Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: A Word From the Ministry for Learning People Things

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  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Generally, the whole film seemed totally overwrought, but I remained utterly unmoved. It was pretty-looking, melodramatic... and empty. And I liked the first two in the trilogy quite a lot, and there was all that 'he's revitalised the musical!' talk, and I was rather looking forward to it. So... meh.

    I actually think Baz Lurhman has become increasingly unwatchable and affected with each new film. I mean, Strictly Ballroom was actually very fun froth, although in the "ugly duckly Aussie film stakes", seemed to have less bite to it than__ Muriel's Wedding__, while Rome + Juliet was fitfully inspired, and largely ambitious, but often overreaching- I wasn't totally convinced by the whole 'Bard goes pop' gambit, and ultimately thought the roughly-contemporary Ian McKellen-starring version of Richard the Third was better- punchier, tighter and just more enjoyable.

    But Moulin Rouge__was so __relentless. It didn't stop. Everything about it, from the excessively garish colour scheme to as Sascha pointed out, the frankly strange performances, seemed both overwrought and offkilter. No Sir, I didn't like it.

    Seeing as we're going over what we had to write for Bursary exams, I remember the film text was Run Lola Run, which a few years later ended up as part of an honours essay for German film (something about Berlin represented in film, and the character of Lola). I think the book was Clockwork Orange.

    But one problem I had with the whole exam setup is the fact there are certain films that are goldmines for these things because the themes hit you over the head with a hammer and seem imbued with enough "importance" for it to be respectable.

    As a classic example, I give you the Shawshank Redemption. Beautifully acted and shot, and all, but as an adaptation it's so overly faithful you can practically see every punctuation mark. It's become highly regarded, but I've always found there to be something suffocatingly worthy about it.

    These kids think they can write essays on anything now. Just the other day I was marking a paper where a student was talking about the intersection of racism, sexism and homophobia, the prejudices of immigrant communities, and a conclusion where a young girl defers a sexual relationship with an older man in order to further her career, and it turned out she was talking about Bend it Like Beckham. Ridiculous. If she wanted to blather on about pop culture like it actually matters she should wait until university like everybody else.

    LOL! To be fair, all those things _do_ happen in the film though...

    Mind you, I can't throw stones- my honours dissertation was "the influence of cubist art in the writings of John Berger"....I sometimes wonder whether the best thing about University is that it not only allows you to be stupidly verbose, but it actually encourages it...

    The photo of him (Iain Banks) on the cover shows an angst-ridden young man, very intense. By the time you get to later books, like Whit, there's a much more relaxed shot of a genial, laughing man.

    It's a shame that the intense guy wrote funnier (if undeniably nastier and sometimes rather unpleasant) novels. I often wonder when was the exact point his prose became so flat and the characterisation so bland, because his early work is fantastically vicious stuff. I did like his travellogue about whisky in Scotland, though.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks,

    It's a shame that the intense guy wrote funnier (if undeniably nastier and sometimes rather unpleasant) novels. I often wonder when was the exact point his prose became so flat and the characterisation so bland, because his early work is fantastically vicious stuff.

    I've not read anything later than WHIT, which I really liked (and it was, er, witty). General feedback since is less consistent, suggesting maybe he's "lost his touch" somewhat. I'm skeptical that someone can write a novel a year, as he's virtually managed, and still maintain freshness and creativity. I've heard he has taken a year or two off fiction writing, which might be a wise move.

    I did like his travellogue about whisky in Scotland, though.

    That's good to hear. I like a well written travelogue, and I like booze (in moderation, kids!), so I was hoping he pulled this off.

    --------------

    To be fair, all those things _do_ happen in the film though...

    I thought that was exactly her point? How’s that Simpson’s exchange go in the Hullabalooza episode?:
    “Are you being sarcastic?”
    “I just can’t tell anymore”.

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    I did like his travelogue about whisky in Scotland, though.

    Really? I thought it was in dire need of a good hard edit, a real potboiler, oh well I've given thousands of quid to write a book, better crank one out, the fans will buy it anyway.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2977 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Why is the Bell Jar disturbing but Hamlet isn't?

    I actually think both are enormously disturbing, but for different reasons. I know there are certain quarters where I'll be spat on as a misogynistic patriarch for this, but I loathe Sylvia Plath (and Robert Lowell and the rest of the so-called "confessional" poets) because she never seemed to lift her eyes above her own navel. For fuck's sake, Syliva, I'm pretty sure your Nazi bastard 'Daddy' didn't die just to spite you. It's not the "dark and disturbing" that gets on my last nerve, but the claustrophobic egomania. And, on extra-literary grounds, the biographical myth of Sylvia Plath (which Janet Malcolm dissects nicely in her book-length essay The Silent Woman) creeps me out too. I just have my doubts whether the work actually stands up under the weight of all the socio-political-psycho-sexual angst laid on it. Sociologically interesting, I guess, but its literary value not so much.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    In fact, the most complaints I ever heard along that score were about Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar", which I lucked out of but various classmates didn't. The general opinion was that it was just really bloody depressing.

    Heh... I came to the conclusion that there is some hope for the human race after all this dialogue with a (teenage female) of my acquantance:

    ME: "So what are you doing at school?"
    TF: "We're doing poetry. Sylvia Path."
    ME: "OK [revises exit strategy]... what do you think of her?"
    TF: "Drama queen."

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    I did like his travelogue about whisky in Scotland, though.

    Really? I thought it was in dire need of a good hard edit, a real potboiler, oh well I've given thousands of quid to write a book, better crank one out, the fans will buy it anyway.<?quote>

    To be fair, I bought a new copy of it for $10 discounted as something to read on a plane, and that's how I view it. It probably did need to be edited, and it's better to be treated as a series of small articles, but it's breezy and enjoyable enough to get through. Certainly, I don't judge it with the same rigour, as say, his novels.

    The trouble I have with Banks's latest work is that less seems to be at stake, somehow. I'm not sure how to articulate this--but his worlds seem flatter. Still, he had a bloody good run.

    <quote>
    I loathe Sylvia Plath (and Robert Lowell and the rest of the so-called "confessional" poets) because she never seemed to lift her eyes above her own navel. For fuck's sake, Syliva, I'm pretty sure your Nazi bastard 'Daddy' didn't die just to spite you. It's not the "dark and disturbing" that gets on my last nerve, but the claustrophobic egomania.

    "Claustrophobic egomania" is about right. I can't deny the force of her verse, nor her absolutely strident refusal to look outside herself, but damn, it's hectoring even in its lightest moments. It's exhausting for a lot of the wrong reasons.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Really? I thought it was in dire need of a good hard edit, a real potboiler, oh well I've given thousands of quid to write a book, better crank one out, the fans will buy it anyway.

    To be fair, I bought a new copy of it for $10 discounted as something to read on a plane, and that's how I view it. It probably did need to be edited, and it's better to be treated as a series of small articles, but it's breezy and enjoyable enough to get through. Certainly, I don't judge it with the same rigour, as say, his novels.

    The trouble I have with Banks's latest work is that less seems to be at stake, somehow. I'm not sure how to articulate this--but his worlds seem flatter. Still, he had a bloody good run.

    I loathe Sylvia Plath (and Robert Lowell and the rest of the so-called "confessional" poets) because she never seemed to lift her eyes above her own navel. For fuck's sake, Syliva, I'm pretty sure your Nazi bastard 'Daddy' didn't die just to spite you. It's not the "dark and disturbing" that gets on my last nerve, but the claustrophobic egomania.

    "Claustrophobic egomania" is about right. I can't deny the force of her verse, nor her absolutely strident refusal to look outside herself, but damn, it's hectoring even in its lightest moments. It's exhausting for a lot of the wrong reasons.

    Oops, double post, sorry. Is there a way to delete the one above it?

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    The trouble I have with Banks's latest work is that less seems to be at stake, somehow. I'm not sure how to articulate this--but his worlds seem flatter.

    Indeed. I also wonder if it's because Banks is getting a teeny tad preachy in his middle-age: transnational corporations are evil, though not quite as evil as their tame warmongering bitch of the KKKristian Reich Chimpy McBushitler. Even if you're in total agreement with the sentiment, why does the storytelling and characterisation always seem to go down the toilet when contemporary novelists want to get atop their soap boxes. (And having just re-read Brideshead Revisited, it's hardly a recent development, or one restricted to the left of the literary-political spectrum.)

    In fact, if I ever go back to uni that would be one hell of a thesis topic: The Influence of George W. Bush on the Decline and Fall of the Anglo-American Realist Novel, 1999-2009.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Indeed. I also wonder if it's because Banks is getting a teeny tad preachy in his middle-age: transnational corporations are evil, though not quite as evil as their tame warmongering bitch of the KKKristian Reich Chimpy McBushitler. Even if you're in total agreement with the sentiment, why does the storytelling and characterisation always seem to go down the toilet when contemporary novelists want to get atop their soap boxes.


    In fact, if I ever go back to uni that would be one hell of a thesis topic: The Influence of George W. Bush on the Decline and Fall of the Anglo-American Realist Novel, 1999-2009.

    Yeah, even Don Delillo, one of my favourites, has suffered from that in recent years: even Fallen Man, his most ambitious novel since Underworld seems smaller in its scope and ambition than his previous peaks.

    Maybe the only way to deal with an issue so big is go down the Philip Roth route (and I'm amazed someone his age remains as pungent and vital as ever), and work on historical allegory- remembering what came before the last few years can sometimes provide a greater perspective, or at least a wider and more concrete canvas to draw upon. Or you could just go off in multiple-footnoted tangents like the recenty-deceased David Foster Wallace. Whatever suits you best, I suppose.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

  • Julian Melville,

    Really? I thought it was in dire need of a good hard edit

    Yeah, I enjoyed it overall but I do remember thinking that by page 49 we shouldn't still be pondering the view of the top of his Land Rover from the upper deck of the ferry, and should really get down to the drinking bit.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 186 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks,

    Indeed. I also wonder if it's because Banks is getting a teeny tad preachy in his middle-age

    Yeah could be. See, I know The Wasp Factory was about things like sexism and religion, but there was nothing remotely preachy about it. And in his science fiction stuff (the ones I've read, anyway), while it is always reasonably clear where the author's sympathies are on the issues raised, it's all done pretty much sans the soap box.

    By the time of Whit, there may be a bit of preachiness to it, but not enough to be distracting overall.

    I haven't read any of his non science fiction work since then, but I have heard that The Business isn't the business. Maybe Song of Stone is where he jumped the shark?

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    That said, to this day I have not seen Goonies, and answered the question based on the incomplete set of bubblegum cards my sister had been given by someone.

    See. I answered a first year history exam question on Israel/Palestine based on my memory of covering the topic in 5th form history. The lecturer who taught it bored me to tears within five minutes, and I didn't attend another lecture on the topic all year. Sadly I picked the wrong topics to study for the exam, and so had to cover it from three year old memories.

    But your story is much better. Class.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6227 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Maybe the only way to deal with an issue so big is go down the Philip Roth route (and I'm amazed someone his age remains as pungent and vital as ever), and work on historical allegory- remembering what came before the last few years can sometimes provide a greater perspective, or at least a wider and more concrete canvas to draw upon.

    If only Philip Roth's backlist wasn't the proverbial curate's egg -- at seventy he seems to have realised that he's going to die, and sooner rather than later. He's not pleased. Everyman and Exit Ghost are dreadful, but get respectful notes (I suspect) because he's earned an enormous amount of good will with the pretty swizzy run of American Pastoral, I Married a Communist and The Human Stain. Though I've got to admit I seem to be the only person on Earth who found The Plot Against America deeply meh-some. It's bad counterfactual science fiction, because while the research shows it never quite convincingly comes to life as opposed to elaborating the thesis that Republicans are fascists.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    MR was cutcutcutcutcut and it pissed me off. I felt as though Luhrmann was artificially manufacturing the excitement generated by wonderful musical numbers where none really existed.

    Danielle, ta for the elaboration. I don't like musicals at all (never got through more than ten minutes of Oz or Sound o Music). Maybe that swirling jumpiness of Moulin Rouge is what does it for me? Hmmm.

    Once I got over the idea of Ewan McGregor singing, that is, which for some reason seemed improbable. Kidman, yes plain awkward. I loved the colourful silliness of it all although I'd imagine those who know more about the actual historical basis might find that a tad shallow.

    I have no idea why but the overwrought melodramatic emptiness just worked for me, to the extent that I bought the DVD (which my niece promptly flogged in the fresh flushes of Baz fandom).

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16996 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    __Rome + Juliet__ was fitfully inspired, and largely ambitious, but often overreaching- I wasn't totally convinced by the whole 'Bard goes pop' gambit

    Hell I was, Matthew. Would actually rate the first ten minutes as some of the best moviemaking I've ever seen. It struck me that if Shakespeare were working now, it would be exactly the medium and pop approach he'd be drawn to. My niece agrees and she's a fresh-eyed member of both the William and Baz fanclubs. Mind you she hasn't seen Run Lola Run yet.

    Berlin represented in film

    Wings of Desire?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16996 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Hell I was, Matthew. Would actually rate the first ten minutes as some of the best moviemaking I've ever seen. It struck me that if Shakespeare were working now, it would be exactly the medium and pop approach he'd be drawn to. My niece agrees and she's a fresh-eyed member of both the William and Baz fanclubs.

    Well, I'd concede the first ten minutes were something else, it's the rest of the film I felt was all over the place- it seemed to careen without anything to balance it on, a problem of Luhrman's that became more apparent in Moulin Rouge. You've gotta admire his gall in representing the Bard in such a way, and it is kinda apt to have him hurtle the work into the present, but gosh...talk about overgorged. Half the time I was taken aback, the other half I just wanted it to stop.

    Re: my horribly verbose "Berlin in film" essay. Yep, one of the others was Wings of Desire, and there was also M, and a Fassbinder film, I think, too. Run Lola Run is crucial because it's a post-Fall film that makes use of the entire city- there's even a whole subplot about the fact one reason Lola's boyfriend got into this mess is the fact the Taxi driver is an eastener who didn't know much about the West side, and the film plays on the whole idea of "second chances," which is sorta analogous to the New Berlin etc.

    I got a pretty high mark for it too. God academic nonsense is great.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

  • Stewart,

    Re Iain Banks / Iain M Banks...

    I'd say that Song of Stone was where he lost me as an ardent fan. Up till then he was engaging and the characters were believable but Song of Stone just seemed as flat as the proverbial pancake.

    His sci-fi ouevre has become rather odd...I got to the point where I wasn't 100% sure WTF was going on but still enjoying reading it. And when I got to the end (of The Algebraist I think it was) I wasn't confident I knew what had been happening but I knew I had had a good read.

    But I did my schooling long before such books were written so no chance of blathering on about them in exams.

    got a decent grade for a zoology terms exam I sat when a wee bit stoned once upon a time...

    Te Ika A Maui - Waitakere… • Since Oct 2008 • 572 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Rome + Juliet was fitfully inspired, and largely ambitious, but often overreaching- I wasn't totally convinced by the whole 'Bard goes pop' gambit

    I was more underwhelmed by the "nobody in the cast knows -- or cares -- what iambic pentameter is, let alone knows how to speak it". I don't think any of Luhrman's films are entirely successful, but I prefer being pissed off by a someone who falls short of his ambition rather than a films whose creativity didn't extend beyond the marketing and FX.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12073 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Well, I'd concede the first ten minutes were something else, it's the rest of the film I felt was all over the place

    It might have something to do with the fact that Romeo and Juliet is not, contrary to what I was told in high school English, the 'greatest love story ever', but a stupid story which makes very little sense and which makes me want to beat up the lead characters for being prissy little morons.

    Umm, as you were.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6227 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I was more underwhelmed by the "nobody in the cast knows -- or cares -- what iambic pentameter is, let alone knows how to speak it".

    So true - Pete Postlethwaite turns up as the priest and just shows the young yanks how it's done.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16996 posts Report Reply

  • Eddie Clark,

    Re Ian (M) Banks:

    Deborah, even if you're not much into sci fi, Use of Weapons is a must. I think its his best book in or out of genre.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 270 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I am a huge fan of Banks, except when he allows the sci-fi to cross over (The Bridge, Song of Stone).

    For me the characterisation and background is good, but his plots do seem to lose direction sometimes.

    I loved the whisky book though. It's not really a book about whisky, it's a 300 page blog in hardcover.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4501 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks,

    It might have something to do with the fact that Romeo and Juliet is not, contrary to what I was told in high school English, the 'greatest love story ever', but a stupid story which makes very little sense and which makes me want to beat up the lead characters for being prissy little morons.

    Amen.

    Run Lola Run is crucial because it's a post-Fall film that makes use of the entire city- there's even a whole subplot about the fact one reason Lola's boyfriend got into this mess is the fact the Taxi driver is an eastener who didn't know much about the West side, and the film plays on the whole idea of "second chances," which is sorta analogous to the New Berlin etc.

    I read some article about Run Lola Run in a newspaper a long while back, that, IIRC, was one of those 'what's wrong with film these days' type efforts. The author decried Lola as an example of how countries weren't making films that were true to the nation any more. Lola didn't, he contended, say anything about Germany in particular; about what it is to be German in the modern world.

    Fuck off, I thought.

    Even if he were right, why the hell does every film made by a German filmmaker (for example) have to say something expressly about German identity or what have you? What if a German filmmaker wants to make a movie that addresses wider social, political or philosophical issues, but doesn't specifically need to relate to 'German' culture? I'm pretty sure his last line went something like: "Every film outside of Hollywood should be earnest, worthy, Politically Correct, and especially boring."

    (Well, okay, I may not have that quite right...)

    Anyway, reading Matthew's observations above made me think the author of the article wasn't even correct in his initial premise. It's not so much that Lola couldn't be said to relate to Germany, but that he didn't have the imagination to see it.

    While I'm ranting away, I also hate the sort of cultural tokenism whereby on a show like Shortland Street every time you hear a song in background on the radio etc, it is a kiwi song. (It may have changed since I stopped watching, though.)

    And breath out...

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • dyan campbell,

    __Why is the Bell Jar disturbing but Hamlet isn't?__

    I actually think both are enormously disturbing, but for different reasons. I know there are certain quarters where I'll be spat on as a misogynistic patriarch for this, but I loathe Sylvia Plath (and Robert Lowell and the rest of the so-called "confessional" poets) because she never seemed to lift her eyes above her own navel.

    I don't think this is a misogynistic view at all Craig. I find Sylvia Plath boring in her narrow focus, which is never taken off her own mental illness, paranioa and personal suffering. For someone who wrote obsessively about herself she was very short on insight.

    We didn't study Plath, but my high school literature teacher John Steele was the first husband of Assia Wevill, the beautiful and toxic other woman in Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes's marriage.

    Mr. Steele was an RAF paratrooper who met Assia Wevill in Tel Aviv (she'd fled Germany with family in 1933 or thereabouts). John Steele and Assia Wevill married in London shortly after and Assia promptly attempted suicide when Mr. Steele sprung it on her that they were going to emigrate to Canada. The thought of Canada horrified her, as she thought this would mean intellectual death. Turns out she loved Canada, found the intelligentsia right away, and embarked on a series of affairs with various students and profs at UBC, as well as iconic Canadian poet, Earle Birney.

    John and Assia were friends with my parents, though Assia split from the scene pretty early on. Mr. Steele was profoundly damaged by his relationship with her, and still in love with her when I knew him (1975 or thereabouts) which by then must have been more than 25 years after she'd dumped him.

    He taught my sister Shirley in grade 6, in Prince Rupert BC, and 18 years later he taught me English Lit in senior high school, in Victoria. He was a great teacher - had the most disengaged kids in the class hanging off every word of Milton or Byron - and he tried his best to introduce me to the literary world. No success, as I was only faintly interested in most of the writers to whom he introduced me (Alice Munro, Dorothy Livesay) but it was nice to be included for those kinds of dinners all the same. Actually he was an awesome cook. I disappointed him by going into biochem instead of literature.

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 595 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    My problem with Banks's sci-fi stuff is that all the covers look the same so I keep on picking up what I think is a new one and about three chapters in realising that it's actually the one I already read. Which is annoying.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 706 posts Report Reply

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