Je Suis Kali

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  • Call Me By Your Name: profound portrait of first love or just a bit kitsch?

    Call Me By Your Name, beloved by critics and audiences alike; nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award as well as Leading Actor & Adapted Screenplay; and reviewed frequently as sumptuous, sensual, languid, aching and so on. Just as I thought I'd missed it at the cinema, a local Odeon eked out one final and belated screening so, I cancelled everything.

            Indeed, this film from director Luca Guadagnino delivered all that was promised and, on that basis, I so wanted to love it. A coming-of-age-sexual-awakening type of affair, cradled, one long hot summer, in the Eden of Lombardy, this movie is slow — good, I like slow — and nothing much really happens, rather it languishes in the erotic pheromones emitted by the perspiration of its own effort.

            Nobody can deny Timotheé Chalamet gives a truly astonishing performance as Elio Perlman, the bookish, multilingual teenage son of a Jewish academic (played touchingly, if at times with an irritating campness, by Michael Stuhlbarg). The film hinges on this central performance and is certainly worth seeing for Chalamet. I wouldn't mind at all if he took the Oscar. However, much else is found lacking, vacuous, a hypnotic magic trick designed to conjure the illusion of substance but, on closer scrutiny, is just a bit self-indulgent. The photography and script (screenplay by James Ivory) both superficially imply depth, making all the right noises to have us clutching at our chests and flaring our nostrils with appreciation, but alas this soufflé, while photogenic, is mostly air.

           The family's Jewishness is a detail introduced pointedly with close-ups of a Star of David pendant and yet curiously inconsequential. While middle-class, secular Jewishness never fails to lend a person a certain neo-liberal, intellectual credence, the practical significance for these characters remains lost on me. Perhaps a hangover from André Aciman's 2007 novel of the same name —Aciman himself an Egyptian Sephardic Jew — though the story is fiction and not a memoir.

            Oliver, a graduate Classics student, arrives at the family's enormous villa on the Italian Riviera to intern with Professor Perlman for six weeks; to help catalogue a vague collection of Hellenic sculpture and generally add to the all-round erudition and scholarly plumage of this impossibly perfect family. Armie Hammer, in an almost burlesque bit of casting, surges onto the scene like the strapping Aryan Adonis that he is there to represent — the idyllic male form — and Elio's desire is awakened.

            But Hammer's Oliver is not the only idyll that features front and centre in Call Me By Your Name. The verdant landscape, the ripe and varied orchard, the sleepy, sun-drenched village of Crema, all droop under the weight of gorgeous abundance. This self-conscious excess upstages everything: Peter Bradshaw in his five-star Guardian review thinks 'Their summer romance is saturated with poetic languor and a deeply sophisticated sensuality' and such is the tone of critics in general, that the setting is a character unto itself. However, such languor, poetic as it may seem, is, underneath, a poem composed to deliberately obfuscate and exclude. As Elio's homo-erotic sensibilities grind into gear so does my gluttonous desire for such a life, such sophistication. I want to eat those apricots right off the tree but I will never be so rich, so educated or so cosmopolitan as to deserve those apricots; a horrible realisation that plunges quickly into a heavy, sickening feeling of heatstroke and having feasted on too much rich food; and finally into a profound resentment: Why, this is nothing but Real Estate porn.

            In fact, Richard Brody, in The New Yorker, says 'The intimacy of Elio and Oliver is matched by very little cinematic intimacy [...] Guadagnino rarely lets himself get close to the characters, because he seems to wish never to lose sight of the expensive architecture, the lavish furnishings, the travelogue locations, the manicured lighting, the accoutrements that fabricate the sense of order and beauty, luxury, calm, and sensuality [...] All that’s missing is the Web site offering Elio-and-Oliver tours through the Italian countryside, with a stopover at the Perlman villa'. I do, however, disagree with Brody's need for the characters to be constantly discussing their opinions and experiences. This is film, not theatre, and much can be conveyed of a character's interior by the sharing of a fleeting look or a nervous swallow.

            Ellen E Jones (also in The Guardian) wants us to believe this coming-of-age tale 'beautifully conveys the universality of a specific human story', but can anything that confines itself within the high walls surrounding such a narrow echelon of society really be deemed universal? Does Guadagnino, on the premise that the Perlmans have the excellent good taste not to gild their home like a Trump Towers eyesore, expect me to identify with them, to feel what they feel, with the lavish breadth of time and money and social standing that sets them way apart from almost anyone I know? The temptation here is to think you are like these people, when really all you want is to be them.

            Most reviews note Elio's precocious musical abilities and one or two even describe him as a genius. But of course he is a genius: he has literally nothing else to do all day but read and think and transcribe Bach on his baby grand piano. The family spends all its summers, Hanukkahs and Christmases hanging around in Italy being brilliant, and I dare say Elio is hardly returning to New York in term time to a Saturday job toasting waffles at the iHop in Jamaica, Queens. With his pedigree he bloody well ought to be a genius. No odds were overcome in the process.

            On that note, let us digress, at last, from my personal, chippy, working class grumblings and address the real shadow on the lung of this otherwise radiant film: the love. Spoiler alert, the love is not only consummated, it is consensual and socially acceptable. Now, I, like many others, applaud this refreshing portrait of gay love sans violence, repression, identity politics and AIDS. At last, a love affair between two men allowed to flourish without the threat of tragedy we have shamefully come to expect (Brokeback Mountain; Moonlight; Holding The Man). Hoorah! And yet, this story is so entirely free from conflict that it contains precious little drama. Midway through the plot Oliver requites Elio's infatuation and voila! It's gayme on. Nobody minds and the pair have a lovely time discovering one another's bodies. Here, without the peril or conflict critical to sustaining a plot, any plot, our anticipation has been satisfied and the film loses its tautness, it slackens and sticks to the table like a wet gluten-free spaghetti noodle. Unfortunately drama requires conflict, that's just science. Post-coitus, it is no longer enough to show beautiful, half naked men merrily basking in an orchard or cavorting in a picturesque river scene, the tension has dropped out of the story's bottom. Many of these frames would be better featured as urn motif than mainstream cinema.

            Then again, perhaps that was the director's intention, to bring Greco-Roman fable into a contemporary setting. The film's very title is half of Oliver's instruction to Elio to 'Call me by your name, and I'll call you by mine', a moment which, for me, unambiguously invokes Nemesis luring Narcissus to the pool where he will idle away the days staring at his own reflection and eventually succumb to a watery death as punishment for his hubris. Their names, Elio and Oliver, almost anagrams of one another, mingle like Viola and Olivia, implying a conjoining of two into one, like man with his reflection. While for some this may seem a fabulously Byronic notion, imagine for a moment, if you will, holding your lover's face while you stare into their eyes and then uttering YOUR OWN NAME. Such moments, drunk on the pastoral bliss of Italian holidays, graze the surface of parody.

            But more than parody, I would go as far as to call the whole premise kitsch. Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being defines kitsch as 'the absolute denial of shit.' Admittedly Kundera is writing in a political sense and applying the artistic qualities of kitsch to communist doctrine, however, the aesthetic principles apply. Although Guadagnino makes attempts at naked humanity, at awkward embarrassment —most notably in an erotic scene featuring a juicy peach — he cannot fully commit to error, to fumbling, he is in absolute denial of ugly while asking us to believe this is real life. Call me By Your Name takes itself so seriously that there are no cracks for the light to get in.

            Saving grace comes late in the day at the eventual parting of Oliver and Elio. Such parting is sweet sorrow — in no way acrimonious — but kills all the same. Elio is heartbroken and Chalamet's virtuosic acting talent shifts into a brand new gear. Stuhlbarg, as that adorably modern, liberal and implausibly communicative father everyone wishes they had, delivers a tender speech (extract below) on the merits of pain, quietly, sympathetically urging his son to feel and feel deeply. Here, all the tolerance, love and acceptance in the world cannot slake the excruciating ache of first love lost.

    "In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!"

    - Professor Perlman in Call Me By Your Name

  • Classical Music: Is it ok to drift off? How do you know when to clap?

    Since shacking up with The Bassman I have found myself, let's say 'compelled' to go along and watch more live orchestral music than I had attended in my life up to this point. Thus, I am appreciating music on a whole new level and even managing to be influenced in my own creativity. For instance, who has ever listened to the whole of that Strauss thing from 2001: A Space Odessey? Crumbzif you get the chance to hear it played live I must insist you do not hesitate. Words cannot convey the startling originality of that piece, real name: Also Sprach Zarathustra. Just Wow! Strauss was weird and bold and wondrous before his time. A prog genius. On another occasion, my birthday last year, I was treated to Holst's The Planets... all of them. At first this birthday gift seemed awfully like the times an ex gave me a surfing holiday and lingerie for my various birthdays. Who were those really for? However, I greatly enjoyed my tour of the solar system and the relationship has survived. I mean, I drifted off somewhere around Jupiter and again in Uranus but I drifted to a deeply creative mind-space in which I began mentally writing dialogue for a play, conjuring scenes, filling plot holes. This musically induced state of hypnosis turned out to be a genuinely industrious one. The music provided tangible clarity and inspiration, indeed even if you are not an artist you might just find immersion in classical music helps to solve real, practical problems and straighten out your thinking.

    This week I went along to watch The Bassman performing some iconic Greig, among other, less iconic, Nordic-themed stuff. The event was called Nordic Gems (which I'm sure is also the name of an independent shop on Totnes high street selling crystals and dream catchers). It was my first live experience of In The Hall of The Mountain King which brought a childhood memory flooding back. As a small person, whenever this piece of music came on in our house I was on my tiny feet and marching around the living room, advancing with the music into a frantic jog and finally an all out kid-going-absolutely-mental type of exorcism thing, as if I'd tasted my first bag of sugary sweets. In The Hall of The Mountain King is pure refined musical sugar to a child under seven. It's the anticipation of the doubling tempo as much as the march itself. Joy!

    But, more importantly, my new expertise in the field has left me confidently equipped, at last, to explain the etiquette of the classical concert. So go ahead, book your tickets and brush up in advance, right here, on what to do on the night!

    Firstly, classical music rests largely on faith and not so much on merit. Unlike in the theatre, you clap at the beginning when they haven't done anything yet, but not at the end of a movement, even if they've done something spectacular.

    At Nordic Gems this week the orchestra came on stage, to applause, and took their places behind their timpani drums, beneath their violins and astride their cellos to await the arrival of the conductor. They sat for some time and, curiously, he didn't appear. I thought, 'is this normal?' As much as three full minutes passed in complete silence as sixty musicians sat and just looked out at us. And we looked back at them and we all sat looking at each other. Nothing. Stillness. No one polished a horn or twiddled a string, no one smoothed a skirt or scratched an earlobe. No one even looked to the door! And in this abject void it dawned on me that this ability to sit on a fully lit stage in front of a paying audience and appear entirely comfortable not performing was the exclusive preserve of the musician. An actor couldn't do it. An actor simply couldn't not raise an eyebrow, acknowledging the awkward pause; or else click his posture into the poised, focussed deliberate stance of a dancer. An actor would do SOMETHING. Even if an actor did nothing the actor would do nothing with purpose and intention. An actor on stage is NEVER not performing. These musicians, on the other hand, seemed to believe they were  invisible until the music started. They just sat there, humans on a stage, in unnatural circumstances but with their own natural faces just hanging there, neutral on their bodies. Well, of course I blinked first. I, an audience member, annonymous in the darkness, reached for something in my coat pocket, lip balm I think. Anything. It wasn't that I was uncomfortable, it's that I am an actor and I have been trained to inject purpose into every moment. I admired them, sitting there like that. What pleasant lives they all must lead, comfortable in their skin, in their place in the world. Yer man with the stick eventually surfaced, as they all trusted he would, they got to their feet and everyone applauded (even though he had neither done anything outstanding or revealed himself to be Imelda Staunton or Bette Midler).

    Having said all that, you can and are encouraged to clap at the very end of the whole piece. The end is easily denoted by the clapping of the more informed, more erudite members of the audience around you. It's very much like Brexit: you hadn't a clue what you were voting for, you just looked around and took your lead from a group of more confident people who seemed like they knew what they were doing. But bear in mind the end of a composition is rarely your cue to stand up and leave. Again, much like Brexit, just when you thought we were leaving, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be that straightforward. Sure, the Sibelius has finally finished and you’ve applauded, but there will often be another act featuring say, a soloist playing a Mozart piano concerto or singing a Bach cantata. Just some examples there, it could be anything.

     

    So how do you know when to leave? When all music has been played, applauded and dispensed with, you will come to recognise a ritual that characterises the definitive end-end; the end after which you are permitted to go to the pub or to the train station. The conductor, whose backside you have become acquainted with throughout the course of the evening, will finally turn to reveal his identity to the audience. It's a bit like the twist at the end of a disaster movie; you've been intermittently wondering who this mysterious stranger really is and just what significance they have to the story, when at last they turn to reveal the usually unremarkable facial features of an unassuming, middle-aged white male wielding a mysterious amount of influence on a great section of perfectly capable people who have long since forgotten that, had they only marshalled to listen to and trust one another, might get along just fine relying on their own collective skills, and dispensed with this elite, self-appointed apex of the social hierarchy altogether. It's the moment a fed up farm girl from Kansas draws back the curtain to reveal not a great Wizard but a quivering mortal man pulling all the levers of the societal machine from behind an illusory screen of power and authority. You can clap then.

     

    Next, the Wizard will indicate with a series of ostentatious flourishes of his wand for the horn section to stand and accept its applause; for the wind, reed and brass to also stand; the percussion and finally the vast string section to stand but (crucially) not bow. No one bows at this point except for the Wizard. Think of it as a sort of backside correction: the person whose bum has been facing toward the audience the entire time now feels that to turn and face you isn't quite enough of an apology. So, in addition, he will draw his arse backward and tip his head forward, as if to say "Awfully sorry about that. Can't be helped. But just to prove it's nothing personal, I'll give the orchestra a good eyeful of my bum too. I'm nothing if not fair."

     

    After showing his arse to the musicians, the Wizard then leaves the stage through a door on the right (keep clapping but don’t get up just yet) presumably to emphasise he's one of the good guys. This I know from Panto tradition in which the hero and co. enter and exit from Stage Right and the villain always enters and leaves from Stage Left; Panto, I guess, being an Anglo cousin of the Italian tradition of Comedia d'el Arte, and the Italian for 'left' being sinistra, literally sinister. In fact, the Italians have in recent times invented a brand new word for 'left-handed.' Mancino, serves in place of sinistra as if to avert the inevitable classroom tears when left-handed children are wrongly implicated, by their involuntary dexterity, in a great, evil plot to take over the world.

     

    So, the good guys enter and leave by the Stage Right door, and by good guys I mean the Wizard and the first violin, which does leave me to wonder about my fellow and his double-bass chums who never fail to use the Stage Left entrance. After that it gets a bit hazy, if I'm honest. The Wizard and first violin — you can think of them as Burns and Smithers — embark on a short farce-influenced vignette in which they leave and re-enter muliple times via that right-hand door. The Wizard departs, the violin bows; the violin gestures to the rest of the orchestra to stand; they remain standing while the violin exits right as if in pursuit of the Wizard who, seemingly due to an unexpected onset of Alzheimer’s, has lost his way in the annals of the concert hall; or else discovers, in the greenroom say, that he had kept the other two fingers of that Kit Kat uneaten in the front pocket of his bag and decided now would be a good time to have them. In any case, the orchestra is left standing on stage — all the while you continue to clap — until eventually the Wizard reappears chaperoned by the first violin (Smithers) and discreetly licking the corners of his mouth. They each take another bow, applauded by the orchestra who are then allowed to sit once more before finally standing again to watch Smithers and Burns leave for the last time. Finally the orchestra sits down, even though they're about to pack up and go home, and the applause will die down. It’s a bit like Smithers and Burns are playing Whack-a-Mole with the orchestra, but the oppressors are gone for good the moles all shuffle about, invisible once more, to put away their instruments and file out in no particular order.

     

    End of the day, you are not expected to remember all this. Just relax, enjoy the show and follow the crowd. When a lot of people with grey hair start collecting their things you are free to go. I’ll just leave you with a final tip: classical concerts are not like other concerts you may have been to. Please, take it from me, it is never ok to film the whole thing on your phone, sway back and forth in the slow numbers with a cigarette lighter held aloft, crowd surf or light up a doobie and pass it to the lady in the twin-set beside you.

    Happy listening!

     

  • OMFG What The Hell Happened To Kirsten Dunst, Am I Right?

    was probably the clickbait headline of a handful of dot.com "zines" after their respective entertainment "reporters" saw The Beguiled.

     

    I wondered it myself only last night as I scoffed popcorn and wine in a Piccadilly Picturehouse watching Sofia Coppola's bellum era drama set in Virginia.

     

    What happened to her? It seems only yesterday Kirsten Dunst was tripping, lithe as a pre-Raphaelite nymph, from one Spiderman sequel to the next as the enticing juvenile love interest of—admittedly—a hominoid arachnid. But now she's like old n' stuff.

     

    Kirsten Dunst is a bit younger than me and first came to my attention in 1994 as the goldy little ringlet in Interview With A Vampire (remember?) But last night I saw someone so world-weary and worn I could scarcely believe she deigned to be there, so flagrantly defying all the laws of Hollywood.

     

    Even playing a chronic depressive in Lars Von Trier's agonising ache that was Melancholia (2011), Dunst is beautiful, angelic in a wedding gown, voguey in a veil in a bathtub. But of late, no, not so much. No chic, just human. A carbon-dioxide machine, like you and I.

     

    And then I realised she was sharing the screen with Nicole Kidman, who isn't defying any laws except those of gravity. Nicole Kidman is playing ball, staying thin, working out, working the camera, having work done to her flesh, her facial flesh, prizing apart the ever-closing walls of age with all the core strength her pilates can muster. Our Nicole—as we like to call her Downunder—is exquisite in her sheer length. With her draped and beanly presence she commands the screen, sliding, eyebrow first, in and out of frame like liquid ribbon.

     

    Kirsten Dunst, by comparison, plods into shot with all the grace of a taxidermy wombat. Dead-eyed and tufty.

     

    Upon leaving the theatre my friend remarked "so brave of her." But he did not mean that she was brave to be ugly, as is so often thought of  "real women" on screen. No, my friend continued by saying how brave she was to do nothing. Kirsten Dunst in this film is quite captivating in her stillness, it's as if the stiller she is the more you want to look at her. Just like John Malkovich, like Casey Affleck, like Spacey and Rickman and Pacino, like brilliant do-nothing dudes. The pilot light is always on but the gas is turned way down low.

     

    In the midst of the American civil war a Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell) lies wounded in the forest. A little girl in pigtails finds him and brings him home - a little confederate girl. Home is the overgrown plantation-come-schoolhouse, now barren of slaves, where five lonely southern girls continue to be taught by a head mistress, Miss Martha (Kidman) and her subordinate, Miss Edwina (Dunst.)

     

    Miss Martha, to the relief of everyone, resolves to protect the enemy soldier and nurse him until he is well enough to be on his way.

     

    It's basically a tale of flushed and clammy female desires stifled under the weight of war and drowned out by the warm, invisible din of crickets barking in the long summer of a bygone male fantasy. It's Tennessee Williams without the wit.

     

    The Guardian calls it "hilarious" and uses other kind words to describe Coppola's attempt such as "terrific gusto" and "insouciant wit" but, perhaps I'm dim, I could discern no pastiche, no homage to melodrama, no tongues in no cheeks. Just a bit wide of the mark.

     

    The film's only visible buoy is the mesmeric Kirsten Dunst, and not only because she's brave and still but because she's genuinely sexy. And that's where it falls apart. The plot wants you to believe that Farrell's character, the gorgeous Irish soldier, Corporal McBurney, declares his love to Miss Edwina only as a means to manipulate a weak and desperate woman. I know this because the audience in our screening audibly scoffed when he told her he loved her. The soft Virginian light fell through the window upon her silhouette in such a way as to remind us of her doubling chin and her beady, bitter and crumpled gaze and we thought it ludicrous that HE should ever love HER. Her, of all people, when he's engulfed by fawning, nubile femininity, and by Our Nicole - our gazelle.

     

    But in fact Dunst, though crumpled, is authentic, is bare and broken and completely herself. And it's just the sexiest thing, a human person naked in her frayed and scuffed-up skin. Her raw and stiffened carcass, screaming to be touched, is utterly enthralling. Why wouldn't the Corporal fall for her?

     

    I read that Coppola had asked Dunst to lose weight for the role, to which Dunst essentially replied with a shrug. Sorry, nup. I'm 35, it's harder than it used to be. I think we can all relate to that. I read this in the Daily Mail and the article went so far as to say "luckily for Dunst the two were old friends...and so she still got the job" or something like that. Luckily for Dunst? Luckily for Dunst? It's clear to me which of these two got the deal of the century from their collaboration. Christ! Why are actors still perpetuated as feeble, clawing trolls, desperate for jobs even way up in the echelons of megastardom? Sofia Coppola would not have a movie if it weren't for Kirsten Dunst.

     

    Kirsten Dunst, with her snakey eyes at never more than half-mast, lips thinner than ever and some form of rigour setting already into her frame, is somehow kinda gorgeous. And I don't mean sleepy-dreamy-sexy, I mean knackered. I mean to describe a woman who couldn't give a fuck that the world expects her to smile right up in the backs of her sinuses and blow bubbles behind her very eyeballs to emit some moronic pretence of youth, a woman who has better things to do than gum that idiotic mask onto her bones every day. And, let me tell you, it's sexy as fuck.

     

    Don't get me wrong, Our Nicole is a cracking actress and all, but why is she cast so often in period drama? Her face is not her face. It's hard not to be distracted from the story by a person wafting about in the midst of the civil war sporting a Rodeo Drive facelift. You just think why, before it was too damned late, did no one ever think to cast Joan Rivers in a sincere biopic about Jane Austen?

     

    Mostly the characters in The Beguiled are faintly sketched in pencil and upstaged by the Ionic columns and wispy Spanish moss who, even then, fail to haunt or truly suffocate as they ought. Kidman writhes between pouts and purses, straightening, arching and breathing that sharp, 19th Century intake that gives life to a set of repressed and oh-so-coveted collarbones.

    Then in trundles Dunst, inside her own shadow, moving like a stone, short-necked and slug-eyed like a tree stump in a corset—Even her name, Dunst, is reminiscent of both dunces and dumpsters—As Edwina she is clearly supposed to represent some epitome of the ordinary, the single most unlikely object for the affections of the dashing Corporal.

     

    Her chances should be slim-to-none as her main rival is the pubescent Miss Alicia, played by Elle Fanning, who reaches for, but misses, that other brand of slack-eyed beauty, the one that's been owned for many years now by Kristen Stewart - disturbing, undead, a sort of capricious virginity lit only by the flicker of the beholder's imagination. Fanning's Alicia is young but in no way truly tempting, ironically she's plainer, more invisible, than our designated plain Jane, Miss Edwina. The film is confused and not in a good "just-like-in-life" way.

     

    Instead it is Edwina you wish you could prize open and release. It is really only her you care to spend any time with and I think for that reason this performance is an important one in the history of women on screen. The performance evidences actual female attractiveness in middle-age sans surgery, sans crunches, sans fad diets, sans Brigitte Macron. Dunst has what she always had, talent. And that single virtue trumps any asthetic imaginable.

     

    The Guardian review also ventures to derive some thread of a feminist upshot from Coppola's interpretation of the original 1966 novel but all I could discern was a swoon of females, cuckolded by a raging mistress—the war itself—and all too ready to scratch out one another's eyes at the mere scent of a man. For me it lacked complexity and integrity, two virtues that ooze from the inimitable Kirsten Dunst.

     

    I fear I've been harsh on this film but, perhaps perversely, I've had a lovely Friday night! Who else can say they kicked off the weekend guzzling Bombay Mix and googling "taxidermy wombat" late into the evening?

  • There’s method in the madness and music in the maths.

    Two things have got me thinking about something I find very difficult to think about: Maths.

    The word alone has me rummaging around in the bathroom cabinet for headache tablets. Don’t know about you but I am barely numerate and therefore not altogether sure how I’ve made it to this age without bungeying headfirst into bankruptcy or dying a slow and agonising death from overdosing on ibruprofen because I can’t count to two.

    And yet, thanks firstly to Hidden Figures and later to The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night Time, I have been giving some thought to maths—well, as a concept admittedly, rather than actual sums—Like broccoli hidden in a toddler’s dinner some clever people have been spoon-feeding me maths dressed up in fun stories.

    This is the first of two blogs about maths and it focuses on The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time:

    Londoners, now is your last chance to see The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time. It’s great and it closes next month! Last Tuesday night this dedicated and discerning theatre-goer sighed, snorted, guffawed and wept, alternately and simultaneously—and posthumously—through Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best selling novel.

    If you don’t already know the book of the same name, it’s essentially a suburban detective story told through the eyes of a brilliant and difficult teenaged boy called Christopher. No, it’s the brilliant and difficult story of Christopher draped over the wiry shoulders of a suburban detective story; it’s about a dog called Wellington found dead with a pitchfork in his guts; it’s about life’s ordinary peculiarities and how they’re all a bit fucking hard to navigate when you have autism.

    This story and its telling got me in a right old ache. My heart ached for the misunderstandings, the white lies and hard edges; my grin ached from all the times Christopher announced “I don’t do chit chat” or “The other pupils at my school are very stupid. I know you’re not supposed to say that but that’s what they are;” I ached in my tummy where it tumbled and in my joints where I yearned to reach out and sort of cradle all the people and tell them to be patient, keep listening, try not to get angry and it will all be ok.

    Christopher (played by Joseph Ayre) struggles to fit in to a world that doesn’t always make sense, where his favourite colours are red and green but he can’t stand brown or yellow and some things are brown and some things are yellow; an existence in which his mum and dad are separated and, although they love him, are not always honest with him. But one thing that never lies is maths. With maths he knows where he stands, nothing is open to interpretation, there are definitive, absolute right answers and wrong answers and so, it’s safe there.

    Christopher’s love of order and deduction, his pursuit to reduce the world and its happenings down to empirical systems of reason and measurement, offers a calm within the chaos. There is a halo around him just as clarity and truth engulf an innocent child, and also a number. The smear and smudge of adulthood, of warring, cheating, striving grownups, is thrown into stark relief by the gravity of Christopher’s dilemma when offered a slice of Battenberg from his elderly and benevolent neighbour. Battenberg is divided into delicious geometric shapes but because some sections are yellow, and he would have to eat around the yellow, he’s fairly certain that he cannot accept a slice of cake.

    Christopher mounts an expedition to London in search of his long-departed mother, Judy (played by my tremendously talented friend, Sarah Stanley): once presumed dead, but maybe she’s alive after all. Judy, not Sarah. Sarah's most definitely alive.

    The tortured screams of city trains and pulsating digital advertisements, the clot and snarl of a thousand commuters and the tight and airless underground network all conspire to create a storm of excruciating over-stimulus. But amidst this surging, swelling environmental pressure there is an eye, a pocket of oxygen that Christopher must fight to preserve. His life depends upon it. As he wrestles his monstrous and inevitable odyssey Christopher crouches down in the stomach of hell and summons the voice of his teacher Siobhan (Jo Castleton) that tells him to count: Count the cars, name the different makes. He finds peace again in collecting and collating and is able to go forward on his quest to find his mum.

    I’m really proud of him.

    Far from letting his “disability” exclude him, Christopher’s need for order is in fact his super power. Accused of murdering Wellington, Christopher must turn detective and establish suspects, motives, weapons and alibis to find the real killer and acquit himself. Investigation and deduction come naturally to him, they are practical, purposeful and soothing.

    Christopher is the only pupil in his school to sit an A-Level and when he does he becomes excited to share his experience with us, in detail. Breaking the fourth wall, Siobhan gently explains that it would be boring for an audience to be subjected to the minutiae of his workings and that perhaps he ought to just put his head down and get on with his sums. Christopher can’t comprehend how other people might be bored by the things that fascinate him and vice versa, so, Siobhan agrees to let him stay behind at the end of the show and do some maths with those of us who want to hear them. It.

    Christopher, contented with this compromise, carries on with his exam. But by the time the stage had emptied after the curtain call, the applause had died down and we were shuffling out of the dress circle, Siobhan’s promise had become a distant memory. Then suddenly the floor opened up and Christopher reappeared, elevated on a rising plinth like a rock star in a smoking shaft of light, to beguile us with his workings. I mean, I suppose some unfortunate end-of-row souls will have already departed and been stepping out onto Shaftsbury Avenue by now, making their hurried way towards the underground but for the most part we, the audience pinned ourselves, delighted, back into our seats. And there we beheld Pythagoras’ theorem.

    Heard of it, couldn’t tell you what it was, but now I’m all like “yeah, the square of the hypotenuse side of any right-angle triangle is equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides.”

    In a bright, bold diagram exercise Christopher runs around the set lighting up sections of its grid design to create giant triangles and squares on the back wall and it’s a bit like being given a free Access All Areas pass to Geometry: Live!  Why couldn't I have had him as my maths teacher?

    Ironically, in spite of the wonderful advent in British theatre that is the “relaxed performance” this show does not offer one. Relaxed performances tend to be staged a handful of times during a run in which perhaps the front few rows of seats are taken out of the auditorium to allow room for more wheelchairs (or just room to run around and do a cartwheel if you get the urge.) As well as more wheelchair access the show itself is tweaked to cater for people who might be sensitive to bright or strobing lights or, say, loud or sudden noises. People like Christopher. But The Curious Incident puts you, the audience, in the body of autism and asks you boldly to imagine what ordinary life must be like when everything is turned up to eleven. The music is full throttle and exhilarating, the lights do strobe, people say weird, unexpected things and there are a whole heap of enchanting surprises, often played out in the movement sequences by Frantic Assembly. It’s quite dazzling. Go.

    For me the general sensory overload didn’t so much paint Christopher as hypersensitive as it did the rest of us under-sensitised and maybe even, dare I say, insensitive. If, like me, you live in a noisy, polluted and overpopulated city that offers innumerable opportunities for socialising and entertainment then frankly how are you even coping? I know I’m not.

    I’m not battling autism or aspergers but I am, on a regular basis, a bit strung out by it all. Christopher’s perpetual search for truth, order and clarity, his love of reason and the universe helped me to see the beauty in the bare, the allure of a clear, visible line; his naked reality gave me an urge to declutter, restore order, always speak from the heart and keep trusting that others are doing the same. Perhaps we’re all a little bit “on the spectrum”—or ought to be?—after all Rain Man is the good guy, it’s his apparently “normal” brother who finds he’s corrupted by envy, entitlement, vanity and desire.

    Next week, maths in the movies...

  • The surprising delights of the Hinglish language

    When we refer to the pundits in sport and politics did you know we're speaking Hindi?

    If you've ever recommended a shampoo or described a house as a bungalow you have been speaking Hindi. If you've ever sat on the veranda, had a cushy job or paid for a ticket to Anaconda or Avatar using cash you've been speaking Hindi. You will have conversed in Hindi when you purchased the dinghy and again when you upgraded to the catamaran; you uttered Hindi words when you cooked your first kedgeree wearing that indigo bandana.

     

    The appropriation of isolated words from affiliate languages, such as French, German and Italian, into the English lexicon is not only well known but a comforting daily reminder of diversity, unification and a shared history amongst European neighbours. Each time I have occasion to use entrepreneur, schadenfreude or ghetto I experience a certain gratitude for the shortcomings of the world's most prevalent language, mine. As a mono-lingual English speaker I am glad to have the opportunity every now and then to make myself an inch more European with each utterance of cafe, doppleganger or ballerina.

     

    But, to sincerely acknowledge the broader truths of empire and globalisation, we must take a look further afield, beyond the Anglo-European languages and into the Indo-Aryan ones. Bits of the contemporary English language we use today have been pilfered, like the Kohinoor diamond, from India and Arabia.

     

    While not always strictly Hindi, you will have at one time or another used Tamil, Urdu or Bengali to make your point, all derivations of the world's oldest language, Sanskrit. The connection first stirred in me when I began to notice the names of the yoga postures - or asanas - I was performing in class. For instance the Sanskrit name for "triangle pose" is triconasana. Tri, I thought, as in the prefix meaning three? As in tricolour, as in Napoleon's tricorne hat? Well, clearly this is Latin and not Sanskrit. Should I tell someone or would that risk blowing the whole thing wide open? Would my astute and original linguistic discoveries stand the entire yoga community on its head like salamba sirshasana?

     

    Turns out Latin takes much of its influence from Sanskrit, and we largely have Alexander The Great to thank for such exchanges. Alexander, the King of Macedonia, took his troops on forays into central Asia circa 300BC and later the Greeks became respected in India for their skills as mathematicians. The Brokpa tribes of Kashmir are thought to have inherited their distinctive, piercing blue eyes from the cultural diffusion of Greco-Buddhism, also known as the Hellenisation of Persia. The monks of China and Tibet began to adapt the imagery of their moderate and abstemious Buddha to more closely resemble the Greek god, Apollo, who gorged on life's pleasures and was corpulent.

     

    So, whereas we may think of globalisation as a phenomenon evolving as recently as our own lifetime, the transaction of goods, cultures, foods, languages and even genes, in fact transcend millennia, giving rise to the Silk Routes between the Himalayas and modern day Turkey.

     

    Here are 10 more words you might have found yourself using without making the correlation to South Asian languages:

     

    1. Pundit

    I recently watched Gandhi for the first time and noticed they were referring to Nehru - India's first Prime Minister - as Pandit. Knowing his name was Jahawalal Nehru, I found this a bit confusing, later coming to understand that Pandit, or Pundit, is the name used to this day to denote an educated, knowledgeable or scholarly person in the community.

     

    2. Dungarees 

    Now, this is a term I only picked up after migrating to the UK because back in Australia dungarees are of course overalls. And since residing in the Himalayas I began to notice the little street vendors on the highway going north that hire out overalls to tourists bound for the high mountain passes. I assume they keep you warm but also possibly provide some protection in case of a motorcycle mishap. The dusty roadside outlets display signs offering Dangri for hire. In Hindi the 'a' is so often pronounced as 'ah' as in pandit/pundit that eventually the penny dropped and I made the connection between dangri and dungaree.

     

    3. Pukka

    Like many people not native to the East End of London, I first heard pukka to be uttered by the loveable and rarely naked TV chef, Jamie Oliver. Later I noticed the hip brand of herbal teas in pretty packaging also called Pukka. But it wasn't until settling in India it became apparent that the word originated here, indeed meaning authentic or bona fide. The Australian equivalent being ridgy didge.

     

    4. Jodhpurs

    Admittedly not a word I've had daily use for, not being a jockey or otherwise incredibly rich with a stable full of thoroughbreds. Nonetheless, on my first trip to India last millennium, I could not believe there was a city named after a pair of trousers and half expected its satellite villages to be called Cullottes, Stovepipe and Plus-fours. Jodhpur is situated in the desert region of Rajasthan where the baggy-above-the-knee/fitted-below shape of trouser was designed for ease and agility when horse-riding and, in particular, playing polo.

     

    5. Polo

    Which brings us neatly to the word itself. The game of polo originated in Central Asia and the name of the game comes from the word pulu (meaning ball) in the language known as Balti, a very close relative of Tibetan and, of course, Sanskrit before that.

     

    6. Punch

    Punch, or Paanch, just means five and the drink of the same name was brought to England from India by sailors of the British East India Company in the early seventeenth century. Punch comprises five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water and tea or spices. Beyond that I can only deduce that a punch in the face is delivered using a five-fingered fist (is there any other kind?) and is bestowed with the same name.

     

    7. Swastika 

    A sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, the swastika dates back to before the 2nd century BC. The name swastika comes from the Sanskrit word svastika meaning "lucky or auspicious object." I met a girl called Swasti. Her name in Hindi means star and its variant, Sweta, ironically means fair skinned...

     

    8. Aryan

    Along a mountain path I met a local Indian child of around 8 years old who asked me my name. When I told him it was Kali his eyes creased up and he broke into uncontrollable hysterics. Barely able to form a sentence amidst his laughter, he just about managed to explain that "Kali means black and you, you are white. Hahahaa!"

     

    When he was finally calm enough to draw breath once more I asked him his name in return. Straight faced he replied "My name is Aryan" gave a slight bow and went on his way, oblivious to the irony.

     

    Not content with swastika this lovely word, Aryan, was also misappropriated and soiled by the Nazi's during the Third Reich to denote their own fair and allegedly superior race. But its origins lie with the Indo-Iranian dialects and it was used by the people of the ancient Vedic period to describe their own ethnicity. Aryan means noble and forms the basis for the word Iran.

     

    9. Pariah 

    The south Indian languages of Tamil and Malayalam both use variants of pariah to mean a type of large drum designed to announce the king’s notices to the public. The drummers who played these instruments for a living were called paraiyar and typically came from the lower strata of the caste system. Nowadays English has adopted the word pariah to serve the derisive purpose of describing an outcast.

     

    10. Diva 

    A diva is a goddess and comes from the word divine also related to deity or deus. Officially the etymology is attributed to Latin but serves as a great example of the shared history of the two languages. In current day Hindi Dev is for god and Devi for goddess.

  • B(RE)AKING NEWS!

    I landed in the UK on Thursday and, within less than twenty-four hours, was met with breaking news! I woke up to heavy rain outside on Friday morning, brewed a pot of Yorkshire tea and put on the BBC News only to be hit in the face with an announcement that The Great British Bake-Off has moved from BBC One to Channel Four. I know, right? I expect you'll have barely left the office water cooler since the news broke. Thankfully throughout the day the BBC continued to stroke me with regular, rolling, and yet identical, "updates." And, although I haven't actually checked CNN or Al Jazeera, I hardly think I need to. This is an event to which the wider world would struggle to turn a blind eye.

    Moreover, as if to add indifference to inconsequence, neither Mel nor Sue will be going along with the show in its move across to Channel Four. The really sad fact of life is that we have become so used to this kind of upheaval that we cease to be shocked, you know? It's as if we're too desensitised to even care anymore. Personally I devoted little more than fleeting consideration to changing my Facebook profile picture to a black and white portrait of Sue Perkins eating a Victoria sponge, but in the end, I'm ashamed to admit, I didn't even bother with that.

     

    Naturally Twitter will be a twinkling vigil of disbelief, condolences, a little outrage and of course prayers but, let's face it, before you can say Banoffee Toffee Rhubarb Eaton Dick we'll all just resume whatever it was we were doing before Bake-Off changed terrestrial channels and the tumult will become normalised. We are living in times of great instability and, as they say, the only constant certainty is change.

     

    I'd hate to imply that the United Kingdom has suddenly gone stark raving mad with crown-and-sceptre-centric self-importance because I would risk being shot down in an instant by those who fiercely defend the notion that the United Kingdom has, since its inception, always been that way. But it does occur to me that we in the Remain camp were but fools to express any surprise whatsoever when this darling nation of ours elected to release her tethered tendrils from the bollards of Europe and set adrift on the Atlantic. We were so shocked and aghast, weren't we? But one glance at our media and it becomes clear that Brexit was inevitable. Inevitable all along, I say.

     

    I really have enjoyed the last day and a half huddled indoors with tea or walking among the leaves in the autumn rain. And given that I have not seen television, let alone live, rolling news coverage, for six months, there is a somewhat back-to-the-womb comfort to be found in all these simple pleasures. BUT that Great British Bake-Off, since its genesis in 2010, has given me the willies. The last time I had cause to assert warnings against the insidious malevolence of the GBBO was from the carpet of a fourth floor suite at the Marriott Hotel in Tucson, Arizona. I remember it well in spite of being very much filled up with vitriol and an entire bottle of crisp NZ Sauvignon Blanc. My homely British friends sat unblinking and bewildered on the carpet as I raged against the Bake-Off, calling it an opiate and a government conspiracy conceived to remotely lobotomise the population through its television sets; to violently abduct each and every one of us from his sense of rational perspective like the little girl in Poltergeist; to divert attention away from war and privatisation and food stamps and financial crises and onto eccles cakes and gateaux. "Never you mind fluoride in the water" I proclaimed loudly, stabbing the air with a stiffened forefinger "forget about Big Brother season forty-three, the truly Orwellian feat of mind-control is the sodding Bake-Off!"

    I felt the need to apologise the next morning for callously pissing all over the institution they held so dearly to their little praline hearts. Rather obnoxious of me. Better, I see now, to start a blog for such blood-letting.

     

    Yes, yes, alright, we all need a sprinkling of country comforts like icing sugar to take the edges off of life's hardships, a little escapism into a simpler world where a dollop of Cornish clotted cream really can, if only for a moment, help us to forget the tyranny of existence. But how heinous that that escapism, far from baking a cake, consists instead of the inertia of watching other people, complete strangers, bake a cake: a cake that you will never smell or touch or taste or swallow or be in any way able to assess or celebrate in person. This is not escapism to an alternate experience, this is television. This is yet more British television celebrating the joys of being British.

     

    The Great British Bake-Off is no better than UKIP, rallying white middle-Britain with the false notion that a unilateral approach to national security is the only way; The Bake-Off seduces and placates the majority, stroking its already inflated sense of supremacy with the assurance that remaining armchair-bound as ever and romanticising banal, domestic forays with food consitutes a valid, wholesome and commendable existence.

     

    But what a weight of culpability to place on one perfectly innocent culinary TV show! No, it's true. The Bake-Off isn't really to blame. That breaking news though, corr! When Britons being compelled to press the 'CH' arrow on the remote control three times in an upward direction in order to watch their favourite show makes headline news - not only BBC but the tabloids and broadsheets too - I mean, what conclusions are we to draw but that the British way of life is under some sort of threat of extinction, that we stand to lose something precious, something fragile, endangered and in need of preservation? It's unabashed sensationalism.

     

    I've not been back long at all and already I feel like I've stepped into some sort of propaganda machine. It's no new phenomenon that television is dominated by popular reality shows but I guess I never noticed before how much they're centred on the theme of being British. Monica Heisey has compiled a Comprehensive Guide To British Reality TV highlighting her favourites along with tips including "When to watch." You'll notice the "when to watch" guide takes on a recurring theme of docility. For instance: Tudor Monastery Farm, when to watch: "Stoned, sleepy, when it's cold outside. This show is the televisual equivalent of a comforting homemade stew."

    Likewise The Valleys, when to watch: "Absolutely braindead."

    ...and similarly Take Me Out, when to watch: "A drunk Friday night in with takeout and your dirtbag roommates."

     

    So, all of these programmes are best consumed while you are in no way lucid, alert or in your right mind. I just wonder whether self-medicating is even a prerequisite or whether the shows themselves have the power to inebriate? Whilst staying with family at home in Australia I began to genuinely look forward to imbibing back-to-back episodes of Farmer Wants a Wife. Shit, that's a great show. Sheilas, am I right? Great in the sense that crack is probably, in its way, pretty great. The formula of this agricultural-themed dating show is utterly addictive and (I'm no medical professional but) I'm pretty sure it was releasing endorphimorphidopamins that, for the duration of the show, not only lifted my mood but induced a sort of chemical patriotism for the wide brown land. The come-down afterwards was awful though, with symptoms including nausea, fogginess, emptiness, sexism and the bitter taste of regret lingering at the back of the tongue.

     

    With this sort of easy access to free and highly addictive relief in the form of saccharin television shows it seems only natural that we would enjoy sucking on the cultural teat of nationalism and become irritated when that drip-feed is interrupted by external concerns. I don't want my focus and energy drawn by a drowned Syrian infant when I could be soothing my sense of purpose and identity with a moist and gently yielding slice of Bake-Off. Let's just vote Leave and get back to our rohypno-scones while they're still warm from the oven.

  • If you don't believe me, google it

    You want me to what? No, sorry, not gonna google it. Bye now!



    Call me a sensitive old dinosaur but I'm sad, confused and genuinely worried about the future of conversation. What used to sometimes even be described as an art is now reduced to this.

     

    Don't get me wrong, if I've come to you for an answer or specific advice of which you are not in possession, by all means refer me on, suggest I consult Google if it honestly seems plausible to you that I haven't already thought to do that. Indeed Google (and possibly even other search engines, we'll never know) is a marvel of invention; a lifesaver quite probably in the literal sense; hand on heart, I'm not sure where we'd be without it or how our lives bore any real semblance of quality before its existence.

     

    I don't even mind that google is a transitive verb as well as a noun, I actually really like it. Shakespeare would have approved. In fact, as someone who swallows - albeit with the sensation of swallowing a cricket ball - the fact that "irregardless" is a legitimate word, I'm far from qualifying as a dinosaur. And besides, I do not have those two tiny arms coming out of my chest.

     

    No, my beef is not with the entropy of language, the cycles of decay or nebulous properties of grammar and definition, the truncations, abbreviations or bastardisations of English. I'm down with the kidz. Without breaking the rules we're limited in the sheer number of ways that we afford ourselves to communicate, to express and connect. If we stuck to the rules (which ones and starting when?) we'd run out of combinations, we'd run out of juice and all be talking in redundant clichés. After all, what was brillig? There's no such thing as a tove, slithy or otherwise. And how can anyone gyre or gimble? What is a wabe? Aaaaah!

    It is also my belief, that when the language police are out on patrol, turning avenues of expression into one-way streets, the complexity and sophistication of thought itself becomes arrested.

     

    If you're not satisfied with irrespective or regardless, and feel that your point would be better expressed by conflating the two, go ahead. I have no grounds to spit out my tea; if you want to tell me you literally exploded, you're tired of adulting or ask me pacifically what happened, fine, I will still make the utmost effort to take onboard whatever it is you want to get off your chest; Even in the case that you can honestly find no other word than "Look" with which to begin every single sentence, I can deal.

     

    But if you tell me to google something or other - a topic of your own agenda, something you, not I, have brought up in conversation - I won't do it. I will not google it. Sorry, got plenty of my own unanswered mysteries to be spending my golden google tokens on.

     

    If that sounds a bit mean let me clarify: My refusal to engage in that artless form of conversation is not because I'm not interested in what you're saying, it's not because I don't care. It's because you don't care. For real, if you haven't managed to retain the essential nuggets, the broad outline of the subject you assert to be so interesting, so google-worthy, then it just isn't. By instructing me to google something you're effectively telling me you were never all that passionate about it in the first place, you didn't especially pay much attention while reading it and it's possibly a pretty tenuous idea anyway. Which begs the question, if it's so entirely forgettable, why would I want to read it?

     

    And so, we find ourselves crafting our conversations, our intimate communications with people we care so much about around things we care so little for. And, I would argue, driving an ever thickening wedge into the already yawning chasm between human souls. I mean, call me over-sensitive, but I get personally offended by "google it." I feel like you're saying "I'm not going to waste my words on the likes of you. Please go away and have this conversation in your own time?" Which, again, would be acceptable if I'd even asked in the first place.

     

    Furthermore, if I want to know more, you have my word, Google will be my first port of call. I didn't need all that training as a private investigator to deduce that the internet is full of illuminating information as well as confusing and contradictory information and lots of porn. Trust me, I know what Google can do.

     

    What about arguments? Yes, they can be settled nowadays with a quick swipe, click and search. Miraculous. Don't worry, I'm not about to weigh up the pros and cons of having all the world's data and knowledge in your trouser pocket. We've been there: To the grey matter it's both a gift and a curse: we learn more stuff, we retain less stuff.

     

    But why retain stuff at all when you have the world in your pocket? Because conversation. Because connection with others. Because not being wilfully ignorant. Because not denying yourself of experience and original thought. The internet can give you data, it can even give you analysis, but, by definition it can never provide you with your own deductions, opinions, theories, reactions or, (crucially, to my mind) the skill and dexterity of debate. I'm not interested in conflict of the hurtful kind, but truly the ability argue intelligently and passionately is one of those things that sets us apart from other animals. When I see the glint in your eye, sense the fire in your belly, I want to listen and engage and sit with you long into the night picking it all apart until our pheromones perform a foxtrot in the air between us. I don't mind if you're wrong or if I'm wrong, or if we don't end up with a definitive answer or if eventually we're too drunk to remember the original question. Satisfaction comes from giving it a shot anyway.

     

    The internet is not your personality. The internet is not an external hard drive for your brain. Not one thing on the internet counts as a part of you until you have fully assimilated it. I can't love you because of an idea someone else posted online. Ok, you "liked" it, perhaps you even learned from it, perhaps an article changed your perceptions or a photograph made you cry. But please, before you tell me to google it try, really try, to communicate to me in your own words.

     

    I'm starting to find myself having conversations that imitate the functions of Facebook. I'll be talking to a person, face to face, and they'll say "Google it, look it up" or even sometimes "I'll send you the link." Isn't this exactly the same as clicking on share? Sure, fine, send me the link, but only after we've had a proper conversation about it, right?

     

    Google it has become a form of punctuation for entire interactions. Well, that's that, the end. A conversation has nowhere to go after google it so, maybe try saving it up for a bit later in the exchange?. Occasionally I think what, now? Google it now? And usually the speaker doesn't mean now, they mean in your own time. They're essentially giving you homework. It's offensive and it's alienating. Google it is such a lonely phrase.

     

    So, how can we change the way we converse in order to afford one another a little more respect? How to go about restoring the rich art of conversation and shared experience in a world that has retained its wonder but burdened our brimful minds with a hot stew in which the wheat is indistinguishable from the chaff.

     

    Well, if you read something on the internet and you're certain you had a strong emotional reaction to it - because your brain-secretary filed it away in the cabinet marked Important 2016 - then why not ask yourself why you've retained the emotional reaction and not any of the communicable details? Open up the skull and try to locate the missed connection because, while emotional triggers allow you to feel, they remain trapped inside an entirely personal experience.

     

    If you want your experiences to be shared then you need to be cultivating some other tools alongside emotions. In order to connect within communities and help one another to understand how we feel humanity developed, deliberately and organically, common languages. Some are verbal like speech, others are visual like gesture, sign language and body language. This sounds like pretty basic stuff but it's becoming clear to me that communications, like other tools, require maintenance and upkeep. Language must be, as a knife, taken to the whetstone and sharpened. Use it or lose it. And if you're content to lose it, if you're content to allow your language to fall by the wayside in rust and ruin, please, do not come to me with "Google it."

     

    And yes folks, irregardless is a legitimate word. If you don't believe me...

  • Paradise: Austria

    I have just gotten around to watching Ulrich Seidl's Paradise films from three or four years ago. The trilogy is comprised of Paradise: Love, Paradise: Faith and Paradise: Hope. I was not inspired to write about the first two because Love left me feeling a little sad and Faith turned my blood to chalk. So confined was Faith, so tautly yoked, that I had to have a 24hr interval before continuing with the second half. Where Love is colourful and fascinating Faith feels like spending a day in a windowless cell. I couldn't breathe especially well. But since I enjoyed Hope so much...Well, let's go in order.

    Paradise: Love

    Paradise: Love, on the surface, is about sex. Love is the subtext, the entirely absent theme. There really is no trace of love except in its stabbing truancy. We follow Teresa who goes on holiday to Kenya where a throng of similarly divorced, or otherwise jilted, middle-aged European women go to have sex with the impoverished local boys, trading in despair. The women pinball between beaching themselves on the white, sandy shore of a turquoise sea, quaffing cocktails at the bar and having sex with men half their age. There is certainly a fascination with the premise in of itself and that makes the film entirely watchable. In a voyeuristic way.

    But really our heroine just wants to be loved, truly loved. She tries but fails to convince the others that such a thing even exists. So, you might ask, what is she doing there? That's what I asked repeatedly. She meets one chap, Munga, who doesn't ask her for money. He takes her home to his township where she witnesses a bit of the 'real Kenya,' and spends the night drinking moonshine and getting stoned. She's never smoked pot before and, under different circumstances, it could easily be a delightfully irreverent granny-gets-high type of scene. But this film is dark, brooding even. In the morning Munga takes Teresa to meet his sister, whose child is in need of medical care they can't afford. Teresa hands over some cash and so it begins... Munga's way of eliciting and soliciting is simply a more cloaked, and ultimately hearkbreaking, method of manipulation.

    There's a degree of implausibility to this film's plot because duh - why didn't Teresa see that coming? Well, because there's a seesaw of folly in any relationship, a constant play for power. Who needs who more and to just how much maltreatment are we willing to capitulate in order to have even the illusion of affection from another human being? To be honest I wouldn't have staked my life that Munga was on the swindle, but then I'm relatively gullible. I know plenty of more discerning folks who'd have sniffed that scam a mile off. And this takes us back to the film's title. Teresa so badly wants to be loved.

    I won't give anything away but the closing shot is pure poetry. It's like the whole journey has lead up to, and becomes distilled in, this one dynamic, cynical and hilarious moment. And it draws very much on Seidl's signature shot, which I'm going to call ducks-in-a-row. He likes to have things lined up and paraded in military formation, whether its tall trees in a forest or reluctant overweight teenagers doing chin-ups or, as in Paradise: Love, young Kenyan men who are allowed to stand on the beach outside the resort, but only behind the rope that separates them from the patrons. There they stand, all day long, stock still and on display in the hot sun.

    "You have to smell their skin, it's unforgettable" says one of the more brazen Austrian women.

    "Whose skin?" asks Teresa innocently.

    "The negroes'. It smells of coconut. I could lick and bite them forever."

    And being Seidl he has the Kenyan barman standing right there at the back of the scene. It's an awful word to have to resort to but Paradise: Love is interesting. Sincerely that - very interesting.

    Paradise: Faith

    Paradise: Faith follows the expressions of devotion of Ana Maria, a Christian woman who spends her paid leave from work, not going on holiday, but removing her clothes in front of a wall-mounted crucifix and self-flagellating for her sins before going out and about in the neighbourhood, trying to convert Muslim immigrants to Christianity.

    Quite early on it becomes apparent that every single frame puts Ana Maria at its dead centre, each shot is composed in perfect symmetry and once you notice this it becomes unnerving, like some sort of obsessive compulsion. The fearful symmetry and small spaces - the crippled indoorsyness of the film - tests your sanity and therefore, in persevering to the end, it tests your faith. Watching this film is like the endurance of penance itself. We're granted momentary relief when a second significant character shows up but their relationship soon begins to wring at the already parched cloth of our patience.

    Where Love works on the premise of sympathy - everyone ideally wants to be loved and not used for sex or money - Faith has a harder job in eliciting sympathy from what is presumably a largely secular western audience. Our leading lady is a human so, we've got that, but I tell you Faith is a slippery fish to hold on to.

    Paradise: Hope

    If Faith is a cross-country three-legged race in the snow, Hope is champagne. Hope, although it charts the humiliations of a parade of hapless and overweight teenagers at Diet Camp, fizzes with youthful energy. Where the two previous films lack a single moment of sincere abandon, Paradise: Hope serves up some delectable canapés, diet-sized mouthfuls of genuine joy.

    In one brief scene the dietician teaches the children how to be present with food, how to engage the conscious and savour the blissful sensations of one small, sweet treat. You can do that with this film too.

    Obviously there's the scene in which the kids are all marched out into the grounds and made to stand in a line singing "If You're Happy And You Know It Clap Your Fat" but there are also these adorable improvisations - some will make you cringe and laugh at the same time - like when the girls lie at unflattering angles on the bed, their white knees huge in the foreground, and talk shyly but explicitly about sex.

    And a strangely beautiful night of raucous and clandestine play, involving naked boys so fat they could fill a DD-cup, spinning the empty beer bottle to determine who will be kissed or which item of clothing must be removed. But there is no humiliation here. In the sanctuary of one another's company they're all perfectly comfortable with their bodies, free from the judgmental gaze of the strict physical trainer or the dietician who has no personality at all. They're free to be kids - albeit kids on the cusp of adulthood - and there's an exciting trepidation like chicks learning to fly. You suddenly wonder whether you'd take a few extra rolls of fat to have your whole life ahead of you once more.

    It's these all-shook-up-like-a-coke-can moments that make Hope far sexier than Love. Love is very dark, whereas Hope is full of love. To elaborate on how much sex actually occurs in Hope would be to spoil it for you but, bearing in mind the people having sex in Paradise: Love are all dead, the sheer presence of life itself lends Hope a potent vigour.

    But, it must be said, Hope is also punctuated with real danger. There are a few truly frightening moments that will have you holding your breath.

    Although the photography in all three films is resplendent and the characters do overlap, they are but grazing, fleeting moments and so, honestly, this last one could be viewed all on its own.

  • The case for doing proper fuck-all

    Fans of Micky Flanagan will be familiar with that bit of his act where he laments the disappearance of the old, traditional activity he calls Proper Fuck-All. To paraphrase from memory "Not watching TV or reading a book, not twiddling with your iPhone but lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling, doing proper fuck-all."

     

    My mum is fond of saying her best ideas come to her in the shower. I wonder why.

     

    Well, I was in the shower myself just now and it came to me. This is literally the only 15 minutes in my day (usually closer to eight but I washed my hair) that my brain is not otherwise engaged.

     

    Even when I'm alone I'm not alone. I listen to radio podcasts any chance I get. If you find me pottering about in the kitchen Kirsty Young will often be there too with her castaway. If not Kirsty then it's Miles Jupp and the News Quiz team propped up at the kitchen bench in panel formation, salt shakers for buzzers. Richard Fidler in the pantry, Antony Funnell hiding in the cutlery drawer. So as they fill the airwaves I'm naturally thinking about what they're thinking about. I've outsourced my brain. I'm downloading to my internal hard drive and uploading very little.

     

    But in the shower. Ping! Ideas, solutions, threads, the urge to write, to create. What a shame it's such a short part of the day.

     

    What about meditation? Well, the brand of meditation I have studied - Vipassana - is really focussed on training the mind to become acutely aware of physical and atmospheric sensations on the body. That is, of course, a monumentally reductive description but the idea is not to indulge the free will of the brain, not to dwell and hash over the past or the future but to be entirely present with the body right now, in this moment. It's a difficult practice to master and the act of trying has endless benefits, physical, metaphysical and emotional.

     

    But one thing Vipassana meditation is not is thinking time. One is encouraged to acknowledge a thought that might enter the mind but then to deflect the thought, sending it gently on its way, to strive to perfect the art of banishing thoughts and thus purifying the mind. Don't think for a second this meditation malarkey is about making a quiet space in which to have a good old think. No, the effort employed in not thinking is exhausting!

     

    So, between consuming media, interacting with other people and banishing all thoughts from the mind, when are we supposed to allow original and productive thought to occur, to generate, gestate and to hatch? Unlike Micky Flanagan I am a woman of Jewish heritage and feel a degree of guilt at the best of times, but especially when I'm doing fuck-all. What, just sit there? Thinking? What if someone sees me? I'll look like a right nutter. Banish the thought!

     

    And so, the realm of deep thinking is unfairly curtailed to the minute sliver of time when you're brushing your teeth or scrubbing under your armpits because these activities are necessary - ie. we can't be accused of anything while we're engaged in them - and they don't require any brainpower. No problem solving, no decision-making, no emotion. It's why I love train travel and you probably do too. I don't even take a book on the train anymore, or the bus. I know I won't read. All I want to do is look out the window and catch up on some long neglected thinking.

     

    I had a boyfriend once who - no joke - took 45 minutes in the shower (now, I see what conclusions you might draw but this blog is a space for high-brow philosophy, ok? Take your smut elsewhere.) And though I judged him then for stealing lazy, wasteful indulgent time - not to mention water - for himself, I now see that perhaps he was just claiming what we should all be valuing a little more highly, space for deep thought.

     

    Personally, since the year 2000 I have enjoyed brushing my teeth for at least ten minutes, twice a day, and only eased off about a week ago when one of my poor teeth became sensitive: I fear I may have actually worn away the enamel with overthinking.

     

    As I mentioned in a previous blog about digging holes and photocopying, I have always had a proclivity toward RML - repetitive manual labour. It's a gift! It's time and space away to think. Gardeners and bricklayers must be the most cerebral people on the planet. Between them they'll have surely figured out the solutions to global poverty and warming by now. They're just too knackered at the end of the day to write it all down. And that's why they should be allowed time for doing proper fuck-all. It's high time we started to look to people who work with their hands for some intelligent thought and analysis.

     

    Why do you think China has become such a formidable world super power? Easy: sweatshops.  The government are hooking up mathematical mind-reading electrodes to 9-year-olds and sitting them in front of sewing machines for 23 hours a day. The children sit and work and think, and think and work and the government harvests the data to feed it into a giant gelatinous cerebrum disguised as a golden statue of the Buddha which processes all the intelligence and turns it into cryptonite.

     

    All we need do to compete is to reinstate manual industry: reopen the mills, mines, factories and sheep sheds of the western world and employ workers on a part time basis: thus creating more jobs, increasing GDP, saving on water and carving out critical afternoons for doing proper fuck-all!

     

    By the way, if you have one of those waterproof radios in the bathroom give it away. You're being robbed of precious minutes in the shower when you could be getting slippery and sudsy with your brain. Use it or lose it, my friends. Meanwhile, I must dash. I've planned very little this evening, nothing in fact, proper fuck-all.

  • PT Anderson: an autopsy of genius and Inherent Vice

    There is intelligence and then there is intelligence. And then there is genius. But what exactly distinguishes that - shall we say divine - creative spark from the wits to simply ace an IQ test?

     

    When I was about 10 or 12 my parents had me sit an IQ test of which I have very little recollection. I sat at a small table in a small room with a moderator taking notes as I pieced together puzzles made from wooden blocks.

     

    I was never given the results for fear they might inflate my self-esteem or obliterate it. But I didn't have to wait long before I overheard my father in casual conversation with a friend. "Thank fuck my kids aren't gifted" he said.

     

    Since then intelligence and intellect are two things I have pondered the meaning of. I mean we know when a person is intelligent, don't we, and it isn't strictly because they can recite a bunch of dates from history or quickly calculate the exact number of toothpicks spilled on the floor. Lord knows! Intuition is often observed as a kind of intelligence, as is lateral thinking or the ability to convert those dates from history into a semblance of meaningful analysis. Creative people are often intelligent people but it isn't unusual for them to be deslixyc or have say, poor numeracy skills. It seems to me that the measure of intelligence is something innate, immediate and active rather something learned or acquired.

     

    Intellect, on the other hand, what is that? To be intellectual? This surely pertains to academia, as opposed to artistry or emotional intelligence. Or perhaps an intellect is particular to humans... a computer can have A.I. - artificial intelligence - but it can't have an intellect, can it? None of these musings provide a concise definition for words we tend to use very readily, almost daily. We ought to know what they mean.

     

    When I was 17 I decided that the answer was curiosity. Curiosity = intelligence. By that I mean to say the fundamental desire to go on learning. Curiosity is what drives a person to read, to ask questions, to obtain knowledge and then I suppose to put it to use. Not the desire to amass knowledge for the sake of collecting and collating but a sincere and intrinsic fascination with the riddle of the unknown, a need to understand how it all fits together.

     

    In the theatre we tend to say for an actor to be interesting he must be interested. And I think that goes for life in general. I don't know that it can be manufactured, only that those people sated with the knowledge they have so far accrued are the most boring people I've had the displeasure to meet. No matter how eventful their lives have been. When you've seen enough you might as well be dead.

     

    But what about genius? Well, I see now that genius cannot be encapsulated by curiosity alone but must be evidenced in output: whether it be sculpture, literature, music or the theory of relativity. Where intelligence can simply be experienced, genius must create. Think of it like downloading and uploading. The intelligent being is identified by his or her ability to download information and processes it; the genius can only be measured by what he then uploads back into the world.

     

    Wikipedia's etymology section has this to say: The noun is related to the Latin verb genui, genitus, "to bring into being, create, produce", as well as to the Greek word for birth.

     

    As an artist I am confined to speaking in the realm of the arts. So, I apologise for excluding the sciences and any other fields in which genius may be identified, such as football. But I do heartily welcome comments and input where my own experience falters.

     

    The arts are of course subjective, but I would argue that some things are, for all intents and purposes, universally accepted as pretty bloody good. You don't have to like Michelangelo to accept that many regard him as a genius. Or better yet as having genius or being possessed of genius. Genius being, I suppose, an incredible scientific and mathematical eye for perspective combined with an intuition for humanity, pathos and passion that seems to have run in his very veins, all put together with such immaculate execution of artistry that one could be forgiven for mistaking God himself as the creator of David.

     

    It is not by some flamboyant accident that I refer to the divinity of genius, for the original definition, as used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, is not some gift within ourselves but rather an external force of nature. The ancients believed that every artist, possibly every person, was accompanied by a daemon - you might remember the concept borrowed by Phillip Pullman in his His Dark Materials trilogy in which human characters are each appointed a guardian in animal form. A daemon - Well that stems from the idea of the creative genius as understood by the ancients.

     

    Elizabeth Gilbert describes the daemon beautifully in her TED Talk. You don't have to read Eat, Pray, Love to appreciate Gilbert is one of the most engaging speakers to grace the TED stage. She is wonderful. She explains that once you understand that your daemon is in the room with you as you create you are suddenly no longer entirely responsible for the outcome of your work. If you suck and whatever you've created is a horrible failure then the blame doesn't rest squarely with you alone. Your daemon must share in the responsibility, which leaves you with the permission to dust yourself off and try again. And if your work is a sensational triumph, again you must share your accolades with your daemon and not get so big for your boots that you are no longer able to create truthful art.

     

    As long as you show up to do the work you will be protected by the fact you are always working in a team. Nothing is created alone and therefore there is no such thing as the human genius.

     

    Just ask Diego Maradonna - he was humble enough not to take full credit, but share his genius with the divine.

     

    I had started out wanting to talk about the genius of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, with only a brief preface exploring the question of genius itself and what even is it? But now that I've watched Inherent Vice (2014) I want to ask a broader question about expectation and perfection.

     

    Let me backtrack a little. I try not to rhapsodise in empty extremes because if you haven't watched the films of P.T. Anderson you will not be any better enlightened by my telling you how amazingly, brilliantly uniquely fascinating and surprisingly delightful they are.

     

    Having seen the others multiple times I was saving up Inherent Vice, the last, to then write some in-depth analysis expounding on the grace and beauty of his bold visuals and his exquisite casting, not only of the absolute cream of Hollywood's acting talent, but of its photographic and musical personnel. Unfortunately though, Anderson must now take his daemon on an L.A. bar crawl, get shitfaced on tequila slammers and have some honest man-to-man deconstruction of what went so wrong.

     

    I'll get the ball rolling.

     

    Inherent Vice is a good enough film with a clever screenplay by Anderson based on a clever novel by the clever writer Thomas Pynchon. The film is beautifully shot by Robert Elswit with a score by the inimitable Johnny Greenwood. Joaquin Phoenix leads an exceptional cast who get lost in a film lead tediously more by action and plot than by character.

     

    And really this is Anderson's unique genius, his stories are built on the shoulders of delicate and intriguing characters. When I first saw The Master (2012) I felt a fool confessing to my friend James "I loved it! I don't know what it's about but I loved it."

    To which he replied "I don't know what it's about either but isn't it brilliant?"

    And after subsequent viewings I'm still not sure I can put it into words but I recommend it if you think you might get a thrill observing the nuanced behaviours of a vulnerable individual, ruptured and displaced, slowly seduced by the charisma of someone who isn't. The interplay between masterful actors, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix is utterly engrossing, like getting a rare glimpse of butterflies in courtship, yes, like Attenborough riffing on human behaviour.

     

    Inherent Vice, like Boogie Nights (1997), is a safari park of exotic creatures, human beings whose actions are plausible within the realm of earthly activity but so far out that the whole experience veers into magical realism. Don't get me wrong, I more than most am partial to a sprinkling of the surreal: in Magnolia (1999) Anderson has the San Fernando Valley pelted with a rainfall of toads - a toadfall - for a full seven minutes of screen time. Genius. To borrow from Hitchcock "logic is dull." But the surreal should do one of two things: have significance or be frightfully moving. Inherent Vice does neither. It sometimes caves to the temptation of a kooky gag but mostly to wiggle a feather under the armpit of the lowest common denominator. And stoners.

     

    And as for character, to see Magnolia is to know the astonishing depth and complexity of Tom Cruise's talent. He is remarkable in this. Seeming to rape the air everywhere he goes, Cruise is the showman on a mission to marshal mankind to wrest back its masculinity from the clawing evils of feminism. But his performance reveals layer upon layer of tortured soul, abhorrent, angry and screaming out to be loved. Why doesn't Tom Cruise do more films like this one?

     

    But, whereas Magnolia and Boogie Nights were both about a bunch of misfits and eccentrics driven by truthful motivations, Inherent Vice is just silly. It's difficult for me to come out against the element of surprise. It's one of my favourite things about good storytelling. But without subtlety to balance out the oddity you are left with scenes like Josh Brolin not only smoking a joint but eating it, then tipping the whole tray of loose weed and apparatus into his mouth and down his gullet. Why? It's stupid and it's meaningless. The only thing salvaging that scene is the teary, stunned reaction of Joaquin Phoenix, whose character is far more interesting to watch for his inactivity.

     

    Brolin, it must be said, is a talented actor whose secret I believe I have cracked! In this film he plays an arrogant cop, "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, and is almost always eating. Usually a phallic chocolate-covered banana on a stick but pancakes feature too, as does the aforementioned grass platter for one. Well, Brolin employed this same trick when he portrayed George Bush the younger in the biopic simply called W. And it works! If Brolin had left it at bananas and pancakes, avoiding the aggressively extraneous grass bullshit, I might accuse him of genius.

     

    But wait, there are many, many more look-at-me-I'm-a-comedy shenanigans littered - and I do mean littered - throughout the movie. I love the bizarre idea that the elusive Micky Wolfman is someone who owns a walk-in wardrobe filled exclusively with custom-made ties, each printed with the naked image of every woman he's ever fucked. That's incredible enough, I don't want that diluted by a sex-kitten-playboy-bunny archetype enticing Joaquin Phoenix in a faux strangle with one of the ties. Save some budget and cut that character altogether. These characters - or, as I say, hollow archetypes - are simply given too much action when clean, still images will do. The comedy is verging on latter day Tarantino. Forced.

     

    The sad clowns that populate the 1980s San Fernando porn industry in Boogie Nights don't do especially outlandish things. It's their inner, earnest, delusional characters that make for compelling viewing. It's not what they do, it's how they are. I say clowns because, although their industry is seedy they are essentially all lost innocents, tender and beautiful. When extreme action does occur, like William H. Macy being driven to murder his remorseless slut of a wife, we get tragedy and violence served up against the plush festivity of a New Year's Eve shindig. And such action is well and truly earned in the preceding two hours of building tension, precarious relationships and decadent lifestyles. It's a portrait of decay and that means something.

     

    The very best of the bunch is There Will Be Blood from 2007. I will never forget the day I saw this film in a cinema in Berlin. I was sitting to the right of my boyfriend and on his left was the girl he was having an affair with. Or was about to. But in the midst of all that Paul Thomas Anderson joined forces with Daniel Day Lewis and Johnny Greenwood to take me on a black and fiery journey into the Californian oil spree of the late 19th Century. The unflinching theatricality of DDL drives the story of Daniel Plainview, a prospector turned ruthless oil baron, and his adopted son H.W. forging their way to wealth against the resistance of a small town church pastor (Paul Dano.) It is intoxicating in its explosive beauty and claustrophobic tension. The colours are dazzling and every shot makes you feel you are inside a gothic oil painting. Greenwood's score is as unnerving as a mouthful of tinfoil and somehow transporting at the same time, like a spectre, a character in of itself. I sat stunned in the darkness, watching the credits roll as though licking the plate after the most exquisite meal you've ever eaten.

     

    Comparing the feature films of PT Anderson lead me to wonder whether accessing genius is the act of destroying the ego: The ability to trust so innately in your super intelligence that you throw it all aside, shunning cleverness to instead make direct appeal to the soul, to beauty, to the senses, sounds and rhythms of storytelling; the courage to give over to the urges and desires of the human animal, to pitch and timbre, to pace, to colour and to light. Because it's in harnessing these sensual forces that he succeeds. 

     

    Of course the first four films* are technically brilliant but the average viewer isn't going to notice say, the ridiculously impressive 3 minutes of continuous shot that opens Boogie Nights, moving from high angle over a street scene to roving around inside the Copacabana club, and think "Holy hell! How did they do that?" It's just cool.

     

    Watch the scene here and be amazed.

     

    But you see Inherent Vice is only an intelligent film where the others are pure genius. It's intelligent because we are at all times privy to the workings of the machine. Anderson is Charlie showing us around inside his chocolate factory, making us gorge on sugary style and starving us of substance.

     

     

    The film shows promise opening on a California beach scene in a gorgeous washed out 1970s colour palette. The textures of dappled twilight and corduroy, salty weatherboard housing and a Bakelite telephone in bright turquois (not the one pictured) to match our hero's big, sad eyes. This film is appealing to all my senses, activating saliva glands as much as the imagination. I want to eat that telephone like a bag of sweets. It peels out into an old fashioned crime thriller, or a pastiche of many others, complete with broke and burned out private investigator at its centre. We follow a story - albeit barely in my case - that empties a magazine of plot twists like gobstoppers from an assault rifle and wears itself out nodding and winking to established mystery genres. What is The Golden Fang? Where is Shasta Fay Hepworth? Is The Wolfman really dead or just disappeared? Who is Coy Harlingen really working for?

    Women are mostly naked and always objectified in this film and sadly that may require its own blog. There is an unspeakably impoverished eye-roller of a scene with Martin Short basically dressed as Austin Powers, snorting prescription drugs and fucking his oriental secretary. I can only conclude that Anderson must have been snorting Zoloft and powdered eggs when he let that crap through the edit in a comedy running 2hrs 20mins.

    The plot is so dense that it leaves room only for these cheap comic tableaux and next to no breathing space for meaningful character development. The slight exception is the central role of Doc Sportello played by Joaquin Phoenix who is effortlessly seductive whether he's playing a bumbler, a creep, a voyeur, a Roman emperor, a philosophy professor or Johnny Cash. Where Phillip Seymour Hoffman left a great smouldering hole in the landscape of modern cinema Phoenix is filling it up with molten lava. He really is peerless to the point of raising Inherent Vice up to being a watchable film. A one-man show.

     

    It's as though Anderson has run himself ragged with the effort of making homage to himself and still missed the point. But Inherent Vice does prove that even genius has its fallow seasons and, in the case of PT Anderson, "enjoy your well earned shut-eye, buddy." I'm not angry, just disappointed. The genius of Anderson comes from abandoning cleverness and achieving perfection from his certain loyalty to sensuality and truth, not from smug, cerebral acrobatics. But if you are lucky enough to still have Magnolia, Boogie Nights, The Master and There Will Be Blood all ahead of you, maybe start with this one. You won't be disappointed.

    *I haven't seen Punch-Drunk Love