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Wednesday 28 August 2013

Words on Wednesday: Erich Fried, another library discovery, and thoughts on the nature of poetry

Whilst bumbling about the library earlier this June (some might call it work) I happened upon 'On Pain of Seeing' a translated (from German) collection of poetry by the Austrian-British writer Erich Fried who, up until that moment, had been completely unknown to me.

Erich Fried (1921-1988)
I was interested in what he had to say about the nature of poetry, reproduced here in full from the book's preface:

   Poems are reflections of structures in our minds which are composed of thoughts and emotions. We often become fully aware of these structures only through such reflections and through our attempts to fix them in words.
   These structures and their reflections are never completely original (which anyway would make them incomprehensible) for even where allusion and association are not consciously employed, thought and verbalization are based on countless conventions. This does not prevent a poem from throwing a critical light on some of these conventions.
It is part of the nature of the reflections we call a poem that it takes shape by means of sounds, mainly words, and that it acquires from he structures it reflects not only contents, but also formal and rhythmic elements.
   As these structures are never wholly conscious and are unstable, the poet cannot reproduce their reflection at will. In trying to 'fix' a reflection - that is to say by writing a poem - sometimes a more complex structure forms in the writer's mind, thus enabling him to reflect more and 'give more of himself'.
   My poems for me are chiefly ways of understanding myself and means for coping with tensions engendered by impressions and insights. These might stem from the world around or within me as long as I neither shut myself off (consciously or unconsciously) from my experiences nor allow myself to become obtuse or cynical.
   Confronting one's own poems in turn has further effects on one's life and writings. This way of confronting my experiences by means of writing can possibly be of interest to others simply because being a poet does not make me basically different from others inhabiting the same world and exposed to similar experiences. Thus, trying to communicate my attempts of coping with the wold can make its infinitesimal contribution to changing this world.
   With Ernesto Che Guevera ('Socialism and Man in Cuba'), I believe that the main task for art is the fight against alienation. Poems are traces of this fight which one wages with oneself. These traces need not appear at first sight as committed poems. They can, for instance at first simply appear as a new way of exploding familiar forms or of using them in a new way. But even committed poetry in the narrower sense is in my view always justified when it really fights alienation, which must of necessity include avoiding alienation in one's own language and imagery unless as a deliberate means: quotation, parody, allusion, 'montage'.
   I have been wring poems for thirty years; beginning with love and political ones. Then I became immersed in experiments with sound and association, anticipating some of the techniques of recent German 'konkrete' poetry. Poems operating with word associations (an longish poetry cycles which interest me particularly as a means of conveying more complex structures) are virtually untranslateable and therefore largely excluded from the present selection.
   The order of the poems is of my choice.

London, 1969.

& here is a poem from said collection:


A dog
that dies
and that knows
that it dies
like a dog

and that can say
that it knows
that it dies
like a dog
is a man

Friday 23 August 2013

Library Tales: Dedications IV

Back again...
Only a few this time as I've been stuck working with some quite dull books (or quite dull authors who don't write interesting dedications). So, these are mostly quite old ones from earlier this summer.

Dedicated to the memory of Obie, our wonderful dog, who
passed away as this edition was completed. She affected
many of our most important decisions.

Gloria and Danny
who know a lot about values without thinking about them at all

To an obstacle that became
an opportunity

The noble quest for those elusive goals -
Knowledge, Peace and Justice

For Sarah
who has accomplished much more than she is
willing to admit

To Neil, who became
a scuba diver, juggler, and logician
all while I was working
on this one book

To the three ladies of my life
and the laughing gull

To my old pals,
"Bill," "Bert," and "Alf."
Who have sat in the mud with me

Love is life's wonder!
I dedicate this book to Jean
[In a book about electromagnetics]

For Reggie
who is almost always right

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Words on Wednesday: Kavafy Koncludes.

Here are some 'final words' from C.P. Cavafy, all these poems come from towards the end of his life, but I don't think this is the last we'll see from Cavafy on this blog. 

I'm very pleased to have found the work of Constantine Cavafy and expect I'll return to his poetry repeatedly. One of the great benefits of working in a library when one loves books and literature is the occasional, quite accidental, discovery of some previously unknown writer.

Early published works (and short Biography)

Productive 'middle' period

A brief word about the excellent translation in my edition of C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (London: Catto & Windus, 1998), compared to some other translations (Cavafy wrote in Greek) Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard seem to have grasped the straightforward language abundant with wit and dry humour that can be passed over, focusing too much on his dramatic flourishes or classical forms.


Nero wasn’t worried at all when he heard
what the Delphic Oracle had to say:
“Beware the age of seventy-three.”
Plenty of time to enjoy himself.
He’s thirty. The deadline
the god has given him is quite enough
to cope with future dangers.

Now, a little tired, he’ll return to Rome—
but wonderfully tired from that journey
devoted entirely to pleasure:
theatres, garden-parties, stadiums...
evenings in the cities of Achaia...
and, above all, the sensual delight of naked bodies...

So much for Nero. And in Spain Galba
secretly musters and drills his army—
Galba, the old man in his seventy-third year.


I sit in a mood of reverie.
I've brought to Art desires and sensations:
things half-glimpsed,
faces or lines, certain indistinct memories
of unfulfilled love affairs. 

Let me submit to Art:
Art knows how to shape forms of Beauty,
almost imperceptibly completing life,
blending impressions, blending day with day.


For two years he studied with Ammonios Sakkas,
but he was bored by both philosophy and Sakkas.

Then he went into politics.
But he gave that up. That Prefect was an idiot,
and those around him solemn, officious nitwits:
their Greek—poor fools—barbaric.

After that he became
vaguely curious about the Church: to be baptized
and pass as a Christian. But he soon
let that one drop: it would certainly have caused a row
with his parents, ostentatious pagans,
and right away they would have stopped—

something too horrible to contemplate—
their extremely generous allowance.

But he had to do something. He began to haunt
the corrupt houses of Alexandria,
every secret den of debauchery.

Here he was fortunate:
he’d been given an extremely handsome figure.
and he enjoyed the divine gift.

His looks would last
at least another ten years. And after that?
Maybe he’ll go back to Sakkas.
Or if the old man has died meanwhile,
he’ll find another philosopher or sophist:
there’s always someone suitable around.

Or in the end he might possibly return
even to politics—commendably remembering
the traditions of his family,
duty toward the country,
and other resonant banalities of that kind.


He's lost him completely. And he now tries to find
his lips in the lips of each new lover,
he tries in the embrace of each new lover
to convince himself that it’s the same young man,
that it’s to him he gives himself.

He lost him completely, as though he never existed.
He wanted, his lover said, to save himself
from the tainted, sick form of sexual pleasure,
the tainted, shameful form of sexual pleasure.
There was still time, he said, to save himself.

He lost him completely, as though he never existed.
Through fantasy, through hallucination,
he tries to find his lips in the lips of other young men,
he longs to feel his kind of love once more.

DAYS OF 1896 (1927)

He's become completely degraded. His erotic tendencies,
condemned and strictly forbidden
(but innate for all that) were the cause of it:
society was totally narrow-minded.
He'd gradually lost what little money he had,
then his social standing, then his reputation.
Nearly thirty, he'd never worked a full year—
at least not at a legitimate job.
Sometimes he earned enough to get by
acting the go-between in deals considered shameful.
He ended up the type likely to compromise you thoroughly
if you were seen around with him often.

But this wasn't the whole story—that wouldn't be fair;
the memory of his beauty deserves better.
There is another angle; seen from that
he appears attractive, appears
a simple, genuine child of love,
without hesitation putting,

the pure sensuality of his pure flesh
above his honor and reputation.

Above his reputation? But society,
totally narrow-minded, had all its values wrong.


Said an aesthete: “What distillation from magic herbs
can I find—what distillation, following the recipe
of ancient Greco-Syrian magicians—that will bring back to me 

for one day (if its power doesn’t last longer), 
or even for a few hours,
my twenty-third year,
bring back to me my friend of twenty-two,
his beauty, his love.

What distillation, following the recipe
of ancient Greco-Syrian magicians, can be found
to bring back also—as part of this return to the past—
the little room we shared.”

ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF ANTIOCH (1932-33) Unpublished

We in Antioch were astonished when we heard
what Julian was up to now.

Apollo had made things clear to him at Daphni:
he didn’t want to give an oracle (as though we cared!),
he didn’t intend to speak prophetically 

unless his temple at Daphni was purified first.
The nearby dead, he declared, got on his nerves.

There are many tombs at Daphni.
One of those buried there
was the triumphant and holy martyr Vavylas,
wonder and glory of our church.

It was him the false god hinted at, him he feared.
As long as he felt him near he didn’t dare
pronounce his oracle: not a murmur.
(The false gods are terrified of our martyrs.)

The unholy Julian got worked up,
lost his temper and shouted: “Raise him, carry him out,
take him away immediately, this Vavylas.
You there, do you hear? He gets on Apollo’s nerves.
Grab him, raise him at once,
dig him out, 
take him wherever you want,
take him away, throw him out. I'm not fooling around.
Apollo said the temple has to be purified.”

We took it, the holy relic, and carried it elsewhere.
We took it, we carried it away in love and in honor.

And hasn’t the temple done brilliantly since!
In no time at all a colossal fire broke out, 
a terrible fire,
and both the temple and Apollo burned to the ground.

Ashes the idol: to be thrown out with the garbage.

Julian blew up, and he spread it around—
what else could he do?—that we, the Christians,
had set the fire. Let him say so.
It hasn’t been proved. Let him say so.
The essential point is: he blew up.

Sakkas (d. 243 A.D.)
The 'Socrates of Neoplatonism', who taught in Alexandria and who is said to have had Longinus, Herennius, Plotinus, and the two Origens among his disciples.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Library Tales: Observations II

The irony that the book 'Successful Dissertations and Theses' was greasy.

I've seen my first students wearing jeggings in the library. This is not a good thing.

If you're going to make the effort to come into the library for 9am, I'd suggest you don't bother spending all your time; listening to music, watching videos, texting and chatting with your friends. My advice, just stay in bed a little longer next time.

Calling your book 'A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about ... x' or 'Discovering statistics using IBM SPSS statistics : (and sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll)' doesn't make you sound fun or witty, it just makes you an arse.

On discovering the book 'Globalization and Cultural Trends in China' by Liu Kang, I wondered what books other computer games characters might write...

Liu Kang, Academic

Liu Kang, Shaolin Monk

Friday 17 May 2013

Library Tales: Interestingly titled II

The Dumbest Generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future (or, don't trust anyone under 30)

A History of Orgies by Burgo Partridge

Amazons and Military Maids: Woman who dressed as men in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness

How to Do It: Guides to Good Living for Renaissance Italians

Cocaine Fiends and Reefer Madness: An Illustrated History of Drugs in the Movies

An Anglo-Norman rhymed Apocalypse: With commentary [followed by a dissertation on the seven deadly sins]

The Antichrist's Lewd Hat

We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda

Against the Grain: An Autobiography by Boris Yeltsin
The Irony! I thought he was very much for 'The Grain'

Thursday 16 May 2013

Quotes worth saving (15): Pico Della Mirandola (1463 - 1494)

Nec certam sedem, nec propriam faciem, nec munus ullum peculiare tibi dedimus, o Adam, ut quam sedem, quam faciem, quae munera tute optaveris, ea, pro voto, pro tua sententia, habeas et possideas. Definita ceteris natura intra praescriptas a nobis leges coercetur. Tu, nullis angustiis coercitus, pro tuo arbitrio, in cuius manu te posui, tibi illam praefinies. Medium te mundi posui, ut circumspiceres inde commodius quicquid est in mundo. Nec te caelestem neque terrenum, neque mortalem neque immortalem fecimus, ut tui ipsius quasi arbitrarius honorariusque plastes et fictor, in quam malueris tute formam effingas…
- Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Oratio de hominis dignitate

I have given you, O Adam, no fixed abode, and no visage of your own, nor any special gift, in order that whatever place or aspect or talents you yourself will have desired, you may have and possess them wholly in accord with your desire and your own decision. Other species are confined to a prescribed nature, under laws of my making. No limits have been imposed upon you, however; you determine your nature by you own free will, in the hands of which I have placed you. I have placed you at the world’s very center, that you may the better behold from this point whatever is in the world. And I have made you neither celestial nor terrestrial, neither mortal nor immortal, so that, like a free and able sculptor and painter of yourself, you may mold yourself wholly in the form of your choice.
- Oration on the Dignity of Man

[From the epigraph of 'Zeno of Bruges' aka 'L'Oeuvre au noir' by Marguerite Yourcenar]

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Words on Wednesday: Kavafy, Kontinues...

Here are some 'later' poems by Constantine Cavafy (1863 - 1933). Although they are not his 'last' work, so instead it probably counts as his 'middle period', coming from a productive time when Cavafy was in his late forties and into his fifties and publishing much more regularly. 

This is part two of three collections of some of my favourites of his poetry.

Unlike his earlier works, Cavafy is now (rather, in this period) much more open and eloquent about his sexuality. 

As before, all these poems come from 'C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems' Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (London: Catto & Windus, 1998)

THE CITY (1910)

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart - like something dead - lies buried.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. 

You'll walk the same streets, grow old 
in the same neighbourhoods, will turn grey in these same houses.
You'll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there's no ship for you, there's no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.


Even if you can’t shape your life the way you want,
at least try as much as you can
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.

Do not degrade it by dragging it along,
taking it around and exposing it so often
to the daily silliness
of social relations and parties,
until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.

“For the gods perceive future things, ordinary people things in the present, but the wise perceive things about to happen.”
Philostratos, Life of Apollonios of Tyana, viii, 7.
Ordinary mortals know what’s happening now,
the gods know what the future holds
because they alone are totally enlightened.
Of what’s to come the wise perceive
things about to happen.

Sometimes during moments of intense study
their hearing’s troubled: the hidden sound
of things approaching reaches them,
and they listen reverently, while in the street outside
the people hear nothing whatsoever. 


Try to keep them, poet,
those erotic visions of yours,
however few of them there are that can be stilled.
Put them, half-hidden, in your lines.
Try to hold them, poet,
when they come alive in your mind
at night or in the noonday brightness.

I'VE LOOKED SO MUCH . . . (1917)

I’ve looked on beauty so much
that my vision overflows with it.

The body’s lines. Red lips. Sensual limbs.
Hair as though stolen from Greek statues,
always lovely, even uncombed,
and falling slightly over pale foreheads.
Figures of love, as my poetry desired them
.... in the nights when I was young,
encountered secretly in those nights. 

BODY, REMEMBER . . . (1918)

Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds you lay on,
but also those desires that glowed openly
in eyes that looked at you,
trembled for you in the voices -
only some chance obstacle frustrated them.
Now that it’s all finally in the past,
it seems almost as if you gave yourself
to those desires too - how they glowed,
remember, in eyes that looked at you,
remember, body, how they trembled for you in those voices.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Quotes worth saving (14): Blanchot on Friendship

Blanchot (left) with his friend, Levinas (right)

Maurice Blanchot, L'Amitié (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), 328: 
Friendship, this relationship without dependency, without scenes, yet full of life's simplicity, implies an acknowledgement of mutual strangeness that does not allow us to speak of our friends but only to them, not turn them into subjects of conversation (or articles) but the movement of understanding by which, when speaking to us, even in situation of greatest familiarity, they reserve an infinite distance, which is the fundamental separation by which that which separates becomes relation.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Words on Wednesday: C.P. Cavafy

I. Brief Biography

Constantine Cavafy was an Anglo-Greek poet born in Egypt in 1863. The family moved to England when Constantine was nine after his father died. The eldest brother George took over the family business (Constantine was the youngest of nine), but performed very poorly and after seven years in Liverpool and London, Constantine returned to Alexandria, Egypt, when the firm was liquidated in 1879.

Cavafy lived the rest of his life in Alexandria, working first as a journalist, but later worked as a civil servant for thirty years in the Ministry of Public Works.  He died of cancer of the larynx, at the age of seventy on his birthday indeed, in 1933.

Although he published 154 poems while alive, it has been after his death that his reputation has grown (certainly in the anglophone world). He wrote and published the majority of his work in later life (after 1911). His best known poem is probably Ithaca (1911) based on the Homeric epic and many of his poems also feature mythic and historical characters and places from Greek antiquity.

II. Some early poems

WALLS (1896)

With no consideration, no pity, no shame,

they've built walls around me, thick and high.
And now I sit here feeling hopeless.
I can't think of anything else: this fate gnaws my mind -
because I had so much to do outside.
When they were building the walls, how could I not have noticed!
But I never heard the builders, not a sound.
Imperceptibly they've closed me off from the outside world.

CANDLES (1899)

Days to come stand in front of us 

like a row of burning candles-
golden, warm, and vivid candles.

Days past fall behind us,

a gloomy line of burnt-out candles;
the nearest are still smoking,
cold, melted, and bent.

I don't want to look at them: their shape saddens me,

and it saddens me to remember their original light.
I look ahead at my burning candles.

I don't want to turn, don't want to see, terrified,

how quickly that dark line gets longer,
how quickly one more dead candle joins another.


 Inside  their worn, tattered bodies
sit the souls of old men.
How unhappy the poor things are
and how bored by the pathetic life they live.
How they tremble for fear of losing that life, and how much 
they love it, those befuddled and contradictory souls,
sitting - half comic and half tragic -
inside their old, threadbare skins.


In these dark rooms where I live out empty days,
I wander round and round
trying to find the windows.
It will be a great relief when a window opens.
But the windows aren't there to be found -
or at least I can't find them. And perhaps
it's better if I don't find them.
Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny.
Who knows what new things it will expose?


What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

     The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

     Because the barbarians are coming today.
     What's the point of senators making laws now?
     Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
     He's even got a scroll to give him,
     loaded with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

     Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
     And some of our men just in from the border say
     there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people 
were a kind of solution.

Quotes worth saving (13): Livro do desassossego por Bernardo Soares

The countryside is wherever we are not.
There and only there do real shadows and real trees exist.

- Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Library Tales: Observations I

When students attempt to hide books - that is, when they deliberately secrete a pile of un-checked-out books in a place that only they know so that they alone can gain repeated use of said books - it is mostly found to be Law or Business students (or Law and Business text books at any rate) that are the perpetrators. What are we to make of this?

The messiest book shelves - that is, kind-hearted students have made something like an attempt to return the item to the shelf, but instead have dumped them near but not near enough to were they actually should be. It's a benign dumping, rather than actively trying to stop people use books they want, they stop everyone, including themselves - are almost always to found wherever there are science and medical students. Mathematics students seem to find the classification system especially impossible to follow, maybe it's just too simple?

Some helpful students like to write notes on the frontispiece of books, "this one's good!" or "what a load of rubbish!" or point out good work by the author "good start!" sometimes they like to leave hand-written notes, "Recommended Reading." How sweet.

It is a  Japanese superstition that when one sneezes it means you are being talked about by someone. Since starting work at the library it seems I've become a regular topic of conversations...

The worst part of the job, taking books off the shelf. Not even to be cleaned or repaired, but simply packed up and sent away. First to an external store and then probable shredding. That I was 'weeding' philosophy books only compounded my ill feeling.

Monday 22 April 2013

Haunted by Popular Music: Funkadelic, One Nation Under a Groove

I've been racking my brains, why I've had this song in my head all day.

Was it an advert? Can't think of one and don't have a TV, so seems unlikely.
Perhaps music in a film? I checked, none that I've seen recently.

Really, I just hope it's from a generally good mood that I find myself in.
The sun's back, I had a nice relaxing weekend.

Today really feels like a Magickal Monday
I hope yours is too.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Terrible Films I Love, Volume II : Dungeons & Dragons

Part two of the ongoing series: Terrible Films I love, start with the introduction if you haven't already.

Phantom Menace poster anyone?

As a teenager and into early adulthood I was an avid player of various RPGs and it was with D&D that I first began. It's been well over ten years now since I last played and I'm currently suffering from a real sense of nostalgia about it. It may well be time to dig out the old D&D books (unless I've sold them on eBay and can't remember) and try and convince some aging academics to take part in a game.

I can remember countless conversations when we were young about how our ideal fantasy film would look (and I think Peter Jackson did a great job of satisfying my 13 year-old self's idea of a Lord of the Rings film) and so although I was quite a bit older when I heard they had made a Dungeons & Dragons film, I was still intrigued with a proper Wizards of the Coast backed film project. Especially as it featured Jeremy Irons, an actor I really admire and enjoyed in Brideshead Revisited and many more.

One fear was a 'Disneyfication' of the film, by that I mean a softening of tone, although keeping various stereotypes, and an anachronistic simplification of Medieval style cultures, with a harking back to crypto-right-wing notions of tradition and hierarchy, albeit ones that never actually existed anywhere. This was something increasingly began to bother me about fantasy setting RPGs as I grew older. I need not have worried too much though, because that particular problem was the least of concerns for the Dungeons & Dragons film.

It would be no understatement to say that Jeremy Irons steals every single scene he is in, indeed, he does more than just steal scenes he utterly devastates them with overacting so fierce that it's probably dangerous to witness. It's scenery chewing that defies belief.

Don't look right at him!!

We might ask ourselves why, that is, why would a well-established, respected, and seasoned dramatic actor find himself with a first-time director, an awful script, and less than excellent co-stars? Perhaps he has a rubbish agent, or has no personal judgement, or is desperate for the money. 

Certainly it can't be his love of the project that motivated him. Irons gives the impression of a man who has found himself somehow in a crap job and thought to himself, "Sod this, I'm going to go as far as I can, have fun doing it, and let's see if that stupid kid director has the balls to stop me!" Which, for the record, Courtney Solomon did not, but also I'm not sure that Jeremy enjoyed himself given a brief insight a 'behind the scenes' clip gave me. 

In one of the many pointless extras on the DVD, there's an opportunity to see the "D&D creator" in a cameo appearance. I'd like to point out that there were TWO D&D creators, although Dave Arneson was probably lucky to get that mention (even though he got deleted from the film) as Gary Gygax was probably better known (thanks to Futurama).

Anyway, in said clip, we see Jeremy Irons gie'in it laldie (much like the clip above) and once line is delivered and "cut!" is called he drops and stomps off with such an expression that you'd never think he was in any way finding joy in his work.

Summary: If only Jeremy Irons played every character in this film...

What of our heroes? Well, they're quite a pair... Ridley or Ripley (excellent fantasy name there writers! Oh and I checked it was Ridley) is your typical anti-hero every-man super-man, played with something like charm by that bloke who played 'Jimmy' in the New Adventures of Superman  (Justin Whalin). I say 'something like charm' because the only evidence of this charm is the occasional attempt at a mischievous grin, which results in our hero looking like a lobotomy patient or deranged sex pest. This isn't to say the actor's terrible, or massively overacting, but just that he seems woefully miscast as the hero. Especially when they have to rely on a chosen one trope to explain why any of this shit is happening. 

So far so American hero cliche, what better accompaniment than a throw-back black sidekick? Marlon Wayans plays the servile retarded comic-relief character Snails as a homage to Chris Tucker's character in The Fifth Element. Although I've no way of checking and it hardly excuses him anyway, Wayans filmed his scenes in only four days before returning to another production. Maybe that's why he didn't notice quite how awful it all was and it's certainly why when both heroes are wounded, one falls to an ignominious death (Snails) and the other (Ripley?) is, for no other than reason than he's the 'chosen one', healed by the elf king (is he a king? maybe not, but he's Definitely NOT Elrond) played by the least elf-like actor they could find, the always extraordinary Tom Baker. Maybe it was the Doctor Who connection that led to his casting, but not even as Doctor Who has Tom Baker had to say such nonsense. Actually, it appears the director was trying to give us another depiction of despised Jar-Jar Binks from the Phantom Menace in the character of Snails, because he's apparently meant to fulfill the same role, in that he's equally irritating and offensive. If, however, you've got a character who spends the majority of his time wailing and falling into things it does seem a bit odd, cruel even, to then have him slaughtered and throw his body off a castle battlements.

Summary: Worst buddy combo ever? Miscasting and offensive stereotypes are not a great double-act.

What of the supporting cast? Because no true D&D inspired film should be without 'the group'. For those that don't know, one of D&D's key features (that makes up for the lack of actual role-playing) is the necessity for a group of characters to work together, each utilising their class-specific skills, i.e. you need a thief to open doors and disarm traps, a fighter to fight, a cleric to heal, and a magic-user to support with magic.

So, what's the combination of the movie team? Two thieves, a mage, a dwarf, and an elf 'tracker'. Actually, Ridley is probably more of a thief/fighter with some innate magic skills. One of the benefits of being the 'chosen one' is that you can do everything on your own, which goes against the whole idea of D&D as a game. Not that a truthful adherence to the rules will make it a better film, but just that (like I've mentioned before in my Hobbit review) it's a Tolkien-influenced fantasy theme for the individual to be reliant of his or her group, that is, their friends. D&D as game comes from the Tolkien idea that nothing can be achieved without collaboration as a group.

I've already got to the point, much quicker than anticipated, where I can't be bothered going on with this review. If I was to tell you ALL that is bad about the film it would take another 100 hours and probably remove all the fun you can have with it.

So, for the sake of brevity and my sanity, here is just a short list of a few of things that I could have mentioned:

1. Where did that dwarf come from? What's his name? Where's he gone? Who the hell is that guy?! Why is the DWARF the same height as everyone else?
2. Does that elf's breastplate have nipples?
3. Why does the big bad guy have blue lipstick? Who'd tell him?
4. Richard O'Brien has a 'crystal' maze.
5. Constant establishing shots of Disney castles.
6. Does the director really love Indiana Jones THAT much? *copies scene*
7. Not Phantom Menace too! *copies inherent racism*
8. "We're all equal... and I'm getting knighted." *sigh*
9. Random purple headed man, possibly an extra from Buffy.
10. If you can't afford decent CG why use it so much? And in direct shot?
11. Thora Birch can't be bothered to act. Note: This is being EXTRA kind.
12. Who the fuck are these guys? Where did they come from? What are they saying?
13. Makes an episode of Xena look like a well-researched historical epic.
14. Must have taken plot ideas directly from a 12 year-old boy's D&D game.

That's probably enough.

Final reckoning: If not for Jeremy Irons this would be an excruciating experience, but once ol' Jezza has settled you in for what's in store, it really is quite a fun shout-at-the-idiot-athon.

Requirement: Beer, group of raucous friends, ability to find humour in dire acting/script/effects.

Finally, a top 20 moments video compilation from the same guy (The RetroCritic) that made the excellent Street Fighter movie 'embarrassing moments' video.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Library Tales: Dedications III

As you might have noticed I only choose the interesting dedications for my collection

It's fair to say that I ignore a great deal and they tend to go in this order of appearance: 

Mum and Dad, children, husband or wife or significant other, dead people, people related to the author's subject (for the children!), people working in the same field as the author, famous people the author hopes will be pleased by their dedication.

Also, this is the last 'Dedications' for a while as I've moved to different project work and won't have the opportunity to inspect books.

To Mary Alison, John David, and Timothy
for Whom This Anthology Is Written
and Who Will Soon Judge Its Merits

For my mother, Phyllis Katz,
who gave me humor,
and my father, Arthur Katz,
who taught me to sing without words.

To the millions of poverty-stricken children in this country whose voice is too
amorphous and diffused to be heard by the powers-that-be!

To our parents,

To our children
And to Le Petit Prince
Who helped us understand so much

To the pioneers,
listeners and dreamers of dreams,
all of them.

A tous ceux et toutes celles pour qui la ville
et les quartiers populaires sont une promesse.

For Steve, my valkkaittunai
Finnish 'life's help'

For the men of my family:
my father, Nelson; my brother, Ronald;
and my husband, Ronald Nelson

I dedicate this book
with profound affection and gratitude
to the Sanchez family,
whose identity must remain anonymous

Dedicated to bisexual people everywhere -
Come out, come out. wherever you are,
It is our time to dance!

to partiality, irony, intimacy and perversity

For Ian, with love
and the hope that boys and girls of your generation
will grow up to enjoy a safer, saner, more loving,
and more fulfilling sexuality

To Bob and Lorraine

for the gift and luxury of 'imagination'

The little god of Love is generally represented as 
a child; and rightly perhaps, considering the erratic
character of his ways among the human race. There
are signs, however, of a new order in the relations of the
Sexes; and the following papers are, among other
things, an attempt to indicate the inner laws which,
rather than the outer, may guide Love when - some
say - he shall have come to his full estate

Saturday 13 April 2013

Cinema on Saturday - Tideland : a quick defence

(Yes, it happened again)

I thought I'd take a short break from writing my Dungeons & Dragons review to talk about a film I saw the other night. Tideland is a 2005 Terry Gilliam film that until Thursday night I had never heard of. Being a fan of most of Terry Gilliam's work I was pleased to discover it and intrigued by the blurb and cover artwork.

First reactions: Tideland is not an easy watch in places. It manages to get under your skin and crawl. It reminded me very strongly of Jan Svankmajer's Alice, which is no surprise as Gilliam himself describes Tideland as "a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Psycho." Perhaps had I known more about the plot of the film I would not have watched it, but I'm glad that I did, because although unsettling in places (and maybe a little too ghoulish) it is a rewarding watch. The performance of Jodelle Ferland is excellent for one so young, which can only be because equally excellent direction. It's no surprise to me that Gilliam understands children as his films have always struck me as being childlike in a way that really remembers what it's like to be a child. 

I later found out that Tideland got quite a hostile critical reaction and has a very low score on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes (26% and 30% respectively). Again, I'm glad I didn't know all this before watching the film, although that partially explains why I'd never heard of it. Not an excuse really, why should we base our film-watching habits on the biased views of critics?

This quick response then is a defence of Gilliam's film from the what I see as the personal disgust most reviewers felt when they should have been critically objective in their analysis. Put simply, the film unsettled them and most people don't like that, so having been given a nasty shock they hit back in the only way they could.

What then is so upsetting about the film to so many people? Typically it is because it is dealing with subjects that most people would rather ignore; drug addiction, child neglect, child abuse, isolation, mental illness, death and decay, and the death of so-called innocence. The last is the most important, and as far as I can see the most ignored. Paradoxically the film is about innocence, the entire film being seen through the narrator's eyes, who is a nine-year old girl called Jeliza-Rose.

The romanticisation of innocence. What is innocence? I think that the majority of people have a distorted view of innocence, particularly when it comes to the representation of innocence in film. So, when I talk about 'the death of so-called innocence' in the film I'm talking about the death of this particular innocence. This distorted innocence comes from, first, a refusal to deal with the lives of children, in a sense, it is a failure to properly remember what childhood was like and replace it with fantastical notions of purity that one is constantly fed from representations of children in fiction. The second place this distorted innocence gains it's history is, no surprise, from a populist description of the Judeo-Christian notion of innocence. In this sense innocence is an absolute freedom from the guilt of sinning, something that only the young can have as they have had no experience of evil.

Tideland instead gives us a more realistic view of childhood innocence (albeit an abnormal childhood). In the film's introduction by Gilliam (an odd step, but probably one necessitated by the panning it received)  he makes a plea for us to forget everything we've learned as adults and to remember the resilience of children. Now, although the first is an impossibility, it is directing us towards something important. Innocence in Gilliam's view is more akin to ignorance or lack of knowledge, in which the gaps are filled by imaginative attempts at description or understanding. Children are natural story-tellers, particularly isolated creative children like Jeliza-Rose. I think people came to this film expecting the same old depictions of whimsy, of fantasy, that did not challenge them but instead confirmed their received views of what childhood innocence constitutes. The idea that children can have naive thoughts about intimacy, expressed through childlike notions of 'marriage' and 'kissing' rather than adult understanding of what that means, true though it may be is repellent to the distorted notion of innocence, because this shows children trying to make sense of the adult world rather than being somehow unconnected to this world we understand. That by creating this false notion of childhood innocence as being utterly unaware of adult notions allows the belief that we can be 'purified from the world' and it's horrors at least for a little time.

Gilliam's second plea, for us to remember the resilience of children, explains why Jeliza-Rose can deal with all the horrible things that happen to her and still carry on. That see can live in a house with her dead father for so long seemingly without concern while her 'adventures' continue is from this childhood innocence that doesn't understand, it is this ignorance that gives her resilience. Although perhaps we could also say that children are more resilient as they have not made decisions on what things are meant to mean, these actions are fluid and can be interpreted in different ways, they are receiving so much information about the adult world that they are not able to make immediate understanding and instead create a story with which to temporarily explain, until they are told about how they should feel.

I'll stop myself there. There's plenty more I could say about the film; beautifully shot prairie vistas, the 'Southern Gothic' characters Dickens (Brendan Fletcher) and Dell (Janet McTeer), cameos by Jennifer Tilly and Jeff Bridges, Gilliam's trademark cinematography, and so forth. Whatever else one might say about the film, it's understanding of what constitutes actual childhood innocence that over-rides the false romanticised ideal of innocence is the film's best achievement and one worth defending.