Monday, August 3, 2009

The principal benefit acting has afforded me is the money to pay for my psychoanalysis.


I really had planned on posting more often: I found good books to read, good music to listen to. The only thing missing and preventing me from posting anything here was that I couldn't find any good movie or show to talk about. Oh, the anguish. It seemed as if I had watched everything I wanted to watch: everything I tried wasn't good enough to be finished, and I was desperate for some quality. I talked about it with a few people and one of them suggested I should try something different, something I don't usually watch. I wondered what I could possibly discover when I remembered that one of the latest books I've read about flappers contained a whole chapter on silent movies in the 20s. Here you go. Clara Bow to the rescue. So I watched It (1927). What a delight this film is! It's a romantic comedy, really, with a radiant Clara Bow whose smile is contagious. She plays a salesgirl who dates the director of the shop she works at but their affair is complicated when he thinks she's unmarried with a baby (in fact, she's been saying the baby's hers to protect a good friend of hers). It's a surprising film: besides being a commentary on women's condition during the 20s (Clara's character, Betty, never betrays her unmarried friend but it's obvious her friend is not considered good enough by the rest of society), it uses many different sets (they're aboard a ship at some point, it's quite original).It was immensely entertaining - the acting is superb (so different from the one used in talkies) and the score written by Carl Davis is excellent, very burlesque and carefree. Clara Bow is immediately loveable and Gary Cooper even makes a small appearance as a reporter (blink and you miss it).

I am currently watching the show True Blood, an adaptation of the Southern Vampire series written by Charlaine Harris, which I am also reading. Had you told me that a few months ago, I would never have believed it. True blood, a synthetic blood invented by the Japanese has allowed vampires to come out into the open and reveal their presence in society to humans since they can now feed without killing humans. Sookie is a waitress at a bar in Bon Temps, a small town in Louisiana, she meets a vampire named Bill , dates him and discovers a whole new world. True Blood is broadcast on HBO and I think the only reason it's produced by HBO is that True Blood shows things you can't possibly show anywhere else. Because you know what? HBO's best kept secret is that True Blood, or even the book series for that matter, isn't about vampires. It's about sex. The characters think about it all the time, do it all the time or if they don't, they talk about it all the time. The books and the show are different; while True Blood is a good adaptation of the books, it added a lot of material to develop the secondary characters. Both are extremely campy, pure entertainment and completely different from what's usually supported by HBO: it's pure fun, there's nothing deeper than that, don't look for a commentary on contemporary society or even on death or anything else. It is very disappointing on that level, I didn't expect it to be quite so shallow. Each book contains several mysteries and the heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, investigates best as she can while dating a vampire and meeting such creatures as werewolves and shapeshifters. Just so you get the picture: in these books, Bubba, a slow-minded vampire is actually Elvis Presley made vampire when he was still alive but heavily influenced by drugs. Nobody's allowed to say his name. Sookie goes to an orgy to investigate on the death of a friend of hers who attended such parties, vampire blood increases your libido so there's a huge market for it, Sookie disguises herself to infiltrate the Fellowship of the Sun, a cult whose mission is to kill all vampires, there's a pretty funny/creepy exorcism taking place in the show. The books are funnier than the show, but just as graphic in terms of sex and blood (it's everywhere). Both are pretty addictive, although I really don't feel comfortable buying either the books or the DVDs of the show, it's entertaining but nothing else. In fact, I'm very ill-at-ease in this world sometimes: everybody's extremely conservative (homophobia, racism are common and most characters are very religious) and yet extremely liberal about sex. It's an odd mixture, which probably explains the success of the series anyway. I think it's fun and frankly an intriguing story but it doesn't go further than that. It feels good getting this off my chest.

I read a few books before starting the Southern Vampire series, and all were excellent. I saw the miniseries Angels in America a few years ago, and it remains one of my favourite. It was high time I read the play the miniseries adapted. I was not disappointed: I was reminded of how essential this work by Tony Kushner is, it questions so many things, the imagery's beautiful and the whole story is of epic proportions. It tackles many important issues while being rooted in the lives of very real characters. I love this play, it changed so much in my life - my only regret is that I never had the opportunity to see it performed on stage.

Tony Kushner

I also read Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War by Virginia Nicholson, which was a terrific read, one of my favourites this year in non-fiction. It focuses on the lives of single British women after the First World War when there was a shortage of men, so to speak. It's brilliant in that Nicholson doesn't shy away from any topic: is it possible to lead a full live outside of marriage and children? By giving many examples of women who led very full and interesting lives (one of them says something beautiful when asked what she would most like to do now at the end of her life, "live this life all over again"), by questioning the importance of sexuality, of marriage and how it doesn't relate to sexuality, of freedom from society's conventions in a time when women were not welcome in important jobs, Nicholson masterly focuses on what's important in showing how a generation of women changed how women looked at themselves and at what their purpose in life should be. Writing a non-fiction book of this kind is always a balancing act: many diary entries are quoted, but Nicholson always gives them as examples to justify her point, so the entries are not overwhelming (journal entries can be tiresome to go through). Her analysis is spot-on and I thoroughly enjoyed this book, for which I am quite grateful.

I also started a series of fantasy books, the first of which is called His Majesty's Dragon. Naomi Novik's books have an very good premise: what if the Napoleonic wars where fought primarily by an air force of dragons? Alternate history is such fun, and I didn't know I would enjoy reading about the Napoleonic wars so much. I must try to find some books by Patrick O'Brian very soon. The first book is excellent - we meet Laurence, an officer in the Navy who's compelled to become an aviator when he captures the egg of Temeraire, a dragon. The friendship between the two has some strong homoerotic undertones: even if the books are heteronormative, Temeraire's jealousy when Laurence becomes interested in a woman is unmistakable. The first book focuses on Temeraire growing up and Laurence adjusting to his new life. It was engrossing and very well-written. I couldn't put this book down, the battles are very interesting to read about, surprisingly, and the characters are very strong morally and believable which makes for good fiction. The world Naomi Novik builds is full of details, beautifully evocative. She has a good sense of the period. I can't wait to buy and read the next books in the series.

Okay. Let's see what I can choose for you to listen to while I'm gone. I talked about the Ultra Lounge series on this blog, and thanks to it I discovered Sam Butera, a terrific saxophonist who often collaborated with Louis Prima. Great entertainer. So here he is for your listening pleasure.
Enjoy August!