Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Passage on the Lady Anne

Sailing into the Twilight Zone (Image from into the Twilight Zone
This is not really a 'Twilight Zone' story despite Serling's closing attempt to give it an air of mystery. The Season Four 'Twilight Zone' episode, 'Passage on the Lady Anne' is as close as Charles Beaumont got to writing a standard drama. Goodness knows what he might have been like if they let him loose in the mainstream.
A couple whose marriage is on the rocks take a trip on a rust bucket of a cruise liner in an attempt to save their marriage. Standard fare, you might think, except that they find that they are the only people on board under the age of 75, oldsters who constantly threaten and cajole the couple to get off. This gives the producers the opportunity to trot out some excellent old stars, some regulars of The Twilight Zone series, but given here a chance to show why they got so much work. Wilfrid Hyde-White, Cecil Kellaway, Alan Napier, and good old Gladys Cooper (she who fought Robert Redford's 'Death') form part of a passenger list who have no intention of reaching their destination (whether that be The Twilight Zone or not).
Effectively Beaumont uses a nice interweaved bi-partite structure rather than just subplot/plot; each is as relevant in its own way. On one hand the couple save their marriage (conventionally, but still touchingly), on the other, the ship's crew and passengers plot their own destruction (while deciding the young couple 'need not die'). It's strange how something so sentimental could nevertheless have such an unpleasant theme running through it. Frequently I was reminded of Shirley Jackson and her 'The Summer People' and 'The Lottery'. Afterall this features a mass suicide and bizarre paranoia, and , were Beaumont not writing a 'Twilight Zone' episode, he probably would never have gotten away with it as traditional drama. Instead it can be brushed under the carpet with a few silly words by Serling as epilogue ('they disappeared into the Twilight Zone').
Needless to say the cast are excellent - Wilfred Hyde-White, Kellaway and Cooper standouts - with only Lee Phillips, as the young husband, letting the side down a little. It should also be said that director, Lamont Johnson, pulls off a few uncharacteristically distinctive shots (a close two shot by the rail, a shot through stairs), and the overall atmosphere is claustrophobic and decaying. A lot of this is achieved through the masterful stroke of using the ship's engines as a constant heartbeat to the story. Yes, indeed, there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye.
It's so easy to dismiss this episode as sentimental tosh, but think of what's actually going on (and how easy the oldsters were prepared to let the youngsters die), and you have to look again. It may be rose coloured light, but it's against a very dark backdrop. Pervading all Beaumont's episodes is a melancholy, a nostalgic yearning for a past world he could not have known (remember "Long Live Walter Jameson"). According to some sources this is his last authentic episode (later ones being ghost-written by Jery Sohl). It seems appropriate. So sad he died so young (38).

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

And Edison Said 'Let There Be Light!'

I discovered a nice piece of music among a collection of 'Russian Legends': Leonid Kogan playing an arrangement for chamber orchestra and violin by Edison(!) Denisov of a partita by Bach. Very much in the style of Tippett's Fantasia on a Theme by Corelli (by way of George Auric), though ultimately not as good, it nevertheless nearly reduced me to tears; not so much the quality as the audacity. I am an iconoclast at heart (probably why I love Prokofiev so much) and Denisov's mixing of the austere baroque of Bach with the discordant wail of the Twentieth Century proved irresistible to me. The cd continued with Shostakovich's Violin Concerto, heavy after the light, but that slow third movement is a dream.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fun, Joy and Lots of Laughter

I don't believe it! They've made a movie version of 'The Road'. Why? Not a book I would adapt.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Eye Opener!

I said in April 2007, having looked at a huge lightshow in Yangshuo by the man who would direct the Olympics opening ceremony, that the opening would be something to see. He certainly proved me right.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Dangerous Visions

I stayed up until 4 on Sunday morning watching the three episode series, 'The Martians and Us', a documentary on the history of British sci-fi, on BBC 3. Not bad, though I dozed a little in the second episode (the first on Wells, Stapledon and the gang was best, and I had seen that one before). Strange to finally see Christopher Priest, author of 'The Prestige', 'The Space Machine' and 'A Dream of Wessex', being interviewed. Not what I was expecting. He seemed very self-effacing, kind of shy and dismissive of any intellectualism. Yet he is somewhat infamous for a (justified?) attack on Harlan Ellison for failing to deliver 'Dangerous Visions 3', and well, as far as intellectualism goes, his books (including the one profiled in the series, 'Fugue for a Darkening Island') speak for themselves. Only in his reaction to the critics change of heart on 'Darkening Island' did a deeper passion show itself ("I was pretty upset about it, actually").
Oh, and Mr Ellison, get the finger out!

Labels: ,

Short Stuff

Lots of short stories being read, particularly yesterday. Some stories by Donald Barthelme (he reminds me of Steven Millhauser, but better); some Hemingway stories (two bullfighting ones, as it happens, 'The Undefeated' and 'The Capital of the World'); some stories by Conan creator, Robert E. Howard (some gothic stories set in Africa of all places; he really should have stayed away from Lovecraft, the racism is sickening); Katherine Mansfield ('Sun and Moon'; she's 'just the greatest'); Roald Dahl (more African tinged fiction; 'An African Tale'); and Paul Bowles. Although not one of his greatest, Hemingway's famous economy is much in evidence in "The Capital of the World", a pre-civil war microcosm of Spain. A little mechanical, but still nicely done. 'The Undefeated' got a mention in 'F for Fake', a late Orson Welles movie I watched on Saturday.


Damn Blogger! I had to write that last one again after Blogger mysteriously went down!

Sorting through the Collection

Hopscotching around my books at the moment. Occasionally I am still dipping into Alexis de Toqueville's insightful "Democracy in America", but I have wanted to get back into fiction and so started John Fowles' 'The Collector'. I rarely read the blurb on the back of a book, not wanting to get too much of the story beforehand and trusting instead to the author, but I kind of wish I did now. Dealing with a butterfly collector who kidaps and imprisons a young woman in the hope that she will learn to love him, you just know by page 41 when he writes "...I didn't want to kill her, that's the last thing I wanted", that that is exactly what he will do and that she will end up stuffed, down in the cellar and admired like his mounted butterflies (to be honest, by page 1 paragraph 1 when he writes "...before she came to be my guest here...", I'd already formulated that particular storyline; 'my guest'...). I hope he surprises me, but I find it difficult to go back to; spending a lot of time in the company of psychotics is not my idea of fun, which is why I tend to leave work as early as I can.


Manufacturing Consent

I watched 'Manufacturing Consent', a 1992 documentary on Noam Chomsky tonight (I'd been doing a little reading on narratology earlier this afternoon, so I was in the mood). It's exhaustive in covering a lot of Chomsky topics, but necessarily brief in how it covers them (though I'm hardly ignorant of any of this stuff anyway). Given that it was made prior to the huge growth of the Internet, I really should find out a bit more about how he feels it's aided his 'intellectual self-defence' agenda. That is actually where the film succeeds best, that is in whetting your appetite and making you want to find out more. Having said that, what I found most interesting was a conversation between Foucault and Chomsky, a conversation expanded in the extras. Chomsky, for all his radicalism, has an inviolable faith in a universal 'human nature', a faith the post-structuralists simply don't have (for most of them human nature is as much a construct of the dominant ideology as any other social product). This gives him an idealism that the more cynical/realistic Foucault has to tease. In contemplating a future Utopia, Foucault raises the reasonable point that any concept of such a distant goal will be formed by the forces that make us now, and that includes the very forces we might criticise and battle now. Chomsky, paradoxically a dreamer and a pragmatist, argues that this shouldn't stop us dreaming as without a goal we have nothing to work towards. Seldom has the difference between the European and the American academic traditions been so clearly defined.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Happy Birthday, John!

Coincidence time: for no real reason I was discussing John Huston today with Brian as he wheeled his three month old daughter (actually Brian was recording 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre', that's what brought the topic up) . One major gripe I have with the auteur theory is that it can exclude a great director like Huston because his movies are not similar enough. Surely that is a mark of a great director (and please spare me the metteur en scene shite). Anyhow that was the gist of my diatribe. When I got home I happened to go on to IMDB for other reasons and saw Mr Huston on the front page, today being his birthday (though he died in 1987). I could go 6 months on end without Huston popping into my life (well, okay, the film school named after him in Galway recently turned my job app away, but then I don't have a PhD).

Man on Wire

Philippe Petit walks between the Twin Towers

A day of flexi kept me out of work today, thank the divine powers and pantheon. Half tempted to go to an advance screening of 'Hellboy 2', I couldn't face set seating and ignored it to go to 'Man on Wire' instead. Strangely enough I was watching an account of events 34 years ago to the day, or almost. Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers on the morning of August 7th, 1974, though most of the movie is concerned with his preparations on Tuesday the 6th. It makes for a great documentary, much in the style of 'Touching the Void' without anyone, happily, falling. There is no doubt the man had guts - the shots of New York 450 meters below as he lies on the wire are sickening - and there is the temptation to ask what the incredulous Americans uniformly ask afterwards: why? However, the movie has answered this question well before the climactic walk; this, to Petit, is art, challenge and dream, and as he does what no sane person would contemplate, we do not begrudge him this goal. The same goals and dreams that drive us all in youth are what drove him, he just showed more guts than most, not by walking, but by achieving.
Entertaining though this is, you can't help feeling there is a level of the story that escapes us. The burden he places on his gang - the friends and acquaintances who help him achieve his goal - is mentioned repeatedly, but not probed. When Jean-Louis bursts into tears, or Annie cooly discusses their break-up, the audience understands, but vaguely; we can all see Petit, but he is still far away, shrouded a little in the early morning fog. And just how did that fame Annie mentions transform the tightrope walker? It's a difficult act the movie attempts and though it succeeds in walking its own particular tightrope, you kind of wish that like Petit they recrossed it a few times.


Yeah, and I'm Sorry

Lots of viewing, reading, drinking over the last few weeks. The laptop was down for a week (and internet connectivity dodgy too), so that's part of the reason for my lengthy silence, but the reality is I've been alternately lazy, angry, depressed, drunk and otherwise engaged, so apologies to that one reader in Iceland (go, Gunnar!) for the lack of writing.