A rather talented friend has opened an Etsy shop, hoping to sell her gorgeous photographs and her really rather fine drawings. Encourage her talent and buy one – they’re very reasonably priced. You can also follow her vegan cookery blog, The Gluttonous Vegan, which is nearly enough to make any carnivore chew the cud.
Archive for September, 2009
Ann Althouse demolishes ‘philosopher’ Bernard-Henri Lévy in The Philospher’s Petition just a few days after Harry’s Place expresses some surprise at the special pleading – especially from the French – over the arrest of the criminal fugitive Roman Polanski.
If you’d like to know why Althouse is right and French Philosophes wrong, read the grand jury account of the rape and sodomy of a drunk, drugged, 13 year-old girl. Then marvel at the free passes you get if you’re moderately talented auteur.
So Helen’s talking seriously about going back into academia. After about 10 years in teaching, and value-added this year through the roof, adding an average of a whole grade-and-a-half (when hardly any teacher hits even half a grade), and an adoring 6th form and strange cult-like following amongst her past pupils, she’s considering going back to work in a university.
Many years ago, after Oxford, she worked as a researcher at London University, finally giving it up to do something more useful (her words). I’m wondering what she’d do now that would be more useful than the staggeringly good work she does for her 6th Formers in her role as Top Teacher. I sympathise, though; being surrounded by other teachers – and especially the ‘SMT’ as the ‘Senior Management Team’ self-importantly dub themselves – can’t be a great motivator.
The problem is that Anna and Isobel are both very taken with Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig (my favourite Lessig here), who, it has to be admitted, are both charismatic, fluent and highly intelligent speakers; but Anna and Isobel would prefer, I think, to be speaking on the other side of the motion, especially because Doctorow is one of the judges (Lessig was probalby too busy advising Obama…).
I think they have the matter slightly wrong; neither Lessig nor Doctorow are arguing for the complete abandonment of copyright; but it’s a complicated matter to get across in a single debate.
A few weeks ago, hunting through Vimeo, I found Man In A Van by Sean Dunne, a simple but excellent interview with a homeless guy who lives in a van.
Then today, taking a look at David Thompson’s most interesting blog, I saw he linked to a Vimeo video interview called The Archive. Another simple, quiet, effective interview. And it is also by Sean Dunne.
I think that Mr Dunne will go far.
Talking of Normandy, this is a snippet I captured in Pont-l’Évêque this Easter (or Pâques). I liked the tune but have no idea what it is. Anyone?
It was twenty years ago this month that Helen and I went on our first holiday together. We heaved our bicycles, panniers and rucksacks onto the train from London to the South Coast and without having booked any hotels in advance, caught the ferry to Cherbourg.
It was my first visit to France. In later years I got to know the country better and even worked a little in Paris but on this first trip the country and the culture were almost entirely new to me. The rhythm of the days was determined by France’s strangeness; if we cycled until midday and stopped to buy food, the small food shops — the charcuterie, the boulangerie — would be shut. When it got late and we needed to find a place to stay, I’d have to struggle with my rudimentary French and never did get the hang of quickly counted change passed over after a purchase, or of asking for the bill in a restaurant or bar. I still think you’re is supposed to ask for l’Addition but I’ve never heard anyone else do it.
We cycled down the Cherbourg peninsula to St Malo, where we stayed for a while. Then we took a train across to Caen and cycled back via Bayeux to Cherbourg. The day we cycled from Caen to Bayeaux we were caught in a downpour and found shelter in the doorway of a church in the tiny village of Coulombs. While we dried out and waited for the rain to stop, we carved our initials into one of the stone walls of the porch.
carved initials from 1999
Purely by chance we were passing through Normandy ten years later — ten years ago — so we drove through Coulombs again and visited the church that had sheltered us a decade before. We found our initials and we added a second set. 1989 and 1999.
Inside Rouen cathedral
We drove to Coulombs again. We couldn’t find the original carved initials this time but we found the second set from a decade ago and we added another carving to commemorate our third visit and twenty years of being together and taking holidays.
carved initials from this year
We have photos of ourselves taken in Coulombs on that holiday twenty years ago, and of our second visit ten years ago. This year the village felt at first very unfamiliar; the roads seemingly not crossing at the right place, and not heading off in the remembered directions, or the tree under which we sheltered appearing smaller than I recalled; then the memories of that first visit slowly returned as if the span of two decades was just a few months, or at most a year; not twenty years. As I grow older it isn’t the prospect of ageing that scares me; it’s the prospect of the time that’s gone, a sense of depth to the time that’s almost like vertigo.
…the most improper job of any man is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity
Tolkien, reported by Ghost of a Flea
District 9, produced by Peter Jackson and directed by South African Neil Blomkamp, grew out of a short SciFi film from 2005, Alive in Joburg. The action takes place in the near future, several years after an enormous spacecraft has broken down above the city of Johannesburg, and its alien inhabitants, known disparagingly as ‘prawns’, rescued and temporarily settled in the shanty town, Distict 9, located underneath their stricken craft.
The film focuses on the misadventures of Wikus van de Merwe, an employee of a large and predictably evil multinational company called, in what must originally have been an unimaginative script placeholder, ‘Multinational United’, which has been unsuccessfully attempting to exploit the aliens’ organically-integrated weapons technology. When Wikus starts turning into an alien after an accident with a peculiar liquid being collected by one of the aliens from discarded scraps of old alien machinery, he becomes a valuable commodity to the company, which captures him, experiments on him, and, when he escapes, hunts him down.
Wikus hides from the corporation in District 9, finds common cause with one of the aliens, and fights to escape to the alien spacecraft. This noisy, explosive battle in the last part of the film, reminiscent of Jackson’s unbearable fight scenes in The Lord of The Rings trilogy, which the audience endures for a tedious three-quarters of an hour, finally ends any hope that District 9 would begin to fulfil the promise of its peculiarly interesting precursor and the subsequent critical buzz. Instead, District 9 was a let-down: predictable, simplistic, with the aesthetics, storyline and dynamics of a X-Box game. Blomkamp had been slated to direct the movie version of Microsoft’s Halo video game series; when that fell through, Peter Jackson produced District 9 with Blomkamp as director and the result feels very much as though Blomkamp had already started shooting Halo: The Movie and was disinclined to waste the footage.
At the outset, the character of Wikus is hammily played as a gurning, camera-mugging clown; not a put-upon minor functionary but a joke. When, later, terrible things begin to happen to him, the actor Sharlto Copley manages for a short while to add a little dimension and characterisation; but that effort is quickly snuffed out in the inevitable and almost interminable shoot-out.
The aliens themselves are surprisingly badly realised; aside from the slightly crustacean-like heads with politely unobstrusive antennae, they follow the trusted Star Trek formula: humanoid – two arms, two legs, two eyes, walking upright. The child alien, introduced for no real plot purpose has the same unwelcome impact as Chachi in the 70s tv series Happy Days, or the junior Scrappy Doo and is an embarrassing mistake.
But the real gripe with this film lies with its pretensions. This is South Africa, these are aliens living in a slum township. The invitation to consider the film with some seriousness is unavoidable but when the metaphor is pursued it is a huge disappointment and a wasted opportunity; and worse, manages to retain after all these years some trace of the old South Africa.
The aliens, living in a township, are intended to be physically disgusting, although the costume department clarly wasn’t able to create creatures anything like as off-putting as the cast, speaking to camera in documentary style, assure us they are. If it was Blomkamp’s intention to engender unreasonable offence at appearance and lifestyle to insinuate empathy with the white South Africans then he failed; if it was to provoke sympathy for the plight of the aliens then he failed in that too. Short of an easy and slightly outdated dig at the likes of Blackwater to please a critical crowd that has been casting around for an enemy since the fall of the apartheid regime, the film doesn’t address the past or the difficulties of the present day in the slightest – and it might be easy to take offence at some of the clichés, as some Nigerians already have.
This being Blomkamp’s first full-length feature film it’s difficult to guess what talent and promise he has free of the unfortunate influence of Jackson. I doubt I’ll be tempted to watch a film by either of them in the future.