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Some things simply have no rhyme or reason - like a mathematically challenging metallic labyrinth floating on the edge of nothingness, or the seemingly haphazard collection of individuals tumbled together inside it, scrambling to find their way out. Cube was Vincenzo Natali's first long movie (several shorts did the festival rounds), and my what a stonker of a sci-fi cheese flic it was... *The Film The opening scene sets the stage for the oppressive and paranoid atmosphere that is about to infuse: A somebody wakes to find himself within the confine of six softly lit, science fictionally augmented and faintly pulsating walls. In his cold confusion he quickens to open one of the six doors that surround him...he opens it and is faced with an identical room, except this one throbs in red; he opens another, the same, but this time in blue; the third, it's orange...he clambers in, he stands and his ears prick up to the sound of a metallic twang...his eyes widen, his body quivers...and then falls to the floor, cubed. The premise is this: Six other unlucky somebodies are trapped inside this box of lovelies: some of the chambers are booby trapped with sensors and nasty ends aplenty, and somehow the six somebodies have to work out the connections between themselves and the machine maze that confines them. The movie begins with five of the six falling in on each other: a black policeman, a female doctor, a convicted escapee, a teenage schoolgirl and a white collar nobody. Their characters are set up as caricatures, unsettling parodies of themselves and what we expect them to be: the black policeman indicates from the very start that he's the hero running this show; the cock-sure escapee has such obvious and cheesy dialogue that we just know that he'll be the first to go; the paranoid doctor, who revels in the suspicion that this is all a government cover-up; the pathetic and feeble schoolgirl who hides in her adolesc
ent angst...and of course the nobody, who's giving nothing away...just enough nothing so that are suspicions are raised. The group discover that there is a relevance in the large numbers that detail each room and in each and every characters' own knowledge...but after the inevitable loss of the escapee, a new quandary is thrown into the conundrum in the form of an autistic adult male. What can he possibly add to this situation? Surely he can only be a hindrance in this fight for survival; perhaps, after all, not everything has a reason for being. They have only until their strength and mental aptitude weaken to work out this hi-tec warren, and to save themselves from...each other? *The Acting... Is pretty weak, it has to be said, but on a Canadian sci-fi/horror film with absolutely no budget left over from the one set that is used throughout, what in hell do you expect? Although the acting and the script have a rather stiltonesque aroma, the basic scenario and set up of the characters does manage to win through. What I mean by this is that the slow character assassination that occurs with the mental disintegration of the players is a lot more interesting than the acting itself: the audience is given the cheesy stereotypes that we are so used to seeing, and then we get to see behind the masks, into the flesh and deep into the madness. Each character has a moment of 'falling apart', and this is probably their finest hour. By far the most entertaining deterioration is that of the supposed hero: stereotypical to the hilt, he begins his portrayal as an all round wholesome good guy, out to save the world and his kids from the bad guy. As the film progresses we become aware of his sleazy overprotection of the young girl - he begins to get a little friendlier than a father figure should. Slowly his need for control/power over the situation amplifies into an aggression, then into a manic anger and physica
l violence as it dawns on him that things are no longer under his command. Through this sequence the audience also discovers the real nature of the character: a wife and child beater? A dirty old man? A delusional control freak? And so our obvious hero becomes the very epitome of what he should be protecting us from by the end of the film. *The Direction... The film feels like it's been a long time coming - incredibly well thought out and thorough - one wishes that perhaps Natali had waited for a little more funding, that's all. All the threads hang together rather nicely, without being too obvious from the very beginning. The characters are chosen because of our familiarity with them from other movie portrayals - interesting idea this, as then the audience (and Natali) can bypass the basic introduction of who's who. With that in mind, it's then easier for us (and Natali) to get on and deconstruct/disintegrate the characters within the context of this film. The underlying theme of pointlessness and of nihilism that human life constantly negates in the search for reason is uncomfortable, a little too close to the bone. It's us trying to rationalise that Frakenstein's monster existed without Victor ever intentionally making it; the search for a God machine that we built ourselves, but forgot about. Natali's reiteration that it just may be possible that there is nothing else out there is spine-chilling, but I feel he somewhat destroys this message by the compromising near-death-experience ending. It must have been a hard movie to direct; not easy to make a movie that avoided answering all the obvious questions like why? where? and when?; it must have also been difficult to create the ambience that broke down these characters. Natali must have seen the image very clearly, and for that he must be commended...as must the decor team, who made one set and a collection of coloured lights carry a movie up, up and
away from a B grade. *My Sentiments. Big love. Definitely a director to keep an eye on.
Oh well, I guess this category title will have to do...and there I was searching for a 'pregnancy in general in general' type situation to write under...no such good fortune. I'm just over six months into my second pregnancy: The morning sickness decided to make its retreat around the start of the fifth month - a blessing indeed, as I suffered the whole way through when I was pregnant with Victor. But now, as many a pregnant lady will tell you, is just about the time when you start getting bored and tired with the whole 'ordeal'; now is when lumpet in tummy regions is beginning to wake you up in the middle of the night with gargantuan alien kicks and remarkable wind patterns; when toilet runs every five minutes make popping out to the supermarket an absurd torture; when mood swings teeter on the edge of screaming madness/blubbering tears; when this damn baby is making his own individual stamp in the way of stretch marks across your belly... Ahh, and the natural beauty of childbirth looms dauntingly ahead... *Coping with pregnancy. A preferred sub title, as while you're getting all excited and fluffy about the arrival of loving bundles, one still has to cope with all the down sides of the situation: -Gnashers. For me, the most important thing I did in between my first and second pregnancy was to go to the dentist. I'm jolly happy for all those lucky women out there with perfect teeth, but me and mine, they're diabolical, and what nobody thought to mention to me before I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with Victor, was that bad teeth get even worse during pregnancy. Labour pains are one thing, but they are relatively short and give you a rather worthwhile end product: Dental pain and toothache for nigh on four months with only paracetamol to calm your nerves can be somewhat depressing - and definitely not what an inflated, tired and hormonal mother-to-be needs t
o relax her. I read up on what supposedly happens to ones teeth while pregnant, and while most dentists expect you to suffer from swollen and bleeding gums (pregnancy gingivitis), nobody mentioned what happened to me - first time and second time round: At about five months I began to feel my wisdom teeth move; During my first pregnancy, one of my wisdom teeth actually broke the existing tooth that was standing in its way - serious dental work is to be avoided during pregnancy because of the drugs involved and the position you have to lie in (putting pressure on the baby and your spine), so I had to wait four months before I could have the remains of the tooth extracted. Second time round, and although I took full and utter advantage of one years free dental work on the NHS after Victor was born, I find myself in the same situation: A wisdom tooth on the other side has decided to up itself, putting pressure on the rest of my teeth and breaking one of my front teeth in two...luckily I didn't have to have any drugs to have a false piece put in, otherwise I would be doing the last four month stretch looking like a bit of a hag (ahem). So that's a very important tip for all you trying-to-be-mothers-to-be...go to the dentist now, while you still can. -Sleeping. Do it. As often as you can, 'cos it only gets harder to do later on in pregnancy. I've just 'invested' in a giant piece of foam cheese to stick under my increasingly achy belly - it helps some, but the intensifying 'need to pee' every time baby or you moves (or your partner snores and wakes you up, damn him) is enough to make you rise with tired eyes every morning. Being pregnant with a second child is somewhat harder still: When I was pregnant with Victor and dog dead tired then I could just collapse on the bed without a care in the world...now I have a 22 month old snapping at my heels, urging me for biscuits and Teletubbies.
..so whenever Victor takes a nap (or rather if ever, as he is still only seduced into slumber under duress), I join him. -Vitamins and stuff. I eat as sensibly as I can while pregnant (Bananas help me in more ways than one) with plenty of fresh veggies, fruit, fish and chicken on the menu - I was given a very strange recipe card from the French hospital, suggesting I should eat pigs trotters and tripe...umnn, perhaps not - But none the less, I take my vitamin, iron and folic acid supplements religiously. If I don't take them everyday, I soon feel the effects: I'm more tired than usual, more achy and therefore more irritable and more likely to snap somebodies head off :o) I also up the daily dose of vitamin C, as my immune system seems to take a 9 month holiday from anti cold and flu action while I'm pregnant. -Clothes. It's kinda exciting when the first buttons pop on your normal everyday trousers/skirt...but a few pairs of maternity knickers down the line and it isn't so much fun anymore. I'm sure those complete sets (trousers, skirt. dress and shirt - available at M&S) are a good investment first time around, but I don't like to feel restrained by maternity clothes, so I opt to stretch my already baggy trousers and jumpers that cm (km) further. Comfortable shoes are my biggest must - I'm normally a healthy size nine, and later on in pregnancy I go up to 9 and a half with the water retention - so I have a very faithful pair of worn in Nikes that have seen me through both pregnancies so far. -Skin care. With all the extra blood and hormones in your system, strange things can occur: You can either end up with that blooming/glowing cheek look, or you can have bizarre outbreaks of spots, dryness and burst blood vessels in places that you just don't want them. I'm constantly on a roller coaster between these examples; one day spent with giant, open pores, the
next day with a full English Rose flush. My only advice is to indulge yourself and go to a skin/beauty specialist now...go on pamper yourself. On the other hand, don't bother with the latest stretch mark treatment - if you're going to get them, then you'll get them, no matter what you do. Oil yourself up (or get someone else to do it as that's much more fun) to ease the tightness and itching, but don't expect anything to calm the spread of the marks...and don't worry about them, they will fade with time. -Baths. I don't think anybody can truely appreciate a bath until they've been pregnant. If you haven't got one, then move...or become resident at your local swimming pool. I have at least a bath a day, and as the pregnancy progresses I find myself having two or three. The utter wonder of having all that weight taken off you; the luxurious warmth caressing your swollen bits...ahhhhhh. *Preparation for childbirth? First time round most of us go into the situation a little blinkered: This is not of our own doing, but a mass conspiracy by our mothers to rather unhelpfully 'forget' all the important stuff they should have remembered to tell us. The whole way through my first pregnancy, I was telephoning my mother just to check if this or that was a natural thing to happen to a woman...simple, little things (well, not any more) like ones nipples resolving to enlarge themselves overnight...you get the picture, there's no need for me to go on, is there? And then the whole messy birth thing itself. We can prepare ourselves in the very orderly and physical sense of packing the right amount of knickers and pads (ha ha, you never have enough knickers or pads), the Evian water spray (err, yes, mine was left at home the first time round) and the 'your version of the list', but nothing can prepare us for the emotions that are about to run riot through our lives..
.I'm even wondering now if I can possibly be prepared the second time round. For me, preparing myself the first time was attending all my prenatal courses, knowing what Vitamin K was and why I would be offered it at the birth of my child. It was knowing what drugs would be on offer, what complications were likely...not worse case scenario stuff, but small details like the umbilical cord being wrapped around the neck - which it was, and that dad would be handed baby first. This time my planning on that scale is: Get to the hospital sooner (as it's likely to be a quicker birth), and how to introduce the new baby to Victor (we're going for a neutral baby in crib gets handed, by daddy, to Victor, who is sitting on mummy's knee...oh well, we'll wait and see how that goes. First time I had no way of really preparing myself for the pain (my mother in complete denial yet again), and I think that was for the best - now, I'm beginning to get nervous about it all, as this time I know what kind of a ride I'm in for ;o)
The terminology 'ghost story' is not one that sits well with modern Western horror movies; we seem to have lost that subtle tender touch of fright and replaced it with a large bludgeoning hammer. I find that a real shame - I must admit to reveling in a jolly rollicking slash/gore fest teenage massacre now and then, yet gone are those beautiful and serene days of frosted hairs slowly rising on your neck, nervous glances to the peephole through the curtains into the darkened outside, and what lurks in that unseen space just behind your left shoulder. I'm racking my brains because I want to make a slightly different comparison, but no, there is only one other film I have seen that conjures up the same tender icicles of anxiety, and that is the original The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise); a stunning and subtle assault on all of the viewer's taut tenses, while never, EVER giving anything else away. Ring also holds the reins of fright tight, taking the viewer very gently by the hand and leading them deep into the woods: *The Film. A couple of schoolgirls are telling tales and trying to scare the other witless; one recounts the story of a group of teenagers who happen upon a video and decide to watch it. Minutes after watching it, the group receive a phone call informing them that they'll be dead within seven days...The other schoolgirl bends the story by reacting with such fear, and claiming that she was one of the teenagers in question...but no, that's only a joke as well...or is it? As the phone rings, her petrified friend pleads to know whether she is telling the truth or not...she nods, her friend flees, and the finality of the seventh day arrives in the form of a death mask of terror. The story circulates and the viewer is not so sure of where they are in the film; is this a supernatural reality, or a modern myth? The same trap occurs for a young reporter, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), w
ho is intrigued enough by the curiousness of it all to begin interviewing schoolchildren about the story. And then Reiko discovers that her own niece appears to have been a victim of this urban fable. And so, rather unwisely (but then where would the horror genre be without outgoing, gung-ho females?), Reiko tracks down the video cassette...and then watches it. And then the phone rings. Frantic with the horror of it all - the certainty that in seven days she will be no more is made all the more intense by her single mother status - she contacts her ex and begs him to help her unravel the history behind the myth, the video and the curse. *The Acting... Is hard to classify or clarify: This is a VERY Japanese movie with a hell of a lot of Japanese references and cultural nods...it's kind of hard to have a reference point for the acting, yet I can say that the characters were slightly more inflamed and human than a Manga. Matsushima has a natural grace and beauty that turns its hand well to a gentle hysteria; If I have to make a comment on the acting, then let it be this: The acting in Ring is about displaying terror in an agile fashion, while letting it linger and become contagious. This Matsushima does romantically and with warmth. She fuels her own demise in the same way as a Voodoo curse would be played out: The victim very much the hostage of their own imagination. I don't have too much to say about the other characters - there are scenes in which their performances are stunning, yet I feel this is a culmination of theatrical set design, camera work and colour - all of which compliment the players dialogue and anxious faces. *The Direction The West has its heavy Gothic classics - we are all aware when references are being made in modern movies to Bram Stoker this or Victor Frankenstein that - and so the East has its own equally important works that inform films such as
Ring. While die hard fans of Japanese ghost stories and Manga fantasies may be well versed in all the pointers and implications, I must admit to remaining well and truely in the dark. I am told that Ring is very reminiscent of Japanese Fisherman's supernatural tales; One thing I find truely beautiful and wonderfully frightening is the way the Japanese seem to equate ghosts with madness - a faint idea that seems to have existed in our past (just think of mad, wailing banshees) but has since been left by the wayside. All this is me just twittering on. What is important is that Hideo Nakata made this film, and that even without knowledge of the aforementioned references, a Western viewer can enjoy this film to the hilt: He has made a deeply, utterly Japanese film that smoothers itself in images that we somehow recognise...I'm thinking of school uniforms and Pokemon here, so nothing too highbrow...while still able to pull in an American buyer for the rights for a remake...ARRRRRGH. The texture of the film begins rather roughly, a bit like cheap toilet paper, but this only helps when the tone turns gothicly velveteen later on. These changes are echoed by the video within the movie: A series of seemingly unconnected apparitions that appear to be impossibly filmed and intrinsically linked. The same ideas of shift are apparent when the film travels in and out of the countryside - in and out of history, and in and out of what is reality. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: All the best (as in most effective) horror movies tempt us with the terror - they don't flaunt it and all its innards in our face - Ring is such a delightful example of this, building us up in a truely theatrical fashion to a culmination of horror - only then not to show us - making us feel hard done by - and then SCHBLAMMO, an idea and an image that shake our foundations and make our little hearts beat themselves out of time. <
br>I'd love to spoil it all for you and give the game away big time...I'm soooo damn tempted to rattle on for a paragraph or two about the final scene...but no, I'm not that cruel, and the watching of it is really what makes this film the total beauty that it is. *Conclusion. I'm waiting for Ring 2 to be released over here with baited breath (damn Pete Love to hell), and apparently it's part of a trilogy (based on the books by Susuki Koji), so I'll be hankering for the prequel too...for any of you hooked, there is also a two volume manga set to be had. If you're a horror fan of any description, then this film deserves a viewing. True, it has a slow and subtle story, and yes, you'll have to follow the subtitles closely, but believe me, this is not one to be missed. Honest, guv.
I have a big soft spot for horror films that start something that they have absolutely no prior knowledge of - that find a point so vulnerable in our social psyche that they just scare the crap out of us, create modern myths and spawn followings of cult proportions. Most horror movies run wild with blood, screaming teenagers and mad axe wielding murderers without finding society's Achilles Heel - maybe something to do with the director looking in the other direction when the scenes are being shot - yet there is one film containing all of the above basic schlock horror fodder that remains as effective today as it did 27 years ago...except that the mad axe wielding murderer has selected a slightly updated and rowdier piece of equipment to perform his dirty work with. *The Film. A four strong group of flowered up teenagers and a wheelchair bound brother venture forth into the American countryside; the reason for their trip is to establish whether or not the tombs of Grandpa and Grandma have been vandalised - a TV report claims that two bodies from the same cemetery have been disinterred and downright messed with (all this is proclaimed as the opening title sequence of the movie). That bit of the story is dealt with rather rapidly as the kids turn up, check with the local authorities and give the graveyard the once over...so rather than immediately traipse all the way back home, the happy little troop decide to do a little sightseeing; take in the the local cuisine, the native folks and traditions...as well as pop in to see where Grandma and Gramps used to live and to catch up with the neighbours. On the way to the old family house they pick up a young male hitcher: The fact that he's splattered with blood seems not to deter them, and is explained away when he tells them that he works in the local abbatoir. His behavior becomes a little erratic, his conversation a wee bit twisted, at which point the kids get slightly wary, an
d after cutting himself deeply, laughing hysterically and basically being downright weird, he gets thrown out of the happy campers' Camper. Oh shucks, the only problem now is that they're running low on gas, and the local garagist is waiting for the delivery tomorrow. Would you kids like to stick around for a barbecue? Or will you continue on your merry way to the old homestead and see what fate has in store for you? *The Acting. Ha Ha. I don't know if I actually need a separate category to say this, but hey, what the heck: Some of the actors get to scream hysterically for several minutes (in one case, a hell of a lot longer); some of the others don't even get the chance to vent their lungs before evil deeds are done to them. The victims' acting skills are rather by the by - they are there, happy, playful and vivant one minute...and then cold and blue (and drippingly red) the next. Sorry, but even in comparison to the Evil Dead outfit, these guys don't get no second chances at proving their acting prowess. The tyrants behind this buckets of bloodfest are rather more interesting characters to dissect (so to speak), especially as one of them, the male lead if you will, never actually shows his face and prefers to sport this seasons 'must have' mask made of human flesh. Nice. Leatherface (the aforementioned character) throws up all sorts of quandaries: Here we have an obviously mentally handicapped gentleman (pairing with the physically handicapped victim) who, had he been reared in a warm and loving environment, may well have lived a live other than mad, chainsaw wielding hobbyist in search of the latest in taxidermy furniture design...but that's just one of those little titbits of desperately dark humour that Tobe Hooper is trying to put our way. Leatherface appears to be the youngest of these three demented brothers, all in service of their sickeningly crumpled Grandf
ather, and he also appears to be the most sensitive (possible the most sane, as well). In one scene, just after a bloody encounter with another one of them damn kids, Leatherface awaits his brothers homecoming nervously at the window. He licks his malformed teeth in apprehension...has he done right or wrong? Will he be told off by Big Brother for getting blood on the carpet...AGAIN? Nope, can't talk about the acting in this one seriously: There are people supposedly acting - I'd call it running around and screaming a lot - and then there's some other folks just being damn strange and inbred. *The Direction. Ahh, now this is much more interesting: Hooper spent a long, long time formulating this movie in his head (rather his than mine), an elongated period of piecing together just the right elements to make Texas Chainsaw Massacre the movie that it is. Strange how that urban myth thing keeps coming around and feeding into the horror genre - as well as everyday society, of course - I've just watched Ring (as well as the dire Urban Legend) and realised that horror movies (especially American ones) without a tint of a hint of modern myth are few and far between. T.C.M. is no different: As well as helping to spawn a new age of scared hitchhikers and morbid playground parables, it was ACTUALLY based on the same idea. Hooper admits that the 'True Story' intro to his movie was purely for promotional purposes (aka Blair Witch), but that in his head the story had SOME factual bases: There had been a case of some Hillbilly type living in the locality of his family digging up a couple of corpses and having a munch...there was also the student stories of his Doctor; a man that admitted to sewing himself a mask of human flesh for a Halloween party. And even I remember tales of some dark inbred family living in 'dem 'dere hills, picking off weary travelers...and then picking off their bones. So Ho
oper took the myths and made them stronger. But other than that, what makes this film any different to a thousand others? Perhaps part of the answer to that is in Hooper's choice of weapon - I mean, axes, hammers, knifes and later, drills aside, how many ways are there to graphically dismember a body convincingly? Oh, yes, a chainsaw, and doesn't it make such a relaxing noise? We hear the drone of a chainsaw and something in us is immediately alerted to danger. Maybe it was Hooper's disturbing attention to detail in the decor: I do find the embellishment of the set strangely bourgeois (with dining room red walls and the latest dead dear acquisition), yet upon closer inspection we see the dirtiness of it all; the rotting stench that must be emanating from every orifice; the moulding flesh still hanging from the lampshade; the floors awash with the detritus of a hundred murders. Or perhaps it all works because we don't actually get to see that much...we just think we do. There are very few scenes where we truly see blood, yet our mind plays out the horror that Hooper fails to show us; we see it dripping everywhere in our minds eye, and our imagination is a hell of a lot scarier than the silver screen. It could be Hopper's identification of hysteria and insanity - in both the perpetrator and the victim. He spends rather too long (in my point of view) depicting the victim's absolute trip into madness with scary eye close ups and large screaming mouths (something very reminiscent of Blair Witch here), when I feel he should have left the emphasis concentrated on her hysterical laughing towards the end of the film. Hmmn, or maybe, dare I say it, the reality of the characters? But again we're back to the urban myth syndrome, and if you want to go with that one, then the strength and believability of the characters seems to be of little importance...see Candyman/Scream etc. for proof.
*Conclusion. For me, the film works because Hooper paid attention to all of these details. He added just enough of one ingredient, and not much of another. He rolled the whole storyline around long enough for it to come out covered in enough crud for it to be believable: Just take a look at the quality of the film; the Seventiesness of it all just reeks inbred Hillbilly home made movie alone. He also injected that deep dark humour that makes us uneasy viewers...did he really mean to make us laugh during that scene? Of course he did. Somewhere in there, so I believe, is Hooper's real political message, but just as in Night of the Living Dead, we'll have to scamper around in the rotting darkness to find it. And somehow Tobe Hooper made us a classic...I wonder, did the sales on chainsaws go up or down after the release of the film?
Although rabidly tempted to write a review on first viewing this film, I resisted, I reposed and reclined, declined and waited until the occasion of a second viewing came my way. Why? Well, it's just so easy to be overwhelmed by the instinctual power of a film, to be persuaded of its brilliance by forceful images and a stirringly strong subject matter...and it is, perhaps, slightly more interesting to digest, even maybe to forget; to find again what you first thought you had witnessed and to see if it touches those same points in your thoughts the second time round. *The Film. The film begins through the eyes of Danny, a young but hardened skinhead, who is awaiting the return of his brother (role model/hero) from incarceration. On the eve of his brother's release, Danny hands in a school literature project based on Mein Kampf, much to the discomfort and disgust of his Jewish teacher...and the black department head, Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks). Sweeney, who was also the long suffering tutor of Danny's brother Derek, decides to refocus Danny's mind by getting him to rewrite the literature coursework, but this time his subject matter is to be his brother: Derek's beliefs, way of life, friends, the crime that led him into prison...and now the long awaited return. But Sweeney knows something that Danny doesn't: Sweeney knows that Derek's point of view has changed somewhat since he's been in the slammer; that the hatred that burned inside him has finally manage to burn itself out, and a separate soul will return as Danny's brother. The tale is told in flashback via Danny's essay: The suggested root of his and his brother's bitterness is heavily sign posted as the murder of their firefighter father by black youths; the rise of Derek as a much respected skinhead and Neo-Nazi, always the right hand man of the areas head honcho and almost-guru, Cameron - and finally culminating in scenes of the grizzly killings that Derek deals out
to two black men that are trying to steal his car. The prodigal son returns (the whole family have been in a state of anxious uncertainty - the mother's health failing her as she is consumed with concern and worry for both her sons' futures) and the imminent Neo-Nazi celebrations for Derek's release hang heavy over his head. Derek now has to realise in the real world the lessons he has learnt in jail; he has to make amends for all his past mistakes, and he has to convince Danny not to make those same mistakes...before it's too late. *The Acting. Although there are many good actors involved in this film - and many great performances - there is only one character who is really given to the audience as a WHOLE human being, and that is Derek - Edward Norton: How can I put this? Although the other characters are well written and well played, they are almost caricatures of themselves, two dimensional figures that point the direction to the central/real character of Derek. They are constructed around him, as to bring all attention to this pinnacle point of the film: The rise and fall of Derek, the Neo-Nazi. Edward Norton surely is a new golden boy for Hollywood, Fight Club confirmed that for me, yet this film shows that he can shine without a pretty face at his side, and with a character so absolutely bursting with vengeance, antipathy and malice, a pit bull terrier of a performance: Here he wears his tattooed skin with a worrying pride; he struts his well formed form and rants with a heartful of hatred. The turn about in Derek's way of thinking is probably less well presented through Norton's acting, yet I feel that perhaps he wasn't given as much fodder to create the realism in that realm, and that we have to point the finger elsewhere. Danny is performed by Edward Furlong, who admittedly plays beyond his years. The cock sureness of his young character is enough to turn the viewer away, to repel them from the storylin
e, but we are soon engaged in this little family history and its struggles by Danny's mounting honesty - and his obviously still childish mind reaching out to make sense of his world. It is unfortunate that the character of Danny was not allowed to outshine the message of his brother; the viewer is left slightly vague as to the extent of Danny's beliefs, and to the same extent, the degree of his change of heart. On this level many of the characters feel shallow and too quick to jump on one band wagon or another, and many of them would have fared better had the story veered slightly away from the microcosm and embraced the larger picture. Beverly D'Angelo is the boys' mother, Doris, racked with ill health and anxiety, and her acting lifts her, soaring above the other characters: I can't quite put my finger on what or why, but her wholeness as a mother and wife (the slightly glib dumbness of her towards her husband, the total and utter concern and sacrifice for her children) seems to fill a character that would otherwise be left as a shadow on the surface of Derek's becoming. The acting throughout is further than commendable, yet for reasons beyond the control of the actors, all concerned are harmed by the centralisation of Derek and his story. *The Direction. Having said what I have about the actors, then I suppose I have to find somewhere else to lay the blame...but it's not really here. You see, this is Tony Kaye's directorial debut, and also what he expected to be his epic. Whether we choose to believe the hype and controversy surrounding this film and Kaye's call for the removal of his name post the cutting room (he claims that certain cutting choices were made against his wishes - and by Norton, no less), we HAVE to believe that Kaye meant and NEEDED this to be a longer film - the evidence is here, right in front of our eyes: American History X is a long film, yet it feels like we are watching only half of wh
at was intended: So many areas of the film are teetering on the edge of being discussed, divulged and elaborated on; so many characters are so close to becoming full bodied. We feel that the storyline has lost its heart, its centre point, which is why we are pointed so utterly in Derek's direction. The situation, post Derek's release, with the Neo-Nazi gang has an aura of incompleteness; we are almost holding our breaths in expectancy for what Kaye had planned. Derek's discourse of hatred before his conversion is given plenty of airing - we are in no doubt to the depth of his venom and misguided beliefs - yet his transformation is badly represented: Derek states he is confused, that he no longer knows who he is. His black co-worker is able to make him laugh, his black tutor shows him the path of righteousness, however we never hear Derek himself REALISE the equality of all and the disease of racism which is endemic in his society. Derek's girlfriend is unequivocally in awe of her boyfriend and simply regurgitates his ugly words; nevertheless she urgently abandons his side when he tries to explain his need for a new life and an escape from this hatred - per chance this was one of the many occasions that Kaye wished to explore...perhaps not. The biggest mistake that Kaye made with this film was his choice to film the past in black and white, and the present/future in colour. It's just too obvious, a technique that one may use if one hasn't got the time and energy that this film definitely does have. Not a mistake, but possibly a decision to learn from, was Kaye's (or the cutting room's) compromise on the scale of story - not only in the aspect of time - but also in the family focus. I realise that this DOES work, that the viewer is able to see the family unit being torn apart, and from there realise that the bigger picture is 'this family unit x 100000' being torn apart, yet had this film reared its head actually into the surrounding socie
ty it describes, we may have seen a much stronger film. Somebody, somewhere, HAS to be held responsible for the shortening of the film and the dreadfully obvious dramatic techniques used towards the end...ermm, no, no spoilers today. *Conclusion. Second time around and I'm able to get certain scenes out of my head quicker; the morality of it all is in no way subtle, the characters in no way fully resolved...and I'm STILL in awe of a directorial debut, its strength and potency, despite the growing cracks and broadening flaws.
I'm sure there was a time when 'cult' meant something other than 'slightly sideways of centre' or 'low budget/mass appeal'...maybe it simply meant 'stinkingly bad', who's to say? Anyway, awash with 'cult' propaganda and advertising at the local video shop, my mind wandered most warmly (probably with more respect than is due), to the king of smell-o-rama himself, John Waters...and I waited with baited breath for that bubble of nostalgia to burst. *The Film. Cecil B Demented (Stephen Dorff) is a misaligned and dangerously kooky film maker; he holds refuge in a disused cinema with a congregation of Hollywood iconoclasts, all of whom bare tattoos of independent cinema gurus, displaying their dedication to the cause. Cecil's latest resolve is to kidnap the rather dimming starlet, Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith), and to craft her into a vindictive and rebellious leading lady for his latest film. Honey has just finished the filming of a rather schmaltzey piece of cherry pie and is about to attend the premiere: Pre the kidnapping (ala Patricia Hearst (who also has a minor part in the film)) we get to witness the absolute awfulness of her luvey self, as she verbally batters down the rather bored looking Ricki Lake, and unknowingly, her soon to be captors. The coup goes off with a whizz and a bang - Honey is whisked away to the gang's hideout, and introduced to her new cast and crew. Her haughty gaze of disgust is quick to turn to one of despair as she meets her fellow thespians: The teenage porn star, the almost fluffy Satanist, the misguided straight/gay make up artist, the bearded lady, the constant penis fidget...you get the idea. After simply a few moments of rehearsals and only one set shoot - as the rest will be filmed in 'realtime' and in real life - Honey is propelled into an anti Hollywood terrorist scenario. The film will be these viscous and real attacks
on the establishment - as well as its own propaganda machine for the cult of Demented - the only question that remains is whether Honey will be ONLY acting at the end of it all. *The Acting. Waters has held long and glorious relationships with some rather dubious actors: Although we may all lament the demise of the delicious Divine, we can hardly claim that he was that worthy of an Oscar nomination, and again so here; we have the 'usual' faces cropping up in true Waters style, and yet adding nothing more to the film than their name. What is probably more interesting than should be (and of mildly more importance than Water would have it), is that the two 'mainstream' actors (Dorff and Griffith) run rings around the other performances - don't get me wrong, their performances are not diamond studded, yet it really does appear that a few years at an acting school may, perchance, aid you later in life as an actor. Dorff is the slightly scarier side of Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys: We know he's crazy, we know he's a guru out of control, and he doesn't have that cheeky little grin of Brad's that persuades us that everything really is all right - rather a background of evil laughter, warning us that this guy really is cuckoo. It feels like Dorff has been left to his own devices - the same can be said about Griffith as well - and one wonders if the whole art imitating life, imitating art thingy got completely out of control, and Waters simply forgot to direct any of his actors. Melanie Griffith? Well, can't say I've ever been a fan of hers, and I'm kinda amazed she took this part on, unless, of course, we're coming back to the art imitating life stanza again. I'm happy enough with her performance here; as I said before, she seems to have got on with the job without too much directorial interference. This does leave the character rather cold, and an audience
with the task of deciphering whether or not we believe a change of morals has occurred within the character, and on what level - but maybe this is an issue that should be leveled at the director and not at the actress. Alicia Witt (red headed daughter from Cybil) plays the teenage porn star...ahem, my word, Waters should have slapped her round the face with wet fish for giving such a wooden performance - but for those who like their tottie, she does appear on screen with small amounts of coverage and a large sexual appetite (and a hamster). Other performances are there, including Ricki Lake looking a little on the lardier side, and are absolutely forgettable - apart from Ricki Lake, bien sur, and that's only 'cos we get to see her airing her caring side on Channel 4. *The Direction. I started this opinion on an important note: Once upon a time John Waters was the King of Kitsch, the Daddy of doggy poo, a sick mother of a director who knew how and when to pull the shots. Pink Flamingos and Polyester rocked socks off of any other cult film, ever...and yet a certain amount of demise was eminent. It's understandable, I suppose: It must have been easier to be John Waters when nobody knew who John Waters was; nobody had any expectations, and no bubbles existed out there, waiting to be burst. But one day it had to happen; one day Waters was bound to become aware of his self and his perceived persona...and what a sad day that was, 'cos once he realised and began being introspective, he also began to be self parodying and uncomfortably obvious. He was no longer free simply to make s**t films; he was now famous for making s**t films and he had a reputation to live up to. Yadda yadda yadda. Pecker was a disappointment, Hairspray was really tense, but I thought Serial Mum was a move back to form. Cecil isn't as bad as so many people would have you believe, but it does have an open and aching wound that
Waters should have tended to: The whole 'let's blow up Hollywood and all it stands for' ideal has a sting in its tail for Waters - after all, here he is with Hollywood golden boy and girl in hand and a rather large budget to boot. Long gone are Waters underground days and shoestring budgets...so why make a movie that tries so hard to emulate to those standards? Waters hasn't lost his funny bones and his comic timing, but he has managed to get himself neck deep in an analytical situation that should have nothing to do with his work. He also fills the screen with talentless actors and actresses and then fails to direct them in a convincing manner - oh, I know that acting is not THAT important in a Waters film, but the parody of the 'Hollywood' actors versus Waters' mates is just sooo excruciating. *Conclusion. Here I am whinging away and I'm failing to tell you that I actually liked this movie. I don't think it deserved to be trashed by the media in the way that it was, and I do think that some of the acting stinks...but that isn't that important. I'd like to think that Waters was all knowing/all seeing...but I feel that maybe he missed the boat on this one, and while he has been conscious of the 'badness' of many of his films, I feel that perhaps a certain amount of 'badness' in this case was completely beyond his knowledge or control.
Takeshi Kitano has created several tones/characteristics/personae for his work in Japanese television and for the considerably more arty and introspective World Cinema forum; The Western world know him for his directorial workmanship and acting (under the title of Beat Takeshi), in such films as Violent Cop, Boiling Point and Hana-Bi, as well as for the stony and savage Sergeant Ham in '83's Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, while his Japanese audience are rather more fond of his role as a television and stand-up comedian. While in waiting for another slice of Beat in Battle Royale, I stumbled upon this little lost treasure at my local video shop. Now, normally a Takeshi title or cover leads the prospective viewer to the general conclusion that violence and blood is prerequisite...Ah, but not so with Kikujiro: *The Film. Masao is a young boy living with his grandmother; he has tired little eyes and a lonely life. His father is dead in a car accident and his grandmother informs him that his mother has to live far away due to her work. The Summer holidays are upon him, as are the local bullies, and Masao dreams of setting off on an adventurous journey in search of his mother. Kikujiro (Takeshi) is hoodwinked into accompanying Masao on this excursion by his stringently mouthed wife - but before it can really begin, Kikujiro gambles away all of their money at the bicycle races, leaving them penniless and without legitimate means of continuing their route. Masao takes a backseat to Kikujiro's rather childish and brutal attempts at getting them a ride, most of which fail abysmally, and resides mostly in his dreams of what ifs and images of his estranged mother...the reality of which he is about to discover, an awful realisation that Kikujiro has already predicted. But the journey is in no way finished. This is where Kikujiro truely comes into his own and a comical and heartwarming road movie commences. *The Acting. It's terribly hard to qualify a child actors' talents with one film, and even more so when that actor speaks in a language whose inflections completely escape you; Yusuke Sekiguchi is sad and quiet enough, yet most of his character is assisted by his beautifully choreographed dreamscapes and the scene titles that are taken from his point of view. As acting goes, then no, I'm afraid not; Yusuke brings nothing to the role that is of his own - rather Takeshi has created it for him already, and the actor has been chosen to fulfill a rather bland criteria. Takeshi is an altogether different kettle of fish: This movie is a vehicle for his ambling squintingness, his quick wit and short temper. Now, I adore Beat, I think he is a alluring actor and a splendid director, yet Beat on screen is a little like Clint Eastwood or Sean Connery - his film character has become so well dressed and rehearsed that it is impossible for him to 'be' anybody else. And while one with knowledge of his previous appearances might think that this does not bode well for a sentimental road movie, trust me, it DOES work, it's just that it is more than a little self indulgent. I can't whinge to much, as this is Beat's acting we?re talking about, and as usual his gaping stride and unbalanced mouth ready to tumble are perfect performances. *The Direction. I've read how Takeshi wanted to take this challenge; how he wanted to mould a genre that most people believed was outside of his field of expertise so that it became a 'Takeshi' film. He wanted his fingerprints all over it and he wanted it to scream his DIRECTORIAL name. If one tries to distinguish between Beat's acting and the directorship then we can still see that he has succeeded in this mission: Takeshi always treats his films and storylines as a series of still images, rather than a fluid action image flowing gently into the next sc
ene. This gives his films a sense of photographic radiance, a taken moment in history captured for our perusal before being shown the next significant second. In his other films he tends to use this technique when filming a violent scene: He states the 'before' image (before the action has taken place) and then cuts to when the violence has past and the images that are left in its wake. He also has a tendency to take his films out of the big cities, willing us to view rural Japan, the countryside, and to partake into a 'journey' of sorts. The main character in Takeshi's films tends to be isolated from the other players, and Masao is no exception - although he reacts to the others around him, he revels in his loneliness and silence. This film is definitely Takeshi's without the insertion of his self-indulgent performance, so why does he ham his rascally macho scamp self up? I think, perhaps, that this movie was made to win over the Japanese audience that has so far ignored his movie making and concentrated on his television appearances; it feels like a compromise between his larger than life wacky comic persona, his need to go slightly mainstream and gooey, as well as trying desperately hard to please his foreign fans. And whilst all of this works, and makes for a desperately heart string pulling tale full of enchanting and silly moments, one is left wondering how large Takeshi's ego really is. *Conclusion. I can gripe, but eventually I have to admit to being enchanted. Thoroughly recommended and I do hope you enjoy this sweety feel-good offering.
Violence, eh? Action movies tipped to the top with Arnie blowing off this head or another, blood and guts splattering the wall behind; Mass murderers munching on the brains of their still living victims and 'cult' movies leaving all the characters to pale away in pools of blood for the last scene. Maybe the most disturbing thing about Funny Games is that while you're watching it you may be under the impression that this is one of the most violent films you've ever seen - let's go so far as to call it Ultra Violence - and then, as you ponder over it a while, you realise that none of the 'action' actually took place on screen, well nearly none of it, and my, wasn't that effective? Perhaps this is because it is such a quite film; because it places the violence most firmly behind your eyelids without being so screamingly obvious to break the eggs in your face. Maybe this is all the mastery of an evil director, playing with our sympathies and general pathos. Funny Games achieves the detestable status it has as a violent movie through some means, that's for sure, and I can only mull over the ways in which Michael Haneke has this ability to make my skin crawl. *The Film. I can't say that the beginning sets the scene or mood for the rest of the film, but I can say it's sure that something just ain't right: Here we have the jolly little family unit off to their lakeside getaway, accompanied by the calm lilt of classical music and a boat in tow...everybody smiles and discusses what a wonderful time is in store for them...cue nauseatingly loud 'experimental' music. The beamingly happy household slow down as they pass their neighbours' house, winding down the windows to hail their fellow holiday makers. But their neighbours, who are in the company of two men, fail to return their greetings and seem preoccupied even...never mind, on with the vacation. They unpack an
d only the family dog seems a little perturbed by the local goings on; Mum is quite happy in the kitchen, dad and son messing about with the mooring when indiscreet and bumbling Paul pops in from next door to borrow some eggs. The undefined game begins here, in Paul's maladroit hands, as he drops the eggs and returns for more. In steps Paul's slightly more cerebral partner in crime - Peter - and rather indescribable nastiness takes control of the plot forthwith. *The Acting. This is difficult, as obviously the acting requires a certain amount of realism for the offensive nature of the content to work: The family need to BE scared, petrified and hysterical, and yet the game is already a foot as Peter addresses us, the audience, and includes us in his evil collusions - The family have to continue in the reality of fear, while Peter and Paul are allowed to show us that this is simply a game. Anna and Georg (Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Muehe) are the much maligned couple, battling for survival against the almost cartoon certainty of thick doom. Both their characters move drastically from the opening assured and in control middle classes, to the down beaten, chaotic victims - unsure of themselves and desperately clinging to each other. Georgie (Stefan Clapczynski) is Anna and Georg's son. He does himself proud on what must have been a harrowing performance - but that's hard to say, isn't it? As the viewer can never really tell whether or not the actor is at the mercy of his/her work: I suppose what I want to REALLY say is that all three should be highly commended at playing out such an atrocious storyline with such authenticity, while the other two actors, the director and the film as a whole view their plight as pure fiction. Interesting, and very disturbing. Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul's (Arno Frisch) characters are simply hideous: Paul as Peter's retarded tool, Peter as a hard
er, deeper, colder Alex (Clockwork Orange). Aside from the obvious revolting control Peter and Paul have on the characters, there is also their control on the plot to take count of - and this is probably the most disturbing (and annoying) point in the film - No spoilers I'm afraid. *The Direction. Haneke, a psychology and philosophy student before his directing days and rather well known for using long and untranslatable words (from the German) when discussing his work, has weaved webs of such shocking nature before, yet his films never seemed to find the audience they, ummn, well, deserved. Funny Games came very much into the arena that had been previously filled by Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer, Reservoir Dogs and Man Bites Dog - and released at Cannes, it was sure to get up a few noses and claim its own notoriety. The film feels bleak and dirgey: The brutality of many of the violent acts, even the breaking of the eggs, occurs away from the camera's view - but we still see it and flinch. This is an extremely clever tactic that Haneke is using, and he manages it while retaining the authenticity of the set and the storyline - it's obvious to the viewer that this much is at the director's dictate, and yet that knowledge does not detract from the smooth running or our belief in the storyline. The next step Haneke takes to unhinge the viewer and destroy the sure fire Hollywood ending, is to give complete power to the baddies - and this is, supposedly, where the black humour of Funny Games exists: When Peter turns to the camera and acknowledges our gaze, he makes this family's plight into double the game (up until now he has been betting with Paul and the rest of the family as to how long they will survive), as this is no longer reality, it's celluloid, and he can do as he will. With that actor/viewer confrontation comes the stripping away of sentiment and involvement we feel for the family; sud
denly we realise that our emotions are misguided, these are only actors after all, and the concluding scenes have already been shot and are in the can - Destiny has already been written. It's hard to discuss Funny Games without mentioning the above films, as well as A Clockwork Orange, as it is clear that there is an evolution of violence used in such 'art' films to ascribe meaning, tendencies and our reaction. I'm not of the school of thought that these are just shock tactics, but I am someone who doesn't fully appreciate this sort of dangerous play. I nearly enjoyed Man Bites Dog, as the dark humour sets it above many of the same genre, but here, I feel that Haneke's humour fails to hit the spot and becomes irksome. *Conclusion. It's one of a genre, what more can I say? Although I appreciate Haneke is a clever director to be able to channel these sort of emotions out of his audience, I won't be hankering after his future work. Up to you.
It would, I rationalise, be the natural, if not the obvious choice to make children's entertainment in primary colours (those being red, yellow and blue, and of which all other colours can be made), so on which premise do those chosen colours drop the blue and add purple and green? And what do those pigment changes actually mean? And who are the THEY behind this barrage of hues upon mine and my progeny's senses? And should I be getting out my copy of Kandinsky's Theory of Colour? You see, Victor has discovered the teletubbies...BIG TIME, as I expect so many other children of his age have done so before him, and in a way that puts all other children's television programs out to pasture in a very large field where they can eat all day, all night, and never need to come back to the farm, never at all, ever. In fact, Victor's attention span drops to that of not very attentive gnat during an algebra lesson when anything else is on the television...well, not quite true, he seems to have a hankering for Italian black and white '50's movies, but that's kind of besides the point... The point? Well, I'm amazed. No, more than that, I'm jolly well overwhelmed at my twenty months old reaction to four adults dressed in dubious shaded, large arsed costumes with a penchant for pink gloop and plastic bread. You see my point? Not yet? Well let me make myself clearer: Four 'tubbies' who are at the forefront of telecommunication experimentation...just take a look at their bellies, what do we see? Yes, that's right folks, some sort of interactive videophone getup. Forget your palm pilots, your Generation 3 mobiles, move over Existenz, this is the future - a television unit where our belly buttons should be (hmmn, I wonder if the doctor who separated them from their mummies at birth just unplugged, or did he have to rewire?). It the tubbie unit is going to receive all those transmissions, then, bien
sur, it has to have a receiver: Hence we see this evolved protuberance from said tubbies' head, each of which appears to be unique. A shared feature of these tubbies is the enlarged femur bone...or maybe just a cellulite problem in the thigh rejoin, we can't be sure (although I can just imagine La La down at Weight Watchers: "It's a thyroid problem"). We can also surmise that the outside colour of their fur/skin may actually play no part in the recognition of their ethnic origin...unless Dipsy has just returned from Ibiza or has a sunbed hidden away somewhere in Teletubbyland. Then there's this size/sex thing: The two of larger tubbies are regarded as being male (aahem, not that I've inspected at close quarters, yet there seems to be an extreme lack of physical evidence to support this claim), the smaller, more fragile pair are defined as female. This in no way equates to relative intelligence levels, as it is often the smallest female of the group (Po) that provides insight, thought and humour. The two 'males' exhibit extremely feminine behavior at times (one appears to have a favourite handbag, the other a faux fur hat), while the two 'females' prefer to spend their time in more male orientated pastimes - playing with a ball and a tricycle. What are we to make of their rather bland and featureless faces? Their lack of usable nostrils makes one ponder whether they have evolved from a state of sinus problems. All in all, their appearance, while some would regard it as cute, is pretty non functional and repelling to that of an adult gaze. Let us just take a moment to muse over their constant and loyal companion, The Noo-Noo: One supposes that the rather robust vacuum cleaner is some sort of pet, yet the tubbies do tend to neglect him, letting him only eat/clean up their leftovers. They chastise 'him' when his suction becomes to loud or off putting, yet surely this is a feature complete
ly beyond his control, a little like snoring or the passing of toilet wind. The most worrying of The Noo-Noo's features are his elongated eyeball tissues and his flashing red buttocks, both of which seem to be of little evolutionary value to this creature and his fellow kind. All of the above species exist in a land that appears to be very similar to our own; the differences seem to lie in the gently rolling hillocks, abundance of plastic flowers, continuous blue sky (not forgetting little fluffy clouds that are very likely to look just like a ball, hat, bag or tricycle) and lack of rabbit droppings. Their abode can only be described as a sunken spaceship (of the 1950's variety - we're not talking Stealth or Star Wars here); half hidden by the greenness of the countryside, only its large telescope/megaphone penetrating the stillness of the air gives it away...Penetrating the air with nursery rhymes and children's songs, feeding times and bye bye so-longs. Did I get carried away there? Did you notice? All this because I started thinking that: 1) Reviews on the Teletubbies are exceedingly boring. And 2) How the hell did the makers of this monstrosity know how and what to market to a pre vocally communicative audience? I can understand how such people market research their creations for an older age group, but this one just baffles me. As a mother, I have a difficult enough time as it is trying to work out what my son is trying to tell me, so Mr/Mrs Market Researcher with biro and note pad in hand must be stumped. And if we, as parents, don't understand or see the appeal, then it can't be us that are passing on the approval of such a program. I'm not too sure about all that original hype when poor ol' Tinky Winky was fired for being too camp with his handbag...I mean, come on, how can you not be TOO camp when you're six foot something, dressed in purple fur, no w
illy in sight, told to talk in a nearly testicles dropped fashion...AND holding a handbag? Naa. Campiness is embedded in Teletubbies, I have no ffffin' idea why, but it seems to work. I will, however, defend the program from those viscous 'dumbing down' attacks that it suffered when most parents discovered their children's obsession; I think that side of it is rather inventive, and dare I say it - funky. Not since Playschool have we had so much dancing, jumping up and down and shaking of derrieres (No, Jemima was too much of a lady to join in those sorts of shenanigans, but believe me, Big Ted certainly did ask). Music, in the Teletubbies, is the all important route to teaching, as is the use of repetition; colour is kept simple (ish) and language is on a direct level with the children the program is aimed at, again using a repetitive approach when a new word is included. Nope, I've no qualms with that side of affairs, nor with the varied and often alternative children and their lifestyles that get to play themselves out on the Teletubbies TV monitor tummy button bits: Get down and boogie with a slicked jazz version of The Grand old Duke of York in the company of multi racial jitterbugging juniors; Tour a canal boat with the 'traveling' young lady that lives aboard; Do the Boum Boum dance till your tam tams fall off and just, well, jump up and down for no reason whatsoever while little plastic flowers chat amongst themselves with posh accents... That's it, I think I've overdosed. Time for Tubby bye byes. Oh yeh, and La La is my favourite.
Difficult intro bit: There's this book, right, and it is (kinda unfortunately) the better known of this particular author's work, even though he wrote some really insightful and wonderful other stuff. It was originally published in a weirdy pornie type of way (Travelers Companion series)...which, I suppose, it kinda is...but then again it isn't; then there was the normal outraged UPROAR...and then a few years later, just when most of the 'disturbed' memories of Lolita were beginning to settle and gather dust somewhere in the nether regions of societies' brain (apart from those great thinkers of the Legion of Decency and the Catholic Church, because they had decided to damn the piece and its maker eternally to burn in Hell), along came a rather special man with a movie mission in mind and dusted those memories off. Let us NEVER forget what great visions lay in cranial lobes of Stanley Kubrick: Even if we wish to argue the toss of Eyes wide shut, we see the consequences of his 'lacking' with A.I. do we not? And in his absence, remembrance of him seems to centre on the rather more violent of his ideas and images: Before musings of Alex's murdering ways and mascara'd eyes; of "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" and "Here's Johnny" take complete hold of our senses, let us concentrate on the black and white images of yesterday, and the beautyesque farce was is Kubrick's third film, and is Nabokov's Lolita. *'Maybe I should mention the book before the film' bit: Yep, there's this book; I found my raggedy old copy under the mounds of Reader's Digest at a Scout's jumble sale...it was a well thumbed copy...and I like it. Let's not get too controversial here, eh, and let's not delve deep into the reactionary pit of paedophilia; let's just say that it's a book, a fictional book, and it's a tale of a man's de
sires for an adolescent girl. There you go, that's that out the way. Now you don't have to have any knowledge of the book to appreciate the film...but that's kind of unlikely isn't it? If this was a court case, it would be eternal, as the jury would have to be continuously dismissed for being overtly influenced by the media. Nabokov would be guilty until proven innocent and Kubrick would be given 5 to 10 for association. How many of you, dear readers, have used the terminology of a 'Lolita' to describe a certain type of bint? A certain type of actress reaching into puberty? A certain type of seducing nymphette trying on her wiley charms? What knowledge of the book would perhaps offer you is an insight into Kubrick's choice; on which of Nabokov's words he places importance; and of the buffoonery he makes of what society decided to take serious issue with. *Ahh yes, the film. We begin at the end. We begin with Humbert the Revengeful, Humbert the Broken, Humbert the CLOSURE...we begin with Humbert's (James Mason's) confrontation with, and killing of Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers). And so with large questions on our lips, we spiral back through four years of dark pain and suffering to discover the reasons why: The stuffy and tight lipped English man arrives in American suburbia, seeking a place to lay his head. He finds it, unfortunately in the form of the shapely bosom of 'The Haze Woman', or Charlotte, for those who feel kindlier towards her. As Humbert inspects her premises for future lodgings, he happens upon the garden, and in this garden exists the radiance of a beautiful changeling girl (just on the cusp of her adolescence) - Humbert Humbert is smitten; he has no choice, no power; no other desires but to be as close to this 'woman-child' as is humanly possible. He takes the lodgings, he suffers Charlotte's constantly nauseating flirtations,
and he is contented (if not frustrated) by his proximity to the young Dolores 'Lolita' Haze (Sue Lyon). Although the film only skims the cream off the book's obsession that Humbert has for Lolita - the darkness of his thoughts towards her mother, and the indulged fantasies he has for this twelve year old girl - what we get to see, hear and feel (all supplied to us via snippets of his very personal diary and deeply longing looks in Lolita's direction), is enough. Because of the way the film begins, our senses are somewhat trained to search for the face of Peter Sellers: How does he fit in to this story line (which is told purely from the standpoint of Humbert, therefore not laying any importance on the character of Quilty until he has to), and why is Humbert so blind to his obvious presence? The story moves up a gear when Charlotte Haze decides that her sights are set on having Humbert all for herself: She organises for Lolita to be shipped off to summer camp, and, all without Humbert's knowledge, off to boarding school when the camp finishes. Humbert unwillingly becomes Charlotte's brow beaten husband in a last ditch attempt to find some sort of ownership of Lolita - a now budding flower who is more than willing to take little advantages of the glints within boys' eyes. When Humbert discovers Charlotte's plans for her daughter, he is tempted to end their marriage in a rather final way...but he refrains. The real crunch comes when Charlotte reads Humbert's journal, discovering his loathing of her and lust for her daughter. While Humbert tries to calm her and conjure up a believable alibi of a novel that he has been writing, Charlotte escapes the house. In her hysterical state and in the driving rain, she runs into the road and is hit by a car - she is killed instantly. Now Humbert has his heart's desire: He is now legally the father and guardian of the female he loves. How will he d
eal with this situation, with Lolita's flourish into womanhood, his own undermining jealousies and her increasingly demanding ways? *The acting... ...Is really rather good: Mason as THAT cold and haughty voice, Shelley Winters is loud mouthed and plumptious in her overbearing state as Charlotte, and Lyon is passably cute in her bubble gum chewing guise...But the show is absolutely overrun (and therefore nearly destroyed) by the character and acting of Sellers. Was it such a great idea to use this player? His ever so larger than life persona pokes fun at Humbert right from the start (or is that end?); Humbert's character (therefore Mason's acting) can be nothing more than prissy, tight and paranoid when juxtaposed to Sellers' flamboyant nature and energy. Sellers really does steal the show; his inclusion is a sure sign that both Kubrick AND Nabokov WANTED to highlight the social comedy of the book, wishing to leave undiscovered the unilluminated parts of the story. One way or another, no matter what one believes of the book, the story or the controversy, this is a film that has to be seen for the lost comic talents of one man: Peter Sellers was a god among actors. *The direction. Although Kubrick avoids a hell of a lot of the controversy of the book, we have to remember that Nabokov was at his side when the film was being made - so we know that what we see (or rather what we don't see) was a collective choice, a communal 'copout' if you will, or a mutual decision to take our eyes to a different point in the story. Although the book was calling for a long and glorified road movie, I feel we have to wait for Adrian Lyne's 1997 remake with Jeremy Irons to feel the full extent of that idea (this is a film with VERY different overtones and undertones, and I feel there is very little point to be made through comparing the two here). Kubrick's vision splits the sto
ry sideways, elongating a little the first part of the story (Humbert and Charlotte's doomed relationship), until the scene where Humbert finally tells Lolita that her mother is dead. At this point we feel the atmosphere chill, the prior emotions change, and the second part of the story (and the demise of Humbert) begins. Maybe this non road movie choice was made purely because the movie was filmed in Great Britain (therefore long, full pans of the American countryside were obviously going to be a little harder to come by), maybe both Kubrick and Nabokov wanted to ground the movie with added reality roots - more normality and domesticity to give credence to the tale. The greatest decision that was made was definitely the casting of Sellers, and here either lies Kubrick's mastermind or madness, as while the cameras focus on what should be a background character, the rest of the message either filters through unchallenged, or falls dead to the floor unnoticed. You decide. *Conclusion. By no means the best of Kubrick's creations, Lolita is still an interesting illustration to the book behind the film and a rather brave project for such a young director to take on. This version has claimed the title 'classic', a title which I really hope continuous to avoid Lyne's seedy and dirty variation. As I stated before, worth watching, even if simply for Sellers' stunning performance alone - and well worth taking an open mind to. Recommended.
What defines you as you? Is it the colour of your skin? Your sex or age? Your profession? The clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the movies you watch, the books you read? The country where you were born? You see my question is this: If you are the first person to lay your towel by the swimming pool's edge in the morning, is it then prerequisite that you are German? And if you have an eerie preference for holidaying in a caravan, is it the likelihood that you are of Dutch origin? Aaah, but this one is slightly easier: If you wear Union Jack boxer shorts, eat fish and chips and sport a bowler hat, then you're sure to be.... Or, of course: If you holiday in Ibiza, turn a stunning shade of pink at the sight of dawn, get pithed all night long and brag about how many birds/lads you've laid on a channel 4 documentary, then you just have to be.... My point? Is that there are so many pre conceptions, stereotypes and generalisations all tied up in "Where do you come from?", and although sometimes laughable (sometimes just downright hurtful), these viewpoints somehow have a knock on effect to what we are PROUD to associate ourselves with. And patriotism is about being proud isn't it? And it's harder to be proud of something in general when there are parts of it that you don't only not like, but that repel you with their ugliness. I've always been a bit of a wet fish on this one and introduced myself as British (and when I was really ffffing stupid, Celtic); therefore I avoid the real issues, some of the larger scandals and bypass into a semi state of acceptance - a word that melanges my English birth place with my Scottish, Irish and Welsh pedigree. By using this terminology, I used to feel I was free from my real heritage of: Football hooligans, skin heads, internal English nastiness to the other British countries, racism and boiled food..
.basically all those things that as intelligent and caring English people, we wince at being associated with....unfortunately with this terminology we still have to except the huge repercussions of The British Empire and that damn ugly British bull dog. So really this terminology is absolutely pointless : All I do by using it is try to suggest that some sort of 'gypsy' blood runs in my veins and that I don't like boiled beef and carrots...err, well that much IS true. This is a hard issue for me to get my head round: Here I am, English and white. I abhor political correctness, yet it traps me with the fact that as an educated and informed individual, I'm not SUPPOSED to be proud of where I come from - of what I am- I'm SUPPOSED to bow my head and mumble mumble under my breath...or do I rebel? Proclaim my undying love for Beckham and the boys? Slaver with oily fish and chips lips at the mere mention of the Queen? Acquire an interest in ferrets and whippets? And stand proud? I'd have loved to. And now, I suppose, in my own way, I do. But NOW, things are VERY different. Because now, of course, I'm an English woman abroad, and I have slightly different exterior viewpoints to deal with. At first it was all sandwiches at high tea, earl grey and Princess Di; Until recently it was teaching the charming MOROCCAN shop keeper down the road how to say "How do you do?" and "The rain in Spain..." Strange, eh? But suddenly I was allowed to indulge myself in these slightly misguided views of what being English is all about....And I was allowed to be proud...I was allowed to be patriotic (ok, ok, I never did get so far as flying the Union Jack out of the window of my Parisian apartment, but maybe I could have...maybe). And now? Ahem. Living in a highly populated Muslim area (where most people now know me and my origins), those exterior viewpoints are chang
ing again.This is highlighted by Mr Chirac's slow, but sure, back shuffle into the shadows as 'our' Tony steps boldly forward into the limelight. If I wasn't already feeling a bit homesick...(that's just the pregnancy talking). But what do I FEEL? I'm SO proud of my language and of the beautiful things that my country(ies) has (have) produced; of its freedom of expression; the tie died hair of Camden; the deep, deep greenness of it all; of Remembrance day poppies; of politeness; of eccentricity; of the NHS; of grandfather clocks; of being able to hug - for a long time; Staffordshire and English bull terriers; the Scottish Highlands; sausages and mash; baked beans and Sunday roast. I'm not proud of our Island mentality; our superiority complex; our downright susceptibility when it comes to the press; our inbred fear of that which we know not; our blue Labour government; our quickness to jump on bandwagons; our terribly fickle nature towards those doing better than ourselves. So am I a patriot or not? Ummn, yeh, I suppose I am, in a twisted, tea drinking, boiled food hating way. I cheered my little heart out for the England football team when they won against Germany (I was lucky enough to be in England at the time - French TV doesn't air that sort of nonsense), and I'll be wahooping my way through the World Cup (however far we get): I notice that the patriotism within most of us rises to the surface during such sports or other grand occasions, and while that's a good thing for general morale, we have to be aware of when it's a bad thing too. Before the recent events in America there was a resurgence of curious patriotism due to the illegal immigrants that were trying to get into Britain... And after the recent events in America, patriotic blood is running even thicker and faster through the veins of those in support of the war.... What I want
to say is this: Feel free to 'reclaim' your Britishness or Englishness - our patriotism should not stem from other people's viewpoints or prejudice - But UNDERSTAND what it is you are proud of being, and do not blinker yourself with a word. Don't let your love of your country misguide you and stay as open minded as you possibly can. I often try to imagine what it would have felt like to have been born in Germany: As a German, would I be patriotic or not? After three generations, surely you'd have the right to be forgiven for your forefathers sins - but then, of course, patriotism in Germany also has those OTHER undertones - so could you never be proud of the country that gave you birth?
Time was when time was all: Or maybe it wasn't at all: Because I didn't notice its passing me by - In fact it didn't pass me by; you see time was on my side as an intangible feature of youth and childhood - I didn't know of its existence, and yet there it was, allowing me the freedom of being without its constraints. Those moments, therefore memories, are made endless by the lack of those constraints: The aching length of pent up playfulness on a rainy day; the long, drawn out tears of a missing mother; ahhh, the fateful day poor Sammy bear was lost in the park, the night that followed being full of weather storms and stormy child...poor daddy venturing forth into the darkness to retrieve the lost toy....the unceasing wail when Sammy wasn't found...those times are still within my head, and don't just SEEM to take up ages - they WERE ages, in an age where ages were forever. Odd, isn't it? When we have no concept of time it can last forever: Our childhoods might have been so very different if we'd been made to wear a watch; clock in to playgroup, clock out again in time to catch Mr Ben or The Flumps...and there, another memory of how a twenty minute children's program begins to take on epic proportions. Weird. I was also quite aware WHEN that something intangible had decided to make its infinite force felt: It was during a math lesson that seemed to be persisting way past its sell by date...no, it really shouldn't have lasted that long; and yet it did, and both the big hand and the little hand on the clock were lying through their gritted teeth, trying to persuade me that I had to endure yet another two minutes of this boring hell. Wow, what a powerful creature this was...little was I to know that it would later become my master. The transient nature of such, on one hand, an acceptable explanation of how things are (i.e. we're born, we get older, we die) worries
me: Those moments of waiting in train stations/airports/bus stops are just far too long, and those moments that are found within a lover's arms, or the mere seconds of memories of the birth of your child (even though you'd swear (te he, we all swear) it took days (if not a lifetime) while you were doing the sweaty bit), well, they really do abnormally speed by. I made a pact with my brain quite a while back: We chose to 'take pictures' of those moments within my life that I decided were worthy of noting (this does, of course, mean that I have to be blessed with a sort of fortune telling hindsight thingy just so I make sure I 'take pictures' of the right things); so my brain and me choose to remember the sights, sounds and smells of these random points through the time line: I remember the moment this deal was struck as I walked along the pavement on an spring morning in Surrey, suddenly woken from my wandering head by the rush by of a lorry. The first time I came to France with my future husband; as we drive under a bridge in Blois and I look across at him and think "How handsome". The last moment I spend with my grandfather, where I accidentally squeeze him too tight, causing him to grimace and me to offer him another touch of my five month brewing belly... These aren't just random memories; these are TIMES I have chosen to smell, see and touch in their entirety for the rest of my life. Memories are Time's gifts to us...these are my own personal hidden stash of goodies. Well, is all this relevant? Or is that relative? I can never remember which way I argue these days. And then, before you know it, you're a big ol' grown up person with a mortgage, babies and everything - My, how did all that happen within a space of a few sentences? So what then? Well now we get to spend all our time (Oh yeh? And since when has it been ours?) worrying about how
to do everything we have to do within the time frame given. And mothers amongst you; isn't it strange that while we desperately try to master time for and around our offspring, they are living without any such boundaries? And so we play for time. Or we make time. Some of us buy time. While others of us are slightly more inspired and choose to take their time. And me? Hmmn. As moment passes to moment I have my real camera at the ready...I am without my usual super duper apparatus at the moment and having to rely on a compact; this makes me strangely uncomfortable and uneasy - because I can't catch those memories in exactly the way I want to. That uneasiness worries me. And then I find myself planning, down to the very second, what I have to do in the day...and at precisely 14.00 hours I have to phone the Franco Britannic hospital; at 14.05, make baked beans on toast; 14.20, finish eating said baked beans, change baby's nappy and ready myself and Victor for a shopping excursion. I have to pay such and such a bill on such and such a date; I have to post so and so's birthday card by Thursday (remember to send it a day before because of naughty French postal system), which means I have to buy it by Wednesday... And it all gets a bit anal from there on in. So why do I spend so much time organising my time when it obviously doesn't work? (Sure, it works on one level (things get done), yet the tedium of having to give space to these thoughts in your head all day doesn't really work, does it?) It gives me no great thrill to have dinner on the table in time for my husband's arrival, or all the clothes washed, dried and placed carefully away before the next influx of dirty, stinking socks. And yet this is necessity, isn't it? Somewhere down the line we learn to obey this incredible force of nature that determines our every move. Right
now I'm in one of those states of waiting (the nine month variety), and this surely has a role to play in how I'm thinking and what I'm writing here. Yet however vast the months before me seem to pan, every second of every hour is a demonic attempt to provide time for my son, my husband and myself. This dichotomy exists right now, as I rush to type as Victor sleeps, while daydreamingly awaiting the middle of March...so I can attempt to make time for still another person. Ahh yes, Old Father Time is staid in his being and in his image (running in bronze position to God and Father Christmas - I sometimes wonder if we've somehow got his and Death's image mixed up; at least we only come face to face with death once in a lifetime - that friendly old bearded geezer is perpetual in our tales (on our tails?)); Time is of the essence; time and tide wait for no (wo)man; Let's mark time by passing the time of day, at this moment in time, which may be on borrowed time or behind the times...unless you're ahead of your time, then this might just be a time lag - anyways, I've served my time (not before time) and from time to time I may ask you again for a second of your time. Until then.... N.B. Please remember all this wild and unhinged rambling is coming from a woman who DOESN'T EVEN WEAR A WATCH, so mercy on all those poor souls that do (unless it's a Gucci stainless steel one 'cos I think they're really cool). And quality time, eh? What's that all about? I thought all Times were equal, not some Times more equal than others.
'The English language is like a broad river on whose bank a few patient anglers are sitting, while, higher up, the stream is being polluted by a string of refuse-barges tipping out there muck.' So let me further foul in your intellectual waterways in an attempt that this litter may contain the remnants of a recently (and decently) digested author: Palinurus was the ill fated pilot of Aeneas' ship (Virgil's Aeneid) who fell into the sea while he slept. He was scraped and scrubbed by the waves for three days before finding safe haven on a shore line...but, being a character of tragic virtues, he was found by the unforgiving inhabitants of the land, who murdered him for his clothes. His body was left unburied on the seashore. Or, Palinurus, the critic persona chosen by Cyril Connolly, founder of the literary magazine, Horizon in 1939, contributor to The New Statesman, The Times and The Observer, writer and critic during (and of) the Second world War, receiver of a CBE in 1972...dead in 1974...'Dare I suppose that a cure has been accomplished, the bones of Palinurus buried and his ghost laid?' The Unquiet Grave is an unraveling cogitation, a tapeworm of contemplation, scurrying from ancient lands and poets, listening to the whispers of long dead Frenchmen, casting its metaphorical mind through the darkness of its times (it was written during the Second World War), but eluding the real horror of it all by finding cover in the wisdom of words. It's not really a book about anything in particular; there's definitely no beginning, middle and end...more of a continuous cycle of words that lose themselves in your 'id'eas as you read, regurgitating themselves at your concentration's expense, leading sometimes gently, but mostly viciously, from one field of thought to another, biting at the tail of the last sentence as your brain attempts to take on board the full wherefores and whys.
If I really have to be pinned down as to the content of this book, then I suppose I can say this: Palinurus' meditations revolve around relationships between the sexes, art, literature and culture, religion...and a life full of self awareness and memories...of which 'Art is memory: memory is reenacted desire.' The words (and they are just that, and that fact alone really scares me when I read some authors) that Palinurus uses to tweak our brains and convey his nearly, almost melancholic state of being, are prioritized and pigeon holed with such thought and truth, that the honesty of them defies their age, their sex and their schooling. They are less specific about the emotions of their writer, and as I said before, these words lead you in grand, ever increasing circles, hoping to find the beliefs that ripple beneath the surface: 'Well, which side are you on? The Corn-Goddess or the Tractor? The Womb or the Bulldozer? Christ, Freud, Buddha, Baudelaire, Bakunin, or Marx, Watson, Pavlov, Stalin, Shaw? Come clean, moody Palinurus, no synthesis this time and no Magic Circle either! We need men like you at the Group Age. Will you take your turn at the helm as you used to? Remember?' Yet we find such truisms as these: 'In the sex-war thoughtlessness is the weapon of the male, vindictiveness of the female. Both are reciprocally generated, but a woman's desire for revenge outlasts all other emotions...When every unkind word about women has been said, we have still to admit, with Byron, that they are nicer than men. They are more devoted, more unselfish and more emotionally secure. When the long fuse of cruelty, deceit and revenge is set alight, it is male thoughtlessness which has fired it.' 'If, instead of Time's notorious and incompetent remedy, there was an operation by which we could be cured of loving, how many of us would not rush to have it!' 'Civilization is mai
ntained by a very few people in a small number of places and we need only some bombs and a few prisons to blot it out altogether...The civilized are those who get more out of life than the uncivilized, and for this we are not likely to be forgiven. One by one, the Golden Apples of the West are shaken from the tree.' The Unquiet Grave is a stiringness of these sort of tight observations; it is also a deep adventure into Palinurus' mind and memories: The text often veers into highly personal reminiscences of Paris streets on an Autumn evening; of the flavour smoke that filled the air or the hue of the leaf that fell at Palinurus' feet; of discreetly following a damp and mysterious women in the hope that his breeding will finally abandon him and he will be able to approach her and ask her her name. We find him ruminating at the incoming tide on many occasions - times and ages seem disturbed and in flux as one feels the emotions of a holiday in the south of France and those of an invading soldier being churned together to make this delectably disturbing butter. His words are often accompanied by those of 'mightier' men, and this is definitely a book of name dropping proportions (as it is for French, Greek and Latin sound bites): These comparisons are made to aid Palinurus' reflection (rather than illustrate it) as much as for the reader's benefit...I regret to say that one might have to have a French/English dictionary at one's side if one is to get the most out of all of the text. Yet this is the enticing manner of Palinurus: Many words, and their order, are so familiar to us that we instantly take refuge in the self identity that we find. So when a philosophical school of thought gropes to grab our attention, we already have that safe stone from which to peer at this new and unheard of ideology...Palinurus constructs these texts to aid the opening of our ears and eyes, yet he also constructs them so that they
counteract one another, leading the reader to a place where they HAVE to start thinking for themselves. Take, for instance, this: "Dry again?" said the Crab to the Rock-Pool. "So would you be," replied the Rock-Pool, "if you had to satisfy, twice a day, the insatiable sea." Any reflections gladly received in the comments section (or on a postcard, just make sure it has a picture of a really cute kitten on it.) There is a dark, self hating undercurrent swirling beneath Palinurus (I suppose quite obviously, otherwise why would Connolly have chosen this character as to represent himself?) yet one can only make of that what one normally makes of the same ailment in so many other writers. Although Palinurus wants to see himself as the eternally pessimistic critic, his incredibly beguiling wit shines through the murky doubt, his cheeky grin and enticing laughter lets us forget the bleakness of the reality... 'The object of Loving is a release from Love. We achieve this through a series of unfortunate love affairs or, without a death-rattle, through one that is happy.' This book has been my introduction to the author, so I am, as yet, unsure of the greatness of his other works. This, however, is a beautiful moment of discovery and recognition that I will treasure...it's that moment of actually remembering that you can open yourself and learn again, change your mind, grow...and also that moment that reminds you that your ego needs to take a step down, and to make a deep bow in the direction of another. What else would there be for me to say that might encourage you to pick up this extremely short collection of words and read it for yourself? Let's not justify ourselves with the numbers of other titles that make up your list of 'must-reads'; yes, you must-read those, but why not just-read this one first? So there can be no accusations of the hard sel
l, I'll leave it to Palinurus to speak for himself (and now you know where it comes from, SexyKay): 'There was once a man (reputed to be the wisest in the world) who, although living to an untold age, confined his teaching to the one command: "Endure!" At length a rival arose who challenged him to a debate which took place before a large assembly. "You say endure," cried his competitor, "but I don?t want to endure. I wish to love and to be loved, to conquer and create, I wish to know what is right, then to do it and be happy." There was no reply from his opponent, and, on looking more closely at the old creature, his adversary found him to consist of an odd-shaped rock on which had taken root a battered thorn that represented, by an optical illusion, the impression of hair and a beard. Triumphantly he pointed out the mistake to the authorities but they were not intimidated. "Man or Rock," they answered, "does it really matter?" And at that moment the wind, reverberating through the sage's moss-grown orifice, repeated with a hollow sound: "Endure!". The Unquiet Grave, Palinurus. Published by Penguin, ISBN 0140285547, price £4.99.
Animal noises ran a close second to Victor's first daring attempts at getting himself understood by the scarily big outside world; but being a boy, another phrase was coined, a phrase whose consequences mummy has had to live with ever since....CAR. Kinda beside the point, but now you know my first born's first proper word (and yes, he can say it in French as well), you can understand my keenness at diverting Victor's attention from big, noisy, greasy engines, and maybe, just maybe, redirecting him in the way of small fluffy bunny rabbits and baa lambs (like redirecting him in the way of Tao, but the baby version...ermm, ignore me). So where was I? Oh yes, just plodding around Surrey with a continuously grubby and oiled up child, needing and searching for a serene moment or two. And whilst we were there, from the depths of grandma's suburban insights came the suggestion of Bocketts Farm. I was sold just at the mere mention of baa baas, moo moos (meuh meuhs if you want me to be a good bilingual mother) and neigh neighs...the proposed pot of tea and toilet facilities (oh, have you lot forgotten I'm four months pregnant?) were in no way a deciding factor. Bocketts Farm Park is (from the blurb): Set in beautiful countryside on the edge of the North Downs, a working family farm with old and modern breeds of animals. Without the blurb, I can tell you that the surrounding billowing landscape is pretty in that Downy, English sort of way, and that on arrival that family feeling is really rather apparent; the kinship even seems to run wild with the free range laying chickens that cluck at your entrance. While we're talking about entrances: Let me instill a certain amount of faith in you by mentioning that Bocketts farm still have foot and mouth killing nasty disinfectant stuff that you have to walk in (like a big marshy sponge - much to Victor's amusement) before you get to the proper muddy farm
bit of it all. Once you're at the proper muddy farm bit of it all, you may notice a rather large and friendly work horse, whose name escapes me, but enjoyed snorting at Victor...in fact this is one of the nicest features at Bocketts farm, and damn me to hell for forgetting his/her name, as each animal is heavily personalised with a notice at the front of their enclosure. This tells mummies and daddies Rosie's name, weight, age and origin...just so we don't feel stupid. By this point there's no turning back: There IS a free tea room and shop, but one glimpse of llamas and mewing lambikins and Victor is off. Ho hum, entrance fee and seemingly mandatory animal feed at the ready. This is the wonderfully relaxing bit, as small child wanders from extremely friendly farm animal to extremely friendly farm animal - No fears of gnawed or nibbled fingers, angered butts or tearful toddlers - all animals seem to be well rehearsed in the fine art of being sweet and cuddly. This part of the farm is covered and houses most of the petting animals within their enclosures: There are a couple of llamas at the front, and then the more mainstream sheep and goats (although the breeds seem to be rather varied and even exotic at times). To the side are smaller animals that go meep: Lots of Peter Rabbits, guinea pigs, chipmunks and stuff...they ain't that interested in the children at the moment, but trust me, they'll get there come-uppance later on in the day. Further over to the side, one of the many children's play areas: This area has a trampoline for slightly older children (but worry ye not, one for the little-uns is located outside), a couple of swings (including a hammock design one for really ickle babies) and a nice and sturdy climbing frame. There are usually a couple of general activities in this area - while I was there there was face painting, badge making and much merriness. Outside this enclosed part
of the farm (and try to notice the fat sleeping pot belly pig on your way will you?) are many wondrous things: There is a rather large shed full of hay blocks and slidey bits - a good idea for losing slightly older children in for at least an hour, the general stables (with more notes on Bunty, Apple Blossom and Marigold), a donkey or two (gee, I'm just a sucker for a donkey), a rather docile owl (whose young handler will be more than happy to let you and your brood oooh and aaarh over), and Victor's favourite...but of course, a derivative of our one and only true love...the TRACTORS. Not real ones of course (although real defunct ones are scattered across the farm for all those budding mountaineers and farmers), but about ten smaller pretend ones with pedals, all contained within a circuit, and rabidly bumping into one another under child power...except for Victor's, of course, as he's too young to grasp the peddle concept (plus his legs are way too short), and so therefore moving solely under pregnant mummy power...this way I was able to convince myself that the tea room and the full cooked breakfast was a much deserved reward for my hard work. After a small interlude of eating way too much, we ventured back. Further out the rear of the farm are several large play areas, picnic areas and fields with lots of cows in them...I can't remember too much about this bit of the farm, as after Victor repeatedly fell over on the trampoline and made a little girl cry, it started raining and we all rushed back inside. But this is when the real fun started: The farm also provides various other entertainments (not all off which myself and Victor got to partake in - amongst the sadly missed was the pig racing), and the highlight of these has to be the every half-an-hourly small animal handling sessions (although the goat milking caused much amusement when two little terrors decided to grab at Mrs Goat's (I assume she was married
) underpass, making her squeal and kick her bucketful over). Two rather sweet and young women sat all the children (and parents) down in a little haystack semi circle and proceeded to grab hidden small fluffy things from their warm and cosy beds - thrusting these trusting tiny bodies into the hands of keen and overly eager toddlers. There were a few squeals (from both quarters, I hasten to add), but calm was maintained by sweet, young women and no animals were hurt during the making of...I even got to hold a chicken. What wasn't on the agenda for the day we were there (apparently they are available at busier times of the year - we went just after school started again) were the trailer and pony rides. I'm also informed by flyers that there are craft demonstrations held regularly...but if it's a toss up between thatching and tractors, I think I know which one Victor will plump for. The shop is everything you would expect of a place like this...maybe a few less toys and a few more 'gifts' for Surrey mothers to buy, but overall nicely presented with a good range of postcards and the like. The tea room is superb, it really is: While I was in there it was absolute mayhem as children ran everywhere (there is a play area against the back wall) and servers were run off their feet (literally). The menu is good: Sandwiches, seriously hearty Ploughman's and a wide selection of hot meals, as well as good value children's meals and my nice pot of tea....toilets aren?t that far away, either. The absolutely brilliant news about Bocketts is that it is open ALL the time. Ok, not December 25/26th and January 1st, but every other damn day, AND they do the seasonal stuff with turkey dinners and Santa's Grotto, AND they even do birthday parties as well. Well I'm impressed even if you're not. There is a warning notice displayed throughout the farm explaining why pregnant women shouldn't b
e touching the goats, sheep, kids or lambsm so take head and always was your and your child's hands. Getting there is pretty simple (and I'm doing it from Paris so no excuses): It's sign posted from the M25 (exit at Junction 9 and it's about five minutes away), or just off the A246 at Fetcham (clearly sign posted). Nearest train station isn't that near (Leatherhead), but a bus (408) runs from Kingston and Guilford. Admission is 3.95 for an adult, 3.50 children 3-17 and 2.60 for 2 and under. These rates are likely to be reduced during weekdays and winter, so check with them before: www.bockettsfarm.co.uk. Well, that was a good day spent: Victor learnt how to say cock-a-doodle-do and I got to hold a chicken. May there be many more days like it.
Alternative, eh? Well, this has got me thinking: I'm not a big fan of general medicinal practice, i.e. I don't pop nurofen by the handful, or dose myself with paracetemol at the first ouch of a headache. I tend to refuse antibiotics as well, as they have a rather dire effect on my body - after even a small prescription I am left with a serious bout of thrush and my psoriasis flares up to crusty proportions. It's not that I disagree with these general practices, I just find that over time my body refuses to cooperate with these medicinal norms, and as well as leaving me with the original symptoms in tact, I then also have to deal with the side effects. Ah please, misunderstand me not: Here I am pregnant and more than willing to endure my monthly blood tests for toxoplasmosis (it's ok, I live in France and this is normal procedure), to follow my gynecologist's advice and ingest my daily folic acid....but, I'm also swigging my Nux Vomica, a homeopathic 'remedy' for morning sickness, and open to the advice of alternative therapies should they be of benefit, to my baby and/or myself. I simply feel that in a day and age where most of our ailments and gripes can be comforted by an hour in the doctor's waiting room, five minutes in her office and twenty multicoloured tablets, we might, just might, be losing that vital contact with our own bodies. Now there are alternative therapies and ALTERNATIVE therapies, right? Let's discuss those that you?ve probably heard about, tried and tested... Homeopathy is the new religion for the Surrey Ladies masses...and for most of the recent newly aged New Age converts. It's a very simple idea; small amounts of that which makes you ill, can, indeed, cure you. I have no real struggle with the ideology, yet I am more than keen that all who wander down this path find themselves a VERY good homeopath...this said, and I really can't name nam
es, a London homeopath who graces British TV's airwaves should be avoided at all costs...inside information proves that he has misdiagnosed on more than one occasion - naughty...I nearly lost a friend to the ill practice of a homeopath (she was diabetic and the homeopath encouraged her to stop taking her insulin), so please, before buying and swallowing any homeopathic remedies, talk to your normal doctor AS WELL as a qualified homeopath. Acupuncture sounds like soooo much fun: I really must find an ailment that can only be cured by people sticking needles in me. No, in all seriousness, this, along with dead tiger's tongues and snake's blood down the local Chinese Medicine Centre, seems to have the most impressive history...more importantly, studies in these subjects appear to take longer and be more in depth - This is a big problem for me, as I see so many westerners getting an HND in some eastern alternative practice, and printing out their business cards the very next day. I do believe that massage should fall into this category, as a deeply relaxed patient that allows their mind to release the stresses and strains of everyday live, is likely to be a healthier and happier person. My preference is with Shiatsu - again, a treatment that should be studied for at least four years before being practiced - I do believe that there is a reputable school in London, to which students travel from around the world (worth finding out about, as the students will charge you pittance while they are still unqualified). Unfortunately I can't do Shiatsu while preggers, so these back aches are surely going to get worse before they get better :o( Reflexology means that people get to play with the lumps and bumps on your stinking, corn ridden feet. Different areas of your feet pertain to different areas (organs etc.) of your body...there's a head version of this as well, but the name escapes me. What about hypnotherapy, then? Doe
s that still qualify as an alternative therapy? I find hypnotherapy works a bit like massage does (and I'm not talking about childhood/pre-life regressions or alien abductions): It places the patient in an utter state of relaxation - Obviously, the suggestions that follow (you do not wish to smoke/eat/fart etc.) are the bits that are supposed to 'work', as they reach and penetrate your mind on a subconscious level...hmnn, that bit has never really worked for me, but after a quick hypno I feel all fluffy, tingly and relaxed...makes me want to smile at strangers in the street, you know? Aromatherapy, and things that smell nice can make you feel better (tshh, I know It's not that simple,but that's the general gist, no?). An acquaintance of mine is involved in research with light reflected through different coloured crystals - this is all in the hope that cancer cells can be combated with positive light. Ah hmnnn. And psychotherapy? Now that's an interesting one....I really do want to say "YEAH" to all those who 'find' themselves, who are able to overcome their past, to open up and release...but I find myself set deeply against the boxes that are too easily given and gratefully taken: When I talk to a good friend of mine, I wish to talk to HIM; sometimes I find myself talking to the manic depressive that he was diagnosed as, just because it is an easier persona for him to assume. And did you know that over here we get all payments for spas and water therapies refunded by the social security? Well, if that's not a good enough reason for moving to France then I don't know what is. Sometimes some of these things work - sometimes they don't. Whether or not this is down to belief/faith (call it as you will) or some sort of placebo effect, I know not: To generalise on this matter would be unfruitful, as those who seek these practices out are varied and their reasons are wide. It
has to be true that whatever the situation, if the therapy works for just one individual, then it has to be a good thing, no? And if it offers another hope, then who are we to argue? But what about real ALTERNATIVE therapies? Who amongst you have heard of trepanation? Oheeerk, even writing the word makes my fingers tingle (in anxiety, I hasten to add). Trepanation is the practice of making holes in the skull; It has an astounding history, but more worryingly it continues to be practiced in the present day. Hows about exorcism (inside and out of the Roman Catholic Church - although outside it seems to be the practice of disturbed individuals and more often than not results in death)? Have you heard about the family in Hyderabad, India that prepare a miracle cure for all those with respiratory problems? It consists of a live fish stuffed with herbs and water - it is distributed once a year in the Mrigasira solar phase (for about two days) and has to be swallowed whole (and alive): Apparently the live fish helps to clear the food pipe on its way down, later releasing the herbal medicines once hitting the stomach. Eurrgh. I've got a good one for you: How about laughter? After all, we know how much better we feel after a belly guffaw or a chortle or two. I worry, I really do, when I see how adolescent girls are introduced to the pill at a time in their life when their body is still growing and changing; they aren't given any real information as to the side effects of/and prolonged usage of such a drug, and from here on in they tend to lose all consciousness of their own bodies - depending on more drugs if anything else goes wrong. There are good drugs and bad drugs (as I'm sure any cancer patient will tell you) but just because your doctor (a fallible human being after all) tells you to take them - well, you don't have to if you don't want to. Oh, I don't want to come across as a earth loving
hippy, nor as a uptight, middle class tart in search of enlightenment: These things exist in the world, there for you to discover. Some of them are pure nonsense and dangerous to boot, some of them may well help alleviate your ailments...my only bone of contention is that you find a GOOD and qualified practitioner of whatever you wish to indulge in ('cept trepanation of course). All this aside, I find one rather cheap alternative therapy the most productive: Self belief and positive thought have done more for my migraines, psoriasis, morning sickness and general health than any number of pills could have ever done...and it's better than a hole in the head.