strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
Very neatly, [livejournal.com profile] wig tagged me for this meme on LJ, and TAFKAK tagged me for it on Facebook on the same day last week. So I shall answer it in both places, but obviously LJ lends itself better to nice formatting and having space to make some actual comments about the books. I have taken the concept of the books 'staying with me' seriously, and thus listed ones which both meant a lot to me at the time of original discovery and to which I have returned regularly since. They are listed (as best as I could remember) in the order in which I first encountered them.

L. Frank Baum (1900), The Wizard of Oz
This stands for the whole series, of course. I was certainly quite obsessed with them by the age of six, and indeed a picture of me reading one of them to my friends on that birthday can be seen here. The 1939 film was important too, of course, and I'm pretty sure I had seen it by that age, but there were more of the books, with far more wonderful characters and adventures than the film could deliver. Dad used to read the books to me as bedtime stories, I used to read and re-read them myself, and of course there was a great deal of dressing up, playing at being characters from the books and so on with the very friends shown in the picture, and especially [livejournal.com profile] hollyione. A lifetime love of fantastical stories was to follow...

Alison Uttley (1939), A Traveller in Time
Did loads of other people read this as children? I don't hear it mentioned very often as a children's classic, but it was another big favourite of my childhood, and has literally stayed with me in the sense that I still have my copy of it. I haven't done that for many of my childhood books - though the Oz series are another exception. Doubtless one of the attractions all along was the fact that the main character, a young girl from the 20th century, is called Penelope. But also, time travel! While staying in a Tudor manor house, she repeatedly finds herself slipping back to its early days, and interacting with characters from the reign of Elizabeth I. Clearly at the roots of my love of both fantastical time travel stories, and the real-life dialogue between present and past.

Bram Stoker (1897), Dracula
Ha, I hardly need to explain this one right now, do I? See my dracula tag, passim, for details. First read, as far as I can tell, in early 1986, when I was nine years old, on the back of having seen the Hammer film the previous autumn. Left me with a love of all things Gothic, which has waxed and waned but never really left me ever since. As the wise [livejournal.com profile] inbetween_girl once said, you never really stop being a Goth. At best, you're in recovery. Or perhaps lapsed, would be another way of putting it.

Diana Wynne Jones (1977), Charmed Life
Initially read via a copy from the school library aged 9 or 10, this came back and 'haunted' me with memories of a book of matches, a castle and a strange magical man in my early 20s. By then, the internet was advanced enough to have forums where I could ask what the title of the book I was remembering might be, and to deliver an answer within a few hours. So I bought a copy, swiftly followed by copies of the other Chrestomanci books, and then copies of multiple other DWJ books (see my diana wynne jones tag for details). As an adult, I can see that the real appeal of DWJ's writing lies in the combination of her light yet original prose style, imaginative vision and sharp understanding of human interactions, but as a child I'm pretty sure it was all about the unrecognised magical powers and multiple interconnected magical worlds. As per the Oz books, I really love that stuff.

Gene Wright (1986), Horrorshows: the A-Z of Horror in Film, TV, Radio and Theatre
In 2010, Mark Gatiss presented a documentary series called A History of Horror, during which he held up a book about horror films which he had owned since childhood, and explained how it was his personal Horror Bible, which had opened up to him the wonderful world of the genre. From the reaction on Twitter, it instantly became clear that everyone who had grown up loving horror films before the emergence of the internet had also owned such a book, and this is mine. I bought it at a book fair in about 1987 or 1988, devoured it greedily, and have been faithfully ticking off every film in it which I have seen ever since. Of course, the internet has long rendered such books obsolete, and insofar as this one was ever comprehensive at the time of original purchase, it certainly isn't now. So it is utterly meaningless to tick off all the films in it, as though somehow the end goal is to tick off every single film in the book - at which time, I don't know, a fanfare will sound and a man in a rhinestone suit will pop out to tell me I've won a prize, or something? But I still add a tick each time I see a new film from within its pages anyway, because heck I have been doing so for 25 years, and I'm not going to stop now. Besides, it's not like I care about horror films made after 1986 anyway (I struggle to care about those made after 1976, TBH), so it doesn't matter to me that it is enormously out of date.

Douglas Adams (1979), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
First read c. age 11, and read at least another 8 times since. I know this because I have kept a tally of how many times I read it in the front of the book - classic geekish behaviour, of course. Once again, it's basically all about travel to wondrous other worlds, but this time instead of being magical (Oz, Chrestomanci), historical (A Traveller in Time), or supernatural (Dracula, everything else in Horrorshows), they are in space! It's not actually like I discovered adventures in space for the first time from Hitchhiker's, because of course I was also watching Doctor Who on a regular basis in parallel with all of this reading material, with which of course Hitchhiker's is intimately linked. But yeah - given everything else which has already appeared on this list, it is no big surprise that I loved Hitchhiker's.

C. Suetonius Tranquillus (c. AD 120), The Twelve Caesars
And now my list radically changes tack, because having established that I love stories about the fantastical, the rest of it is made up of books which mark key stages in the emergence of my academic interest in the ancient world. I am not, of course, unaware that this in itself also basically boils down to yet another interest in a wondrous other world, albeit one which actually existed in this case. Really, the mode of engagement is very similar - we have little snippets of information about the Roman world (texts, objects, places), just as we have little snippets of information about fictional fantasy worlds (texts, screen portrayals, merchandise), but there is also so much we don't know, and are at liberty to extrapolate from what we do. Plus the similar-yet-different qualities and the opportunity to compare and contrast can let us think about our own world in ways that just don't open up if we only think about it directly. And so I found a way to apply the thought-patterns and approaches I'd been developing from early childhood to something which grown-ups thought was admirable and serious, and which it was possible to acquire prestige and eventually even money through studying. As for Suetonius himself, he is here because he was one of the earliest ancient authors I really came to feel familiar with and fond of, mainly during A-level Ancient History. Tacitus may well be clever and sharp, but there is always a judgemental, sanctimonious undertone with him that I don't very much like. The things which interest Suetonius, by contrast, make him seem so utterly human - but there are also all sorts of clever structures and allusions to discover in his text on close reading, which together make him incredibly rewarding. I once literally hugged my Penguin copy of Suetonius to my chest as a sort of talisman when feeling alone, upset and in need of comfort. I can't really imagine anyone doing that with Tacitus.

J.B. Ward-Perkins (1991), Roman Imperial Architecture
One of the first books I bought about ancient material culture (as opposed to texts), in the context of a module on Roman architecture which I did in (I think) my second year as an undergraduate at Bristol. While strictly about buildings rather than cities, it nonetheless includes a lot of material about how those buildings fitted into the urban landscapes where they were located - unsurprisingly, since Ward-Perkins himself was really interested in cities first and architecture second, and wrote one of the earliest English-language books on the subject. So it is to this book which my interest in Roman urbanism can really be traced, and I still turn to it occasionally when I need to get to grips with a new (to me) city.

Christopher Hibbert (1987), Rome: the biography of a city
This one is from my third year at Bristol, and the best undergraduate module I ever did - Responses to Rome with Catharine Edwards and Duncan Kennedy, which was all about post-Classical responses to ancient Rome from the medieval period to the present day. I sat in those classes falling in love with Rome, and then went home to pore through this book and the wonders within. I still return to it in order to refresh my memory of medieval myths about the city's ancient past, Grand Tourism or fascist appropriations, all of which I have needed to do in the past few years.

Greg Woolf (1998), Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul
And finally, the book which I consulted most frequently while writing my PhD thesis. It had utterly redefined thinking about the relationship between Rome the state and its provincial populations, killing off tired old paradigms of 'beneficial imperialism' (think: What have the Romans ever done for us?) for good, so would have been important no matter what province I had used to look at the relationship between Roman ideas about the urban periphery and the reality on the ground in a provincial setting. But since I had chosen Gaul as my own main case-study anyway, it was gold-dust. Fifteen years later, it remains at the forefront of scholarly thinking on the topic, and thus still features regularly on my module reading lists, amongst my recommendations to research students, and indeed in the bibliographies of my own published works.

I'm not tagging anyone, because pretty much everyone in the world has done this meme already by now - but feel free to take this post as a prompt to do it yourself if you haven't and want to.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (Clone Army)
miss_s_b gave me an R.

Something I hate: Reactionary social values, by which I mean believing things like "a woman's place is in the home", only particular narrowly-restricted sexual activities are acceptable, you must respect your elders (regardless of whether or not they actually deserve it), and foreigners should be treated with suspicion. I found the description of these views as 'reactionary' rather confusing when I first encountered it. It basically means 'reacting against the current status quo' (as the Wikipedia article explains), but the word in and of itself doesn't really indicate in which direction - towards greater tolerance and equality or lesser? Anyway, in context and in practice it means people who currently enjoy privilege wanting to shore up the inequalities which support it by appealing to tradition. I am a liberal, and I am against that sort of thing.

Something I love: Roses - both the flowers themselves, which I think are beautiful and smell lovely, and more particularly things which are rose-flavoured, such as Turkish Delight, rose creams and rose syrup. Rose flavoured confectionery used to be quite common a century ago, but it is such a delicate flavour that it is actually quite difficult to make it 'work' in any foodstuff and (probably more importantly) it is not easy to synthesise effectively either. So manufacturers of cheap confectionery have tended to drop it, and rose-flavoured delicacies are not at all easy to get hold of. If you ever see some in a shop and want to make me a very happy bunny, this is a fail-safe gift for me!

Somewhere I have been: Rome. Obviously! My career is centred around the study of Roman history, and more particularly Roman urban space. I tend to work with provincial cities more than Rome itself, because I am interested in how people at all levels of society negotiated with one another in the organisation of urban space, and the political importance of Rome means that the dynamics at play there were exceptional and can't be extrapolated more widely. But I still need to know Rome intimately because of the way it served as an archetype for other cities, and because of what it can also tell us about the political issues which I also teach and research. I went there just last week, this time in the name of political self-representation (specifically, Augustus') and other people's responses to it, but urban space was an important part of that too (e.g. his monuments and their post-Classical history). And I will keep going back there throughout my life, because it is such a rich city that I will never know everything there is to know about its ancient past - let alone the magnificent tapestry of contradictions which is modern Rome.

Somewhere I would like to go: Romania. Hands up - this is basically about my current fannish obsession with the Hammer Dracula franchise. But since that's an obsession which I've carried with me since before puberty, the idea of actually going to Romania and seeing the landscape which inspired the original legend is hardly a passing whim with me. What I'd really like to do is take a river cruise along the Danube, the segment of which between Vienna and Bratislava I have already travelled along with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz, but right from Germany to Romania this time. Then I would travel inland to the Carpathians and do the full Dracula 'thing' - i.e. visit all of the locations associated with the real historical Vlad III Drăculea, but also those which had nothing to do with him but did inspire Stoker (e.g. Bistritz, the Borgo Pass). I'm pretty confident that as a holiday this would work very much in the same way as the Wicker Man trip which I did to Scotland last March with [livejournal.com profile] thanatos_kalos - i.e. it would be a great way of achieving a new and deeper engagement with a story I love, but it would also lend a nice shape and structure to the exploration of places which are in any case very much worth visiting. However, doing all of that would probably require about two weeks (though of course the river cruise and Dracula's Romania sections could be separated out into two different one-week holidays), and what with the travel and work I'm going to need to do this year for Augustus' bimillennium I can't see when I would have time to fit in even half of it until that has passed.

Someone I know: [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula. This is a bit of a cheat, as her real-life name does not begin with an R, but as I knew her first by her LJ name, and have interacted with her here (as well as in real life) for the best part of a decade now, it is as real to me as anything on her birth certificate. [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula is one of the strongest, most sharp-witted, and most articulate women I know, and although the word has come to sound cheesy and empty due to widespread overuse, I do find her genuinely inspirational. I have learnt a lot from her, from why it is important to remove your make-up properly before going to bed to how to spot and avoid idiotic social fallacies and understand what is really important in life. If you enjoy food and good writing, I recommend her blog, Beggars Banquets.

Best movie: I badly want to cheat here and say [Dracula has] Risen from the Grave, because I never call it by its full title (who does?), so it effectively begins with an R for me. It is a fantastic movie, but then again I already waxed lyrical about it only very recently, so I guess I can manage without doing so here again. In which case, I will instead nominate Raw Meat, aka Death Line (1972). That's a bit of a cheat, too, since I have to call it by its American release title to sneak it in, but less brazen I think. It is a low-budget British horror movie, set in the contemporary present, and involving passengers being attacked by an unknown menace on the London Underground. It's not as widely-known as it deserves to be, but I think it's a real gem, probably above all because it succeeds in creating a very moving sense of pathos around its 'monsters' (who are actually just human beings who have themselves been very badly mistreated), even while also pulling no punches on the horror. It also has Christopher Lee in it (albeit only briefly), Donald Pleasence as a fantastic sarky Cockney copper, and lots of lovely seventies fashions. I have reviewed it in more detail here. Mind the doors!

OK, I'm done. Comment if you would like a letter of your own to play with.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (La Dolce Vita Trevi)
This is the sequel to The Rich Are Different, which I reviewed here and which translates the story of Julius Caesar's dictatorship and death, followed by Octavian's rise to power, to the finance houses of New York in the 1920s and '30s. This second volume takes up a few years after the last left off, and follows events equivalent to those which happened in ancient Rome between 23 and 2 BC - or, in the story, between 1949 and the late 1960s. It is long and complex, running over more than 600 pages and with six sections each narrated by a different point of view character: Sam Keller (Agrippa), Alicia (Livia), Cornelius (Augustus), Sebastian (Tiberius), Scott (Iullus Antonius) and finally Vicky Van Zale (Julia). We learn a great deal about all of them, not to mention many others, and there are multiple sub-plots, emotional crises and personal revelations along the way. I'm not going to try to summarise the whole thing, but will instead concentrate on how it works as a (loose) Augustus novel, and as a reception of Roman history.

I will start, though, by mapping out how the characters in this novel match up to their Roman equivalents )

Cornelius / Augustus: public success and private unhappiness )

Vicky / Julia: finding happiness in a parallel universe )

Howatch's historical and literary canvass )

All in all, then, I was extremely impressed with this novel, just as I was with its predecessor. Its approach to the basic Augustus-story at its heart may be more or less conventional, but only within a pretty small pool of novels or screen portrayals which attempt to do this at all. Meanwhile, the translation to the world of New York banking loosens the tie to its historical foundations just enough to give Howatch room to do some interesting and original things with the source-material, while the wide range of historical and literary allusions develop the story considerably further. In fact, that aspect of the book reminded me sometimes of the way Diana Wynne Jones uses similar material, such as the story of Tam Lin in Fire and Hemlock or Donne's poem about a falling star in Howl's Moving Castle. In short, there is rather more to this novel than the family saga story which most of the internet seems to have it down as, and I am looking forward to putting this review on my real-name blog to help balance out that impression.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (Cicero history)
(This is another instalment in me trying to catch up on unwritten book reviews from 2010. I took a few notes on this one at the time, but they're pretty sketchy, so this review is probably quite unbalanced.)

After reading the first of Harris' Cicero books, Imperium, and being pretty underwhelmed by it, I resolved not to bother reading any more in the series. But I guess the prospect of the young Octavian (later Augustus) appearing in the final volume proved too much of a temptation. Eventually, this series is going to come under the remit of my interest in receptions of Octavian / Augustus, and I want to be ready when it does.

In the meantime, this instalment mainly covers the year of Cicero's consulship and the Catilinarian conspiracy in 63 BC, but Harris also follows up on the consequences of all that for Cicero in the form of his exile in 58. The title of the book, which refers to a purificatory sacrifice performed once every five years, thus refers to the span of time which it covers - though I'd personally have preferred the much prettier alternative term, quinquennium, myself.

Most of my impressions of the first book held true for this one as well. Tiro remains an effective narrator and Terentia a surprisingly-plausible (if minor) secondary character, while the politics is generally deftly handled. But most of the characters are fairly two-dimensional, and the events described lack emotional weight.

Catiline's conspiracy did make for a slightly more exciting narrative than the previous instalment, while I felt that the smells, sounds and topography of the city of Rome were nicely evoked. As for Harris' Pompeii, it was pretty clear that he had written this book, too, with a map of late-Republican Rome in front of him, and had thought carefully about how the spatial relationships between (for example) Cicero's house and the Forum would affect the behaviour of his characters, as well as how the experience of being in the city would change with the seasons and the time of the day or night. I also recognised direct echoes of several of the relevant primary sources, including Plutarch's Caesar and Cicero's own Pro Rabirio, Pro Murena and In Catilinam I, all of which were very effectively used.

But Harris remains fundamentally second-rate as a novelist for me, and for all his (obvious) careful research, a fair few historical errors crept in as well. I noticed that Cicero's daughter, Tullia, was "all veiled and dressed in white" for her wedding (so what of the famous flame-coloured veil?), while the senate seems to have regular daily meetings and a parliamentary-style recess (in fact, it met in this period on an ad hoc basis, whenever summoned by one of the magistrates). I also felt that Cicero seemed far too well aware in advance of the potential consequences of his decision to have Catiline's supporters imprisoned without a proper trial. I can see how his concern would serve as valuable dramatic foregrounding for what does happen later on as a result of this, but I'm pretty sure he just thought he was being decisive and heroic about it at the time, and I would have preferred to see his shock and humiliation at being completely unexpectedly attacked for this by Clodius instead.

In short - not a complete and utter waste of paper, but to be honest I'd still recommend just reading Plutarch's Life of Cicero instead.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (Vampira)
I saw this early yesterday evening at the Hyde Park Picture House with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy, to the accompaniment of a 'live re-score' by a Sheffield outfit named Animat. It stars Vincent Price, and is the earliest adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 book, I Am Legend. Later versions of this book are generally better-known: The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston and I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith. But all of them tell the same basic story of the last man left alive (here Vincent Price's character) after the rest of human-kind have either been killed or turned into vampires by a deadly plague.

I'm afraid the general consensus was that the film was great, but that we would have preferred to see it with the original music. The sound-balance wasn't very carefully handled, meaning that the music was slightly too loud for the film the whole way through, and frequently drowned out bits of dialogue. And although it was funny and post-modern for five minutes to hear tracks like Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' while the vampires were attacking Vincent Price's house, complete with his own spooky voice-over, on the whole the joke wore thin pretty quickly. We agreed afterwards that we'd have preferred to hear the original gramophone records which he listens to during that sequence (in order to drown out the voices of the vampires calling him by name), as they probably added a lovely period atmosphere to the film which we didn't get to experience.

I'd also hoped to come away from the film with some idea of how one inserts new music into a film which already had its own original music, but without removing the dialogue. It's obviously easy to do for films from the '20s which didn't have any soundtrack in the first place, but I thought that most films with soundtracks were released with the dialogue and the music inextricably mixed together as part of the same recording, so I don't really understand how you can strip the music out while still keeping the voices. Anyway, I'm afraid I am still none the wiser on that front. All I can tell you is that the film was played from a DVD (I know, 'cos we saw the title menu at the beginning and end), and all the music we heard came from these two chaps sitting off to one side with laptops and a keyboard. Maybe this particular DVD somehow has the option of turning off the music? I don't know.

Anyway, music aside, Vincent Price was everything you would expect, and I can certainly see how the film had an influence on later zombie films like those of George A. Romero. In fact, having recently seen 28 Days Later, I could see quite a few shared topoi - e.g. general scenes of Price's character moving about in deserted urban spaces; a scene of him going into a supermarket and pushing trolleys aside to get in; and a church sign reading 'The End Has Come', which reminded me of the words 'The End Is Extremely Fucking Nigh' daubed on the wall of the church in 28 Days Later. It follows the book reasonably faithfully, but also establishes a legacy for Charlton Heston's The Omega Man in the ways that it deviates from the novel. Two things which they certainly share are a) the main character getting hunted down and killed in a rather Christ-like fashion, rather than imprisoned and committing suicide and b) the possibility of a happy ending of sorts, in that although the main character is dead, he has already passed on a proper cure for the disease to others before this happens. I haven't seen the Will Smith version, so can't comment on what happens there.

The film is set in America, and nearly convinced as such, but a scene set on the steps of the Colosseo Quadrato gave away the real location in Italy. I wished I'd known that when I went in, in fact, so that I could have looked out for other iconic buildings from around Rome, but I only realised while I was watching (and confirmed it afterwards from t'internet). Now that I've seen the film, I can also report that the Gothic mansion depicted on the publicity poster for it is rather misleading, since no such building features at any point during the film. It's far from the only movie poster from this era to feature generic images which have nothing much to do with the film, of course, but it's interesting to see in this case what particular image was chosen. It seems pretty clear to me that the poster was trying to evoke the Roger Corman-style Gothic horror numbers that Price was most famous for in order to get bums on seats. It suggests that contemporary audiences were being assumed to have pretty conservative tastes, given that in fact the whole point about Matheson's story was that it broke away from the Gothic legacy, and tried to update vampire mythology by making it more modern and scientific.

Anyway, a lovely evening out - but as I say, we came away resolved to get the DVD and see it in its original format for ourselves. Live re-scoring may be good for silent films, but it would have to be absolutely brilliant to make it worthwhile for films which already have their own original soundtrack - and this really wasn't.

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

strange_complex: (La Dolce Vita Trevi)
So, why watch one film about Rome in a weekend when you could watch two? I have been meaning to watch this for like a million years, actually - I don't know why it took me so long.

It's lovely, isn't it? It's a classic story, for both Audrey Hepburn's character and Gregory Peck's. She explores the relationship between duty to others and her own happiness while he weighs up self-interest against love for another; and each achieves personal growth along the way. And I particularly loved the way that the ending didn't attempt to manufacture Disney-style against-the-odds happiness for them. In the press interview at the end, both got to say (in coded language because of the other listeners) what they needed to say to each other. But she had decided that duty to her country mattered more than her own happiness, while he let her know that he respected that, and loved her, and would keep the secret of their day together. It was lovely, and both of them were brilliant - as indeed were Audrey Hepburn's beautiful long swishing 1950s circle skirts!

It is so hugely different from insiders' views of Rome, though. Hepburn and Peck's Rome is a city of charm and delight, full of cafés, dances and tourist spots, and where the only poverty (Peck's) is mild, comic and temporary. What a contrast with, for instance, Ladri di Biciclette (1948), where Rome is a city of unemployment, desperation and squalor, and poverty is real and grinding and inescapable.

I think films about contemporary Rome have always been thus, though; in fact, so have novels and poetry. On the insiders' side, there are films like Roma, Città Aperta (1945), La Dolce Vita (1960), Mamma Roma (1962), and Roma (1972). On the outsiders' (usually American) side, there are films like this one, Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Only You (1994) and the Olsens' When in Rome. (I'm sure there are loads more in both camps - these are just the ones I'm familiar with).

The insiders' films show the city as conflicting and complex - great yet also terrible. But the outsiders' ones use it mainly as a fairly simple symbol for culture and a device to prompt personal growth - as indeed it has also long served in novels such as Middlemarch (for Dorothea Brooke / Casaubon) and Portrait of a Lady (for Isabel Archer - whose plot arc is actually rather like the princess's in Roman Holiday). The result is that the outsiders' views of Rome are not really about Rome in any very profound way. They are about their characters' personal stories, and those stories could actually be driven in the same way by almost any setting with cultural status and plenty of beautiful and interesting things to do and see.

This doesn't necessarily make them bad stories - it's a valid thing to do with Rome, especially if you are viewing it as an outsider. And amongst the outsiders' films, Roman Holiday really is seminal. It was the first time Rome had really appeared as a tourist destination on the big screen, and the other films I've listed above are very much dependent on it, echoing particular scenes, like the Bocca della Verità scene, which have since become clichés of films of this type. One standard trope is missing, though - Roman Holiday does have a Trevi Fountain scene, but it doesn't include anybody throwing any coins into it. That particular tradition, of course, was brought to the popular consciousness the following year by Three Coins in the Fountain.

I should add that there are of course exceptions to the insiders / outsiders dichotomy I've drawn here, and the major one I know of is Peter Greenaway's Belly of an Architect, which manages to combine the strengths of both traditions. Perhaps that is why, as an outsider myself, it remains very firmly my favourite of all films about the city. But this one is definitely good too, and I'm glad I finally saw it.

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

strange_complex: (All roads lead to Rome)
Yes, yes - you may point and laugh as much as you like. This is a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen film, after all. But it is set in Rome, and I've been curious for a while to see how that would play in the world of manufactured American preteen fashion. And anyway, I 'watched' it more as background wallpaper while browsing LJ this morning than anything else.

So, Rome in the world of the Olsen twins was in practice mainly about food, fashion, sunshine and boys - as you would expect. But the ancient ruins and Renaissance monuments did feature quite heavily, albeit mainly for their picturesque value, and the girls did enthuse at the beginning of the film about 'all the history' in the city, including Caesar - 'and I don't just mean Caesar salad!' There were also some (fairly basic) attempts to explore cultural differences, and show how the American characters and the Italian characters each had valuable perspectives to contribute - nothing very deep, but a creditable attempt at least.

The story was fairly pappy - the Olsens were summer interns in a fashion company, where they initially messed up. But the big boss (basically a kind of God-figure who had infinite riches and really just wanted to open an artists' colony) plucked them from the bottom of the barrel and gave them one more chance - and guess what? They soon turned out to have hitherto-unsuspected talents in photography and fashion design, which, coupled with their positive, can-do attitude, helped them not only to win an internship for the following summer in New York, but also to save the entire company from the evil machinations of the boss's corrupt deputy. Hooray!

Obviously there was quite a lot of heterosexual coupling-up at the end - 'cos that's the real definition of happiness, right? The big boss asked the attractive female head-of-design who he'd been secretly in love with for years to marry him, and one of the twins (don't ask me which) looked forward to spending the following summer with an Italian fellow-intern who had accompanied her on her journey to success. But I was actually quite impressed with the other twin. She had been spending quite a lot of time with the big boss's nephew, who was basically a wastrel who wanted nothing more than to bum around and surf - and she had been telling him to get some motivation and self-respect all the way through the film. At the end, inevitably, he turned into a team-player and helped to save the company - but when he tried for a kiss in the final scene, she still told him that she didn't think so, and a hug would do. Which is hardly a cultural revolution - but I still thought it was nice that they showed at least one female character choosing independence and career goals over some guy who didn't really look like he was going to be very compatible with that.

So, fundamentally lightweight candyfloss - but quite well-meaning in a limited sort of way, and with some very nice location shots. And at least I've seen it now.

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

strange_complex: (Belly Pantheon)
I don't normally comment about the reporting of my subject area in the media, because I've long ago accepted that it's bound to seem flawed from my perspective, and am basically just happy it's in the news at all. But since today the alternative is further work on my Teaching Portfolio, I will!

The item that's caught my eye today is coverage of a story about the Capitoline Wolf. Background on the statue's dating )

Today's news reports, and why they are clearly not telling the whole story. With Science! )

What must be missing )

I'm happy enough for the wolf to be medieval. In fact, I think that would be fantastically cool, since it would constitute a charming response to stories of the ancient past on the part of the medieval inhabitants of Rome. Good for them. But I am not happy that the general public should be asked to accept this redating on the basis of half-information.

Rant over. I guess I'd better get some work done.

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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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: (Corpus Agrimensorum colonia)
I bought myself a copy of CivCity: Rome in mid-April, but hadn't dared play it until I knew I had some proper free time to devote to it. This weekend, I've been finding out how wise that policy was!

Late-night gaming )

What I thought of it )

On dialogue between gamers and academics - or the lack of it )

So the right sort of noises are beginning to be made on the academic side, and the interest is clearly flourishing on the gaming side. We just need to stretch our hands out - that - little - bit - further...

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: (Snape writing)
1. Last Wednesday - went off for the day with Mum on the Severn Valley Railway. We saw partridges, pheasants, rabbits, butterflies, great crested grebe, elephants, bison and gazelle. Although I suppose it's only fair to explain that the last three were in a safari park visible from the railway. Enjoyed a lovely picnic at Arley, then walked along the river a bit, glorying in the warm weather. All the way there and back, I examined properties along the route with a buyer's eye. I can't help it now - force of habit.

2. On that note, I'm still waiting to hear about the house. My first offer was rejected; I raised it to what was my absolute upper limit and said so; the seller relayed that it was rather less than she wanted but she'd think about it; I enquired again of the estate agents on Friday, but they said she still hadn't decided. I do know that no other offers have been made, though. So ideally she'll wait a bit longer, see that no-one else is offering and accept my bid. Two people saw it over the weekend, apparently, but I know a lot of people have seen it by now and very few have offered, so I'm cautiously hopeful.

3. Thursday to Saturday saw me attending the annual Classical Association conference. Well, actually it carried on this morning too, but I decided to bunk the last part for the sake of a lie-in and some more relaxed parent time. I must say it was probably the best CA conference I've been to (out of three altogether) in terms of papers and general conviviality. Logistics perhaps not so great - it was in a fairly second-rate hotel, with not wonderful food and tedious queues at the lifts to move around the building. But I spent the conference dinner last night (in the much nicer surroundings of the University of Birmingham's Great Hall) with a big grin on my face, feeling on a high from the whole experience. There's too much to record now, of course, but highlights were the comedy caretaker during John Henderson's opening lecture, some cracking panels on Roman cities and all flavours of Classical Receptions (including Buffy and Achilles / Patroclus m-preg fanfics), and all the lovely people I got to catch up with.

4. Did some enjoyable shopping in Brum on Saturday afternoon - scheduled as excursion time for conference-goers, but I'd been to all the places they suggested visiting many times before, having grown up here. Surprised myself slightly by buying some baseball boots - not my normal style, but I really was desperate for new shoes by this stage, and I think they can become my style. Also got CivCity: Rome, which I've wanted for about a year now, ever since I first heard it was coming out, and was reminded of by a great session on Classics in computer games at the conference. And I enjoyed just generally wandering around Birmingham city centre, experiencing the weird combination of things which haven't changed at all and things which are totally unrecognisable, and exploring the various memories which streets and buildings threw up in my mind. I'm proud of my roots here.

5. Term starts again tomorrow. Wah! Only two weeks of teaching and one of revision classes, but they're going to be pretty tough. I'm more-or-less ready, but have a lot to do over the next few days.

6. Haven't seen this week's Who yet, as I was out at the dinner last night, and now my parents' cable box is broken! So that will have to be squeezed in over the next few days too. Have been reading people's online reactions, though. It seems to have provoked quite a lot of discussion and some division.

7. I am travelling home first class in the train tonight, because there was a cheap weekend upgrade available, and I've always wanted to try it out. It'll be a bit different from the Severan Valley Railway, where we were in a third-class compartment!

strange_complex: (Alessandro tear)
I won't be able to post about this tomorrow (Saturday), since I have no internet access at home at the moment. So today (Friday) with a fore-dating will have to do:

November 11th is (amongst other things), the birthday of my favourite singer of all time, ever, no exceptions - Alessandro Moreschi. (Who? What? Eh?) Were he still alive, this would be his 148th. And to celebrate this occasion, I've decided it is about jolly time I got round to posting about a little pilgrimage which I undertook this June, while I was in Rome.

Take a look at this picture )

Try to ignore the fact that it is the worst scan you have ever seen in your life of a picture which was never terribly good quality in the first place (yanno, having been taken in 1902 an' all). I didn't scan it - I stole it from the archives of the Castrati_History Yahoo! group.

Concentrate instead on the fact that this is a picture of Moreschi (he's the one in the middle) sitting on the stone bench which runs around the perimeter of the Sistine Chapel, just in front of its choir loft (or cantoria).

'Well?' I hear you cry. The significance is that this picture shows Moreschi in a specific and easily-identifiable place which still exists today. A place which could be tracked down to the very centimetre, and sat in by any member of the Vatican-visiting public who cared so to do.

And so, knowing that I would be in Rome for a few days in mid-June this year, I decided to do just that. To sit in the very same place where he sat in the photograph, and see if it was still warm from his bottom. After a lot of queuing and hurrying through galleries, I tracked down the very spot, and, with a well-timed stroke of luck, I actually managed to sit there - not by any means a given, actually, as the Sistine Chapel was absolutely packed that day, and naturally empty spots on the stone bench were getting snapped up very quickly.

The result, kindly photographed at my request by [livejournal.com profile] libellum (in a blatant disregard for Vatican regulations, which will clearly result in us both going straight to hell), is here )

I'm pleased to report that the stone was still warm - and I don't care to hear your so-called 'scientific' explanations of how that was more likely to be connected with the boy who was sitting there just before me than with Alessandro Moreschi. ;-) I know it was from him. And so I sat there, in the place where his voice had rung out like struck silver for thirty years, awed by the sense of his presence and hearing his pure, high notes still echoing off the walls in my mind's ear. Until, that is, the Vatican closed up for the day and we were all herded out again into the hot sunshine.

Short of going and lying on his grave (which seems to me excessively morbid), that's the closest I'll ever be able to get to him. And that makes me very, very sad. But I can still celebrate his life and his music across the gulf of a century, and get great enjoyment out of doing so. And that is why I post today to say: felice anniversario al mio carissimo cantore!

strange_complex: (Augustus)
Now that work is completed on the new Ara Pacis museum in Rome, it seems that Augustus' Mausoleum is at last to get the attention it deserves.

I know not everybody likes the new Ara Pacis building, mainly on the grounds that it looks too 'modern' to fit in with Rome's other monuments. And to be fair, although I've looked at it from the outside, I haven't actually been in, so I haven't quite had the full experience.

What I have seen )

But from what I've seen of the building, I actually rather like it. Of course I love Rome's past, but half of the joy of Rome for me is seeing so many different pasts co-existing and interacting. One era building on and responding to another. I don't see why the process should be arrested now - an Eternal City, by definition, can't be set in aspic. It has to be allowed to grow and develop with each succeeding generation. To me, the new Ara Pacis building is part of a new chapter in Rome's history - a chapter enriched by its responses to the ones which came before. It's a bold statement of Rome's place in the 21st century - and I think Augustus would have been more than capable of appreciating that.

But perhaps what I really like about the Ara Pacis building, and the plans for the Mausoleum, is that they testify to a continuing interest in Rome's past. Even the controversy around the Ara Pacis building proves one thing above all else - that Romans today still care about how Augustus' monuments are presented in the urban fabric. They may not agree about how best to do it, but they do agree that it's a matter of great importance.

So long as that continues, I'm happy.

strange_complex: (Clone Army)
Question meme from [livejournal.com profile] kkjxx:

1. Elaborate on your default icon.
Essentially, it's me doing something I love in spite of the weather, on a particularly significant New Year's Day. The full story is here.

2. What's your current relationship status?
Single and with no desire to change that.

3. Ever have a near-death experience?
No, and I don't think I've ever really been in serious danger of dying, either. I've been pretty ill a couple of times, including one quite dramatic entry into hospital, but that's all.

4. Name an obvious quality you have.
Not doing too badly in the brains department.

5. What's the name of the song that's stuck in your head right now?
Er, not too sure. I think it's an instrumental section from something by Handel, but I only really have one tiny phrase in my head - not enough to work out the rest of it.

6. Name a celebrity you would marry:
I think Stephen Fry definitely fits the bill there! I'm pretty sure it would be a non-sexual relationship by mutual agreement, but just generally getting to live with him and spend lots of time talking with him would be ace.

7. Who will cut and paste this first?
I'm not sure anyone will. Maybe [livejournal.com profile] captainlucy?

8. Has anyone ever said you look like a celebrity?
I was once compared to Siouxsie of 'The Banshees' fame - although that was ages ago, and I had black back-combed hair and was wearing black and purple PVC at the time. Then again, I've also been compared to Charles Hawtree... :-( If anyone has any more up-to-date / flattering suggestions, I'm listening!

9. Do you wear a watch? What kind?
Yes, a beautiful sparkly one covered in Swarovski crystals, which a lot of people don't realise is a watch at first, and think is a pretty bracelet instead. It looks like this, except that the crystals inside each link are lilac instead of clear.

10. Do you have anything pierced?
Yes - three holes in one ear, four in the other and one in my belly button.

11. Do you have any tattoos?
No, and don't want one. There's just no one symbol that means so much to me that I want it permanently engraved on my body - especially given that even the best tattoos do look kinda dodgy after 20 years or so.

12. Do you like pain?
Not for its own sake, no.

13. Do you like to shop?
I like the things I get by shopping, but don't particularly enjoy the actual process.

14. What was the last thing you paid for with cash?
An orange juice while out shopping on Saturday afternoon with Cie.

15. What was the last thing you paid for with your credit card?
My shopping in Sainsbury's this morning. Although strictly, that was a debit card - I don't actually have a credit card, because it's an extortionate way to borrow money, and a debit card offers the same convenience.

16. Who was the last person you spoke to on the phone?
Dad yesterday afternoon, about flat-buying stuff.

17. What is on your desktop background?
Lord Summerisle, speaking his "A heathen conceivably, but not, I hope, an unenlightened one" line in The Wicker Man.

18. What is the background on your cell phone?
Alessandro Moreschi, aged c. 25 - the second picture from the left on my colour bar, except not orange.

19. Do you like redheads?
Well, yes - if they're nice people. Not just because their hair is red, though.

20. Do you know any twins?
Er, I can't think of any just now. I've a vague idea that I know someone who has a twin, but I don't really know the twin. Obviously it's not had much impact on me, though, since I can't even be sure who that person might be.

21. Do you have any weird relatives?
Not outrageously weird - just normal-human-being weird.

22. What was the last movie you watched?
Farinelli: il Castrato, which BBC4 showed recently in connection with their documentary on the castrati. I'd seen it years ago and remembered it being dreadful, but thought I'd give it another try now that I know so much more about both Farinelli and Handel (who appears as a character in the film). My verdict? What a pile of unadulterated tripe - I was right about it first time round!

23. What was the last book you read?
A Short History of The British School At Rome by Peter Wiseman. Excellent book, really enjoyed it.
strange_complex: (Purple and black phone)
Sitting by the Trevi fountain. Children playing in the water. All around the basin feet dangle over the edge. I don't ever want to leave!



Rome sweet Rome.

Thursday, 15 June 2006 10:08
strange_complex: (All roads lead to Rome)
OMG I'm going to Rome!
OMG I'm going to Rome!
OMG I'm going to Rome!

TODAY!

Yeaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!

Back late on Sunday.
strange_complex: (Corpus Agrimensorum colonia)
Wow - could this be my ideal computer game? CivCity: Rome.

The screenshots are promising: hardly a historically-accurate rendering of Rome's topography, but, then again, if the user is getting to build their own Rome, then why shouldn't the Colosseum, Circus Maximus and Pantheon all be right next to each other? And the renditions of each are very nice (although if they're to scale, the people in the Colosseum must be about twenty feet tall!).

Good thing it doesn't come out until the summer, really, or I could kiss goodbye to the book...

Profile

strange_complex: (Default)
strange_complex

April 2017

M T W T F S S
     12
3456789
101112131415 16
17181920212223
24252627282930

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Wednesday, 28 June 2017 03:51
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios