For Your Ears Only

In the week which celebrates the centenary of the birth of Ian Fleming, there has been lots of James Bond Stuff going on all over the place.

I’ve always been interested in James Bond Stuff – sometimes wide-eyed, sometimes appalled but mostly with the grudging boyish admiration that we grudging boys usually deny we possess.

So, yes, I bought the new book this week. ‘Devil May Care.’ Imagine Sebastian Faulks writing a new Bond novel – how could I not get it? I won’t go at it until I read Jim’s Book but I’ll let you know what I think of it then.

The’ Bond Thing’ I actually wanted to tell you about was BBC Radio 4’s new production of ‘Dr No’.

It was adapted from the Fleming novel by Hugh Whitemore and broadcast last Saturday.

One possibly-fun thing about this little review is that you can actually listen to the play, which is online at the moment, if you go here:

But I don’t think it’ll stay up there for long. (UPDATE - it's gone now, moved on to this week's play - if it appears somewhere else (legally) I will post a link here.)

So, is it any good?

Well, I enjoyed it but, as you may be ‘gleaning’ by now (little pun intended) I like quite a lot of things.

It’s all pretty faithful to the source material. That means there’s a quantum of received pronunciation and clipped military-style tones in evidence. This can be a little bit hard to take but it’s worth sticking with it. It’s mostly ‘M’, Ian Fleming (as occasional narrator) and a few others who dish it out. Bond himself may come across as clipped but Toby Stephens keeps him as earthy and real as possible, given the restrictions of the dialogue.

As a radio drama, the production leans a little heavily on narration to help carry the story along. Narration is the great crutch of radio writing, sometimes it is unavoidable but overuse is very tempting and very dangerous. It is necessary here though. Fleming writes so much background material around his characters that it cannot all be successfully carried through dialogue.

This all sounds a bit negative but there’s great fun to be had along the way.

Some of the neat set-pieces include a giant poisonous caterpillar inching its way up the Bond physique and Honey Rider’s initial appearance on the beach in significantly less attire than Ursula Andress was allowed in the movie.

The uneasy racism of the old books is also retained here – those pesky Chinamen are still as nasty and yellow as the 50’s told us they were and those jolly ‘ol Jamaicans will carry your gear every time if you order them to.

But the best of all, far and away, is a wonderfully, garishly, outrageous performance by David Suchet as Dr. No.

Even if you don’t fancy listening to the while ninety minute play, you really should fast forward through to about thirty minutes from the end to hear how this great actor interprets the role. If I had to describe what he does, I would say it is a cross between ‘I Claudius’, Fu Manchu and a castrated Dalek. Suchet doubtless realised that the role would just be pure parody unless something out of the ordinary was brought to it – he certainly did that and I, for one, loved what he did.

And therein lies the rub. James Bond in the movies is a naked male version of the Barbie Doll whereon the latest fashions, equipment and morals can be hung so as to appease the required generation. Bond in a faithful Fleming adaptation is much more of a validation of all the cruel parodies we all know so well.

So much so that, when the evil Dr. No talks about ‘One Milleen Dollas’, or shows off his Shark Tank or explains his entire master-plan to Bond before trying to kill him off in an excessively-complex-way, the crooked shadow of one Austin Powers is forever lurking in the corner.

But, ultimately, Austin doesn’t win the day. Bond wins the day. Mostly because, in the books, he was always so much more human than in the movies and that is how he is presented here.

While Connery in Goldfinger was wise-cracking his way around the laser beam which was inching towards his crotch, Bond in the book was crapping himself over the advances of a crude circular saw and trying to push himself down onto the blade all the quicker to achieve a mercifully quick death.

I’ve digressed, haven’t I? Old JB can make me do that.

How often can you read a little review and then go and sample the material being reviewed for free?

Go on, click, have a taste of it anyway. (UPDATE: They've taken it off now, sorry)

"Do you expect me to listen to it all, Meester Armstrong"

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to try."

Say, Cheese?

I've posted once before about some of the fun things that get said at our dinner table.

Our youngest guy – who's seven – likes to know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of things so, when we had some Mozzarella a few weeks ago, I asked him what unusual animal-milk Mozzarella was sometimes made from. (What a challenging dad I am!)

After much wild-guessing, he was very impressed to hear that the answer was, of course, Buffalo.

Yesterday, we had a pizza which had some Mascarpone on top.

There was a thoughtful silence when it landed on the table.

"So," said he, "Is this one from ponies?"

* * * *

Today's a big day.

I got my Tom Waits tickets for Dublin, Aug 1. I queued up from 7.00 am like a young fella to get them.

This will be my fourth time to see the great man live. I posted about the second time previously.

'Can't wait.

Indiana Jones and the Audience Preconceptions

Back in Summer 1981 some girls came to visit Sligo from Northern Ireland and we hung around with them for a while.

We were seventeen, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

One of our guys (who’d better remain nameless in case he’s lurking like Sean was - (see comment in previous post)) actually fell head over heels for one of the girls for the sole reason that he helped her to get sick in a wash basin one fine evening. Well, physical contact was at something of a premium back then.

Look, here’s the point – these girls had seen a film, up in Northern Ireland, which we hadn’t even got to hear about yet.

"Wait ‘til you see it," they said, "And wait ‘til you see the first ten minutes, you won’t bloody believe it."

How right they were!

My relationship with the individual Indiana Jones movies has revised itself a bit over the years. My great affection for the first has never changed and revisiting it on the big screen can revive the most jaded of B Movie palettes. I loved the second when it first came out and I was very disappointed with the third.

This view on numbers two and three has now been completely reversed. ‘Temple of Doom’ is shallow and weak in narrative – although the opening sequence is still great. ‘Last Crusade’ has an opening that is a bit-of-a-dud, in my opinion, but the movie itself is warm and adventuresome.

So last night, our little nuclear family went to see the new one – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I wanted to like it and so I did. There is much in it to be thankful for. Thanks that Harrison Ford is not required to play younger than he is. Thanks that Karen Allen has some back to Indie and to us. Thanks that period detail and wry humour can still be accommodated.

I rushed to see it before all the reviews and the clips and the opinion and the interviews coloured my view of what I was seeing and I strongly recommend that you do the same. Even the small amount of hype which I have exposed myself to, since seeing it, has already started to convince me what I should think of it. I hate that – I know what I think of it, I bloody saw it didn’t I?

Downside? There is a 30 minute section in the first hour that drags quite remarkably. There’s a lot of plot-exposition to get through. Also - I know there’s a lot of talk about this – some of the CGI special effects seems a little intrusive but then I recall that the matte work in Temple of Doom seemed very intrusive too. Once that slow bit gets done – it’s all systems go.

Before I saw it, I didn’t actually know what this movie was ‘about’ – I mean in the same way that the first was about the Arc of the Covenant or the Third was about The Holy Grail. Had I known what it was about, a whole other set of prejudices would have emerged in me before I saw it. You will probably get to hear what it is about before you see it (no, I won’t tell you). How you deal with that information is entirely up to you.

Will you like the new movie?

The answer to that is simple. If you go to it expecting to enjoy it, then you will. All the necessary elements are there, knock yourself out.

On the other hand, if you go expecting to be disappointed, then you will be. There is enough there to be disappointed about, if that’s what rocks your boat.

'Want my advice? Put your best happy face on and get your arse down to your nearest movie-drome.

They still make ‘em like they used to.

Dissecting My Own Alien

As I was saying last time, I’ve been thinking a bit about truth and memories and how they relate to my writing.

When I put up Dad’s story, two posts ago, I recorded it reasonably faithfully. Okay, I threw in a few engine ‘ticks’ and other shreds of Blarney to help it along. But it was basically written as I had heard it.

I figured there had to be elements of invention in that story but I didn’t know what, or how many, they were.

Then I thought, why not take a little memory story of my own and look at it hard then set down what was true and what was invention in it?

So if you liked my last little story, you might want to look away now.

I’m about to cut it open…

Here’s the facts of ‘The First Night of Alien’ as I recall them now.

I went to see ‘Alien’ with a friend of mine. It was the second night because there was a special screening the night before to open the refurbished cinema. We sat in the stalls. There were courting seats but we weren’t in them. The movie was great.

That’s about it. But that’s no good.

I wanted to capture the excitement, the anticipation, the *fun* and the facts just didn’t do it for me.

So I started weaving a bit…

My wife had once told me a story of a friend of hers who sat in a courting seat on her own while her new boyfriend was forced to sit in the next one – she thought they were just big seats.

Once, in the old Savoy, a guy called Gilmore had thrown his coat over the balcony and it had landed on a guy called Feeney who was understandably annoyed. As I recall, this happened at a double bill of Elvis Presley movies (Blue Hawaii and GI Blues) which played one Sunday night shortly after Elvis’ death.

I stole Marie, the horn-rimmed lady behind the Plexiglas screen, from a story of mine called ‘Rasp’. She was actually pure ‘Gary Larson’ and never really existed.

So I gave Feeney a girlfriend which he never had and gave them that ‘courting seat business’ to play out.

Then I put myself and my now-legion of mates up on the balcony just so Gilmore could throw his coat over the edge again for me. It was only after he threw it over, on my page, that I realised that it could land on Feeney’s girl thus providing her with an apt punishment for venturing into a big seat all on her own at such a very scary movie.

That was a fun realisation!

And that’s it. That’s the truth of the story. Or… is it?

After all, this all happened (or didn’t happen) back in 1979 when I was sixteen. God knows how my memory might have failed me since then.

One final point. When I called the piece, ‘The First night of Alien’, I was entertaining myself with a little pun that I don’t believe anyone has ever got. You see, I saw a play on telly once about George Bernard Shaw and the premiere of one his best known plays. The play was called ‘The First Night of Pygmalion’ (by Richard Huggett). I like the fact that this little connection is there for me and perhaps for nobody else or, even better, perhaps for one other person somewhere in the world who might chance upon my story some day and get a kick out of it.

So that’s my alien dissection.

I can’t apologise for any of this lying or trickery. I’m see myself as a story-teller, not as a historian or a reporter or a biographer.

The true story which I wanted to tell did not have enough of the necessary elements in it to succeed as a story. So I worked on it a little. I lied and I cheated.

And here’s the great thing…

The resultant story, for all it’s invention and untruths, has (for me at least) more truth and honesty in it than any pure ‘setting-down-of-the-facts’ could ever have managed.

For me, it captures a little of the excitement and anticipation of going out with your friends when you’re young. It also reminds me of the social aspects of going to the movies as a teen, the fun that we had in the stalls which had very little to do with the movie on the screen (or with sex, I hasten to add). I’ve lost sight of this latter point in my advancing years – see my post of just a few weeks ago if you’re in any doubt about this.

So I wrote a pack of lies and, by doing so, somehow got closer to the truth.

Isn’t that odd?

The Cold Hand

I was posting recently about my Dad and the stories I sometimes steal off him. Here’s another one of those stories. This one concerns one of the most terrifying events of his younger life.

So be warned!

Many years ago, he was a keen fisherman - trout and salmon mainly. He and his friends used to travel quite a bit to compete in lake-fishing competitions around this time of year. That meant they would often be driving home along the strange dark Irish roads very late at night.

One such night, he and his friend happened upon a very recent car crash. The car had ploughed through the roadside hedges and fallen down quite a drop into the field beyond. In fact, the car was so far down they wouldn’t have even known it was there, if not for the skid marks and the freshly broken section of the hedge.

It was pitch dark down in the field where the car lay ticking away quietly. The headlights from up on the road could not reach down there, it was pitch dark. All that he and his friend could do was feel their way along the car to get their bearings.

The driver side door could not be opened but the passenger side obliged. No internal light came on, which was not surprising given the horrific state of the car. Gradually, their eyes were adjusting to the dark and they could now make out that there was indeed a body in the driver seat, crumpled and still. It was clear that there was nobody else inside.

The body made no movement when the men shouted in. It seemed likely this person had not survived the crash. Neither of the men knew any First Aid but he came up with the best suggestion he could.  "You go and find a phone and I’ll wait here," he said.

His friend ran off to get help, leaving him alone with the motionless body in the car.

"Can you hear me? Hello?"

There was still no response, no movement.  He threw the passenger door open as far as it would go and climbed into the passenger seat. Once inside, the car door slammed heavily shut. Some mechanism jammed as it did and he found that the door would not open again. Luckily all the windows had been shattered so the feeling of being locked in was somewhat lessened.

In among all the broken glass and sticky upholstery, he turned to the person in the driver seat and spoke to him.

"Don’t worry," he said, "the ambulance is coming… we’ll get you out… you’ll be all right…"

There was nothing else he could do.

He sat there, hand resting on the person’s shoulder, repeating his reassurances over and over again as the engine ticked slowly down, then stopped. And the darkness seemed only to get deeper and deeper and deeper.

Time passed. It was difficult to tell how much, there was nothing to gauge it by. There was only the darkness and the still motionless body by his side.

Nothing happened.

But, after a time, something did.

Without sound or warning a cold hand fell unerringly onto his hand and gripped it tightly. The hand did not belong to the body in the car – it had come from the other side.  He was too terrified to move, too frozen to speak.

A low drone began. Perhaps due to the shock induced by this hand-from-nowhere, this drone was indecipherable at first, a hoarse throaty mumbling, tubercular and flat.  Then it became recognisable, familiar.

"… kingdom come, ‘will be done ‘earth as t’is in heaven. ‘Give us this day…"

"Eh, Father," my Dad said, shakily, "It’s not me that needs you, it’s him over there."

The Book Thief - Sharp Words Exchanged

So there was I, having this fun email exchange with Catherine of Sharp Words all about the book 'The Book Thief'.

Little did I know she would turn it into a post!!

Oh, all right, I did know...

I think it's a great, fun idea and a good way to extract some more ideas on the books we are reading. Well done Catherine and thanks very much for letting me have a go at it.

Why not go over to Sharp Words and have a look?

Oh just before you go...

If you're around Dublin tomorrow, 17th May 2008, The 'Centre Stage' event kicks off at Cabinteely Park at about Two. Balally Players are putting on my play 'The Moon Cut Like a Sickle' in the open air at about 2.45pm (all right then, 3.00pm but you don't want to be late).

This will probably be the final-fling for this production and the guys have hinted at some neat innovations in honour of the super open-air setting.

The weather is promised good so why not head on down?

Let me know if you do, eh?

This is a link to a radio feature which Dublin City FM did about the production. There's an extract or two along the way. I'm not in it but, God knows, it's none the worse for that.

I am in this one though - (from the original production). You have to page down a little.

Just in case you're wondering what I sound like...

Perhaps Focus is the Thing?

Today is a day when Bloggers Unite for Human Rights.

Look around, lots of Bloggers are doing it. It’s dead good.

As for me… I don’t have an awful lot that I can tell you about Human Rights. I fit more easily into the group of people who need to ‘be told’ rather than those who should try to tell.

What I do know is that I seem to lead an amazingly insular life. Earthquakes, Wars, Droughts, Famine, they all can make me feel sad and nervous, sympathetic and outraged by turns… but never for terribly long. I am often amazed and a more than a bit disgusted at how fast I can get over things, how easily I can move on.

I would really have to focus hard into these things to enable them to really pierce my hide. And, if I did that all of the time, how on earth could I remain standing up?

I was at the ‘Live Aid’ concert in Wembley in 1985 – no, really, I was. Me and Robbie Gavin brought along a big picnic bag and we didn’t break it out until Elton John came on – I still remember all those envious eyes around us.

Live Aid was a good show. More to the point though, it gave me a focus. Temporary, yes, but a focus nonetheless.

For that day and for some time afterward, I was made aware that, for whatever reason, people were being denied the minimum conditions for human dignity and a tolerable life.

I didn’t ‘solve’ it, I guess I didn’t even help terribly much. But at least I focused on it. I allowed it to pierce me and hurt me and then, I suppose, I moved on.

I can’t focus on ‘Human Rights’. It’s too big a thing.

But (for the day that’s in it) I’d like to focus on something and maybe feel a little hurt about it. Whatever it is, it’s probably due at least that from me.

I’m going off now to my search-engine-of-choice. I’m going to try putting ‘Human Right’ and the name of my home place into it.

I already know what’s going to come up.

I would tell you what it is but I don’t know nearly enough about it to do the subject justice.

Perhaps sometime soon, I will.

Pinter Does Sleuth

I sometimes like to assess the potential of up-coming films by their pedigree. Who’s in it, who directed it, who wrote it, what did they do before.

It’s probably a bit like a betting man assessing his horses before they run in the race.

On that basis, the 2007 version of Anthony Shaffer’s stage play ‘Sleuth’ was a thrilling proposition indeed.

I first saw the original film, with Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, and Alec Cawthorne one Christmas Night on telly many years ago and it quite literally knocked me out of my seat.

Now comes the new version with Caine coming back in the Olivier part, Jude Law taking the Caine part, Kenneth Branagh directing and (just bloody wait for this) a new adaptation of the original play by none other than the great Harold Pinter himself.

I mean, is that a pedigree or is that a pedigree?

So it’s out on DVD. I just got to see it last night – I don’t get to the cinema much anymore. Here’s what I thought. Before I get into that, let me reassure you that I will work hard to allow ‘Sleuth’ to keep its little secrets in case you haven’t ever seen it.

The first problem is that so many people know this story from its previous incarnations. Let’s face it, if you know the story, then certain aspects of the twisty-turny plot will not be able to surprise you a second time around. It becomes more interesting to study the technicalities of how the story unfolds rather than to become involved in the story all over again.

That’s what I found anyway.

But Branagh and Pinter know this. They knew the clever plot won’t carry this show a second time around. They knew they had to do something more with it.

And they did.

What did they do? Well they made a ‘Harold Pinter’ play out of it, that’s what they did. What previously was a fairly over-the-top romp through the world of whodunnits and theatrical excesses has now become a surgical, ice-cold study in man’s inhumanity to man.

Branagh, as director, works hard to ‘direct as Pinter writes’. There are loads of obtuse camera-angles, distorted reflections, games played with time and space. And… … …pauses. Several elongated pauses, one of them so long that it felt like the protagonist was about to announce the winner of ‘X-Factor.’

As a side-note, Pinter does not seem as attached to his pauses as the people who direct his works are. When Harold played the lead in his own play ‘One For the Road’ he left out most of the pauses which allegedly trademark his work.

So ‘Sleuth’ is back, reinvented.

But is it any good?

I think the film never quite resolves what it wants to be. Is it an art-house oddity or is it a mainstream big budget thriller? In trying to be both, it fails to be either.

There is much to admire, the acting is very good, Pinter’s writing is ‘Pinteresque’ and the design is cold and blue and striking.

I love Pinter. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

However, I don’t think everyone will.

Iron Man, Noisy Patrons and Projectionist Excuses

These days, I only get to see first run movies if they are kid-friendly. That’s why I was quite pleased to see ‘Iron Man’ come along. This was right up my young guy’s street and, truth be told, it was right up mine too.

I enjoyed this film a lot. I like my comic-book-movies to take themselves a little seriously. That’s the way the original comics were – they created a fantastic world that they did not then feel obliged to apologise for. That’s why those ‘nod-and-a-wink’ movies like Tim Burton’s Batman never really did it for me.

So ‘Iron Man’ takes itself a bit seriously, but not too much so. Robert Downey Jr, looking gaunt and remarkably like Al Pacino at times, is perfect in the lead. This nicely-flawed egotistical, selfish hero almost feels autobiographical to him – except for the flying bits.

(Photo by Lman1138)

Support from Gwyneth Paltrow and most especially Jeff Bridges is excellent. Special effects are so good that it’s finally hard to see the joins between CGI and live action and the overall design mixes hyper-modern with a curious retro feel which simply works brilliantly.

Downside? It’s sufficiently slow to get off the ground that the young folk might twitch a bit (I didn’t). Oh and Terrence Howard doesn’t get enough to do to raise himself above standard sidekick material.

But it’s a complete blast, really. The Iron Man suits are iconic and powerful and the last line is wonderfully telegraphed for all the world to appreciate.

You’ll probably have to like comic books to like it.

But, if you do, you will.

My only complaint had nothing to do with the movie but rather with the theatre I saw it in – so pay attention Mayo Movie World, I know you monitor this feed on a 24 hour basis.

Basically, the sound reproduction in the cinema was nothing less than dreadful. The whole show sounded like it was coming out of a brown paper bag, it was muddied and indistinct.

I went into the foyer quite early on and asked whether the projectionist could come in and have a listen and see if he/she could do something about it. Nothing ever happened. I’ll write them a letter and maybe someone will look into it.

I think auditoria in multiplexes are under-monitored – ‘Set the movie running and then leave it alone’, seems to be the general policy. This is nothing new. In Sligo, many years ago, the movie ‘Christiane F’ ran for a full week with all the reels shown in the wrong order. The general view in the town was that the show was avant garde and challenging.

I also remember when I went to see ‘Saving Private Ryan’ in the cinema. The reels were cranked incorrectly so that only the heads and shoulders of the on-screen protagonists were being seen. The full-house munched away happily while I nearly went mad. I went out, found the projectionist, and told him what was wrong.

"Ah no," said he, in his very best Sligo accent, "Ye see that’s the way it was back in World War Two. They were all down in trenches the whole time."

As I got back to my seat, the image on the screen lurched upwards and corrected itself magically. I spotted the projectionist again as I left but I couldn’t catch his eye.

Finally, at ‘Iron Man’ last night there was a bunch of giddy schoolkids running in and out of the cinema laughing and shouting with no regard for the rest of us trying to watch the film. Well, I think there was regard because this kind of thing is mostly a play for attention, in my jaded opinion.

Anyway, I gave them the attention they craved with a stout warning from my darkened seat.

And guess what?

They all shut up! That never happened before.

... now I know I’m getting old.

Hunting The Ken? Try Brady's Place.

I like 'Hunting The Muse'.

I think it's a great, inventive, hard-working blog by a smart guy with a sharp observational eye.

I often go over there and wait for him to post something...

So when I got the smell-of-a-chance to guest-blog , I jumped at it (have *you* ever jumped at a smell?) Thanks to Brady for letting me in, it was cold out there and my sneakers were leaking.

My post is about letting go of writing once it's done.

Perhaps, if you're feeling frisky, you might head over there and have a 'butcher's'.

Among many other great things, Brady makes videos and puts them up on his blog. He also writes neat things on coffee-shop napkins and leaves them behind to either be unceremoniously-binned or eternally-treasured as the fates allow. I think that's rather brave - Indiana Jones Brave ('Indie and the Latte of Doom', anyone??)

Finally, if you've somehow reversed over here from Brady's pad, you're welcome!

I'd like to be able to accost you with a wicked mission statement along the lines of 'Changing the world, one post at a time' or 'Boldly going where no blog has gone before'... but I can't.

I just like writing stuff and trying to get a bit of a laugh along the way (I settle for grins on Wednesdays).

Have a look around, if you fancy it... and perhaps comment.

I do love a good comment, me.

If They offer, Take It…

I’m spending the May Bank Holiday weekend in my home town of Sligo, visiting with my Dad.

Dad is full of good stories and I always try and poach a few off him when I’m here.

He’s what’s sometimes known in Ireland as a ‘Gas Man’ - a remarkable character. At 74 he has just got his first tattoo – this is a secret ambition I have had for some time. I never thought I’d inherited it genetically.

Dad has had quite a number of heart bypass operations over the last 25 years but he remains strong, vibrant and independent. So much so, that people often come to him to ask for his advice before they face into one of these somewhat daunting surgical procedures.

He was telling me yesterday about one such elderly man who came to him to learn a little about the bypass operation he was due to have.

Dad was explaining to him how he might feel afterward and how his recovery might progress.

The man interrupted him.

“I don’t want to know any of that,” the man said, “I’ll just have to take that as it comes. There’s only one thing I want to know. I’m dead scared of anaesthetics. I just need to know – will they have to give me one to do this operation?

Dad hesitated.

“Well, Tommy,” he said, “my advice would be, if they offer you one, I would take it”.