A Film and a Book

It’s my long weekend Summer holiday so I’ve been celebrating in fine style by watching a movie that was just for me and finishing the book I’ve been reading.

Here’s a few thoughts about both.

‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ is a movie about an Iranian Vampire. I’d been wanting to see it for some time because the things I heard suggested it was strange and nicely off-the-wall an generally good. Plus I like vampire movies.

I liked it. Right from the start, it sets out to tell you that it’s going to be a bit wacky. The first thing we get is a Jim Jarmusch style landscape which is sung over by an sort of a Iranian Tom Waits tribute act. There’s a classy old car and a wide wide vista in glorious monochrome and we start to know where we are. We’re in Iran, American style. 

Which is kind of  funny because the film was apparently shot in Southern California with that location doubling as an Iranian town called Bad City. Nothing is quite as it seems here. Even the repeated shots of oil mules furiously drawing oil from the land, which seem to be a conscious reflection of the blood draining from the lonely vampires victims, even that seems playful when one knows it’s America we’re looking at and not Iran.

Best then, perhaps, not to think too hard about what it all might mean and just go with the glorious flow – be it blood or oil – of iconography and pop culture that is on show here. The mysterious vampire girl in her traditional ‘Chador’ is reminiscent (for me, at least) of ‘No Face’ in Spirited Away, a graceful, inexpressive presence who can, by turns, be sad or filled with malice and who moves us with the very was she looks.

Comparisons abound with ‘Let The Right One In’, which remains one of my favourite films. The story is essentially the same. Lost boy meets enigmatic night girl and they must decide if their mutual need for each other is enough for them to give up everything else. Here, it is told with wry humour and slow pacing, with loud music and graceful quirkiness.

It’s the kind of a film my Dad would have watched and then asked, “what was that about?” and I would know what he meant. For my own part, I enjoyed the strange ride and feel this one will reside quite a while in the memory.

As for the book, ‘End of Watch’ is the third and final part of Stephen King’s detective series featuring Bill Hodges, retired cop and ageing good guy. Regular readers of the blog (Hi Jim) will know that I’ve grown up reading Stephen King and I love the sheer clarity of his writing, regardless of what he writes. I believe he’s influenced the way I try to do things myself and I make no apology for it. The man is a heavyweight of American Letters and a real person to boot, that for me is a potent mix. 

The first book of this crime trilogy, Mr. Mercedes has, I believe, a truly brilliantly-formed opening chapter. I shook my head in awe when I read it. The book itself is good, it rattles alone and the overall effect was a positive one. 

The second book ‘Finders Keepers’ seemed over concerned on exposition whilst moving inexorably toward an expected conclusion. 

This third book hasn’t quite done it for me either. This time, Stephen King pulls in some of the supernatural elements from his earlier writing. While I have no problem following Mr K wherever he wants to take me, the cramming of an ethereal quality into this already-terraformed world of police procedural and real life crime makes for an uneasy fit. It’s almost as if Mr. K feels this too as he goes to great pains to try to validate some of the more fanciful turns of the story inside the gritty gumshoe box he has constructed. For me, the ‘Weird’ doesn’t quite fit. Characters who would never believe ‘strange shit’, come to believe ‘strange shit’ with some ease out of plot necessity.

My main issue with these books is not with the central character himself, as a matter of fact, I like him. I’d say there’s a lot of Stephen King in old Bill Hodges. He creaks and he aches and he knows the best is done with now but still he ploughs on and brings home the bacon every time. No, Bill is aces in my book. It’s his ‘team’ that I have less time for. The two characters who back Bill up in his quests have never gelled successfully for me. Holly is not too bad, she is strong and sympathetic, if a little monochrome. Jerome doesn’t play at all in my head, I’m not really sure why. I don’t think even Mr. K managed to convince himself with this character,. Jerome is sometimes found to be mocking himself within the text as if he almost doesn’t even believe how good he is himself.

As ever, I enjoyed the ride. Stephen King always sets things up beautifully and is never afraid to make his characters bleed. I may not have thought this one was his very best but then I never needed it to be.

Just keep doing what you do, Mr. K, I’ll be here waiting, along with all the rest.


Loving the Small Encounters

“I just can’t get it this week.” 

That’s how I open the conversation.

“No?”

“I’ve been trying and trying and I think it’s beyond me.”

“Here, listen again.” 

I pack cartons of milk into my bag and listen again as the check out guy whistles a little more of his tune. He makes a warbling milkman-ish kind of a sound. 

“I really feel I should know it.”

"Will I tell you?"

"Go on so."

“”And then I go and spoil it all…"”

“No! I should have bloody got that.”

“I love the Robbie Williams version… you know with yer wan.”

“Nicole…”

“Aye, her.”

“I don’t like that version at all. Robbie did a cover of Mr. Bojangles that was possibly the worst thing I ever heard. It’s got to be Frank for me.”

“Frank and Nancy. Your receipt.”

“Thanks. See ya.”

“Bye.”

I don’t get the same check out guy every week but, when I get the whistling guy, we always chat about something. If there’s a good voucher in the paper, he’ll send me off for one and he’ll find it and tear it out and apply the deduction to my bill. Or else he'll be whistling a tune and I'll try to name it. Always something.

Another one of the check out guys is a great science fiction movie fan. He was troubled by a childhood film he remembered clearly but could not track down. He described it to me and I found it for him and had the information for the next check out. It was called ‘Wild Wild Planet’, in case you're bothered.

We chat warmly and with mutual interest, the check out guys and me… until the groceries are all checked out. Then it’s over. We both move on. We both have other things to do.

I’ve come to realise that there’s a truism here that applies to my life in general and perhaps particularly to my Social Media interaction. 

I love the small encounters. The brief chat, vibrant and engaged and, crucially, with a visible end clearly in sight. The more off beat and odd the conversation, the better. In ‘Godot’, Vladimir implored Estragon to ‘return the ball once in a way’. I love it when people ‘return the ball’ conversationally like that. I fling out a wild veering ball and they magically get a foot or a head on to it and somehow get it back.

I embrace the shorter form of encounters.

And there’s the converse, as there always is. 

I tend to ease myself away from any situation with the potential for a long drawn out exchange. Brevity, for me, is the soul of wit. It’s grown to a stage where I will actively try to avoid being cornered or drawn into something long. If I can get in and be secure in the knowledge that I am getting out again soon, then I am yours (for a finite period). But if you need me for the next couple of hours then, in the words of Bob Dylan, “it ain’t me, babe" or, in the words of Jules from Pulp Fiction, “We’d have to be talking about one charming… pig.”

That’s why I like the check out guys. They only want to talk for as long as it takes to ring my vittles though but, for that exact length of time, they’re well into it. 

I'm heading there now. I hope it’s the whistling guy.

I fancy a short tune. 

Druid's Waiting For Godot - Theatre in HD

My son John had been studying 'Godot' in French this year so when I heard that the esteemed Druid Theatre Company were coming back to it again in a whole new production… well, we had to be there.

We nearly weren’t though. The tickets went like hot cakes and it was only the addition of two further matinees that enabled me to get hold of some seats. We drove down to Galway last Wednesday, making a day of it. 

Godot has long had a place in my heart. I even read the part of Gogo in The Linenhall for Beckett's 100 Anniversary. We weren't all that bad either. I really don’t get why people complain about it. As a play, I find it completely engaging. Funny when it likes and almost heart-breaking when it needs to be. It gives the actors a chance to exercise their chops too. All four of the adult parts have to work hard to earn their crust in this one, there are no coasters. 

I thought this was the most excellent afternoon of theatre. The cast were the very soul of integrity, playing their parts with unreserved physical and verbal commitment. As far as I could tell, the text was respectfully adhered to, except for a bit of business with Pozzo’s pipe which probably came down to modern fire regulations. 

Marty Rea and Aaron Monaghan brought Didi and Gogo vividly to life. Didi tall and angular – a tattered elegance in spite of his evident waterworks difficulties. Visually, a sort of a Beckett ‘Cat-In-The Hat’. Gogo, a person much more of the ground, worn down, tired, fretful and forgetful. 

Rory Nolan is excellent, playing Pozzo as a sort of semi deranged Uncle Monty. He brings colossal physicality to the performance space, making the front row squirm with delicious discomfort as if, at any moment, he would might sit down and join them.

Garrett Lombard is a broad and a dangerous Lucky, his face a contortion of pain and exertion. His famous ‘think’ speech seemed almost deliberately undermined by the overplaying of the reactions of the rest of the cast. Then again, all of that is in the stage direction.

The production dots in cartoon elements, somewhat reminiscent of a cartoon like quality evident in 'The Lonesome West', years before. The fourth wall is infrequently broken, the characters gaze off into the wings in that familiar exaggerated pose of seeking, one leg extended to the rear and, most notably, whenever they attempt to escape the area via the rear, they painfully encounter an invisible wall and become flattened there, like Wile E Coyote on the windscreen of a tunnel-emerging truck.  

The Druid performance space is intimate. The very proximity of the performance makes it like watching the ultimate HD experience. The very weave of the clothes that the characters wear is there to be inspected. When Pozzo eats a chicken leg, you can smell the chicken itself and hear him slaver over it. It almost made me wish that the sense of smell itself played a little more part in the production, although Vladimir and Gogo and Lucky too would all obviously be quite ripe.

For me, the genius move of this production came at the end of each of the two acts, when the moon rose into view. I loved the way the moon changed both Didi and Gogo. It was as if they almost became drunk on its presence. It emphasised a relief that night and finally landed and the question of whether Godot would come or not was once again put safely to bed. I loved the dreamlike essence of these latter scenes. A masterful detail. 

Many people seem to get their knickers in a twist over Godot. I think most of those people haven’t seen it or at least haven’t seen a world class production like this. On Wednesday afternoon, sitting as we were in the half round, it was plain to see that the audience were fully engaged, amused, horrified, saddened and, yes, perhaps occasionally bewildered. Godot isn’t ‘hard’, it’s easy. It is what it is, right there in front of you. See it. Soak it in. Enjoy it. 

After the play, John and I went around to corner to ‘Fat Freddy’s’ to have a couple of their much loved pizzas. We were only there a few minutes when the cast came in. Being a talker, I told them how great I thought they were and asked them to sign my programme. They were great, chatty and personable, and I knew enough not to trouble them for very long.

As I was going back to my table, Marty Rea, the excellent Vladimir said, entirely without irony, “If you wait for another minute, Lucky will be along.”

And then, suddenly, unlike Godot, there he was. 

The Last Detail

Let me tell you a little story. You’ll probably think it’s apocryphal but I don’t believe it is. The guy who told it to me on Friday last said it happened to him just the day before and he’s not the kind of person who would normally cloak urban legends in false times and dates to make them more authentic. 

There’s also no great hidden point to me telling you this five-line story. I’m not trying to press some subtle agenda or anything. If you want to know the simple truth of it, I love telling little stories and when I heard this one I thought to myself, “That’s great, I’m going to enjoy telling that to people.” I even asked the guy’s permission to tell it and he said okay, just so long as his name was kept out of it. I didn’t tell him I might post it here because I hadn’t a notion of doing so at the time. I was just looking forward to telling it.

So why post it? The answer is simple and a little bit sad maybe. As the weekend has progressed, it slowly dawned on me that I hadn’t got very many people to tell it to. I told Patricia and she enjoyed it, I think, but, beyond that, I haven’t seen anyone or met anyone else who I could try it out on. That’s the way life goes, I think. It closes in a little more all the time. You’ve got to kick a little harder every year to maintain a little hole in the wall that you can whisper through. Or something, I don’t know.

This is all padding and filling because the story itself, as I’ve already mentioned, is very short. I think it’s also part of the point too though. How we communicate. The extraordinary joy of chatting to someone face to face and the whiskey-belt of a good story being heard. Social Media has a little of that but nowhere near as much as we sometimes think. There seems to be a price to pay for the stories we get on here. A price extracted in ennui and an occasional sense of isolation.

Sorry? Oh, the story!

Right. 

This week this man, the man I was telling you about, reached that amazing moment in his life when his mortgage was finally all paid off. He got a letter in the post and it was all very exciting. There was only one tiny glitch. There was still eight cent left to pay. The man couldn’t understand why the final automatic debit could not just have taken the eight cent and be done with it but apparently debit instructions are debit instructions and adjustments, however small, are not an option.

Craving closure, and perhaps a little fun, the man assembled eight one cent coins and descended on the bank. The teller at the main counter couldn’t help him but there was a lady in a back office at a more formal looking desk who seemed to have the authority to complete the deal.

The man sat in at her desk and arranged his eight penny coins in a careful row in front of him while she computed the transaction. He eased the money gently across the desk.

“There you go, eight cent. The mortgage is paid.”

The woman consulted her screen and then smiled a rather watery, probably embarrassed, smile.

She said,

“It’s nine cent now.”

That’s the story. The man paid his nine cent (he found another coin) and went home. I don’t normally bother with ‘moral of the story’ stuff or neat little summaries at the end. Mr. 'Get Into The Story Late, Get Out Early', that’s me. But, in this instance, I thought the man’s final though on his little experience was pertinent and apt and memorable so here it is.

He said,

“I’d always heard that the fuckers would get the last penny out of you but I’ve only just found out for myself that it’s true.”