Saturday, May 31, 2008

Catching up with book, part 1

I have four new reviews on Revish with four more to come.

An Illiad: A Story of War. Alessandro Baricco retells the story of Homer's Illiad by removing nearly all references to the Greek gods and their interference in mortal affairs. He describes the action from the viewpoint of the characters in the story. It is well done and would be a good introduction to the story for a young reader who might only have seen the movie Troy. You do lose the aspect of the story where the humans are pawns in a game played by the gods but still it is a valid and interesting approach.

Expletive Deleted. This is a collection of crime short stories that feature some aspect of the F-word. some of my favorite authors have stories in this collection including Ken Bruen. The stories range from amusing to disgusting with one that you could call poignant.

Silver Swan. This a sequel to Benjamin Black's excellent novel, Christine Falls. Quirk the Dublin pathologist is back. This time a former school mate asks Quirk not to do something which launches a chain of events that hit close to Quirk's personal life. I feel sorry for but don't really like any of the characters that that didn't stop me enjoying it tremendously. black is a terrific writer.

Confessions of a Fallen Angel. This is Irish solicitor Ronan O'Brien's first novel. I'm not sure how to characterize it. There is a bit of supernatural but it doesn't take over the story. Romance, sentimentality, substance abuse, all have a part. It is the character driven story of Charlie from age 10 until ... and surfacing of his special gift to foretell the death of someone close to him. and to be the cause of that death.

I enjoyed it and recommend it.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Catching Up: New DVDs

UPDATE: I completely forgot to mention these aspects of the Criterion edition of If....

The digital transfer is excellent. The color and black & white are crisp and vivid.

I had trouble with the audio in places but I attribute that to:

  • age (mine)
  • the chaos that generally accompanies young schoolboys
  • accents
The commentary is by Malcolm McDowell and film critic and historian David Robinson. I think it came from interviews rather than commenting as they watched the file but is still a welcome addition and contributed to my appreciation of the film.

Another extra rounds out the appreciation of the film. The Scottish TV show, Cast and Crew brought together Malcolm McDowell (remotely), the director of photography Miroslav Ondricek, screenwriter David Sherwin, producer Michael Medwin, and several others.

There is also an interview with Graham Crowden who plays the history master in If....

The commentary track and interview with Crowden also made me appreciate the talents of Lindsay Anderson and the significant role he played in British cinema.

Thursday's Children, a 1954 documentary directed by Lindsay Anderson and narrated by Richard Burton. It is about a school for deaf children and won an Academy Award. It is quite moving and shows a different aspect of Anderson's skills as a director. The title comes from this old rhyme:
  • Monday's child is fair of face;
  • Tuesday's child is full of grace;
  • Wednesday's child is full of woe;
  • Thursday's child has far to go;
  • Friday's child is loving and giving;
  • Saturday's child works hard for a living.
  • But the child that is born on the Sabbath day is fair and wise, good and gay
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Hmm, I just realized that I haven't posted in nearly two months. Wonder what I've been doing.

My return was prompted by a post by Maxine Clarke on her blog Petrona. She noted that the Lindsay Anderson (dir.)/Malcolm McDowell (star) film, O Lucky Man!, has been released on DVD in the U.K. I love this movie but I'd resigned myself to watching my third generation copy made from the laser disk edition. A quick check on Amazon revealed that O Lucky Man! has been available in the U.S. since 2007. Serendipity led to the discovery that there is a restored, two disk Criterion edition of If..., also Lindsay Anderson/Malcolm McDowell, as well as a two disk, remastered version of A Clockwork Orange also starring Malcolm McDowell but directed this time by Stanley Kubrick. There is, nonetheless, a connection between Anderson and A Clockwork Orange (described below). So, $70+ dollars later I have all three sets and a desire to proselytize.

You might have noticed a common theme here - I'm a bit of a Malcolm McDowell fan-boy. These three films are ones that I can, and do, view repeatedly. All three sets include commentary by Malcolm McDowell and others which means that I have to watch each twice.

I'm viewing the Lindsay Anderson directed films first rather than chronological order and leading off with If.... This was Malcolm McDowell's first film role and was shot in 1968, released in 1969. If.... takes place in a British public school follows three rebellious students, Travis, Johnny, and Wallace as they come into conflict with authority, primarily the senior house Whips (Prefects).

The original script was titled The Crusaders but there was concern that people would be confused about the subject of the film. The producer's secretary suggested "If" (from the Kipling poem) and Anderson, ever the anarchist, added the four dots. If.... won the Grand Prix at the 1969 Cannes film Festival.

Scenes shift between black & white and color. Like a lot of viewers, when I first saw If.... I thought there must be some symbolic reason why some scenes were b&w. It turns out that it would have been too expensive to light the interior cathedral scenes for color so they were done in b&w. Anderson really liked b&w but realized that it would limit TV sales so he couldn't shoot the entire film in b&w. b&w was used elsewhere for emotional reasons, because it seemed appropriate. For example, the interior scenes that take place in a greasy spoon road side diner are rather more effective in black and white than if they had been shot in color.

The scenes where Travis, Johnny, and Wallace are caned by the head whip Roundtree remains very powerful and is the turning point that leads to the violent conclusion. The boys are not punished for anything they've done but for their attitude. After this, their desire to fight the injustice of the power structure becomes more determined.

When McDowell was cast as Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange, he went to Anderson to ask how he should play the character. Anderson read the script, was thankful that he wasn't directing, and referred him to the scene in If.... when he/Travis throws open the doors to the gymnasium as he enters to take his whipping at the hands of Roundtree. It was the expression and posture of Mick Travis, framed in the doorway that Anderson told McDowell to take to Alex DeLarge. If you have seen both films you will agree.

If.... is generally acknowledged as one of the most important British films particularly as a counterculture film. It seemed almost prophetic when the Czech student riots occurred no long after the film was released.