Archives for the month of: December, 2016

On December 2, Philip Larkin was finally memorialised in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner. Exactly 31 years to the day since his death.

Larkin was, and remains, a controversial figure, ‘jammed somewhere between celebratory and condemnatory impulses.‘ I have often argued for appreciating the work of poets through their words without dragging their lives into the mix. For me, poetry can stand alone, can be complete in itself as words on a page. Perhaps that is a naive standpoint, but I remain content experiencing great work as a thing in itself.

And for me, Larkin is a great poet. One of the best presents I ever received was the entire collection from my daughter a couple of Christmases ago.

And it being Christmas again, I thought of that gift as I read about Larkin finally arriving in Poets’ Corner. As I put up our Christmas tree, aware of another ending year, Larkin’s wondrous poem The Trees presented itself.

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin

 

Somewhat embarrassingly, I agreed to be interviewed about my movie addiction a few months ago for a newspaper that I have never read. And never plan to. No idea why I agreed to the proposition (no money or free cinema tickets involved). Possibly because film and cinema is so central to my life, and has been since my first experience as a child seeing The Sound of Music with my grandmother, that I wanted to share something of what it all continues to means to me.

I once plotted the shape of my formative experience against specific films that moved/shaped/inspired me at various timepoints. My observations of life on the screen have indeed moulded my own lived experience, and for sure served to make me, me. I have physically travelled relatively little, but I have journeyed through many worlds, landscapes, and cultures through the medium of film.

The London Irish Film Festival took place just over a week ago. I didn’t manage to see as much as I would have liked, but the events I did attend were hugely rewarding. On Thursday November 24th, I was at the Barbican to see silent Irish films (a first for me), with a live musical accompaniment from the wonderful O’Snodaigh brothers and Cormac de Barra. The music was an event in itself, and I marvelled throughout at how the musicians responded and reacted so acutely and viscerally to what was enacted on the screen. The series of silent films were not only part of the festival, but also of the 1916 commemorations, charting the Anglo-Irish relationship from a cinematic perspective. Fascinating. This theme was carried through to a day long event at Birkbeck on November 26th – specifically focusing on the relationship between Ireland and England in the 1980s, again through the eyes of filmmakers. I left Ireland in 1989, and much of what I saw at Birkbeck resonated with me – both the Ireland that I left behind, and the London that has become home. The discussions that emanated from the screenings were equally fascinating.

On the final day of the festival, I saw the premiere of Emerald City, directed by Colin Broderick. All the cast, and their families and friends it seemed, were there for the screening, which made for a vibrant, joyful and moving event. I enjoyed the film, yet it was the Q and A afterwards that completely sold it to me – the passion and commitment that created Emerald City is truly inspiring.

I was back at the cinema the following day, to see Paterson. It is an absolute gem. I was seduced and enthralled by every second of this film, by its inherent unfolding narrative where little actually happens. Which is why it is a triumph. Jarmusch has created an ode to the ‘ordinary’ life, to the mundane. Glorious in its banality, Paterson is a celebration of life. Not a life that is searching for something different, more exciting, more exotic. But a life that takes pleasure in the essence of what it already has. Few directors would have the courage to present such ‘ordinariness’ so triumphantly. Deeply steeped in the cultural history of New Jersey, with passing references to William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg amongst other, Paterson is more explicit about its connection with the poet Frank O’Hara. Adam Driver (wonderful), who plays the character Paterson in the film is a bus driver who writes poems during his lunch hour. Since watching the film, I have been re-immersing myself in O’Hara’s Lunch Poems:

‘It’s my lunch hour, so I go

for a walk among the hum-colored

cabs.’

from A Step Away From Them

I left Ireland in 1989 because the mundane and the routine of life that I saw around me, and believed that I would fall into if I stayed, terrified me. Paterson has shown me something else – our expectations of what life might, even should, deliver reveals so much about ourselves, and our need for the external to fix the unresolved within.

Paterson reminded me of another film that I saw a couple of years ago – Shun Li and the Poet – which is a very different cinematic experience but it moved me in a similarly lyrical way.

Twenty four hours later, Nocturnal Animals. I did not really know what to expect from this film. I had liked Tom Ford’s earlier A Single Man, and his current feature has a similarly sleek, minimalist and polished feel. But Nocturnal Animals is much more disturbing. I found some of the scenes hard to watch – the sense that something awful is about to happen was deeply distressing, at least for me. Yet I enjoyed it. It is a good, very good cinema experience, with some great acting.

Finally, The Unknown Girl. I had been so looking forward to it, being a huge Dardennes brothers fan. But I was disappointed. The plot was flimsy, the storyline lacking a sense of mattering. I did not connect with the protagonist, Dr Gavin, played by Adele Haenel. In fact her character irritated me, intensely at times. The Unknown Girl never captured my sympathy, or my involvement. Which was a huge disappointment as I expected so much more from these particular directors.

CQ