Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Confidence

It's one of the great intangibles, something so abstract that it can not be pictured in the mind's eye. The presence or absence of it can change the course of history substantially, and yet many people go their whole lives without ever even thinking the word. It is confidence, the bogeyman of people to whom things do not come easily, the blancmange of desserts, the scourge of things that must not be named for it can never be forgotten.

If you have always had confidence you don't think about it, and if you've lost it then you think about it constantly. The absence is what you feel. One person, faced with a fairly vital interview morning next week, would smile and prepare diligently, confident in their ability to deal with the forthcoming challenge in good spirits. Another would feel themselves tensing up into a mental corkscrew, becoming more and more agitated as the time draws closer, until finally being so much a mental wreck on the day that they end up flunking from sheer exhaustion and second-guessing.

What can be done if your confidence is but a memory? The important thing is to somehow not dwell on it, and build from the positives of what goes on around you. Don't get caught in a negative spiral, but become involved with something else just so things keep moving somewhere. Hold on, this is all very patronising, isn't it? When you're deep in the bowels of that feeling, that horrible feeling, of thinking that nothing will ever go right again, it's almost impossible to believe the contrary. Ultimately, you just need to take a small step and start something new. And then something new again, and again, and build from the horrible feeling to something just a little braver. Just a little. A fall from grace is instant, but the following ascent can be arduous and lengthy, but it's worthwhile at every inch if you don't want to live as a shadow of what could be.

And now, the personal aspect. Oh, great candy glockenspiels, interviews are scary! Another PGCE Primary interview to come, and all the self-criticism of the previous one threatens to burst out, but it shall not prevail! Nerves take over the stomach, sleep tries to defect to the other side, and a random goldfish keeps swimming past the window but insanity will not take over. Or, perhaps insanity already did take over, and the whole world is not making sense for a reason. What a daunting idea. It would explain Putin, the Republicans, all the guns, and blancmange anyway. Ick.

O.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Movie: 'Ball of Fire' (1941)

'Goofy' is definitely one of the dominant words that come to mind when considering 'Ball of Fire'. It has got that goofy charm that glued itself to the best of the films from the golden age of cinema, as you would expect from a movie about a showgirl and gangster's moll who hides out with some encyclopedia compiling professors. Yes, the premise alone is goofy, but it has a heart of gold like most of the old romantic and screwball comedies. It also establishes Howard Hawks as a master of the art in my mind, completing a remarkable hat trick along with 'Bringing Up Baby' and 'His Girl Friday', and not even including the other comedies I've yet to see.

What are the principle strengths of this film, an extremely loose reinterpretation of 'Snow White And The Seven Dwarves', and why does it work? To begin, it was partly written by Billy Wilder, which is a genuine mark of pedigree if ever there was one, even before you add Howard Hawks and his snappy dialogue-driven style into the combination. If that's not enough then the starring duo of Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, both excellent and naturalistic, must lift your expectations? Okay, what about one of the best constructed supporting casts put together to form the seven backup oddball academics, each imbued with his own distinctive quirk? It's definitely a fascinating film, if nothing else.

What makes a movie fascinating? In this case it's the curious mix of the oddball academics and the hoodlums, both of which converge on the curious charm of Stanwyck's character, the colourfully named Sugarpuss O'Shea? Perhaps it's Cooper's turn as Professor Bertram Potts, an English professor who sets out into the world to update his knowledge of modern slang, one in which he expertly plays himself once again but in the most suitable and appropriate way. The Cooper effect is a fascinating one, evident in 'Mr Deeds Goes To Town' as much as it is here. For someone who does so little, the expression is extraordinary! Maybe the appeal is in the gorgeous sets, which are things I miss very much now, or is it the extraordinary vignette of the professors singing 'Sweet Genevieve' a capella at the impromptu bachelor party? It's extraordinary to find so many gentlemen male characters in one film, so many gentle people in total, and then placed in opposition to hoodlums of the first order. It's sweet, revealing just how much of a soft touch I might be for sweet movies, as well as for snappy dialogue.

So far, and so much said without mentioning Stanwyck to any great extent. She's a curious actress, capable of great extremes in sweetness and worldliness, and yet still somewhat a cipher. She's brilliant in a complex way, while still carrying out the time honoured character reversals to end up with the right man at the end. How many other actresses could conceivably mesh so well with an octet of character actors? Could it have worked out without the dynamite Wilder screenplay and influence of Hawks? We'll never know, but it does work.

Overall, 'Ball of Fire' is a fascinating screwball comedy from the classic mould. That means it's well characterised, snappily written, and in this case rather smart. Where else could you mix split infinitives and yum yum? As I said, one of the operative words is 'goofy' and that's not a bad thing.

O.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Acceptable Vagueness

Gibber gibber. What's going on? Where are we? Where is Superman when you need him? Once again, the block has struck, and this could be a very tortured read. It is a truth that spending too long in isolation does tend to degrade your social skills, the mental muscle wasting away from lack of practice.

So, what can you do to keep up communication skills? What are the options available? Is this going to be serious or a merry pile of waffle? Only I might know, if it's not being locked up behind the barrier of my unconscious. My favourite technique is randomly talking to myself in the hopes of being put somewhere full of people, hazardous though that might be. You could also get a language pal, which is great for practicing extra languages, but not for casual conversation.

<pause for thought>

No, it's impossible to write a lighthearted Quirky Muffin today, as the legendary Leonard Nimoy's death was announced in the last few hours. As someone whose development was tied to 'Star Trek' in several of its incarnations this news is much like one of the pillars of the world vanishing in an instant, and leaving nothing in its place. It truly is the end of a legend, a man who embodied an archetype in the character of Spock so completely and thoroughly that any successor is rendered utterly redundant.

Those guys from the first few decades of television are truly irreplaceable. They just aren't making people like that any more, forged as they were in war-times galore, the McCarthy era, the death of JFK and so many other things including long apprenticeships on the stage and screen before getting their breaks. The apprenticeships alone gave them stature that modern performers just don't acquire. You can't replace Nimoy, Shatner, Robert Vaughn of 'The Man From UNCLE', or John Astin and the glorious Carolyn Jones from 'The Addams Family', or so many other. They were one-offs.

It's a sad day.

O.



Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Story: The Glove, XII

(Part I , XI , XIII )

It was comfortable in the dark, apart from the occasional thudding at the temples, and Steffan was tempted to lie there forever. The light returned despite that temptation, and with it a headache of ridiculous proportions. Steffan blinked open for a moment and winced. What a mistake. He resolved to never do it again.

"You'll have to open your eyes sooner or later, you know." Said the voice of Charlotte.

"No, I plan to stay like this forever. It's relaxing. Also, why break an awkward moment?" Replied Steffan.

"Does it hurt? I didn't want to hurt you, but you did flop onto the ground like a drunken salmon."

"Yes, you could say it hurts. How many horses trampled over me?"

"None. You're just being a baby."

Steffan opened his eyes again, and managed to keep them open. Charlotte was sitting on a bar stool sedately, modestly. "After weeks or exploring this city, the trouble comes to me. Hi." His quip fell on stony ground.

"You shouldn't make jokes, really. There are people here, waiting to talk to you, and work out if you're with the authorities or not." A worried look surfaced in her eyes. "I'm personally hoping you're not."

"So, there are problems in Edin, and it wasn't all made up out of whole cloth by Octavius, when they tried to recruit me." Quickly, he hurried on, still wincing a little. "They didn't succeed."

"Don't tell me. The bosses will just get you to tell it all over again. Banksy especially." A long pause. "Why would they want you? Are you someone special?"

"Could have been, could have been. Now I think I'll follow your advice and not tell you yet." Steffan stifled a smug sensation and reminded himself he was probably in some serious peril.

"They'll be here in an hour." Charlotte offered. "Just who do you think you've been taken by?"

Steffan hesitated, and then realised he had made several assumptions too many. "I was trying to find out just what had been behind the mission Octavius tried to recruit me for. That was about people apparently trying to drive a wedge between Edin and Burgh."

"Ah. Sounds like you maybe you are part of the authorities."

"No. What about you?"

"That would be telling." Charlotte stood up, and walked calmly out of the room. The door locked shut behind her. Steffan lay still, and thought.

To be continued...

Monday, 23 February 2015

Waggle

If you waggle your eyebrows, do you feel better? Try it now and see. Ah... It's all part of the Groucho Marx effect, never formalised, but always effective. Good old Groucho, he of the ludicrous moustache, glasses and wig. Recently I worked my way through 'Animal Crackers', 'Monkey Business', 'Horse Feathers' and 'Duck Soup' and was astounded by how much of the sheer brilliance of the Marx Brothers I had forgotten, and it wasn't all eyebrow waggling!

Ah, the waggle, a universal symbol of levity that would surely infuriate whole brigades of the 'too serious' army that you find everywhere. Yes, the waggle of levity, the waggle of disrespect, the waggle of innuendo, all of them usually misinterpreted. I'm even waggling right now, throwing some of the disappointments of recent days to the wind in a bid to stay optimistic. Take that, waggle loathers of the world.

The last few days could best be described as being uneventful spells in the doldrums, recovery from an exceptionally stressful trip. Maybe the fallout just from being unsuccessful illustrates just why it may not have been a good idea to begin with, or does it simply mean that it was a terribly bad experience after months and months of social isolation? Can anyone go from zero to interview ready in a couple of hours? Have the last few months been overly waggle deficient? They're all good questions, but they shrink into insignificance compared to the cinematic behemoth due to enter the arena this year: Bananaman!

As previously reported, there will be a Bananaman movie in 2015, and it is now being jokingly reported as the beginning of the first phase of the Beano Cinematic Universe. How amazingly weird would that be if it weren't a joke? Is the Bananaman movie a joke itself? It's been kept under such tight wraps for a whole year that it could well be a prank. For sheer potential oddity power it is the most tensely personally awaited film of the year. Be a good film, Bananaman, be a great film. If it weren't a joke, what would the Beano Cinematic Universe look like? We'll find out when we discover if Bananaman is live action, computer animated or traditionally animated. Nothing is known, nothing! Even now, to laboriously carry on the theme, the producers are waggling their eyebrows in potential mirth at the mystery.

O.

Coming soon: A delighted review of 'Ball Of Fire', the Howard Hawks film of 1941, which was utterly lovely. Thank you, world, for the gawky charm of Gary Cooper.

Viewing notes: Several noteworthy episodes zapped by on the screen in the last twenty four hours. There were 'The Addams Family: The Winning Of Morticia Addams', 'Star Trek: Metamorphosis', 'Star Trek TNG: The Measure Of A Man' and 'Mork And Mindy: Mork Learns To See'. They were all stone cold classics, and with every day the past power of television becomes clear: Unification. One of them gets added to the 'Shows so good you cry' list, but to say which would be telling!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Book: 'The Complete Prose' by Woody Allen (1998)

Whatever you might think of Woody Allen as a filmmaker, or as a person, there can be no denying that the prose he wrote for 'The New Yorker' is amongst the funniest ever put on paper. Even now, after a time lapse of months since last reading, 'If The Impressionists Had Been Dentists' is one of the funniest short pieces ever written. It's ludicrous!

Ludicrousness was Allen's gift for a long, long time. His writing was a perfect blend of intelligence and idiocy, often focused on one of existential angst, utterly superficial madness, or both in a bizarre fusion. His gift was to be gifted, and no monument represents that gift better than 'The Complete Prose', which is the ultimately limitless expression of someone insanely funny or funnily insane. It's no coincidence that he became steadily less funny over the course of thirty seven years of psychotherapy, now seeming barely insane or funny at all.

The list of fascinating little gems goes on and on. What do you mean, you've never read 'The Metterling Lists'? Really? A critical appreciation of the laundry lists of noted fictitious writer Metterling and you haven't read them? Good grief! You haven't lived! What about 'Fabrizio's: Criticism and Response'? No? I'm aghast. You will never know how aghast. If I were weaker, this blog would close down this very instant.

Oh, Woody Allen, you saved many lives with your words. We will always remember Needleman, laugh at the Gossage-Vardebedian chess game, and return to your look at organised crime with mouths agape. Thank you kindly. How did one man write all these things, especially without the aid of a yo-yo on a rubber band? No, that's an assumption; Maybe he did have a yo-yo on a rubber band. That could explain it all, especially the movie 'Bananas'.

'The Complete Prose' is a great, great collection. Recommended with no reservations whatsoever, as it's performed admirably for years. Now it's time to check out the semi-mythical S.J. Perelman's writing and see how it stacks up to Allen and Groucho Marx.

O.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Blip, Interrupted

Well, that was a long thirty six hours. I've been away to Exeter and back again since last I wrote, explaining the slight posting irregularity, and also why everything is now being written in a Devon accent. What? You can't tell? What a waste. One interview down and potentially two to go, and still undecided at heart. The problem with being indecisive is that you can never quite choose what decision to not make. Or whether it's worth the dithering.

As always, 'it was an odd trip', a sentence that might be inscribed on all my equipment. Never does a trip go by where sleep occurs easily, where food doesn't become a horrific ordeal, and where the object of the journey goes straightforwardly. It is the nature of travelling, to always be in a state of flux and never settled in your own mind, as if the world were a giant ball of jelly and all of us merely wobbly bystanders. The prose is running quickly here, especially in the wake of the instantaneously revelation that my trip was unsuccessful. At least that's one less decision to make, then!

Now for a seeming 'non sequitir', secretly concealing an actual 'non sequitir'...

Oh, the curse of the 'woofits', that archaic word that means an unwell feeling or depression. If only I had known the word 'woofits' I would have used it extensively for years on end. "Golly, insert name here, you look as if you've got a dose of the woofits!" "Oh, don't bother me now, for the woofits have got me." Of course, we can't use it any more due to the negative connotations of connecting women even indirectly to the unflattering label of 'dog', meaning someone unappealing in physical appearance. It's a cruel language, and a nasty expression, hence 'woofits' has gone by the wayside along with 'fabulist' and all the other words I pull out during these esoteric blogs.

One consequence of chime-induced insomnia, a failed interview, and two hours on a bicycle is that at least sleep will surely ensue tonight. The insomnia shall not win, there will be no woofits, and the world will still be there tomorrow. Should the world not be there tomorrow, you will all have to provide written alibis for where you were when it disappeared. No excuses will be tolerated, and everyone had best start taking notes now. At least there's the lovely recent memory of 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' and the current reading of 'Uncle Fred In The Spring Time' to take the sting out of a possible missing world.

O.

PS Go go, gadget Wodehouse!