Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)


Guess who has tickets to the Glenn Miller Orchestra concert on January 23? That's right! And row C if you please because I jumped on the chance as soon as I saw this performance on next year's schedule. Saying that I can't wait is a massive understatement.
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...

P.G. Wodehouse. Now why, why did I wait so long? His books are a complete riot. I grabbed an omnibus at random from the library and it ended up being an omnibus of his last two Jeeves and Wooster novels, Much Obliged, Jeeves and Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, but no matter, they stand well on their own, some references to previous stories were lost on me but not so much that I felt lost. I fell head over heels for him. I am SO glad he was such a prolific writer - he wrote several series of books and a whole shelf worth of stand-alone titles. Jeeves is Wooster's sparkling and bright valet (now that's social commentary for you, that the valet should by far be smarter than the gentleman - by the way, did you know that a valet serves a person whereas a butler serves a house? Fascinating stuff). The latter is terribly slow-minded and gets himself into tricky situations Jeeves saves him from. It's seriously hilarious, their dialogs are an absolute delight and Wooster's utterly eccentric world of the idle rich is captivating and extremely well-captured. The books are formulaic so having read one is having read them all. That being said, both Much Obliged, Jeeves and Aunts Aren't Gentlemen are absolutely excellent and I'd be sorry to miss out on any book by Wodehouse, formulaic or not. I'm well aware of the existence of the TV show starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster, which I'll most likely start watching very soon. I sure hope they've done something different with the characters as I'll be reading the books and wouldn't want to be told the same story twice.

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.

Have you ever felt that a work of fiction had been created for you and just for you? It's actually different from loving a work to pieces, I'm talking about things you had no idea were in you but which a work of fiction made you realize had been here for as long as you could remember but you didn't have enough vocabulary to express it accurately? It happened to me once with The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, it was terrifying. And it's happened to me this week again, with music. This time I don't feel terror as much as relief. Django Reinhardt's music, The The Temperance Seven's music and Chris Barber's music are simply me. I've beaten around the bush for so long, feeling it was here, closer to who I was but not quite and then I stumbled upon them and it was a complete shock. Finally. Home. Reinhardt pretty much created gypsy jazz, The Temperance Seven and Chris Barber make the most incredibly catchy big band music ever. The Temperance Seven's rendition of The Charleston may just be my favourite song. I want to learn how to dance the Charleston so bad. It reminded me of Mad Men. In My Old Kentucky Home, an episode from season three, Pete and Trudy dance to that. They're complete show-offs but I would kill to be them for just the duration of this dance. So here are several things:

First of all, a contemporary rendition of Reinhardt's Minor Swing:

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!