Talking Movies

March 22, 2020

The Call of the Wilde

Filed under: Talking Books — Fergal Casey @ 3:41 pm
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As this is now a time for staying indoors for a few weeks(/months) and reading all those books you always meant to but could (cough) never find the time to, why not start by delving into the collected works of Oscar Wilde?

The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888)

The Decay of Lying (1889)

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories (1891)

The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891)

Intentions (1891)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

Lady Windemere’s Fan (1892)

A Woman of No Importance (1893)

Salome (1893)

An Ideal Husband (1895)

The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

De Profundis (1897)

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898)

March 18, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXIX

As the title suggests, so forth.

I didn’t realise it was social distancing at the time in 2017, I thought I was just going to deeply unpopular films

“Siri, what is a ‘cinema’?”

The cinemas have closed all over Ireland, all over America, and some may never re-open. As it looks like this global pandemic is going to last long enough for a latter-day Daniel Defoe to write a modern Journal of the Plague Year you have to wonder if cinema as we understand it will come back from this enforced hiatus. As the streaming wars ramp up just as everyone is suddenly stuck at home and at a loose end, will the idea of spending multiples of your monthly streaming fee to take a one-off punt on a film in a cinema full of obnoxious strangers coughing germs at you, flashing their phones, and shouting their conversations in your face become absurd? Will wasting time going somewhere else to buy over-priced snacks to watch something you can’t pause or rewind, when you could just stay where you are and stream instantly in your sedate cosy living room with your own snacks whenever you wish to pause or rewind, become as antique as the notion of carefully composing your message into as few words as possible in order to afford the telegram you are about to dictate? Stop.

Aloha and the xkcd challenge

I recently rewatched Aloha on RTE 1, and the knowledge that it had been beaten senseless by the critics made me suddenly think about the xkcd challenge [https://xkcd.com/2184/]. To wit, it is easy to prove your independent streak by disliking films universally beloved, but what about proving your independent streak by liking films universally reviled? Randall Munroe gave under 50% on Rotten Tomatoes as the target, [the other two parts of the trifecta being that they came out in your adult life post-2000 and are not enjoyed ironically] and gosh darn if poor old muso turned writer/director Cameron Crowe’s Aloha and Elizabethtown aren’t both under 50%, standing at a measly 20% and 29% respectively. And you know what, their critical pasting is undeserved. They’re not great movies, but they’re not nearly as bad as reputed, and I would happily watch either again. Elizabethtown has a number of ideas and scenes in it that I still treasure years after my single viewing of it on DVD, such as the distinction between a failure and a fiasco and the imperative to finish the rock-out of ‘Freebird’ over-riding all concern of personal safety, while Aloha has a vein of melancholy running thru it in the acceptance but continuing regret over squandered opportunities in life choices that is quite rare in Hollywood movies while the two silent conversations between Bradley Cooper and John Krasinski are a thing of joy.

December 23, 2019

On Doing As One Likes

Filed under: Talking Books — Fergal Casey @ 8:47 pm
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Matthew Arnold, from Culture and Anarchy:

“More and more … this and that man, and this and that body of men, all over the country, are beginning to assert and put in practice an Englishman’s right to do what he likes; his right to march where he likes, meet where he likes, enter where he likes, hoot as he likes, threaten as he likes, smash as he likes. All this, I say, tends to anarchy; and though a number of excellent people, and particularly my friends of the liberal or progressive party, as they call themselves, are kind enough to reassure us by saying that these are trifles, that a few transient outbreaks of rowdyism signify nothing, that our system of liberty is one which itself cures all the evils which it works, that the educated and intelligent classes stand in overwhelming strength and majestic repose, ready, like our military force in riots, to act at a moment’s notice, — yet one finds that one’s liberal friends generally say this because they have such faith in themselves and their nostrums, when they shall return, as the public welfare requires, to place and power. But this faith of theirs one cannot exactly share, when one has so long had them and their nostrums at work, and sees that they have not prevented our coming to our present embarrassed condition; and one finds, also, that the outbreaks of rowdyism tend to become less and less of trifles, to become more frequent rather than less frequent; and that meanwhile our educated and intelligent classes remain in their majestic repose, and somehow or other, whatever happens, their overwhelming strength, like our military force in riots, never does act.

How, indeed, should their overwhelming strength act, when the man who gives an inflammatory lecture, or breaks down the Park railings, or invades a Secretary of State’s office, is only following an Englishman’s impulse to do as he likes; and our own conscience tells us that we ourselves have always regarded this impulse as something primary and sacred?”

October 29, 2019

From the Archives: Starman – Interview with Matthew Vaughn

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

InDublin talked to Stardust director Matthew Vaughn about casting and CGI, Sienna Miller and celebrity culture, and a comic book he’d never heard of….

Matthew Vaughn is just dripping with enthusiasm for Stardust. He’s been trying to get the film made since the start of the decade, and asked what drove him to adapt Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed novella simply replies, “I loved the story”. Vaughn sees Stardust as closer to The Princess Bride than The Lord of the Rings. “The main theme for me – it’s a movie about a boy becoming a man, and he becomes a man by falling in love with the right woman. But it’s done in a way which is fun, not taking itself seriously at all, a feel good adventure romp. So it’s a movie for everyone: when you come out of the cinema I dare you not to feel good”. Gaiman, as producer, was happy to give Vaughn free rein. “He trusted me. Because every time I wanted to do a big change I always rang him up and said ‘Look, I’m thinking of changing this – what do you think?’ because I valued his opinion….If you’ve got someone who’s created the idea and it’s their baby. For me they’re the best person to ring up to discuss if you’re thinking of changing a scene”.

Vaughn was painstaking with his casting. Once he’d settled on Charlie Cox as Tristan “the poor guy had to do three months of auditioning for me to find Yvaine….it’s about the chemistry between the two. And I didn’t want to end up with Tango & Cash, you know, I wanted it to be the right chemistry”. Vaughn cast his Layer Cake star Sienna Miller as Victoria despite the potential for distraction given her tabloid fodder status: “She [Victoria] is the It Girl of the village so I think it worked for the character and that’s one of the reasons I cast her”. Vaughn laments Miller’s tabloid troubles. “I just feel it’s a shame her acting is getting eclipsed. Cos she does some good work, but – she doesn’t get known for it. But I say to her ‘Just keep persevering’ and eventually someone will say ‘Oh you’re a good actress as well!’” He also blasts the whole celebrity culture as being unhealthy for everyone. “The whole Jade Goody phenomenon I just scratch my head going, ‘WHAT does this tell you about England?’ I’m a big believer that fame should be a by-product of talent and success and I’m a big believer that years ago, and maybe its naïve of me, but great politicians or actors or poets or writers or comedians they weren’t trying to be famous, they were just trying to be the best at what they do, and then they became famous because of it”.

Directing Layer Cake after producing Guy Ritchie’s films reinforced the perception that Vaughn preferred small projects but he claims “I’ve always wanted to do big cinema”. But working on smaller projects made him determined not to have the CGI swamp the characters in his blockbusters. “A movie’s about having an emotional connection and telling a story and if you have that the special effects for me are an enhancement”. Stardust’s use of wirework for a dead sword-fighter is an example. “We had a big puppet sort of control thing to make him…we literally just said go limp and let us control him, in a way he was a puppet with the voodoo doll”. InDublin’s geekery finally erupted and we asked if he had any plans to film Neil Gaiman’s awesome graphic novel 1602. Only to end up explaining what 1602 is: superheroes of the Marvel Universe appear in 1602 at the Court of Elizabeth I…and Magneto is the head of the Spanish Inqusition. “Neil’s never told me about that!…that sounds cool – that sounds right up my street! I’m going to ask Marvel about that tonight! 1602?” After musing over the tangled film rights of the various Marvel characters Vaughn simplified the plot based on his friendship with Ian McKellen aka Magneto, “Make it at Fox. Have Fantastic Four and Magneto together…Spanish Inquisition. He’d get a lot of confessions…” Watch this space.

October 1, 2019

The one thing we can learn from history is that nobody ever learns anything from history

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Politics — Fergal Casey @ 8:10 pm
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Reading today about the decision to somewhat save history in Irish secondary schools was profoundly dispiriting. The arguments for history, and against history, and the underpinnings of both seemed to indicate a general idiocy.

As far as I can see from the op-ed in the Irish Independent by the Minister we ought to study history in schools to remind ourselves of how awful Ireland was in the 1950s and praise ourselves constantly for being such fine fellows in contrast. The Magdalene Laundries, the poor treatment of tinkers, gays and atheists. These all prove that people in the past were awful, and we are great. Five stars all around for being such great guys now. One might suggest that perhaps one of the most important benefits of studying history is the attempt to escape from the greatest of all mental traps – present bias.

As far as I can see from the marketing speak originating from the masters of curricula we ought not study history in schools because there are more exciting things we can surf in and out of and the purpose of education is to only do fun things. One could substitute maths or English for their dismissal of history and it would make little difference to the argument. After all, can one argue that students really enjoy maths? And with calculators and the internet who needs to learn these skills which are not transferable and of no real use in the real world outside the ivory towers of academia.

Meanwhile the Irish Times featured students decrying exams for the Leaving Certificate as being injurious to mental health and well-being. Well, yes, that’s sort of the point. Life is in general not just a succession of fun things with no crunch moments. One of the benefits of actually studying history is grappling with other civilisations and understanding that not everybody is always on the same page. If we throw out the traditional methods of education that does not mean China will follow suit, and the Confucian model of scholarship will take no prisoners of a generation educated to express themselves in bite-size opinions, scattershot samplings and stress-free study.

September 27, 2019

What the Hell is … An Objective Correlative?

I’m interested both in the origin of the term and its usage now, both actual and potential, and the difference between the two…

TS Eliot coined the term ‘objective correlative’ in his infamous critical essay ‘Hamlet and His Problems’ to describe an ideal objectivity that the artist would achieve between the impulse to create and the finished work of art.

More specifically, suppose that a dramatist wishes to write a play about war, having served in a war. Eliot would instantly insist that the dramatist distance themselves from what they’re proposing to create, for the play to have any value it must speak to people who have not been in a war, the playwright must find an objective correlative that converts their personal experience into universally accessible art. Eliot’s essay is infamous because in it he denied Hamlet masterpiece status because he claimed Shakespeare had been too close to the raw emotion of the loss of his son, to properly explore the theme of father-son grief, and so his play did not find an objective correlative of that emotional state, but was intensely subjective.

Eliot’s audacity is amazing but the same sentiment is found self-reflexively in John McGahern’s preface to the second edition of The Leavetaking: “I had been too close to the ‘Idea’, and the work lacked that distance, that inner formality or calm, that all writing, no matter what it is attempting, must possess.” McGahern thus rewrote the entire first half of his novel because he felt he had been too close emotionally to his subject and that it had been subjective more than it had been objective as art.

I think that objective correlative went from being used by people who’d read Eliot’s essay to other critics who’d only read it in the context of critical writings by those people, to eventually leaping from academia into popular criticism where it was used by people who hadn’t read any of the essays that came before them.

Barack Obama, in his discussion of religion and politics in The Audacity of Hope, invokes an equivalent of TS Eliot’s objective correlative, demonstrating its application not just to art but to any intellectual pursuit in which the subjective and the objective collide. Obama’s argument is that no argument on an emotive issue involving religion and politics can get anywhere if people merely quote Scripture or Thomas Jefferson at each other. What must be done to take the emotive heat out of the argument is to convert subjective religious values into their objective correlative – arguments invoking universal values, which can be accommodated in political discourse without everyone losing their minds.

September 8, 2019

The Roaring Twenties

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Movies,Talking Music,Talking Politics — Fergal Casey @ 2:14 pm

Some time back I speculated that this decade, the censorious Tens, would have to give way to, indeed would provoke, something rather different. I didn’t have in mind an exact historical re-run of the 1920s but now I find we are mere months away from the ever-moving marker of centenaries crossing into the Roaring Twenties. Which it must be said were roaring for the USA, but not quite as much fun for the rest of the world…

The next five years will see the centenaries of:

 

British forces massacaring civilians attending a football match in Croke Park

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari being released

F Scott Fitzgerald publishing This Side of Paradise

Edith Wharton publishing The Age of Innocence

DH Lawrence publishing Women in Love

Sinclair Lewis publishing Main Street

The USA introducing Prohibition

 

The Anglo-Irish Treaty being signed

The Kid being released

The Sheik being released

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse being released

 

The Civil War beginning

The destruction of records and archives at the Four Courts

Michael Collins being assassinated

Nosferatu being released

James Joyce publishing Ulysses

F Scott Fitzgerald publishing The Beautiful and the Damned

TS Eliot publishing The Waste Land

 

The Civil War ending

WB Yeats winning the Nobel Prize for Literature

Shadow of the Gunman being staged at the Abbey

PG Wodehouse publishing The Inimitable Jeeves

Safety Last! being released

The Charleston dance craze sweeping the world

The Bauhaus School moving to its signature building in Dessau

Adolf Hitler staging Beer Hall Putsch in Munich during Weimar hyperinflation

 

Juno and the Paycock being staged at the Abbey

Sherlock Jr. being released

EM Forster publishing A Passage to India

Thomas Mann publishing The Magic Mountain

George Gershwin composing Rhapsody in Blue

September 1, 2019

Presenting 1930s Batman

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Nonsense — Fergal Casey @ 12:47 pm
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I was talking about the parlous state of film criticism with Friedrich Bagel, John Healy, and others when Bagel unleashed this zinger, “Basically there haven’t been any decent films since the first superhero movie came out in 1930 or so”. What if they had been making superhero films in the 1930s with the top stars…  

I hope we can all agree that there is only one man in the 1930s firmament who can play Bruce Wayne/Batman. If you didn’t shout yes, obviously Clark Gable, then pick up your fedora/fur and be on your way out of this fantasia.

 

The Good Guys

Bruce Wayne/Batman – Clark Gable

Commissioner Gordon – Nigel Bruce

Chief O’Hara – Edmond O’Brien

Vicki Vale – Jean Arthur

Zatanna – Joan Crawford

D.A. Harvey Dent – Humphrey Bogart

Talia Head – Merle Oberon

Robin – Mickey Rooney

Batgirl – Judy Garland

 

The Rogue’s Gallery

The Joker – Jimmy Cagney

Harley Quinn – Jean Harlow

Two-Face – Humphrey Bogart

The Riddler – Peter Lorre

The Penguin – Walter Huston

Catwoman – Greta Garbo

Poison Ivy – Maureen O’Hara

 

I see at least six movies

 

The Batman in New York

The Batman Faces Death

The Batman Strikes Back

The Batman Takes Over

A Date with the Batman

Batman’s Brother

The Cultural Waterwheel

Filed under: Talking Books — Fergal Casey @ 12:39 pm
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I’ve been reading Matthew Arnold again, and, even as I’ve enjoyed the pompous old ass’s writings more than I ever previously did, it’s struck me that we’re failing more than ever at living up to his high standards for what constitutes Culture as opposed to Anarchy…

Matthew Arnold held that culture meant informing yourself of the best that has been known and thought. Was that ever a realistic proposition? CP Snow after all insisted that people in the humanities ought to feel ashamed for not knowing the three laws of thermodynamics or understanding quantum physics.  And now, you must see the good blockbuster, you must see the interesting art-house films; there is no place for personal tastes to say no, I don’t want to see that film. And that is before we get to the rise of the streaming services…

Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. No one feels the need to actually go and read Darwin, Smith, Locke, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Freud, Jung – everything is presumed on, and built upon. Could anyone keep up with the pace of modern cultural production? Could anyone keep up with the pace of commentary on modern cultural production? And should one even try? Might it not be best to simply do a Franzen and drop out from this nonsense?

Try it. Don’t check Twitter, Facebook or Gmail for a week and see how much of actual consequence you miss. How much that you will remember for a long time rather than for a week tops. You’ll be surprised.

August 21, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Catch-22: it’s not the best one Hulu have

It was all Friedrich Bagel’s fault. It was he who sent a link to a Guardian piece raving that George Clooney had broken the curse of the unfilmable novel. But why talk about filming an unfilmable novel when it’s a TV series? You might as well call Brideshead Revisited a triumphant 13 hour movie adaptation. Only in early 1970s France or the increasingly addled BAM would that make pretend sense. And why give the imaginary credit to Clooney? He directs as many episodes as Ellen Kuras and he’s barely in it as an actor, while every episode is written by the series developers Davies and Michod. And they sort of write the same episode again and again. A little comedy gets thru each week, but what a slog to get to it. And then the same ‘shock’ ending, week after week. Things got distinctly SJ Perelman:

The murders follow an exact, rigid pattern almost like the ritual of a bullfight or a classic Chinese play. Take ‘Veiled Lady’ in the October, 1937, number of Spicy Detective – Dan is flinging some woo at a Mrs Brantham in her apartment at the exclusive Gayboy Arms, which apparently excludes everybody but assassins:

“From behind me a roscoe belched “Chow-chow!” A pair of slugs buzzed past my left ear, almost nicked my cranium. Mrs Brantham sagged back against the pillow of the lounge… She was as dead as an iced catfish”.

Round up the most young actors you can find who look alike and then dress them all alike and don’t flesh any of them out and leave the audience baffled, until they realise that if someone finally gets individuated a bit as we head into the last 20 minutes of an episode that means they’re about to die and it will probably be Yo-Yo’s fault. As The Engineer said after it was all over: “You don’t have to watch it if you ask not to watch it because it wasn’t very good, but if you ask not to watch it because it wasn’t very good, you’ve already watched it.  Catch-22. It’s the best one they have.”

The Avengers begins with Honor Blackman

It has been a disconcerting experience watching True Movies’ extremely scrambled late night re-runs of The Avengers. I had only ever seen a handful of Cathy Gale episodes late at night on RTE 1 over 20 years ago. As True Movies jumped between episodes and seasons of the first three years of the show it became evident that it was something of a miracle this ever became the classic show it did. It is only when Honor Blackman shows up for season 2 episode 1 ‘Mr Teddy Bear’ that things really start to click, and then she keeps disappearing in favour of Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith and her wretched musical numbers, or the second iteration of Dr King who is no more interesting than the first. And let’s not forget that the show was supposed to be about Dr King! A nigh unwatchable first iteration Dr King episode didn’t even feature Steed. It is unfathomable using IMDb to straighten out the running order to see that the writers apparently didn’t realise they’d lucked into gold with Steed and Gale. I’ve rarely seen such huge swings in quality between episodes; from touches like a man at an auction being shot on “Going… Going… GONE!” to overwrought gibberish about a mole hunt with Steed being accused while everyone ignores the world’s most obvious mole spending money like water beside him. All the while the chemistry between Steed and Gale defines the show as The Avengers.

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