Harry Styles and the Gaping Well of Ignorance-

On the way up the road to watch the film, ‘Dunkirk’ we bumped into a friend and neighbour. We couldn’t stop to chat, we told him, as we’d got tickets to the film. ‘Look out for Harry Styles’ he advised us as we walked on. Harry Styles? ‘I wouldn’t know Harry Styles if he jumped put and bit me on the bottom’ I called back over my shoulder. And it is true, I wouldn’t. Oh I’ve heard his name-I’d have even hazarded a guess that he’d been in a boy-band. Further than that I’d have no more clue than about who’d first split the atom. Besides-I did not choose to see ‘Dunkirk’ because of who was starring in it.

We watched the film in our local, somewhat low-tech, volunteer-run, theatre, where they just about stop short of serving teas in the interval. While the adverts were on [and what Husband likes to show his age by calling ‘Pathe news’] there was a commotion in the row in front of us caused by not one, but two couples sitting in the wrong seats, the turmoil ensuing when the legitimate seat-holders arrived. The second couple further entertained us by producing their tickets and discovering they had seats for the following Friday. What a humiliating exit!

                The film was marred for me by inattention to detail where Dunkirk seafront was concerned. I’m fairly sure those sixties-style apartment blocks did not exist when the troops were being evacuated from the beaches. But I was grateful we were spared the sort of gory exposure of body parts that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ had in abundance. About half way through the action Husband nudged me to hiss ‘that is Harry Styles’, though I was little the wiser for this, the character and the actor unremarkable and undistinguishable from the other young men in the movie. I was able to identify wonderful Mark Rylance, even though I’d no idea he was in the film. Towards the end, [and I’m sure it isn’t a spoiler to tell you], when two of the survivors were on the train home getting feted as heroes I whispered to Husband that you could tell they were back in Blighty because the sun was shining, prompting him to snort loudly in the hushed auditorium.

Now we are in the South of France and the enigmatic Harry Styles has reared his bland, barely identifiable head once more, having been in a video on a screen in a bar in Frontignan. ‘Look’ said Husband, ‘It’s Harry Styles’. Harry was flying in the sky somewhere, singing. Husband seems to be au fe about contemporary culture, whilst when I try to conjure up a list of those I would recognise I can come up with no more than four or five. ‘I think I’d recognise Justin Bieber’, I say-but wasn’t there another Justin a while ago? With a name like Timberland [a boot manufacturer].

In the end it’s no use attempting to keep up, because Harry, Justin and all the rest will have been superseded in no time by the next wave of ‘stars’. What is an old granny to do? Ignore it!

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Walking Back to Happiness?

There is a movement afoot, noticeable in the media but not yet glaring. This may be due to the myriad, other news items clamouring for our attention at the moment, but still-

The movement goes like this: there is a stepping back into bygone decades, a nostalgia for the past. It is not confined to those of us who are of mature years, no; all age groups appear to be involved.

First there was a resurgence of vinyl records, believed to be of better sound quality [unlikely] and rendering listening an altogether enhanced experience. I remember gathering with friends as a teenager to listen to a new ‘LP’ from a favourite band. We’d lounge around in someone’s bedroom in total, inert silence and listen to it in entirety. It’s difficult to imagine today’s teenagers doing this.

Then there are books. Personally I’m still wedded to my Kindle; but the wave of paper book devotees has grown, their claims that they must have the aroma, the feel and the weight of paper outweighing the sheer convenience of storing thousands of books on a tiny device. I do have sympathy for the argument that bookshelves are a most attractive feature-otherwise I wouldn’t go back.

According to recent reports, many amateur photographers are turning to film for a more satisfying and authentic photographic experience. This is a strange one. Why? Film is difficult to store, expensive to buy and even dearer to process. Apparently having a limited number of frames prompts a more measured and careful photo. I’d be all for it if it eradicated the odious habit of the selfie, otherwise I’ll be sticking to my digital camera and discarding all my many photographic mistakes.

On to games. I’m right behind this one. When electronic games became a thing board game activity seemed to die a death. But so much of electronic gaming is solitary! Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk, Ludo, Cluedo etc-these are the games of my childhood, where we practised counting, adding up, reading and, best of all, turn taking. Now I’ve discovered that board game cafes are springing up-places where groups can go to enjoy some time together, which seems to me to be one of the best ideas ever. People may even begin to speak to each other, perhaps rather than spend their time together transfixed by their little screens.

The latest contributor to the bygone era crusade may be cash. Anyone interested in science fiction writing might be forgiven for assuming that in the future cash will have tumbled down into the slots of history but no, evidently there are those who are turning to comforting notes and coins in a reassuring bid to stave off penury. It does seem counter-intuitive, does it not? We are encouraged to cut our bills by using direct debit and protect ourselves by carrying less cash.

What’s next? Are these changes are a part of a more sinister world that is taking backwards, retrograde steps in terms of shaking off modern, enlightened liberalism? If so we’ll soon begin to see the reappearance of some of the rough justice, bigotry and xenophobia that I, for one had hoped would have disappeared forever.

Tales from the Red Carpet

Film award season is upon us. I must admit to a passing interest in the BAFTAs and the OSCARs in spite of myself. I’m not a fan of the hype, the ‘loviness’, the millions of bucks chucked at those whose earnings are already millions of bucks, the horrible, fawning adoration and blitz of papparazi resulting in tabloid, red carpet effluent. Then there are the ceremonies themselves; the over confident, self-congratulatory smugness of whoever is hosting, the simpering and the tearful gushing of the winners. On occasions there is a glimpse of a plucky loser as the camera pans around the glittering audience, applauding with as much generous enthusiasm as they are able to muster.

Sometimes I will have seen one or two of the nominated films. If this is the case it will either have been due to having read the book or because something about the story has grabbed my attention. This time I have seen ‘Room’, drawn by the fact that I’ve read it and that Mark Kermode, a reliable BBC critic gave it a ‘thumbs up’. Having initially been interested to see ‘The Lady in the Van’ I am now deterred by the [again reliable] remarks of my writing group members, who declared it ‘awful’. This is disappointing, in view of the fact that the writer, Alan Bennett is a national treasure.

This year I am intrigued to see that traditional story-telling appears to dominate the selected movies, rather than over-blown productions salivated over for their special effects. I can see no virtue whatsoever in resurrecting tired old Star Wars. Give me some gritty drama and a brilliant story and I’m happy-oh and the acting has to be plausible.

Of course, a film is about more than the plot or the acting. There are costumes, photography, direction, locations, ‘stars’. But for me the overriding element is always story line and while I am inevitably compelled to see a movie about a book I’ve read I will always come away knowing the book was better. Yes, ‘Room’ the movie was excellent and the best actor award well deserved but the book got into my head in a way that seeing the images never could.

I’m always surprised by how many people have no interest at all in fiction and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that most are of the male gender, but I may be wrong. Throughout all the years of my previous life as a teacher I never once encountered a child who didn’t love stories. What happens during the transition to adulthood to turn some people off reading them?

 

A Bucket Seat Full of Cinematic Musing

It is film award season. Oscars, Golden Globes, ceremonies, red carpets, gowns, overblown, tearful speeches, lovies, tabloid bitching. What fun!

Most the world has adopted the term ‘movie’ these days and although I have stepped cautiously into the use of the word, ‘film’ [if I’m honest] is still my word of choice. I say this because ‘movie’ is what I regard as an Americanism.

I have apologise to American readers here, right at the start of this post, since it will seem as if I am anti-American, which I am not; it is simply that growing up, the terms I was used to hearing were ‘film’, ‘flicks’, ‘the pictures’ and sometimes-‘flea-pit’.

My earliest experiences of going to ‘the pictures’ were treats, to be enjoyed during holidays-or as an escape from relentless rain on one of our family camping jaunts [described in a previous post]. Although there were earlier visits to the cinema, the first film I can recall is seeing ‘Swiss Family Robinson’, the 1960 Disney version, in ‘glorious technicolor’. It was a captivating adventure romp involving shipwreck, pirates, an island, treehouses, wild animals and a dramatic rescue.

As an adolescent, trips to the cinema were at first thrilling first outings alone with friends, then more adventurous attempts to flout censorship laws by getting in to see films we were too young for. It was more about the preparation than the activity, a lengthy Saturday afternoon with cosmetics and wardrobe choices-memorably to get into ‘Cathy Come Home’, a ‘gritty realism’ film about homelessness but containing a birth scene, which I am ashamed to say was the main reason for our attendance.

Soon after this, cinema-going took a new turn with the film itself becoming immaterial, the principal motive being getting ‘a boy’ to take you. This objective, I seem to think was rarely an unbridled success, since some assignations resulted in ‘no-shows’ and those boys who did turn up would have arranged to meet inside the cinema in a bid to escape paying for two tickets.

The cinemas were vast auditoria with prickly upholstery, intermissions, ‘B’ films and Pathé News.

Later I became a fan of thrillers, with Bond a clear favourite, although Sean Connery was, for me the only conceivable choice for the lead and all successors paled in comparison. I also loved the ‘Doctor’ films, mild comedies with gorgeous Dirke Bogarde starring [no one knew he was anything but heterosexual then].

What did most of these films have in common? They were either British made, or were dominated by British actors.

These days I rarely visit the cinema, since Husband seems to dislike film-going. I tried ‘Sky Movies’ but not being a fan of rom-coms, cartoons and action-hero movies I found nothing I could watch! I have, however discovered the joys of ‘Blinkbox’-a streaming system that allows me to catch up on the flicks I’ve missed. Now all I have to do is think what they are.

It’s all about the Story

                We have made good our escape from windy, waterlogged England and are making for [hopefully] warmer, drier lands to the South.

                In preparation for this first jaunt of 2014 I loaded up my e-reader with some novels I’ve missed, some I was seduced by, having read reviews [though not Amazon’s-having been fooled more than once before] and some I feel it my duty to read.

                The first book is one that surprised me by its 99pence price tag, since it is the book from which the current blockbusting, award winning, sweep-the-board movie was made from-‘Twelve Years a Slave’.

                Now I have yet to see this film, and I’ve no doubt I will, but in my view films rarely match up to their book form. Although I am less than 25% through the story, ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ has gripped me and held me in its absorbing clutches. Solomon Northup’s account of his capture and subsequent subjection as a slave is both dignified and moving. He recounts the horrors that he and his fellow slaves endure in a measured, matter of fact narrative. Some of his descriptions are particularly moving, such as his account of the people of the Indian village celebrating with their visitors, enjoying a meal and dancing around a camp fire accompanied by music played on a fiddle [Solomon is himself a fiddle player]. He is captivated by the scene, whilst not once pointing out the irony of their freedom against his captivity.

                There is much to be said for personal accounts of horrific events in history. They tug our emotions more than facts. We all know of the dreadful horrors wrought on so many during the war, but Anne Franck’s diary story, documenting her life and including domestic trivia, teenage angst and family squabbles brings to life the awful reality of the events. It is the story of an ordinary family, one that we can relate to. How much more poignant than factual accounts!

                At school we were taught the dry, fusty dates and facts of history; the reigns of Kings and Queens or the politics behind the wars. If we’d have been given the personal stories behind the events I think we’d have been more interested-interested enough, perhaps to have ceased the passing round of a particularly smutty and sexually explicit paperback that some miscreant had purloined and divided into lesson-sized portions.

What would Solomon make of all the Oscar hullabaloo, I wonder. After all, the success of the film relies entirely on his story, whatever the performances and direction were like.

                We have reached the South of France, where the early March weather is already warm enough during the day to bring a blush of heat to the skin, though plummeting sharply at night. We cycled 25 miles up and down the Canal du Midi in glorious, unbridled sunshine without a cloud, the vineyards laid in neat rows ready to come into leaf. Along the side of the canal those who’ve made their houseboat homes in Dutch barges are busy spring cleaning and sprucing up. Spring must surely be the nicest season, with a promise of long, warm days to come.