Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In the Mood for a Moonlight Serenade


What a week! New term, I have a few classes in common with Anna Popplewell (who played Susan in both The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian) and I went to a concert for the first time! But first things first:

You absolutely have to go see 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:

Ms Walters: Nobody does anything worth doing without a degree.
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...
Jenny: 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!

See you soon for the next adventure!


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Holmes, does your depravity know no bounds?


♫ Tell me how you feel, riding with James Dean ♫. Hey there! First post of 2010, this is exciting. I've been poorly for days and everybody knows that reading and watching a lot of films is the only good thing about being ill. Happy to get to do both! Woohoo, it's going to be a good year, I can feel it.

Have you met Rumpole? Apparently he's a famous character in a TV show (Rumpole of the Bailey) written by John Mortimer, the show was broadcast between 1975 and 1992. I never saw it. However, the show was so popular that a series of books was published - the first few were novelized versions of the episodes and the most recent ones are new stories altogether. I met Rumpole through the first of these new novels, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, published in 2004. I don't think any knowledge of the character is required beforehand - at the very least, I didn't feel lost at all. I don't like mysteries much, or so I thought. Rumpole isn't a detective, first of all, he's a barrister. And he's super engaging, dedicated and funny. A reviewer on Amazon found a particularly hilarious quotation: "Mortimer first describes the appearance of Wystan as one that made him think of a "lobster who had been snatched from a peaceful existence at the bottom of the sea and plunged into boiling water." Followed immediately by a slight retraction, "but I have no wish to be overly critical of my future father-in-law." It's good too to feel privy to a world that's most of all very secret, I loved all the details about court politics interwoven with tales of Rumpole's own private life. I said I wasn't much for mysteries - I've tried Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and several cosies, to no avail. I was pleased to find that if the narrative feels right, I can enjoy this genre as well.

This is partly the reason why I saw Sherlock Holmes - I wouldn't sit through an adaptation of one of Conan Doyle's cases but I absolutely loved this movie. This fast-paced, witty, interesting tale is great fun. The acting is superb on all accounts, Sherlock is this close to being portrayed as a misanthrope turned mad and Irene Adler, Irene Adler is nothing short of a true heroine. She outwits Sherlocks, engages with him in witty banter and still manages to stay classy from beginning to end. The plot is tight, Mark Strong gave me the chills, and the score is wonderful, highlighting the absurdity of the story in all the right places (Sherlock deduces, using the same strategy he uses to solve his crimes, how he can win a boxing match) and the end leaves it all open to a sequel which will star none other than Moriarty. If you know a bit about the canon, you'll know how important this character is and I for one absolutely can't wait for the next installment.
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!