provided by the wonderful character of Cecily - a young woman whose personality is so interesting she completely steals the show. She creates her own reality - when she's in love, she writes letters to herself and pretends they're from her lover and then thanks her fictional lover for his letters. "Do you remember when you called off the engagement?" she asks to a confused Algernon, and she produces the letter she wrote in Algernon's name explaining the whole affair as she imagined it.
There's also some great situation comedy in the first scene in which Algernon eats the cucumber sandwiches made for his Aunt and keeps assuring his friend they're for his aunt before helping himself to some more. An absolute delight of a play, it's witty and entertaining and I'm looking forward to reading more by Wilde.
I've just (a few minutes ago, I had typed this post before and now I'm adding this paragraph) come back from the Glenn Miller Orchestra concert at the Oxford Playhouse. I'm at a loss for words. This was my first concert ever and boy did it deliver. Absolutely fantastic. I had a dream seat (row C, seat 12) and couldn't have been more ideally placed. I was by far the only person under the age of 50 that I could see but I do believe I was the most enthusiastic - to be quite honest my mouth might need surgery because I just couldn't stop smiling for two hours and a half! I was often the first one to clap after a song and I was for sure the first person to stand up to clap the whole orchestra at the end of the concert. People were a bit... slow but the row behind me was super enthusiastic as well. It's such a wonderful feeling to be sharing this music with other people.
I don't know if the seating arrangement is the best - I for one wanted to dance so bad during several songs but had to stay still in my seat.
The orchestra was absolutely splendid. Not one mistake, completely flawless and the selection of songs was amazing. Moonlight Serenade live is pure heaven. It outranked In the Mood as my personal favourite and trust me that was a challenge. Insanely catchy and gorgeous during the slow songs, we were treated to a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in the middle and one last rendition of My Favorite Things by Rogers and Hammerstein. Other highlights included Tuxedo Junction and When the Saints Go Marching In. Worth every single pound. Just to give you a clearer picture: I actually cried, literally, when they played their first song. I couldn't believe my luck - most of the artists I love are long dead. And the song was Anchors Aweigh, one of Miller's catchiest. One of the musicians was in Benny Goodman's band for years. Can you imagine?
DO try and see them if you can, it's a terrific experience. I can't believe this was my first concert, it set the bar so high!
Sunday, January 10, 2010
I read The Hound of the Baskervilles - I didn't think the mystery itself was all that interesting but Doyle has a talent for depicting an atmosphere, and I do love Watson's voice. He's very earnest and feels like a true friend. I'd like to give an example of this particularity of Doyle's writing:
"But the dining-room which opened out of the hall was a place of shadow and gloom. It was a long chamber with a step separating the dais where the family sat from the lower portion reserved for their dependents. At one end a minstrel's gallery overlooked it. Black beams shot across above our heads, with a smoke-darkened ceiling beyond them. With rows of flaring torches to light it up, and the colour and rude hilarity of an old-time banquet, it might have softened; but now, when two black-clothed gentlemen sat in the little circle of light thrown by a shaded lamp, one's voice became hushed and one's spirit subdued. A dim line of ancestors, in every variety of dress, from the Elizabethan knight to the buck of the Regency, stared down upon us and daunted us by their silent company. We talked little, and I for one was glad when the meal was over and we were able to retire into the modern billiard-room and smoke a cigarette.
"My word, it isn't a very cheerful place," said Sir Henry. "I suppose one can tone down to it, but I feel a bit out of the picture at present. I don't wonder that my uncle got a little jumpy if he lived all alone in such a house as this. However, if it suits you, we will retire early tonight, and perhaps things may seem more cheerful in the morning."
I drew aside my curtains before I went to bed and looked out from my window. It opened upon the grassy space which lay in front of the hall door. Beyond, two copses of trees moaned and swung in a rising wind. A half moon broke through the rifts of racing clouds. In its cold light I saw beyond the trees a broken fringe of rocks, and the long, low curve of the melancholy moor. I closed the curtain, feeling that my last impression was in keeping with the rest."
I love this passage, it's so distinctive. Alright! I think that's it for books and movies. I saw The Lovely Bones too - excellent acting (Saoirse Ronan is shockingly good but then I've known that since Atonement) but it was a mess. I'm watching The Big Bang Theory - it was good at first but it's becoming redundant, it's the same jokes over and over again. This is the first sitcom I've managed to be interested in so this is a letdown once again, it doesn't seem to be a genre I appreciate.
Some music before I let you go! I think I've talked about everybody I love here, so how about a compilation? Puttin' on the Ritz: Capitol Sings Irving Berlin was released in 1992. It's got a lot of excellent singers performing songs by this amazing composer. Judy Garland for Puttin' on the Ritz (one of my favourite songs ever), Margaret Whiting for Heat Wave (fun song, by the way, "Gee, her anatomy/Makes the mercury/Jump to ninety-three.") and Jo Stafford for Play A Simple Melody. I think the artwork of the cover ALONE is worth a few seconds of your time:
I can't find a way to stream the songs - if you have access to Spotify, it's on there, though. Or buy, borrow, steal.
Have an excellent month of January!
I can't get enough of him!
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Am I cynical? Maybe. I don't know exactly. Most of the people I meet seem to be content with very simple things which I personally find simplistic and therefore dangerous. Perhaps I over-analyze, perhaps I ask too much and give too little.
I am hugely interested in fandom but don't feel like I belong there either. A lot of the people I meet are huge Disney fans - I can't stand Disney. It's moralistic in the worst way, racist (Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Aristocats) conservative (mariage is still everybody's goal), misogynist (do I need to give you examples? Seriously?) and full of saccharine (boy meets girl, happily ever after, birds sing and dress women up for crying out loud). I don't like musicals - people seem to love them, it makes them happy. I find them cheesy and forced. I don't celebrate Christmas, I'm an agnostic becoming more and more of an atheist with every passing day and I don't understand how even irreligious people can think it's okay to have a special day of the year to show others you love them. I'd say "I love you" every day if I had anybody I felt that towards, not just one day a year. I don't like animés - the girls are weak or used for their sexual availability, the humour is not mine, the interesting themes not developed enough for me. I'm not sentimental. I don't see life as a constant search for the perfect couple. What would interest me, at best, would be friendships because people have things in common, not love stories although I'd argue that friendship is love. Babies do nothing to me, it's not because people or things are small that they are pretty. Innocence does nothing to me, people call innocence what should be called ignorance. I don't believe in essentialism, I've already said it here but conversations that start with "men are" and "women are" make me want to break something. Men are not, and women are not. Pre-constructed ideas of what women should be and men should be according to an arbitrary model are not a way to keep me interested. Same goes for "the (insert favourite nationality here) are". Determinism can be, and thank humanity for that, conterbalanced by free will. We all have a brain, use it. I can't be bothered with people who haven't even reached that stage of understanding.
Perhaps it makes me a cynic indeed, but I'd like to thing of myself as a realist. I don't sugar-coat and can't stand cowards who do.
I'm interested in philosophy, in questioning the "why" behind everything and finding foolproof concepts to live by (why no death penalty? "it's not human" is not foolproof, if you were serious about having a strong point of view you'd see that and try to find something else. Personally, I say that mistakes are human and if a judge sentences a person to death and after the death further evidence makes it clear that the person was innocent, there's no way to repair anything, whereas if the person is still alive, things can be done. Right now that's the point I've reached, I'd like to find even stronger arguments when DNA tests make it clear the accused is the culprit). I stick to them. At the same time, I'm desperately interested in fiction, in how ideas that I have or should have can work in stories that to me could be real. It gives me hope. My favourite works of fiction depict my utopia. Always.
So there you have it. I know some people think I'm cold because I question "the child in them", whatever that means. It just leaves me frustrated and heartbroken to see people my age or even older haven't bothered to do what I did, which is to move on and look for truth. But it's nothing compared to shallow people who love the same works I do but because the physical appearance of this actor gives them a model to project their fantasies on (fantasies that include Mills and Boon-like scenes, mariage and children). On the other hand you can't deny I'm extremely passionate about some things. More than anything I wish to find in friendship is understanding, I can't explain what seem to be the most basic things to me to my friends, they have to come with this baggage already. But they also have to be passionate about worthy works of fiction which gives them a way to look at life in the face. Is it too much to ask for humanists who are free and open and would dance with me to Glenn Miller, go take Charleston classes and regroup to swap excellent books we read and for marathons of Gilmore Girls which we would watch for Lorelai, Rory, Paris and Emily? Apparently it is. I've been looking for them for 21 years and I'm still looking.
I have no idea why I'm posting something so personal here. I should buy a diary. I'm glad to have the comments turned off in moments like these as I'm definitely not looking for any.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I don't know yet if I want to post a reminder of what I loved this year, 2009 was pretty bad in terms of new discoveries. September was the worst month of them all and it's a wonder I survived it. 2010 is likely to be as busy as I'll be preparing a really hard exam to sit in June 2011 (only 10% of those who sit pass). But none of that now. I have new names to be excited about so without further ado, let me introduce you to...
I also finished Author, Author by David Lodge. I'm not sure it was such a wise choice to start with this book as an introduction to Lodge. The novel is in fact a biography of Henry James in the form of a novel so the voice was really James' and not the author's. It was enjoyable enough, even though I came to dislike the author, the secondary characters were interesting enough to keep me going. At least, it convinced me I absolutely need to try Oscar Wilde next year as I've delayed this discovery long enough.
In terms of movies, I saw a few but only two stood out. Coco avant Chanel (2009) isn't a very good movie - it's a romance, and romances bore me to tears unless they're funny. This one wasn't. Still, Gabrielle's personality won me over, she's a woman who knows what she's capable of, is honest to the point of bluntness, and doesn't accept charity from anyone on the grounds that she's a woman. She's an orphan and laughs at the eccentricities of the idle rich while she makes sure she finds a job to look after herself. At the turn of the 20th century, it's quite remarkable. She freed women from corsets and created pieces of clothing that were both comfortable and classy so women could breathe and laugh.
It Happened one Night (1934) is believed to be the first screwball comedy - it's one of these movies I'd always planned on watching but up till now I was always keeping it for last as I've reached the end of my list of screwball comedies to check out. Claudette Colbert plays Ellie, an heiress who flees her father's tyranny, meets Peter (Clark Gable playing a journalist) on her way to New York and after a while, falls for him. I've expressed my dislike for Clark Gable before but I'll admit he's actually pretty good in this picture. Their exchanges are quite funny for a while as Ellie does everything in her power to escape Peter whom she doesn't like but as in all screwballs, initial negative reaction leads to witty banter which in its turn leads to realization of true feelings. Colbert is a great actress, I'm glad I finally watched a movie with her.
Django Reinhardt performing The Sheik of Araby:
Chris Barber and his band performing Bobby Shaftoe:
The Temperance Seven's rendition of The Charleston and Black Bottom:
And finally Pete and Trudy dancing to an instrumental version of The Charleston:
That's likely to be my last post of 2009. Have excellent fun with the rest of December, I'll catch you next year!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Here is an article explaining why she's such an amazing role model:
How utterly refreshing is it to see a young female primetime character whose entire focus or major story arc doesn’t revolve around relationship drama and/or getting/keeping/deceiving/ditching a boy? Sure, Rachel pines for the sweetly dumb Finn, but she’s pragmatically resigned to his current status as Quinn’s baby daddy-to-be. And Rachel has bigger fish to fry anyway. She’s convinced that she’s going to be a star and damned if girl doesn’t have the ambition, confidence and straight-up vocal chops to back up her Broadway dreams.
Sure, Rachel’s got her flaws. She’s bossy, abrasive and high maintenance, but these are all tempered by self awareness. She knows she’s bossy, abrasive and high maintenance and will candidly own up to it. And she’s also achingly vulnerable – admitting that she wants glee club to succeed because being part of something special makes you special by proxy, confiding in Puck that her problem is that she wants everything too much and harboring an unspoken but all-too-evident fear that it’s only for the sake of her talent that people deign to associate with her at all. The insecurity behind the theatrics is more than enough to offset her occasion bouts of know-it-all-ism and social tone deafness.
Glee might be a giddy, implausible (Terri’s fake pregnancy, Sue Sylvester’s, well, everything), over-the-top romp, but Rachel rings true as complicated young woman who knows exactly who she is, but still struggles to balance meeting her own self-imposed type-A expectations with her desire for peer acceptance and friendship. TV and especially young women who watch TV need more Rachel Berrys to relate to."
Saturday, December 12, 2009
1. Wodehouse Omnibus 5 (to finish, I have two stories left, having read the novels)
2. The Rachel Papers - Martin Amis (Rule42 loves his father but I figured I might as well add Martin's first book to my pile as well)
3. Jeeves in the Offing - P.G. Wodehouse
4. Something Fresh - P.G. Wodehouse
5. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K Jerome (this one was here before I "met" Rule42)
6. The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters (finally! I had to make a reservation for this one as all the copies are impossible to get hold of unless you specifically have it put aside for you)
7. The Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer (this one was here before as well, I don't like Heyer much, I've read two books by her and her heroines are so weak, she seems to be a solid favourite for many people though and I'd hate to miss out so I'm giving her another chance)
8. Trouble for Lucia - E.F. Benson (was here before - it's not even the beginning of the series but that's all I could find at the library when I went)
9. The Old Devils - Kingsley Amis (his son Martin's favourite)
10. Crome Yellow - Aldous Huxley (best known for A Brave New World which I couldn't find)
11. The Code of the Woosters - P.G. Wodehouse
12. Author, Author - David Lodge (I wanted Changing Places, which is the first book in a series but this will do, it sounds interesting. This line in the blurb won me over: "Thronged with vividly drawn characters, some of them with famous names, Author! Author! presents a fascinating panorama of literary and theatrical life in late Victorian England.")
13. The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut (this line in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction won me over: "A fine and complex satire about the folly of mistaking good luck for the favour of God". Also, a reviewer on Amazon said "if you've never read Vonnegut, this is the place to start")
14. Swing Swing Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman - Firestone (apparently the definitive biography of the man, I love his music so much)
15. Burr - Gore Vidal (oh dear, can I just say, FINALLY! I've been wanting to read Vidal for the longest time but I never knew where to start. Well, this is it! I was going to start with his essays but couldn't track a decent collection anywhere so I settled for fiction. Burr is the first in a series of chronicles of the US entitled "Narratives of Empire". It wasn't the first to be published but it's the first chronologically. Historical fiction at last. Took me a while to find something I desperately wanted to read in that genre but I'm absolutely looking forward to reading it!)
I also entered a contest here to win a copy of Thank You, Jeeves in its Everyman Wodehouse edition (a gorgeous hardcover book). Fingers crossed as I'm planning on collecting them all in this edition but don't have much money, being a student.