All entries for December 2008
December 31, 2008
I'm often complaining (probably a little too loudly, and ignorantly) that the world is too commercialised, too plain, too blank. This comes up in my work, in the form of anonymous multiplex cinemas that are more like airports than somewhere special where you can expect to experience something memorable. It's no surprise then that I loved finding and being in Wilton's Music Hall, in a back alley in East London about 10 minutes walk from Tower Hill tube. Despite the decaying and crumbling walls, the building had been decked out comfortably; there was a cosy candle-lit cafe area, which sold so much mulled wine that the whole theatre smelt like Christmas. The playing space itself was very spacious, almost sparse, with a stage raised very high (but not high enough to come anywhere close to using all that vertical space). It was a little like a space you expect to find at the Edinburgh Fringe (it reminded me a little of the Main space at the Roxy Art House in Edinburgh), only - y'know - comfortable.
Some disorganised thoughts about the play.
The Cordelia Dream withholds two key pieces of information from its audience, one in each of its two acts (incidentally, I hate to write spoiler alert, but if you don't want to know anything about the play then stop reading). In neither case however did the revelation make me seriously re-consider what had occurred before.
As we enter the theatre a Man (David Hargreaves) is sat at an exquisite grand piano. He must have spent every penny on that piano however, as he is wrapped in a cheap green sleeping bag to keep warm and his blank walls are decorated just with peeling eggboxes. Unlike the peeling walls of Wilton's, it's safe to assume that this Man's walls were never attractive. A much younger Woman (Michelle Gomez) enters, and the two talk like old lovers exhuming an old argument; she criticises his arrogance and picks at his sexism, whereas he acts indignant and is given to huffing and puffing around the huge inconvenience that she presents. There is an undercurrent of violence; at one point she interrupts him, and he disproportionately screams for her to let him finish. About half-way through the first act, it becomes clear that he is her father; the earlier discussion about the (lack of) possibility of her naming her child after him makes a little more sense. Yet nothing major seemed to change or to shift with this revelation.
There's talk of a dream about Cordelia and Lear from King Lear - apparently it's why she came to see her father in the first place. We can see his misogyny in his provocative interpretation of the play ("Cordelia wanted to be hung // Her death was necessary for her father's salvation."). Is King Lear something they've discussed, and disagreed on, at length in the past?
The two characters are both classical musicians. She is commercially and critically successful, yet he is not. He blames this on her; he talks incessantly of 'the field', a space (of reception? of exhibition? what does he think this is?) that she is occupying. If only she would clear this field and stop producing music, the commercial and critical attention would be focused on him. His genius would surely be appreciated. The Man appeals to a very old-fashioned, and firmly masculine, ideal of the Artist; a tortured genius bursting with profound ideas that will change the world. In this ideal, the artist's lack of success is always because of someone else (a competitor who steals from him; the stupidity of the art world who just don't 'get it'). The Man delivers scathing lines to his daughter, poison-coated insults that are surely unforgivable; Hargreaves (excellently) dips them in sugar with a jolly delivery but it serves to make them all the more brutal. The Act ends with:
Man: Will you come to my funeral?
Woman: Will you come to mine?
Man: I'll be there.
Woman: With your speech prepared.
Man: With my speech prepared.
In the interval, the man deterioates further; we re-enter the space to find him almost-naked, curled in a ball upon his piano, the post has been piling up for days and days. A box of formal clothes arrives, and he conducts an imaginary orchestra whilst the Woman slips in behind him (in the first act she rang the bell, by the second act he just leaves the door open). There's more of a sexual element to their discussion now; he has seemingly lost his mind and doesn't recognise her, assuming that she is a groupie of his. She sneaks up behind him, wrapping her hands around his tie - is she trying to seduce him? or suffocate him? When he does recognise her as his 'dog-hearted' daughter he panics and hallucinates, before wetting himself. All the cigars and champagne in London would fail to mask the fact that he is a senile old man.
It is here that the exchanges become odder - he changes into his pyjamas, and she puts on his piss-sodden coat and tails. He recalls the Cordelia Dream, and smothers her face in blue paint because Cordelia was also blue when Lear brought her in. The flucuations between insanity and sober rationality in the Man's state of mind, and between fantasy and reality in the play, were a little unconvincing to me. I'm not too familiar with King Lear, so I'm prepared to think that there may be a whole layer of meaning that I'm missing though.
The play explains some of these odder exchanges in its second revelation: the Woman committed suicide eight days before. She is a vision to him, perhaps a ghost. He thinks he may be able to recall the funeral, there were definitely people looking at him. We know that she hasn't produced any work since their last meeting - ostensibly because he demanded it of her to clear 'the field', but more likely because she (like him) wasn't able to. Despite the field still being clear, he hasn't produced any serious work - he is obsessed with writing his opus, but lacks the commitment (or talent? perhaps) to finish anything. His Romantic vision of the artist seems to have failed and collapsed - perhaps it never existed in the first place. Where does artistic creation come from? What skills does one need to create something beautiful?
She's come to tell him that he's about to die. Lear and Cordelia must die at the same time - one cannot exist without the other. As he's about to die, she gives him the gift of a beautiful piece of music. With this final gesture the creation of beauty remains romantic and mysterious, we can just pull it out of the air with the right talent. Or maybe the truth will reveal itself after we're dead and gone. His death is excellently handled; he stands on a stool, and a diminishing spotlight traps his terrified face before fading to black. It reminded me of the iris effect in old silent movies.
I liked Hargreaves' performance - I mentioned above his delivery of vicious lines as if they were jolly ribbing. Gomez is a little too uneven - her sudden shouts are disruptive rather than disconcerting. The direction is pretty nifty - I liked the use of space, including actors sitting on the stage legs dangling above the floor. The post coming through the door in the interval was also a nice touch.
See also: Michael Billington on The Cordelia Dream.
December 14, 2008
There are a number of startling statements and attitudes in this piece - a resurgence of the type of online discourse that surrounded The Dark Knight upon its original release this past Summer.
Here Josh Tyler notes that, as yet, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight has not featured as heavily in award nomination and critics best-of-2008 lists as he would like. He goes beyond this observation to suggest that, if critics refuse (and know that Tyler does view this as a point blank, ideological refusal by critics) to include the film, then they are putting their critical legitimacy and their JOBS at stake.
For print critics, a vote against The Dark Knight is a vote for your own irrelevancy. It’s a vote for the unemployment line. It’s a conscious choice to ignore a cultural phenomenon in favor of pushing some undeserved indie-film agenda over a movie which people have already seen.
I would certainly argue that it is the function, and value, of professional critics to resist cultural phenomena in favour of their own tastes (which they are paid to hold) in situations such as this (Jim Emerson makes something like that argument in this piece - although he risks swinging too hard in the opposite direction and being equally as dogmatic as Tyler). Of course, there is an argument to be made that critics can ignore or suppress their own tastes for fear of not appearing 'high-brow' enough - and I think it is a sense of this that motivates Tyler's piece, but he takes it into some serious extremes.
I really find quite pungent the suggestion that if someone disagrees with a majority, then that person should regardless articulate a view that falls in line with the majority. This logic suggests that, to qualify for the right to speak or write in public, one should agree to exclusively provide the public with what they already know.
Yet this is not quite the logic in which Tyler couches his article. He doesn't quite suggest that critics should suppress their own opinions in order to give the public what they already know. Instead, he suggests that - before writing in public - critics should wise up and realise that they do in fact think identically to the public (and the view of the public is represented by his own opinion). This paragraph is astonishing; he writes:
Call me and the other 99% of moviegoers who love this movie biased if you want, but this is more than just our opinion. It’s also the opinion of many of the people leaving it out of their awards. Shortly before its debut in theaters, critics were hailing it as one of the best movies ever made, a life changing experience. It is, for a fact, one of the very best reviewed movies of the year. According to RottenTomatoes it has received a higher percentage of positive reviews than literally any of the other movies nominated in the Best Picture category by the half-mad Golden Globes… and it’s done that in spite of being much more widely reviewed. It’s more than just the year’s best movie, it’s also almost unquestionably going to be the year’s most influential. Like Star Wars before it, The Dark Knight is fast becoming the new mold from which all future movies will be poured. Its impact, its influence on cinema will be felt for decades to come.
This paragraph is of course notable for the enormous historical importance wreathed around the neck of The Dark Knight and Star Wars (in the former case, I'm sorry but it's just too early to know what influence the film will have on film history). What strikes me hardest though, like a hard punch in the stomach, is the implication that, if you don't like The Dark Knight, then you are just wrong. It is apparently an empirical FACT that this is the best film of the year. I've been noticing a lot recently that, because it gives each film a solid number and claims to represent EVERYBODY WHO WATCHES FILMS IN THE WORLD EVER, Rotten Tomatoes has been fulfilling the function of backing up such appeals to fact.
Personally, I really dislike this attitude. If we discursively present an opinion as a fact, then we can preclude other people from forming their own opinions (this is a phenomenon that I've noticed amongst students, including myself, recently), deny the possibility that our opinion of a film could change over time, and completely shut off the productivity of debate. After all, if a debate is taking place between two people - who hold different opinions, but are both of the opinion that their opinion is a fact - then we'll never reach a compromise or synthesis of opinion.