30 April 2011

Oulipo Galore

I really should be doing other things right at this moment, but as I've stumbled on a fascinating website - in fact Oulipo's own - I just had to linger. I've no time right now to speak of its many delights, although I will say that they include a huge list of constraints, such as the grafted alexandrine, the simple immoral (the opposite of the simple moral), and the snowball, which is a poem starting with a one-letter line, continuing with a line with a two-letter word, and so on until a certain number of letters is reached. A melting snowball does the opposite, and starts with the longest word.

There's an additional constraint for many people, though: it's in French. Oulipian madness here.

27 April 2011

The NME Speaks

"In this week's NME... (26/04/11)

"To ‘celebrate’ the wedding of Prince ‘I’m normal, me’ William and Kate ‘I’m aristocratic, me’ Middleton, we have a very special cover star come to spoil the mood. Tyler, The Creator is the most exciting new star in music bar none. And he’s proper evil. Him and his collective group Odd Future have been making huge waves in the States with their nihilistic, visceral rap, and as he prepares to hit the UK we find out about the filth behind the fury..."

Now that's what I call news.

David Lipsky and Rick Moody: David Foster Wallace's 'The Pale King' - Bookworm on KCRW

Just click on the title, then click on 'Listen' for Michael Silverblatt's 29-minute radio interview.

An Oulipo Mini-Anthology - Bookworm on KCRW

Just click on the title, then click on 'Listen' for Michael Silverblatt's 29-minute radio interview with Ian Monk, Daniel Levin Becker, Marcel Bénabou, Anne F. Garréta and Hervé Le Tellier  - plus a recorded reading by Jacques Roubaud.

26 April 2011

Sue Monk Kidd: The Mermaid Chair (2005)

Sue Monk Kidd was in her fifties by the time her first novel The Secret Life of Bees (2002) was published, but her second - The Mermaid Chair - reads like a far more mature work.

Kidd was born in Sylvester, Georgia, although she now lives near Charleston, South Carolina, and The Mermaid Chair occupies a place in  the Low Country sub-genre of Southern literature. Although set almost entirely on the fictional barrier island of Egret, on which stands a fictional monastery, Kidd had Bull Island in mind, and the Mermaid Chair in its chapel is based on the Mermaid Chair in the parish church of St Senara, Zennor, Cornwall, England.*

Zennor of course was where D. H. Lawrence and his German wife Frieda fruitlessly sought refuge from the zenophobia of the time in 1915 (and where Katherine Mansfield and Middleton Murry briefly joined them), and it no doubt didn't escape Kidd's attention that D. H. Lawrence's most famous novel Lady Chatterley's Lover is partly about adultery. In The Mermaid Chair, Jessie Sullivan's adultery with Brother (Doubting) Thomas (or Whit in, er, real life) is central to the story, and the intense emotional and sexual development the couple experience (and their love nest surely owing something to Mellors's hut in Lady Chatterley?) is a major part of the their individual development as separate, more fully rounded people.

This intelligent novel of challenges to spiritual,  sexual and familial life, although very popular, does not deserve to be restricted to the chicklit ghetto to which some people (quite possibly unintentionally) might seek to confine it.

*The legend is that a mermaid living in nearby Pendour Cove fell in love with Matthew Trewhella, who sang the closing hymn in the church every night. She took to visiting the church in a dress, he took one look at her and fell in love too, carried her to the cove and disappeared into the sea with her. The Mermaid Chair has two wooden bench ends, one of which is carved with a mermaid holding a comb and mirror.

24 April 2011

Maeve Brennan: The Visitor (2000)

Maeve Brennan (1917-93) was born in Dublin, Ireland, and moved with her family to New York in 1934.  In the 1940s she was a fashion copyist for Harpers Bazaar, then wrote as 'The Long-Winded Lady' for the New Yorker, where she later often slept in the restroom as a result of alcoholism and mental illness.

She wrote short stories and her novella The Visitor, written in the 1940s, was published posthumously (Washington DC: Counterpoint Press, 2000). The UK edition (London: Atlantic Books, 2001) contains a Foreword by Clare Boylan, in which she says:

'Brennan doesn't just write about loneliness. She inhabits it. She exhibits it. She elevates it to an art form. The shy, the dispossessed, the dominated, are seen not in the world but teetering on some perilous rim of it, from where they cannot possibly keep their balance but have a unique view.'

There have been suggestions that Maeve Brennan was the principal model for the main character - Holly Golightly - in Truman Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's.

22 April 2011

Andrea Arnold's Red Road (2006)

Andrea Arnold's first feature film Red Road is part of the three-movie project Advance Party, of which the other two are Donkeys by Morag McKinnon (which, like Red Road, is also set in Glasgow and premiered in Edinburgh last year) and a work by Mikkel Nørgaard, about which almost nothing seems to be known as yet. Advance Party stipulates that several named characters be used in each movie, and that the actors remain the same, although they can have an important or minor part,  and different back stories and different relationships from the other two movies in the project.

Red Road was filmed in north-east Glasgow, mainly in the Red Road area (including inside the Broomfield Tavern), and on Saracen Street. Kate Dickie (as Jackie Morrison) gives a superlative performance as the surveillance officer who works the CCTV console and sometimes laughs at the sights she sees - such as an office cleaner dancing to her personal stereo as she empties trash cans, or an middle-aged man attending to his old bulldog - although she is normally alert to any trouble in this rather grim area of Glasgow.

We know nothing of the characters' history and must just wait while the plot unravels. For instance, we are unaware initially of Jackie's past, only that she lives alone and wears a wedding ring, but has orgasmless, expressionless sex in the front seat of her married friend Avery's van every few weeks. What pulls her up sharp is when she sees a man take a young woman behind a garage and have sex against a wall. Although this is even somewhat more sleazy than the van, Jackie is visibly moved, her hand tightens on her leg, and she rather obviously caresses the joystick on her console as the young woman enjoys her orgasm: clearly, this is very different from her experiences with Avery.

But when Jackie sees the face of the man, who is later discovered to be Clyde Henderson (played by Martin Compston), she begins stalking him both via the CCTV cameras, and in the outside world: to the Red Road flats. (There is an echo of Arnold's short movie 'Wasp' when Nathalie Press (as April this time) is again seen in a filthy kitchen, where she tips the contents of a dog food can directly onto the floor.) The viewer doesn't know why Jackie is stalking Clyde: this will only be revealed slowly, when we learn how her life as a wife and a mother has been ruined. 

This is a powerful thriller, with an amazingly incongruously loving sex scene, violent menace often close to the surface, and fully convincing characters complete with contradictions. This is not social comment, but it sure is great movie making.

Red Road flats are (very soon were) real enough - five huge towers and two huge 'slabs' were built in the 1960s in Barmulloch, Glasgow, and are now under demolition. A website containing text and photos of their history and a great deal of other information about them is

18 April 2011

Angela Brazil, Philip Larkin and Coventry, Warwickshire

1911 - 1947'

Angela Brazil (1868-1947) lived at 1 The Quadrant (at present ugly with scaffolding), and by now, most of those who have heard of her will know that she pronounced her surname to rhyme with 'dazzle': she was that kind of person, and her tales of slangy, spunky young teenaged girls did represent an innovation in the genre. But if today her novels of girls' schools and girls called Lesbia, with lots of homosocial kissing and enthusiasm, etc, seem dated and perhaps a little too obvious to be completely innocent, whatever message they were or weren't intended to have wasn't lost on the young Philip Larkin.
In the 1930s, Larkin often used to see Brazil around Coventry, and reading her schoolgirl fiction was an influence on him: as 'Brunette Coleman' (the jazz interest clearly showing through), Larkin wrote schoolgirl fantasies in the Angela Brazil style in the early forties, although Trouble at Willow Gables and Other Fictions wasn't published until 2002, some years after his death.
This book doesn't exactly show the best of Larkin, and some people may call him a cheeky little monkey, but why give him a ragging for the frightfully topping time he must have had writing them?

For the curious, a number of Angela Brazil's novels are online: What fun!

Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Lady Godiva

The statue of Lady Godiva stands at the entrance to the Cathedral Lanes shopping center in Coventry.

The legend of the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia riding naked through the streets of Coventry as a protest against her husband's savage imposition of taxes on his tenants - and the later added story of Peeping Tom being struck blind for looking at her - is well known. But Tennyson's poem is less known. 
On two sides of the statue are engraved four lines from Tennyson's poem 'Godiva', which he wrote in 1842 on leaving a visit to Warwickshire for London. This is the poem in full:

I waited for the train at Coventry;
I hung with grooms and porters on the bridge,
To match the three tall spires; and there I shaped
The city's ancient legend into this:

Not only we, the latest seed of Time,
New men, that in the flying of a wheel
Cry down the past, not only we, that prate
Of rights and wrongs, have loved the people well,
And loathed to see them overtax'd; but she
Did more, and underwent, and overcame,
The woman of a thousand summers back,
Godiva, wife to that grim Earl, who ruled
In Coventry: for when he laid a tax
Upon his town, and all the mothers brought
Their children, clamouring, "If we pay, we starve!"
She sought her lord, and found him, where he strode
About the hall, among his dogs, alone,
His beard a foot before him, and his hair
A yard behind. She told him of their tears,
And pray'd him, "If they pay this tax, they starve".
Whereat he stared, replying, half-amazed,
"You would not let your little finger ache
For such as these?" - "But I would die," said she.
He laugh'd, and swore by Peter and by Paul;
Then fillip'd at the diamond in her ear;
"O ay, ay, ay, you talk!" - "Alas!" she said,
"But prove me what it is I would not do."
And from a heart as rough as Esau's hand,
He answer'd, "Ride you naked thro' the town,
And I repeal it"; and nodding as in scorn,
He parted, with great strides among his dogs.

So left alone, the passions of her mind,
As winds from all the compass shift and blow,
Made war upon each other for an hour,
Till pity won. She sent a herald forth,
And bad him cry, with sound of trumpet, all
The hard condition; but that she would loose
The people: therefore, as they loved her well,
From then till noon no foot should pace the street,
No eye look down, she passing; but that all
Should keep within, door shut, and window barr'd.

Then fled she to her inmost bower, and there
Unclasp'd the wedded eagles of her belt,
The grim Earl's gift; but ever at a breath
She linger'd, looking like a summer moon
Half-dipt in cloud: anon she shook her head,
And shower'd the rippled ringlets to her knee;
Unclad herself in haste; adown the stair
Stole on; and, like a creeping sunbeam, slid
From pillar unto pillar, until she reach'd
The gateway; there she found her palfrey trapt
In purple blazon'd with armorial gold.

Then she rode forth, clothed on with chastity:
The deep air listen'd round her as she rode,
And all the low wind hardly breathed for fear.
The little wide-mouth'd heads upon the spout
Had cunning eyes to see: the barking cur
Made her cheek flame: her palfrey's footfall shot
Light horrors thro' her pulses: the blind walls
Were full of chinks and holes; and overhead
Fantastic gables, crowding, stared: but she
Not less thro' all bore up, till, last, she saw
The white-flower'd elder-thicket from the field
Gleam thro' the Gothic archways in the wall.

Then she rode back cloth'd on with chastity:
And one low churl, compact of thankless earth,
The fatal byword of all years to come,
Boring a little auger-hole in fear,
Peep'd - but his eyes, before they had their will,
Were shrivell'd into darkness in his head,
And dropt before him. So the Powers, who wait
On noble deeds, cancell'd a sense misused;
And she, that knew not, pass'd: and all at once,
With twelve great shocks of sound, the shameless noon
Was clash'd and hammer'd from a hundred towers,
One after one: but even then she gain'd
Her bower; whence reissuing, robed and crown'd,
To meet her lord, she took the tax away,
And built herself an everlasting name.

Ellen Terry and Coventry, Warwickshire

Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928) was for many years a leading Shakespearean actress who is perhaps best remembered today for her correspondence with George Bernard Shaw. Terry came from an acting family, her parents being in a touring company. She made her debut at the Prince's Theatre in London in A Winter's Tale at the age of eight, and very briefly married the 46-year-old artist George Frederick Watts at the age of 16. This blue plaque is on the wall of a building near where she was born on Market Street in the center of Coventry.

Ellen Terry at the age of 16, by the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

Philip Larkin in Coventry, Warwickshire

I was initially surprised to learn, in James Lasdun's review of David Foster Wallace's posthumously published The Pale King – a work in progress that Wallace's editor Michael Pietsch painstakingly fashioned into an unfinished novel following the author's suicide – that Larkin had been one of Wallace's favorite writers. But on reflexion, and particularly bearing in mind the main theme of boredom in The Pale King, the interest in Larkin seems much more understandable. And the remark of Wallace's friend Jonathan Franzen that he died of boredom means that this on the surface slightly insensitive, slightly throwaway line develops a deeper significance.

But I digress, as usual. Last year I drove to Kingston-upon-Hull for the weekend and made a long post here about the 'Larkin with Toads' temporary (mainly street) exhibits of fiberglass toads commemorating the 25 years since Larkin's death. I uploaded many of the photos taken, which included all of the 40 toads apart from two which had been vandalized and taken away for repair, and one which the Calvert Centre chose to keep hidden out of hours. Out of all 450 or more posts in this blog, Larkin's toads remains by far the most popular one, and a TV company even contacted me to ask for my permission to copy Magenta Toad, which had been stolen from the Melton industrial estate.

But what of the pre-toad Larkin, the young Larkin? It was time for a visit to Coventry.

The leaflet 'Philip Larkin's Coventry' was published in 2009, with text by Don Lee of the Philip Larkin Society, and most of my comments here – even a later one on Angela Brazil – are culled from that publication.

Larkin's parents Sydney and Eva (née Day) moved to Coventry from Birmingham when Sydney was appointed Deputy Treasurer in Coventry. He was made City Treasurer on the same year that Larkin was born, in 1922.

Philip Arthur Larkin was named after the poet Philip Sidney (1554–86) and Eva's brother Arthur, and was born on  9 August at 2 Poultney Road, Radford, Coventry, which at the time of course would not have, er, boasted the stone cladding. This is a private residence.

Larkin was baptized in the old cathedral on the month after his birth. There's a slight case of converging verticals there, but then I did almost have to position myself almost on the ground.

The ruins of the cathedral, which was destroyed during World War II in 1940. Sir Basil Spence's very impressive new cathedral stands at the side of it.

After a few years at Cheshunt Preparatory School on Mason Road, Larkin went to King Henry VIII School on Warwick Road. His first prose publication, 'Getting Up in the Morning', appeared in the school magazine, The Coventrian, in 1933. Five years later, it published his first poem: 'Winter Nocturne'.
Arthur Moy, who lived with his parents at 21 Stoney Road, was a great influence on Larkin, who regularly went there to listen to music with other young friends. Larkin was later to be a huge fan of jazz.

Lee's text declares that Larkin went to the Golden Cross Inn on the corner of Hay Lane and Pepper Lane to be with friends, read books borrowed from the library, and 'ogle the barmaid'.

Larkin left Coventry for St John's College, Oxford, in 1940, and by the time he had earned his degree, his family had moved to Warwick. On Platform 1 of Coventry railway station is the first verse of Larkin's poem 'I Remember, I Remember', written in 1954 when the train Larkin was on made a surprise stop at Coventry:




The following year, the poem was published in Larkin's collection The Less Deceived.
The toad blog post is below, along with additional posts:

Larkin with Toads in Kingston upon Hull
Philip Larkin in Newland Park, Hull
Philip Larkin in Cottingham Cemetery

George Eliot in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England

John Letts sculpted the bronze statue of George Eliot (1819-80) which was erected in Newdegate Square, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, in 1986.

The facial representation is flattering.

1819 - 1880
MARCH 22nd. 1986






1862-3 ROMOLA







The George Eliot Memorial Gardens were opened in 1952.

The obelisk was originally at Arbury Park, but was moved on the opening of the gardens.


22 NOV 1819'

22 DEC 1880'

On a stone in front of the obelisk are the large initials 'GE' with her date of her birth and death bottom left.

The George Eliot Hotel in Bridge Street was a coaching inn called the the Bull Hotel, and features in 'Janet's Repentance' in Eliot's Scenes of Clerical Life as the Red Lion.

The inn sign shows Frederick William Burton's representation of Eliot.

The Felix Holt in Stratford Street, Nuneaton, is one of the very few pubs named after a book.

The town of Milby in 'Janet's Redemption' is based on Nuneaton, and the parish church features in it. 

In the story, the character Dempster is based on the lawyer John Buchanan, whose tomb is in the churchyard by King Edward Street.

11 April 2011

Andrea Arnold's Wasp (2003)

Wasp (2003) won an Oscar for Best Short Film, Live Action, and is maybe an indication of what is now almost beginning to seem like an exciting revival in British cinema, of which we can perhaps include the more experimental work of Clio Barnard, that of joint directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, and the (upper-middle-class-centered, of course) films of Joanna Hogg. Arnold continued the promise of this short with the feature films Red Road (2006) and Fish Tank (2009), both of which have been well received critically.

Wasp is 26 minutes long and is set on a grim Dartford sink estate in Kent, England. The main character Zoë (Nathalie Press) is a single mother with four children, one of whom is a baby. Two minutes into the film, we've already seen Zoë striding out into the estate barefoot in her nightgown, carrying a bare-assed baby, brawling with a female neighbor on the grass, and being very liberal with the graphic insults.

There's obviously considerable internal conflict when this attractive twentysomething woman gets a date at the Jolly Farmers with ex-boyfriend Dave (Danny Dyer), but even her confusion over this, of which the lie that she is just child-minding has no small part, can't excuse her picking up a pacifier from the floor and sticking it directly in a bag of sugar and directly in the baby's mouth. But hell, even the other kids are eating sugar from the bag because the only other potentially edible material is a few slices of white bread with mold.

So Zoë goes to the Jolly Farmers pub, where Dave (who looks like David Beckham, says one of the kids) goes all egalitarian when Zoë comes in and finds him playing pool, expecting her to get a round in - he still doesn't know about the kids (who are hanging around outside), and doesn't seem to have the wherewithal to imagine the complications.

Then, at closing time, the kids are told to hide near the pub and the couple start to make out in Dave's car, but a wasp disturbs play by the baby being attacked by one, so Dave drives them all back home for a serious or something talk with Zoë. Talk? The movie seems to have evaded it right to the end.

This is not the British New Wave of the late 50s to early 60s, but new blood is waiting to take over the mantle of the more recent Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. In such a very different way though? Let's wait and see.

9 April 2011

Voltaire and the Unenlightened Frédéric Lefebvre

The French are far from noted for their Philistinism, but business minister Frédéric Lefebvre would take some beating in that department. When asked which book had made the most impression on him, he replied 'Zadig et Voltaire': he of course meant Zadig by Voltaire, but the business world got in the way and he confused it with the French clothing firm Zadig & Voltaire. French 'internautes' wouldn't let him get away with this, obviously, and came up with such imaginary literary-business bastardizations as 'Capital by Marx and Spencer', 'Alpha Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare', 'Swatch's Way by Marcel Proust', 'The World According to Gap by John Irving', '1668 by George Orwell', etc.

My contribution? Shopping and FCUKing by Mark Ravenhill.

The blogosphere is merciless. Fortunately.

8 April 2011

David Foster Wallace: Infinite Jest (1996)

Why write about such a well-established novel when David Foster Wallace's new (and of course posthumous) one The Pale King has just been published? Because I began re-reading this literary behemoth (set in Boston and Cambridge, MA) a few weeks ago as I'm going to Boston shortly: I wanted to re-acquaint myself with it.

I have no intention of repeating the various intricate strands of the story, which have been covered so many times, and are more than adequately discussed on The Howling Fantods! website. I just have a few comments to make about this wonderful book which stretches to 1079 pages, 96 of those consisting of 344 endnotes, several of which last for several pages, and several of which have footnotes.

There are a few references to the the seventeen-year-old intellectual and athletic prodigy Hal in this novel as 'Prince Hal', although the most obvious reference to Shakespeare is in the title Infinite Jest itself, which is of course an allusion to two words in Hamlet when the character Hamlet picks up the skull of the king's jester and says: 'Alas, poor Yorick! - I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy'. Significant to the novel is the fact that Infinite Jest is also the title of Hal's father James Orin Incandenza's last film, which is so addictive that anyone who sees it is spellbound and dies watching it, being incapable of performing any other action: therefore this is the perfect terrorist weapon, but that's another narrative, and this thing could go on, er, infinitely. The film director's initials spell the acronym JOI, the French for 'joy', which ties in with the initial effect of the film at least, but bearing in mind the result of this spectation, it is also ironic. Plus it's ironic because JOI (incidentally called Himself by Hal) was a chronic alcoholic with a sexually promiscuous wife who ended his life by putting his head in a microwave. Suicide is of course also contemplated by Hamlet (and also actually carried out by Ophelia), as well as by several characters in the novel Infinite Jest. Hamlet is also thought to be 'Mad as the sea and wind' by his step-father Claudius.

And almost all the characters in the novel are mad or like hopelessly Xed up in some way, and maybe all come from like disfunctional families: apart, that is, from the briefly mentioned representation of the Robert McClosky's fictional Mallard family in his children's book Make Way for Ducklings, now frozen in bronze in the Public Gardens in metro Boston.

Addiction is another way to self-demap: for instance, Steeply's (unnamed) father's addiction to M*A*S*H, which eventually sends him mad; or Gene Fackelman's retreat into the physical and psychic anaesthesia of Dilaudid when he'd have been better advised (by, say, dear old Don Gately) to run as far as possible away from Boston so as to avoid certain demapping (but torture first) by his enemies.

Many of the characters have O.C.D. (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and Marlon (R. in n.24, but K. in n.234) Bain is a blazing example of this, with his ritual washing, checking, cleaning, who takes a T-square onto the tennis court to verify the raquet strings are intersecting at 90 degrees, and who sweats excessively. Himself used him in the film Death in Scarsdale, 'if you want to see way more than you want to know about perspiration', says Hal's brother Orin in transcript fragments for Moment mag in an interview with the transvestite Helen Steeply. Plus, Bain didn't trust his senses and would not only take three hours to shower, but another two to get out of shower door, checking the frame, etc. Later, he owned a greeting card company subsequently bought out by a larger one, and now lives on the third floor of the former Waltham Public Libary, which was the Children's Reading Room, and he never goes out, and of course never has to walk through any doors. (Hal's mother, the Moms, has a far less incapacitating variety of this disorder.)

Maybe an example of Wallace's writing style is screaming out to be read - in the example below, there is an endnote reference which refers the reader to an earlier endnote:

'A woman at U. Cal-Irvine had earned tenure with an essay arguing that the reason-versus-no-reason debate about what was unentertaining in Himself's work illuminated the central condundra of millennial après-garde film, most of which, in the teleputer age of home-only entertainment, involved the question why so much aesthetically ambitious film was so boring and why so much shitty reductive commercial entertainment was so much fun. The essay was turgid to the point of being unreadable, besides using reference as a verb and pluralizing conundrum as conundra.379'

Note 379 states 'See Note 144 supra.'

Note 144 states 'E.g. see Ursula Emrich-Levine (University of California-Irvine), 'Watching Grass Grow While Being Hit Repeatedly Over the Head With a Blunt Object: Fragmentation and Stasis in James O. Incandenza's Widower, Fun With Teeth, Zero-Gravity Tea Ceremony, and Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell', Art Cartridge Quarterly, vol. III, nos. 1-3, Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken.'

Wallace, who began his academic career in mathematics before moving to fiction, explains - in an interview with Michael Silverblatt on the radio program 'Bookworm' 11 April 1996 - that the book is based on the Sierpinkski gasket, although there were a number of emendations to the original typescript that made it a lopsided Sierpinski gasket, and it's basically 'a pyramid on acid'. He says that when he was in his twenties he thought the point of writing was to show the reader how clever the writer was, but he'd never experienced loneliness then, and now he thinks art has 'something to do with loneliness', and he wanted to do something sad, 'about what was sad about America'. He says that part of this sadness that is infusing the culture is related to 'this loss of a sense of purpose or organizing principles, somethin' you're willin' to give yourself away to', and that the addictive impulse which is very much part of today is 'interesting and powerful only because it's a kind of a distortion of kind of a religious impulse, or an impulse to be part of somethin' bigger.' This is his fascinating interview with Silverblatt for KCRW .

4 April 2011

Joanna Hogg's Unrelated (2007)

This still from the film Unrelated shows several people: in the background a group of three in their mid-forties to early fifties, in the centerground three teenagers, and in the foreground on her own is Anna (Kathryn Worth). Anna is a woman in her forties and about the same age as her old friend Verena (Mary Roscoe), who has invited Anna along to join her family at the villa in south Tuscany, near Siena, which they regularly rent for their vacation.

Not a member of the upper-middle-class family group, Anna is in other ways very much unrelated: she can't relate to 'the olds' as the younger group call them, and gravitates more toward the teenagers, although she belongs to neither group in reality. Unexpectedly, Anna has not brought her husband Alex along with her, and appears to be having some kind of crisis in her marriage. She feels some attraction toward Verena's son Oakley (Tim Hiddleston), and this is to some extent reciprocated.

Anna's deep crisis comes when she can no longer pretend to belong to either group, and then her alienation is profound.

Like the actors named above, this is the then 47-year-old Hogg's first feature film. In 1980 kinetic sculptor Ron Haselden wanted her to make a short film of his work, and after meeting Derek Jarman, who lent her his Super 8 camera, she made Paper, as a result of which she got into the National Film School. However, she was sidetracked into a career in television for a number of years, and it was only the death of her father in 2003, followed by a three-year period of dealing with personal issues, that in the end spurred her on to making her first feature.

Elements of Hogg's own life fed into Unrelated, for which she needed a childless woman. Anna has never been a teenager, never experienced that freedom, so it is natural that she should feel attracted to the younger group as opposed to her friend who has enjoyed the sexual revolution, and has a family. But of course, she remains rudderless.

A number of critics have noticed how unlike her movie is to British films, more European mainland, perhaps particularly akin to the cinema of Éric Rohmer, reminding of his use of natural light and similar social situations.* This Hogg acknowledges, and also mentions that she watched Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia and read Mann's Death in Venice as well as the English L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between. Bresson's Notes on Cinematography is a vade vecum, and she particularly likes his credo of letting the feelings create the events rather than vice versa.

Yasujirō Ozu is also a great inspiration to Hogg, as she is drawn toward directors who have a 'still approach' to cinema, and Ozu pared things down to the minimum and left them unexplained. Unrelated has many long shots where there is no panning and the camera is motionless, and long facial close-ups that slowly reveal character without underlining anything. The use of the low budget Sony Z1 with which the film is shot necessitated this approach anyway, as panning too fast would have resulted in pixellation.

Important events happen offscreen so that only the reactions of the characters are seen, as Hogg believes this has a much more powerful effect, such as the father's anger toward the son in one of the villa rooms that is heard from the swimming pool by the others.

This is a hugely impressive, haunting début movie, and Hogg's second feature, Archipelago - which has received even better reviews than Unrelated - is coming to these parts soon.

*I was strongly reminded of the content of Le rayon vert (1986).

1 April 2011

Oxford American #72

The latest issue of Oxford American has just arrived, and shows the writer Barry Hannah (1942-2010), who died last March, on the cover.  It contains several pages of tributes, and an article on him by John Oliver Hodges. He was born in Meridian, Mississippi, and died in Oxford MS, where he had taught Creative Writing at Ole Miss for 28 years. Hodges took a drive around Tuscaloosa AL with Hannah a few years ago, and I'd already seen the 10-minute video of it, which is hereAn example of Hannah's writing is this short story 'The Spy of Loog Root', published in Oxford American in 1992. This is his obituary in The Guardian, although far more interesting is this article in The New York Observer.

Also in this season's issue is an article about someone unfamiliar to me: Judy Bonds, a coal miner's daughter from Whitesville, West Virginia who died in the New Year, and was a staunch campaigner against mountaintop removal.
Another thing that initially catches my eye (apart from a few pages of correspondence between Eudora Welty and William Maxwell)  is the editor Mark Smirnoff  saying 'the book and first movie handled the material with more wisdom and art' of the Coens' True Grit re-make. Maybe I was right not to go and see it then, although I'll no doubt catch it when it comes to DVD.  And while on the subject, this February Will Self wrote a revisionist take on the Coens.