The Terrible

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The Terrible

By Yrsa Daley-Ward

Penguin, 2018

ISBN: 9781846149825

The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward

The Terrible shows us the artist as a radical surgeon of her own life.

We begin with Yrsa Daley-Ward’s childhood in Chorley, a small Lancashire town that used to hold a chess congress each August. There she lives with her mother, a nurse, and a younger brother called Roo; an older brother, Samson, away in the army, returns intermittently. For a period she moves to her grandparents’ home – they are strict Christians – before returning to live with her mother and brother, where a succession of step-fathers come and go. It is a life in flux.

What is constant in Yrsa’s life, you glean, here and later, is an undertow of anxiety which flares up at certain moments. There is a suggestion of dysfunction, perhaps an eating disorder or depression. Intensity goes up several notches come puberty: an awakening of desire and fear and empowerment, an awareness of her beauty as a girl, and a black girl at that, race as indelible to identity as gender (and the two somehow conjoined, sharing a heart).

After school Yrsa goes on the road as a singer, with an older boyfriend her manager. Then an office job in Manchester, partying at nights. Moving to London, getting by as a party girl, sometime dominatrix. Writing, getting published. In all of this, you glean, there are moments of breakdown yet resilience too. She keeps coming through.

The Terrible is an episodic, fragmentary memoir marked by scrupulous honesty and cool compassion and vivid portraits of the people in her life, whether family and friends or just people, like Angela, a fellow night club worker. Daley-Ward wields her scalpel and cuts clean, which is not say that there is an absence of blood. In every successful operation, expect blood.

The publisher’s description of this terrible but terrific book is here.

There is also a rather fine (albeit too brief) animated book trailer of The Terrible by Katy Wang which can be viewed here.

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The Headless Woman & Zama

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The Headless Woman

Directed by Lucrecia Martel

Argentina, 2008

HOME, 6 June 2018

The Headless Woman


Zama

Directed by Lucrecia Martel

Argentina, 2017

HOME, 6 June 2018

Zama

These two films were showing as part of the Lucrecia Martel Season.

In The Headless Woman, which I had seen when it first came out and remembered slightly, Verónica (María Onetto) hits something with her car. She believes it was a person, but maybe it was a dog. On confiding to her husband, he calls in a police officer, a friend of the family, to investigate. No incident had been reported. They strive to put her mind at rest. It was just a dog.

A few days later, the body of an Indian boy (Verónica and her family and friends are of Spanish origin) is found close by where the accident occurred and Verónica, concerned, tries to cover her tracks: at the hospital where she had gone for an x-ray after the accident, at the hotel where she stayed over afterwards. But she finds that it has already been done. All records of her presence are missing. Someone is watching over her, keeping her out of danger of the law.

It is an impressive, low-key study of a corrupt society; and all the more potent for that. You are careless or culpable for a crime but are not punished for it: if that is not power and privilege in action, then what is? People cover up for you, do you a favour, and will naturally expect favours in return: if that isn’t corruption, then what is? She is not a bad person, by any means, this Verónica – and we see her working for the public good, examining Indian childrens’ teeth. She simply wants to protect her position, a position of power and privilege. Martel shows us how power relations in Argentina are embedded in everyday life: taken for granted, unremarked upon, barely visible.

As for Zama, the most recent film, it is set in Argentina when it was a colony of Spain. The opulence of empire is nowhere in sight and Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), our hero, desperately wants to get home. He is unhappy, he becomes ill, he is captured by a native tribe. He is betrayed and set upon by his companions. Again, Martel shows us a wholly believable world: like something out of The Master of Ballantrae, this one.

Argentina is a strange, wondrous country , though you might not want to live there.

L’amant double

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L’amant double

Directed by François Ozon

France, 2017

HOME, 6 June 2018

L’amant double

This is a French film that becomes both more absurd and cleverer as you reflect upon it: one of those.

So we have Chloé (the beautiful actress Marine Vacth, often naked or semi-naked here: she really needs to eat more) moving in with Paul (Jérémie Renier), who seems to have a twin brother Louis that he is keeping from her. She is attracted to both brothers and intrigued by the differences between them. There follow myriad sex scenes, including the now obligatory one for European art films of a woman with a strap-on sodomising a man.

In due course, the bad brother (Louis) tries to usurp the good brother (Paul), her husband to be. And so it goes on… a convoluted noir storyline, as though Jim Thompson had come together with the Divine Marquis (I am thinking in particular of his gothic tales here) in an unholy coupling. It holds your attention, without a shadow of a doubt, but at the end you have to work out what was real, what was imagined by Chloé.

Sadly, it is a wonderful confection that crumples into sugar and micro plastic at the close. Cleverly contrived, pasty and superficial, it could barely sustain a repeated viewing. Therefore it’s not a classic film.

I enjoyed it, though!

Happy Days @ the Royal Exchange Theatre

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Happy Days

By Samuel Beckett

Royal Exchange Theatre, 30 May 2018
Happy Days

Maxine Peake does Samuel Beckett: you would go and see that, now, wouldn’t you?

It is a curious contrivance, Beckett’s creature, with Minnie (Maxine Peake) atop a slowly riotating mound of earth, possessing moreover its own moat, where she speaks to herself mostly, while occasionally making conversation (or trying to, the spark rarely ignites) with her slothlike, irresolute (will he?) hubby Willie (David Crellin).

As with Beckett’s other plays, there are various ways to understand and approach this one. Are we in a post-apocalyptic world or is this a mordant portrait of the fag end of a barren marriage? Or perhaps you could say that the play presents a more general account of the relationship between man and woman.

Any roads, our Minnie is central to Happy Days. She speaks most, Willie more often than not her foil. Most of the weight of the play therefore falls on Peake’s shoulders, and you have to concede that she carries it off superbly. She can be bright and chatty, she can do bleak too. And while there are some laughs here, best expect a ten-ton truck unveiling of sorrow. A shoveling of the weight of one woman’s world, here toxic landfill it looks like, spade by spade.

What I missed in the play – and whether this is a deficiency in Beckett or a consequence of the power of his vision, I am not sure – was any sense of an horizon, a world beyond, hinterland, unseen multitudes. There were just these two people, alone, crushed by immediate circumstance. A woman’s lone burden of sorrow, disappointment and pain. Sterile earth. Visceral despair.

Happy Days is showing at the Royal Exchange until 23 June, further details can be found here.

L7: Pretend We’re Dead

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L7: Pretend We’re Dead

Directed by Sarah Price

USA, 2016

HOME, 24 May 2018
L7: Pretend We’re Dead

In their heyday, L7 made a lot of noise, caused not a little commotion.

This documentary is about the all-girl, grunge punk group who were contemporaries of Nirvana. There are interviews with the band members, and we listen also to significant others like their sometime producer Butch Vig. We see footage of them in concert, on the road, at the studio, cooped up in a hotel room.

It is a raw, warts-and-all, disenchanting documentary. You come away knowing what rock and roll costs, the dues these women have paid.

The Young Karl Marx

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The Young Karl Marx

Directed by Raoul Peck

Belgium, 2017

HOME, 24 May 2018

The Young Karl Marx

A biopic of sorts, and right at its centre is the romance between Marx and Engels.

When we meet him he is with the Young Hegelians (in truth, never my favourite band) but dissatisfied. Engels turns Marx’s gaze toward the world, gets him to engage with the thought of economists like Smith, Ricardo, etc. Together, they create communism, a creed that changed the world, yes, but was it for the better? Perhaps that ‘All Men are Brothers’ line, deriving from Methodism and ridiculed by Engels, was better a better bet. And was much more what socialism in Britain was about.

In one scene we see Marx identifying as a Jew, in another on the receiving end of an anti-Semitic jibe. I wonder, is this historically accurate? Isn’t it rather the case that the author of ‘On the Jewish Question’ was prey to anti-Semitic tropes and ideas himself? (There is, for example, the association of Jews with usury – a connection made by Luther et al.) That Marx was Jewish doesn’t excuse him from this, any more than it does Abram Leon (who besides being Jewish was a victim of the Holocaust). And Marx and Leon’s texts are the basis of much of the anti-Semitism on the Left in Corbyn’s Labour Party.

This was a pleasant enough film in its way, just not historically accurate and so not really about Marx.

Revenge

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Revenge

Directed by Coralie Fargeat

France, 2017

HOME, 24 May 2018

Revenge

Structurally, this is a fairly simple film – a video game, almost.

When a young woman is raped by one of three men, the ringleader throws her off a cliff to kill her and so keep her quiet. They leave her for dead (because impaled on a branch, how could she possibly survive?), but when they idle by later to dispose of the body, it is gone. So they go after her. And as they hunt her down, she tries to pick them off one by one. The dynamic is like Christa Faust’s novel Money Shot.

There have been some comments about this film that see it as being about female empowerment (#metoo, #time’sup, all of that). Actually, it is a film that’s all about spectacle: sexual spectacle, horrific spectacle. Expect to see bold and brazen nakedness, lots of bloody gore, a great deal of grunting and groaning in pain. And at one point two combatants tussle, slipping and sliding in each other’s blood.

I enjoyed it.

If…. & A Fistful of Dollars

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If….

Directed by Lindsay Anderson

UK, 1968

HOME, 22 May 2018

If....


A Fistful of Dollars

Directed by Sergio Leone

Italy, 1967

HOME, 22 May 2018

A Fistful of Dollars

I saw these two, apparently dissimilar, films at HOME on the same day.

They are, actually, very different indeed: one an explosive allegory of the British Empire 1.0, the other a classic Clint Eastwood Western. Yet in the two films, the hero’s trials and tribulations, the catalyst for their bloody retribution, is more or less the same. Let us look at it.

Mick (the brilliant Malcolm McDowell) is beaten up by the seniors, as Joe (Clint Eastwood) is beaten and tortured and interrogated (naturally, he doesn’t talk) by a gang of Mexican bandits. Away from their tormentors (Joe has to escape first, which he does by getting out of town by hiding in a coffin), both plot their revenge by practising their shooting skills: Mick takes pot-shots with an air pistol at the photos on the wall of his den (later he will use real bullets in a real gun), while Joe gets his injured gun-hand in gear once more by aiming at the heart of a steel shield. There is an all guns blazing showdown at the end of both films, A Fistful of Dollars featuring a gunfight with one man standing (guess who?) at the end of it.

If…. (the ellipsis in the title & the title credits has four dots not three, which will be intensely annoying for some) is a truly classic film, rewarding many viewings: note, for example, the sympathetic portrayal of homosexual desire, young Bobby watching entranced as an older boy, Wallace, practices his gymnastics. And whilst A Fistful of Dollars, a Spaghetti Western, is your typical Clint Eastwood vehicle, it does have its moments: spectacular gunfights, horses being driven at break-neck speed as Ennio Morricone’s martial music throws down a throbbing beat, the bandits’ infectious glee in destruction (their eyes anticipating fire and pyrotechnics), Joe as Jesus Incognito, undergoing death and rebirth and miraculously evading myriad bullets up close. A Fistful of Dollars is also worth seeing because it is one of the fragments that makes up the mosaic of ‘Clint Eastwood, Gunfighter’. The magnificent Unforgiven (a genuine classic) alludes to A Fistful of Dollars as to other films.

The Cremator

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The Cremator

Directed by Juraj Herz

Czechoslovakia, 1969

HOME, 19 May 2018

The Cremator

Set around about 1938, with the Nazis on the brink of invading Czechoslovakia, we follow the fortunes of an undertaker who enthuses about cremation as a thoroughly modern (and eminently humane) way of disposing of the dead.

He has a Jewish wife, and, when we meet him at first, is reluctant to have any truck with the Nazis in his midst, one of them an old childhood friend. Yet he slowly comes around when they take power. To fit in with the new order, he must divest himself of his friends and employees, his wife and children – so that is what he does.

There is an astonishing scene about two thirds of the way through where a meeting turns to talk of mass cremation – the ovens of the death camps, though they have not yet come into existence – and we see a montage of images out of Bosch (it looked like the ‘Vices’ panel of the Garden of Delights, but I may be wrong). It put me in mind of Carl Zuckmayer’s description of the rioting in Vienna in March 1938: he also alluded to Bosch (look here).

This came across as a very disturbing, very powerful film that I would rank alongside István Szabó’s Mephisto as a study of the seductive savagery of Nazi ideology.

Mind, the Tibetan Buddhist spiel seemed a bit out of place.

RNCM Jazz Collective

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RNCM Jazz Collective

RNCM Theatre, 12 May 2018

A concert of many colours.

We were taken all around the world, as Mike Hall and his talented collective played jazz from all four corners of the globe. Duke Ellington featured a few times, there was a tango suite by Astor Piazzolla, and a wonderfully atmospheric street tapestry of sound (conjure the noise of a boisterous Arabian bazaar) by a Lebanese composer whose name I cannot now recall.

Of the countries represented, vivid impressions of Africa (particularly South Africa) and the Carribean (a joyous calypso number), Norway and Egypt, occupy a firm foothold in my memory still.

There were brilliant solo performances on saxophone, trumpet, piano, guitar… And as a collective, the musicians were storming. Global warming? Nah, full-on global roasting.