Saturday, June 30, 2007

FILM REVIEW - For Your Consideration

As a big fan of previous Christopher Guest films, I eagerly awaited the arrival of his most recent movie on DVD, having missed 'For Your Consideration' at the cinema because of a short run ( never a good sign ). Having seen it, I can understand why, even for fans, it is a big disappointment, it never quite gets its humorous muscles adequately working. Everything seemed a bit laboured, pointless or, sad to say, predictable. It has all the usual Guest repertory company of actors, all doing what they do best, but falling well below par. Guest's best movies – Best in Show, Mighty Wind, and even Spinal Tap, were episodic and character driven. He definitely has an affinity and ear for musical parody. Within these movies there were definite clusters of characters, whose personalities and interactions grew and became richer and better defined during the course of a film.

'For Your Consideration' has none of this character driven integrity. As a consequence each character seems isolated, you never get to really understand where they are coming from. Even the sublime Jennifer Coolidge doesn't get to steal the show with a devastating cameo, as she usually does. What meaningful groupings there are, rarely go anywhere amusing. There is one double act - Jane Lynch & Fred Willard as Hollywood TV presenters, who are very good, they portray their characters with a satirical sharpness of observation that is severely lacking elsewhere. There is also a very funny interview with Nina Conti and her monkey puppet, in the special features worth viewing. I for one want to see more of this woman, her two brief scenes in the film were off the wall hilarious.

Guest's other foray into parodying theatrical types 'Waiting for Guffman', though still a weakish film, had some glorious moments of spot on improvised dialogue or situations. It was saved from cinematic perdition by good ensemble acting, something which 'For Your Consideration' lacks. As this film proceeded my heart sank progressively ever deeper into the sneary mud of disappointment, until I couldn't wait for it to come to an end.

BOOK REVIEW - Karen Armstrong / The Great Transformation

This book is, so far as I know, the first attempt to bring The Axial Age, where the profoundest heights of spiritual insight and philosophy were to emerge, into higher awareness in popular culture. I've greatly admired Armstrong's autobiographies and her book on Islam, but I have to say I was disappointed by 'The Great Transformation'. Her breadth of understanding of the Indian, Chinese, Greek and Hebrew cultures during this formative period is unquestionable, extensive and penetrating. The main difficulty I had was with the style of exposition, the narrative structure she's chosen to use. Each chapter spans a particular time period and examines what was happening simultaneously in each culture. This leads to a rather fractured, if not critically disjointed, narrative flow. Trying to hold in my mind and pick up where we had left a culture in the previous chapter, I'm afraid defeated me. It made reading it more a frustrating chore that I was not enthralled or enlightened by. I would personally have found it an easier book to read had it followed each cultures spiritual development fully through from genesis, development to conclusion.

In the final chapter,she pulls together the various strands and sketches out the general themes and gives an analysis of each cultures 'axial age', it's strengths and weaknesses, this indeed was interesting. Particularly that these periods of insight arose out of the suffering and fallout from the collapse or defeat of a political and economic culture, and, interestingly, ended with the arising of another. Her conclusions proceed boldly, and convincingly, into areas of religious universalism. She brings forward her assessment of the aims and beliefs they held in common i.e. the pursuit of wisdom and compassion. This analysis she has stated before in her book on Islam. It feels a little evangelical of her to be repeatedly banging on that drum yet again. Emphasising the commonality, or passively settling for relativism, seems rarely to have helped create harmony between faiths. Is trying to construct a spurious sense of 'brother or sisterhood' between the faiths really what is needed? Religious,political and cultural conflicts have always arisen out of an inability to deal with difference in culture, belief or practice. How we respond and deal with difference,racially, religiously or culturally, is surely the working ground for all of us these days.


Apologies for the gap in blog transmission but the last few weeks have been a bit full with meeting up with friends and my 50th Birthday. As a birthday present to myself I've recently bought a new computer. For some time my blog entries have been composed on David's old computer and taken on disc to the local internet café to be posted, or I've had to wait till David brought his laptop home. Now, I'm finally achieved my independence, I can now check my e-mails with greater frequency. Though, I must say, quite how long it would have taken me to get the computer up and running, had I not had David's extensive help, I shudder to think. It has taken a substantial chunk of his time,this and last weekend. From today I'm now able to access the internet at home, which seems a wonderful luxury.

The birthday itself was composed of good bits and stressful bits. The presents obviously ,and a meal out at a good curry house in the evening being the good aspects. The bad was entirely work related; one person being on holiday and another calling in sick ( with what turned out to be a heart attack ) meant the days work schedule went pear-shaped from the moment I arrived. For the next few days,we two remaining Chapel attendants were chasing between the two chapels and getting the bodies into the cremation ovens. Stressful and knackering, would be a more than adequate description for how the rest of the week turned out. Not helped by our Manager, in full knowledge of our predicament, deciding to work from home on our busiest day!! By Friday I'd descended into a mood of brooding frustration and felt pissed off from the moment I got up, right till the moment I went to bed.

However, I know there is a bit more to my mood than that. I'd had another acupuncture session on Monday. The procedure he did this time was to deal with the 'husband & wife' division, to begin working on the internal conflict I mentioned in a previous posting. He said it might create an altered state whilst the tension began resolving itself. The treatment energised me and I came out of it feeling like I was surrounded by a warm fuzzy glow, like in the 'ready brek' adverts. Today, five days later, I'm definitely aware of the physical and emotional tensions resulting from my 'creative expressive' side and my 'practical functional' side being in constant conflict. When things are not right at work is when I feel this split most acutely. I awoke this morning with an overwhelming feeling of despondency and despair, thoroughly fed up with this ever present feeling of being divided down the middle, and the resulting emotional tug-of-war. Being aware of this division will no doubt be a major part of its integration, and eventual rebalancing we hope. I know all too clearly what it consists of, but how it is to be resolved, overcome, or brought to a peaceful reconciliation is, at this moment of writing, a great and looming mystery.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Anthony Gormley / Hayward Gallery

Anthony Gormley could be said to be our most successful contemporary sculptor. He has achieved both critical and public popularity, no mean feat in these days of public cynicism and derision over 'modern art'. A number of artistic projects, such as Field and The Angel of the North managed somehow to be populist, without receiving a critical pasting. So Gormley seems to have become quite adept at creative crossover, without dumming his work down.

Then, if you look at his sculpture, cast as it often is direct from casts of a human form, they have two virtues; one - they always look recognisable human, it doesn't take much art education to interpret them; two - pieces verge on abstraction,in form, or in space, composed as they sometimes are from segments of metal welded together. They are then hung upside down , stuck on walls, laid on floors. An atmosphere of bonded alienation, sets off an emotional resonance in us - this is how we feel in our increasingly crowded urban spaces. 'Event Horizon' part of this new work/mini retrospective, features numerous full size figures placed ontop of buildings, scattered near and far. You can enjoy spoting them from the galleries balcony or promenade. These lonely forms stand perilously on the edge of roof tops, there are'nt suicidal, they stand as motionless contemplatives. Peacefully they're looking towards you, they seem to see you, you see them. Everyone is being watched, our every action observed by these seemingly benign beings.

In the centre of this exhibhition is the Blind Light work. A glass cube, filled with heavy water vapoured air, an internal fog, lit brightly from above. From outside, all you can see are shadowy hands and bodies, and hear voices, a mix of young squeals and adult cautionary tones. In the centre of the room, your eyes see nothing but white out and hear only those same voices moving audible around you. Suddenly I was struck by a thought –‘I’m hearing voices in my head, and they’re speaking to me’ how easily they could become tormentors. The longer you stay, the greater the sense of solitariness becomes. The splashing sounds of water beneath your feet, the moisture swirls on your eyeballs, become the predominant sensations. Without visual reference sound becomes heightened. It definitely draws a crowd, judging by the lengthy queues. I guess in much the same way people wait to experience rides at fun fairs, or to board the London Eye – we are all looking for extreme sensations in a sensory dull environment, this is just a bit more refined in its presentation.

The final rooms of the exhibition feature some of Gormley’s recent work. Gone are the dark jelly baby forms to be replaced by open, airy versions, suspended like babies in wombs of wire and metal. At the centre of them is a suggestive net like bodyform, from which extend metal rods, which are then crossed by further metal rods. They hang from the ceiling and turn slightly as you pass. It’s as though a body has been caught and vapourised in the middle of a computer generated matrix. They are supremely beautiful objects very satisfying things to stand and contemplate. In some the body form at its centre is less distinct, and can barely be seen viewed from the other side of the room. Again, Gormley is exploring our relationship with space and that sense of otherness that perplexes us, yet the closer we get the less we can perceive it or understand. The metaphysical subtext to his work is perhaps not so immediately tangible, but from this exhibition it would seem to be a vital and vibrant part of his works appeal.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


When we realise the way,
we do not realise with something else,
we realise only with sounds and colours.

When we are deluded,
we are not deluded with something else,
we are deluded only with sounds and colours.



Last weekend I went to see my parents. It was a long planned visit to help my Father re-decorate their front room. My Father is 81 this year, and for his age is very active and energetic. I did notice, as he was roller painting a wall, he was quite quickly getting out of breath. I was also reminded of a particular tendency of his to rush towards completion and neglect giving attention to some significant detail. He then has to suffer severe castigation from my Mother as a result. My Father is generally an easy going passive man, but has, what I would call - little pointless rebellions of the soul, quite often when my Mother has pushed him too far.

I’m increasingly struck by the narrowness of my parent’s perspective. As regular Daily Mail readers, I think this is worrying, but only to be expected I guess. Vunerabilty is the key word as they grow older, the world feels all too threatening, wayward and out of their control. My Mother, who will be 79 this month, has some quite severe ailments that prevent her going out much. She currently has eighteen items on repeat prescription, fourteen of which are pills. On the Sunday they took me out to a restaurant in Thorne. They go there almost every week and meet a cousin of my Mothers and her husband. As we were all tucking into our Sunday roasts, or in my case the vegetarian alternative, the conversation fell to medication. So as the four of them ate their meat and two veg, they compared which bowel medicine they were on and what side effects, if any, they’d had. One complained about the difficulties in getting colostomy bags delivered to your home. How I could have contributed to this subject matter defeats me.

Four and a half days off work was welcome. Yet, two days after being back at work my back has resumed its weary winging. I’ve noticed that instead of it hurting on the left side it is now more evenly balanced at the base of my back. Perhaps the Acupuncture is slowly putting things to rights. As it is, I regularly take two paracetamol and a glucasamine sulphate tablet every day, to deaden the pain and discomfort. This lasts until mid afternoon, even so by the time I return home I’m bushed. Though this week was only four days, it felt like forever. We had a quarterly Team Meeting on Friday. I usually find these quite dispiriting affairs. The Management talk about consultation and listening to our ideas and suggestions, but as soon as someone raises any issue its quickly dismissed or shot down in flames.

So this current weekend I’ve not been feeling too positive, quite unreasonably irritable and frustrated. I need to move on from the Crematorium, but how? What is a productive way forward? I look at the Job section in the paper and despair. Everywhere I turn seems currently to be a backward step. I was saying to David how in the past when I ran my own business, I would unconsciously override my emotional resistances just in order to keep going. At present I’m all too aware that I’m having to override them on a daily basis, and it’s a very painful thing to find one-self doing consciously. I cannot continue doing this indefinitely or my back problems will accompany me to my grave.

I was reading the Family section of the Saturday Guardian yesterday. In it were extracts from a young woman’s diary recounting her Father’s depression, attempts at, and finally committing, suicide. I found myself feeling quite sombre and emotionally stirred. When David asked me what was up, it wasn’t long before I was in tears. The whole issue of suicide I find does upset me greatly. I came out of the film ‘The Hours’ in floods of tears. Whether I had some experience of suicide in a previous life or that I somehow empathise with their sense of hopelessness through my own present life experience, I do not know. I’ve never personally felt like topping myself, it doesn’t appear ever to have been an option worth considering. The strength of my response seems disproportionate, and therefore intrigues me. Gosh, I am a cheery chappy this week, Lets hope for better news soon.