Friday, April 06, 2007

Some improvement

My mood has got slightly better, not least because I went to see Notes on a Scandal, which was great and very funny to boot. I very much enjoyed the novel, but wasn't sure how film would capture the first person unreliable narrator on which the whole book hangs. They did a pretty decent job, though it was a good bit more explicit than the novel, as perhaps it had to be. Anyway, the delectable Cate Blanchett could be acting in anything at all, however cliched and flat (anyone remember Veronica Guerin?) and it would still be worth the ticket price to watch her luminous lovelieness. Also, I got some sleep. Bonus.

I have just discovered the blog of a good friend of mine from Oxford who is living in Italy now and have added it to my links. Chris is fiercely clever, funny, kind, gentle and handsome. He is also Scottish, and has chosen to live in Italy, so you can see that he is an almost faultless specimen of humanity. Unfortunately I can't make any sense of his blog at all, since it is mostly about Italian political reform and the media, but perhaps if I begin to read it regularly then I will know what my Milan-dwelling brother and sister-in-law are talking about when they sigh with despair every time the Government is mentioned over dinner.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


And to make a bad day worse, anti-choice scumbags have plastered the intersection outside my department with disgusting pictures, past which I have now had to walk four times today. I am not above telling you that I find it extremely upsetting. Earlier on, before the pictures went up, they were giving out fliers but there was nothing to tell you what it was a flier for until you had it in your hand. As soon as I looked at it I ripped it up into little bits and walked over and threw them in the bin and made sure the idiot who handed it to me saw me do it. Despite my fury, I mind the vile misogynist propaganda rather less than I mind the enormous and revolting photographs which made me want to cry. Also, I am 99% per cent certain that one of their billboards was drawing a direct comparison between abortion and the Holocaust, which is in splendid taste, is it not? However, the images were so distressing that I actually couldn't bring myself to look at the thing for long enough to see in any greater detail what invidious association they were attempting to draw. It appeared to hang on the idea of choice and why this was a bad thing (?), and had the phrase "religious choice" above a picture of a pile of Nazi deathcamp victims. I am completely baffled by what on earth this line of reasoning (to grace it with a term it scarcely deserves) can be driving at. I am too annoyed and upset even to work this observation up into a piss-take of their manifest and thorough-going stupidity. Idiots. If I hadn't been in a filthy humour earlier today (and I was) then I certainly would be now. I don't know why the University/police/local authority allows it, but I intend to find out. If they were adverts trying to sell something there is no way it would be tolerated. Since they are only trying to sell dangerous woman-hating bile apparently that's fair enough. More idiots. Great.

Why pretend?

I am too dismal and badtempered and pissed off and homesick to summon up the enthusiasm for writing blog posts, so why don't I just dispense with any pretence that my blog consist of more than just descripions of films and list the things I've been to see in the last week.

300 (2007): Rubbish. The dialogue is appalling, and the visual spectacle is samey and cliched, and the bizarrely historically truncated plot effaces every nuanced and interesting aspect of the story itself. All the Persians were flamboyantly queer or deformed or both, which was dull and offensive enough, but the Spartans themselves were less attractive by far - revolting identikit pneumatic bodies devoid of any vestige of humanity, erotic appeal, or (absurdly) armour. The whole thing was a two-dimensional and crappily-acted nipplefest. If this is what graphic novels are like then I'll stick to Fielding, thanks. The high point was the credit sequence, which included the magical character description "Transsexual Number 3 (Arabian)". That's something to have on your CV.

The 300 Spartans (1961): quite funny. Leonidas as clean-cut, laconic (you do the jokes) all-American hero; Xerxes as mildly dastardly British army officer in the colonies, and as for Themistocles - well, at least he was in it. Artemisia was a cracking bit of steely-minded totty, and there was a touching and hilarious subplot about a simple Spartan youth who is desperate to fight at Thermopylae in order to win the hand of his sweetheart, with whom he frisks around the olive-shaded landscape. My favoutite bit was Ephialtes, portrayed as a dumbly brutish mountain-dwelling simpleton in a goatskin jerkin. Brilliant. His cackhanded attempt to grope the virginal Spartan maiden was black-hat/white-hat characterisation at its best.

A university production of Euripides' Medea: okay actually. They were using the translation I used to teach to 13 year olds, so that was a nice trip down memory lane. You could see the chorus' underwear through the armpits of their dresses when they moved their arms though.

Rome: a blast. I recommend it to all comers. My only regret is that we were watching it on a school night and therefore had to go home before the commencement of the promised affair between Octavia and Servilia. (To give non-classicists an idea of stupid this is, Servilia was the mother of Brutus, of "et tu Brute?" fame. She was the lover of Julius Caesar. Octavia was Caesar's great-niece. That's some age gap, quite apart from anything else). Best of all was, of course, JC himself, played by Ciaran Hinds. Caesar really is my heart-throb through the ages, which I dare say is highly revealing of some fascinating aspect of my personality blah blah blah. Anyway, I love him. The casting was the icing on the cake for me, since the last time I saw Ciaran Hinds he was in a BBC production of Persuasion playing Frederick Wentworth, the thinking woman's crumpet of the Austen corpus. A friend in the English department told me the other day that in my life here I remind her of Anne Elliot. I hope that means there's a Wentworth at the end of it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Queen

Newsflash on my never-ending cinema visits: last night I saw The Queen. Despite the reviews, I had been sceptical because really, it wasn't very long ago, and I paid plenty of attention first time round (it was hard not to). However, much flimsier commendations would still have been pretext enough for ditching Ovid, and it was, as everyone knows by now, excellent. Much more suprising, I found several parts of it very moving and even shed a tear, which cannot be said of my 16-year-old self watching it unfold at the time. I was entirely dispassionate: my abiding memory of the day she died was that I'd just got a kitten (yay!). My abiding memory of the day of her funeral is that I was up late in the loft apartment of my brother's flat, trying, and managing, to cop off with his best mate (sorry about that). The only emotion I can recall summoning up was a faint sense of distaste for the all the undignified howling over the death of a woman these people had never met, and a vague feeling that the Queen was behaving oddly. Well done to the film makers, then, for the fact that I found the funeral stuff genuinely very sad, and also felt overwhelming sympathy for the Queen. And didn't Blair's government look like twits? I must say that I heartily enjoyed that aspect of it too. My only regret was that Blair himself wasn't made to look even stupider, but luckily he's achieved that amply without the help of filmmakers.
I fear that this all goes to show that I am getting old: the senile lability, the establishment sympathies, the disdain for the anti-royalism of my youth. I can of course see that they did a very deliberate job of making the royals dignified and wise and timeless and the New Labourites petty and irrational and uncharitable, and to that extent the thing was highly manipulative. I admit I bought it though: at least for the duration of the film, and very possibly beyond. Did you?
PS Honourable mention to the stunning Aberdeenshire countryside which stole the show and made me feel even more patriotic than homesick. Go Deeside!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bad Username Indeed

I just tried to sign in to blogger but got an error message indicating a bad username, which would have been scottishmelanie had I not missed out the "c" . Avid readers of my blog will probably think the revised epithet not without justification. Anyway, it delighted my childish heart, firstly because this egregious manifestation of my in any case sempiternally cack-handed typing probably owes something to the after-effects of the impressive volume of whisky sour I sucked back last night; and secondly because the shortness and ease of the step from Scottish to Sottish spoke to me at a deep level. My love of whisky sours may be the ultimate expression of my ethnicity: what other confection combines an irrepressable enthusiasm for hard liquor with the thrifty instinct not to waste whisky too rough for drinking neat? They say you are what you eat, so better Scotch than Polish, I suppose.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The History Boys

In another fascinating instalment of what I've been doing, I went to the Bloor to see The History Boys last night. I had been dying to see it ever since I spied the poster a couple of weeks ago, resplendent with Tom Quad as it was. Indeed, a handful of wist-inducing shots of Oxford quite made my day. There was also the usual witty Bennett dialogue and a thorough-going air of Britishness which was very comforting and funny. I would have liked more early 80s pop music myself (they tantalized us with the opening bars of Dead or Alive's "Spin Me Round" but never came good on the rest, damn them). More importantly, however, the transition from play to screenplay really hadn't been completed successfully. Lots of the dialogue felt declamatory, and highlighted Hyntner's failure to exploit the opportunities the screen offers for showing the audience something rather than telling them; set-piece dialogues and group scenes were stilted, obviously designed for the formal artifice of the theatre, but grating in the realism of film. And crucially, almost all the shots were far too - well, stagey. The most disastrous manifestation of this was the truly ludicrous way in which the Boys themselves roamed around in a pack - it looked absurd, like a herd of animals (which I appreciate is a not inaccurate way of presenting a congregation of adolescent males of any species, but it was still preposterous).

And why were all eight of them going for Oxford and none for Cambridge? I object solely on the grounds of realism, of course: the foregoing being, on my lips, the essence of the rhetorical question...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Farmyard animals

Who didn't have a toy farmyard when they were small? Well, Toronto has a toy farmyard with real live farm animals, and I went to it last Sunday. (Apparently there is also a big zoo somewhere for those whose childhood taste in toys tended in a more Noah's Ark sort of direction, but I am resistant to attractions which necessitate the use of public transport, which is why in seven months here I have never seen the lake.) Riverdale Farm is in a part of the city called Cabbagetown, which my guide, the incomparable Ms Guardiani, tells me is because it was first inhabited by Irish immigrants who didn't like to waste space and dug up their front lawns to plant veg. Now it is very chic, but also has a lot of quite low-rent and social housing behind the trendy main streets: a bit of an Islington, I suppose. (Though frankly this could describe virtually any suburb of London these days, since everywhere is "up and coming". Where on earth are the poor people going to live, that's what I'd like to know).
Here are some lovely baby cows, their spindly legs casting long shadows over the lingering snow in the late afternoon sunshine. They were very friendly. I liked them even more than the pregnant goats.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I am unable to resist the temptation to post this picture of Alessandra, because it made me laugh. And for those of you who find baby photos boring, I can assure you that this much more interesting than anything I have done in the last two days, unless you are desperate to hear about such riveting things as which words I had to look up while reading the eighth book of Virgil's Aeneid, or how I ate some pasta and then got drunk. Honestly, I'm doing you a favour.