Saturday, 4 February 2012

What I Have Amused Myself With in January: Books and TV, Film

I haven't had any babysitting for the last 100 years.  (Warning:  I suspect I am going to be full of exaggerations today, bear with me.)  Hence, the 2 posts I have been trying very hard to write (My Favourite 5 Films and Why Aren't They Yours Too?!, and On The Magnificence of Peter Wyngarde) have been delayed.  Apologies, faithful four readers and the Russian people who are still coming by (hello!), as well as the sudden regular newcomer from Indonesia.  They will be with you soon, I hope. 

I could tell you all about Fluffhead's birthday last week, and about the wonderful crunchy frozen earth in the garden and baby magpies (or whatever the are, tiny cute things) I keep seeing there.  And my first ever hedgehog, snuffling about.  But this will take a while, and I haven't got a while.  So I shall tell you instead what I have been reading and watching, and what I thought about them, at a bit of rambly length (I snaffled this from my diary - the only thing I have had time to keep more or less up to date...but alas, all I've been noting is what I read and watch - my endless and relentless days are lost to history...)  Off we go, then...


  1. The Immigrant, by Manju Kapur (2009)
    (Excellent.  Started a little stilted, but I persisted and it became an unputdownable story of people not so different from me at all, and how they got married and then it collapsed.  All within the feelings and sensations of being in a new country with a culture and weather very obviously different, and the effects this has on your unfolding sense of self.  It ended oddly, suddenly, and I felt like there was a whole ‘nother book I would have been happy to read about Nina and Ananda’s further lives, separately. Interesting sense of Canada.)
  2. One Small Step Can Change Your Life, by Robert Maurer (2004)
    (Maybe the best mis-characterised 'self help' book I’ve read in ages.  Described how to get on with change when you really need or want to do it, but are terrified and very resistant.  The idea of tiny, beyond bitesize steps, as a way to circumnavigate your worried brain and get a new habit in place without such despair and inner criticism and the constant failure.  Small actions, small questions, small adjustments, working up to bigger ones.  It gave me the idea to exercise in the living room just by marching on the spot, no need to put any DVDs on and annoy Fluffhead – keep moving, so that while I know I am eating too much as I am bored and often lonely – at least I am exercising more to compensate.  I will see how it goes, but I think this is an approach I can really use to my benefit, in a lot of areas of life.  Though the book didn’t need to be so long – this wonderful tidbit could have been gotten across by a good essay.)
  3. How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand Up Comedian, by Stewart Lee (2010)
    (One of my favourite deconstruction of comedy comedians.  I was very struck that the cover had a quote from the Times, saying this book was 'wise', as well as funny.  This was unfortunate, as I kept waiting for the wisdom all the way through.  I laughed out loud many times; agreed with him about lots of things, and disagreed with him about others.  I was educated on several different points of view, and learned more about obscure and not-so comedians than I ever did previously.  And I loved the massively long footnotes.  And the complexity of his character, which contradicted itself in places, and tried very hard to hide while still being present.  But I didn’t find any actual ‘wisdom’.  I think this may be semantic, though – I think the Times has a different definition of wisdom to me.)
  4. Who Will Run The Frog Hospital?, by Lorrie Moore (1994)
    (An extremely well written book. Almost self indulgent in its love of words.  I was envious at the ease of it – especially the change in register of her voice between middle age and teenage. Very vivid teenage.  About a friendship, and why it was and how it was, and where it went.  And a marriage, and how we change over time.  I enjoyed this a lot, in a strange In It but also Observing It sort of way.  Lorrie Moore is one of those authors who automatically gets bought whenever she writes anything, as I like her changing style so much.)
  5. Just For The Frill of It, by Sonya Nimri (2007)
    (Bought to enable me to poach techniques and ideas, rather than lift sewing alteration projects wholesale.  In line with my plans for sewing set out in my resolutions post before the New Year.  Will serve its purpose, and has given me several ideas to modify.  Also enjoyed its good illustrations and its sassy, amusing tone.  And enjoyed laughing at the somewhat privileged upbringing of the girl who wrote it [its there in the tone of her commentaries to the pieces] - for her, the sewing was obviously about art and being clever and making things extra girly and pretty; rather than a real financial need to alter, and 'make do and mend', as it is in my case.  Far too much emphasis on making bolero cardigans out of sweaters [we don't all have tiny boobs and little waists and will look a bit like a sack shrunk on us if we wear boleros, you twentysomething girl I am clearly jealous of!]  and adding lace and ribbons to things though – a complication of things rather than a simplification of them. Still worthy, however, and I will definitely be referring to it.)
  6. Subversive Seamster, by Melissa Alvarado, Hope Meng and Melissa Rannels (2007)
    (Again, bought to poach for techniques and ideas for clothes alterations.  Enjoyed this one also – good pictures, good ideas, and more emphasis on wholesale alteration and rejigging than the last: a skirt from a winter coat, a beautiful peasant blouse from a long housedress.  Some very good ideas and will help me to look at things with a more imaginative eye – which was what I wanted.  I am full of vague creativeness, but often lack specific ideas; looking at other people’s things always makes me think ‘oh, I could do that better, if I…’ – cue changing it and making it mine.  So another good buy, and a good techniques section.)
And watching (you'll note I seem to have solidly watched TV through all January, if this list is anything to go by....What I will say is, its been bloody cold and Fluffhead was getting over his respiratory infection so was sectioned against cold air; so more staying in than usual.  Also, all the Dr Who on this list is because of him [like father, like son] - you should SEE the hysterical joy I get when I announce we are about to watch some!  And lastly, you can have TV on in the background while doing a 100 other things; reading takes proper concentration, so there's less of that than this...):

  1. Quarantine 2: Terminal (the American Remake)
    (With Fry.  Quite good.  I’d like to see the Spanish original.  Had some actual characterisation in it, which I enjoyed and is relatively rare for a modern horror.)
  2. Reginald D. Hunter Live
    (Disappointing - and I was very much expecting to like it, as I have liked all his panel show appearences I have seen.  Some jokes and stories and their callbacks were excellent.  Some just relied on stereotyping and a very poor understanding of women – cheap gags. But then, as Fry said: I would say that, as a woman.  Which leaves us nowhere…)
  3. Raven (70's kids drama)
    (Xmas present to me from Stanley.  I really liked it: the Arthurian theme – Arthurs’ save the land from environmental disasters, there's more than one of them; the silly and irrelevant usage of the zodiac; Phil Daniels as a teenager: inspired casting.  The way I gathered at the end that he was looking for the Merlin bird again to go on his next mission.  All implied, not told - TV is not like this anymore, and how great to see this then, as a visual artifact!  Very un-neat and very ambiguous altogether.  Liked that.)
  4. Mad and Bad: History of Science on TV, documentary
    (Educational, despite Stanley pointing out a number of huge gaffes in the reportage.  Robert Webb was ill picked for narration of this, I thought.  His tone was too trivial.  I liked the point that writers of TV and film always pick the doomy side of science to report, robots gone crazy; viruses out of control etc, as its better drama.  It makes you think twice about drama inculcated attitudes to science.  Which have influenced alot of my own doominess on the subject.  So food for thought here.)
  5. Whistle and I’ll Come To You (John Hurt remake)
    (I'm doing this back to front, because I didn't watch the original yet and will have to report back on that later.  Very spacious feel to this.  The hands under the door from kneeling position scared Fluffhead - who wasn't really watching it till that moment.  So a marked point in his development - have to be careful what iput on in front of him now.  Since I have yet to watch the original, so I don’t know how well they have captured the spirit of it or the story it was taken from; and whether that stuff about his wife was telegraphed too obviously or even just added for this adaptation.  If so, a good idea, but heavy handedly done.  Otherwise enjoyed this a lot – had good atmosphere.  John Hurt excellent.  Lesley Sharp strangely miscast and portentous: wasted.  But maybe the cast her because she was so good in Afterlife, and they wanted that vibe?)
  6. The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh
    (This film surprised me: everyone was out to get Edwige Fenech – the plot ended up really complicated!  There was an essay in one of the extras that used a term to describe this kind of giallo that I can’t remember now, and despite looking it up, it escapes me – its when the characters are in a sort of love triangle and the action is all about sexual and emotional turmoil.  Being Italian, they had a handy little phrase for it.  Wish I could remember.  Interesting and very enjoyable film.  Her character reminded me of a lot of women of the kind I used to know – ones that define themselves to a large degree, by their relations with their men, mostly or even only.  They seem to need a man about.  Lordy – maybe I’m even one of them in the back of my head…then again...if I only looked like Edwige it might be an option!)
  7. Almost Human
    (This giallo also surprised me – what an incredibly good thriller!  And Tomas Milian – bloody hell – what a great actor, so nasty and low and ratlike!  Very good study in some people and their morals – well shot, well acted, and totally absorbing.  Apparently this is a sub genre of giallo, called Poliziotteschi.  Fascinating stuff, may try and find more of them.  Also loved the detective actor – Henry Silva, what a great face.
  8. Children of the Stones, 70's children's drama
    (Hmm. Good atmosphere, intriguing idea….and really silly ill conceived confusing finale, which took in ammonia molecules, time traps, black holes, ‘pagan leyline centres of psychic power’, people inexplicably turning to stone, history re-writing itself and the main characters strangely sanguine about the whole thing.  It was really good and really quite execrable, all at the same time.  Most odd combination.)
  9. Intruder
    (Without lil' Fluffhead!.  This was one of the funnest horror films I’ve ever seen.  Just the perfect mix of 80’s characters and cheese, likeable people, excellent music both orchestral and synthy; and done by the Evil Dead people – even sang the same song – what is that song, ‘after all the songs we’ve sung together’?  Excellent – humour and inventive grisliness.  10/10.)
  10. Dr Who, Peter Davison – Four to Doomsday
    ( Not bad!)
  11.  Dr Who, Peter Davison – Kinda
    (Rather enjoyed.)
  12. The Silent House, horror
    (The gimmick of the one continuous shot all the way through the whole film was a good idea, but…the girl’s character was odd: and Fry swears she couldn’t have killed the dad as he was definitely upstairs while we saw her downstairs…and since he wouldn’t let me rewind to check as he had become bored, we were left as befuddled as a cinema goer would have been. A very interesting idea imperfectly executed, but worth watching IMO.)
  13.  Doctor Who: Visitation
    (Good. Quite clever I thought – and loved the Pudding Lane bit at the end.  Very good time setting and atmosphere.  The best historical Dr Who so far, in my opinion, for me.  Also, whatsisname from On The Buses, was MAGNIFICENT.)
  14.  Doctor Who: Black Orchid
    (Also good, if rather oddly short.  Looked lovely.  Beautiful Pierrot costume.)
  15. Doctor Who: Earth Shock
    (Snore.  Got very bored of the Cybermen, very quickly.  Villains who keep saying ‘destroy them’ tend to make me doze. Beryl Reid notwithstanding; though in leather – interesting!  Best thing about this one was the end – I was very shocked about Adric, even though I knew in advance it was going to happen.  Fluffhead thought the TV was broken when there was no music at the end, and gave me the remote with a stricken face…)
  16. Doctor Who: Time Flight
    (Not bad at all.  Good idea for the characters to have that discussion at the beginning about why they couldn’t go back in time and save Adric with the Tardis.  Enjoyed the planes and the pilots.)
  17. Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity
    (Oh dear oh dear.  No need of Amsterdam and generally rather poo.  Why was The Master in disguise???  I saw no reason for it, just a cheap plot device.)
  18. Downton Abbey, Series 1
    (Lent to me generously by my esteemed FB friend and human companion of Ruler of the World, Edward Cat: Alias Daisy Ginn.  Well, well.  I see exactly what the fuss was about: good and bad.  The bad was that yes, the historical details aren’t always accurate, and there are sometimes mistakes with modern details in the background peeping through quite clearly [yellow lines on roads, and such].  Also, it is so modern with its Edwardian characters as to be a bit dubious as to whether this was actually so at the time – but then, it’s a work of historical fiction, not straight historical drama.  Which brings us to the last bad thing – its a soap more than a drama, which is apparent from all the hating and worrying I found myself doing while watching it, and the tenterhooks about the next episode.   

    As to the good things about it: marvellous Maggie Smith, marvellous sets and locations, amazingly beautiful clothes, man did I want to alter and make all that – and utterly addictive.  I was umming and ahhing through the first episode about whether I was going to enjoy this, but by the end of the second one, and after having said ‘oh what a cow’ rather a lot to the screen, I found I was unable to stop watching it, and subjected Fluffhead to it as well.  He liked it, also a plus point – though he did keep screeching [a new lately thing] during softly spoken bits, which was most annoying.  So…I eventually found out what the stoic Bates’s secret was, I saw the unravelling of proud Mary and her suitor, I felt what she did to overlooked Edith at the end was awful no matter that I saw why, I watched  'the cow' O’Brien actually get some guilt for her behaviour [another excellent character], and I wondered when suffragette Sybil would start having an affair with the chauffeur.  Like Dallas, but without oil, and only one American so far, and very cliché English!  Most enjoyable.) 
  19.  Apparitions, recent supernatural drama series
    (Now, now now!  The BBC should be ASHAMED of themselves for putting their names on this.  It does sound – to me, anyway – like a brilliant idea to think of The Exorcist, and then decide to bring it up to date and make a serial of it and set it in the UK – roving exorcist fighting evil.  Etc.  Since I believe – yes BELIEVE, one of my very few, and definitely more childlike and intuitive beliefs – in the idea of disembodied... thingies out there that may be unkind and possibly bad and upset and of the mind to possess you and hurt you [this is why I still find the Evil Dead so scary, despite the plasticine scene at the end), I thought this series sounded fun to scare myself with.  Then I watched it. 

    Very watchable and well made is the best thing I can say for it.  Good production values etc. 

    But what a MOUNTAIN of Catholic [specifically] propaganda I haven’t encountered in the last hundred years!  It was like that annoying woman you see on Sunday morning politics debate shows from The Catholic Herald got together with William Peter Blatty and wrote this.  Obviously these spirits are demons, and anti the Christian God, specifically the Catholic idea of the Christian God.  And so there are some very interesting discussions between the exorcist and the priest [Martin Shaw, what were you thinking, and producing it too], of the like I haven’t experienced since I used to chat often with a brilliant Jesuit priest by the name of Father Tracy, many moons ago.  I love the twisty and sophistic logic of Jesuits.  Father Tracy was a lovely man, I adored his brain.  But this series…every single criticism that the Catholic church has had thrown at it since we became a more or less secular state here in the UK, appeared and was refuted in the most simplistic terms here.  The first episode alone made out atheists as possible agents of the devil, and ripe for possession, with their ‘anger at god’.  Shockingly, a little girl character showed the priest what she considered as the signs of her father being possessed: a copy of the God Delusion by Dawkins, a copy of God Is Not Great by the late and great fun Hitchens, a recording of the Jerry Springer opera [‘so you got yourself crucified, give yourself a biscuit’ played in the background…confusing the blasphemy of demons with the mockery of rationalism….later in the same episode, all comedians were wiped out with the line, ‘mockery and ridicule are its first line of defence’ or something very similar, don’t make me go and rewind to find it, please!…]  Doubt about some aspects of Mother Theresa’s work, doubts about the Pope’s efficacy during WWII – all the sorts of things the Catholic Church has had troubles with, all were disposed of simply and quickly, and overwhelmingly…falsely, in the face of actual verifiable real world facts.  Very odd, such an amazingly partisan piece of work getting the BBC stamp, I thought.  Then again, I’m sure their showing of the Jerry Springer opera got exactly the same reaction from the other side of shocked indignation, so…

    But I was left open mouthed that such an otherwise well made drama had such LIES in it!!  Took all the fun out of it.  And then again, again [!], the clash between modern secular rationalism, individualism, and this updated Catholic superheroness made a bit of a mockery of my own belief in disembodied thingies looking to possess people…I don’t think I had them as Christian in my head as such, though I definitely got the idea from there, from my upbringing…but…I think I see them as universal, everywhere and nowhere.  I will definitely have to think about this irrational belief of mine more now it has bumped up against modernity and a lot of the other things I definitely do think in such a jarring way.  So I can thank this odd and flawed series for making me thoughtful.  Though it didn’t scare me, which was what I had wanted! 

    Actually, in all the conversations between the priest and the demons, I kept finding myself consistently siding with the demon – as it had a brain and was using it.  The priest kept saying: ‘We do not talk with demons, we reject them unconditionally’, and when it asked him a question about something uncomfortable and difficult: ‘we do not question God, we trust Him unconditionally’.  Well.  If you don’t allow yourself to THINK, at all, that way, you are just a puppet…The old, outgoing Head Exorcist said to Martin Shaw’s new exorcist: ‘Don’t listen to them, your faith will be weakened,’ about a hundred times.  My own brain may serve me badly, and often does, but at least I try and think with what I have!  I will not be a puppet.  Question everything – even if it makes you miserable, is what I say.  Use the brain in your head; that’s what it’s for.  Humpf.)
So!  That's what I have been doing while washing up, cleaning, playing peekaboo, feeding Fluffhead (not the scary things anymore though!), tidying up and so on and so forth.  And now I'm off to check my lottery numbers and look forward to a life of much more leisure time, during which I will blog every day and eat many truffle chocolates....

1 comment:

  1. I am very much looking forward to "On The Magnificence Of Peter Wyngarde", which may have to appear as a guest postage at Hooting Yard on a day when I get an attack of vacancy-between-the-ears. So snap to it!