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Monday, 30 March 2020

[Written 27.3.2020]

My photo of a chalk-written message on the side of a kid's play area near Heysham village.
It's a day where the death toll rises sharply in Britain, BoJo gets Coro, and, perhaps as a crumb of comfort, the 'crest of the wave' is predicted by some experts to become apparent in two or three weeks' time. I know this doesn't say anything about timescales for returning to normalcy, but it's another important step on that journey.

I've not been feeling sorry for myself, but my anxieties and whatnot have reached something of a spike. This depression lately has been properly trying to kick my butt. My sleeping is fucked, and that has such a knock-on with my stomach, many things in my head (concentration, that 'fish bowl feeling' etc), what I get done in the day etc... I went shopping today for the first time in over a week (as I've followed the self-isolation guidelines since discovering I had a fever - but I'm aaalright now), and I so desperately wanted to go, to get out the house, to do useful things (compounded for sure by being a carer in various different strengths of responsibility for the past six-ish years, and spending a recent seven months living alone, which fostered in me that sense of knowing exactly what was going on around the house, and being in control of a lot of it), to see the sunlight, see a couple of humans etc. On the other hand, my head was making completely unreasonable scenarios seem likely. I was scared of the idea of the shop 'guards' meeting you outside the shop, standing in a line for who knows how long (and how long would the line be, us all standing two metres apart?), for some reason, I guess the sensation of being 'on display'. Also, there's a big shame thing going round my head at the moment, which centres around the idea of necessity. Yes it's necessary to have food to survive, but I have both the responsibility not to spread Covid-19, and the idea that homeless people don't have the luxury to pop into Tesco with their savings and get things in, which makes me feel guilty. As for the former issue, I have been worried about police patrols stopping me, questioning why I'm out. And I'm not saying I feel so dramatically paranoid that they'd arrest me, seeing something ulterior in my statement about a trip to get some bread and milk, but the emotional impact of being asked, at this time where I'm surprised how bloody fragile I'm feeling, is action-smotheringly looming large at me... Add to that little concerns like, for example, if I was looking at toilet roll - coul I do without it? Are you taking it out the hands of a poor old pensioner? I know, it's comic, but that's how it appears in my head, with the laugh track edited out...

As it happened, the shop was pretty good. A few people decided to walk shoulder to shouler along a pavement, forcing me right out into the road, but other than that everyone was just doing normal things, in pairs at most. The shop still had lots of empty spaces, but I got fruit, bread, even a couple of packets of crisps (hang me! I know they're not necessary and I went and got them anyway), so it felt pretty ok. I saw they were out of pasta, but managed to re-stock on beans, and honestly I forgot to check toilet roll, but that's thankfully not an issue for us at the minute. I self-checked-out, which I always find a shame because I like to talk to the cashiers, but I was happy that I was limiting their exposure (for what it's worth, when they go and serve someone else! But hey, every little helps, right? Or was that Asda?). The biggest difference was all the yellow and black tape all over the floor, marking out 'squares of safety', like we shoppers are counters in a board game. Well, we are in a vast, global strategy game of sorts... Cosmic, in fact. There was a slightly awkward moment on my way out as a person, I don't know, tried to guess which way I was walking, I slowed down to let them past, they sort of stopped so I powered forward, only for them to suddenly change direction and nearly walk into me, potentially unleashing huge plumes of virus-ridden droplets over Heysham, but it never happened.

I don't know why I'm writing this flippantly. Nervous energy, maybe? I really did feel like I was wound up tight before. I felt a little bit better having come back from the shops, but then felt absolutely compelled to get this down, which is unusual. I'm under no illusions that it's just trivial blather about my experiences, and normally I'd say 'hey, maybe some time in the evening get your thoughts down', but I'm a bit frantic, giddy even. It's so weird. I have that NHS advert off the telly in my head, and the red 'x' beside 'visit family or friends' makes me think how hopeless I feel. I've not seen friends in ages, and now it doesn't seem safe to... I feel compelled to try and keep abreast of the news, too, but, as I should bloody well know (maybe my depression is trying to feed itself, keep itself strong while I am weak?), some of it has depressed me, stories of people in cities around the world told not to leave their house at all, not even to get food, walk dogs or whatever. Then someone said, in a very hurt tone, Britain should count itself lucky they can leave the house at all, and I thought 'yeah, absolutely, every day like that is a gift', but then I think, 'but then aren't we part of the problem if we do go outside'? Every point has its obverse... Where am I going with all this...

I don't know whether it's good news or not (oh go on, be positive!), but I've decided to enter this BBC call for scripts (5-10 minutes, involving 2-4 characters in isolation who communicate via video call). I'd apologise for not giving you much notice, but, to be fair, the call only started a week ago, so no-one's had a great deal. Anyway, I'm not moaning, I'm just saying that's the way it is. I'm getting a decent idea together. I want to give them something. A little part of it is 'practice' mentality, but also I want to get my words out there, urgently so at the moment (hence this blog, I guess). I don't know. Am I thinking I'm dying soon? Do I feel dead already?

Hmm... It's a day like this where I could really do with a drink. Again, this is not a joke. I could use one to calm me down, stop feeling the discomfort of existence, and, maybe, to help me get actual sleep tonight. But I won't. Sorry for bringing that up. Anyone out there struggling with substance misuse problems, please stay strong. I know at the moment, nerves are jangling for everyone, and it could seem like a good reason to self-medicate - but honestly, life is still there to be lived, and you can only do that by being here in the present (which substances take you away from). Think of your strength now as a sober person - it's wonderful.

Right, I'm going to 'foxtrot oscar', as one of my colleagues would say :)

Stay safe everyone. Please don't be alone - get in touch with people. They won't mind.

P.S. Tim Martin's an asshole. He's seen some sense - but how much? It stuns me that he even considered fucking over his staff like that. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2020/03/25/wetherspoon-boss-tim-martin-decides-pay-staff/

Friday, 20 March 2020

At Times

I know the internet (and life as a whole) is not so full of positive stuff right now, and here at Blogtastic, we don't mind adding to it. Oh man, what a strange time. Personally, I've been feeling pretty depressed again for a couple of weeks (unrelated to Covid-19), and my head has been feeling like it's full of scrambled eggs. Then my physical health has taken a bit of a dive (I've got a fever, and aches, so I'm currently self-isolating), and my head feels like it's full of cotton wool. Thankfully, it's not even comparable to a normal flu yet, so I feel confident I'll be back to normal after a not too serious period of layoff. But there's so much worse happening elsewhere, that I'm ding-donging between trying not to focus on it (or at least keep it in perspective compared to other causes of death), and being really sad about it. Yesterday, for example, I heard an update on the death toll in Italy, and that shocked me. I know and love a few ace people in the north, and have been thinking about them a lot, wishing them well, and to hear of such a lot of death got to me. I know their lives are radically different at the moment, and they are putting a brave face on things, so I hope that continues, and that mental and physical health bears up under it all (and that goes for the whole world).

Everywhere here has been ghost-towny for a while. The badminton group I go to had about fifty per cent fewer participants last week. That was weird, because normally we can't quite fit everyone on a court (even when four are set up), but this time, there were a load of singles games on only three courts (I mean, yeah, it was nice to be able to play singles, but you're aware that you can only do it because other people aren't there, and that's probably illness related). At work, it's pretty typically odd. I mean, there's never a normal week where I am, in terms of if it's busy or not, or when it gets busy, if indeed it does. Lately, the weeks have been alternating between getting much better, and feeling like it wasn't worth opening up (and so much of this is filtered through my warped perspective by the way, so isn't reliable, but it is how I feel). And the main thing is that it's not foot traffic that makes work weird, but the conversational focus, you know? Just constant rabbiting... It's not getting on my nerves, as such, but it's wearing me down somehow. And then there's the shopping obviously. This, along with the cancellation of sporting events, has been one of the things that's changed my viewpoint from 'this is similar to avian/swine flu, it is being over-hyped and will not be as bad as people are saying' to 'oh shit, this is definitely worse. Even if the virus itself isn't worse, the effects on society certainly are'. So much shelf space is completely empty in shops around me. I was focussing on fresh fruit and veg on Tuesday, and there's plenty of that, but absolutely no pasta or rice, tinned soup, beans, etc gone... I even looked at normal handwash, as we are down to our last tub at home, and there was nothing. Not even bars of soap, or anything antibacterial. It is striking to look at, perhaps a fifth or a quarter of the whole place cleared out. And I can remind myself that, at the moment, I do not need these products, and if I feel 'squeezed' at all, it's only because I have been spoiled all my life, and, even when I've had no money in my account, I've had enough to see me through to payday etc. Now there's a thought in my head, though; what if people carry on in this over-buying behaviour? Like I say, it's stupid thinking. We'll cross those bridges when we get to them, and I'm sure things will stabilise soon, but I'm just in that frame of depression where paranoia pipes up a little louder than usual... And again, what about the people who aren't as lucky?

Anyway, that's all coronavirus stuff... I also wanted to talk about what I've been doing that's nice. Some of it is vegging at the minute, watching episodes of one of my favourite ever programmes, The Larry Sanders Show. Also watching a good few videos from some of my favourite YouTubers, Funhaus, Internet Comment Etiquette (thanks Alex!), and Red Letter Media mainly. They really do absorb me, and make me feel happier. There's been a lot of YouTube focus on the latest DOOM game, which both makes me yearn for an up-to-date console to play it on, and also made me re-visit the original game, which still puts the willies up me, I can tell you.

Also, connection is as important as ever, so I've been keeping in touch with as many of my friends as possible. This is another area in my life in which I am so fortunate. Many of them got in touch with me, and made me realise what a lucky fella I am, offering to get supplies for me if I can't get out and stuff. I sometimes find it hard to socialise. I don't get why, but my mind just recoils from it, or spins on and on until I distract myself with something else. In this moment, however, I feel like my time is more my own (I'm not working for a bit, nor am I doing much for my dad, as I don't want to pass anything onto him), so I feel much more comfortable dropping people lines. Silver linings, and all that jazz.

My own time... This puts me on to the most important part of all: writing. I have submitted to a new competition (quite an interesting little poem, one that ended up seeming very topical indeed), have heard word about a submission of mine from last year (not a competition at all, but a fantastic opportunity to have my work broadcast on local radio :) ), and, y'know, have been working on other stuff. Obviously I've not got my blogging down to any regularity, but I'm doing this RIGHT NOW, and blah blah blah. Reading, too, has slowed a little since those halcyon days of early January, but I'm still doing a bit! I finished Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which will feed into a project I want to do later in the year), am carrying on with Ian McEwan's The Child in Time, have read a couple of pamphlets by Francis 'Drumming Up Poetry' Boua, have really enjoyed Sea Goat Who Screams Poetry's Twittering, Sheppard's latest sonnets, Writers' Cafe #18, Ailsa Cox's 'I Never Had a Mother', and quite a few things I can't remember because I read them in bursts from various different websites. So it all adds up, and I don't mean that in a bean-counting way, but, you know, you do feel more whole, and therefore more able to give more of yourself to your own work when you've been reading well. As a whole...

Anyway, there's actually some good news in this post. Here at Blogtastic, we can only apologise profusely for that, and assure you, dear reader, that normal, harrowing service will shortly be resumed.

Peace, love, and light,

Martin x

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Lemn Sissay Interview

Here's the link: https://scroll.in/article/953193/we-actually-think-in-poetry-because-we-cannot-speak-in-poetry-we-speak-inadequately-lemn-sissay?fbclid=IwAR07NUTNKOmu_EGfsbYGho2tnfuDiau8wDWqA5XJ92C6LVJWsNe3vtbqP6U

Two things struck me. First is the line about 'thinking in poetry'. Maybe someone out there can help me, but I think I've heard something similar before somewhere? Not that I'm trying to call Sissay out on being unoriginal, I'd just like to read more about it. Anyway, I read it and thought 'yeah, that's a nice soundbite', but then mulled it over a little more, and it's quite apt, really. The ramifications of its truth are that speech (and prose, according to him) are standardised against our own inherent nature. I had understood why, in terms of a system of writing, we would want to standardise things, so that everyone can understand each other, but to think that there is such a disconnect between how we experience things, and 'the' rules of expression... It's a bit thought-provoking, anyway.

Certainly I think poetry is in the best place to reflect the experience of living. In prose you can describe it, and set such a scene, you can capture it, but not the experience of it, i.e. to make you feel like you're going through it. Sort of present tense vs past tense. Drama you can really pierce the heart of issues and emotions (and radio, film, TV), but they're a vastly different kettle of fish being as though the disparity between the way it is on the page and its performance is much bigger. They are great at conveying emotions, but again, generally it's not as close to the living experience. Form is how I see poetry better reflecting life's experience, and drama is close to that (or can be), but I think it's the acting that brings that out, you know, the power is more latent on the script's page, whereas poetry has it in ink and in performance in more similar levels. I've always said poetry's the purest use of language, and therefore it stands to reason for me that it would be more potent - but I don't expect anyone to buy that as a great objective argument lol. And the disclaimer to this whole ramble is that I'm more into the 'experimental side' of writing, so most comparisons between genres have huge holes in them, not only because borders (i.e. standardised definitions of genre) are blurred, techniques and forms are happily nabbed between them, but also because the very newness that is (trying to be) found could completely discredit what I'm saying. Have I made any sense? I suppose, to say it another way, I mean that there are going to be exceptions to what I'm saying because of the scope of the world's imagination, and I feel that once there are exceptions, what I've said is a bit pointless. But then again, I've never let that stop me before. Anyway, enough!

Second thing I wanted to say was just that I'm happy about his stance on universities - that they provide a worthwhile space for people to develop their craft. Some people I know (who are lovely, yes, and good writers, sure) have these negative ideas about unis, not limited to; they are a robot-factory, producing many people who all do the same thing; no-one can teach you how to write anyway (the implication being that unis are a waste of time, and people are idiots for going to them), and; people who write at uni are somehow 'softer', they don't have any bite or an engaging voice. Not necessarily true, by any means! I guess it would have been interesting to read what he would have said had he had more time to answer the question, what nuances he would've brought to the fore, but anyway, like I say, it's nice to know that a chap of his calibre, and his appealing poetry, is for universities. I found that my experience was illuminating through exposure to possibilities rather than 'rules' or whatever (and I had the desire to be educated, you know, I opened my aperture to the light. But then that's true of any discipline - if you're not being listened to, you can't teach a new dog old tricks), not some kind of methodical 'write by numbers' thing that I think my aforementioned uni-sceptic friend was hinting at. There were plenty of discernible 'tools' we were given, for sure, such as poetics, for which I could not have had a better experience at Edge Hill with Robert Sheppard. That's one thing I wonder - where would I have been without even just that one facet? I analyse writing, look at techniques etc, but I don't think I'd've realised the energising power of speculation without that tutelage. Hmmm... No answers, only questions...

Obviously there's lots else to take from the article, so I hope you have time to read it 😊 I just wanted to focus on those couple of bits 😀

And, since you've been so good as to get all the way to the end of this post, have another interview - this time with Roger Robinson: https://globalvoices.org/2020/02/14/an-interview-with-roger-robinson-winner-of-the-2019-t-s-eliot-prize-in-poetry/?fbclid=IwAR0YS6-qUxscuVrJgkqbNahj4RZU6bvLZt6920or-aAyi0B82yQ5UNHRfmw

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Bong Joon Ho's 'Parasite' [SPOILERS ABOUND]

Last night I saw Bong Joon Ho's Parasite (or Gisaengchung, as I'm reliably informed it is in Korean). We all know it's done well in the BAFTAs, Oscars, and whatever else... I'd heard some people saying it was amazing, some people saying it was overhyped, but I went along with very realistic expectations (unusual for me...). I was just happy to go see a film, frankly, and, although I'd seen a few clips, I was pretty clean of influence, and could just take everything for what it was. I enjoyed it very much, and thought that it was a fairly potent exploration of class issues, about as political as you can get while still getting mainstream release. It was such a mix of elements, my review is just going to be a cascade of impressions, but hey... And watch out for those spoilers - they're sprinkled throughout these
musings.

There was lots of humour. Some of it slapstick, some of it farcical, some of it dark, some of it satirical - so in a couple of parts I laughed out loud, other bits I was sadlyamused because a mirror was held up to the absurdity of human life (I completely see it as universal, and relatable, although some people I've spoken to reckon it's 'very South Korean'), and sometimes I smiled because of the film creativity. Some bits were so on the nose, I thought 'are they really doing that, like this' - but I'm not saying it was bad writing - for me it often created a dream-like quality, hyper-real oddness. Or something... I suppose a good example of what I mean is one of the pivotal scenes where Kim Ki-taek (our protagonist family's head) stabs Mr Park (the film's rich family man and owner of the house that the Kims infiltrate) because he compains of 'that smell' (the smell of lower class people) again - it's too much, but, in that instance at least, it's a release of the tensions that have been building up.

One thing I really liked (which I've noticed in most of the 'Asian literature' (I'm not saying there's an all-encompassing idea of what that is, I just mean the literature from Asia that I've read. Which isn't masses, admittedly) that I've read) is the way that there were points of repetition, references to certain 'essences', which served as exposition, story beats (sort of like act markers), thematic reinforcement... maybe other things, too. These act as structural points - like bones - that the muscles and skin hang on, they give it a proper roundedness, but it didn't feel like a standard 'three act' film like I'm used to seeing. One of the most important repetitions was 'the smell' - many references are made to the smell of the Kim family, a perceptible but tantalisingly indefinable malodorousness that comes from the 'semi-bunker' that they live in, which, like public transport use, indicates that they are of lower class than the Parks. As I've just mentioned, the smell reference culminates in a narrative flash-point, which to me felt satisfying, and led to a moment of character clarity, where they realise what's important in life (as I feel little things can do in life. Not all epiphanies come from god, they come from the turning over of small stones).
There's a slight fixation on peaches. I love this in many ways; fruit, forbidden fruit, fresh food as luxury, symbols of wealth, Adam and Eve's apple, the idea that the housekeeper Moon-Gwang becomes ill because of fresh fruit is kind of an irony - it should be a healthy aspiration, but she's allergic - sweet supple sex... It's like a meditation, a haiku, boiling things down to a pregnant image...
I also like the use of what's known as a 'scholar stone' that is introduced by an antagonist in the beginning (this does act as a pretty blatant narrative arc marker), which is said to bring material wealth (no possibility of defining 'wealth' as 'love' or 'family' - this is material wealth only). It features almost a little clunkily (there's the line where Ki-woo is asked why he's carrying the stone around with him, and he says, "It's clinging to me," which is an obvious way of showing how greed messes us up. But I liked how it features in the false ending - he puts the stone in a river, and is part of a happy scene, the implication being that he has shared the wealth, 'planted a tree, the shade of which he'll never feel' - there was something very feng shui about that), but it's a visual media, after all, and I thought it was reasonable overall. Also it's notable for its playful quality, the flirting with the idea of the supernatural, as if the rock's really magical.
Last thing I'll mention in this vein is daddy Park's fixation on 'crossing the line'. I love this as an element of character exposition and managing audience expectations. Reminds me of mob characters - like Johnny Caspar - who are obsessed with appearing/behaving a certain way, and (like Ki-taek says at the end about plans made are plans doomed), only find it their undoing. So Park's faith in people's respect for 'the line' (i.e. not going too far in any given situation) sets him up to be disappointed, because inevitably people let him down - indeed, the more faith you have, the more you bring betrayal on (?) (although, actually his driver Yoon never does cross the line, it is the Kim family who are aware, through their willful lying, of where the lines lie, and are in that sense constantly operating beyond them, but from Park's point of view,  Ki-taek, like a dog who breaks his lead, shoots across the line in dramatic fashion). These are classic ingredients in painting his picture, but Joon Ho handles them so well, and it felt refreshing to me.

There's sort-of horror elements I really enjoyed, too; all the sneaking around, the darkness, the bloody heads... Again there's a sort of flirting with the supernatural, when the young 'prince' of the family - Da-song - is worried about seeing another ghost, and we are shown a recreation of the haunting, as if it was a real event. It's a pleasing way of examining what makes us human, because you see people how they are when they're relaxed, and when they're in stressful situations.

Then, in the sense of shooting, there were a lot of stairs/levels shots. Some of the pre-watch media I'd consumed had said something about the importance of 'levels' in Parasite for its class commentary. I tried to pick up on some discernible instances of 'this is this, that subverts that', but I was too busy concentrating on the thing as a whole for that. Obviously you have a man (Geun-se) hidden in a bunker, institutionalised to the point of not wanting to leave his restrictive environment - because he's comfortable - despite the fact that he has an awfully menial and repetitive task to do (switching lights on and off for the family above, who he can't even see, only hear). He believes is an adequate way of expressing himself, but in reality the target of his reverence is unaware of his existence. This reminded me of our zero-hours culture in a meaningful way, but anyway, my point is that all uber-wealth and top class levels are always built on the crippled backs of others (and I'm not talking about fictional 'utopias'. I look at Lancaster - a city nearby to where I live - which, sure, acknowledges its part in the triangular trade, but still the town hall stands, and still the slaves' lives that were used to make it were wasted...

The ending was just at the border of credibility, for me. It was always going to be a hard narrative to end satisfactorily, because of how the strands all screw downwards, but it just managed to make it feel natural to itself. There is one ending that is magic, everything turns out well without any explanation - but this turns out to be a false ending, and the happy ending is (only potentially) yet to happen. So our hope that things can get better are deferred and we realise that the message is true to life once more - things are bleak, and we're going to have to work and change if we want that to be different. In this sense, one could go on at (further) length examining allegories within the film (the 'prince' thing I alluded to earlier, the strange invocation of war general's tactics in the setting out of garden furniture...), but that's it for me. Joon Ho said he wanted people to talk over the ideas they had while watching his film, and he's certainly provoked that reaction with me and the friends I saw Parasite with.

In fact, as we left the cinema, we chatted into the night. Storm Dennis was still pelting the streets, and big puddles were formed everywhere. People would have been worried about the river flooding again. As I walked to my friend's car, we passed a homeless person in the doorway of a greetings card shop. They were wrapped up in a brown sleeping bag, facing away from the street. Our talk of the film momentarily hushed. We were being careful not to wake the sleeper, or we were ashamed to be discussing the artistic merits of a film about class disparity, going back to our warm houses while this poor fucker had nothing except a sleeping bag and a doorway. And who knows what the rest of the night brought them. The rest of life...

And then I was home. I switched on the lights, locked the doors, took my big coat off, poured a drink, sat down on a comfy sofa, turned on my laptop, and started to write this.

Here is a link to the homeless charity Shelter - please donate if you can: https://england.shelter.org.uk/donate?reserved_appeal_code=20190401-DF-10&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIyKaM2P7e5wIVSrDtCh1sVQG-EAAYASAAEgLEtPD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds 

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

1917: Landschap Verdriet [SPOILERS ALERT]

It's been a couple of weeks since I saw Sam Mendes' 1917 at the local flicks, but I'd still like to say a few words about it. It is one of the most powerful pieces of cinema, or even any kind of art, that I've seen. I came out of the cinema feeling sick, I found it that intense.

*I'll just take this moment to say 'watch out!' as there are spoilers from hereon out.*

I went in to the viewing with low expectations, thinking I was going to get a 'Saving Private Ryan, but set in World War One, full of teary-eyed Brexit-embrazened nationalistic sentiment', but I was so wrong. Whereas Saving Private Ryan is a story that follows a group of soldiers, each with distinct roles, as they cross through France in search of one man, punctuated with then state-of-the-art blood and pyrotechnic effects (trying to create a sensational viewing experience that conveyed the horror of war), 1917 is focussed, really, on one person's journey to deliver a message which will save many peoples' lives. There aren't the same group dynamics or character explorations. In that sense, 1917 is a bit more pared down, more sharply focussed. And as for the 'sensational'; yes, there is also gore, but the truly shocking and enduring images were of, for example, the way the bodies of soldiers and horses were decomposing into the sloppy mud and clay of the trenches, conveying a deep sense of how the wider war was creating landschap verdriet ('landscape grief'). I know it's a cliché to say that the film's location is a character in itself, but in this case, it is true that the surroundings did play a big part, creating calm or tension by itself.

I feel that SPR was more trying to be accurate and factual, filming along a route that real soldiers may have taken, whereas 1917 shows, yes, the horrors wrought in war, but uses the scenes more artfully than authentically, going from those sickeningly grim trenches sluiced with the dead, to farmhouse, to town, to river, to wood, to different trench systems - each chosen more for their emotional weight than historical accuracy. The journey is, if anything, more potent for that. Its other techniques (lighting in particular, especially during the town scene where pallid flickering flares punctuate the midnight blackness) that foster the sense of unending horror, as opposed to the action (firefights, mainly) in SPR.

One thought I had about the 'human war' facet of Mendes' film was how, at the beginning of the film we see dead bodies being reclaimed by the earth, those promising specimens of manhood reduced to barbed wire-based memento mori baubles. Indeed, our main protagonist Schofield is buried in rubble quite early on, but rescued by his pal, Blake. There seems to be a sense of humans and nature being inseparable. They are the killers and the killed, stuck in an inhuman (depending on how you define 'human', I guess...) process. Shortly after escaping the trenches, Scho has to move through a bombed-out town, lit only by the intermittent release of flares, and inconsistent flames. The town doesn't claim him like the rubble did, but it surrounds him closely, jaggedly looming. After an encounter with German soldiers, he runs away and jumps into a river rapid, which made me think there was an element of allegory there. The obvious point is that he's been baptised, and, especially because he threw his rifle away in his haste to evade the enemy, his focus changes from taking life to saving life. Maybe he's Jesus? Then, at the end, when Schofield's finally within reach of stopping this big battle going ahead, the soldiers' dark khaki uniforms stand out like print on a page against the trenches of loose, chalky stone, whiter than ashes, maybe suggesting they've regained their distinct humanity? I know that's a half-baked idea, but it's all I got...

Obviously a lot had been said in the media of Mendes' 'one-shot' look, and his collaboration with Roger Deakins who helped to achieve this. I think this absolutely contributes to the intensity of the film, and why I felt so viscerally affected by it afterwards. I don't want this to sound like a trite comparison, but it reminded me of playing one of my favourite ever games, DOOM. That is a first-person shooter (i.e. you look through the same eyes as the protagonist), and it is renowned not just for its blood 'n' guts, but also its ingenuity in level design. I am going somewhere with this, honestly... Imagine being completely alone in strange worlds, and every action you take leads inexorably to the next - for example, one of DOOM's fave moves is, upon picking up a key, a wall behind you that you thought was solid opening up to reveal monsters. At first, the sound shocks you, and then you start taking damage. You have to be sharp, turn around, and defend yourself - and it is this way in 1917. Especially in the town scene. That phosphorous hanging in the air provides this moment of sickly beauty, and for a moment we can breathe, but we have to move on, and within seconds, shots are raining down, and where is there to run? The sense, in both examples, is 'there is no turning back'. We can't in 1917 because the message needs to be delivered before it's too late. We can't in DOOM, because we simply want our nightmare to end, to find that elusive safety. 1917 really was a great vision, and superbly realised. I know it could never come too close to the real living grief that war is, but I was almost constantly disgusted - that this is what countries and their governments do to humans, put them through this hell that is completely made up by 'others'. Where is there to run? There is no safety from human nature, which, it seems, will always find conflict and inhuman cruelty. And Brexit.

Right. Ramble nearly over. I think I'd give 1917 four stars. It's so challenging and well-executed that I want to give it five, but I think some of the artistic contrivances (with respect to visuals, the inaccuracy of German soldiers' shooting that would cause even James Bond henchpeople to raise an eyebrow, and, y'know, clip sizes in guns (when will film-makers learn?), for example) took me out of things a bit. As I've said in other reviews, I look at things with such an unfairly keen eye sometimes, but, yeah, I think if the film could have been less of a 'gallery', it would have resonated that little bit more, but that's going to be near impossible to do, But hey, I considered five stars, so it's not like it's far off. Praise due to everyone who worked on it, and a million awards.

Since 1917, I've been to see Bad Boys for Life. Was alright.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Pages: Robert Sheppard: one sonnet from 'Breakout' my fir...

Pages: Robert Sheppard: one sonnet from 'Breakout' my fir...: didn’t think it would be like this green murk  slanted light catches the national fish basking just below the surface black length...

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Back to Bad. Minton.

I've been back playing badminton now for about two months. Before that, it had been about seven years since I'd played, back in the days of doing my BA at Ole Edge Hill. It was great to get back to playing, like an existential homecoming. Not only is badminton one of the only competitive sports I've ever played with any regularity - and therefore become reasonably good at - but also it used to get me out the house and socialising in a meaningful way, and all these feelings and memories ran back to me, arms open wide. I'm incredibly lucky to have been introduced to the group I'm going to, which itself is lucky that the EU has funded it, and thankful. As the memories mill around my mind like lazy gas molecules, I got to thinking about the badminton-based writing I used to do on this very blog, so went back and had a read.

Faintly amusing I find those posts. Generally they comprise of me evaluating my performance, or moaning about some perceived social injustice wrought against me, alongside thrilling thoughts on Liverpool FC's latest match. I remember how it was, though, going pushing myself as hard as I could for a couple of hours, having plenty of laughs, then walking out into the cold, dark air, feeling also the chill of loneliness as I walked home, past the wooden fencing around the hospital that made a zoetrope of the wall behind, and in through the front door. I'd go from joking and exercising with everybody, to being by myself. Then I'd usually have a bit to eat, a shower, and a blog, and felt purposeful again.

Occasionally I would attempt to uncover - poetics-like - some nugget of wisdom about my badminton practise (how to play better, what makes a good player, etc), and I'm pleased with myself on that front. But anyway, whatever I think of having written it all, it doesn't matter. It's there. The most interesting thing to note was how I used to react to my performance. I'm a lot less celebratory after a win these days, rarely even opting for a fist-pump (does that suggest that there's less to fist-pump about?). I could be very puerile, as I let myself get carried away in the genuine elation, but this had been perceived to be trying to rub it in people's faces, which I don't, and never have, agreed with.

My reactions to losing are pretty similar. I'm still not bothered if I lose games, and still find dropping points with poor play disappointing, i.e. where I know I should've done better. However, I'm nowhere near as aggressive with myself as I used to be (there'd be an inner dialogue going on that would make a telepathic sailor blush), and in general now I look forward to the next shot, rather than dwelling on the one I've missed. Good advice for life, methinks. Indeed, some of these tools help interpersonally, too. There are a few people at the place I go to now that like to laugh at you when you miss a shot. I find this annoying, because I'm a stupid man-child with a hugely over-sensitive disposition, and an unfortunately robust ego, even after all this time and effort. That being said, when people do laugh, I take it on the chin, and by breathing and contextualising it better, the knot of annoyance is gone in a moment. Part of the contextualising can be thinking about how, objectively, a complete air-shot might look funny - like physical comedy, as it were - to others. Also, there's the fact that all you can control is trying to hit that shot, and your reaction. You missed, so what? Try and hit the next one. You can't control how other people take anything, so don't try. Let it be.

Anyway, I didn't expect this all to go on quite so long, and then turn into a weird Buddhist sermon at the end... So goodbye for now! Hope you feel inspired to dust off an old hobby, or even start a new one, after reading this :)

Bye!