strange_complex: (Mariko Mori crystal ball)
One year ago, I embarked upon the project of recording in my LJ all the books I read and films I watched during the course of the year 2007. I'd written about things I'd read or seen fairly frequently before then, but had never done it systematically. I decided to start because I'd tried to look back over the books I'd read in 2006 when answering the end-of-year meme for that year, and was rather perturbed to find I could barely remember any. I didn't want the same thing to happen again, so the new year seemed like a good time to emulate many of my fellow bloggers in recording them all here.

One year later, I'm thoroughly glad that I did it. Looking back on the best of the bunch )

Quantities )

Content )

The blogging process )

So, here's to another year - and one with less middlebrow fiction, a postal DVD subscription and the occasional one-sentence film review.

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
IMDb page here. Seen on Christmas Eve at the Electric cinema, Birmingham - which has had a major face-lift since I last went there, and now sells possibly the best chocolate ice-cream in the world.

Having gone in to see this with very low expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. From time to time the plot felt like it was going through the motions a bit, but the characters all came to life beautifully, Lyra's world was intriguing and convincing, and I think it was probably better-paced and structured than the book. It's long enough since I read the latter (about six or seven years, I think), that I wasn't in the least bit troubled about whatever changes they might have made to the plot, and in fact was rather glad of all the explanatory voice-overs and unrealistically expository passages of dialogue that were thrown in to help us along. For someone who hadn't read the book at all, the film would be a breeze to follow - but I think someone who'd read it recently would find the explanations heavy-handed, and the plot rather stripped of its finer subtleties. I worry about how that will pan out over the next couple of films, as there is a risk of reducing the stories to simple good vs. evil battles, and that would be a great injustice.

Certain Catholics have got very upset about the representation of the Magisterium in the film, feeling that it is directly modelled on the Catholic church. But while that's certainly an element, I picked up visual references to both Eastern Orthodoxy and Chinese temples as well, so in fact I think a pretty good job has been done of representing the Magisterium as a generic, rather than specific, religious authority. I thought Oxford had been used beautifully, and indeed all of the sets and locations were visually stunning. The casting couldn't have been much better, either - a really triumphant combination of big names and impressive unknowns. I was particularly taken by the stunning Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala, and might well succumb to the temptation to make an icon out of her shortly.

So, all in all I'll definitely be seeing the next instalment - but without expecting a masterpiece of cinematic subtlety as I do so.

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
IMDb page here. Seen with [ profile] glitzfrau and [ profile] biascut at the University Chaplaincy.

Not too much about this, as I really need to go to bed. Basically, very much what I expected. Cuarón's touch is recognisable from Prisoner of Azkaban - especially in the grainy textures, muted colours and 'quiet' scenes which establish place and mood without action. There's plenty of detail to watch out for on the periphery, a nice soundtrack, some good performances and an essentially decent story to tell.

I'm not sure if all the stuff about terrorism, asylum-seekers, drugs and gang warfare was heavy-handed or just a perfectly reasonable reflection on today's society. It's pretty much what needed to be included for the kind of story the film is trying to tell - but felt rather predictable at the same time.

Anyway, not an earth-shattering masterpiece, but does what it sets out to do extremely competently.

strange_complex: (Room with a View kiss)
IMDb page here.

Just a quick write-up of this before I go to bed.

The trailers promised a 'fresh look' at Forster's novel, and to a degree this was true. Mr. Beebe was played as explicitly gay (well, as explicitly gay as anyone can be in Edwardian England), which I don't think is true of his character in the 1985 version with Helena Bonham-Carter. And actually Elaine Carter rather outshone the latter as Lucy Honeychurch. Somehow, when characters around her said how wonderful she was, and how exciting it would be for everybody when she at last began to live, it was actually quite believable in her case. She played her many confusions very convincingly, and her piano more truly passionately, whereas Helena Bonham-Carter sometimes came across as simply petulant. In fact, now I come to think of it, the portrayals of Cecil Vyse, George Emerson and Mr. Emerson were all profoundly human and believable, too - and if Sinéad Cusack annoyed me as Eleanor Lavish, and Sophie Thompson as Charlotte Bartlett, that probably just shows they were doing their jobs well, as those characters are supposed to be annoying.

But something was lacking, and I suspect it was the subtle artifice of Forster's novel. His characters are beautifully delineated, and his plot smooth yet inevitable. You couldn't call either of them unrealistic. But each character stands for something specific, as does each place, and what's being played out isn't entirely a drama between individuals but a drama between attitudes and ideas. And that felt lost in this production - especially given the rather bizarre ending they tagged onto it. Far from the story coming full circle, so that Lucy and George offer their rooms with a view to another young girl on the brink of self-discovery, we see a few brief and steamy sex scenes between the two of them, then him lying dead in a First World War bomb-crater, and finally her returning to Florence to take up with the Italian carriage-driver who had propelled her into the arms of George Emerson in the first place. I'm sure it's a very literal representation of Lucy's emancipation. But it doesn't convey the sense that her story is only representative of a wider, continuous truth that Forster's ending does.

I'm also sorry that, by forswearing the captions used in the 1985 film, my favourite chapter heading from the entire book (which practically tells the whole story in itself) did not appear on screen:
"The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them."
A worthy use of an evening, but what it's really made me do is want to read the book again. Which just ain't possible right now with so many other things queuing up to be read.

strange_complex: (Howie disapproving)
IMDb page here. Watched as a follow-up to reading the book in the summer, and because the DVD was only a fiver in HMV.

The main thing you notice about this film if you watch it so soon after reading the book is how very pared down it is. It's only an hour and a half long, but I must say the editing is some of the most impressive I've ever seen. Scenes are contracted, simplified, or omitted altogether, but all the important stuff is there, and both the complexity and the characterisation still comes across very clearly - if not with quite the same depth and texture as Greene manages in the book.

I don't think I have a great deal more to say about the film than I already did about the book, but it was interesting to notice that despite only 9 years passing between the publication of the book and the production of the film, the latter opens with a scrolling text which explicitly states that before the war, Brighton had been a pretty shady place, but it's now all jolly and lovely and not like that any more at all - no guv! I suppose partly this springs from a general desire to leave the past behind in the wake of the war - but I can't help but wonder if the producers were also under a contractual obligation to the Brighton tourist board in exchange for being allowed to film there.

Of course I knew Richard Attenborough was in it as Pinkie, because his picture is prominent on the front of the box. But as the opening credits began rolling, there were some other surprises. Dallow, Pinkie's most loyal henchman, was none other than a sprightly young William Hartnell, while Rose was Carol Marsh - admittedly not a household name these days, but a face I am very, very familiar with after repeated childhood viewings of Hammer's 1958 Dracula, in which she is Lucy 'Holmwood'. The cinematography was also the work of Harry Waxman, later of The Wicker Man, which goes a long way towards explaining why both are so effectively shot.

Definitely deserves its reputation as a cinematic classic - but if you could only fit in one out of watching this and reading the book, I'd say go for the book.

strange_complex: (Snape sneer)
I watched this last night because I had been at work all day doing horrid marking, and felt I deserved a treat. And for obvious reasons, I'm feeling fairly Potterish at the moment. No, wait, who'm I kidding? Fairly Snapeish.

I'll need to re-watch Order of the Phoenix when it comes out on DVD to be sure, but I'd be surprised if I change my mind - and certainly right now, I remain convinced that this is the best Potter film to date. It helps that it includes the best of many great Snapey moments filmed so far - the scene with Sirius and Lupin in the Shrieking Shack (closely followed, actually, by the 'Potter has porn!' / L'Oreal scene1 in the dark corridor). But it isn't just his moments. The sheer quantities of rich detail packed into every scene are exactly the sort of thing I love in any film. Like Percy pouring himself cups of tea from a floating two-spouted teapot in the background while Arthur Weasley warns Harry about Sirius in the Leaky Cauldron. Or the mystical writing carved into the walls of the Divination classroom - which you never get to read properly, but adds so much to the feeling that it is a real classroom that has been used for centuries. Or the dozens of carefully-worked-out moving portraits plastering the castle walls. I really ought to pause some of those scenes and scour them in fine detail some time - and the same goes for all that lovely Latinate writing around the edges of the Marauders' map!

Azkaban is easily a finer film (and book) than the previous two, because it's here that the plot moves beyond introductions and orientation and into a darker, more epic register. But it also has a natural advantage over the fourth and fifth films in that it's based on a shorter book. Between that and the tiny details which allow the director to convey so much with every shot, it does a great job of conveying the full extent of the material in the book without feeling rushed or missing out sub-plots - and this despite being the shortest film to date (I know, because I wanted an early night, so more or less chose this one on that basis). The only thing which felt slightly rushed in Azkaban was the sub-plot with Buckbeak, which seemed to go from Draco having his arm broken and muttering things about how his father would be furious, straight to Hagrid bursting into tears because Buckbeak had been sentenced to death. But that was pretty minor, really. By comparison, films 4 and 5 feel actively rushed throughout, and I don't see how the sixth or seventh can avoid the same problem (although there is a lot of room for hacking out tent-sulkery in seven).

That's not to say I won't be rushing out to buy film 5 on DVD the second it is released, of course! But Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban retains a degree of stylishness and panache that I just don't expect to see outdone by these films again.

1. For non-Potterites who are puzzled, this is what fandom has made of the scene where Snape discovers Harry wandering around the castle with the Marauders' map in the middle of the night.

strange_complex: (Snape writing)
Right - better get this written up before everything is eclipsed this evening by The Book. Seen at the Light with [ profile] gillywoo at midnight on Saturday 14th July.

Spoilery if you've not read the book )

strange_complex: (Daria star)
IMDb page here. Seen round at Daz Towers with [ profile] big_daz and [ profile] gillywoo.

Shot in black and white, and given its macabre subject-matter and Victorian setting, this felt more like a Hammer film from their still-actually-quite-serious era than it did an early 80s David Lynch number. Which I guess was Lynch's intention.

It was moving and powerful, and did lots of very interesting things with the issue of gazes and exploitation. The uncomfortable similarity between Bytes, the freakshow proprietor who exhibits John Merrick to the public for money, and Dr. Frederick Treves, who 'rescues' him but then exhibits him to fellow doctors, is explicitly addressed, while there's also a lot of stuff going on about who is audience and who performers in the theatre, whether windows are for looking out of or looking into, and the general relationship between seeing and being seen. All of which, of course, then neatly poses the same questions to the audience, watching through a fourth wall. Thought-provoking symbolism = yay!

For a David Lynch film, it was a pretty straightforward narrative, but there were some rather bizarre sequences about machines and pollution, which I was somewhat nonplussed by. I didn't think anyone had ever thought John (or properly Joseph) Merrick's condition was caused by either, so I wasn't sure what the point was, really. However, a bit of Googling today reveals that one form of elephantiasis is thought to be caused by 'persistent contact with volcanic ash', so I guess maybe that was Lynch's point after all. In fact, DNA tests on his remains published in 2003 suggest that the problem was a combination of two rare genetic disorders - type 1 neurofibromatosis (NF1) and Proteus syndrome - but Lynch could not have known that in 1980.

[ profile] big_daz also had a book chronicling the true story of Joseph Merrick, which I had a good browse through after we'd seen the film. It showed that quite a lot of things had been changed for the sake of the story - for example, massively exaggerating the extent to which Merrick was ill-treated by Bytes, and completely inventing an episode in which the latter steals Merrick back from the hospital where Treves is looking after him. It also clarified what Merrick's childhood had been like, and how he came to have been so well-educated - something completely unexplained by the film. In fact, his whole life up to his time as a 'novelty exhibition' in Leicester is very eloquently chronicled in his own words, while good old Wikipedia supplies the rest.

None of which undermines the quality of the film, of course. But the real story is just as interesting in its own right.

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
IMDb page here. Seen round at Daz Towers with [ profile] big_daz and [ profile] gillywoo.

This was part one of a double-bill film evening we had last night, which somehow worked itself out so that it centred around the theme of people with severe physical deformities: Freaks followed by The Elephant Man. I'm not sure how that happened, because we'd collectively decided to watch these two films together ages ago, and I can't remember our reasoning now - but I suppose we decided on one and were reminded by it of the other. It made for quite a harrowing evening - but well worth it.

Freaks is mainly famous for being banned in the UK for 30 years after its release. I expected it to be pretty morally repugnant for that reason, but actually it's not. The story in fact has a quite straightforward and uncontroversial moral line, which I think ought to have gone down palatably enough in 1930s Britain. Prejudice against the 'freaks' is portrayed as unenlightened, they themselves are shown as having both very human feelings and a strong moral code, and the true villains of the piece turn out to be a trapeze artist and strongman, who have no physical deformities, but are morally corrupt. I presume that the reason for the ban, then, was less that the film was considered actually unethical and more that it simply turned over too many stones, and brought audiences face to face with things (the censors thought) they preferred not to know about.

Meanwhile, for the modern viewer, there are definitely some uncomfortable aspects. Despite the "good looks != good morals" message, the deformed characters are still very much portrayed as Others, and with an associated underlying malevolence. Their being called 'freaks' is obviously part of that - but they're also shown as having their own very close-knit and generally exclusive community, and as being very ready to take violent vengeance on anyone who hurts a member of that community. It's the sort of tale that's been told a thousand times about gypsies, Jews, slaves, aborigines, immigrants, barbarians, etc. etc., ever since human beings learnt to write - but something we're more consciously aware of as unhelpful today.

It does have to be added, too, that the acting throughout is abysmal. Obviously, for most of the deformed characters, this was their first and often only film, so some haltingly-delivered lines can be forgiven. But the four lead able-bodied characters (two nice, two nasty) don't have that excuse. They just suck. So it's always going to be a film that's watched for its historical interest and the issues it touches upon - not because it's actually a cinematic masterpiece (despite claims to the contrary on the back of the video box).

Finally, I was really struck by how much the heroine, Venus, and / or the young lady who played her, Leila Hyams reminded me of the character of Tallulah in Daleks in Manhattan. I mean, I'm not saying Tallulah was consciously based on her, because I think what's really going on is simply that actresses of that kind were ten-a-penny in this era, being churned out by the dozen from acting academies. (I read a short story to that effect once, although I can't remember who it was by or what it was called). But it's another testament to how right the Doctor Who team got that character, anyway.

strange_complex: (Vampira)
IMDb page here, official page here. Seen at the Light with [ profile] gillywoo, [ profile] nigelmouse, [ profile] glennkenobi and [ profile] sturmed.

Totally spoilerific - read at own risk! )

I agreed very much with [ profile] mr_flay when we saw the first one that it should have just ended when the taxi crashed into the gates of the military compound, so that the last few human beings alive in Britain have actually killed each other with their aggressive, macho behaviour rather than help each other against a common enemy. And having recently come across the following words from Federico Fellini, I now know why a bleak or unresolved ending is so much more intellectually satisfying than a happy one:
"My pictures never end. They never have a simple solution...Because there are no 'solutions' in [the audience's] lives...By giving happy endings to films, you goad your audience into going on living in a trite, bland manner, because they are now sure that sometime, somewhere, something happy is going to happen to them, too, and without their having to do anything about it. Conversely, by not serving them the happy ending on a platter, you can make them think, you can remove some of the smug security. Then they'll have to find their own answers."
I'm not saying a Zombie movie is going to chance the face of world politics as we know it. But in the current climate, we certainly need to be doing some thinking.

strange_complex: (Urbs Roma)
IMDb page here, Wikipedia page here, rather good article about it here. Watched at home on a DVD borrowed from the Edward Boyle library.

Pasolini's name comes up quite a lot in the context of high-quality Italian cinema, but this was my first experience of him. Like Ieri, Oggi, Domani, I had to watch it without English subtitles, because it didn't have any, but with the Italian ones to help me, I think I managed well enough to at least follow the plot - though I'm sure there were subtleties of the character interactions that were lost on me.

In essence, Mamma Roma is a prostitute, who's retired from business, collected the son she'd borne years before in a marriage of convenience from the country, brought him to a new housing development in Rome, and is trying to support the two of them by selling vegetables on a market-stall. The son, Ettore, however, is awkward, innocent and directionless - a fatal combination, given the shady (yet also curiously innocent) characters who hang around on the waste ground opposite the housing estate. Her efforts aren't enough to save him from a downward spiral which culminates in his death under restraint in a secure hospital, after being convicted of stealing a radio.

Of course, she is the city - its faded past glories rendered particularly visible by broken aqueducts crossing the wasteland where the youths wander - and he is its post-war, post-Fascist youth. But it's not actually as gauche as that makes it sound. There's a lot of symbolism going on - particularly Christian stuff surrounding the figure of Ettore as a sort of doomed anti-Messiah, but also some interesting hippy-ish things about his instinctive affinity with nature and the 'earthy' barefoot young prostitute, Bruna, with whom he becomes besotted. Yet it also 'works' as a straightforwardly moving story of a struggling mother and dysfunctional son, and as a view into early '60s Rome. And Anna Magnani (also of Roma, Città Aperta fame) is absolutely crackling as the title character!

Not sure it's inspired me to trace Pasolini's work further - but it's certainly given me a sense of what all the fuss is about.

strange_complex: (Penny Farthing)
IMDb page here. Thanks to [ profile] rosamicula for helping guide me towards it. Watched at home on a video borrowed from the Edward Boyle library.

After finally securing a tape of it that worked from the library on Thursday, I watched Ladri di Biciclette in the afternoon, in preparation for my Italian exam. I'd seen a Chinese film inspired by it, Beijing Bicycle (2001), a few years ago with [ profile] mr_flay, so I already knew the basic set-up. In the Chinese version, a boy from the country comes to Beijing to get work, secures a delivery job which requires him to have a bicycle, gets one as an advance on his salary, but then has it stolen. He can't do the job without it, and it's already become a great symbol of his upward aspirations, so he spends the rest of the film hunting it down through Beijing, and becoming more and more obsessed and unhinged as he does. In the end, it's not about the bike at all, but his frustrated ambitions and sense of being trapped in a hopelessly unfair socio-economic dead-end, as well as a way of portraying the social make-up of the city as a whole. But although the boy's difficult position and the unfairness of having his bicycle stolen make you feel sympathy for him initially, by the end of the film he has all but completely alienated the viewer through his obsession and his own willingness to wreak violent revenge on the people he views as responsible for his plight.

It turns out that the Chinese version is pretty faithful to the Italian original in general outline, but that there are some significant differences. Most importantly, the Italian main character, Ricci (a deliberately ironic play on ricchi (riches)?), isn't a teenage boy - he's one of late 1940s Rome's great mass of unemployed adults. This is partly just a reflection of the different cultural context - each is a plausible character for the situation in their respective times and places. But it also makes for quite a different tone of film. Most of the Chinese boy's actions can be viewed as driven by fiery teenage emotions, and this makes them fairly easy to dismiss as simply immature. But Ricci's increasingly questionable behaviour appears much more serious, coming as it does from a grown man - and especially a grown man with his young (but frighteningly old for his years) son following him around, witnessing his father's disintegration.

We watch Ricci gradually progressing through a serious of increasingly questionable actions - harassing an elderly man in church, completely neglecting his son, rashly spending money his family can ill afford to try to make it up to him, starting fights in the street, and finally trying to steal a bicycle himself. And far more so than in the Chinese equivalent, we can understand the apparent logic in each step he takes, even as we recognise that it is hopeless, foolish and driven by desperation. Yes, we lose sympathy for him as he loses his grip on where the line between right and wrong lies - but never quite as entirely as in the Chinese film. We understand, even if we don't condone. And perhaps this is most of all because the son is there with him - to remind us of just how much is at stake for this man, who cannot support his family without this bicycle.

I can't remember how Beijing Bicycle ends, and can't find out from online reviews, either. But I think Ladri di Biciclette is just slightly less bleak in its denouement. Ricci is caught in the act of becoming a bicycle thief himself, and surrounded and slapped by a knot of concerned citizens (who of course had not been there when the same thing happened to him). But it is at this point that he gets his first break of the film. The owner, seeing Ricci's son looking on, and recognising his desperate circumstances, decides not to press charges and lets him walk away. He's still lost his bicycle, his job, his economic future and his respect in his son's eyes. But his problems have not been compounded further, and he has the chance at least to rebuild his life and his relationship with his son. He has also learnt through example of the possibility of compassion - something he had not been able to demonstrate himself earlier, as he continued to seek revenge even when all hope of recovering his bicycle had clearly been lost. It's a very humane ending, really, and also has the important effect of putting Ricci's situation back under a wider social gaze: allowing us to step out of his blinkered obsession and reminding us that he is just one of many people trapped in a completely desperate situation.

As a result, it feels more powerful than the Chinese remake did. We've watched a man being broken by a combination of his circumstances and his own warped sense of justice, and we haven't been able to write off his behaviour as hormonal sounding off. Instead, he's remained entirely human in our eyes - and we know that Rome is full of people going through much the same trials as he has. Just like Roma, Città Aperta it comes across as a very honest example of Italian self-examination - and makes me feel all the more in love, always and ever, with Rome. What a relief that, by 1962, De Sica felt able to make films like Ieri, Oggi, Domani - which I don't think is as good, but is certainly testament to a much happier Italy.

strange_complex: (Jooster tie binds)
IMDb page here. Watched in Brum with Mum on DVD.

Oscar Wilde and I have a History. Like many teenagers, around the age of 15 I thought he was LIEK OMG SO COOL AND CONTRAVERSHUL. I worshipped his witty aphorisms, cultured decadence and jibes at the establishment, spent hours reading Ellman's biography of him in the school library, and set myself to devouring every word he'd ever written. Well, actually in the event I think I skipped quite a lot of the lit crit and the poetry. But, by any reasonable standards, I did my homework.

Moving into my twenties, the passion began to fade, as excessive adulation always does. I realised that Wilde had only been a human being like the rest of us, and that plenty of other people were just as clever, perceptive and eloquent as him. In fact, I began to find him pretentious and tedious. This is probably more the fault of people who think that quoting him liberally makes them seem funny and intelligent than it ever was his, but the effect was the same. "Get over yourself!", I wanted to scream down the century. When this film came out, I went to see it in the cinema at Oxford - but by then as much for old times' sake and because Stephen Fry was in it as anything else. Clearly, it didn't have that much impact on me at the time, because on this rewatch I found that there were vast swathes of it I had completely forgotten. I remembered touching scenes with his children, arguments with Bosie, performances of his plays and the period in jail - but that was about it, really. Very little about Robbie Ross, for instance, or about his direct interactions with the Marquess of Queensberry.

Since then, my opinion has settled and balanced a little. I still find some of the one-liners rather trite - but recognise that they weren't when he first came up with them, and that he probably would have cringed himself at the way they're used now. As for his stance as a self-proclaimed aesthete and general artiste (dahling!), I can appreciate better now that it was something which the Zeitgeist of the times demanded someone play about with, and that it was in a way as much a part of his professional life as his plays or poems were. I've started going to performances of some of his plays again, and discovered rather deeper themes in them than I'd remembered previously. And I've even had his Complete Letters on my Amazon wish-list for a couple of years now.

So when Mum and I had settled down the other evening, intending to watch Ladri di Biciclette, but finding ourselves let down by a dodgy tape, the DVD of Wilde which my sister had left with my parents so I could watch it some time seemed an obvious choice. Time to give my former hero another outing.

I must say that the film itself seems rather a Wildean whitewash. It's basically set as a classic tragedy, with Wilde's Tragic Flaw being his blind love for Bosie, itself exacerbated by society's Tragic Flaw of failing to accommodate homosexuality. This makes for a neat and quite moving morality tale, and both Stephen Fry and Jude Law carry it off very nicely. But while it is all certainly extractable from Ellman's biography (after all, the screenplay is based on it), I don't seem to remember Wilde coming across in the book as quite such a constant model of perfect empathy, humanity and compassion, and I'm certain that he was already entirely capable of neglecting his wife, spending extravagantly and behaving foolishly and dismissively well before Bosie came on the scene: all things which the film quite explicitly blames on his influence.

Nonetheless, it's enjoyable enough, and certainly reminded me that I really do want to read those letters. Seeing it from this stage in my life, I also couldn't help but view his story in terms of Classical parallels. It wouldn't surprise me if he himself saw his accusation and trial as a retreading of Socrates' for corrupting the youth, and certainly now that the original trial transcripts have been uncovered, his 'defence' (essentially, "You're the ones with the problem, not me, and I relish being a martyr to my cause") bears a remarkable similarity to the one Socrates presented, as recorded in Plato's Apology.

And then of course there is Ovid - exiled to the Black Sea by Augustus, partly for writing scandalous poetry, but also for a mysterious error which may well have had a political aspect. And this was brought home to me particularly by a rather loose translation in the film. Wilde explains to Robbie Ross that the title of his letter to Bosie from Reading Gaol, De Profundis, means 'From the Depths'. Really, it doesn't - conventionally 'De' in a Latin title means 'about' or 'concerning', as in Cato's De Agri Cultura, Cicero's De Re Publica or Vitruvius' De Architectura. They all mean 'About' + exactly what it looks like they mean from their modern derivations - so similarly, 'De Profundis' means 'About the Depths'. But if Wilde's letter had been called 'From the Depths', that would have translated as Ex Profundis - and thus of course inexorably have recalled Ovid's poetic collection of exile letters, Ex Ponto (Pontus being the particular area he was sent to). What I don't know is how similar they are in content, since I've only read an abridged version of De Profundis, and snippets of the Ex Ponto. But it would be interesting to know how much, despite avoiding the more obvious potential tribute in the title, Wilde was aiming to cast himself as a modern-day Ovid as much as a modern-day Socrates.

ETA: and browsing idly through Ellman's biography, I now find a) that De Profundis wasn't Wilde's title anyway, but a suggestion from a friend, possibly E.V. Lucas, and b) that it is the opening line of a psalm, so was presumably intended by whoever did suggest it to have Biblical, rather than Classical resonances. Wilde apparently suggested In Carcere et Vinculis ('In Prison and in Chains') instead, which to me recalls the names of martyr churches in Rome such as San Nicola in Carcere and San Pietro in Vinculis, and thus masterfully incorporates both the Biblical and the Classical traditions, while also stressing the idea of his own tragic martyrdom. Still doesn't mean he wasn't thinking of Ovid, though, either when he wrote the letter or later as he wandered Europe in exile.

strange_complex: (Sophia Loren lipstick)
IMDb page here. Watched at home on a DVD borrowed from the Edward Boyle library.

This is basically a sequence of three short stories about women, with the main female character in each played by Sophia Loren, and her male opposite number by Marcello Mastroianni. I found it harder to follow linguistically than Roma, Città Aperta, largely because the DVD didn't have English subtitles - only Italian ones. I put those on, and they helped a lot - although obviously that meant I wasn't entirely performing an exercise in listening, which is what my test on Friday is all about. Still, I suppose it made me work harder than watching Città Aperta with English subtitles (which couldn't be turned off because it was a video) anyway, and I'm hoping the language I read and the language I heard will have reinforced one another.

The first story, about a woman called Adelina who sells contraband cigarettes in Naples, and continuously avoids a jail sentence by ensuring that she is constantly pregnant for several years in a row, was even harder to follow, because it was packed full of what I presume were Neapolitan dialect words. I'm sorry, but 'jamme', 'cà', 'mo', 'nun' and 'nù' just aren't in my Italian dictionary, so even seeing them written in the subtitles wasn't much help. Sometimes, I could figure them out from context, as in phrases such as 'Attenti ù tram!', where I guess ù = al or 'Vieni a cà', where cà looks like qua. (NB I may not have the accents right). But it really didn't make life easy.

I'm never sure what these dialects are like for native speakers of standardised Italian. I mean, is it like me hearing someone speaking Scots, where I'd be perfectly familiar with 80% of the words, recognise another 10% as characteristic of the dialect and only be puzzled by about another 10% at most (which I could probably understand from the context)? Or is it more like me listening to some of the African dialects, which are presented for English viewers of programmes like The Real No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency with subtitles that are at first extremely necessary, but do become a bit less so as you watch and tune into the accent and vocabulary?

Anyway, I managed - not least because all three stories were pretty light-hearted and packed with very visual humour. Although I'm not altogether sure it was a particularly profound experience. I mean, it was a fun exercise in character studies, and gave a nice window into 1960s life in each of the three cities where the stories were set (successively, Naples, Milan and Rome). And maybe the point was just that life goes on, day by day, and often it's funny, but generally it's pretty trivial except to the people who are living it. But I didn't feel myself particularly moved by it in any way beyond 'Oh, that was quite amusing'. Let's just hope it did my listening abilities some good!

strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
IMDb page here; Wikipedia page here. Watched at home on a video borrowed from the Edward Boyle library, as practice for my Italian listening exam next Friday.

I picked this up fairly randomly in the Edward Boyle library, on the basis that it had that seductive word - Roma - in the title, and looked from the testimonials on the box as though it was probably quite hard-hitting, cinematically important and historically interesting. It's a portrait of Rome and its people under Nazi occupation in 1944, and was shot on a shoe-string budget with only two professional actors and four sets just six months after the city had been liberated. That soon after the events it portrays, and in such impoverished circumstances, you'd think it wouldn't be up to much. Surely it would be sensationalist, sickeningly patriotic or maybe just not very good? But no. That would be English war films.

Instead, what we have here is a subtle and compelling view into the lives of a small group of very human characters. The genre is (apparently) neorealism - and certainly the feeling was of simply being shown the unfolding of events, rather than being told a story. Notably, one thing which this meant was that although there were some seriously awful things going on (a man being tortured to death; a woman being shot in front of her child while the man she was about to marry is carted away), there were also moments of humour placed alongside them (where to hide the bombs while the Germans are coming?! under the table? under the sick man's bed? in the sick man's bed!). This, of course, gives a heightened sense of realism by presenting a life-like balance, and makes the horror of what's also happening to these people - in itself never over-played; just shown - all the more profound.

OK, so there are some clichés. Like the predatory-lesbian!Nazi (srsly!), or the kind, mild-mannered priest who tells the Nazis that God is on the side of those who fight for truth and justice, and closes the film by dying in front of a firing squad while actually saying 'Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do'. The ageing Nazi Captain who'd been an executioner in the First World War, and was so jaded he was openly questioning German supremacy in front of his rather more enthusiastic colleagues also looked too much like a piece of wishful thinking to fit in with the realism of the rest of the film. But hey - I was expecting nothing but that kind of thing, and to find a little of it here and there is entirely understandable given the context.

The IMDb suggests that if viewers enjoyed this film, they might also like Casablanca. And well they might - I do. But now I've seen both, I honestly believe this to be the superior film. It's no surprise to me to find that it won Best Film at Cannes in 1946. And it was no surprise, as the final credits rolled, to see the name "F. Fellini" amongst the writing credits. What a formative experience for him! And well done, Roberto Rossellini.

strange_complex: (Nuada)
IMDb page here. Seen at the Hyde Park Picture House with [ profile] la_guapita and Nicolas.

It didn't sound that good from the IMDb plot summary - I only suggested it to Charlotte and Nicolas because I wanted them to have the experience of the Hyde Park Picture House, really. But once Charlotte had reacted with 'Ooh, yes, I really want to see that', and [ profile] johnnydefective had enthused wildly about it over curry, I figured it must be worth checking out after all. Those are two people whose film opinions I usually trust.

See, what the plot summaries just don't bring out (although maybe because it is so blindingly obvious given the setting that they felt they didn't need to) is that this is an example of one of my favourite kinds of film - the 'cabin-fever' movie. Like The Thing, Night of the Living Dead or (best of all) Cube, you have a small number of people trapped in an extreme situation - and the rest is really about their character interactions, rather than about the specific setting.

The science of it all is pretty obviously bollocks, and there was also one point where it felt like a huge chunk of footage had just been taken out, causing us to leap suddenly forward to an event which it had seemed a moment before wouldn't be happening for quite some time (I'm trying to be non-spoilery, here!). But neither of those things really mattered. As I said, it's character-driven, and that side works out just fine. There are some tense moments, some unpleasant realisations, and the consequences of some bad (but plausible) decisions to be faced. And of course there is Cillian Murphy, who's already proved his worth in a Danny Boyle cabin-fever movie in 28 Days Later. He manages to do the 'small, vulnerable human facing things too terrible to imagine' thing very nicely.

So yeah - I wouldn't say re-arrange existing commitments to see it, but if you get a chance, it's a good use of an evening.

strange_complex: (Yuri skirts)
IMDb page here. Watched at home on a video recorded off the telly several years ago.

A rewatch. I love this movie. That was probably about the fourth time I've seen it - although the last time can't have been all that recent, as there was quite a lot in it I'd forgotten all about. I think it must have been before I moved to Belfast in 2004, actually.

The reason I'm rewatching it now is that I'm currently reading Jane Austen's Emma, of which it is of course a re-imagining. That will be blogged in its own good time (like, when I've finished it), but suffice it to say that film and book both do each other enormous credit. I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the book now that I've been reminded more-or-less what happens.

strange_complex: (Jooster tie binds)
IMDb page here. Watched at home with [ profile] big_daz.

My third watching for this, I think. I'd been a bit confused about the plot the first time around, due to missing the first fifteen minutes, and not having a clue who everyone was. Not that seeing them would necessarily have helped all that much. Like the West Wing, it avoids exposition, and simply presents naturalistic dialogues, in an almost docu-drama type fashion. It's up to you to pick up who's who as you go along.

Anyway, having seen it a second time too, I pretty much had most people figured out this time, although had forgotten some names. So I was able to watch in full knowledge of how the plot would pan out, and the hidden secrets of all the characters. Which is a nice position to be in, as there's a lot of very charged scenes early on if you know what's going to happen later, and what's already been going on before the film begins. Mind you, [ profile] big_daz, who was seeing it for the first time, didn't seem to be at any disadvantage. He was going 'ooh' and 'aha' at all the right moments, and basically had the whole thing figured out from about half-way through the film. Well done that man!

It's a very bleak film in many ways - especially in contrast to the episode of Jeeves & Wooster I watched while eating my lunch earlier today. Has left me feeling rather sad - but luckily Doctor Who exuberance is still bubbling up under there, so I think I'll live.

strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
IMDb page here. Watched at home on computer, thanks to [ profile] innerbrat.

A cracking evening's viewing. OK, so the animation was fairly basic - but in some ways, lowish production values rather suit Terry Pratchett. His books are about finding the profound in the mundane, and his characters for the most part humble, ordinary folk. So something big and flashy and pretentious might have seemed rather at odds with the story.

Last night, Semillon Chardonnay in hand, I even started having thoughts about how, since much of the story in Wyrd Sisters is about plays and players, and their plays hardly have the highest production values either, you could even see the slightly ham-fisted character of the animation as a deeply symbolic meta-narrative parallel for the offerings of Vitoller's strolling players. This morning, I'm not so sure, but... it's a thought.

Pterry's story-line was followed fairly closely. I remember thinking this didn't work so well for Hogfather over Christmas, but it seemed much more effective here, perhaps because the adaptation was much shorter (2h20). I was a bit confused by the range of accents apparently encountered in Lancre, especially since the three witches themselves seemed to 'ail from Zomerzet way, and I've always considered Lancre to be at least northern (Lancaster, very hilly) and possibly Scottish (Macbeth references in Wyrd Sisters). Still, Nanny Ogg does work quite well as a Somerset lass, I'll grant.

And of course, importantly, there was the added joy of Christopher Lee as Death. Nothing much to say here really - he was obviously perfect for the part, and he got it just right. Yay!

strange_complex: (Penny Arcade)
IMDb page here. Watched at home on TV.

Bit of an exaggeration to say I 'watched' this as such. Rather, it was on while I was learning how to use the new phone I got yesterday afternoon (about which more in other posts). Nonetheless, I was in the same room while it was playing for the whole duration of the film, and more or less followed the plot.

Basically, it's a touching family film set in Dublin in 1953 with Pierce Brosnan (*woof!*) as a down-at-heel father who's lost his kids after his wife walked out on them, and has to fight in the Supreme Court and change Irish law to get them back. Having just looked it up on IMDb, I can report that the official tag-line is actually - and I am not making this up - "The story of a father's love that changed a nation." Says all you need to know, really.

Best bits: Pierce Brosnan; all the Irish accents.

Worst bits: gushing sentimentality; gratuitous use of Christmas to increase the latter; implausibility with which a hot-shot yankee lawyer is portrayed deciding to help a drunken, semi-employed Irish guy fight for his children.


strange_complex: (Default)

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