Catching Up

I do apologise for the impromptu blogging break that happened this past week. I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather and then things have been so busy. Or they’ve felt busy to me. July is Open Studios month in the area, when almost two hundred local artists group together for exhibitions or open their workplaces to the public. We’ve been to an exhibition and two studios these past couple of weekends, although we’ve emerged without buying any art (sometimes due to Mister Litlove’s judicious steering of me towards exits at crucial moments). It’s funny; here I am preaching all the time that people should be as open to their reading as possible, and to try things without being too judgmental, but put me in a room with a painting I really don’t like and my skin starts to crawl. So much for broadening my mind as far as visual art is concerned; I like it or I don’t and that seems to be that.

We went to an exhibition at the Museum of Technology, which is the old pumping station down by the river. Mister Litlove thinks it’s the best museum ever, and I think it’s the worst – just a bunch of ugly old machinery in a cavernous spidery building to me, poetry in engineering motion to him. I caught him at one point with his nose two inches away from some truly insipid watercolours, trying to read the history of the computer exhibit that lay beyond the screens on which the paintings were hung. Downstairs a very jolly lady had her very graphic nudes hung about an ancient steam engine. She was telling us that one had been hanging in her bedroom for ages, because it had been a commission but the couple broke up and the boyfriend didn’t want a life-sized reminder of his ex. Mister Litlove teased me about having my picture done, I teased him about having his, and then we thought about the ways we could freak out our son with a matching pair, which struck us as very funny. And then we walked decisively away.

J. B. Priestley

Last night we went out to the theatre for the first time in a while. We saw Eden End by J.B. Priestley, which was a mixed success. It was okay, just not great. Essentially it was J. B. Priestley’s fault, for writing a play in which no climax was reached and no character developed. To be fair I think he was much more concerned with evoking shattered dreams, both personal and historical; the time of the action is 1912 (the play was written in 1934) and concerns an ordinary family whose eldest daughter has shockingly left them all nine years ago to seek her fortune on the stage. And now, of course, the prodigal Stella returns, trying to keep to herself the failure she feels she has made of her life, and upsetting her younger sister who resents her bitterly for the fuss she caused, the chances she took, and for being the best loved. Not much happens except that the angry sister (who delivered all her lines grimly in a barking voice) manages to pressurise Stella into leaving again. Curtain falls on faithful family retainer weeping into hanky.

We rushed home to read the reviews and found them all to be glowing, which confused us no end. Had we been watching a different play? All the reviewers adored the actress who played Stella although she hadn’t struck us particularly at all. She reminded me of the kind of girl that teachers all cooed over at school; ethereally pretty, wondrously self-confident, speaking with a breathy, husky intensity and able to cry at will while staring into the middle-distance. According to the reviewers this was J.B. Priestly with delicate shades of Chekov. I’ve never seen a Chekov play; I don’t think I’ll rush to catch one.

It probably didn’t help that earlier the same day we’d watched Bullets Over Broadway, also about theatre folk and one of my favourite movies ever. I signed us up for a month’s free trial of Lovefilm, which is the UK version of Netflix. On the whole I find contemporary cinema way too aggressive towards the viewer for my comfort; all that crazy mad cutting, camera shots that swing you violently towards the action, and nothing in any way plausible or relevant for the life I lead or the lives of people I know. But Bullets Over Broadway is Woody Allen at his best, and the exuberances of Woody Allen are ones I can really enjoy. Plus this is a beautifully plotted film about the compromises, the trials and the triumphs of creativity.

It’s set in 1920s New York where playwright, David Schuler (the brilliant John Cusack, taking the Woody part brilliantly) is finally going to make it to Broadway, but the funding is coming from a mobster who demands a part in the play for his chorus-line girlfriend, Olive. Rehearsals for the play begin and you can feel Woody Allen having just the best fun ever with the possibilities of actors. There’s the famous Helen Sinclair, pretension incarnate to her fingertips, manipulating the star struck Schuler into altering her part, Warner Purcell the male lead who can’t keep away from the buffet table, and of course Olive, a perfectly dreadful actress who also has to bring a bodyguard, the taciturn gangster Cheech, along with her. Then one day, fed up with the awfulness of the play he’s obliged to watch, Cheech makes a fantastic suggestion for altering the plot, and it turns out to be only the start. David Schuler is horrified but unable to resist using Cheech’s alterations (‘Where I come from,’ Cheech says, ‘nobody squeals.’) and gradually the question of who owns the play becomes paramount, particularly when Cheech turns out to be as uncompromising about art as he is about everything else. Oh I just love this film, and like Rear Window, could watch it over and over, and would, if I could only find a copy of the DVD to buy at a reasonable price.

Over the week I’ll try to catch up a bit on book reviews. Suffice it to say I thoroughly enjoyed Salman Rushdie, which was a surprise, and am loving Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and have now got into In Cold Blood, which I hesitated over to begin with as an almost palpable air of evil hangs over that book. But I’m past the murders now and rolling with it. I’m catching up on my blog reading too (at two this morning, since I couldn’t sleep after the theatre!), and if I haven’t been by, I’ll visit very soon.

17 thoughts on “Catching Up

  1. It sounds as if your senses have been inundated with the good, the bad, the ugly – no wonder you’ve been too exhausted to blog! The Museum of Technology sounds like just the sort of thing that would mesmerize my husband as well..he loves old machinery and factories – go figure.

    I’ve never seen Bullets Over Broadway, but will definitely look it up. I’ve been in a cinematic mood lately, which is kind of rare for me. But the weather has been horribly hot and steamy over here, so it’s too warm to enjoy being outdoors as much as I’d like to be.

    Enjoy the remainder of Bird by Bird. That is definitely one of my favorites in the “inspirational writing” genre, and is accordingly dog-eared, underlined, and scribbled in. That should make a nice antidote to In Cold Blood.

  2. Becca – that is so funny, you read my mind. I picked Bird by Bird up exactly as an antidote to In Cold Blood, and it is proving to be a wonderful one. I love it. I’ve also got the same Tell It Slant book as you, and am looking forward to that too. If you like Woody Allen (and most people feel one way or the other about him) then you should enjoy Bullets Over Broadway. It’s funny and, despite the mobsters, rather gentle. And I laughed to hear about your husband – we have two peas in a pod there!🙂

  3. Oh, oh, Litlove, DO rush to catch a Chekhov play; really, if J.B. Priestley put you off him I would never forgive him and that would obviously be a Terrible Thing all round.

  4. I should get back into Woody Allen’s truly comedic side. I love Radio Days and Manhattan Murder Mystery but then watched a couple of his more “dramatic” films, which I found intensely depressing to the point of nihilism (Husbands and Wives in particular). So I’ve been avoiding him ever since, which is a bit silly.

  5. I do love a good Woody Allen movie; you’ve just put Bullets Over Broadway on my list (I’m dying to see the current one, but that will never happen in a theatre)…your weekend sounds like a case of complete sensory overload. Anne Lamott is the perfect antidote, but I must confess I’ve never read In Cold Blood. Haven’t got the stomach for it.

  6. Yes, I remember you mentioned Bullets over Broadway as one of your favourite movies. I don’t recall having seen this Woody Allen film… now it’s hard to locate it. I’ll just try. I don’t have Netflix so will have to search for the DVD. The time being set in 1920’s New York is interesting because his recent film “Midnight In Paris” is set in the same time, but in Paris… and Owen Wilson just may be in a parallel role as John Cusack’s… albeit the story is totally different. Anyway, I just find the period in which both films seem coincidental. Talking about WA, have you seen his Zelig (1983), it’s just brilliant and hilarious I think.

    And thanks for reminding me about Bird by Bird. I’d thoroughly enjoyed it… wrote a review post on it two years ago. You’re welcome to take a look at it.

  7. Litlove, let me add my voice to Helen’s–don’t give up on Chekhov. If you want to combine theatre and a movie, look for “Vanya on 42nd Street.” It’s Uncle Vanya (a Chekhov play) filmed in a crumbling new york city theatre. It’s from 1994. Louis Malle and Andre Gregory did it. Beautiful, with a heartbreaking ending. And no violence of the kind you don’t like.

  8. Some of those early 20th-century plays just don’t wear well…Galsworthy has also aged about as gracefully as … well, you know, I just can’t think of an inoffensive metaphor that fits the bill. I think Woody Allen will age better. Incidentally, if you have not yet seen “Purple Rose of Cairo,” you must.

  9. I have a strange relationship with Woody Allen’s work in that I both love it and hate it. Bullets over Broadway sounds like one of the good ones. You’ve also inspired me to finish Bird by Bird. I really enjoyed the bits that I read but got caught up with other reading. And I’m not surprised you’re exhausted by all the culture you’ve been imbibing🙂

  10. Helen – you have made all the difference. When Chekhov next comes my way, I will not avoid him but positively seek him out!🙂

    Emily – I just love Manhatten Murder Mystery (and would love to watch Radio Days). I know I saw Husbands and Wives but it was so long ago now I have no memory of it at all! We are also a fan of Alice and Hannah and her Sisters. But I do know how a bad experience with a director (or a writer or a composer) can put you off all their work for a while. Sometimes those breaks are just what you need, though, to have wonderful experiences with other artists. It’s all good!

    Lilian – I think I’ve got used to breaks as periods of complete restful emptiness – somehow I need a bit more wriggle room to make them include some forms of entertainment, too!🙂

    ds – I do understand about In Cold Blood, although I have found it very interesting, in the end. Woody Allen, though is a delight, and like you I’m looking forward to the new one coming out on DVD – I’m no great fan of the cinema experience that usually just seems intended to blast you out of your seat. If you watch Bullets, I’d love to know what you think of it.

    Dovereader – it IS wonderful! I’ll be recommending it to everyone in the very near future.

    Arti – no, I haven’t seen Zelig, so thank you for the recommendation. I will certainly look it up. It’s such a shame Bullets Over Broadway is so hard to get a hold of. I keep searching. I think that the period just suits Woody Allen down to the ground. It’s glamourous and hopeful and within that context he can do something funny and neurotic. Owen Wilson, I’m ashamed to say, is an actor I only know from the Dukes of Hazzard movie, so I could probably do with a mental palate cleanser after that! Thank you for the link to your review of Anne Lamott – I’ll be over to read it directly I’ve done these comments!

    JB – I love that kind of movie recommendation, thank you. I’ll definitely look it out if I can, and I promise, Chekhov stays on the list.

    David – this is wonderful, another Woody recommendation that I haven’t seen! He just makes me laugh and laugh. I also laughed a lot at your comments on Galsworthy. I have long intended to read The Forsythe Saga (and will, one of these days), but I am forewarned now to avoid his theatrical endeavours.🙂

    Pete – too much culture IS tiring, isn’t it? And yet some people (my dear husband included) seem able to soak up great wodges of it with no apparent reaction at all. Let’s put it down to my highly-strung artistic nature, shall we?😉 I’m really intriguing by your reaction to Woody, who is the only director I know to be at all interested in psychotherapy. But that interest doesn’t always equate to a truthful portrayal, of course! If you do watch Bullets over Broadway I’d love to know what you think of it, and to see which of your categories it falls into.

  11. The idea of you and Mr. Litlove having a pair of nude paintings done to freak out your son cracks me up! I’ve never seen Bullets Over Broadway but I think I will have to give it a go sometime!

  12. Stefanie – lol! It really cracked us up too! After all those years of being woken in the night, and never having a moment to yourself and operating a constant taxi service, it’s an unexpected treat to be able to think of entertaining ways to embarrass your kids. I remember reading in the paper about this guy who had kept a red velvet suit from the 1960s and whenever his children were being lippy or refusing to tidy their rooms, he’d threaten to pick them up from school wearing it. I loved that story. He ended it by saying he’d still got it and could still get into it – ‘just ready for the grandchildren’.🙂

  13. How great that you’ve been experiencing art in many different forms, even if the art varies in quality a bit! I haven’t watched many Woody Allen movies, and that’s probably not a good thing. Hobgoblin isn’t a fan, though, so we don’t watch them together. I’ll have to hunt down Bullets Over Broadway, and I’ve also heard good things about his latest, Midnight in Paris.

  14. You’ve been having so many wonderful experiences with the museum visit, the film watching, and the theater. I have been missing the fact that I have not been doing as many of these “cultural” things as I usually do. I am looking forward to going to an exhibition of Tim Burton illustrations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next weekend.

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