I'm on The Fountain today talking about The Lover at the Lyceum in Edinburgh this week. I'll get around to the book at some point this year - now I've got my hands on a copy - but in the meantime the review of the play is here. I am, as ever, a sucker for a good bit of lighting design.
Ursula Le Guin is dead. I've been reading her essay collection The Wave in the Mind - I hoped to have finished it this week - but there is a hole in my heart and I've had to put it down. A woman of strong convictions and wide-reaching ideas, a maker of elegant connections. It seems so strange to me, so wrong, that she shouldn't be out there in the world any more. At least with Terry Pratchett we had a run-up, we had time to prepare ourselves. The world is a slightly less brave place without her in it.
So no completed books this week. And no albums either - this has been a week of Argentinian tangos, and podcasts (which I'm going to have to work out how to log at some point), and re-listens.
15. Julie & Julia (film, dir. Nora Ephron, 2009)
16. The Lover (play, dir. Fleur Darkin and Jemima Levick, Lyceum Theatre; adapted from novel by Marguerite Duras)
17. Inside Hana's Suitcase (documentary, dir Larry Weinstein, 2009)
18. Darkest Hour (film, dir. Joe Wright, 2017)
19. Jupiter's Moon (film, dir. Kornél Mundruczó, 2017)
Put a pin in both of the first two; you'll hear what I thought about them both in the near future.
Darkest Hour is a weird fish for me - I like Joe Wright's style, and I adore his composer, but his source material (Austen aside) generally leaves me cold. On the one hand, I like films with peace negotiators in them. On the other, I watched it a couple of hours after I saw Inside Hana's Suitcase, which is about a Jewish girl who died in Auschwitz. British films about the Second World War are so insular - you'd be forgiven for thinking there were only three countries involved before 1944, and that's Us, the French (but they're about to surrender so do they even count, also Belgium is basically France isn't it??), and the Germans. Mussolini makes a brief appearance in this one but it's like the only time British WWII filmmakers veer any further east than Dunkirk is when they're yelling "GALLIPOLI!" at each other to win an argument. Everything else is mid-Blitz London or panning across the cliffs of Dover.
I am not interested in this. It is boring.
Gary Oldman was fine, I guess; he slurred his way competently through the requisite yelling about Gallipoli. According to the end of Darkest Hour, Winston Churchill was somehow the amalgamation of a Lone Male Genius and a populist hero. (Give the Oscar to Daniel Kaluuya, say I.) Kristen Scott Thomas is iridescent and needs more screen time. The Bechdel test is not passed.
Inside Hana's Suitcase, by the way, is lovely - it follows a Japanese teacher who receives a suitcase from Auschwitz for teaching purposes, and tries to track down information about its owner. The Holocaust is overwhelming to me - because I think it's the sort of thing where you should pour all your emotional energy into it when you get the opportunity. But I like watching researchers and I like seeing other people pour their emotional energy into remembering forgotten victims. Incidentally, I do not believe this Weinstein is related to those Weinsteins, so I think you're okay.
Jupiter's Moon is a Hungarian film about a Syrian refugee who discovers he can fly. For all the angel imagery, it owes less to the Bible and more to H. G. Wells's The Invisible Man, of which I wholeheartedly approve. It has things to say, and it tries to say them, even if it's not always successful. This is what magical realism is for - or it's one of the things. If you maintain a healthy scepticism about the association between refugees and terrorism, and ignore the gratuitous boob shots (this one doesn't pass the Bechdel test either, by the way), it's a decent film. Worth watching.
10. Tangerine Dream, Phaedra (album, 1974)
11. Hostiles (film, dir. Scott Cooper, 2017)
12. Dire Straits, Making Movies (album, 1980)
13. E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (novel, 2009)
14. Mogwai, Atomic (album, 2016)
Finally blagged my way into seeing Hostiles in its entirety - file under "Things that are pretty good, but not necessarily my cup of tea". Wes Studi's face is mesmerising.
Mid-January is exactly the time of year for Dire Straits, but my lowkey favourite version of "Romeo and Juliet" is still this one by Steve Knightley (which I first saw in a tent outside Salisbury, and which chimed with nineteen-year-old me perfectly). He has that same gravelly sort of voice as Mark Knopfler, but just a bit more range. While I'm on this musical trip down memory lane, expect Steely Dan in the near future. In the meantime, let's pretend Making Movies finishes before the last track, because it is the year of our Lord 2018 and there's just no excuse for that sort of thing.
The odd one out here - because my finishes this week have been pretty gruff and manly, on the whole - is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which is a YA novel about a teenage girl who finds herself left out of the boys' club, and who winds up running the whole show. It's clever and interesting and laugh-out-loud funny in places - I read it to give to one of my students (who turned out to have already read it, natch). She liked it, but didn't love it, which leads me to the conclusion that The Disreputable History is more of a revelation for twenty-somethings than it is for something-teens. When you've had a bit more experience of elbowing your way into places that don't want to have you - or of, say, not getting into the university you wanted - that's when this book feels like one great affirming shot of wish fulfilment. Read it when you're fifteen, then again when you're twenty-five, is my recommendation.
Lot of ambient slow-mo-explosion post-rock this week. What that means is, I've finally got myself a Spotify account, and also Writing Is Happening.
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (film, dir. Martin McDonagh, 2017)
8. Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto (novel, 2017)
9. *The Levellers, Levelling the Land (album, 1991)
Every time I find myself adjacent to anything by Martin McDonagh, I think it must not really be for me, that his humour is too dark and uncomfortable. And it is both of those things, but ultimately I think I was more satisfied by Three Billboards than a lot of people I know who've also seen it. Still thinking about why that is, and what I liked about it. On the other hand, the other film I started to watch this week was Hostiles, which was very uncomfortable watching. Partly that's because the atmosphere of modern westerns doesn't sit well with me; I find it stark, pessimistic, and difficult to tune in to. Partly, though, I just don't like violence; I don't like watching it. So why was I okay with someone in Three Billboards got pistol-whipped and thrown out of a first-floor window?
One day I'd like to write half as well - as elegantly, as engagingly or thoughtfully - as Mary Beard. Women and Power is inspirational to me in the sense that sure, it says fits in with 2017/18 feminism pretty well, and it draws some lovely connections (I'll get around to reading some Ovid, eventually), but mostly it's just a beautiful example of how to write a speech or essay. That's why I'll be coming back to it.
It makes me think of something I've noticed while researching for Past Tense: I gravitate towards the work of female historians. I have yet to find one who doesn't write superbly. Men can write superbly too (right now I'm up to my ears in the work of John Morrill, Mark Stoyle, David Cressy), but to be a leading female academic you simply can't get away without your prose being as stylish as it is rigorous. In, I should add, my experience. Mary Beard is no exception.
The unofficial theme of this week is "women talking despite being told not to". Mary Beard has a lot to say about women being silenced, both these days and in the classical world. I suspect one of the reasons I gave Three Billboards a pass is that I love seeing women over forty doing interesting things on screen, not being some combination of perfect, vilified, or ignorable. The third woman failing to shut up, then, is me: I always feel so self-conscious talking about my music taste. Some people wear "I like bad music" on their sleeve, but I have had enough people actually sneer at my music taste over the years that I always get a little bit jumpy whenever I want to say I like something. Like I'm expecting to be contradicted.
Every review of Levelling the Land I have found this week has said it's not as good as [someone else], and that "One Way" is overrated - which, fine, but come on, this is pretty much the epitome of my music:
(Also, can you hear the undertones of Frank Turner in there? That's a thing, isn't it?)
I like this whole album, a lot. I have liked it for years. It is the antidote to January; I feel like 2018 is going to have more than a whiff of late-Thatcher lefty culture to it by the time it's through; and in the meantime I thumb my nose at that stab of anxiety that someone is going to make fun of my music.
4. *Public Service Broadcasting, The Race for Space (album, 2015)
5. Molly's Game (film, dir. Adam Serkis, 2017)
6. Emma Donoghue, Room (novel, 2010)
I don't listen to music on shuffle any more. This isn't because I'm a snob about it, just that I had to listen to a lot of albums all the way through last year and the habit stuck. At any rate, one of my favourite things is getting excited about science, and the space race in particular, and The Race for Space is exactly that. In another life, if I'd kept Physics through to A Level, I might have followed that line professionally. Alas, me-in-2006 thought Economics would be a better bet, and look how that turned out. (Less interestingly, is how. Go for STEM, kids; it's harder to read up on later.)
I burned through Room in a day and a half, partly because it was good and partly because I had to teach it on Thursday night. This is the second off-the-syllabus-beaten-track book I've taught at Scottish Higher and genuinely very much enjoyed. The first was Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Both are approximately five million times more interesting to teach than The Great Gatsby the fourth year in a row.
After seeing Molly's Game (which I caught in pieces, because I was ushering in the cinema it was showing in), I also saw the first half of Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. I wish I'd seen them the other way around, if only because MG was vastly more interesting. The trailer makes it look very run of the mill. It's actually worth seeing, if you like fast-talking things and/or feeling inferior to Jessica Chastain.
There's no excuse like a new year to get a blog up and running - it's been something I've been intending to do for a while. But 2017 was the year of the culture reviews for me (you can find them largely here for theatre and here for music). This year I'm shifting focus a bit, just in general, towards cinema and podcasts and trying to read a few more novels than last year.
So this space will probably be largely a sporadic media log, until I can figure out what else I want to talk about. Writing on a deadline is plenty of pressure for the time being, but the best fun happens when you just do it because you want to.
First media of the year, then - it's January 8th, and I've seen/heard/finished reading/consumed these:
1. *Murder on the Orient Express (film, dir. Sidney Lumet, 1974)
2. *Death on the Nile (film, dir. John Guillermin, 1978)
3. Mogwai, Les Revenants (album, 2013)
Two old favourites and something to stare into space and daydream to. Asterisks are for things that aren't new to me.
I didn't realise until recently that it was Sidney Lumet who directed the 1974 Orient Express, but it makes an awful lot of sense, and he does justice to one of my favourite books in a way that Ken Branagh can't hold a candle to. Nor can the David Suchet version, in this case - why can nobody resist faffing about with the ending and trying to give Poirot a Serious Moral Conundrum? Only Sidney understands me. (And if anyone would like to make a cinematic adaptation of "The Chocolate Box" count me in.)