Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rattle His Bones


I've just finished The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. He has officially become one of my favourite writers. This book was fantastic - his characters are so genuinely nice. It's a horrible word, it's so common but I can't find any other. I love him, his stories are so warm. I cried at the end: I was sorry to leave Bod, but then I always cry at the end of a Gaiman book.
I'm sure you all know what the plot is: a baby is raised by an entire graveyard of ghosts and different moments of his life are narrated. I thought the episodic form worked quite well in the end even though I was suspicious of it at first. It worked because the stories all came together at the end. The only point I think wasn't so good is the villain of the book about whom we didn't know much, this is the only time I felt it was a children's book. As usual in his books, Gaiman always does amazing portayals of girls and women. In The Graveyard Book, a little girl named Scarlett made a lasting impression on me, similar to that of Coraline or Yvaine. I love how they're not idealized, just genuinely explained for who they are. It's hard to find in literature, when you think about it.
I would absolutely recommend this book. If you've read Gaiman, you'll know why. If you haven't, you're in for a treat - we're so lucky to have him. My only concern is that since it was a postal group book, I now have to pass it on and can't keep this gorgeous hardback copy to myself. I will buy a paperback copy to embellish my shelves and reread the story in October. Best to support the authors you love, especially when they're alive.

Continuing with my pre-code discovery, I watched another movie that is available in the first Forbidden Hollywood boxset: the 1931 version of Waterloo Bridge (the original version). I've always liked the 1940 remake starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor (who are both very easy on the eyes, let's be honest) and I still like it very much but the 1931 version is far superior. First of all, one word: Mae Clarke. This actress deserved an Academy Award and I'm astonished to find she wasn't even nominated. Not only that but she's completely forgotten today. This is wrong, her performance is absolutely stunning. She can play a seductress on the bridge picking up men to survive, she can play a woman losing her mind when she can't tell her secret for fear of losing the respect of the person she cares for the most. I know Mae has a memorable part in The Public Enemy, which I must watch someday.
When the 1940 version has a very romantic end, the 1931 version is much more brutal but I couldn't think of any other way to do it since the subject matter is treated with more realism than in the remake. It's prostitution we're talking about and truth be told I think nobody believed Vivien Leigh as a prostitute at all. I find it surprising that a remake was even considered let alone filmed because of the subject matter that is so quintessentially pre-code. I thought the relationship between Myra (played by Mae Clarke) and Roy (Douglass Montgomery, who is a very average actor if not worse) was very well depicted, I liked it a lot and I never could tell where Myra stood: on the one hand, he's so genuinely nice she doesn't want to hurt his feelings, on the other hand, she needs money to survive.

I also went to the cinema to see Watchmen. I didn't know much about the movie except that it was a comic book first so I had no particular expectations. It's a movie about history and myths, not about superheros who save the world (well, okay, they do that, but it serves a purpose). It's a very complex movie and I think I need to watch it again to understand it better, there are so many things going on at once. To put it simply (and perhaps it's too simple), there are two plots in this movie: one to do with a murder investigation and another to do with the Cold War, the end of the world and the Vietnam War. I was interested in both and as you may imagine they are closely related. It certainly was food for thought as it questions the very myths that make the United States, even if the acting was a bit off-putting at times (Malin Akerman's performance in particular). Overall, I think that if you manage to understand it all, the movie makes some valid and interesting points but perhaps it could have been a bit more explained for the audience who hadn't read the comic (I belong to that category). On the other hand, far be it from me to call for simplification of complex and multi-layered works so I'm in the middle here. The first thing I wanted to do when walking out of the cinema was 1) read the comic 2) see the movie again 3) talk about it with other people. So I'd say my first Watchmen experience was very positive.

In other news, I'm completely obsessed with Lily Allen's new album called It's not Me It's You. Her lyrics and songs are once again very refreshing (witty and sexy) and I think this one's as good as the first. But I'm perhaps even more obsessed (if that's possible) with Pete Doherty. I can now totally separate his private life from his work. He's a really good songwriter and singer, and I think deep down a good soul. It just shows. I wish I could save him from drugs because his songs are some of the best I've heard recently and it's not fair that he should be an addict. Anyway, as you probably know, he's released two CDs with his rock band The Libertines, both are excellent, two CDs with his second band Babyshambles and one solo album called Grace/Wastelands will be released on Monday. The first single from the album is called The Last of the English Roses and it's a gem. So here are two things: The Last of the English Roses and the song that started it all for me, The Lost Art of Murder (live) from his days with Babyshambles.

I've had an Ella Fitzgerald week and it was heaven. I've listened to the Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks on Deezer and it was one of the best musical experiences of my life. Up till now, I had always said to anyone who asked that Billie Holiday was my favourite singer. I don't think there needs to be competition but in my mind Billie was way more playful and genuine and heartbreaking than Ella whom I frankly found stuck too much to the original songs and felt a bit robotic. To me, Billie gave emotion, Ella gave technical achievement at best. Boy was I wrong. Ella Fitzgerald is amazing and that needs to be said. I was in awe listening to this 16-cd boxset. My favourite songbook was the Rodgers and Hart one when most people feel the Cole Porter one is the best. I think that for her rendition of The Lady is a Tramp alone the Rodgers and Hart one deserves the first spot. She has fun with a whole band and you have fun with her -I was smiling all the way through. The whole boxset was spectacular and the only downside is that now I'm obsessed with the idea of owning it forever. Of course it's way too expensive although when you divide by the number of CDs and consider the quality, it's a true bargain. Perhaps one day!

And of course, here is the best of the songbooks for your listening pleasure. Just hit play, sit back, close your eyes and when The Lady is a Tramp plays, grab the other person in the room and dance.

Kiss a lover,
Dance a Measure,
Find your name and buried treasure...
Face your life,
It's pain it's pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.
~~The Graveyard Book~~

I like the green grass under my shoes
What can I lose, I'm flat, that's that
I'm alone when I lower my lamp
That's why the lady is a tramp
~~Ella, Always Ella~~

Have a glorious day!