• Pages

  • Site Sections

  • Tags

  • Archives

Thoughts On A Son’s 30th Birthday

 

father-son-silhouette

 

Thoughts On A Son’s 30th Birthday

Our children are the best of us
as theirs one day will be too
their task is to surpass us
ours to love them when they do

Like sparks adrift in a darkling sky
we blaze, and burn, then glow
a flame of life and love eternal
to touch, to feel, to know

The thief of time beguiles us
with then, and now, and soon
shared life and love slip by
’til a finite midnight usurps an endless noon

But we can steal back precious moments
for passion is not bound by measured time
shared fragments of love eternal
a sense of life transcendent and sublime

These priceless, timeless moments of eternity
like the river’s rush, the oceans’ tides
although ever-flowing, ever-changing
are proof undoubting that love abides

Our children are the best of us
our love drives their dreams not ours
with truth and honour, like us, as their guide
their lives will not be measured in mere years, or months, or hours

Pete Seeger: 1919 – 2014 RIP

 

Seeger and Dylan

Seeger and Dylan

 

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger

 

If I had a hammer

Where Have all the flowers gone?

We Shall Overcome

 

Pete Seeger

A fine soul passed today
returning to the earth
he loved and graced
He hammered out freedom
He hammered out justice
no guns just roses
this gentle gentleman
embraced

We are the better
for his life
his melody lives on
champion of simple folk
of music and of song
we know where one flower has gone
as still his truth rings out loud
rings out long

(Pete Seeger: 1919 – 2014. RIP)

Buffy Sainte-Marie – January 2014 of Pete Seeger

“Justice and humanitarian issues, kindness, effectiveness and humility, all wrapped around a banjo. He was a real angel on earth”.

Philomena – Stephen Frears – Touching, moving – but where’s the anger?

Judi Dench/ Philomena Lee

Judi Dench/ Philomena Lee

 

 

3star1

Philomena – Stephen Frears

The real Philomena Lee was in the audience with her family when I saw this at the wonderful Rex Cinema in Berkhamsted. She took part in a question and answer session after the showing. She revealed herself to be intelligent, articulate, perceptive and wise. These qualities perhaps developed by 30 years as a psychiatric nurse.

Given this unusual insight into the real people portrayed in the film the first, overwhelming question is why, in all that’s holy, Stephen Coogan’s script turns this extraordinary lady into a slightly dumb, somewhat submissive woman out of touch with the sophistications of modern life, more than a little patronisingly portrayed as very pre-occupied with taking advantage of anything she can get for free or on the cheap.

It takes Judi Dench, bless her, about half the film to invest Philomena with the authentic, real gravitas and intelligence denied her by Coogan’s well-meaning but deeply patronising script. Not for the first time, it takes Dench some time to rescue not just the movie but the richly layered, life-worn and life-enhancing character that is the real Philomena, from the patronising trivialising of Coogan’s writing. It emerged in the Q&A that Dench had refused to say one line “because it made me (Philomena) look too stupid.” Well good on yer Judi – but why was it even an issue?

That said, to be fair, both Philomena and her daughter professed themselves very satisfied with the movie. That is generous to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, Philomena is touching, very moving and the sheer cumulative weight of Dench’s artistic conviction, as ever, triumphs in investing a character with more depth and weight than a sometimes trite script conveys. As the British Film Industry gears itself up for one of its periodic chauvinistic excesses let’s be clear, not that it is what matters most, that the film has no chance of Oscars etc; though Dench certainly has every chance of picking up some well-deserved accolades.

How could the story of a naïve good Catholic teenager getting pregnant on her first foray into pubescence with a Sean-the-lad at the local carnival be unaffecting? When the overwhelming weight of Catholic, Social opprobrium descends upon her she is ‘forced’ by convention and custom into giving up her son for adoption at the sublimely inappropriate age of 3 years. We learn that this transaction was commonplace in Ireland at the time when Catholic-run institutions, inspired by a God-claimed obsession with sin and sinfulness, were not only piously instrumental in severing all contacts between children and birth-mothers, they also turned it into a nice little ecclesiastical earner by flogging the kids, often to well-heeled North Americans. Philomena’s ‘love-child’ Michael, whose very existence apparently represented the authentication of human sinfulness ended up in Canada and thence to the USA. We can only imagine the cumulative pressure; social, religious and emotional to which Philomena and the thousands of young women like her, were subjected to accede to not only signing away any rights to their own child but also any right to ever make any further future contact.

The inspirational quality of Philomena lies in the sheer human, maternal and filial drives that battled for years to find each other against the deception, institutional corruption and hypocritical piety of all who might have helped them. You will discover the bitter-sweet pathos of this process within the film – and it will make you cry.

But here is the fundamental flaw in the film: the anger is missing. Of course as human beings we should be tolerant: but equally as human beings we should not be tolerant of injustice. The trade in adopted babies like Philomena’s was systematically practiced by a Catholic institution that was at the same time exploiting the slave labour of thousands of ‘fallen’ young women in profitable Irish laundries – a scandal only just beginning to be properly aired. It is also by now a matter of mere empiricism, not prejudice, that notes the thousands of vulnerable young people of both genders systematically sexually abused for years by the very Priests in whom they placed their trust.

The real Philomena revealed that as a result of her experience she stopped for many years attending Mass – returning only in recent years but still eschewing Holy Communion. In the film her namesake is portrayed as restraining the less-than-convincing anger on her behalf expressed by Coogan’s Martin Sixsmith. Coogan plays the ex-BBC journalist advisor to Stephen Byers, Transport Minister in the Blair Government. Sixsmith’s notorious sacking was caused by his advice to Byers not to try to ‘bury’ bad political news on the day of Princess Margaret’s funeral; in view of the earlier debacle of cynically trying to use the US 9/11 bombings to hide other bad political news.

The responses in the film to the deliberated, planned, systematic emotional cruelty exercised by so-called Christians upon vulnerable young women, are far too muted; far too restrained. This was wickedness, pure and simple, enacted by an institution and its officers who above all others, not only should have known better but negated in action the very spirit of the faith they professed in thought and belief.

Truly, when good men and women are silent – evil prospers. If more sincere, good Catholics, lay and ordained, had been angrier and shouted that anger from the rooftops, over decades of systematic, known but concealed abuse, then thousands of lives would have been saved the traumas and destruction to which they were unspeakably subjected.

I’m not sure why Frears has allowed his film to be so fatally flawed by such a polite, submissive, utterly misplaced blandness of moral tone. I hate to say it but clearly, this implicitly ‘conciliatory’ tone will increase the potential market for the film in a way that a more trenchant, critical, outraged spirit might not. But this is popular appeal at the profound expense of artistic integrity. Jim Loach’s Oranges and Sunshine (2011) on an absolutely similar theme but within an Australian context (truly is Catholicism a world religion), was far more rigorous, far more critical, and thus far more impressive than Frears’ quasi-middle-class apologia. But then Oranges and Sunshine did modest box-office and wasn’t mentioned as a possible Oscar-winner.

Philomena was entirely successful in inducing in me a kind of comfortable, Middle-Class wistful sadness at Philomena’s story. Even the subject of the film herself seems to have been lulled into a submissive, resigned regret at how things turned out.

This passivity is subversive and corrosive. It really isn’t good enough. And no amount of Oscars and accolades will change that fundamental fact. These things didn’t ‘happen’ to Philomena Lee and the thousands like her – they were the conscious, planned, organised decisions and actions of individuals and the organisation which both generated, validated and eventually concealed the unspeakable treatment to which she was subjected. This was no act of God.

This quietly, subtly emotionally manipulative film is not enough – by a long, long way. The real Philomena Lee said that she eventually agreed to support the film because she hoped it might help others who suffered the same emotional and yes, spiritual, oppression. Well sheer publicity may grant her wish: but response to evil, reaction to cruelty and wickedness should be rigorous, committed and utterly unapologetic. Otherwise the truth will be distorted, sanitised and finally buried: and secret, shameful abuse will simply slither back to destroy more innocent, vulnerable lives. That is the truth that best reflects the Scriptural attitude of the very founder of the faith so vigorously professed but shamefully denied in action over many years.

All efforts to wring out of the current Irish Government and the Catholic Church full details of this shameful practice have so far failed. Such information should not be meekly requested on the back of a touching little movie and the embarrassment of publicity it may generate: full disclosure must be demanded and if refused, legislated for. Enough is enough. There is an outstanding debt to pay: and public recognition of the truth is its absolutely minimum requirement.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour – Over-hyped, over-long and under-sexed

Emma and Adele

 

Blue Is The Warmest Colour – Abdellatif Kechiche

Filming fictional sex is very much like filming fictional sport. It doesn’t work – because it is a contradiction in spirit. Nothing planned and scripted can ever, by definition, capture the immediacy of the drama of sport in which the unpredictability of outcome is the very essence of our excitement and engagement. Uncertainty is a necessary not contingent element in sport: it is essential that we watch and are caught up in the exquisitely painful, thrilling, disappointing moment when a truly uncertain outcome is finally resolved – as resolved it must be – not in advance by intention, but by the free flow of events that can be influenced but not controlled. We know a fictionalised competition has a pre-determined outcome, a planned and structured result. It cannot, therefore, by definition recreate the true uncertainty upon which the thrill and excitement inherent to the heart of live sport depends.

Fictionalised sex suffers very similar problems. The basic issue is simple: if the sex is simulated, it is by definition not real, not actual. And pretence, simulation, faking if you will, is anathema to truthful intimacy, genuine feeling, honest passion; even as we might say real erotic excitement or plain lust. Fictionalised sex is, and must be, dishonest in a way that destroys the artistic truth the artists are trying to express.

Just like the unpredictability and uncertainty of real sport, real sex as opposed to sex simulated for artistic purposes, has essential qualities of spontaneity, expressiveness that comes directly from feeling, not reason; the sense of immediate intimate reaction and interaction to the unpredictable way partners react during love-making. It is of the very essence of one’s reaction to, response to, such intimate personal behaviour, freed from doubt and founded on trust, that it must be spontaneous, truthful and real.

The filmmaker’s response to this dilemma can only take two forms: first film real, not simulated sex and thus abandon the form and structure of a planned narrative serving a conscious artistic objective; or second, seek to so ‘truthfully’ simulate the sex that the viewer is convinced of the authenticity of the portrayal; recognizes in this simulation the accuracy of artistic truth.

It is not a flippant remark to say that the essential difference, certainly sexually, between men and women, is that women can, whereas men can’t, fake an orgasm. If, wrongly I would argue, one thinks of sexual relationships in terms of relative power and domination we end with a profound paradox that might be argued to lie at the heart of the worst conceptions of human sexual relationships: while men have the power of physical strength; women hold the power of sexual control. It is hard to estimate the sum total of human unhappiness derived from bad resolutions to this paradox.

This inherent difference between men and women’s sexuality makes it almost impossible to know quite what we are watching in Blue. As Meg Ryan memorably once demonstrated, hilariously, in genuine, teasing mockery of mens’ blithe, but false assumptions, only the subject can distinguish between a real and a successfully simulated female orgasm. It may be argued that sexual relations are the natural home of an occasional benign dishonesty; of the considerate, compassionate lie.

It is argued that our culture is sex-obsessed; that we take sex far too seriously; as if it were the be-all and end-all of life. Perversely perhaps I wonder whether we don’t take sex seriously enough. The parallel for many men between sex and say football is quite close: they want to win at all costs; they want to score a goal every time they try; even those who may admire a clever, skilful build-up always want every movement to end in a goal. That isn’t even the truth of football aspiration. It is a disastrously misguided way to think of sexuality: the partner is seen as someone to defeat, to overcome, to beat: someone to take from. Only scoring goals matters and a few almost unopposed penalties, with all the odds in favour of the kicker, are longed for. All satisfaction is seen as personal, subjective, selfish.

In contrast good sex surely should be consensual, co-operative, freely entered into and always conditioned by willing, trusting consent, which may be removed at any point. The conventional wisdom is to feel more comfortable in using the concept of love to mitigate the potentially overwhelming power of sexual passion. This reassuringly domesticates the visceral power of sexual drive by subjecting it to the controlling, limiting power of loving. I am far from claiming especial expertise here but it seems to me that there is something mistaken about the idea of ‘love’ seen as a controlling, limiting force that constrains or domesticates the power of sexual feeling. Rather, should not loving be integrated within, integral to the manner and way in which sexual feelings are expressed? Loving sex seems to me a more desirable ideal than sexual love – whatever that might mean.

Blue is The Warmest Colour, if it is about anything, is about sex. Whether it says anything interesting about love, you will judge for yourselves. I find it a deeply disappointing film redeemed by two quite extraordinary performances. But here again is paradox: Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Lea Seydoux) are utterly convincing and wonderfully expressive – except when naked. These are dangerous and choppy waters for a critic which perhaps explains what for me is some of the absolute tosh written about this film. The youthful Adele has not come to terms with the appropriate, for her, expression of her innately passionate physical nature. When she meets the older, more experienced and established lesbian Artist Emma there is a palpable explosion of sexual, erotic passion between the two: though from the beginning one feels a degree of ‘knowingness’ on the part of Lea that the inexperienced innocence of Adele cannot match. We fear for Adele’s unrestrained vulnerability.

Adele and Emma’s relationship becomes deeply sexual almost immediately with a haste that a heterosexual relationship between two people of such disparity in sexual and life experience and relative ages, would almost certainly arouse doubts if not serious criticism. It is hard not to see Emma as user and Adele as used.

The worst thing about this, and for me the fundmental problem with the film, which mystifyingly, no critics I have read seem to have identified, is that the much-vaunted, yes genuinely explicit sex scenes between these two are painfully false. They are, sadly, disturbingly, almost indistinguishable from standard one-on-one girlie porn. I speak not from a vast experience but one doesn’t need to have seen much of this kind of stuff to recognise its inherent lack of imagination, invention, emotional depth, verbal and physical articulacy etc etc. One cannot help but blame director Kechiche for this. One looked for, hoped for insights into an overwhelming passion between two people who happened to both be women but with a depth of feeling that could only find adequate expression in sexual connection.

Yet what we get is a lazily set up and trivially superficial relationship that begins, develops and ends with nothing but lust. At times Kechiche gives Adele and Emma lines that imply a depth of connection and relationship that he does nothing to establish; nothing to authenticate; nothing that renders it remotely believable. Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with the idea that two people, lesbian or not, may be drawn together by nothing more than a lustful physical attraction. However, it is trite and clichéd that when this initial passion is physically satisfied, the feelings have no depth of connection or relationship within which to take root and develop.

In fact Blue is ruined by Kechiche’s crass, superficial, voyeuristic treatment of Adele and Emma’s sexual relationship: it’s all he bothers to show; and one suspects that is because that is all that interests him; or worse, that is what he knows will put bums on seats.

If, like me you had any hope that you might learn something about the unique quality of love and passion between two women – forget it. There is no tenderness, distinctively female expression of passion to another woman: just a better class of panting than the stereotyped, phoney shouts and squeals of tenth-rate porn actresses who believe that ten squeals are ten times more erotic than one.

If, as one suspects, Kecheche made it a condition of Seydoux’ and Exarchopoulos’ casting that he retained final cut then I can well understand why these two fine actresses feel exploited and manipulated. One has the distinct impression that, given their wonderful range of emotion and articulacy elsewhere in the movie, left to their own devices and natural acting instincts, these now notorious scenes would have probably been more authentic, more moving, and yes more erotic than the embarrassing sub-porn grunt pant and groan show Kechiche has directed. I will be amazed if real lesbian women are not incensed by this macho-centred, titillating farrago of beautiful but shamefully mis-used female flesh.

Be warned: Blue is also a flatulent, lazy, 3 hours long. It is unconscionable that despite this self-indulgent conceit, Kechiche leaves his characters painfully under-developed, with little of interest to say or do other than ‘play’ at being an artist and apparently teach young children.

I cannot imagine what the Cannes Jury were thinking of when they awarded this meretricious over-hyped film the Palme D’or. In contrast, the joint recognition by the jury of Seydoux and Exarchopoulos seems to me well deserved despite my reservations about the 7 minutes of bad acting, if acting it was, without which the film would not have even made the back page of the Little Wallop Gazette.

Remember – Sunday 10/11/13

 

 

Remember

We owe a debt to those
who risk and sometimes
give their lives
to protect us
and we must discharge it

But to celebrate
with equal circumstance
those who simply
kill in our name
corrupts true gallantry

And when we know
as sadly know we do
that corrupting souls
assassins makes
we are dishonoured too

We should celebrate
the offered lives
not how they were lost
there is no glory here
just incommensurate cost

Kill for God
Kill for Fun
Kill for State
Kill for Markets
Kill for all Kill for one

Courage is not honour
Though that’s not what is said
for only life is absolute
killing kills us too
in Death’s dominion – dead is dead

“You’re f***ing browners fella”
(brown bread – dead)

“Anyone want to do First Aid on this idiot?”

“I’ll put on in his head if you want”
“Not in his head, ‘cos that’ll be f***ing obvious”

“Going to switch this f***er off”
“Just strangle him”
“Yeah” (laughs)
“Maybe we should just put one in his head”

(Gunshot)

“There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil”
“It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us”

“This doesn’t go anywhere lads”
“I’ve just broken the Geneva Convention”

“A biometric data module, right”

Captain Phillips – Paul Greengrass: Might is right….but…..

 

The real Captain Phillips

 

 

Captain Phillips – Paul Greengrass

Claustrophobic, tense, exciting, edge-of-the seat suspense. As you would expect of the Director of United 93 and the best two films in the Bourne franchise, Captain Phillips is brilliantly edited to give a sense of movement and pace one wouldn’t have thought possible confined on board a container ship heading for the Horn of Africa through the piratical political gauntlet that the seas off Somalia have become.

Hanks if of course utterly dependable as the undemonstrative, quietly authoritative, real life Captain Phillips, whose ship Maersk Alabama was captured by Somali pirates in 2009. Hanks must be the most instinctively likable, dull actor working today. Here he is perfectly cast as the sane, buttoned-up captain at the centre of the chaotic politics of modern terrorism to which Greengrass returns after his equally strong United 93 – the 9/11 hijacking that didn’t reach its target. Hanks’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get acting style makes him the calm epicentre of the almost bizarre reality of of half a dozen ex-fishermen in fragile motorized skiffs, driven by necessity and threats from Somali warlords, armed only with small arms, to ‘attack’ a gigantic merchant ship in the middle of the ocean. One is struck by this dramatisation of an actual event with exactly the same thought as one is with the real news items of similar hi-jackings – how is this possible?

Basing a work of popular art on a real story is a mixed blessing. The actor can of course, with a largely unknown figure like Captain Phillips, get away with being, as here, ‘Tom Hanks’ and fortunately doesn’t have to impersonate or emulate the real person. This necessity often undermines or even destroys dramatized biopics etc of well-known celebs and politicians for example.

The real life basis may seem to add an aura of verisimilitude to proceedings. But this can be problematic: after all it can’t be the case that we believe any old actor or an unconvincing account of a dramatic event just because there is a real person and actual events being portrayed. Some art is required, to invest factual accuracy with dramatic conviction: a different kind of truth; and harder to achieve. This appears to work much better with Captain Phillips than for example the other film ‘based on a true story’ currently doing the rounds – The Fifth Estate about Wikileaks and the enigmatic Julian Assange. There are many reasons for this but essentially Hank’s Phillips is in the film what the real Phillips was in real life – a pawn caught up in a macabre, at times deadly game of chess. We don’t need to know much about pawns, just where they fit on the board, how they can move, and their rigorously defined contribution to the ‘game’.

It is here that one begins to feel uneasy about the subtext of Greengrass’s movie. Following what I take to be the actual sequence of events, defines and limits the dramatic impact of about the last third of the movie which takes place on a lifeboat containing the pirates and Phillips who they have taken hostage. As the combined might of the US Navy, Special Forces, Helicopters etc bear down upon this tiny cork of a boat bobbing about on the ocean, the sense of uncertainty that has maintained the tension and suspense thus far is inevitably dissipated. We know it didn’t end in everyone’s death; another downside of the real event basis, and action-wise the confines of the lifeboat narrows possibilities enormously. It is here that weaknesses in the first half of the movie begin to emerge; for despite having some genuine Somali exiles in the pirates’ roles Greengrass doesn’t really engage us with them when the circumstances of their having just taken over the ship would have made this possible. He settles for a sense of menace and unpredictability in the pirates to generate a largely event-driven dramatic arc.

In this respect Captain Phillips is far less interesting and dramtically ‘layered’ than say the Danish film released earlier this year A Highjacking (Tobias Lindholm). A Danish ship is also hijacked by Somali pirates and held for ransom. Lindholm opens out his story to explore the dramtic and moral conflicts of Corporate attitudes, treatment of anxious relatives, and a far more interesting, nuanced view of the intricacies of negotiations with the pirates. In this respect it is telling that in the Danish film the pirates are far more organised, sophisticated and ‘good’ at what they do. Characters are developed who become part of the deadly game of wits and balance of risk and reward. The pirates in Captain Phillips for all the actors’ screen presence (especially Barkhad Abdi as Muse) remain one-dimensional, disorganised and without any real sense of leadership. The Danish perspective is more convincing and perhaps truer to the intractability of the problem. If all hijackings were as random and half-assed as shown in Captain Phillips, it is hard to believe the problem would have lasted for so long and become so difficult to resolve.

For all its carefully manufactured excitement therefore, Captain Phillips gradually drifts, under the force of its own need for dramatic force, into something perilously close to a typically Hollywood action movie. This is especially true when the US Navy come to the rescue with a denouement straight out of the Hollywood blockbuster handbook – with as ever the eventual triumph of guns and firepower; and the characteristically American sense of that is not only how it was, but how it should be.

We are obviously invited to applaud Captain Phillips for his courage and fortitude. And aye to that. But, and it is a big but: it is hard not to feel a bit queasy at the sight half a dozen, emaciated, manipulated ex-fishermen, driven by desperation and necessity, being inevitably overwhelmed by the grotesque over-kill, literally, of the full might of the American Navy. Hollywood certainly, and perhaps the more bellicose sections of today’s polarised American society, seem to have become comfortably adulatory of an American ‘way of war’ that involves total technological supremacy, massive superiority in numbers and a disturbing disproportion in the deaths and casualty figures between the combatants.

On a day when the latest authoritative, figure of deaths in Iraq attributable directly or indirectly to the Allied invasion has been updated to nearly half a million; the gung-ho, super-power ‘triumph’ of two massive warships, several helicopters and hundreds of men over 5 terrified, skinny Somalians armed with rifles, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. However wrong and even ruthless is the piracy and the brutality the real pirates can display.

The politically sensitive American way-of-war is rapidly approaching maximum death to the enemy with zero loss. The controversial use of drones achieves precisely this. The logical extension of this idea is a totally robotic army fighting proxy wars against real human beings with all the de-humanisation that horrific prospect entails.

A long way from Captain Phillips perhaps but the disturbing assumptions are there. Go and see it as pure Hollywood entertainment. But if you want to feel engaged in the complexity of the problem and the conflicting demands and challenges it presents to brave and weak; honourable and venal men and women; caught up in a tragedy not of their own making – get A Hijacking out on DVD. It doesn’t of course have Tom Hanks: but then whether that’s an advantage or not depends on your point of view.

Disappointing Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen. Woody was, is and always will be more a Lubitsch than a Bergman

 

 

Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine

 

 

 

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen

Woody Allen is blessed. He has a God-given gift. That gift is to make us laugh: with an articulate wit, incisive irony, and a delicious sense of the personal and metaphysical absurdity of life. Camus in drag.

His gift as an artist, is not to make us cry; to move us deeply. If the man has a melancholic, dark perspective on life and personal relationships; it is the artist who rescues him and us, with flashes of manic rebellious humour which we all instantly identify with and share. In Shakespearean terms it is his destiny to be the Fool who is always observer and commentator on the tragedies of hubris and flawed ambition that play out around him. Always the watcher: never a player. He has the mind of a Lear but the soul of a Fool; the desire of a Romeo but the heart of the Apothecary – a facilitator in the destiny of others.

Like many others before him blessed with the gift of laughter, but more culpably than most, because he has the intellect and insight to know better, Woody is drawn to the tragic to the point of undervaluing the comic genius which is his greatest talent.

There is much to admire in Blue Jasmine – not least of course Cate Blanchett’s tour-de force reincarnation of Streetcar’s Blanche Dubois. As ever with Allen the direction is austere, impeccably structured and satisfyingly unobtrusive. But just as with Tennessee Williams’s iconic play with which it has inevitably been compared, Allen’s even more shallow, domesticated script doesn’t have the substance to sustain Blanchett’s peerless performance of it. Indeed there is a sense in which Blanchett is miscast: not because she can’t handle the role; but paradoxically because she is just too strong a screen presence for an essentially shallow character – as written. There are moments in Blue Jasmine when Blanchett’s intelligence and powerful presence almost topples Allen’s Jasmine as written into someone more interesting but at odds with the rest of the film.

Jasmine is a lady-who-lunches, socially connected New York wife of a wealthy husband, financial entrepreneur, i.e. crook, Hal (Alec Balwin at his sleazily smarmy best). Everyone, including Jasmine’s sister lady-lunchees, knows the gobsmackingly obvious fact that Hal is a serial philanderer with an emotional age yet to reach double figures. When true to stereotype, Hal falls in lust with one of his youthful dalliances, Jasmine decamps to LA to join her sister adoptee Ginger trapped in a downbeat, daily grind of the supermarket checkout and surrounded by blue-collar Neanderthal guys whose most dedicated investment is in their burgeoning beer guts.

British actress Sally Hawkins does what she can with Ginger but as Allen has no feeling for the authenticity of blue-collar guys and the American working class has a different tone and voice than the British, it doesn’t really work. Ginger’s estranged husband Augie then new beau Chili (yeah, really) Bobby Cannavale look like uncomfortable refugees from Working Girl where at least their stereotypical blue-collarness was used for a comedy of manners and social mores.

Augie and Ginger’s once-in-a-lifetime chance for financial stability rested on a $200K lottery win which went down the tubes when they invested in one of Hal’s pyramidal scams which eventually brought his and Jasmine’s wealthy life-style to an abrupt end.

So, luggaged by Louis Vuitton and fresh from a First Class flight from New York, Jasmine dumps herself on Ginger claiming that she is penniless. She makes dispiritingly half-baked efforts to adjust to the new financial and social realities of her plight but despite Blanchett’s best efforts, she remains an unlikeable snobby woman with delusions of a grandeur she never had; only with the husband-generated illegal wealth to fake it. Our only route to empathy or sympathy for Jasmine is to see her as wronged victim: but it would be hard to find an actress less suited to play victim than Cate Blanchett.

Efforts by Chili to set Jasmine up with a bloke who could get her out his weirdly coiffed hair and out of Ginger’s inadequately small flat are embarrassingly predictable and unconvincing. One longs for some lightness of touch, some style, irony – something to make us at least smile for God’s sake. But no, Woody just plays his faltering storyline and script absolutely straight.

This tale of a rather silly, indulged, kept, wealthy woman losing all her privileges through nothing more interesting than being traded in for a younger model makes it hard to care very much what happens to whom. As set up, like the now dated Streetcar Named Desire, the deepest emotion Allen can tilt for, from the very beginning is pathos. And it is true Blanchett’s talent manages to touch us briefly at the end. But there is nothing here to compare with Claire Bloom’s luminous, ethereal quality of a woman with a raw emotional sensitivity and other-worldly fragility that disabled her from the visceral reality of life. Pathos has to emerge: if you chase it, it always looks contrived.

Woody has no feeling for the expression of intimacy in personal relationships film offers: though the camera is always voyeur, it does not have to be voyeuristic. Allen is not the only Director to fail this test – David Lynch and Bertolucci are two others.

The real tragedy for me is that if, instead of following the twisty, labyrinthine paths of his personal angst into emotional territory for which he has no real instinct, Woody had honed his genius for comedy, he could have produced some timeless, perfectly achieved, comedies that would have lasted for ever. He was, is, and always will be, more of a Lubitsch than a Bergman.

Poem: After Wittgenstein – In the Beginning Was the Deed

Wittgenstein

 

After Wittgenstein – In the Beginning Was the Deed

Words alone have no meaning no sense
so the proposition is meaningless too
Meaning is the act of making sense
meaning something in using words
Possibilities of meaning are my choice
through action of making sense with them
Action is use
I enter the world
through my acts of meaning,
the sense I create in my use of words
The limits of meaning are set
by the limits of actions through which
I can give them the sense that they might have

Action is meaning
Words represent possible actions not meanings
without action they are just marks on a page
The meaning of life – is life
To live is to act
to act is to mean
therefore to live is to mean
I cannot live without meaning
because I cannot live without acting
There are things I can mean in what I do
but there are possible meanings in what I do
I did not mean

The possibilities of meaning I can create in acting
are the possibilities of my acts being understood
by an other. Taking sense from
a shared form of life.
Language cannot start as private
nor, it now seems can an act.
My action with words can deceive
but to deceive you must believe that they’re true
You will only believe if you trust me
Our respect for the truth
confers the power to lie.
Our secrets can only be private
if what we hide can be known
otherwise why conceal it
to what point and from whom?
Privacy is a social conception

A proposition is an imagined act of meaning with no actor
therefore its sense is imaginary
Imagined actions do not enter the world
so do not have actual consequences
only imagined results
therefore they don’t have real meaning
only imagined sense
We can imagine any action we choose
but we cannot imagine real sense
for that we must act but
an act of the imagination
is a grammatical mistake
that generates philosophical confusion
An imagined act cannot be the same as a real act
A grammatical remark about acting not ‘acting’

The end of Philosophy is the end of Philosophy
the realisation we do not discover
meaning or sense in the world
we create it.
Philosophy cannot show us
how we enter the world, understand it
because we are born in the world
before we begin to philosophise
Being in the world
and sharing it with others
is how we begin all thought
including philosophical thought

In Philosophy we imagine imaginary acts
that create imaginary meaning, imaginary sense
Philosophy is imagined ‘til it enters the world
Only through the act can it enter the world
Philosophy isn’t the discovery of meaning
or of the sense of life
it is the realisation
that we already know it
To know the world is to be in it

“The resolution to the question – what is the meaning of life?
Is to stop asking the question.”

(Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Somewhere On The Earth Tonight – Poem

 

 

Somewhere On The Earth Tonight

 

 

Somewhere on the Earth tonight
new life cries
as its journey just begins
elsewhere old life dies

Somewhere on the Earth tonight
someone kills
stealing hopes and other lives
obeying alien wills

Somewhere on the Earth tonight
hunger gnaws
sapping life from children’s souls
paying for our grown-up wars

Somewhere on the Earth tonight
Gods at war
inspire hatred fear and death
deaf to reason’s cry – no more

Somewhere on the earth tonight
Dylan sings
laying bare the cant and lies
in his voice hard truth rings

Somewhere out in space tonight
we could see
shrinking icecaps rotting streams
the paradox of being free

Everywhere on Earth tonight
my brothers sisters sleep
peaceful thoughts but troubled dreams
my brother…our world…let us keep

 

Leonard Cohen – O2 Arena Sept 16th 2013: the one-man genre triumphs

Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen – O2 Arena Sunday September 16th 2013

Songs of innocence and experience… and love with the occasional edge of lust: 3 hours with seven encores, every word he wrote himself; the one-man genre that is the extraordinary Leonard Cohen still had his delighted audience asking for more.

Cohen is a Class Act: gracious and grateful both to his audience and especially to the superb group of musician and singer friends he has surrounded himself with. There was a valedictory spirit in the air when he appositely remarked at 78 years of age that there was no way of telling “when or if we will meet again my friends”. And then with the ironic, self-mocking counterpoint that marks both his sense of humour and a genuine-sounding humility, he defused the sentimental undertones of the remark with “I’m not ready yet to hang up my boxing gloves….but I now where the hook is.”

Fedora-hatted this angular, iconic figure, still full of vital, jerkily energetic and potent physicality; crouched and knelt, skipped and boxer-stanced his way through most of his extraordinarily rich catalogue of poetic songs and musical poems with a freshness it was a privilege to see and a warmly satisfying experience to hear – to share.

His words – eloquent, articulate, always heartfelt, sometimes profound – insinuated themselves into the private spaces of our inner thoughts and feelings borne on melodies and rhythms shamelessly infectious but never dull. Exploiting to the full the rhythmic flexibility of a song’s stretched vowels but retaining a semblance of poetic metre, a Cohen rendition is part poem, part song – but all enjoyment. Ideas – playful and scabrous; affectionate and mockingly angry; romantic and wistful – elicit an inward nod of recognition and approval that stills cynicism and silences the sceptic. The Trinity that comprises the Cohen phenomenon, after the words and the music – is a voice to die for: deep, sonorous, expressive; and carrying however quietly used. This is a voice you can’t doubt when it speaks of love, and loss, and life.

Often striking an almost Sinatra-like pose (maybe it’s the Fedora) Cohen captures that sense of an easy, unforced cool we can neither define nor miss. Half way through the second set a voice rang out across the O2 Arena “thank you for an evening of intelligent songs that matter.” Embarrassing but true.

I’m not sure of his remaining tour plans or any future projects. But as one who was a mildly curious, occasional listener before last night, if you get a chance to see this man – don’t miss it. We have not seen his like for the last 40 years and I rather think, may not ever again. The man delivers: more than we have a right to expect; and with an authenticity and passion it was privilege to share.