Sunday, 26 October 2014

Critic as Clerk

It was supposed to be simple. I wanted… Well, this is something that has always worried me: whose letter is Ernest actually talking about - his, Hélène’s or Alphonse’s? Too lazy to watch the film again I decided to seek expert advice, and thought I would find it amongst the pages of The Masters of Cinema Series.  Excited, I am impatient, and as I take the booklet from its plastic case I become frustrated at its recalcitrance; and tear it to pieces…Oh dear!  I’m… Can you hear it?  That thick bludgeoning thump! as my friend faints to the floor…  There is a cloud of dust; his partner is coughing; the kids screaming, shouting “dad! we can’t see the screen…”  Then suddenly: silence.  And through the settling dust we hear…a groan; hiccupping tears; a whispered cry…my name is mentioned.  Not, I might add, with either finesse or decorum.  But, my friend, what can I do now?  I’ll try not to scratch the DVD….

Of course I could have searched the film for the particular scene I needed.  But I thought my question too important for any critic to ignore.  I certainly didn’t ignore it; albeit in my original piece I disguised my uncertainty, preferring to develop the logic of my argument to its most extreme and consistent conclusion: Hélène’s love for Alphonse is founded on a complete fiction.  Oh!  Sorry!  I see that I am losing you.  We must take a break.  Go and sit over there; there; there on the floor by that pile of Dickens.  Here’s a cup tea (Russian Caravan with a shade of milk and one and a half teaspoons of sugar; it should do you quite nicely).  And here are some ginger biscuits.  You don’t like ginger?  What about a Victoria Sponge…  Nice, yes? Oh, I should hope so…  So you’re…you’re comfortable? That’s good. Here is the film.  And here is my original review.   I’ll be back in a couple of hours.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Only One Lepidopterist Here

Penelope Houston was a great critic.  We imagine her in a long skirt and a tightly fitted blouse, whose pearl buttons go all the way up to the neck; which she covers with a ruffle of fine lace.  In her hands she has a long pole with an enormous net which she swishes over a meadow of wild flowers; the tall unruly grass undulating around her hips. The net goes down.  It rises up again.  And her face smiles out in exultation….

Let us look at her in action, as she uses her words to capture the essence of a masterpiece. 

Ray has an unmatched feeling for the moments when a situation catches people unawares and minds perceptibly expand or contract when confronted with some infinitesimal stress.  Mahanagar is particularly rich in these glimpses into minds at sea.  (BFI Notes.)

In the last scene of this film we see how, under the pressure of salaried employment, a couple disintegrates into two isolated individuals; both are alone and both are self-absorbed; Arati mistakenly thinking her husband is angry with her; Subrata soliloquising to himself about the meaning of work - it makes us weak, he says.  Here are “two minds [that really are completely] at sea”.  But then husband and wife reconcile, and walk together through the streets of Calcutta into an unknown future.  The old world, with its well-established certainties based on custom and habit, has collapsed, and the big city has been invaded by odd stories whose endings no one can confidently predict.  The only certainty is love, which provides the emotional resources these characters need to navigate the psychological states Penelope Houston describes in her insightful sentences.  This film about a place whose foundations are suffering an earthquake.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Uncomfortable Company

Too often I criticise the critics.  A couple of punches, a head butt; one carefully placed kick to the goolies, as they approach the postbox to mail their manuscript, usually has the effect I desire.  Take that old fella… Down he goes, his sentences sprawled on the floor around him; “Grahame Greene as an early English example of transgendered martyrology” spreading across the pavement like vomit.  As I stamp on “the aporia generated by an upper class whore whose infidelity becomes a fundamentalist religion” he pleads for his research grants, the three children at public school, the wife who works for the Macmillan Trust…  Suddenly I see myself for the hooligan I am.  I walk away, pleading youthful exuberance and too much literary testosterone.  I crumple up rationality, and throw logic into the nearest dustbin.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Success Story

It is beautiful propaganda.  Of a very strange sort… for it is true; providing we accept the film’s argument on its own terms.  

This is unfair.  It is true even if we do not agree with its assumptions; for even in real life there are women who are young, pretty and impossibly successful.  Such sweet cupcakes!  Red petals on a yellow fluffy bed. We watch as dainty fingers cradle little baskets of corrugated paper; and look on as an index finger tickles a red-tipped rim.  They seem too nice to eat. The girls can’t decide…  So lovely!  They laugh.  And giggle and flirt with the shop owner, who asks if he may photograph them.  He says, whilst mimicking the gesture, slowly open your hands and smile down at your opening palms.  It is his turn to chuckle now.  He compares them to lotus flowers on lily pads.  The girls shout and quiver with uncontainable laughter, and scoff-up his metaphor with their hilarity.  We leave them to his crumbs.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Sailor's Mother

   One morning (raw it was and wet,

   A foggy day in winter time)

   A Woman in the road I met,
   
Not old, though something past her prime:

   Majestic in her person, tall and straight;

And like a Roman matron's was her mien and gait.

   The ancient Spirit is not dead;

   Old times, thought I, are breathing there;

   Proud was I that my country bred

   Such strength, a dignity so fair: 

   She begged an alms, like one in poor estate;

I looked at her again, nor did my pride abate.

   When from these lofty thoughts I woke,

   With the first word I had to spare
   I said to her, 'Beneath your Cloak

   What's that which on your arm you bear?'
   She answered soon as she the question heard,

‘A simple burthen, Sir, a little Singing-bird.’

   And, thus continuing, she said,

  ‘I had a Son, who many a day 

   Sail'd on the seas; but he is dead;

   In Denmark he was cast away;

  And I have been as far as Hull, to see

What clothes he might have left, or other property.

  ‘The Bird and Cage they both were his;

  'Twas my Son's Bird; and neat and trim

   He kept it: many voyages

   This Singing-bird hath gone with him;

   When last he sailed he left the Bird behind;

As it might be, perhaps, from bodings of his mind.

  ‘He to a Fellow-lodger's care

   Had left it, to be watched and fed,

   Till he came back again; and there
   
I found it when my Son was dead;

  And now, God help me for my little wit!

I trail it with me, Sir! he took so much delight in it.’

                                      William Wordsworth

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Saw Your Site. Liked it. Thought I’d, um…add a comment… Instead… Yes… Exactly.

Homage to QWERT YUIOP.  Oh how the memories come back.  I lived with this book for years.  When I did eventually leave off reading it the cover had disintegrated and the pages had fallen out; free at last to float back to that looser wilder world of the newspapers and magazines.  What a book! At least that is how I remember it.  A degree course in literature in the years when I needed it most.  Though Urgent Copy is the better collection, I think.  Slow reviewing as opposed to fast.  There is a lot of fast in QWERT YUIOP.