Regularly added bite-sized reviews about Literature, Art, Music & Film.
Voltaire said the secret of being boring is to say everything.
We do not wish to say everything or see everything; life, though long is too short for that.
We hope you take these little syntheses in the spirit of shared enthusiasm.
In 1818 Mary Shelley created Frankenstein’s monster, a bag of bones held together with dead flesh and animated by gothic electricity. In 1990 Anne Rice created The Witching Hour, a 1,207 page bag of bones held together with dead prose and flaccidly animated by pseudo-gothic raving.
The Mayfairs are a family of witches who limp, from Europe, to a southern United States plantation, to the Garden District of New Orleans (Louisiana’s Gothic Central). Their bones are clothed in lush foliage, incest, madness, torture and incantations.
Pursuant to some vague female version of the entail, one woman in each generation inherits the massive wealth of the Mayfair family, the family emerald and the family demon, Lasher. Lasher is the handsome, well-dressed spirit controlled by the designee. Quite how this all works legally is not at all clear. All the better to give our witches money to burn, a spooky jewel and a creepy but passive ghost who doesn’t seem to do anything much. Nor do the witches, for that matter. The middle-however-many-centuries-of-pages of the book, is a rush through the Mayfair history – reading more like an outline for a series of novels, than a novel.
The novel is bookended by events in the current day, mainly a queasy romance between Michael, a hunky builder with psychic hands, and Rowan, a beautiful neurosurgeon with psychic hands. A centuries-old organisation, The Talamasca, watches the Mayfair witches and fills our lovers in on it all – at tedious length. Of course, Rowan, who was adopted, doesn’t know that she is a Mayfair and the one entitled to all that stuff, for quite a while.
The ending is the only point at which Rice surprises and interests us. But it’s not worthy enough reward for ploughing through a thousand pages of this sort of writing:-
“The pain came back into her face, again like a flash of light, somehow distorting her expression, and then broadening until her smooth face threatened to rumple like that of a doll in a flame. Only gradually did she go blank again, calm and pretty and silent. Her voice was a whisper when she resumed.”[Editor’s note: Yes, 1,207 pages of purple prose is a tad too rich for my blood. You could watch Carl Firth’s 9 minute 2014 film ‘The Witching Hour’ (see main image) instead…] Continue Reading →
Landscapes of South Australia by Alex Frayne (2020)
The Varnished Culture has hitherto grudgingly conceded photography as an art; this sumptuous volume has fully convinced us. Over 200 pages of beautiful photographic plates, in brilliant, vibrant tints or tasteful, crisp black-and-white, this is a book for a bedside table, not a coffee table. If one is fortunate to live in South Australia, it fires the imagination and galvanizes the traveller to breathe the immense and often desolate beauty of the State, especially in these days of border-hopping restrictions; for those of us who regard camping as akin to a root canal procedure (sans anaesthetic), then the book is enough on its own.
Whilst anyone who buys a palm-sized device from that evil toy company (Apple) can be a ‘photographer’ now, Mr. Frayne uses one as well, much better than most, plus a variety of more elaborate photographic tools, including old style cameras that produce lush and lustrous works of art, achieving a high resolution of which amateurs can only dream.
Frayne wears out a lot of shoe leather: He ranges from urban Adelaide to its nearby hills, the famous Barossa Valley, the golden triangle of the Eyre Peninsula, the cool colours of the Fleurieu Peninsula and the Limestone coast, the Yorke Peninsula, the Riverland, the dry and dusty flat-ironed Mallee, the Flinders Ranges, Kangaroo Island, and vast northern areas of the state, remote as the back end of the Moon.
There’s a lot of life to these still lifes…Frayne hunts through fog, sleet, snow, rain, lightning, wind, darkness, and sun: he reveals the splendour of all nature including human nature. He even achieves a kind of poetry in a row of cows’ backsides at a trough in the green knolls of Meningie.
There are photographic homages as well. His endless line of freight carriages at Pimba is pure Jeffrey Smart. His foggy lines of scrub with freewheeling birds overhead recalls late impressionism. The sturm und drang of his turbulent wintry landscapes evoke Caspar David Friedrich. Yet the images strike the reader as new and fresh. The terrible beauty of the Australian bush is here in comprehensive glory. In a useful foreword to the book, by Murray Bramwell, the sublime and evocative movies of Australian landscape are mentioned; Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Wake in Fright. It does not surprise that Frayne is also a filmmaker.
This is not an inexpensive book but it is value for money. A photo-junkie’s dream, it contains a myriad trade tricks that excite and dazzle the reader – overexpose-the-shot-and-then-under-develop-the-negative, re-framing the shot, and so on. There is great innovation in these pages, but always leavened by a greater aesthetic sensibility. This work is a treasure.Continue Reading →
(Directed by Stanley Donen) (1967)
Boy meets girl; boy detests girl (“If there’s one thing I really despise, it’s an indispensable woman”); boy changes his mind; they fall in love and then spoil it all by getting married. Then they compound the error by having a kid (breaking Philip Larkin’s dictum in This Be the Verse). Two For the Road, for all its self-conscious charm, relentless male chauvinism and fey hipness, is something of a breakthrough – a love story that deconstructs what happens when the love fades, or more accurately, transforms from its first flushes into a more mature kind of understanding and devotion.
Audrey Hepburn (a one-trick pony but very good at it) and Albert Finney (doing his best Richard Burton impression) are very good, even though they hardly age over the decade. That’s not too much of a problem because the film swings dizzyingly back and forward along the space-time continuum, centred on the various (and increasingly nice) cars in which the leads are sitting as they galivant about the French countryside. We don’t notice too much the Dorian Gray effect because we’re too busy trying to keep up with flashbacks, flash-forwards and the occasional flash-sideways.
Mark is the brilliant young architect; Jo is a brilliant young something. From a (suspiciously comfortable) poverty row they ascend to the jet-set. Instead of hitching around France they now drive their sports car onto a plane. But something’s missing. Mark deals with this murky lacuna by sinking himself into his work, casual adultery and a lack of attention to domestic duties; Jo falls into the spurious arms of chinless Lothario, David (Georges Descrières, sans souci in a fetching white skivvy). Along the way, their trajectory is interspersed with various memories of their travels, some of which are très amusant.
The best bit is where the couple ramble with Howie and Cathy Maxwell-Manchester (William Daniels and Eleanor Bron) and their hateful, loathsome daughter Ruthie (a should-have-got-an-Oscar-performance by Gabrielle Middleton). Howie keeps a book on expenses and sticks to a tight holiday schedule; Cathy (an old flame of Mark’s) snipes in a smiley way about Jo (“…how come Mommy said Joanna was a suburban English nobody?”) And Ruthie is….Ruthie.
Donen (On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, Charade) knows how to handle stars and has an innovative approach, and Frederic Raphael (The Glittering Prizes) pens plenty of one-liners, some of which come with barbs. Two For the Road is a little corny, but as they say, the colour of corn is gold.Continue Reading →
(Directed by Jean-Luc Godard) (1960) (Adelaide French Film Festival, 25 March 2021)
“Roughly speaking, the subject will be the story of a boy who thinks of death and of a girl who doesn’t.” So said the Director, and that is not a bad summary of a shallow but hip tale of ne’er-do-well Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a Humphrey Bogart wannabe who is more like James Dean, acting like the poor kid In the Ghetto (of Marseilles): he borrows a gun, and steals a car, [and shoots a cop], and he tries to run but he don’t get far…Needing cash to fund his escape to Rome (at least he has great taste in cities), he shacks up with Patricia (Jean Seberg in an appropriately fey and throwaway performance, in which her Mia Farrow haircut, vacuous expressions and wonky smile are the stars). After countless slurpy jump cuts and several tantrums by Michel (taxi drivers beware!), she turns him in to the police, by which time he’s fed up with running, and dies on a Paris street, “à bout de souffle.”
The film was a big success at the time for its frenetic pace, cigarette-chomping, car-thieving, cool detachment, nihilism, narcissism, glib cultural references with several pointless Gallic flourishes, and disavowment of conventional story-telling. Belmondo holds it together in a charismatic performance that makes no concession to amiability, matched by Seberg in a role closer to Badlands than Bonnie and Clyde. The casual construction of the piece paved the way, for a time, to a new style or cinema (it ran out of puff fairly soon). It was good to see this on the big screen at the Adelaide French Film Festival, but the wildly uneven, jazzy soundtrack was set at far too many decibels.
Continue Reading →
(Opera by Benjamin Britten) (Directed by Neil Armfield) (Adelaide, 2 March 2021)
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” That’s what the impresario said about staging The Dream, one of Shakespeare’s wisest, wittiest and most surreal plays, full of beautiful poetry, but a nightmare to stage, invariably a disaster. Britten saw that it would make for better fare as a short opera, although the singing parts are eccentric (and the overall effect, flipping the switch to matinee vaudeville, appeasingly cartoon-like – Quoth Auden: “Dreadful! Pure Kensington”). So, here, is the set, but it is entirely apt for this production, a dappled blue-green slice of aberrant Australian bush with twinkles of light and shifting silhouettes (designed by Dale Ferguson). It’s a long way from Athens, but less erotic than some Greek literature.
Everything shifts: what appears to be an immense, translucent, polycarbonate sheet, breathes and stops (redolent of sleep apnea), and dances above and upon the stage; Oberon, kinky Fairy King (counter tenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, crisp and clear in his singing albeit borderline alto/castrato) hovers like a drone above the action, while earth-bound Puck (an energetic and likeable Mark Coles Smith) hurls himself about and co-ordinates the dreamers in a meddling fashion. Meanwhile, Tytania (a superb Rachelle Durkin) wrangles her cast of attendant fairies (the Young Adelaide Voices). The daydreamers, the human and deliberately interchangeable star-crossed lovers (Andrew Goodwin as Lysander, Sally-Anne Russell as Hermia, James Clayton as Demetrius, and Leanne Kenneally as Helena (particularly good), all straight from a ’50s sitcom) and the pantomiming mechanicals, offer carnal comic relief.
The subtle harmony, shifts of tonal colour from ethereal to corporeal, and overall mood of Britten’s score are sweet and were well interpreted (though somewhat sedate and muted) by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Paul Kildea.
The Mechanicals’ shenanigans reminds us how cruelly comedy dates. But the group work hard at being liked, and are liked, led by the most important of them Warwick Fyfe, as Bottom, a rural Falstaff, in fine voice and mugging to advantage, plus, best behaved of the lot when leashed, ‘Lock’ (the director’s dog) as Dog.
On balance, we’ll take Mendelssohn, or even Peter Grimes, thanks, but this was a production that elevated the best of the material, and you can’t do much better than that.
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.”
(Capri Theatre, Adelaide, 23 February 2021)
Beethoven was a real grind: loads of chamber pieces, choral works, incidental music and variations, songs, 17 sets for string quartets. At the Capri Cinema on Tuesday night TVC enjoyed 7 short pieces by a young but accomplished string quartet* (2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello) of his works, in a theatre lit only by numerous candles (see main image). The event is part of a series of such offerings around the country, and well worth attending, as they are accessible, enjoyable, and inexpensive.
‘Beethoven’s Best Works performed by a String Quartet’ included:
and concluded with an extract from the 9th symphony as a finale (in place of an encore)[* The string quartet was accomplished, as we said, but we do not know their names, and are currently making inquiries.] Continue Reading →
(Directed by Jacques Tourneur) (1947) (Script by Daniel Mainwaring (“Geoffrey Homes”) from his 1946 novel Build My Gallows High, with uncredited revisions by Frank Fenton and James M. Cain.)
Before we review this complicated, compelling film, first allow us to modestly refer you to our discussion: what is Film Noir?
Furthermore, in the spirit of commercial DVDs, can we clear away some preliminaries? Don’t you hate it when, having purchased a film with your hard-earned, you then have to suffer some minutes of being lectured against pirating and illegal downloads? Or trying to disable the o-so-welcome options of surtitles (in English, for a film in English) or over-dubbed commentary by some twit writing his thesis at Berkeley on “Hollywood – the early years”? Or, worst of all, previews (why we never get to the cinema until 10 minutes after showtime).
So, now that is Out of the Way, let’s discuss Out of the Past. This is perhaps the ne plus ultra of classic film noir, with a fatalistic, pretzel plot, a sensational script that combines Shakespearean gravitas with Swiftian humour, great performances, and all the trappings and trimmings of the style.
We’ll attempt to sum up the plot, referring to some of the crackling dialogue, even if some of it seems to be in code, and much of the retorts, in real life, you’d only think of the next day:
Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum, in a brilliant turn, insouciant, nonchalant, cheeky and world-weary) runs an auto-shop in Hicksville (actually, Bridgeport), but tends to goof-off fishing with his sweetheart, Ann (Virginia Huston) When asked which place he’d most want to be, he replies right here, with her (“I bet you say that to all the places.” Meanwhile, Joe Stephanos (Paul Valentine, amiable, self-deprecating and lethal) drives into town (in an opening sequence that might have inspired scenes from Touch of Evil) and starts asking about Bailey (“Small World.” “Big Sign.”) Joe is the hired thug for shady gambler Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas, in top form, all verve and cunning). Jeff is less than thrilled to see Joe again, especially when Joe issues an invitation (more a summons) to Jeff to come out to Lake Tahoe to see Whit.
The screen having gone a little hazy as the various characters have already smoked a dozen cigarettes, it is time for a flashback. Jeff collects Ann and as they do their trip to Tahoe, he explains (warning of his story that “Some of it’s going to hurt ya!“), that events out of the past have caught up with him, that he used to be Jeff Markham, a detective in NYC, hired by Whit to track down his girlfriend, Kathie Moffat (pouty Jane Greer, perhaps the best on-screen femme fatale, described by Jeff as “awfully cold around the heart“). Whit and Kathie had a serious lover’s spat: she shot him and left with $40,000. Whit isn’t fussed about the money, he says: “I just want her back. When you see her, you’ll understand better.” “What happens to her?” “I won’t touch her.” Jeff is dubious, and his partner annoyed at being sidelined by Whit, but $5,000 upfront and a contract to pay $5,000 plus expenses on delivery seals the deal.
Finding a friend who tells Jeff she and Kathy recently got vaccinated, and that Kathie was going to Florida for the warm weather, Jeff figures that you get vaccinated not for Florida, but Mexico, so he heads down there and sniffs around, and sits around, drinking beer. “And then I saw her, coming out of the sun, and I knew why Whit didn’t care about that 40 grand.” Kathie denies taking any money but has only one regret about shooting Whit: “I’m sorry he didn’t die.” “Give him time.” There ensues a slow stalking, in cantinas, night clubs, on the beach amongst the fishing nets: “I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live by night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoke.” Jeff is straying from his brief: “And every night I went to meet her. How did I know she’d ever show up? I didn’t. What stopped her from taking a boat to Chile or Guatemala? Nothing. How big a chump can you get to be? I was finding out. And then she’d come along like school was out, and everything else was just a stone which sailed at the sea.” Jeff and Kathie decide to run away and be together, lying to Whit and Joe even when they turn up in Mexico (“Let’s go down to the bar, you can cool off while we try to impress each other“) and sneaking back to the States, setting up in San Francisco. But they are rumbled by Jeff’s former partner, Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie), whom Kathie shoots dead, leaving Jeff behind with the body and a bank book showing a deposit of $40,000. Jeff turns in his gumshoes and retires hurt (“Don’t you like to gamble?” “Not against a wheel.”)
Out of the past into the present: Ann drops Jeff off at Whit’s big house on the lake. Whit is all bonhomie, and Jeff asks him if he has hard feelings: “Hard feelings? About ten years ago I hid them somewhere and haven’t been able to find them.” Whit wants Jeff to recover some compromising tax records in the possession of a crooked accountant, Leonard Eels, who is blackmailing him (“This might sound ridiculous, but you could pay ’em.” “Pay the government? That would be against my nature.” And then Kathie appears at the breakfast table on the terrace. Whit is a smiling villain, whose every pleasant remark veils menace and threat: “You remember Kathie, don’t you?” “You’re working for me now.” Jeff takes Kathie’s re-appearance somewhat badly: “You’re like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another…Just get out will ya? I have to sleep in this room.”
In a complicated pantomime, Eels’ secretary, Meta Carson (Rhonda Fleming, in an effective small role – “Do you always leave fingerprints on a girl’s shoulder?“) sets up both Eels and Jeff: Eels gets a lead sandwich, but Jeff manages to swipe the papers, contaminate the crime scene, and move the body, throwing all (including the viewer) into some confusion. Kathie is up to no good as usual but slips up, as Jeff discovers she has tried to frame him both for the murder of Eels and the shooting of his former partner, Fisher.) “You ought to have killed me for what I did a moment ago.” “There’s time.” “I don’t want to die.” “Neither do I, baby, but if I have to, I’m going to die last.”
Escaping the clutches of various goons and police, Jeff returns home but Kathie sends Joe to kill him. However, Joe, having followed Jeff’s employee, the deaf mute lad (Dickie Moore) to the river, he is snagged by a neat cast from the kid’s fishing line just as he is about to fire and falls to his death. Jeff goes to confront Whit and Kathie. When Kathie plays the innocent, (“You think I sent Joe?“) he replies, dripping with sarcasm, “Oh, you’re wonderful, Kathie.” (It recalls the deep affection and trust between Sam Spade and Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon.) Jeff demands the affidavit Kathie has given Whit, alleging Jeff killed Fisher: “See I only buried him, but you don’t get the gas for just burying him.” The difficult conference continues:
Jeff: You take the frame off me. You pin the Eels murder on Joe.
Whit: Sure, sure.
Jeff: I get a modest settlement, say, oh, say $50,000. That should be enough for me to spend my waning years in Mazatlan. Not Acapulco, because I’d keep thinking about you, Kathie, up there in the women’s prison in Tehatchapie. It won’t be too bad. Hills all around you. Plenty of sun. (To Kathie) You make me nervous. You’d be happier if you let the cops have her, Whit. That’s what you’ll have to do. Somebody’s got to take the rap for Fisher’s murder. It’s not going to be me.
Whit: Wait a minute. I’m not framing any woman.
Jeff: When did you reform? I wouldn’t try it, Whit, you’re out of shape. Besides, it’s not a frame. She shot him.
Kathie: He was going to kill you.
Jeff: You see, Whit, self-defense. A cinch to beat. She might not even have to do time.
Kathie: I’ll say you killed him. They’ll believe me.
Jeff (to Whit): Do you believe her? Go on Kathie, tell him about Joe.
Jeff quits the room, Whit’s charm drops like a stone in a pond: he slaps Kathie, hard and tells her, teeth clenched: “You dirty little phony. Go on, lie some more. Tell me how you handled things for me in San Francisco. Tell me it was all Joe’s idea. Go on, Kathie, show me how you’re gonna squirm your way out this time. What a sucker you must think I am. I took you back when you came whimpering and crawling. I should have kicked your teeth in. No, I’m not going to. Not now, Kathie. We’re gonna let the law push you around…You’re gonna take the rap and play along. You’re gonna make every exact move I tell ya. If you don’t, I’ll kill ya. And I’ll promise you one thing. It won’t be quick. I’ll break you first. You won’t be able to answer a telephone or open a door without thinking: ‘This is it.’ And when it comes, it still won’t be quick. And it won’t be pretty. You can take your choice.”
Jeff visits Ann, and confronts local cop Jim (Richard Webb) who claims Ann is his girl: “I’ve loved her ever since I fixed her roller skates.” Jeff begs to differ and returns to Whit’s house to clinch the deal. But Whit’s been dealt his last hand: “You can’t make deals with a dead man, Jeff…You’re no good, and neither am I. That’s why we deserve each other.” The new deal is run away with Kathie to Mexico or take the rap for Fisher, Joe and Whit. The bloody denouement seems to have been inevitable all along, as well as a happy ending for the roller skaters, heading off to their future in the wake of a domestic white lie.
Out of the Past is so dense and rich that it requires several viewings – but several viewings pays off. It is undeniably one of the great film noirs.Continue Reading →
(Directed by Alex Winter) (2020)
Frank Zappa (21/12/1940 – 4/12/1993) was a one man show created for an audience of one: himself. Obsessively writing, arranging and producing realms of material, he’d allow others to perform with him, though they were never quite good enough, and he’d suffer people to buy his records or attend his concerts, although they weren’t really hip enough to understand the work. It was either his way or go elsewhere. And his unorthodox, multi-faceted output is always interesting, even if, for example, a double album like 200 Motels turns out to be a bizarre waste of time. He was the Alban Berg of our epoch. But records such as Freak Out!, Joe’s Garage and the parody of Zoot Allures are gold (check out “Disco Boy”). Frank didn’t need drugs; like Dali, he was drugs, and while his 60 odd records are wildly uneven, he was consistently dismissive of convention and defiantly libertarian (he did time on an obscenity rap), and the world is slightly better for his weird and wonderful 52 years on earth.
Zappa was a classic industry outlier, who went out of his way to avoid commercial success. Where it arrived, it did by accident (such as his novelty song with daughter Moon Unit, “Valley Girl”). One critic said of his oeuvre: “sexist adolescent drivel … with meters and voicings and key changes that are as hard to play as they are easy to forget.” But who can wholly ignore a man who writes a song called “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”? His audience was a cult, but an informed, self-knowing one.
This documentary of Zappa’s life and work is alright (it’s not The Sorrow and the Pity, or Brother’s Keeper, or Weiner, but is trying its best) with archival footage from interviews, concerts and home movies, and rare access to a myriad tapes and films collected over the decades. Frank’s long-suffering wife, Gail, speaks, seemingly without severity, about his high infidelity, especially when away on the road, that enraged others far more than she. His musical colleagues were long-suffering as well: Frank was a paranoid perfectionist, who would work at a slice of sound until the season changed and the ducks headed to Moscow. He didn’t care about moving record ‘units’, only to get out the sound that was in his head. Which explains the high turnover in his band, ‘The Mothers of Invention.’ As a result, Zappa obtained a nasty reputation as a dictatorial egomaniac. It is telling that both he and another musical auteur, Peter Gabriel, often drove their collaborators to distraction and perhaps salved their inner dictators by publicly supporting the newly freed Czech Republic. And in the film we see Zappa’s last recorded guitar performance in the Czech Republic, after the fall of the Soviet Union. He suggests to the ecstatic throng “keep it unique,” which was perhaps his own motto.
However, one left the theatre having more questions than gotten answers. We had no deconstruction of what Zappa was trying to do or why he was regarded as a genius. Wallpaper was glued over the wildly patchy, sometimes puerile ideas and left largely unexplained was the unpleasant cacophony ever prone to leap out of the bushes. Still, the film sent this viewer home to play Zoot Allures and even, god help us, 200 Motels.
But at the end of the day, we got more out of the Norman Gunston interview with Frank, including a musical number that went from start to end!
In pre-Covid days I idly browsed the magnificent sites for ancient language holiday courses at ivy-dressed, stone-built universities intending – one day – to enrol in a fortnight of glamorous intellectual slavery at Cornell or Oxford. I would work as hard as Dicaeopolis, slaving over my participles into the night, my Liddell and Scott illuminated by candles for some reason. I’d return to my usual term-time classes at the WEA in February, all shiny and brilliant from my overseas deep dive. One day…one day…And then of course, someone ate a bat. So overseas or even interstate intensives (there are some excellent intensives held at Australian Universities, in cities which are sadly not as romantic as New York or London) are not in my future for a while.
So, during the 2020-2021 break, as I pined for a return to my face-to-face Greek classes after a year on Zoom, I was intrigued to find a Facebook post from Helen McVeigh, Classical Greek tutor at Queen’s University, Belfast, (helenmcveigh.co.uk) offering Zoom day-long intensives in Greek and Latin at various levels. I learned from Ms. McVeigh’s video that I could understand Greek via an Irish accent filtered by an Australian ear. I emailed Ms. McVeigh, who was charming and encouraging. So I paid the £35 ($AU63 – bargain!) for the Lower Intermediate Greek refresher day and awaited instructions. Ms. McVeigh sent materials. The course would cover third declension nouns, first and second aorists, present participles and the middle voice.
There was just one problem. The class went from 10am to 3.30pm, Belfast time, meaning that I, in the Australian Central Daylight Time zone, would Zoom-in at 8.30 pm Saturday night and Zoom-out at 2 am Sunday morning. I would take my, ‘lunch break’ at 10.45 pm. So I poured some cold white wine after a 40 degree (Celsius) day (which amused my fellow students on their snowy morning) and logged-in. Our tutor Helen was in Belfast; my fellow students were Barbara in Shropshire, Elizabeth in East Lothian, Richard in Wiltshire, Theo in Liverpool and Anne and Diane, both in the West Midlands.
I was interested to hear the difference in accent. I found it difficult to distinguish between the UK α and η. I think I heard π pronounced as ‘pi ‘(imagine!). We worked through exercises and translations together on line and during the breaks. At the request of one student, we diverged from the schedule to deal with αυτος, αυτη and αυτον. It was useful revision and I think that I finally understand the difference between the use of the attributive and predicate positions.
Although I do not pretend to have the concepts which we covered under complete control, and while it is never wasteful to review familiar concepts, I do think that I could have undertaken the upper intermediate class and I hope to have the chance to do so later this year. Helen is a talented and engaging teacher. Recommended for those times when there are no flights to ancient cities.
Also highly recommended; Ancient Greek at the WEA in Adelaide. We return to our face-to-face classes this month. Hopefully. Please join us if you live in Adelaide and have a basic knowledge of Ancient Greek. This year we will review the more difficult grammar and translate original texts. Our teacher Dr. Alessandro Boria is fabulous. The class is friendly – challenging but never frightening. 5.30 on Wednesdays, Angas Street.
Ancient Greek reading group: for those who have completed the study of the two volumes of Athenaze and for all those with an understanding of the Classical Greek. Tutor will supply material initially, a textbook will be discussed during the course.
(Directed by Marielle Heller) (2019)
The Varnished Culture settled down with a choice wine to watch this, fully expecting to enjoy the contents of the bottle more than the film. Spared the viewing of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968-2001) due to the tyranny of distance, we guessed this would be an uplifting panegyric of the famous kiddy presenter. Hence we feared a saccharine overdose as with The Sound of Music, more so when we perceived that the story, based on an article in Esquire, would centre around the the cynical, angry, world-weary, troubled, investigative journalist ‘Lloyd Vogel’ (Matthew Rhys), sent (querulously) to do a puff piece on the Play School good-guy, Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) whose quiet integrity would redeem and bring the common touch of humanity and grace to the hard-bitten.
We have to report, however, that director Heller (though she looks alarmingly like President Biden’s press secretary), has done a remarkable thing with this production. Made with a number of surreal touches, based around the TV show’s set with all its fantasy elements, we were drawn-in to an otherwise predictable yarn. Heller gives us more pauses than a Pinter play; she feels little pressure to gas up the action, but she doesn’t allow torpor to lead to ennui. How she manages to meld a light touch with a sincere depth for feeling, we are not quite sure: certainly there is a lot of love for Rogers that shines through, and the cast are uniformly excellent. In particular, we liked Susan Kelechi Watson in a fairly thankless supporting role as Vogel’s wife, Maryann Plunkett as Mrs. Rogers, and a nice performance by Chris Cooper as Vogel’s estranged, damaged, deadbeat father. Cooper is a great natural actor, and his scenes are valuable here as a fulcrum and for grounding.
The revelation is Hanks in the (co-starring) role of Mr. Rogers. Hanks is not a great natural actor, and many of his roles succeed because he has a winning personality. But here Hanks does get inside the character and makes you believe in him, as he obviously does. It is a lovely bit of playing, spurning the artistic nightmare of an on-screen saint and instead catching the crackle and fizz of a good man of flesh and blood, tranquil belief, sensibility, flaws, and wisdom. We’d never go on a trip with Hanks (e.g. in a spacecraft, on a domestic flight, in a light FedEx plane, or on a container vessel) but we’d be happy to be his neighbour (down here, we spell it with a ‘u’).
Continue Reading →