7 March 11
State of Siege
Last week I finished reading Fernand Braudel’s masterful tome The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, a book which I’ve been wanting to get through for about twenty-five years now. Looking around for other retellings of the same theme I came across the author Roger Crowley, who has recently written the books 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West and Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, The Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World. Crowley is an able storyteller, and I finished both these books in rapid succession. Sieges are at the center of both books: the siege and the fall of Constantinople being the subject of the first, and the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 being the centerpiece of the second book.
After reading Crowley’s narrative I decide the siege of Malta would make a great movie, hitting a number of good storytelling tropes: an epic defense against overwhelming odds; the sacrifice of one contingent of the defenders to buy time for the rest; and finally rescue by the arrival of reinforcements just in time (delayed by the ditherings of Philip II off in Spain). Sieges don’t seem to make it into war movies very often though. What comes to my mind is Helms’ Deep in The Two Towers, and switching from fantasy to history, the 1964 movie Zulu. This list of top ten siege movies doesn’t really add any other examples of siege warfare, most of the movies on the list being thrillers or horror flicks. I don’t think the siege of Constantinople has quite the potential for being a movie as does the siege of Malta. Not that 15th-16th century Mediterranean history has the slightest chance of making it into the movies: how can you film a historical drama without there being any English royalty around?
13 February 11
Numenius and I walked the five miles into town and back yesterday to see The Ilusionist, one of the three animation films nominated for an Oscar this year. It probably won’t get one because the Academy is so very safe and the Toy Story triology is over and will be hard for them to pass up, but you should go if you get the chance.
Jacques Tati wrote the screenplay in the late 50s. His daughter gave it to Sylvain Chomet after he’d asked her for permission to show a clip of Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot in The Triplets of Belleville/Belleville Rendezvous. The resulting animated film is like having another — another! — Tati film come to life. He’s right there, exquisitely drawn, every expression and gawky crumple-from-the-middle impossibly perfect. There’s a scene in which the magician bumbles into a theatre playing Tati in Mon Oncle, leaving, not quite leaving, finally walking through a gate; it’s his cue to depart, leaving the young Shetland islander-turned Edinburgh beauty he’d been a father-figure to behind in the arms of the future — television and rock-and-roll. It’s the most loving story of loss and, well, passing.
If this film weren’t so heartwrenching I’d go back today. Actually, I’d watch all of Tati first and then go — I caught some of the references but lost many more, doubtless, and part of what makes this so painful is that my father was such a Tati fan. What I definitely want to do is listen to the final song (written, as was the entire score, by Chomet himself) — this film is almost devoid of dialogue and lots of clues are to be found in the lyrics, but I didn’t catch them all.
24 December 09
But We Forgot The Beer Beforehand
Yesterday we went to see “Invictus,” the movie directed by Clint Eastwood about Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s largely Afrikaner rugby team, the Springboks, during the 1995 Rugby World Cup played in South Africa. It’s a great story, and pretty much all true. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon do credible jobs playing respectively Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar, the team captain of the Springboks. In classic sports movie trope fashion, the underdog Springboks manage to win the final, and more significantly help to unify the country in those fragile post-apartheid years.
As it happens there’s a bit of local color to the story. There’s a guy in Davis named Michael Lewis who writes a column every month or so in the local paper on beer and brewing (Lewis started the brewing science curriculum here at UCD). His last piece was about the story of the movie. It turns out Lewis was actually in attendance at the final of the World Cup, having been an amateur rugby player from a long ways back and for some reason was on hand in South Africa at that time. As he puts it — “The event is quite clear in my memory — despite a prodigious amount of pre-game beer sunk with my son and my brother-in-law, at his club — because it is, without a doubt, the seminal moment of my life associated with a sporting event.”
He concludes: “I look forward immensely to seeing the movie…partly, I suppose, because I’m an old rugby player, but mainly because I feel some ownership of it, odd as that might seem. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it as well. Look out for Jonah Lomu, the SAA 747 *, and the No. 6 jersey. And to make the experience thoroughly authentic, have a few beers before you go.”
* The bit in the movie about the jetliner is true.
10 December 09
We’re now well into the off-season, and one of these days we will need to break out the baseball movies to make it through the winter without ballgames to entertain us. Maybe we’ll even watch some we haven’t seen before. Of course the tropes of these movies will be familiar: sports movies seem to center around the same half-dozen tropes: the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits (Major League), the player on an end-of-career Redemption Quest (For Love of the Game), the Miracle Rally (Major League again)…
The above links are all from a wonderful site that took me only six years to run across, the by-now-quite-misnamed TV Tropes. This is a wiki whose participants have been cataloging all the tropes of creative storytelling they can identify: not just in TV, but in film, literature, poetry, anime, games, theatre, and real life. Completely fascinating. Even A Spot of Tea hasn’t escaped their attention.
22 February 09
Academy Awards We'd Like To See
Somehow I found myself this evening at yet another annual Oscar party, the occasion of which coincided with a friend’s 65th birthday party. I did well this year: the only two movies that I saw which were nominated for anything both won: Slumdog Millionaire and WALL-E. Usually I spend the entire evening spending wondering who all those folks up on the stage are, most of whom I wouldn’t recognize if I were trapped in an abandoned elevator with them.
We clearly need a list of alternative Academy Awards, perhaps to honor the less glorious but hardly inessential roles in film production. Let’s see:
- there’s the obvious Best Best Boy
- and Best Gaffe by A Gaffer
- Can’t forget those who back up the renderfarms: Best Systems Administrator
- For those who stay for all the credits: Best Titling
- and Most Amusing Clip Shown After Nearly All The Credits Are Finished
- And what about Best Lettering Outside Of A Titling Role (The Tale Of Despereaux is a good candidate here)
- And everyone in the film crew should be interested in Best Catering On Film Site (or maybe not — maybe filmmakers don’t eat like bicycle racers).
8 February 09
Yesterday we saw the documentary Höllentour [English title Hell on Wheels] to get us psyched up for the upcoming Tour of California. This is a German film that follows one team (Telekom/T-Mobile) during the 2003 Tour de France. The team had a good though not outstanding Tour and the film focuses on the sufferings of the riders on the team. Andreas Klöden breaks his tailbone in a fall early in the race and withdraws halfway through; the sprinter Erik Zabel who was previously indomitable, winning six consecutive green jerseys from 1996 to 2001, finds himself coming up third or fourth in all the big sprints; Rolf Aldag wears the polka dot jersey for a day and comes down with a cold in the mountains; and Alexander Vinoukorov, though he wins a stage in the mountains, cannot best Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong and finishes third overall. As a cycling-mad priest says in the film: there are two sorts of suffering, negative suffering and suffering which occurs through great efforts. The latter is positive, ennobling suffering.
23 June 08
Baseball Movie All-Stars
What would be the best lineup one could come up out of the fictional players in baseball movies? Here is one view on the topic.
Hmm, one of these years we’re going to have to see Major League.
29 October 07
Thanks to Richard’s recommendation I have just finished reading Philip Pullman’s exquisite trilogy His Dark Materials. I am skeptical though about the upcoming film of the first book The Golden Compass due out in December. There are too many possible ways the movie can go wrong. At the very least, it has quite a tightrope to walk: how do you make a movie that will appeal to mainstream theistic America when a major theme of the trilogy is condemnation of organized religion. The answer seems to be to water down the philosophy and throw in lots of CGI.
Several years ago there was a stage adaptation of the trilogy performed at the National Theatre in London in two different runs. I will never get the chance to compare the versions but I suspect that I would find the theatrical version much more satisfying than the upcoming film. Theatre leaves a lot more to the imagination, after all.
23 September 07
YouTube At Two Inches
I am now in Victoria, BC attending a conference this week on open source GIS. Pica has this amazing gizmo that is perfect for such trips. This is a Nokia N800 internet tablet. It’s a little bigger than a file card and does wireless: web browsing, email, and anything else you might want to do on the net. I’m blogging this lying on my back.in bed, holding it in my left hand. And I can catch up on movie trailers too:nothing like watching tte one for “Sleuth” on a two-inch wide window!
6 August 07
Musicological Podcasts Await
For some reason I was thinking about Beethoven’s ‘Waldstein’ piano sonata today (Opus 53 in C major), all of which led me to discover that the pianist Andras Schiff in the course of performing the complete Beethoven piano sonata cycle in London last year also gave a series of accompanying lectures. Podcasts of the eight-part lecture series are available from the Guardian Unlimited music site.