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.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

If you want to see two of the most beautiful human beings ever created acting their socks off then look no further than Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman are fabulous darling.

The commonplace thing to say of adaptations such as this is that they betray their stage heritage. I'll accept that as a valid comment but it should not hide that this is good stuff. Tennessee Williams writes claustrophobically of course - you can almost feel the heat of the Deep South steaming in the protagonists' mouths. Definitely worth a look. 7.5/10.

Silent Running

I have written before of the recently deceased Michael Cimino and in particular of his multi-flawed magnum opus, Heaven's Gate. But no more of that curio today. Instead we have his first shared screenwriting credit - Silent Running.

This sci-fi parable wears better than other films of similar vintage. In particular I would venture the blasphemous opinion that in its spare manner it is a more staisfying film than the portentous 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sorry.

Silent Running has a cast of only four and three of them are killed off early. Thereafter it is Bruce Dern and a couple of credible drones. It is an early piece of green polemic, but it works. Perhaps the most jarring aspect is the deployment of Joan Baez protest songs. Still, I like it and it only takes up ninety minutes of your life. Cimino obviously thereafter ran away from the mantra of less being more. 7/10. 

Monday, 12 September 2016

A Northern Interlude V

I am home now, after a diverted lengthy drive home yesterday evening - diverted due to a lorry that had made a horrible looking attempt to vault off a motorway bridge. Mucho traffico.

By the last day of the conference I was running on fumes. Coffee fumes. All in all it had been worthwhile. I learned much - sadly this included conclusions about my own limitations.

Dernier jour: chapeaux, toujours les chapeaux. Chapeau Nombre Un, il porte aussi les lunettes de soleil - dedans. A chacun son gout. Shortly after scrawling these words in my notebook I happen to find myself at a seminar addressed by Chapeau Un. He is very good. At this point he wears his hat but not the sunglasses.

Barrie Rutter
The day is bookended by two contrasting but equally brilliant lectures: Susan Bassnett on translation, and Barrie Rutter on his theatrical life. The latter sends us all on our way with a smile. Which is precisely the right way to finish. Thanks to all who put on this mammoth slug of Shakespeareana. I feel wiser and humbler. And bloody knackered.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

A Northern Interlude IV

It's starting to make sense to me now. For the professional academic a conference like this one is like rugby tour was for me. It's lots of fun rolled into one condensed package - with alcohol. I do though pride myself that they're not drinking nearly as much as we did at our peak. I find myself on the periphery looking in on this phenomenon. I beg off the post lecture socialising because I have no durable point of contact with the others. I love Shakespeare but not to the consuming degree that afflicts these scholars. And beyond the Bard I cannot empathise with their concerns about jobs, publications and the underclass (that's me folks) they perceive to have voted for Brexit. Don't get me wrong, I like them and admire their dedication, but inevitably I am not of them.

Today was a slog. I was feeling mentally sluggish and there's only so much stale coffee you can chug to keep you going. Still, I didn't fall asleep. One prince of the field was alongside me on the third row of the stalls for a student production of Mucedorus when he nodded off. I wonder what the cast made of that and whether they knew who he was. Perhaps worse, another senior academic delivered his paper and then snoozed at the front while his fellow panellists followed on. At least he didn't snore.

Jonson and Shakespeare playing chess
Les deux chapeaux were again in evidence - methinks they must have monstrous carbuncles atop their heads - as the Boy Shakespeare might have put it.

Andrew Hadfield of Sussex University - what a star.

One day to go. I haven't skipped a session. Must get through to the end.

Friday, 9 September 2016

A Northern Interlude III

Today has been tough on the old brain. I'm not as sharp as I used to be and the catholic nuances in King Lear had me hanging on for my scholarly life. Still I'm here to tell the tale.

The American delegates (there are loads of them) are cheerfully noisy. I think (though I haven't got close enough to read the lapel badge by way of confirmation) that one of the 'charcters' who chooses to wear his hat indoors is an American. The other is English and he added the offence of indoor sunglasses to his charge sheet today. Hey ho.

I've made a friend from Vancouver.

The academic behemoth who offended my sensibilities yesterday gave a plenary (it just means we were all there - I looked it up) lecture today. He's very good but vehemently boorish in that way the liberal left have made their own. The unthinking contempt for all things Brexit is tiresome and intellectually lazy. But that's enough of that. The day's other plenary lecture was magnificent - delivered by Professor Michael Neill. It was about death and Lear but was so much more than that. I felt cleverer for having heard it.

I have walked back to the hotel from a civic reception at the Guildhall. Not sure I've ever been civically received before. I could grow to like it.

I feel intermittently out of my depth. At times I have to fight incredulity at the miniscule points people think to make. Today's thought: being effective is a thing; being clever is a thing; being effectivey clever is a rare and beautiful thing.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

A Northern Interlude II

I have, dear reader, completed my first day as a delegate at an academic conference. But more of that anon. First I must correct my initial impressions of the good city of Hull. I had obviously, with my unerring radar, honed in on the shitty end of town when first I arrived. I retract. The University campus and its surroundings are elegant and the people are unfailingly friendly. I can see why Philip Larkin liked it.

Also liked Hull
Now for the life academic.

We assemble outside the hotel for the bus to the university. Old friendships are renewed (not by me - I have no friends in this milieu) and congratulations for published works are loudly exchanged. An unprepossesing bunch physically - I could take all of this lot in a fight even at my age - except that girl in the black dress. We embus (yes that's now a word). I sit upstairs which feels nostalgic on this the forty-fifth anniversary of my first day at King Edward's Aston. Should I engage someone in conversation? I decide not. The majority are women and I fear appearing predatory. In any event it is already apparent that the opening question is always, 'Are you presenting?' Too bloody right I'm not. The Boy Roberts is here to listen and observe and see if he can hack it intellectually.

I register, having found the courage to engage an Irish scholar in light conversation. He is presenting. Oh well. First up is a brilliant lecture by Professor Tiffany Stern on Renaissance ballads - a tour de force that ends with a speculation about the market economy around Shekespearean live arts. I make a mental note of some comparisons with the modern economics of popular music and then summon the courage to share them with some fellow delegates. No one laughs. Out loud. There follow panel presentations on Shakespeare as the conscience of Czech alternative theatre, and the problem of the English national poet as performed in Ireland's national theatre. I keep my thoughts to myself. This, we judge, is wise.

Most telling moments during the panel sessions come courtesy of a late arrival. His tardiness is not his fault - he and many more have spent a painful few hours captive on a delayed train. He sits next to me at the back and proceeds to peruse and reply to text messages. I'm sorry but that's just rude. I decide I don't like him. He asks a pertinent but self-referential question. At this juncture I twig that he is a leading Shalespearean - an academic behemoth. At the drinks reception which follows he wears his sunglasses indoors. This misstep is matched by the two males who wear hats indoors. I decide they must be 'characters'. Whatever. 

Most people are nice but there is at all times a faint popping sound - the sound of of delegates disappearing up their own arses. Your correspondent is not immune to this but he is, in his defence, self aware. Hopefully.


A Northern Interlude I

Here I am in the unlikely destination of Hull for the British Shakespeare Association Conference, preparing to pretend to have a clue what these academics are on about. Later today I will have to regiser my preferences among the various optional panels. I am going to adopt a policy of choosing seminars whose titles comprise only words I don't have to look up. I may struggle. Word of the week - obscurantism.

Faded glories
I am staying in the slightly faded glory of the Royal Hotel. I couldn't get the television to work yesterday and I couldn't work out the coffee machine at breakfast. Assistance has been forthcoming so life goes on.

A first wander around the city centre was a tad depressing - a blur of flab, tattoos and a Greggs on every corner. But everywhere (well almost) has these areas, indeed some have nothing else. My tea time peregrinations were therefore a relief as I idled through the Old Town and the Marina. Much better. There is a lot of work being done, presumably in anticipation of the city's imminent year as City of Culture.

Must go now and steel myself for the intellectul rigours ahead. First up: 'Wheel of Fire: memory, mourning and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre'; and then, 'Music, Theatre and Nationhood'. What have I let myself in for? Should I seek out a nice pub (did the groundwork last night) and hide away with a good book? No, Dave you've got to get out there and test your limits. Report to follow.

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Truth - You Can't Handle The Truth

I've had what seemed to me the germ of an idea for a good blog entry, but I've also been going through one of my troughs of lassitude and the time has never quite seemed right. It still doesn't but, the effects of age being what they are, I'll soon have lost my thread so here goes anyway.

I reminded myself last week of Alan Howard's magisterial Coriolanus in the BBC production. Fabulous. And his unbridled, unapologetic, alienating hauteur put me in mind of some modern dramatic equivalents. Those I have in mind: Jack Bauer in the generally bonkers 24; Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It (I've visited this one before); Jed Bartlet at the finale of The West Wing; Colonel Jessep (played memorably by a scenery-chewing Jack Nicholoson) in A Few Good Men.

I hear you protest.  You're probably right. Not perfect analogues I know but all play into the difficult fact that we rely upon people to defend us who stray outside our easy moral code. All of this might morph into a good piece on the Shakespearean tone of the modern pieces I cite - but not just yet, I haven't got my writing head together.

By the by all of this was further stirred by watching a heartwarming old favourite, The American President. This is the film in which Aaron Sorkin (he of both A Few Good Men and The West Wing) tried out several themes (indeed not a few actual lines) he would revisit in less comedic mood in the early series of The West Wing. It's a nicely serious film and seriously nice with it. 7.5/10. There is a self-conscious joke early in the piece about 'Kapraesque' films. The word does in fact fit the bill.