Saturday, 23 June 2018

Period Fashions

Brian Macfarlane has the advantage of knowing a period well.

Comfort’s films have their value, not merely as entertainments, but as chronicles of their age.  A sense of postwar malaise also hangs over the film, in the image of the scruffy deserter on the run (thus allying it with such films as Cavalcanti’s They Made Me a Fugitive, 1948, and Lawrence Huntington’s Man on the Run, 1949), in the notion voiced by Simon, ‘If I’d had the guts, I’d have been a conchie’. And in Lord Clandon’s remark, ‘The peace hasn’t turned out as we’d hoped’. There is a whole sub-genre of films which address the idea of ex-servicemen (very few women) coming to terms with the demands of peace. This note is lightly struck in Silent Dust, but it is there and it helps to give the film a richer texture, anchoring it firmly in its period.  (BFI Notes)

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Sadie

On her knees she pulls out images,
Weeds in an overgrown bed
She has never wished to tame 
Afraid of the flowers they stifle.
                     a
Roots buried like ancient streets,
Louise enjoys their anchorage,
A pleasant walk in sad ruins 
Secure against the gusts of today.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

He Can't See It

An idea percolates through the culture, which it comes to saturate. What happens next? Does the idea seep away to leave that culture dry; its holes, those pores, its limestone caverns ready for the next ideology’s rain? If only God were a bureaucrat! It continues raining. The culture sodden with what it already knows. On and on the idea falls. Everything saturated with the usual stuff. Wet through, and trudging across boggy ground, we dismiss the clouds ominous on the horizon: same old ships blasting the shore, we mutter to ourselves; almost welcoming another deluge. Yet today will surprise us. Those clouds heavier than usual, they also… What the devil! The ground oozing with water is giving way, and we…we…we are sliding into…a rising pool! and…and… Help! Help! Semaphoring desperately we cry for assistance that will not appear. The rain, once a harmless companion - it filled the irrigation ditches, grew the crops, festooned the gardens with fountain brilliance - has become our enemy; yesterday an officious gardener today it is a demonic gravedigger, burying us alive under water and mud.

In a few days the clouds clear. The rain having stopped, the marshes shrink, and some young lads, out walking, discover a corpse lying on the sun-cracked ground; smeared with dirt, badly decomposed they try to identify… Some old geezer, is the best that they can do.

The ideas of the present are so ubiquitous that we are hardly recognise them as ideas; for us they are part of the landscape, as familiar as Tesco and Barclays Bank. The ideas of the past, in contrast, are not only dead to us, we hardily recognise them as products of human thought. What strange creatures to have believed in such ridiculous things, we think. And it happens so suddenly: alive last week, yesterday the idea had a heart attack. Ping! It is gone for good.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

The Seagulls Crowd and Cry

What can you say? You say.
Your smile a fleeting rescue
For these last words,
Fragments of a shipwreck
Flotsam from ten long years

Lost to a wave’s welcome.
Hardly do I hear,
The high tide in my head
A squall of memories
That beats an unyielding cliff.

You say, I say, I loved you;
Tip-toeing through the wrack
Her smile reaches out a hand…

I refuse its gentle grasp
And on mad white horses
I cavalry charge the rocks.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Portrait of a Young Woman Vaite Goupil

Not finished yet?

A quick glance tells the story. There are two countries here; the border running through a high ridge, like a river through mountain passes, like a novice’s wayward scissors cutting across crumpled cloth, it tears rough edges into the rock’s fabric. You are talking about this young woman’s shoulders? One country primitive and plain, it is a wildness under strict control, a tribe domesticated by missionaries… I see the gaucheries of a girl. Above the ridge there is sophistication and strangeness; a modern metropolis entered at midnight. I was thinking of a mind emerging into the difficulties of maturity.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Sprezzatura

That voice. It strikes us immediately; alerting us, setting us on our guard, creating a distance that invites us all to be sceptical; we are goaded to read the whole book with an arched eyebrow. Trust it, can we? This author so ironic, ever so smart, so so playful, she flirts with us like a courtesan… It is not safe to stroll along her streets; wary of accompanying her home, we pretend ignorance when invited through the front door; oh oh, I'm so sorry, I think I must be going now… The danger of such cleverness is that it can undermine its own authority. Indeed, we feel sorry for the characters, and often take their side; these servants of a mistress who constantly exposes their faults and laughs at their absurdities. A governess whips off her charge's skirt and scolds her for wearing dirty knickers; then, stepping back, smiles at the cartoon camel sprawled cutely across the pink cotton. This novel a nursery, where innocence is chastised by a puritan’s comedy shaming the child with an adult’s humour; the meaning of that bulbous head and long neck, standing sadly erect between two whimsically deflated sacs, cruelly beyond young Henrietta’s comprehension.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

A Loud Beauty

There is an image, close to the beginning, that serves as this book’s metaphor. Like all good symbols, a thing, singular, concrete, suffused with an atmosphere rich in suggestion, this one has a number of meanings, the most obvious, it is the one emphasised by our too emphatic narrator, hiding another far deeper and mysterious, and quite original: some events do not exist because no-one is quick enough to perceive them. To be prosaic: reality is what’s left behind in shared memories and recorded history; a person only what others know about them. It is why we can say with confidence that incest simply doesn't happen amongst sophisticated intelligent siblings. We state emphatically: Claudia is not the kind of woman who falls in love. So obvious are such statements, and they are well-supported by the facts, that they must be, they are true. Of course Lisa does not have a lover; she is too staid, too mousey for that.