Blog Archive

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sometimes the oldest are the best, Scrap Printers and Coins, Still Alice, Cara Delevigne, Boli Café, Mockingbird Quote

Sometimes the oldest are the best. What or Who am I referring to? On this occasion, films and books. When I am on my summer break, I try to read a book or two and watch a film or three as I rarely get the time to do so otherwise. The natural inclination (and the choice of the publishers and producers) is that you rush out and pay a premium for the latest blockbusters or art house releases. That’s fine and often has the benefit of being able to discuss a new release with a group of friends. However, frequently, I find that the oldies are the best. It is hardly surprising that if you take the best of the last 25 or 50 or 100 years, you are going to have a far richer, better, higher-quality selection compared to just the last few released. With this thought in mind, here are my views on the golden oldies that I read (books) and we watched (films) this summer.

The cast of 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda in the centre
12 Angry Men was written by Reginald Rose, directed by Sidney Lumet and released in black and white in 1957. In was not a box office success at the time but has since become a classic and is often played in schools. Henry Fonda stars as the only juror who is unconvinced by the prosecution’s case that a young man of foreign origin stabbed his father to death one night in Chicago. The other 11 believe him to be guilty and deserving of the electric chair. Virtually the entire film takes place in the Jury Room on a sultry summer night and the heated discussions between the men, all of whom are only known by a number, are electrifying. It reminds me of my time as a juror, particularly as the discussions evolved and people gradually changed their minds. One of the jurors said he would change his vote to not guilty if that would shorten the proceedings, as he wanted to go to the baseball match. The same happened in my trial as one of the men wanted to go to play golf. In both events, I am pleased to say, this offer was rejected and the man told that this was not a game and they should take it more seriously. In the film a man’s life was at stake. In my trial, it was the reputation of the police force that was at stake. 

The Book Cover
My second choice is both a book and the film of the book, and much in the news at the moment. To Kill a Mockingbird was written by Harper Lee in 1960 and the film staring Gregory Peck was released in 1962, the year I was born. It was set in the 1930’s Depression in a small town in Alabama. The hero, Atticus, is a lawyer who brings up his children to respect others regardless of their colour, background or short-comings at a difficult time economically and at a time when black people were still very much second class citizens (or worse). There is a series of parallel stories, but the main one is again a court case where the majority assume the defendant to be guilty purely because of his background (colour). The facts don’t really seem to matter and this attitude allows some white people to get away with almost anything. Atticus stands up to this at his own cost. He is another rare figure who stands up for what is right rather than what is easiest. He won’t just ignore. The whole story is narrated by and seen through the eyes of Atticus’ youngest child, Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch who was six years old at the time. One of the most striking things about the book is how so much has changed in the 80 years since it was set (the way people talk, the use of technology, the equality laws) but how most of the major issues we face remain the same. See my quote at the end of the Blog. I thought the film was a great representation of the book; my only disappointment was that Miss Maudie did not speak my quote, which I suspect is because it was cut as they were worried some people would find it offensive! After 60 years, Harper Lee has just released her second book, Go Set a Watchman, set 20 years later with the same characters, which has had mixed reviews. It is not a great masterpiece like Mockingbird but it will no doubt greatly interest scholars of her work.

From the film, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch defending his client, Tom Robinson

And my final golden oldie is Chariots of Fire, which we didn’t enjoy as much as I expected. Best bit was the music by Vangelis. It is at least 20 years more recent than the other two, it is in colour, and it is set in the 1920’s so hasn’t aged in that sense. But is didn’t hold us spellbound like the other two did! The only big surprise it held for me it that it was produced by poor Dodi Al Fayed, who must have been young back then.

Does it make you think of the music by Vangelis?

I get increasingly irritated every time I use our home or office printer, and when I have to use coins, both of which seem increasingly anachronistic in today’s world. I think the fact that I use them less and less frequently makes me get even more annoyed when I do use them. I had to print a paper contract the other day for signature. It had been going backward and forward in the usual way, along with 11 attachments, until all parties were happy. If each of these had been printed by all parties, it would have been many thousands of sheets of paper and the ink printed on them plus the electricity, printer parts (and jams, etc.). Fortunately the requirement was only to print the final version, two copies for signature, one to be kept by us and one by our client, so we only had to print off about 120 pages. Inevitably you have to re-print parts as you printed the wrong version, or the printer screwed up, and then they have to go to the post office and then the client has to post one back to you. Just seems a bit crazy now that you can do it all by email including signature either by scan and email or one of the signature software programmes such as Adobe’s Echosign. So each time I am required to print a document I get grumpy. It seems like waste, damage to the environment and poor use of time. It also occurs to me that every time we print something, we need to find somewhere to put it. I wonder how many homes and businesses are looking to acquire new bookshelves and filing cabinets because the old ones are full. Full of books and documents most of which they will probably never touch again.
Do we really need them any more?

The other thing that annoys me similarly is the use of coins. Many shops used to refuse the use of credit cards for purchases under a certain value (often £10) but with now the introduction of debit cards and contactless payment cards, they are usually welcomed, in part I expect because it speeds up the payment process, and in part because cash is time consuming to process and can be stolen more easily. I try hard not to use cash as it means regular visits to cash machines which is often inconvenient, and I have never really known what to do with the coins I am given in change for the note I get from the cash machine. I either put them in my pocket (where they jangle) or in a little plastic pouch I have in my rucksack which gets heavier and heavier. I try to put the copper coins (surely everyone must agree these are a total waste of time and the metal is probably worth more than their value?) in a container I have at home that I can take to the bank and change and give to charity. But I rarely use cash now (the contactless cards are so convenient for smaller purchases) so when I did the other day, I put the coins I got in change in my pocket to jangle and forgot about them and I made the scanner at the airport ring as I went through security! With the advent of Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, and I am sure other mobile contactless payment systems will follow soon, the days of notes and coins are perhaps coming to a slow end. Most people I know who go to London have got rid of their Oyster Cards and use their contactless cards in the London underground and on the buses, and some have started to use their iPhones. I would love to ban the use of home and office printers and coins. I think it would save everyone (except the manufacturers of said items) quite a bit of money and it would help save our planet by massively reducing the use of inks, paper (all those trees) and metals, along with all the poisonous chemicals that are used in their manufacture. It would certainly do more good for the world than having another protracted countrywide and parliamentary debate on the merits of fox hunting (and this time I expect even the foxes will agree with me).

What shall I do with these?

My summer reading also included Still Alice written by Lisa Genova in 2007 (so not an oldie), which has recently been made into an award winning film starring Julianne Moore. The book is in simple plain English but is very disturbing to read because it traces the decline of a brilliant 50-year-old Harvard Professor as she gradually succumbs to Alzheimer’s and it is written from her point of view so we share the confusion, frustration and anger as her condition deteriorates over a 12-month+ period. Perhaps the most illuminating moment for me is when Alice, having shared her condition with her colleagues and agreed to relinquish her responsibilities at Harvard, attends an important presentation from a student. At the end, Alice raises her hand and makes some brilliant technical points which the student notes down and everyone seems impressed by the contribution. Others then ask questions. Alice then raises her hand and makes exactly the same technical points again, almost word for word. She can’t understand why most people look away from her and nobody says anything. There is an embarrassed silence. Surely her point is of huge value she is thinking and can’t understand the reactions from the room. This helps us to understand the condition from the sufferer’s perspective. We should kindly explain that she has already made the brilliant point rather than ignore her like she is some sort of embarrassing idiot. Ignoring her, which is our natural reaction in these circumstances, increases her frustration and feeling of isolation; it also makes us all uncomfortable. Someone who knows her well enough just needs to say ‘Thanks Alice, you made that brilliant point earlier and we thank you for your contribution which has been noted….”.

I hope that Genova’s excellent and thought-provoking but uncomfortable book (and the subsequent film) will not only start to alter society’s attitude towards people with dementia, but increase pressure on R&D to find a cure. As we live longer and longer, providing round the clock care for an increasing number of people is another unsustainable cost in healthcare that the future will not support. Better a cure for our finances, much better a cure for the many of us and our carers who would otherwise be affected by this heartless, soul destroying, degenerative illness which can tear whole families apart.

Still Alice book cover, also a film.

Cara Delevigne, the British Actress turned model (don’t they all) recently appeared on that world famous (sarcasm) US west coast TV show “Good Day Sacramento” following the release of a new film, Paper Towns, in which she plays the leading female role (rather well apparently). The interview which went viral and is referred to by some parts of the press as ‘the worst interview ever’ started off by one of the journalists asking ‘Carla’ (yes they got her name wrong) whether she had read the book of the film. Cara replied immediately “No, I never read the book or the script, actually. I kind of winged it.” Which the three journalists took to be serious. It is usual practice in Hollywood for actors and actresses to be terribly nice to people interviewing them, however stupid the questions, as all that matters is promoting the film, and upsetting the interviewers is not traditionally considered conducive to getting great reviews. But Cara doesn’t care and just continued in this vein, using superb sarcasm and body language to show what she thought of the inane questions which the journalists had clearly not prepared or researched in advance. The interview quickly went viral, with many people springing to her defence and others attacking her. Via Twitter, what she made very clear (as she said in the interview but it got lost in the noise) was that of course she had read the book and script and felt incredibly lucky to be able to take part in this and other films. I had scarcely heard of Cara Delevigne before, but I congratulate her on her humour (not that I am ever sarcastic) and her ability to maximise publicity for her film by showing up the sloppy cheap journalism of a few ill prepared journalists trying to make her look stupid and take the credit themselves. I can’t even remember their names.

The film Paper Towns, by the way, is based on the book of the same name by John Green. John Green is also famous for The Fault in our Stars, another brilliant book, also turned into a film. The book, which is quick to read (and hard to stop reading) is about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love. It is a teenage romance seen from the point of view from the person with cancer and is very funny (plenty of black humour) as well as helping the rest of us understand what the teenagers and their parents go through. I find the explanation of ‘cancer perks’ particularly fascinating; it is all the special gifts and treatment that cancer patients receive just because they have the disease; frequently they are treated as special people to be pitied (hence the gifts etc.) when all they really want much of the time is to be treated like everyone else.

The author, John Green, is 37 and from Indianapolis

We went to Boli Café in Rue Gambetta in Toulouse and had the first Korean meal I have truly enjoyed (the previous one I disliked). We had the classic bibimbap, which comes with full instructions (in French) on the menu. The waiter asked us if this was the first time we had eaten it and explained how you need to stir it, with either the slightly spicy or the non-spicy soy sauce based dressing (3 swirls recommend). The dish consists of about 5 or 6 freshly cut vegetables on a bed of rice with a poached egg on top. You choose tofu, beef, chicken or duck. Then you mix it all together and it is fresh and delicious. Served with a kind of soup, a fruit and a small juice, we will definitely go back next time we are in Toulouse. The staff were helpful and charming and the price is just €10 (about £7.50) for this very filling meal. Maybe I will try the 100-year-old wine that was on the table next time, made with ginseng, cinnamon and other things. The wine is not 100 years old, but if you drink it they say you will live to 100! I wonder how much you have to drink! Anyway it sounds like no wine I have ever drunk so is a new experience to look forward to.

Bibimbap with tofu
Toulouse, Place du Capitole

“If Atticus Finch drank until he was drunk he wouldn’t be as hard as some men are at their best. There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” Miss Maudie talking to ‘Scout’ Finch in Harper Lee’s 1960 To Kill A Mockingbird. At the time she was referring to the strict ‘feet-washing’ Baptists as she called them.

No comments:

Post a Comment