Category Archives: Books & Films (& TV)

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.

The Night Circus

I kept putting it down, trying to busy myself doing other things, to stretch the time I’d have with them. I phoned my sister, I ate some chips, I tried to watch some crap on TV. Desperately wanting to know what would happen, to go back into that world that smelt like caramel, where magic lurked in corners, where anything could happen in a striped tent, where real life faded into nothing and my thoughts were consumed only by it. My hands itched. I held out. Until I could no longer.

Then I picked it up again and fell head-over-heels back into its magical realism. I devoured the rest of the book I’d started on Saturday, greedily. I couldn’t stop, but I also didn’t want it to stop. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus: a delicious smorgasbord of magic and delight. It fills all the senses – provocative smells linger amongst visions of loveliness and the most believable unbelievable acts.

Time bounces, stars shine and scatter, people don’t grow old, the scenes leave one awe-struck, entranced by everything. I lingered on pages, wanting to stay in elaborately designed tents, looking around, wondrous. I wanted to spend a whole lot of time just waiting at the gate, watching people arrive and, even more importantly, watching them leave. I wanted to hear what they said about the circus, wanted to see the expressions on their faces.

And those circus-goers were only the periphery of the story. I fell in love with the main characters and didn’t want to let them go. When I realised where the story was going, I wanted to shout into the book, to warn them, to make the story carry on. I wanted more.

Which left me with the dilemma at the start of this blog. To just let myself go, and devour it greedily, or to give myself little morsels, to nibble on and savour? You know what happened already. Complete feasting. And what a worthy feast it was.



But now it’s finished and I’m left feeling distraught, missing them, missing the tents and the pathways between them, missing the bonfires and the chocolate mice, missing the clocks. I’m even missing the semi-transparent man. Missing, just missing.

Real life, and its accompanying whirlwind of thoughts whistled back into my head. Now, however, the faint smell of caramel lingers. And it’s vaguely comforting amongst all the missing.

God Loves Uganda

I went to a screening of the documentary ‘God Loves Uganda’ last week. I was invited, with my sister, by her lovely friend Sally, and I didn’t realise when accepting, that it was a special screening. The film-maker, Roger Ross Williams, and one of the priests featured, Rev Kapya Kaoma, were there and there was a panel discussion afterwards (unfortunately shortened, due to running late).

The movie left me emotionally overwhelmed, incredibly sad and, mostly, spitting mad. It is a look into the American evangelical movement in Uganda, a glimpse into the fantacism that is attached to this forcing of Western religion down the throats of Africans, the most horrifying of which is two-fold: the teaching of homophobia (pushing for the death penalty!) and the promotion of abstinence (only) to prevent HIV.

Young, fresh-faced American youths, some looking like they’ve just entered their 20’s, if that, preach Jesus to old women in rural areas, their patronising conversations dripping off the screen like molten lava. It’s not hard to see how they get there, the flashbacks to Kansas, to Evangelical HQ show singing and wailing and gnashing of teeth as people-who-know-how-to-persuade preach ‘The Truth’, ‘The Path to Redemption’, ‘The Saving the World through Jesus’ from their million dollar pulpits and homes . What early-20-year old doesn’t want an adventure into the African wild, with the promise of eternal life attached to their rucksack?

The teaching of homophobia, taken to government level, is horrific. Horrific, backward, vicious, frightening. What happened to that All Loving God the Christian faith likes to talk about? There is nothing more or, at least, nothing more that I can say. I find myself speechless at the monstrosity of one death due to sexual orientation, let alone a law prescribing it for all.

Working in the sphere that I work – HIV – it was the preaching of abstinence as a real prevention technique for HIV that left me spitting with rage. We’re thirty years into the fight against this disease, and have thirty years’ experience of how to stop (or at least limit) its spread. Abstinence has NEVER, in all of man’s history (which is way longer than thirty years, as we all know), been a solution to anything.

Why? Because it’s not realistic. We’re human, we have sex. Often with more than one person in our lifetimes, and often before we’ve decided who we’ll ‘settle down’ with. And that’s in the so-called Western culture. Other cultures differ. One thing remains the same, though, through all cultures, regardless of where you are or who you are – we’re human. We have sex. All of us. Preaching abstinence as a method of HIV prevention is akin to putting on a Grim Reaper suit and scything the heads off the people you’re preaching to. Spitting. Mad.

The young, fresh-faced virginal, Americans truly believe they’re doing something good, by the looks of things, a result of a naïve acceptance of their shouting, fire-and-brimstone leaders. It’s hard to fault them, they’re just young. And stupid. One scene, where they’re stopped in a Kombi and are selling their Jesus to the street sellers who are, in turn, selling their wares to them, is almost farcical. I looked at them all, rosy-cheeked and Christian-smiled and wondered who’d be sleeping with who by the end of their ‘Rural Outreach’. One can only hope one of them had the nonce to bring along condoms. Perhaps I’m too cynical.

The movie is perfectly put together, an inside view of fanatical evangelism, of so much money poured into Africa that is being used, basically, to spread hatred, divide communities, allow the (further) wildfire progression of a disease that is ravaging our continent.

It is a must-see. Really. Do yourselves a favour and watch it.

For more, check out their website.