Thursday, August 19, 2010

‘Stuart: A Life Backwards’ by Alexander Masters

19 August 2010

I’ve been reading ‘Stuart: A Life Backwards’ by Alexander Masters, the fascinating, unorthodox biography of Stuart Shorter – a tale of life on the streets, prison, drugs, violence, self-harm and sexual abuse. Much of Stuart’s story is shocking and distressing but in Masters’ telling Stuart emerges as a compelling, funny, impressive and likeable personality – a triumph of finding the person amongst the problems. Masters intersperses the account of his own relationship with Stuart with the story of Stuart’s life before they met, told chronologically backwards. This gradual revelation unpicks the chain of episodes that have led Stuart to the situation in which we first encounter him. It’s an innovative approach which really helps you to understand the whole person but I also found the flitting backwards and forwards a little distracting. ‘Stuart: A Life Backwards’ is an amazing book – not quite like anything I have read before – not always easy reading but very effective at making you think about the whole nature of our society in very different ways. It’s funny how most of our debates about class tend to ignore the homeless underclass who see people who live on a council estate as ‘posh’.


Monday, August 09, 2010

'Inception' by Christopher Nolan

9 August 2010

I like a bit of ambiguity in a film: the trick is getting the right balance between telegraphing the plot and creating something so complex it is frustratingly unfathomable. For me, Christopher Nolan’s new film ‘Inception’ achieved just the right balance, starting by bombarding you with confusion then allowing you to gradually – and very satisfyingly – start to piece everything together before leaving you with a lingering soupçon of ambiguity. I really enjoyed Nolan’s breakthrough film, 'Memento' (reviewed here in February 2007) and he does seem to bring a refreshingly creative complexity to everything he does. ‘Inception’ involves Leonardo DiCaprio leading a team who go into someone’s dreams to plant an idea. The surreal nature of dreams within dreams works (once you get the hang of it) because it maintains its own strict logic. The special effects are amazing: as characters walk up walls and along ceilings, and streets full of buildings fold over on top of themselves, it all manages to appear ‘real’ rather than obviously computer-generated. And I loved what I hope were a number of knowing references and in-jokes – absolutely unessential to your struggle to comprehend the plot but terribly satisfying when you spot them. For example, a fleeting cameo from Pete Postlethwaite seemed to me to be a reference to ‘The Usual Suspects’, famous for its own puzzles about what is real and what is imaginary. And surely it wasn’t a coincidence that DiCaprio’s wife is played by Marion Cotillard, best known for her Oscar-winning role in ‘La vie en rose’, and the musical trigger DiCaprio’s team use to communicate to each other in the dreams is Édith Piaf singing ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’? These clever hidden references (and I bet there were heaps more I didn’t spot) reminded me of the allusions to Kate Bush lyrics in David Mitchell’s novel ‘number9dream’ – absolutely nothing to do with the plot but terribly pleasing when you notice them. ‘Inception’ is not an easy film to follow but it’s well worth the struggle – proper complicated!


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

‘Quartet’ by Ronald Harwood

3 August 2010

Last Saturday we were at Milton Keynes Theatre to see ‘Quartet’ by Ronald Harwood – a play about four aging opera singers meeting each other again in a retirement home for musicians and planning to reprise their famous performance of the quartet from Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’. It was cleverly written exploration of growing old and differing attitudes to aging – and provided great roles for a quartet of well-known actors of a certain age: Timothy West, Susannah York, Michael Jayston and Gwen Taylor. A gentle play and a little bit predictable but enjoyable and inspiring – and really made me want to see ‘Rigoletto’.

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