Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Well Made Play ... And Adaptation

A weekend with contrasting cinematic experiences. First up was Steve Jobs. Here Aaron Sorkin (see various earlier entries for my admiration of the man) gives us a well made three act play which rather oddly (perhaps not odd - more likely money) has been made as a film. Actually rather a good film if a tad overwritten. Director Danny Boyle (he of Olympic Opening Ceremony fame) rather grandiosely compared the historical liberties taken with the Jobs story to Shakespeare's history plays. Well yes Danny, but the Bard waited rather more than four years (Jobs died in 2011) before he went off on one. This however is a minor complaint. It's a good film and it is not hard to believe that Jobs was a bit of a mad bastard. 7/10.

This afternoon we bathed in the nostalgic warmth of one of my all-time favourites - The Railway Children. Adapted and directed by Lionel Jeffries this is a beautiful piece of film-making and that final scene still chokes me up. Bernard Cribbins: brilliant. 8/10.


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Local Hero

I took my dear old dad on a little pilgrimage today. Dad was the centenary historian for our alma mater, King Edward VI Aston School. In that capacity he added to his existing store of admiration for martial Aston Old Edwardians - prime amongst them Robert Edwin Phillips. He died in retirement in Cornwall after a career as a tax inspector, having cheated death in the Great War. This is the citation for his Victoria Cross, earned in battle in Kut, Mesopotamia in January 1917:
After his commanding officer had been mortally wounded while leading a counter-attack, Temporary Lieutenant Phillips went out under most intense fire to his assistance and eventually succeeded in bringing him back to our own lines. Captain Phillips showed sustained courage in its very highest form and throughout he had little chance of ever getting back alive.
This son of Aston was born and brought up in West Bromwich and a little delving (this internet thingy really ought to catch on) taught me that his home town has of late doubly honoured him. At his modest boyhood phone there is a blue plaque and nearby on a pleasant newish estate there is a road named for him. Behind this second tribute lies a tale of modern bureacracy - they got his name wrong (using his middle name rather than the first by which he was always known) and when the local residents were consulted about correcting the error, the majority refused on account of the inconvenience it would cause them. On balance anyone who has ever dealt with utility companies will see their pont of view. There is a happy ending however - the incorrect designation remains but the gallant Phillips has a unique street sign explaining his valour.

A happy ending to a tale of modern maladministration

We completed our little expedition with a carvery lunch and a pint and a half of mild at the Dovecote public house - change from thirteen quid for the two of us.

Sometimes life has more to offer than fulminating at the latest obscenity from the vile gobshite Trump. I know, I know, I shouldn't watch the news but old habits die hard,


Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Trump And Public Intellectuals

There was a Spectator piece recently which highlighted right wing intellectuals who, far from disavowing Trump, are actively promoting his candidacy. (Very sadly I have to report that the list included Roger Kimball, a worthy promoter of Walter Bagehot's relevance.) A common factor is their absolute distrust of Clinton and her prim leftish orthodoxy. They point to the Obama administration and in particular its foreign policy failures. They have a point - just when precisely has America conducted itself less resolutely in the global field than during Obama's tenure? Clinton will, for them, simply mean more of the same but with a different face. They almost have a point - The United States has been the enabler in chief for a revivified Russia. Mind you the rest of us have sat pathetically on our hands through the whole immoral process - one of the truths echoing in Trump's general vacuousness is the shameful neglect of NATO by America's western cousins. Anything is, on this analysis, better than La Clinton. I've looked at this from both sides now and, well, it's bollocks.

Symbolism does matter. Ask Walter Bagehot whose two armed test for civilised political systems involved the marrying of the efficient and the dignified. If this wasn't still relevant then why else was Obama awarded a Nobel Prize before he had even done anything? Where, oh where will lie the dignity of the office of the President if Trump occupies it? I'm sorry Donald, I've spent plenty of my life in sporting locker rooms and talk like yours has never been regarded as legitimate 'banter' - rather it is seen by good men as the eruptive bragging of the empty and impotent. It is pathetic and pitiable.
And so Trump's diversion worked. He lives to fight another day, to continue to bring embarrassment and shame to the Republican Party and the political careerists who would risk a debacle of a presidency rather than take a stand on principle. Lies spill from Trump's mouth and he exudes bigotry, yet he learned long ago that only suckers pay their debts and take reposibility for what they've done. He simply moves on. If he succeeds this time, then we are not his creditors, but as morally bankrupt as he is.   Washington Post, 11 October

Monday, 10 October 2016

The State Of Two Unions And The Only Things Greater Than The Gods

Two Unions - rugby football and the United States to be precise. These are just two of my favourite things. My weekend put me in collision course with both.

First, rugby union. Well, you all know by now that I love the game in all its dangerous, poetic daftness. League rugby and professionalism have visited hard times on some of us and Aston Old Edwardians have copped it worse than many. Hey ho, one is master of one's own destiny I suppose. I have knocked refereeing on the head (those bastard calf muscles I'm afraid) but am doing some referee advising (we used to be called assessors but I guess the modernists find that too judgemental) and Saturday took me to Aston to advise a newish referee. Signs of the times (good ones at that): the referee was a woman and Aston's opponents were Birmingham Bulls - I quote from their website: "Birmingham's gay and inclusive rugby club". 25-15 to the visitors and the afternoon passed by without any crassness, at least that made its way to my attention. Some nice skills, rather less fitness but a good thing for all to have been involved in. In the bar I enjoyed the company of friends old and new and bathed in that atmosphere of familial comfort that is the true distinction of our silly old game. It may have been better in  my high days, but will anyone ever truly know?

To America (televisually) and the moral poverty of the second debate between the presidential candidates. Trump hovered menacingly over Clinton like the vulgar bullying sleaze he is. So damaged is she  politically that she could not put him away. A pitiful spectacle that lowered Monday morning.

But lo! By bush telegraph comes the news that Daughter Number Two has successfully scaled Kilimanjaro. Both girls have now accomplished this - if any more family members get there, we will have to open an office. Once again I offer up the girls to the gods and proclaim: "Behold, the only things greater than yourselves." A very proud Dad.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Double Indemnity

The great advantage of consuming films in the privacy of my own home is that I only watch what catches my imagination, often meaning those films that come recommended by those I respect.

Film noir is a genre I like. Back in the day I wrote an essay on film noir that attracted (by a not inconsiderable margin) the lowest mark of my undergraduate efforts. I still hold to the view that I was done down but there is little academic support for this opinion. Oh well, I've got over it. Just.

Double Indemnity is an exemplar of the noir species. Shadows and cigarette smoke envelop the pervasive immorality. Barbara Stanwyck is alluringly evil, and she is closely followed in the acting stakes by Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. The crackling script is by director Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler - the latter, I never tire of telling people, an alumnus of the same school as P.G. Wodehouse. They must have had some bloody good teachers at Dulwich College.

This is a genuinely great and engrossing film - 9/10. 

Monday, 3 October 2016

A Glut Of Hitchcock

I think I've said before that I'm not totally convinced by Hitchcock, but on the other hand every time I see one of his movies, I find that I like it. Am I being deliberately contrarian? On balance, no - it's just that I don't find the end product quite as reliably compelling as, say, your average Scorsese. Then again, the Boy Hitchcock was after a very different sort of effect so the Boy Roberts is comparing apples and pears. Again.

Anyway the two latest to have amused me are The 39 Steps, with its tissue thin plotting but racing wit, and Strangers on a Train, which has a brilliant performance from Robert Walker as the charming psychopath Bruno Anthony (is there some Shakespearean fun being had with that name?). I hadn't previously realised that the film is based on Patricia Highsmith's first novel.

7.5/10 and 8/10 respectively.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Of Cycling And Thinking

I've been stuck in a bit of a mental rut these past two weeks. Not a bloody big hole but, yes, a bit of a rut. Shit happens.

But today I cycled for an hour and a quarter (not earth shattering but this is me we're talking about) including twice scaling the Col de Worcester Lane and as a result I feel rather more positive. It hasn't helped that I've got stuck on something (literary Darwinism if you must know) in my thesis but I think the floodgates of academic inspration are at the point of re-opening. Floodgates is probably a bit strong - trickle of erudition perhaps. Literary Darwinism shouldn't really be that big a concern - much of it, to this untutored eye, is rather pants.

My good and distant friend JB posted a nice link on Facebook yesterday, a quotation from his late political mentor, Senator Paul Wellstone:
If we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them.
Nice. I keep trying to think of new words I can deploy in excoriating Donald Trump but the one I come back to is - vulgar. I know, I know, I myself have never been afraid of a bit of vulgarity but, really, all the time? And on top of that you have to add the racism and the bare-faced lies. Clinton is hardly a stranger to artful half-truths but she simply isn't comparable to the Donald and his knowing cronies.

It's the cat I feel for
I must confess I am taken with the Trump puppet on Newzoids - the representation of his hair as a curled-up cat is inspired. 

Let us now raise the tone with something from the King James Bible which also put me in mind of Trump:
Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be shewed before the whole congregation.   Proverbs 26:26

I hope so.