Talking Movies

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
Tags: , , ,

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 30, 2019

Politik: Part X

As the title suggests, so forth.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

Having watched both episodes of The Cameron Years on BBC 1, which somehow forgot the referendum on PR in which he took out the legs from under the Liberal Democrats, I was left thinking not about Cameron and Lord North; whom Paxman scathingly shelved him aside in the pantheon of catastrophic Prime Ministers; but about Cameron and Robert S McNamara. McNamara in The Fog of War, more than 40 years later, was still insisting that Ike had let a missile gap develop. He had not. Everyone knew it. But RSM still couldn’t admit it.  He had his lie from 1960, and by God he was going to stick to it to his dying day. Cameron has his lie, Labour blew up the British economy with their frivolous spending (on the undeserving poor) and poor old Call-Me-Dave had to fix the mess with a decade of biting austerity; which will somehow now magically end because Boris needs to throw money about to hide the economic consequences of Brexit. It’s a good story, it’s just a pity it’s not true. In 2005 the UK current budget deficit was less that £20 billion. The budget deficit somehow got to £50 billion in 2009 and £103 billion in 2010. Austerity had got the deficit by March 2019 to just, wait, oh actually there was now a budget surplus of £19 billion. Wow, that was some enthusiastic deficit reduction. But Labour, what monsters of frivolity! To balloon spending so much so needlessly in 2009 and 2010; almost as if they were reacting to some incredible economic shock that threatened the entire system. Check out the very revealing graphs here: https://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/uk_national_deficit_analysis

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 The Great Gatsby

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

June 11, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXII

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a thirty-second portmanteau post on matters of course!

It’s a Mads Mads Mads Mads World: Part II

The ‘not that firm, never floppy’ quip of Mads Mikkelsen in the ‘Greetings’ ad for Carlsberg had become an in-joke between me and my Dad on the subject of handshakes, so I was delighted to see the ‘Unfiltered’ ad; in which the Great Dane seemed to have been retrieved after a two-week bender in the woods; so quickly followed up by a new ad in which he cycles around improbably balancing a huge amount of beer on his bike, even when he’s got off it, because Carlsberg is so perfectly balanced. But then I saw the other new ad he’s made for Carlsberg, ‘The Lake’. For most of the ad it seems quite humdrum compared to previous outings, until you get to the last seconds and the bubbles in the water – at which point if I had been drinking tea I would have spit it straight across the room so explosive and uncontrollable was my snort of laughter for Mads’ ‘Probably…’

Is this about Brexit?: Part II

At the end of February I wrote about two commercials that kept catching my eye on television, both of which seemed to be about Brexit without saying they were about Brexit. HSBC’s seemed to be an implicit rebuke to Farage’s Little Englanders by playing Elgar’s Nimrod Enigma Variation over Richard Ayoade comically reminding everyone how hopelessly connected with and dependent on the rest of the world their small island really is, and apparently offence was taken for just that implicit reason. Now Ayoade is back with another pointed ad for HSBC that is curiously impossible to find on YouTube. Amidst talk of barriers going up and shutters coming down on the high street it seems obvious that the bank is taking aim at Boris Johnson & Co’s desire for the economic calamity of a No-Deal Brexit to prove some Old Etonian point about Little England not needing any help from anyone. Except America. And Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Commonwealth. Chlorinated chicken, anyone?

April 21, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXIX

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a twenty-ninth portmanteau post on matters of course!

“Nah, I don’t like it”

This ad has been annoying me for months, to an unusual degree because of its omnipresence in the inescapable setting of a cinema. From the start I thought of the moment in Castle when his daughter’s layabout boyfriend questions what colour sofa Castle was proposing to give them  – “What colour?? Free!” That’s the lack of gratitude which offended me greatly from the start, taking a gift and just tossing it aside; like the inscribed books in second-hand bookstores I wrote about here some years back. There’s the fuzzy logic at work, you must buy a new sofa to put your own stamp on the place. Well, surely you must also only buy new build houses or else how could you possibly put your own stamp on the place? But then I suffered this ad after David Attenborough’s jeremiad about climate change. One of the talking heads featured said we need to lead a less wasteful life, and that this wouldn’t impact on our standard of living very much at all. We just need, in his example, to buy a good washing machine, care for it, and make it last. Well, this ad now offends on a whole other level. As well as the two elements that got my goat such obliviousness towards a comfortable, generously gifted sofa will end civilisation and the existing ecosystem.

A TIME TO KILL, Matthew McConaughey, 1996

A time to kill?

I had cause recently to encounter a small but outrageous rewriting of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

For everything there is a season,

And a time for every matter under heaven;

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew;

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time for war, and a time for peace.

God has made everything beautiful in its time.

Mysteriously some latter-day Bowdler somewhere had decided that there should no longer be a time to kill. Which makes John Grisham’s novel seem a good deal less biblically inspired and a good deal more originally vicious in retrospect. I then discovered another verse from Ecclesiastes has been given the same treatment. I didn’t recognise what 44:10, “Next let us praise illustrious people, or ancestors in their successive generations”, was meant to be until musing on the meaning of it I suddenly realised it should have been, “Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us”. Again, with this change, out the window go the ironical echoes in James Agee and Walker Evans’ photojournalism of the Great Depression Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Jessica Mitford’s devastating takedown ‘Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers’. The Bowdler would no doubt defend good intentions, but no. Leave the Word of God alone. If you give yourself license to rewrite the Tanakh because you don’t like some sentiments or gendering then where do you logically end? Do you silently elide Yahweh torching Nadab and Abihu for using fire from the wrong source for their censers? And if not, why not? It’s a bit of an over-reaction, right? Please, change nothing or change everything.

February 14, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXIV

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a blog post proper? Why round them up and turn them into a twenty-fourth pormanteau post on matters of course!

The Valley of the Short

National Geographic’s Valley of the Boom has been an odd watch. Coming off the back of 4 seasons of The West Wing re-runs on TG4 it’s been quite nice to see Bradley Whitford in light suits walking around corridors again, but this time affecting a drawl and dispensing gnomic wisdom. Elsewhere it’s been fascinating learning about Facebook before Facebook in the shape of TheGlobe.com, but there’s no compelling reason this couldn’t all have been a documentary; even if that would mean losing Josh Lyman himself. Making it a docudrama is a baffling decision, and one which ‘creator’ Matthew Carnahan seems to have interpreted as license to war on the fourth wall to make sure we understand that what little drama there is is not as factual as the documentary surrounding it. Interestingly enough in light of Vice’s suffering the law of diminishing returns when employing the tricks of The Big Short the deployment of those self-same tricks here actually work reasonably well, and even include a musical number; something filmed for but dropped from Vice.

You Don’t Know Dick

All roads lead back to Vice… The more I’ve thought about Vice the more uneasy I am about it. McKay’s interest in Dick Cheney is that which animates all Presidential biographers – the years in the Oval Office. So why bother making a film about the years leading up to it as well, and not just zero in on those eight years? Those eight years, after all, are what really (and clearly) gets McKay’s goat. And yet Vice gallops thru them, offering Cheney’s infamous (and cheerfully repeated by myself and Emmet Ryan during writing sessions, explicitly mentioning that Vice-Presidential imprimatur) “Go F*** Yourself” to Senator Patrick Leahy, and his accidental shooting someone while hunting, almost totally decontextualised, purely because they had to be included; because they’d been fodder for the SNL writers, as McKay once was. The scene in which Cheney demands to see all intelligence, no matter how flimsy, is presented as his quest for a fictional casus belli to invade Iraq. I’ve been thinking though of how that scene could be written, with the same misgivings by the agency directors, and the same outcome, but an entirely different and equally plausible motivation for Cheney’s actions. The truth is that is possible for many scenes in Vice, because McKay always assumes the absolute worst of Cheney, usually in the absence of any information whatsoever. So try this on for size as reason for trampling the constitution beneath his feet:

CIA: There’s only one source for that, Mister Vice-President, that’s why it’s not included.

CHENEY: I want to see everything.

FBI: But, Mister Vice-President, we have to sift thru the intelligence to determine what’s credible.

CHENEY: Do you? Is that what you did when you dismissed as ‘racial profiling’ a flag on an Arabic man saying he didn’t need to learn how to land the plane, just how to fly it? 3,000 Americans are dead because we dropped the ball. We dropped the ball, and they died. So from now on I see EVERYTHING. I don’t care how ‘credible’ you think it is. I need to see EVERYTHING. We are not going to have another 9/11, not on my watch. Now get out of here, and don’t fumble the f****** ball again…

And now perhaps imagine how McKay would handle a similar scene involving President Obama justifying lethal drone strikes on American citizens without any due process.

 

Our long national nightmare is over

And once again with The West Wing re-runs on TG4, because Declan Rice’s statement last night contained a fatal phrase that immediately had me humming Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore ditty. I have felt, almost from the beginning of this will he/won’t he saga, that it was unseemly. And as it progressed I felt it was increasingly humiliating for us to be so desperately begging someone to play for us. Especially as he is ‘a proud Englishman’. Sing it!

But in spite of all temptation

To belong to other nations

He remains an Englishman!

November 2, 2018

Any Other Business: Part XX

Filed under: Talking Politics — Fergal Casey @ 11:52 pm

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a twentieth portmanteau post on matters of course!

A Comedy of Errors/Manners

The Luas stations and trams are now festooned with posters ordering people about (give up your seat, take off your bag, clear out of here) and then adding in a larger typeset – It’s Manners. I feel there ought to be an exclamation mark after that to give the full flavour to the absurdity. I can think of few things more unmannerly than peremptorily barking orders at people and then adding in a bellowed roar that it’s manners. I remember skimming a book in Hodges Figgis’ bargain basement section  some 7 years ago. It suggested that Japanese etiquette avoided confrontational corrections for unspoken but meaningful examples of the right way to do things. If someone made a terrible verbal blunder, the blunder was, after a discreet interval, silently amended without attention being drawn; the understanding being that this was good manners. I put this into practice by waiting a few minutes after Synge Street had been pronounced as Singe rather than Sing to drop in the correct pronunciation idly while asking a follow-up about goings on there which were the real point of interest. The correction was made, no attention was drawn to the original blunder, no confrontation was had. Good manners. I contrast my practise there with a trying scene that followed not long after where, out of nervousness that I would be roared at for mispronouncing Alain Resnais, I mispronounced Alain Resnais as Rey-na and got roared at – ‘Rey-NAY! Rey-NAY!!! JE-SUS!!!!’ Bad manners. I get visually roared at by these Luas posters and I think – Bad Manners.

October 20, 2018

Politik: Part VIII

Hopefully this eight regrettable portmanteau of politics will be the last descent into such commentary for a good long while.

I serve at the displeasure of the Queen

I conceived of a wonderful wheeze last week. Theresa May should spring on Queen Elizabeth II at one of their legally obligatory weekly waste of time chats that she needs help dealing with Brexit. Specifically she needs three great minds (sic) to do the job, without the worry of party political or electoral considerations. So would Her Majesty mind awfully making Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Nigel Farage Ministers life Peers and also Extraordinary and Plenopentiary Ministers, acting above the Cabinet and answering directly to the Queen herself. Their task? To negotiate the Brexit they seem to have such strong opinions yet scant details on. The Queen, slightly taken aback, will agree, forgetting to ask whether the trio have assented to such an unusual move. They will not. The first they will hear of it is when Theresa May bounds out of the car as soon as it gets outside the grounds of Buckingham Palace and announces to one man and his camera that she is delighted that the three men have accepted to personally serve Queen and Country in this way, but mostly the Queen. Now. The ball is in their court. Will these men have the utter gall to refuse to serve the Queen when it has been announced that she has graciously made them Lords and given them a rank and function exceeding the Prime Minister? And when they make an absolute balls of Brexit who can they blame? The Queen? Perish the thought!

September 25, 2018

Politik: Part VII

Filed under: Talking Politics — Fergal Casey @ 6:53 pm
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It beggars belief that we can be back here again, but here we are, making the same old mistakes all over again. Leo Varadkar wants a bit of that Bertie populism to go with his Bertie opacity, and so suggests another SSIA scheme. Charlie McCreevy’s wonderful little SSIA scheme kicked us coming and going – it sucked money out of the economy just as the tech bubble burst, and then it flooded the economy with the money it could have used then at a time when it absolutely did not need it, turbocharging the madness of the Celtic Tiger’s house prices just before that bubble burst. And so with our country returned to another iteration of that madness, which was clearly Michael Noonan’s only idea; get the bubble going again, rather than say get a proper economy going; Leo steps up to the plate to double down on the idiocy. If this SSIA gets going when it will start sucking money out of the economy? Next year and the year after probably. Nothing happening then right? No, just Brexit and the calamitous fallout. We wouldn’t that extra money floating around the economy then though would we? Nah, sure it’ll be grand.

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