The Night, Movies, and the Ice Storm

•February 8, 2011 • 1 Comment

The Ice Storm directed by Ang Lee

 

 EXT. TRAIN BRIDGE. PRE-DAWN

The train moves slowly through a suburban, semi-forested landscape.

                                               PAUL (V.O.)
And that’s what it is to come from a family, if you analyze it
closely. Each of them is negative matter for the other ones.  And
that’s what dying is — dying is when your family, which is in fact
your personal negative matter from which you emerge — it’s when the
family takes you back, thus hurling you back into negative space…

(Excerpt from The Ice Storm – Written by James Schamus)

Cinema is important to me for many reasons.  On the one hand it’s a source of enjoyment, there’s nothing I love more than an empty cinema, a great movie, and an escape from reality for an hour or two.  On the other, it’s research, if you want to be a movie writer you have to watch movies (isn’t that great? ;-)).  And it’s very often I reflect on the dream-like qualities of the cinema, and how cinematic my dreams often seem to be.

A lot of my ideas and concepts that I use on my various blogs emerge in my dreams, the ones that I remember anyway.  For example I’m developing my next story for my ‘Tales of the Macabre and The Credit Crunch’ blog (cheeky nod – www.talesofthemacabreandthecreditcrunch.wordpress.com– longest URL ever I know, but the stories as cool, two words “Canal Shark”!)  called ‘Zombie Hospital’, that will be a short story on my blog and which I will develop as a film script.  This idea emerged when I missed the snooze button and switched off the alarm, and as I dozed under my nice warm duvet I began dreaming that I was watching some patients running from Zombies in the hospital.  I was partially awake, and with some concentration I was able to focus on the dream and see how it panned out, and it became the concept behind my new story.  Don’t ask me what the Freudian analysis of this dream is, I’ve no idea, and it might well mean I’m crazy and I’m not keen to confirm that. But what always strikes me is that I rarely appear in my own dreams, and don’t seem to relate to me in any obvious way – they are like I’m watching a movie and I’m simply plagiarizing my own mind.

Like preparing for bed, I have my own Cinema routine.  Just as some might drink Horlicks, read a book, watch TV before going to bed I have my own checklist that has developed over time.  For example I will always get there well before the trailers.  I don’t eat my popcorn until the trailers begin (the start of the cinematic experience after all) and I don’t have a drink until at least half way through the movie, or at the very lest until I’ve finished my popcorn – I hate having to run to the toilet in the middle of the movie – I hate it when other people obscure my view by getting up to go to the toilet so I’m not about to do it too.  I also have my own eccentricities (or some would call bad habits).  While some snore, or talk in their sleep – my dad once punched my mum in his sleep (by accident I assure you…at least  hope so!), I will write notes on my phone (ideas for my film reviews) and will spit the shells from the corn – and I mean spit them! Not into my hand or a tissue, literally into the air and as far as they will go – they’re always sticky and get stuck in the gaps between my teeth and gums and it’s bloody horrible trying to dig them out.  And I don’t care how many people are sitting near me, although I prefer to watch quieter late showings to avoid this eventuality.

But there is another link between movies, and ‘Night Movies’ (Bobbins dictionary copyright) that was brought home to me whilst watching Ang Lee’s 1997  movie ‘The Ice Storm’ last night.  And the link is perhaps more abstract, and important to my own development as a writer.

For anyone who hasn’t seen ‘The Ice Storm’ it is about two families in 70’s Connecticut, U.S.A dealing with society that emerged from Watergate, the Vietnam War and the morally adrift sexual politics (The movie ‘Deep Throat is referenced in the film and the film’s denouement unfolds after a wife swapping party).  Uncommunicative parents take various paths to fill the voids in their lives, and their kids seek to replace the loneliness caused by their distant parents. 

The film isn’t a movie I would normally watch – a drama that’s short on incident, but what it lacks in incident it makes up in amazing performances, and seamless tonal shifts between teen farce, angst comedy and tragedy. Ang Lee doesn’t make bad movies, and this is heartbreaking and funny all at the same time.  I was beguiled; the beautifully shot scenes of Icy weather reflecting the cold hearts and relationships of the characters, drawn to adultery, wife swapping parties, alcohol and sexual experimentation and the effect it has on the families. 

I could speak further on this powerful film, and if you’ve never seen it I highly recommend that you do. But I have to admit that at first I didn’t understand it, it seemed to lack narrative drive, the narrative threads seemed to be disconnected, and I didn’t understand why Tobey Maguire’s character was necessary to the story.  It wasn’t until I really began reflecting about these scenes after the movie had finished that it began to make sense.  Elijah Wood’s character suffers a freak accident because he was out in the Ice Storm alone when his parents are away screwing other people instead of spending time.  Sigourney Weaver’s water-bed undulates every time her husband dares to sit down – symbolising the shock waves of a parents actions (or lack thereof).  But I still didn’t understand all of the concepts of the film.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not particularly clever, or perhaps it’s because I’m not a child of the 70’s, and only have a disconnected knowledge of the cultural references (if it wasn’t mentioned on That 70’s Show then I’m clueless I’m afraid), and even after a lot of reflection I still don’t understand why Tobey Maguire’s character was necessary (but I do fully intend to watch the film again).  And this, I conceded, was very like my experience of dreaming.  OK I didn’t watch this movie in a cinema, but it was on a widescreen TV, and I was reclined in a comfy chair, with all the lights off;  it was like a happy mid point between cinema and sleeping!  It was a reflection of life, and also beyond most of my understanding.  Dreams occur on the screen of my mind, and I don’t always understand the link between the array of images that permeate Night Movies.  In Freudian analysis there is always a link between the seemingly unconnected images in your dreams, but sometimes the answer is deeply rooted and requires a deep knowledge of our own history and perception, combined with a cultural consciousness (are you following this sentence? I’m not sure I am!)  And it can take some time to get to the root of the problem.

But this is one of the reasons I love cinema, it can be complex, but also thrives on simplicity, playing on our expectations of genre and construction.  We don’t know everything that goes into making a movie, just as we don’t know how the engines in our cars work, but we know when we’re along for a great ride.  Cinema is a beautiful paradox, both a representation of life without being a depiction of reality.  But our own love of cinema is intrinsic and subjective, and based on our own experiences. 

My point? I don’t understand everything, and I don’t know everything about cinema, although I love to try.  With art, and with dreams there is something inexpressible just out of reach of definition.  There’s always something that my brain struggles to comprehend, and struggles further to define.  I’ve often found in essays or reviews I’ve written in the past that I will come to a point I wish to make, but cannot find the words to do so.   I get close to the concept I want to pin down, then it flits away, it’s maddening! So what then happens is I begin writing around the point, in a vain attempt to illustrate it, and all I end up doing is writing repetitive crap. 

As a writer, I have to write what I know.  But there are times when I have to ask – Do I have the life experience and knowledge to express abstract concepts, given that the truth might not necessarily what I want to hear, do I want this experience?  (See there I go again).  One day I want to be a writer, making a living from my imagination.  A dream, writing about dreams, turning them into dream-like experiences.  Sorry, my head hurts now, I’ve lost my train of thought again. I’m going to sit down.

The dream has got away from me again…Perhaps this is me waking up.

Fubar 

A new blog, update – Tales of the Macabre and the Credit Crunch

•February 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I posted previously of my new blog Tales of the Macabre and the Credit Crunch – a blog of short horror stories that I’ll be writing on a weekly/fortnightly basis. I had orginally posted this on Blogger.com, however I wasn’t happy with it’s presentation, so I’ve reopened it on WordPress, I’m much happier with the outcome, read the 2nd episode on http://talesofthemacabreandthecreditcrunch.wordpress.com/ I hope you enjoy

Fubar

James Rhodes: Piano Man

•February 3, 2011 • 1 Comment

James Rhodes: Piano Man on Sky Arts 2(HD)

 

 When I was younger (by about two decades!) I had piano lessons.  I discovered a piece of piano music at my nan’s nursing home called Für Elise by Ludwig Van Beethoven.  It was the full arrangement, and a tatty, yellowing sheet of music, that I immediately wished to play.  This sparked an interest in the great composer, and thus I discovered the mighty 5th Symphony (albeit through a joke sketch on an animated series called Animaniacs! Don’t judge me, it was a funny cartoon, what was a boy to do!?!).  so at my next lesson my teacher asked if I would like to hear the 5th. My teacher was a calm, respectful, and kind man, with an old stereo system; a man you would bet your life would  be conservative with the volume.  So I sat next to a speaker, sat on the piano stool waiting to strain my ears for those famous chords, my teacher pressed play and the result was so loud that it knocked me off my seat (almost literally).  It was loud, shocking, thrilling and absolutely amazing! 

A similar event would happen later on in my life.  I’d left University with a completely useless degree in film studies, and was enjoying the wages of my first real full-time job.  I had since picked up the guitar and set about learning a piece of music called ‘Nothing Else Matters’ by Metallica.  So impressed was I by this music I sought other Metallica guitar tablature.  I eventually came across an album called ‘Master of Puppets’, and as I listened to only the intro of the first track ‘Battery’, I was once again blown away. 

Two moments in time, two different pieces of music, both changed my life forever.

What has this to do with James Rhodes and his fantastic series on Sky Arts? My answer could be nothing, or similarly…everything.

The show is a biography of concert pianist James Rhodes and his great love of the piano and piano music.  In the show he discusses how music has played such a huge part in his life.  A man who was sexually abused as a child, who has suffered breakdowns, depression, self-harm, divorce, and how through music he was able to find a will and purpose.  It is an extremely frank, and honest 30 minutes, more than you may ever expect from a show about (to use a term Rhodes himself doesn’t like) Classical Music. And therein lies the charm of the show, and what makes it incredibly unique and involving.  Rhodes himself, as you may have deduced from the photo above, is not what most would expect from a concert pianist (if such an image exists in your mind).  He wears skinny jeans and T-shirt, a long mane of brown hair and a beard, a man who could pass for a member of an indie band.  Fortunately he’s infinitely more interesting and talented than any pansy-ass Indie band; the majority of whom have bored the mainstream while dance music (surely an oxymoron) has led it astray.   Not that classical music has done itself any favours; my idea of a concert pianist is some Russina man in coat-tails, a strange ‘quiffy’ haircut, who gurns and gesticulates absurdly throughout the performance.  Perhaps I’m mistaken, but that is probably due to the fact that there is a certain snobbishness that permeates through classical music, born from our Victorian past where only the upper classes were privy to the higher arts, and the uneducated would have to do without until they could learn to read.  It may be such segregation is too deeply rooted with our cultural subconscious.  However since education is now mandatory we are free to seek out Classical Music – and do it before our new government ushers in the return of our Victorian caste system (I’m not much for politics, but the Tories seem to be only a marginally lesser of evils than the B.N.P. Ask yourself, which is worse? A government which subjugates foreigners, or one that subjugates its own people? Hence why I do not vote and therefore cannot proffer further opinion).

Now you may ask how I could possibly have the nerve to compare Beethoven and Metallica? Well in truth the two are not vastly dissimilar in some respects.  I do not think I’m out of line to suggest that Heavy Metal is influenced by the likes of Wagner, Bach and Beethoven. Both genre’s have a love of the dramatic and the epic, both have written music about war (War is a common theme amongst many Metallica songs, and Beethoven himself was a supporter of Napoleon Bonaparte, until the war destroyed his manor house and nearly killed him).  Both have suffered personal tragedies – the loss of their bass player, James Hetfield’s addiction to alcohol, and perhaps most famously Beethoven lost his hearing, which makes his music all the more incredible to behold.  Both embrace light and dark in their music, the polarity of melodies and dynamics, and are considered the greatest of their kind. 

And James Rhodes, in being so open with his knowledge and his personal experience shows the polarities of his life, and the light and dark of himself.  His album ‘Bullets and Lullabies’ are separated into distinct sections – the faster, more frenetic, finger-wrecking songs (The Bullets), and then the softer, more melodic pieces of music (The Lullabies, natch!).  This is continued on ‘Piano Man’; from his performance of the barmy and brilliant ‘Hall of The Mountain King’ by Grieg (or the music to the Alton Towers advert to the novice), to the sumptuous emotive performance of Debussy’s ‘Clair De Lune’ Rhodes tests himself and reveals himself and performances that are formidable and impressive to say the least. As with Metallica and Beethoven Rhodes exorcises his demons through his performance, and finds solace and comfort in the emotions of the music.  With such a link to two musicians that have changed my life so deeply how could I fail to be impressed by James Rhodes?

There is much to admire about the show and Rhodes himself.  His honesty is not always easy to hear, to hear someone be so frank and open about the darker portents of his life is not easy, but without such honesty we would not see the emotion that filters through the music, and through his performance.  He doesn’t use body movements to keep time, or to show how attuned he is to the piece, he simply exists within it. He creates stories that help him learn and interpret the music, the effect isn’t over-exhuberant, rather contemplative and almost meditative.  What is more, he not only plays the music and explains it’s importance to him, he tells us about the composers; facts, mini-biographies, personality traits that he in some way aligns with.  He teaches, as well as performs.

My piano teacher, a man named Derek Brookes, passed away while I was at University, and is perhaps one of the reasons I have not played the piano in a long time.  He wasn’t an old or unhealthy man, but he unfairly suffered Kidney Failure and heart attacks in his life that weakened him in his last days.  He had taught me to play from scratch, had seen me through 5 piano exams, and became a good friend when I no longer wished to be examined on my playing – preferring to simply learn and play.  He was a kind man, he patience seemed to be endless, and never exuded anything but enthusiasm for teaching and playing the piano.  And now, in times when my own life threatens to descend into non-existence, I miss him more and more, the best teacher I’ve ever had.  I’ve since reflected how my own life seems to have declined since giving up the piano before going to University, and I miss his teaching and his advice, now more than ever.   

Not unlike the show itself, Mr Brookes would teach me of subjects beyond the sheet music.  When the film biography of Beethoven ‘Immortal Beloved’ starring Gary Oldman  suggested that the Für Elise had been written for the widow of Beethoven’s brother, whom he secretly loved, it was Mr. Brookes that immediately pointed out the fallacy, saying that he had despised his brother’s wife.  He also told me perhaps my favourite story of artist eccentricity; Mozart would often be asked to perform at social gatherings (naturally, it was fricking Mozart!) who would proceed to improvise incredible pieces of music that would wow and astound, until he would stop suddenly and begin running around the room on all fours barking like a dog …imagine that one on YouTube.

‘Piano Man’  begins with Rhodes’ introduction to the composers, and place of their music in his life.  Then the piece itself is introduced in various captions or animations; the name animated as a tattoo on Rhode’s forearm, or a photo appearing on an iPhone, his cat’s muddy paw prints traipsing across the sheet music.  Then Rhodes breaks down the story of the piece and it’s construction before playing the piece itself.  Rhodes explains how he consumes music like an addict, wanting more and more, and in so doing he not only to learns the piece but breaks it down, learns where it came from and how it was composed.  And on ‘Piano Man’ such nuggets of information do not stop when he begins playing; captions appear on-screen with facts and information about the composers.  Continuing Rhodes’ desire to make Classical more accessible, the show could easily be watched and understood my a novice to this world of music.  The details are informative and interesting, and plentiful for a show that is only 30 minutes an episode.  

I hated practising scales and arpeggios, which were merely the building blocks of music, but I now understand that learning beyond the blots of ink on the paper brings a new level of understanding.  Rhodes clearly accepts this and glories in it.  Both for his enthusiasm and knowledge of his art, I see my old school teacher. And for that, I can give no greater praise to James Rhodes and Sky Arts for bringing this wonderful series to the screen. I write to express my gratitude for an entertaining and informative series.

Sadly the series has now ended on Sky Arts 2. But even in retrospective what grabs me the most about James Rhodes: Piano Man, is Rhodes himself.  For him to inspire people to once again listen to ‘Classical’ Music, he must make it accessible.  And for him to do this he must be open and honest, for his art is so ingrained within his personality, and therefore must make himself accessible.  There is a wonderful symmetry to the show, in that in the unique qualities lies the access, and the art. Piano Man thoughfully shows the highs and lows of Rhode’s life, his light and dark, and glories in the human being at it’s heart.  He lets camera’s into his own home and his daily life,and in so doing lets the viewers into his past and into his head.  And from my point of view, his openness is gratefully received and inspiring. Sadly I have no money, but when I do I shall be buying his CD’s and tickets for his live shows.  Until then I’ll wait for the second series.

I’m sure this will not be the most read or the most professional  review/article of James Rhodes  (although it might well be one of the longest – apologies!), so I can only write for myself and hope others find value in it . I dream of one day being a writer, and I was almost at the point of giving up in favour of a better paying and less satisfying job.  James Rhodes once gave up a well-paying job in the city to pursue his dream of being a concert pianist.  He’s endured breakdowns since then but has come out the other side a success, so much so that I’m inspired to write about him, and to believe that I can one day achieve my own dreams.  And I hope that I am not the only one to be inspired…

(I’ve even began playing the piano again!)

Fubar

Tales of the Macabre…and the Credit Crunch

•February 1, 2011 • 1 Comment

Hey friends of Fubar, I have just began another new blog, that shall run weekly with this and my Brett Bullstrider blog, this one is for my short stories. I have a particular delight in the macabre, particularly the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, and this is my semi-serious version of the horror short story. The first blog is in the link thus;

http://talesofmacabreandcreditcrunch.blogspot.com/2011/01/narrowboat-nastie-part-one.html

First story is a story I came up with a few months back and have been dying to get it out there, and finally I have. This is part one of two, and in the weeks hence there shall be more tales of terror, woe and recession! (Insert scary laugh here!)

I’d be grateful for any opinions views, heck if somebody reads it by accident I’ll be happy.

Fubar

“Life’s real…it’s made of the little things.”

•January 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Sunday night has unofficially become movie night fo me for many reasons, none of which I’ll go into here (but I shall in another blog I thing, Cinema is important to me). I gave myself a choice of two, either Iñarritu’s new movie ‘Biutiful’ starring Javier Bardem, or the movie I eventually did see which was ‘Barney’s Choice.’ Admittedly Iñarritu’s movie of a man diagnosed with a terminal illness and seeing dead folk appealed more to my affinity with the Macabre, however Barney’s Choice stars Paul Giamatti…say no more.

The film is about the life and love’s of Barney Panofsky; a chain-smoking, drunk of a TV exec who doesn’t find his romantic side until he meets the love of his life…at his own wedding to another woman!

This is one of the lesser known films I’ve reviewed so far on my barely-a-month-old blog, and I wouldn’t have known of its existence had it not been for the fact that I’m a fan of Empire magazine (www.empireonline.com – I can’t recommend it enough for any film buff’s out there).  The thing that sold it for me was the ever-impressive Paul Giamatti.  Ever since the glorious Sideways but Alexander Payne I’ve been beguiled by this man.  A man surrounded with hair, piercing eyes that portray the gamut of emotions with barely a flicker, and a voice that can roar out of him in sheer anger and desperation. He’s a true leading man, very deserving of his recent Golden Globe, and despite the nature of Barney Panofsky, never manages to be anything if not engaging.

For in truth, Barney Panofsky is an arse of a man.  Chain smoking, drinking, falls in love with other women at his own wedding, watches hockey games instead of sharing the triumph’s of his own wife.  He’s not completely reprehensible, a fierce friend for one, and an intelligent erudite man, but he does make things difficult for the people in his life.  The movie follows multiple points in his life, and focussed on his three marriages.  The plot strands seem at first to be rather aimless, the streams of narrative jump in his timeline, and it seems like there’s no real narrative drive.  However, once you realise the importance of the love of his life, Miriam (played be the gorgeous Rosamund Pike), namely that the narrative drive is in fact his attempts to win her heart, then the streams begin to converge.  You’d be forgiven then for thinking that a narrative drive where a man tries to win a woman’s heart leads the streams to the murky shallows (and emphasis on the word ‘shallow’) of the Rom-Com.  For this movie is funny, wit is ingrained within the script along with the gritty sediments (I’m pushing the river water metaphors now, I apologise!), however this is not a movie with a happy ending.

Barney encounters many obstacles throughout his life (and if you wish to see this movie you may be advised to miss this next paragraph, for here there be spoilers).  His first wife lies about her child being his, then kills herself when Barney doesn’t turn up for dinner; which is because his drink and drug addled bohemian best friend forgets to pass on the message from her, meaning he cannot save her from herself. He’s then married to domineering second wife (played by Minnie Driver), an educated jewish woman from a rich family who sleeps with Barney’s best friend.  The arguments after this lead to the disappearance of his friend, and Barney is accused of murdering him by a police detective who proceeds to spend the rest of his life attempting to defame the TV producer with an ill received book.  His father (played by Dustin Hoffman) dies whilst having sex with a whore; and a hint of a smile on his face! Barney uses his divorce to springboard his attempts to win fair Miriam’s heart, and marries her.  She will later divorce him for vegan activist and fellow radio worker, and Barney’s behaviour and general selfishness push her into his arms.  He grows old, bitter, and at the end of his life Alzheimer’s disease overcomes him.

That paragraph alone feels like it’s full of incident and drama.  Drama, certainly, but the film is slow-moving, languishing on the characters and their emotions.  The film is probably a little overlong, but the script is tight, the direction is focussed and loving on the plight of his protagonist.  The narrative threads converge into one, the memories of an old man reflecting on the mistakes of his life, the love that he lost and the great pain he caused himself, so much so that at the end his brain starts to shut down and makes him forget short-term memories, and then even how to peel a banana. 

Such changes dramatic changes in tone are beautifully orchestrated, and could have been misjudged easily, but Richard J. Lewis direction makes up for the lack of pace with emotional twists and turn that are always engaging.  The performances are strong,
Giamatti gives another powerful performance,he revels in a man who is bitter, selfish, and inconsiderate, but never fails to make him engaging and human.  Pike’s Miriam is as a gorgeous woman (in all senses of the word) and Pike is perfectly believable as the love of someone’s life, and never stretches credulity that she can love a reprehensible man such as Panofsky.  And the support is strong, Driver is beautifully awful as the domineering 2nd wife, and Dustin Hoffman is a brilliant as ever, playing Izzy Panofsky, Barney’s jewish cop father.

I judge movies more on my own emotions, how they affect me.  I feel Barney’s loss, the shadow of Love’s keen sting, the ache of a love which is no longer reciprocated, and how it turns your life around.  But it didn’t overawe me.  It’s a good movie, with wonderful performances and engaging, if sparse, story.  I would urge any one to see it.  It’s wonderfully constructed, life becomes a series of memories, which come to you in the wrong order.  A series of little events, and the great power they hold over us. 

Four stars ****

Fubar

The next blog…

•January 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Finding time to upload the next blog entry a little difficult. But I wanted to say that in the next week or so I have a few articles that I plan to upload, on this site and a new blog that I’ve started.

First I have an article/essay I’ve written about one of my favourite TV shows of the moment ‘James Rhodes: Piano Man’ that’s currently on Sky Arts 2 – a show which follows concert pianist James Rhodes.
Bobbins will return in Episode #2 – The Evil Window Cleaner
I may have another poem I’ve been working on, but these things take time.
I also have a new blog called Tales of the Macabre…and the Credit Crunch – a fortnightly blog that has a new short horror story based around the recession.

I’d also like to say that I’m over the moon, as a lovely lady named Melissa left the first comment on my blog, I’m made up with the compliment, so massive thanks Melissa, I hope the planned blog entries are not a disappointment.

Fubar

The Adventures of Brett Bullstrider

•January 25, 2011 • 1 Comment

A cheeky nod to my other WordPress blog
http://brettbullstrider.wordpress.com/

I’ve been promising (to myself, more than anything, as I’m not sure how many people have paid attention to my articles so far) and part 1 of the blog resolution is going into effect.
I intended this particular story to be a radio series for the BBC, but the BBC didn’t like it. I’ve done my best to adapt it into a blog story instead, I like the characters and the concept so I’m not yet willing to give them up. I shall be updating this blog again next week, then i think it will be on a fortnightly basis. As mentioned before I have potentially another three ideas to work on.

The next one is another of my favourite ideas, which shall be appearing at the end of this week. Very excited.

If anyone out there is paying attention to my words, please feel free to let me know what you think, I’d be most grateful.

Fubar