All entries for November 2007

November 23, 2007

A few Reviews

Title:
Edmond
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

  With the terrific promotion that Edmond has had, I don't think any member of the audience was expecting anything less than a slick and professional student production. What the spectators ultimately ended up with was, in fact, much more: this captivating and invigorating journey into a troubled mind left me not only terrified and disorientated, but ultimately moved.

  The play chronicles Edmond's escape from a boring life with a spouse that no longer interests him into a world of violence, racism and sexuality, dragging the audience through the frantic New York underworld. While the set-up of the man leaving his mundane existence to find self-fulfilment seems unoriginal, what he finds is never less than shocking. The winning aspect of the play is that what Edmond comes to term with is both disturbing and truthful, grounded firmly in reality by a high-quality cast: the ascension of homophobia and racism in the main character comes across not just as madness, but as a sickness shared by society, propagated by it's stifling rules that has immersed Edmond in confusion. 

  What the performance hinges upon is the nature of promenade theatre, where the audience follows the scenes in different parts of the room. What this means is that one moment you are looking at Edmond in a bar, then another scene may start up behind you and you find yourself staring straight at a pole dancer: although this means that I had poor visibility for some sections of the play, craning my neck over audience members, it was extremely effective in making the audience feel trapped in Edmond's warped world and helping us to understand him. He was not only our main character: he was our tour guide through hell.

  While the main thread of the story, following him about as he meets new characters that he will either abuse or be abused by, starts to feel tired, the ending comes as an ingenious move by playwright Mamet, throwing the whole play into perspective and finally explaining the poster's tagline: every fear hides a wish. Not only bringing the story's fable-like nature to a conclusion, it also adequately serves as a description of the play itself: no matter how scared or shocked, you will want to see this performance again. 

   


A few Reviews

Movie image
Title:
Sicko
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

   It has been three years since Michael Moore's last film, Fahrenheit 9/11, failed to both impress me and stop Bush getting re-elected. Three years for him to bow his baseball-capped head in despair. It would be understandable to presume that after taking on the most powerful government administration in the world, the poor left-wing fatman we all loved in Bowling for Columbine felt he had nowhere left to go and no subject to explore that would feel as important. Thankfully, however, with a central theme that seems less vital, Moore has made a film that is not only more coherent and better constructed, but, most importantly, feels more focused.

   Rather than feeling rushed and clumsy (admittedly, Moore had an important deadline to keep on Fahrenheit: the presidential elections), it would seem that the world's most successful documentarian took his time with Sicko, interviewing dozens of citizens that have suffered from America's lamentable healthcare system. Indeed, we are shown so many cases of medical injustice that Moore himself does not appear for the first 45 minutes of the film, leaving the families to speak for themselves. As expected, some of the cases are horrific and profoundly moving, and you feel Moore shifting into sentimental gear so often it's almost a relief once he appears on screen to inject a little of his trademark comedy into the proceedings. He is, of course, equally adept at transferring his audience's sadness into anger, and his exploration of the insurance companies and their policies truly hits the mark.

     Sadly, other sections of the film come off as weak: the links made between the healthcare system and the government are fascinating but not enough time is spent on them- perhaps the issue of lobbying should be the subject of a whole other movie- and the stunt of bringing patients to Guantanamo Bay, so important in the promotion of the documentary, ends up bringing Moore nowhere in particular in terms of the development of his themes. It is also true that, as Europeans, our countries are shown as left-wing havens, models of healthcare perfection, and it is grating for us to witness how Moore eschews the complete truth in favour of one that serves his purpose.

   Of course, the documentarian's reputation is such that one could only really expect a one-sided argument, and the approach of a polemic rather than a journalist. The important thing to remember is, his reputation is also of someone who deals in polemics extraordinarily well, and here he lives up to it. As far as I'm concerned, Michael Moore can raise his baseball-capped head up high again, and, hopefully, show more of it next year.


November 20, 2007

Patchwork Narrative

In this, the first section was constructed by the members of my creative writing class each writing a sentance and I had to choose from a selection of closing lines. Here's the slightly twisted tale I ended up with...

      

               Auntie Samantha

It seems to me that, no matter what you do or say, the dreaded aunt will always come back down from the ferris wheel- that is until you take a gun and spray her brains all across your garden lawn. The uncle has given up on her; he is hardly ever at home, and there is certainly no way he was going to accompany you and his despised wife to the fair. He'd rather be with his secretary, wooing her, courting her and shagging her senseless, then give you company in dealing with those hairy kisses which you detest so much. It is understandable- after all, if you had the choice, you'd escape her and her sickening fuzzy embrace. Every time she leans over and purses her lips you can feel the moustache rub against your cheek, and you immediately sense an insane, mounting desire to take a razor to her chin - or even her wrists. People think that she is a delightful old lady who likes to dance the charleston, and who always wears a flowery perfume that creates an odour of musty roses. But you know how much hell she creates for you and your uncle, how much better the world would be without her. Given a time to think while she goes up in the ferris wheel, what would you choose to do?

  I chose to get a pistol and silencer, and carry out a proper assassination, simple, effective, and safe. One night, I told her to come into the garden, because the stars looked so beautiful, flung about a gloomy sky like glowing crumbs scattered across a carpet, and when she came out I exploded her little stubbly face, ruining her perfect hair with dribbles of brain and overpowering her rosy perfume with the odour of drying inner fluids. I did everything I was supposed to. I told my neighbour to tell Auntie Samantha when she comes home that I had just gone to the shops. I divided the body into smaller pieces and loaded them into bin bags which I then placed in the car boot. I drove to a secluded bridge and flung the body pieces into the river, and came back with shopping, asking my neighbour whether my auntie had come back yet. When she said that she hadn't, I started to express a certain anxiety, for my aunt never returned late and you never know who might brutally murder a helpless lady like dear Samantha who likes to dance the charleston.

  I was proud of myself. I really was. But then my uncle started to act in a way I had not anticipated. He cried bitter tears when his wife's remains were found, and his eyes were perpetually webbed with a deep red sadness. He did not see his secretary for weeks, walking about the house in a daze and hardly touching his food. I began to wonder whether I had made a slightly rash decision. You would have done the same, I'm sure, and decided to kill her when she descended from the ferris wheel, but I still couldn't come to terms with the effect the whole event had had on my poor uncle. To have a clear conscience, I sat down with him one morning and, after placing a cup of tea in front of him, pointed out that this time last month he would be complaining of his wife's unbearable ways, and shuddering after having received one of her horrible hairy kisses. "I often go back, in my head, to this time last month", he replied simply, "And all I can think is this: that she'd still be alive now, sitting here in the kitchen with me." 


November 19, 2007

Narrative

I wrote this by taking the characters of two people I spied on in a cafe, and tried to fit them into a story inspired by "A Winter's Tale"...Although, in the end, I think the characters took control over the story and I personally consider the ending to be almost subverting the Shakespearian piece. Anyway, here it is...

      The Winter Tale

The grandfather clock was stepping through time with it's usual grinding footfalls, but Roy, as always, did not seem to notice. He had over time developed a capability of sitting with his back to it and, with a pair of widening eyes, a floating gaze and an automatic readjusting of glasses, entering another world. His wife, Anne, would call to him as she did the dishes, but neither her nor the crooked slap of plates piling on top of each other would do anything but reach for his acknowledgement and fill his mind with vague echoes.

  Tonight, however, she had to be firm. They were taking care of their grandson, Michael, and they had a schedule to keep. She stepped into the living-room, readjusted her fringe that perfectly latched on the line drawn across her forehead by her eyebrows, and cleared her throat.

  " Mmm?" Roy's eyes became rimmed with a modicum of reality.

  "If you want to tell Michael a story", she said, looking at her watch, "you'd better do it now. He is supposed to be in bed with lights out in 7 minutes."

  "Right, right, right..." Roy muttered, clambering out of his chair. He slowly plodded his way into the hall, and even though his slippers made no noise on the stairs, Anne could smile as she heard his heavy breathing as he sank up to the floor above.

  Entering the guest room and seeing little Michael looking out of the window at the furious winter wind hurling itself at the world ignited Roy; he let his eyes breathe in fresh air, raised his arms, and said "Ah! Dear Mikey!"  The boy reluctantly turned away from the glass and the wind-drowned trees and bushes outside it, and slid under the warm crushing duvets.

  "What story are you going to tell me, Grandad?" Michael asked as Roy lowered himself onto the side of the bed.

  Roy didn't answer at once, gazing at his grandson and smiling a little. "When was the last time you visited us, Mikey?"

  Michael looked down from his grandfather and thought furiously for a moment, fighting off fatigue. "Last year," he said finally.

  "It's been a long time."

  "I suppose so, Grandad."

  Roy leant forward, letting his eye simmer over the line of his glasses, and said "I think it's time I told you about my stay in Africa."

  The surprise seized Michael's sleepy facial features and melted them into a painting of bewilderment. "Really? Tonight?"

  "That's right. I think you're old enough."

  The boy knew that his grandfather was at the mercy of what his parents had told him, however, and he knew that his bedtime was ready to rake his this pleasantry into pieces. He sat up and whispered "so what happened? Is what cousin Charlie said really true?"

   "Ah!" said Roy again. "Maybe, son. Maybe..."

  He began to recount the start of his adventures, and they became wrapped up in excitement, leaning in closer and closer to each other, with a spiralling of shadows on the wall as Roy raised his arms in front the bedside lamp to produce visions of pitiless sunlight and bone-shattering animal roars. So caught up in an exotic world of jungles, deserts and volcanoes, they did not notice Anne's figure, blocking the light from the hall.

  "Roy, what are you doing?" she asked. "It is more than ten minutes past Michael's bedtime and we both know this story will last for hours. I deliberately placed these short books beside the bed for you to choose one."

  Roy, bewildered, murmured something about needing just a little longer, but she would have none of it: "No. Lights off. I'm sorry Michael, but you mother and father were quite clear about this."

  The phone began to ring, and she left to answer it. There was a silence in the bedroom, full of disappointment and regret.

  "I wanted to hear the story", said Michael.

  "Me too", said Roy.

  Another heavy silence, outweighing the violence of the wind outside and the ringing of Anne's phone conversation.

  "Come on boy", said Roy suddenly, "let's go."

  Michael had never seen his grandfather have such a rumbling fire of ice in his stare, and so scrambled out his bed. "Where are we going?"

  "We're going to finish the story", came the reply.

  Roy made Michael hurry down the stairs and heaped a coat onto the boy's shoulders to sling about his pyjamas. While Anne was still whipping up the walls with her conversation, Roy whisked his feet out of his slippers, drove on his hat, shoved his hands into his coat and walked out of the front door. With a brisk footstep through a cold and raging air and the gentle urging of his grandson to hurry, they clambered into the car and were away, sailing down the road amid the scrambled winds.

  Roy was silent. He was never able to finish stories. They always seemed to overlap with other people's stories until they were watered down to nothing. There was always someone who loved to spill your plentiful bowl of tales all over the kitchen floor, spread everywhere as a cold layer of clammy death on the tiles. To hell with this winter, with the grinding lifelessness of the clock and the whistling of the kettle- tonight  the red dust trails and sandy sunshine beckoned, and Roy was determined to answer the call.

  He wove the car through the darkness, spinning the headlamps across the woods on either side, displaying the night's fiery life under the crippling storm. Michael did not dare to ask where they were going. Soon the road became littered with branches, clutching at the car under their feet and crackling before they were spewed back upon the road behind them. Occasionally a burst of raindrops would whip across the windows with an explosion of wind, and so the wipers were kept on, screaming across the glass. The forest about them became dark mountainous figures scrambling on top of each other, and the limbs of trees rained down to rake upon the sides of the vehicle. All around nature was boiling with a hellish intent, and Roy's unshakeable gaze was racing them further into the depths of the elements' frantic devilry.

  Michael looked at his grandfather's hardening look, meeting nature's boiling carnage like an ancient cliffside greeting a sea's army of white flames, and stayed quiet, muffled by manhood.

  A tree trunk's corpse, sprawled across the road, suddenly whirled into the headlights' thin arrows of white, and Roy drew the car to a halt. They both stared at for a moment, before Roy got out of the vehicle and walked up to the end of his story, enveloped in the chaos of the elements that were wailing about him. He looked at his surroundings, his eyes darting about under his weather-smeared glasses, and swallowed his saliva. The steel wind's last act, after combing the treetops and splattering the clouds' blood on a raging earth, was to hunch Roy's shoulders, lower his head, and overflow with a giddy delight as he drove his grandson home.

  The silence in the car was just as robust on the way back as it had been on the great escape, but now it stung of Roy's disappointment and Michael's guilty relief. They had not gone out far. It did not take them long to get back.

  As soon as Michael scrambled into the house out of the cold, Anne ushered him up the stairs and to bed, and turned to her husband. They looked straight at each other.

  "You had one of your moments, didn't you?" she asked softly.

  "Yes. I suppose I did."

  She sighed a little, and took hold of her husband's hand.

  Roy gave a weak smile, and said "I'm afraid we 're past our normal herbal tea time, but perhaps I'll put on the kettle?"

  A tender smile, a sad laughter.

  "You know, Roy," she said, "the person I was talking to on the phone was Paul. We 're keeping Michael for one more day."

  Excitement started to tingle in Roy's mind. "Really?" he asked.

  "You can finish the story tomorrow," she said, before adding with a laugh, "just before eight-thirty and not in the midst of one this winter's last storms!"

  The story was to be spread over two days, but it was there, alive, hibernating before the golden renewal of spring, and that was enough for Roy. He had his herbal tea, prepared for bed, and stared up at the ceiling from under his duvets. Before turning the lights off, Anne kissed her husband on the cheek and saw with satisfaction that sometimes, just sometimes, in his own, helpless way, Roy could see how the world turned in his favour.

  She clicked on the alarm clock for the next morning, and they fell asleep to peaceful dreams. The windows trembled with the winter as the tale of the storm began it's last act, sending more floods of winds and rain to slide about the hills.      

   


An old poem given another life

                        Out of Touch

               Time rolls over itself.

        Again the world turns, becoming

                                               A new, foreign beast.

              Waves and rains of crashing

       Generations flood new Earths and

                                                On renewal feast.

              So sudden the sharp pangs

       Of seeing oneself trapped, immobile,

                                                 Drying on the beach.


November 18, 2007

A few revised works

Just came across a few discarded pieces I had created for my module on anti-narrative, and tweaked them a little. I think the reason that they interest me is that basically I would never normally have written them had they not been some sort of experiment, and so they excited me when I wrote them. I'm afraid it's a case of abundance in terms of enthusiasm rather than quality, but it is here on this blog because they will always remind me of this time in my life...

                Boxing Day

   The McWellians had their own peculiar way of celebrating the winter's festivities. They would buy each other wonderful gifts, draining all the money from their wallets in the process, and spend a full day meticulously wrapping them in dazzling flashes of ribbons and patterned paper. They would go and buy a tremendous Christmas tree together and make sure that no branch was left untouched by some exquisite decoration. On the day itself, they would sit around the tree, which would be by then knee-deep in enviable presents, and watch Mr. McWellian douse the whole glittering ensemble in petrol. The tradition then dictated that they sing and clap together as all their preparations and gifts go up in flames. They knew how to cherish what they had, and not ask more of God's generosity.

   Children being as they are, however, the McWellian siblings were determined to obtain some pure enjoyment out of the Holiday season aside from their cindered gifts. And so it was that this year they begged their father to buy the biggest tree possible, and make the living room shine with the blaze. Mr. McWellian grinned, shuffled their hair, and agreed to buy a slightly larger one. After all, he didn't want them to feel deprived. They ended up barely able to fit the tree through their front door, and, when it came to the 25th, things took a turn for the worse. Before even "Silent Night" was chanted in it's completetion, the flames were stabbing at the furniture and coating the blackened ceiling with glowing heat. Despite all the fire extinguishers at their proposal, the flames soon burst through the hall and up the banister, and the family had to rush outside to escape the walls now clothed in a domestic hell.    

   They stood there on their frosty front lawn, gazing, transfixed, at their beloved home, shivering in their t shirts. I doubt they even noticed the snowflakes falling and prickling the skin of their bare arms, they were so aghast at the size of their Christmas fire. All this to say that, tempting as it may be, I wouldn't mention Christmas or bonfires once the McWellians get here, or even, for that matter, God's generosity.

                        Carpe Diem

     _______He thus fast-forwarded his age until he encountered responsibility. A

               Marriage

               Promotion

were enough for him to stumble onto his first spurts of stubble, and he immediately let his fingers graze upon his cherished clockwork pinpricks and sandpaper skin...

(First in class. A+ for being thoughtful and discovering a patch of wildernes)...

...Pouring off his chin, curling off his nostrils.He manages to be let into Lulu's, the lap dance bar down the end of our street. 

                We all know, though, how he will long for the remote razor, how he will crave to be rewound______


November 04, 2007

NOFX:3rd November Birmingham–Carling Academy

    Think of the bands that rose to popularity and achieved significant success with the explosion of pop-punk rock in the 90s. Now think of those of them that are still respected within punk circles. You'd be lucky if you could count them on your fingers and get past your first hand. And thats not the only problem. The reason that the musical genre of punk has been forced to reinvent itself these past few years is that even these bands, such as Pennywise, Rancid and NoFx, have simply not released anything near their best work in 6 years. And tonight, sadly, does nothing to make you forget that fact.

   Tat kick the night off, and already it is painfully obvious how tired the music tonight sounds. Frontwoman Tatiana DeMaria does a remarkable job in attempting to grab the attention of those that have come just for the ska-punk headliners, but ultimately they play Green Day-lite when what this night sorely needs is a Distillers-like dose of balls.

   Next up is The Loved Ones. With a name that seems to have nothing to do with the fun-loving nature of NoFX, no one could reasonably expect anything other than a mixed response. And so it is that the crowd mostly seem to accept the earnest pop-punk being passionately forced upon them,and the rest take up their beers with venom and hurl the glasses at all bandmembers. Even the drummer gets hit. With such a ludicrous reaction from their audience, The Loved Ones hold their own and take on the disbelievers with a smile. Its unfortunate, then, that their material is so bland, a second-rate Hot Water Music for those that still think that melodic punk is a novelty.

    And so it is that NoFX take the stage. With ten studio albums under their belt and the pure love of a hysteric audience that grew up listening to their music, they have nothing to prove. What puts such a dampener on the evening is the painful fact that the band themselves know this, and do so little to make this feel like a special event. Their opening gambit pays off fantastically well: unusually for NoFX, as Fat Mike states, they do not say a word before launching into what remains one of their very best songs, Dinosaurs Will Die. Unforunately, it soon becomes clear that this is the sort of assault that everyone wants, but will not get. True to their reputation, NoFX keep the level of banter high, infusing the evening with a dose of humour, but in the end it proves to be their undoing. Their wisecracking is restricted to being simply offensive (calling Scotland a nation of deformed people in particular shows a wit that does not do justice to their many fans here tonight), and talking about a)the other shows they are going to play b)how they will refuse to play Don't Call Me White and c) how badly they are playing despite dispensing no energy through the set just comes off as being...well, arrogant. Hardly in keeping with the values of punk rock.

   It is time that the bands that knew such success in the 90s stop taking things for granted and start conquering crowds all over again. For NoFX to say that they will not play the same songs they played when they were last at Birmingham is one thing. But walking off with no encore and without having played Stickin' in My Eye, Champs Elysees and Kill All The White Man is something else alltogether: self-importance. Taking into consideration that the fun you will get out of seeing NoFX is derived completely from the fans, screaming their lives out at Bob and stage-diving before a single note is played, you realise that not only have NoFX not produced a memorable album since Pump up the Valuum, they are taking a dedicated fan base for granted.

   In their most well-known song, Bob had fifteen years of drinking before his liver exploded. In two days, it will have been fifteen years since album White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean, and it has become all too clear that what has truly been destroyed is all sense of NoFx's fun and vitality.

    


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