strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
Read mainly while in Vienna.

This would be the third Hardy novel I've read in my life: the other two being Tess of the D'Urbervilles for A-level, and Jude the Obscure when I first moved to Oxford. The trajectory of the title character is much the same in all three cases: they make a foolish mistake in early life, appear to bounce back from it, enjoy a period of happiness and / or prosperity, find to their cost that their early mistake is not so inescapable as they thought, and finally die in ignominy and despair. This is, of course, a classic tragic plot as the ancient Greeks would have recognised it: much the same happens, for example, to Sophocles' Oedipus.

Some people find this sort of stuff depressing, but personally I love it. If there's one thing tragedies certainly have it is Romance. Like a crumbling ancient ruin, they speak eloquently of the vanity of human endeavour and the transience of life and worldly success: and the lapsed Goth in me can't get enough of that. Hardy's tragedies, though, have a lot more to them than forehead-stapling. I remember being struck when we read Tess at school by how cleverly he wove symbols and metaphors out of the landscapes which his characters move around: and this was very much true again here. His well-defined secondary characters, observations of human nature and rich vocabulary only add to the pleasure.

Around the time I started reading this book, I found out that CiarĂ¡n Hinds had starred as the eponymous Mayor (Michael Henchard) in a 2003 TV adaptation of the story - I think because I also saw Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day around the same time, and was browsing through his IMDb page in the wake of that. I haven't seen the adaptation, but just knowing that made me see the character of Henchard with his features all the time I was reading - and in my brain at least, he put in an excellent performance!

So, just as watching Brideshead has made me all the more determined to read the book, reading this has inspired me to hunt down the TV series. It's all good.

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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.


Sunday, 25 December 2005 23:21
strange_complex: (Lord S not unenlightened)
Yesterday evening, I went with my family to a carol-singing gathering on Bournville Village Green, led by a local church called St. Francis'. (Full write-up of last year's equivalent event here). We met up with Fleur WINOLJ and her mum, and the six of us stood together in the crowd, giggling as we attempted to sing along to the accompaniment of a carillon which we could only just hear, and which sometimes played faster than we were expecting, and sometimes slower.

Then Silent Night came up. Somehow, no-one was singing out of time any more. The melody was slow and simple, and the singing was suffused with a kind of reverent hush. For the second verse, the carol-sheet instructed us all to raise the lanterns we had brought. And so we did. Everything from candles in jam-jars to battery-powered camping lamps appeared above warmly-hatted heads. And we sang:

"Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light:
Radiance beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace..."
Etc., etc.

Afterwards, we lowered our lanterns back down into the crowd. "See?" I said to Fleur. "The sun will come again."

"Change the spelling a bit," she said, "and the Christians would agree with you."

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.
strange_complex: (Default)
This Saturday, I had another gathering round at my place to watch the week's Dr. Who episode, followed by whatever took our fancy. Father's Day was up to the usual standard, and we had much geeky excitement discovering the updates on Clive's Mickey's website afterwards, as well as just generally discovering the Geocomtex one, which I hadn't seen before.

We also watched more of [ profile] damien_mocata's excellent Friday Night Armistice tapes, some Red Dwarf stuff, and QI (at my insistence!), while simultaneously soaking Jaffa Cakes in Absinthe, eating trifle, spitting Jaffa Cakes across the room (mainly [ profile] damien_mocata), and probably some other stuff, but it all seems a bit of a blur now...

Sunday commenced with a good long lie-in, continued with some intensive mucking-about-on-LJ, and then went and got all intellectual on me, when the delectable [ profile] thebiomechanoid invited me out to see 5x2 (aka Cinque Fois Deux) with her and a friend at the QFT.

The film was one for provoking questions, rather than providing answers, and it certainly prompted a lot of debate between the three of us afterwards. In essence, it tells the story of the decline of a relationship in five stages. The title can be expanded to mean 'five [events in the lives] of two [people]': those events being their first meeting, their marriage, the birth of their child, a dinner party and their divorce.

The story is complex in itself - there were a lot of interesting explorations of (anti-)romance, sexuality, morality, different kinds of love and the interplay between different kinds of characters. But what it made it a little different from the norm was that the five events were told in reverse chronological order: rather like Memento, but with longer chunks. In other words, the order which I have listed above is actually completely reversed, the result being that when, at the end of their first meeting you see them both swimming off into the sunset, it looks like a perfect romantic ending in both appearance and its context at the end of the film... except that you, the viewer, actually know already exactly how it is all going to pan out. (I wouldn't be giving too much away if I said 'not well').

There were also all sorts of intriguing resonances between the different chunks of the story and the different characters within it, which were simply presented 'as is', leaving you to guess whether they had any deep and profound meaning or not. And on that topic, [ profile] thebiomechanoid, I did look up the clauses of a European Civil Marriage ceremony, and found that article 213 reads:

"The spouses have the duty to live together; they owe it to each other to be faithful and provide help and assistance."

The other clauses which are usually read out can be found here, on a page about the wedding of Prince Laurent of Belgium and Claire Coombs, and they match perfectly with my memory of the clauses read out at the wedding of Gilles and Marion in the film. So I would say that it definitely is significant that that was her room no. in the hotel, since of all the clauses it is this one that relates most closely to the problems in their marriage.

After the film it was on to Dukes for excitable conversation about the film, Diet Coke, exam motivation, tall buildings, LJ (inevitably), Cambridge, jazz and how we didn't really feel much like going home. But, eventually, we did, and, with regret, brought the weekend to a close.

Le weekend

Monday, 25 April 2005 09:14
strange_complex: (Apollo Belvedere)
Doctor Who

It actually just gets better and better, doesn't it? I mean: the little pile of M&Ms by the red telephone, the many alternative Tardises and, best of all, the Massive Weapons of Destruction. Did the old Who ever boast such delightful symbolism or topical resonance? I propose from this day forth always to say 'Massive Weapons of Destruction' in everyday conversation rather than 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' in tribute to this weekend's episode.

And if that all weren't enough, we have the Daleks to look forward to next Saturday night. * faints from excitement *

Lysistrata at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast

I went to see this on Saturday evening with my colleague, John Curran, our three MA students and one of their boyfriends. It was OK, but I think I've been rather spoiled by the stunning tragedies put on by the Actors of Dionysus, not to mention a bright and breezy student adaptation of the Birds which I saw while at Oxford, and which had translated all the references to contemporary Athens into references to modern-day Oxford instead. While AoD's tragedies are innovative, fresh adaptations, which offer profound contemporary relevance and stunning choreography and manage to strike at the very core of one's emotional being, and the Oxford Birds at least drew on the real experiences of its cast and crew, Saturday's Lysistrata was merely... average.

A pity, because Aristophanes' writing at the time was incredibly bold and topical, and of course there is plenty of local significance that could have been drawn out of a play between two warring communities whose women decide to draw the conflict to an end themselves by holding a sex strike. But the attempts made to do so were half-hearted, the translation sounded suspiciously to me like what I remember of the Penguin one, and many of the lines came across as simply being spoken: not meant. This will probably sound like the most snobbish thing I've ever said, but it felt... provincial.

Still, it was nice to go out with our students, and I'm sure we did much to promote intra-departmental bonding in the process. And I enjoyed some very nice pan-fried duck with a summer fruits sauce in a bistro where we ate before the performance. So by no means a wasted evening.


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