Category Archives: Books & Films (& TV)

Cinema Paradiso, Small Town-Style

I like to think that the seats were covered in red velvet. Perhaps they were. More likely, though, they’d been reupholstered in something more durable, something that’d withstand the Tassies stains and cigarette burns and melted Smarties that accompanied the students watching films. I’m going to go with my ‘romantic recollection’ of the two cinemas in Grahamstown when I was a student there. His Majesty’s and The Odeon. Beautiful in their worn-outedness, their slight dilapidation, even then. Now His Majesty’s is gone, burnt in a fire.

(Yes, you could smoke up on the balcony at His Majesty’s, and I may be aging, but I’m not old … this was, unbelievably, in the early 90s, not the 1950s. That wasn’t what caused the fire, though. I don’t think.)

Both cinemas, if I remember correctly, were owned by Sonny Six Fingers, who also owned the video shop (and the under-the-counter ‘X-Files’. The other two X’s presumably left out to ensure the undercoveredness of the whole operation.) They were beautiful old buildings and inside the air was thick with snippets of films and gasps of audiences (and smoke.) It was like being transported back to a time where TV didn’t exist and films had heroes who wore tuxedos. At 6 PM at The Odeon they’d show art movies – Cinema Pradiso, Delicatessen, The Big Blue.

And there’s the hint to why the sudden reminiscence of cinemas gone by. I rewatched The Big Blue yesterday. For research, of course, because for anybody who hasn’t heard me shouting it from the roof tops (read: plastering it all over Stalkbook, my blog, the neighbour’s walls), I’m going to watch Eddie Vedder play in Sicily and The Big Blue was set there and we’re, obviously, going to do some exploring on the beautiful island. So, yes, research.

Watching it (and anybody who hasn’t, do, it’s beautiful), threw me back to being a student and seeing it in that gorgeous old cinema. I watched it with my friend Gareth, after a sunny afternoon skipping a Chemistry prac in favour of friends on the beach in Kowie. We’d driven back along that oh-so-familiar windy road from Port Alfred to Grahamstown with sandy feet and salty bodies, our hair blowing in the wind on the back of a bakkie.

A quick stop for a bottle of Tassies and some (slightly stale) popcorn and we found velvet-covered (it’s my story and I’m sticking to it) seats that worked – many were lopsided, or lacked a sitting part completely – and off we went into the deepest blue seas and the perfect shores of Sicily. Sicily!

Little did I know then, as a 20-year old, that I’d be rewatching that film before heading for those shores and that the excitement and wonder that I felt then, watching a film, in that perfectly ramshackle cinema, I’d feel again, this time in triplicate – the joy and love of those perfect afternoons of my youth; the awe and wonder at the perfection of Jean-Marc Barr The Big Blue; and the anticipatory excitement of a trip to Sicily and seeing Eddie Vedder, who I’ve loved since those precise days of youthful exuberance.

Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie

It was the perfect pre-show to a gritty and brilliant film: the red carpet, glittering dresses, air kisses fluttering to the floor, pierced by impossibly high heals, perfectly masked and made-up faces, hipster beer and hipsters. In between, warm hugs of old friends thankfully swallowed the echoing of the hollow laughs of the industry shmoozing, the nerve centre that is a premiere.

Johnny is nie dood nie is up there with Noem My Skollie on my top South African movies list. The Afrikaans script is incredible and the English sub-titles are almost as incredible, which is saying something. Usually so much of the nuance is lost in the translation (and horrifying lack of proofreading). Here, not so. I wished that I could turn my phone on and take notes, there were some lines that gave me shivers with their perfection. I will watch it again.

Perhaps I found it so brilliant because of its familiarity. While I’m ten years younger than the characters are in real life now, and ten years older than they are in the ‘present day’ of the film, it’s a story line that hits close to the bone. It’s about the inevitable loss of youth, replaced by house mortgages and talk of school fees. It perfectly portrays the wandering and experimentation of student life, between lectures and farm dams, political uproar, the fear of conscription to fight in a war they didn’t believe in and fearless love, youthful ego and friendship, all dressed in mini skirts and sheepskin-collared leather jackets.

Then, while nobody’s looking, we suddenly find ourselves (they find themselves) closed in by the electric-fenced walls of suburban mediocrity, the ancient, unreliable VW Kombi filled with adventure and lust replaced with a Soccer Mom SUV that smells like pine. Inane, middle-class, claustrophobia. The cast are outstanding, every one.

I thought it was a film about Johannes Kerkorrel. It is, but it’s also about his circle, friendships in a politically tumultuous era, love that survives distance and time, betrayal, the restlessness that’s attached to midlife crises and, ultimately, the fragility of life and the tragedy of those who don’t manage to survive. And the tragedy of those who do. It’s all set to the rocking and intense soundtrack of Johannes Kerkorrel and The Gereformeerde Blues Band, his music, his collaborations: Bernoldus Niemand en die Swart Gevaar, Andre Letoit, all fantastic. And heartbreaking.

Sadly, the one that doesn’t survive – as always – is the shape-shifter, the one with paper-thin skin and an intricate soul. The film left me sobbing, a snotty, salty mess. I wept not only for the loss of a superbly talented man, but for the loss of youth and its passion.

It made me want to find the nearest dodgy bar, to drink whiskey in a smoke-filled room with loud music and wild conversation.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

I was 17 years’ old – almost 18 – when I first heard Nirvana. It was late January, 1993, and my parents had left me with family friends after our 6-week holiday in Kowie, so that they could deliver me to varsity when it opened, some days later. My parents had to go back up-country to work. They had been friends with the family since they’d been at varsity together. The same varsity I was about to start at, in that small, dusty, lovely town.

One of the hot afternoons while I was there, their eldest son, Greg, and I were sitting in their lounge listening to music, and he played me Nirvana. I was an instant fan. It was at their height, and Nevermind became part of the soundtrack of my first, heady year at university. The first chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit still whisk me back to dark nights throwing ourselves about in the  Stuyvie-smoke-Black Label-soaked air of that wonderful, dingy, sweaty cave that was The Vic.

It was these fabulous memories that has had me so excited to see Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, which finally arrived with the Encounters Film Festival last week. It’s loud, it’s in-your-face, it’s hectic and hard to watch and beautiful. I loved that it skipped out on the glorifying or godifying of Kurt, instead showing his fragility and his incredible artistry. The man didn’t stop creating.

With only family, the band, and his girlfriend and wife (that Courtney makes me uncomfortable, still. It’s like she’s balancing on a knife’s edge of crazy, all. the. time.) saying their bits, it felt truthful. It was harrowing. The man was an excrutiatingly beautiful mess of chaos. The hatred of the spotlight, the desperation to survive doing what he loved, the impossible toss-up of needing acknowledgement and hating everyone looking at him. I wanted to reach into the screen and hug him. Okay, I admit, I’d do more than hug him, but you get what I’m saying.

If you loved Nirvana, go see it. If you were being a disenchanted youth in the 90’s, go and see it. If you want to see pure, unadulterated, fucked-up, exquisite, untamed grunge rock, go and see it.

Kurt Cobain was a musical genius. And so, so, very beautifully tragic.

Classics vs Modern

FullSizeRender (6)I have never denied that I enjoy trashy books. Show me War and Peace and watch me use it to hold down the piece of paper on which I’m  writing the list of trashy novels people have recommended to me. I’m not talking Mills & Boon-trashy – although I’m not averse to reading one of those every now and again, but just one… after that the heaving bosoms and chiselled looks get a little boring – more like popular fiction kind of trashy.

The middle bookshelf in the passage is filled with the classics, well-thumbed, many with notes in the margins. Paradise Lost snuggles up to The Faerie Queene who sighs into the poetry of Keats next to her. Looking at that particular shelf you could easily think that I was a studious English Major at varsity.

You’d be wrong, though. While I did go to a couple of English lectures, I went with a beautiful, dark-haired boy with whom I had a sweet, short-lived love affair in my first year. He smelt like books and played me Leonard Cohen in his res room. I went to some of his English and Philosophy lectures. Don’t tell my parents, but I may have missed some important Organic Chemistry lectures. I can, however, grasp Venn Diagrams for Categorical Syllogisms. Well, I could, then.

No, the books belong to my friend, Leigh, who did major in English. The thumbededness is from her thumbs, and the notes are in her beautiful script, and I have read very few – possibly none – of them. They live here while she lives in Australia, that upside-down place.

My point (and I realise that I’ve waffled on most vaguely) is that I read I Capture The Castle this week, a book I’ve always put up there with those that are above me. How wrong I was. My lovely friends Victoria and Nico, who own the book shop in the Karoo town that holds my heart, gave me a bag of books for my birthday (how fabulous a present!) and it was amongst them. I loved it. Couldn’t put it down, and was reminded of the delight of reading the classics.

There’s a lot to be said for gentle naivete. The humour is there, even the bawdiness that fills ‘modern’ fiction is there, but it’s less in your face, it’s left more to your imagination, and there’s something really lovely about that. Is it obvious I’ve been hanging out in the 1930’s? I just used ‘bawdiness’ in a sentence.

And she uses the phrase ‘She goes into a decline’, a term my mother uses regularly. Isn’t it just ridiculously perfect a term? And to live in a castle in the English countryside, all falling down and romantic! Sigh.

I have moved on to Paige Nick’s Pens Behaving Badly, which is very funny, and very blatantly ‘bawdy’. Maybe I’ll pay a visit to the Faerie Queene after that, while I listen to ‘So Long Marianne and reminisce of dark little res rooms with dark little boys who smelled deliciously like books, way back in the 1990’s.

Sex Tapes and Nudie Pics

With the whole blow-up of the leaking of naked pictures, I was reminded of a previous rant I’ve had about celebrity sex tapes leaks. While I am completely of the opinion that we should all respect each others’ privacy, celebrity or not, the fact of the matter is that the paparazzi exist, fed by the guzzling public, and that’s not going anywhere. The sooner celebs realise this, and behave accordingly, the better.

Honestly, how stupid are these people? That’s what I found myself asking while watching a talk show the other night. The host was interviewing the mistress of a US politician (since divorced, cheating bastard) with whom she had a baby. They also made a sex tape, which, surprise surprise, landed in the wrong hands, about which everybody was oh-so-terribly upset. Idiots.

Now I can possibly understand how she might think it was a good idea, being a small-time actress with no huge prospects and no paparazzi following her (of course only while the affair was still secret) and perhaps wished for some publicity, but what on earth was the politician thinking? I can just see the conversation:

BlondeBimbo: Oh, honey, you’re looking so hot. Why don’t we record ourselves so I can watch it again when I’m lying here alone and you’re with your wife?
CheatingBastardPolitician: That’s a great idea, sweetcheeks. We can make a copy, which I’ll hide in my Treasure Box under my bed, along with my Star Trek card collection and my ostrich egg, so that I can watch it while my wife takes the kids to school.
BB: Ooo, it’s making me hot just thinking about it.
CBP: Me too!

Mumble, mumble, sheets twisting etc. Ten minutes later:

BB: Oh, my handsome stud, you’re such a demon in bed. Shall I turn the camera off now?
CBP: Yeah, you might as well. Take the tape out, though, it’d be terrible if it fell into the wrong hands, especially if I want to become president.
BB: Don’t worry, I’ll be sure it doesn’t. I’ll just store it safely here, amongst the other tapes. My friends-of-friends who’re housesitting while we go away to the beach and pretend to your wife that you’re on a business trip are sure not to look at it.
CBP: No, of course not! Maybe just name it something unassuming, like BB/CBP Sex Tape or something, my little muffin of love. Then they’ll definitely not look at it. Aren’t we just so smart?
BB: Yes.

And they’re all over the place, these ‘famous people’ sex tapes. Can somebody please put an IQ minimum on people in the public eye? How stupid can you be, knowing the world is watching you, to make a sex tape? It WILL get out you twits, so don’t come wittering and crying when it does.

In the meantime, though, how about we all try and be a bit nicer to each other, and not propagate the whole vile thing by forwarding and posting the pics/videos? It’s just called common decency.

And now I’ll climb down from my soap box.

Stories We Tell

‘I think I could love Jonathan, if he wasn’t…’ she giggled to her equally skinny-jeaned, equally young and fresh-faced friend as we entered that air tight bubble that happens momentarily in the turning door, locking us all into her secret, ‘Well… If he wasn’t such a guy.’

The doors spat us out into the unseasonably warm air, a berg wind blowing in our next storms. The salted sea air carried off their fluttering secret as they giggled away, arm-in-arm, presumably to wait for one of their mothers to pick them up. 9 PM was obviously pick-up time, but their lives spread before them. Stories, just waiting to happen. So many stories.

We’d been to watch the documentary, Stories We Tell. It’s made by a Canadian woman, who pieces together her family story, with the input of all of her family members, except her mother, who died when she was 11-years old. This was one of the major reasons for making the movie, it seems. The desire to piece together her vibrant, almost untameable, mother’s story. The film-maker is the youngest of four in what, outwardly, seems like an average, happy family. Like you and me.

But, through the film, we learn that actually, all was not always as it seemed (again, like you and me), as much to their surprise, I think, as ours. It’s beautifully shot, honestly (and humorously) narrated and left me wanting to meet the family, to be friends with them.

It’s what we all know – every family, every friendship has complexities and intricacies and secrets. They weave together to make our stories, and each story is different, according to who lives or narrates it. They’re all, regardless from which angle, beautiful and poignant and bittersweet and, very often, funny.

Launching Books with Ruby

There’s a certain kind of person that attends book launches. I know that’s a terrible generalisation, but it’s true. Of course, in amongst the Bohemian-outfitted, short-fringed, intellectually bespectacled and lightly made up bright young things, there are exceptions. The tallest girl on earth was one, the tiny lady who sat behind me on the floor, her legs stretched under my chair was another. The gregarious and lovely older man and his Canadian wife next to us also crashed my generalisation into the floor.

“He’s like a Jewish mother,” his wife smiled at us, as he returned from his third trip downstairs, his hands balancing snacks, half of which he insisted were for us.

They hadn’t read the book. Neither had we. They were also unaware of who Ruby Wax was, or where she was from, or why she’d commanded quite such an audience for her book launch on a Friday late afternoon at The Book Lounge. “Celebrity,” I sagely nodded, doing my best to look book launchy. “It’s a pity the turnout’s not like this for local authors.” I spoke out of turn because, actually, I haven’t been to any other book launches there. I have to admit this fraudulent act.

I will, however, go again. It was fascinating. Not only the people-watching, but the conversation between Ruby Wax about her new book on mental illness – A Sane New World – and South African author Rahla Xenopoulos, was fascinating. And really, really, funny, despite the serious subject matter. There’s a lot to be said about tackling a subject that is difficult to speak about with a huge dollop of candidness and humour. Ruby Wax does that. The really cool thing, though, is that she hasn’t written it from a purely personal point-of-view. It contains science, too, Ruby Wax having just graduated from Oxford with a master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

I like science and I like funny stuff. I think I’ll like the book. I’ll let you know.

In the meantime I think I may buy myself some Bohemian outfits (oh, wait…), put on some spectacles (oh, wait…), try out very light make-up (oh, wait…) and cut myself a fringe (yes! I’ll cut myself a fringe). I think I like book launches and I feel I owe it to the world to, albeit retrospectively, find out if my comment was indeed a fraud.

I hope to prove myself wrong.