Monday, 30 April 2007

Lost, one future

So once I was home, I was able to see the final episode of Life on Mars, only several weeks after everyone in the UK. There'll be spoilers in this post for it, along with spoilers for Pan's Labyrinth and Brazil.

I'll leave you a little space so you don't get ruined.

I wish there was an lj-cut equivalent.

I'm starting spoiling after the beeps.


So Sam Tyler goes back to the future, finds he doesn't like it, and suicides - to wake up again in the Seventies. It's seen as a joyous act, but while I was charmed I was also troubled by it, to be honest - it seems something of a retreat, even a defeat. As if a choice has to be made between fantasy and reality, rather than allowing each to sustain and nourish the other, to make and remake each other. It's the same at the end of Brazil, only in Brazil it's all far more explicitly sinister: Sam Lowry retreats from an unbearable world of torture and the death of the woman he loves into a fantasy escape and life with his love in the mountains. I wish Sam Tyler had given the future another go. The Seventies weren't that great. The Noughties aren't that bad. You can even wear flares, Sam, nobody will laugh. They'll think you're being retro or copying that man off the telly.

All of which - apart from the flares - set me thinking again about the end of Pan's Labyrinth, when Ofelia is killed and triumphantly enters her father's kingdom to be crowned princess. But the big difference to me is that Ofelia doesn't choose suicide: she refuses to submit and is murdered as a result. Obviously it's still hard to see it as a happy ending (not to mention her options are pretty limited when she makes that choice), but nevertheless for reasons that are currently beyond me, I do think it's a victory. I think in part that's because we - watching that film - are a necessary part of its temporality. When we leave the rebels in Pan's Labyrinth, we know they're about to lose the war. But from our POV perhaps that seems different, and their struggle was worth it, and was ultimately - through the passage of time - transfigured into a different kind of victory. In Life on Mars, we're asked to disconnect from the past - the Testcard Girl reaches forward and switches off the telly, switches us off. It's a cool shot, but I don't want the transmissions from the past to be interrupted. I want to keep on remaking them. I don't want the end of history. I want my fantasists alive and well and ready to dream another day.

ETA: I woke up this morning to make connections between this and Moorcock's criticism of something Tolkien wrote about the uses to which fantasy can be put. China Mieville sums up Moorcock's position in this interview: "In On Fairy Tales [Tolkien] says, 'Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls?' The fantasy writer Terry Pratchett puts it very simply: 'Jailers don't like escapism.' The trouble is that, as Michael Moorcock pointed out, jailers love escapism--what they don't like is escape."

But I think I'm with Pratchett on this one - jailers don't like escapism either, at least not of a certain kind. Because surely imagining the possibility of a way out is a precondition of enacting a way out. So it seems again that Sam Tyler's is a retreat backwards, not a push forwards. Ah, what do I know? You'd like to think you'd still be giving it your best pop while they're dragging you out to the firing squad, but who knows when you might end up following Sam Tyler and Sam Lowry into the consolation of your own mind, or for what reason.


The Visitor

In Spanish he whispers there is no time left.
It is the sound of scythes arcing in wheat,
the ache of some field song in Salvador.
The wind along the prison, cautious
as Francisco's hands on the inside, touching
the walls as he walks, it is his wife's breath
slipping into his cell each night while he
imagines his hand to be hers. It is a small country.

There is nothing that one man will not do to another.

- Carolyn Forché

Home again

I am back in the UK for a bit, sadly, since M. isn't, and that's just rubbish, frankly. We watched The Life and Death of Peter Sellars before I came back. Geoffrey Rush is extraordinary in it, playing not just Sellars (impeccably), but also playing other characters in the style of Sellars doing the actors playing them... if you follow me. So Peter Vaughan plays Sellars' Dad, and Rush does Sellars playing Vaughan playing Sellar's dad. Quite brilliant. My favourite bits were set around Dr Strangelove: something feels strange about them, and then you realize it's because you're seeing all those famous sets and images in colour. (Also, Stanley Tucci is hilarious as Kubrick.)

It didn't change my opinion that Sellars was a total shit, in fact rather reinforced it, but that doesn't make much difference - still a great film.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007


I am down and safe. In the middle of nowhere, with limited net access. There is a fantastic supermarket of joy and a shop that sells me bagels and coffee. Best of all - the silence. Yesterday I knocked out 5000 words and still had time to sit around reading about Jane Austen.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

On the road

Venice tomorrow. Packing is done. But am I taking enough to read?

First three books of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles. A piece of fanfic I've been fiddling with for days. Mansfield Park. Surely this will keep me going?

Perhaps I should pack something else slim...

Monday, 2 April 2007

One is starved of Technicolor up there

I decided to disprove my film=B&W / TV=colour rule by watching A Matter of Life and Death and Pleasantville.

A Matter of Life and Death never fails me. Neither does Pleasantville, for that matter, but because I saw it post-adolescence, I don't automatically think of it when I'm listing "films I love". This time, because I had recently been talking about the thoroughly stunning Pan's Labyrinth, I found myself watching the development of the brother and sister relationship.

I went and read some of the IMDB comments on A Matter of Life and Death. Someone said they thought it was rubbish. So someone explained why that might not be the case. And the first person thanked them for an enlightening reply. Internet in ideal speech situation shock. Most people just roundly abused the original poster, though, so let's not get too excited.

My weekend pills and booze hell

I watched the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line over the weekend, which turned out not to be "my pills and booze hell" but a country and western romcom, i.e. it followed the exact structure of a romcom, but held off on the comedy. I like musical biopics because the narratives are usually uncomplicated, and you're going to get good music. I direct you to What's Love Got to Do With It? and, of course, the phenomenal A Song To Remember which culminates in Cornel Wilde as Chopin liberating Poland with a European tour. Smashing stuff.

The weekend was of course primarily about the Who, and I watched back 'Smith and Jones' this morning with subtitles. I started watching television with subtitles so that I could follow plots and exercise at the same time (the deep-throated grind of the exercise bike obscures dialogue), and then I discovered that it actively aids my enjoyment of drama because I have such a strong connection to the written word that it means I'm reading the script along with looking at the pictures.

The Jane Austen season on ITV1 came to a not-bad-actually conclusion with an adaptation of Persuasion that had a lot to live up to, and didn't blow it until the very end, when the defter plotting of the novel was chucked for a rather silly sprint by Anne around Bath, trying to catch up with Wentworth. Still, it's hard to spoil Persuasion for me, because I'm just putting the emotion in for myself. I liked some of the handheld camera work, which brought the viewer's POV into scenes - very suitable for this most intimate of her novels.

I finished up my own Audrey Hepburn season with Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I was convinced was in B&W, and turns out not to be. Which led me to my single insight of the weekend: films are better in black and white, television is better in colour. This, manifestly, is truth, but why should it be so? Why, dammit, why?