Good person goes bad …

September 22, 2013 at 6:05 am | Posted in Books, Movies | Leave a comment
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Óleg Vladimirovich Penkovsky, regarded by many as one of the most beneficent agents in the history of espionage, was tried and sentenced to death in Moscow in 1963. Having only by a near miracle escaped that fate myself in 1985, I naturally have a close personal interest in the subject of this monograph.’

 Now, that’s a great opening to a book review! You’ve just got to read on. It was written by Oleg Gordievsky in September’s Literary Review p. 6.

 I used to write a ton of book reviews – mainly for The Canberra Times. I learnt a lot from it and enjoyed it – up to a point. In the time it takes to read, digest, re-read bits of and write a review of a book, one could have written a whole chapter of one’s own writing or a draft of a short story. George Orwell might have been thinking partly of this when he said, ‘Book reviewing is pouring your immortal soul down the drain, a half pint at a time.

 I used to review films too and that was a lot quicker. Your average book takes longer to read than the 90 minutes films used to be or the 2 hrs they are now. And, scribbling in the dark, I’d make pretty comprehensive notes so that it didn’t take all that long to write a reasonable review later. And most films are less complex than the kind of books I was attracted to.

 Last night I saw Diana. Naomi Watts played her. It was a very kind portrait, a hagiography really. Very kind and sweet all the time, lonely and then desperately in love with a noble guy who saves lives. No mention of all the other lovers before him, and then when she’s on Dodi’s yacht (haven’t we all done stupid, impulsive things on the rebound to get back at an ex?!) they meet on deck in the morning and he says, ‘How did you sleep?’ As if he didn’t know! Ha!

 Naomi Watts is much prettier than Diana was, and much shorter. Naomi Watts is a fantastic actor (must have been so frustrating getting tiny bit parts for 15 years while Nicole Kidman got all the big parts when Naomi is by far the better actor) and she got the gestures, expressions, smile, voice and laugh precisely right. But their faces are so different, even though they’re both blue-eyed blondes – and I never got that suspension of disbelief persuading me that I was looking at Diana; I was always aware of looking at Naomi Watts.

 That said, it was absorbing and interesting. Someone summed up films as all fitting into categories of: Good person goes bad; OR Bad person goes good; OR Bad person gets worse; OR Good person gets better. Obviously the first two are extremely interesting; the third mildly so and the last unbelievably boring. Diana could be summarized as Good person goes haywire (over lost love, in this case). Yes, it was interesting.

 And the love of her life (the Pakistani heart surgeon) quotes her that Rami quotation I mentioned in a previous blog:  ‘Beyond all rights and wrongs, there is a field – I will meet you there.’ But in the doctor character’s version it’s translated as ‘garden’.

 The weekend before Diana, I saw Stoker, and apart from the gorgeous credit sequences I was bored. Two psychopaths are on screen for almost the whole time. Someone wrestling with his soul is interesting; or someone in conflict with someone else. To me, real drama is soul drama. But with psychopaths there is no struggle, no conflict, no hopeless yearning or deep passion or shocking turnaround. They just get whatever they want by taking it, killing people if they happen to be in the way or if the psychopath feels like it.

 Mia of course was really good, but I was still bored. Bad person gets worse – it was in that category. And then it just spiralled downwards into schlock horror, which looks easy and fun to write and act, but not such fun to watch, unless you’re maybe a drunk adolescent.

 A film like Polanski’s Repulsion is so much more interesting, depicting a young girl’s deterioration into mental illness (Good person goes mad. Which is bad.) It was fascinating, you should get it out on DVD. Seriously creepy and scary. Not a moment’s schlock horror, it goes much deeper and has an enduring impact.   

How to write violently and live peacefully

September 1, 2013 at 9:31 am | Posted in art, politics | Leave a comment
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‘Be regular and orderly in your life so you can be violent and original in your work.’ Gustav Flaubert said that. So I make my house clean and tidy and lay the fire and fill two blue vases with bunches of my yellow jonquils, and I write my commissioned Churchill book.

Not that the Churchill Trust necessarily wants a ‘violent and original’ book! It will be original but perhaps I will leave the violence to my novel writing.

I brush the white cat who is so pretty he looks like a girl and I do my tai chi in the sunshine. And to relax, between writing and domestic things, I clean out two rooms and build a whole new decor around a glorious doona cover I fell in love with and so bought a single and a double and built everything around them. Doona covers are a good way to bring art and colour into your life. Often on special too. Some of them really are works of art, the same as rugs from Afghanistan or Iran or Pakistan are. If you can afford to buy ‘Persian’ rugs you can walk on art.

I need to do things like this because writing and art are what make me happy – those and people. And with an election coming up in Australia very soon that everyone predicts will be a huge win for a party who do not on the whole share my values, I need to cultivate my garden as Voltaire said.

And in a world in which: ‘For every dollar spent on U.N. peacekeeping, $2,000 is expended for war-making by member nations’, we need to find ways to feel at peace sometimes. Or we’d go crazy. That quotation and the next is by Paul Hawken in his book, Blessed Unrest: How the largest social movement in history is restoring grace, justice, and beauty to the world. (New York, Penguin, 2007) both on p. 18.

‘Four of the five members of the U.N. Security Council, which has veto power over all U.N. resolutions are the top weapons dealers in the world: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Russia.’ So the latter quotation very depressing but the title of his book so hopeful! It is a good book, and good to read books like that at times like these.

And because I must get back to my Churchill book I’m taking the easy way out and ending with an extensive block quote from Hawken’s book.

‘Unlike indigenous cultures, whose worlds are local, intimate, familiar, we live in the age of giants. In one day alone we pump 85 million barrels of petroleum out of the ground, and then burn it up. And on the same day we spew the waste of 27 billion pounds of coal into the atmosphere. One hundred million displaced people now wander the earth without a home. One company, Wal-Mart, employs 1.8 million people. ExxonMobil made nearly $40 billion in profits in 2006, enough money to permanently supply pure clean drinking water to the 1 billion people who lack it. We have consumed 90 percent of all the big fish in the oceans. Bill Gates’s home covers one and a half acres and cost nearly $100 million.
Not surprisingly, people don’t know that they count in such a mal-ordered, destabilized world, don’t know that they are of value. A healthy global civilization cannot be constructed without the building blocks of meaning, which are hewn of rights and respect. What constitutes meaning for human beings are events, memories, and small dignities—gifts that rarely emerge from institutions, and never from theory. As the smaller parts of the world are knitted into one globalized unit, the one thing we can no longer afford is bigness. This means dismantling the big bombs, dams, ideologies, contradictions, wars and mistakes.
In the midst of such giants a worldwide gathering of ordinary and extraordinary people are reconstituting the notion of what it means to be a human being. While they are organizing themselves into the largest movement in the history of the world, the movement only happens one person at a time.’ (p. 23)

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