I am trying my best to follow the thirty-one suggestions in this article from the Observer, thirty-one “literary treats” to “nourish your mind” in these dark days. I went a bit off-piste yesterday when I didn’t have time (or, to be honest, the inclination) to catch up with the day six offering and – full disclosure – I’m unlikely to watch today’s scheduled film at the time it’s broadcast (2.30 on Talking Pictures) but I’ll try and catch up tomorrow.
However today I can report back on the day six suggestion, Saul Williams’ “Tiny Desk Concert” for NPR which can be found on YouTube. First of all I would suggest reading the rubric below the screen first rather than afterwards which is the way I did it! I think I would have made better sense of it if I’d had a bit of a frame of reference. But perhaps the raw reaction is more real: I was initially repelled by this strange noise, then fascinated, and finally moved. Williams performs three poems against a thrumming guitar, angry, passionate, intense, but also smiling, light, in tune with his fellow performers. The thrumming guitar is hypnotic (I was reminded of the scene with the woman turning into a snake from The Silver Chair) but about half way through I was suddenly struck by the idea that this – this! – is what Brecht was aiming at with all that alienation and sprechgesang…
Minor annoyance: can’t youtube carry subtitles? I spent a fair time following the help rabbit down the rabbit hole of google: signing in to my account, looking for “help”, reading about how to spot videos that HAVE subtitles, but not finding anything that would help me with a video *without* subtitles. I started listening to the performance while I was walking. Here’s what I heard:
I'm a candle,
I'm a candle,
Chop my neck a million times
I still burn bright in sandals.
Now that’s… interesting. But it’s a mondegreen. I had to stop walking, sit down and focus intensely on the picture as well as the sound so that I could lipread:
I'm a candle.
I'm a candle.
Chop my neck a million times
I still burn bright and stand, yo.
Universe, I’m middle aged and hard of hearing. I need subtitles.
- Novelty: new to me, good find
- Content: see comments about subtitles. 7
- Performance: 9
- Soul: stirred
Yep, that’s about par for the course for New Year’s resolutions: start off with the best of intentions and then about five days in start thinking, nah.
Let’s see: go back to the SSS diet (no Sweets, Snacks or Seconds except on Saturdays Sundays and Special Occasions) Yep, that one lasted till this evening when my mum offered me half her Lindt chocolate reindeer. Walk my age (for Age Concern, if you fancy sponsoring me) Well yes, I have managed a paltry 6400 steps a day consistently and will make my 64 miles by the end of the month, so maybe on track for that.
And resolution number three? Do the Observer Soul Food thingy? I’m afraid I didn’t have time or inclination to watch twenty minutes of performance poetry today – because I found a Keanu film I hadn’t previously heard of!
Yes, today I watched The Whole Truth, a 2016 courtroom melodrama with Keanu and Renee Zellweger and I’m not even sorry. It was engaging, I guessed the whodunnit before they did the big reveal but not TOO long before.
Weirdly, though, Reeves and Zellweger both have that dreadful “embalmed” look of someone who has had serious work done. I mean, it’s their faces and they can do what they like with them of course, but for someone like Keanu who was so pretty it seems a shame. The thing is, when you’re that good looking young you tend to be good looking old. But if you embalm yourself like that you just start to look like a badly-melted waxwork.
- Novelty: new film, didn’t look at the day’s actual challenge
- Content: sort of interesting
- Performances: what you could see of them, fine
- Soul: cynical and dissatisfied
Time ran away with me today so I’m coming late (strictly speaking, as it’s after midnight, I didn’t make it on Tuesday at all but phhhtt) to the fifth day, where we are sent to hear T S Eliot reading The Journey of the Magi.
This is why authors shouldn’t read their own work. While it’s fascinating to hear him, the man himself, his reading doesn’t stand up well. His delivery is leaden, his voice has those tortured pre-war vowels that make you think of brown, cabbage-smelling corridors and men with pipes.
Serendipitously, YouTube offered me this reading of the same poem, by Edward Petherbridge, always and ever my Peter Wimsey. Now *that’s* the way to do it.
- Novelty: new reading, old poem
- Content: meh
- Performance: just, no
- Soul: shrivelled and hard
No, sorry, I didn’t enjoy Dona Croll reading This Sceptr’d Isle from Richard II. Not because she isn’t good – she clearly is. Not because one of my pet peeves is people explaining speeches and stories instead of just delivering them: I’m used to that, I can get over it.
No, it’s the politics.
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself
I can’t listen to it just now. I just can’t.
- Novelty: new reading, old speech
- Content: unendurable just now, by reason of collective insanity
- Performance: 8
- Soul: hurting
Kate Bush: The Sensual World
It’s 1978 and I’m a student, and I hear this amazing new noise coming out of my radio and I stand, entranced, and listen to this mad whirl of sound about wuthering wuthering wuthering heights…
Later I’m in a darkened room, the drama studio, and there are twenty, thirty of us freestyling to Virginia Plain and Bohemian Rhapsody and, yes, Wuthering Heights (and, trust me, you haven’t lived till you’ve been with a group of drama students making abstract expressionist movement with the speakers turned UP TO ELEVEN and the air full of sweat and cigarettes and patchouli oil..)
I have history with Kate Bush, I suppose I am saying. Wuthering Heights is mad marvellous and Baboushka is proper bonkers and Cloud Busting is plain disturbing and I still see Donald Sutherland being led away in my nightmares. I can’t hide you. From the government.
I can’t fathom how it is that I have never previously seen today’s offering, The Sensual World but Oh it is glorious! and Oh, I am so happy I never saw it when I was twenty, never longed to prance through a burning forest in a velvet dress and watch the stars drop glitter, yes, I would have said, yes.
If you know anywhere I can get the exact shade of purple of the dress in the moonlight – not a dress, obviously: not at my age, with my figure. But maybe a scarf, something. In memory of lost moments.
- Novelty: surprisingly new to me
- Content: eleven, what else?
- Performance: eleven. Bonkers but brilliant.
- Soul: sighing, replete
Day two of the Literary Calendar for January 2021 is the film Clueless. I downloaded it from Sky Cinema although I notice it has also been broadcast this week (the original article suggests watching it on youtube). I have some practical difficulties with watching things that don’t turn up routinely on the freesat channels or on Sky. Firstly, like many of us I imagine, I have crappy broadband. Dear Boris: if you really want to “level up” the country and move all government transactions to “digital first” then spend some money on infrastructure. Pull your finger out and get everybody decent fibre broadband (preferably free of charge, too).
Secondly, as I get older my hearing gets worse. I am hard of hearing rather than actually deaf (I went from “you’re deaf enough to benefit from hearing aids but not deaf enough that the NHS will give them to you” to “you’re deaf enough to benefit from two hearing aids but the NHS will only provide you with one. Which ear would you like?” not long ago.)
I need subtitles. I rely on subtitles. Also, I am a Better Regulation specialist and I can bore for England on the subject of regulation and how the mandation of 100% subtitling is a classic case for regulation (because the marginal cost of providing subtitles is negligible but as it is never going to be profitable to provide them – the number of people who would pay for them probably isn’t enough to cover the costs of subtitling – you level the playing field by requiring ALL broadcasters to subtitle ALL their programmes. This would produce a market for selling programmes on WITH their subtitle file rather than making each broadcaster decide whether or not to subtitle them again… I told you I could bore for England.)
Thirdly, I’m old. I mean, old enough to have seen this film several times before. Which was lucky, as the subtitles on the Sky download were just awful. I mean, they were legible and largely accurate. They were just… mean. And I don’t mean ill-tempered, just thin. Scant. You would see someone speaking and then the subtitles would record a paragraph of speech as “oh yeah!”
I could get the gist, but what is the point of just getting the gist of Clueless? Jane Austen’s Emma is, as any fule kno, the “gist” of Clueless. It’s a very clever movie, in the sense of how cleverly they transpose the Austen characters and relationships into contemporary society. But it didn’t say anything new to me today.
- Novelty: none
- Content: 7. I think on the whole I’d rather go and read Emma again.
- Performance: 8 – oooh look it’s Ant Man! Would probably have been a 9 if the subtitles had been better.
- Soul: still in need of a snack
Day 1: Fangirling Maya Angelou
There was a piece in last week’s Observer suggesting thirty-one things to read or watch in January to “feed your soul” and I thought, right, my soul is feeling distinctly skinny after the year we’ve just had, so let’s have a go. Hello 2021: here we are. Happy New Year!
Day one’s food for the soul is Maya Angelou reading her poem, Still I Rise. OK then, full disclosure, I haven’t read any Maya Angelou before. I mean, I know she’s a cultural icon in the States and all that, and I have seen enough people on the bus or tube reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings to last a lifetime. But you know how you sometimes get an impression of a person’s work from the cultural ether? In my ignorance I have always thought of people who read Maya Angelou in the way Ross describes people called Rain (“Hi! My name is Rain. I have my own kiln and my dress is made out of wheat.”) Pure prejudice against someone I imagined to be worthy and inspirational and so liable to make me feel bad about myself. Wrong!
After watching her read her poem I’m not there any more. This woman is fabulous! Her voice is just gorgeous. I could listen to her all day. And her performance of the poem is gorgeous too – the phrasing, the movement, the glint in her eye. I’m in love.
It’s not taken as read: I have heard at least one Big Name writer read from his work and never been able to read his work again because the… eccentricities, shall we say? of his delivery constantly got between me and the text. Maya Angelou? I’m googling right now to see what other words and works she left out there for us.
Hi. My name is Rain. I have my own kiln and my dress is made out of wheat.
- Novelty: new to me. Glad to have been educated.
- Content: 8 (I can take modern poetry or leave it tbh)
- Performance: 10. I am in love.
- Soul: fed