recent reading

•Wednesday, 30 December, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A few words about some of the books i’ve been reading recently.

Friends lent a copy of Andrew Nicoll’s The Good Mayor. This is a pleasant enough story with occasional interesting twists, and Nicoll’s style is not wholly conventional narrative in an eye-of-god manner: it is, but he frequently breaks away from conservative aspects the story line suggests it might follow. One paragraph i liked goes like this:

Human beings have an almost limitless capacity to delude themselves – a tenacious ability to deny the blindingly obvious, a heartbreakingly lovely talent for believing in something rather nicer than whatever it is that is staring them, baldly, in the face, right the way up to the clanging doors of ‘the shower block’. And what a great blessing that is. It’s what makes us write poems. It’s what makes us sing songs and paint pictures and build cathedrals. It’s the reason that Doric columns exist when a tree trunk would do the job just as well. It is a glorious, beautiful, agonising gift and it makes us human.

The release of the movie Where the Wild Things Are made me realise that while i was familiar with the cover of Sendak’s book in book shops i’d never actually read it. I’ve remedied that oversight, and it is, of course as everyone else knows, delightful – wonderfully phrased, and those phrases superbly spaced over the pages to pace with the evocative drawings in their quietly mellow colours. And i’m surprised just how long ago it was that Sendak wrote his story. To follow up i’ve now read Dave Eggers’ extended novel version of Max’s adventures based on his co-written screenplay. Have still to see the movie. Eggers’ book is ok, but Maurice Sendak takes the prize for his original.

Then there is The Book Thief. I had read about Markus Zusak’s novel but am not sure why i’d not pursued it earlier. I guess i tend to think, ‘Oh, all the stories of WWII have been written’ – but it turns out they haven’t. This is one of the unexpected ones. I like that it is told by Death: Zusak’s style and subject matter drew me in immediately and Liesel Meminger’s experiences in Nazi Germany compelled my increasingly fascinated attention. Once i’d read the last pages i found myself sitting, still, contemplating; when C walked into the room moments later i broke into sobs. He sat with me to comfort me, then confessed he’d also cried when he’d finished the book.


Caro’s ‘Luck’

•Friday, 13 November, 2009 • Leave a Comment

wing_rLast night we saw Niki Caro’s film of The Vintner’s Luck. Having earlier read several far from complimentary reviews we did not expect to be impressed — David Larsen in ‘The Listener’ suggested we might leave the cinema “drop-jawed and simmering”. I had always been doubtful about this enterprise, and the reviews simply confirmed my fears. Perhaps being in this state of expecting little contributed to our feeling that the film is not as bad as it might have been. But certainly it is only an oblique hint at some aspects of the book, far from any genuine visual representation of its story and ideas.

The slowness of the first two thirds of the movie mean there is no hope of it covering Sobran’s life so that suddenly in the last few minutes he is summarily stricken with tuberculosis and dies before half his story is properly told. Indeed the last third of the film is a series of crass distortions of the substance of Knox’s tale which amount to a travesty of her central characters, their beliefs, relationships and experiences.

I didn’t leave the cinema seething as i had imagined i might. But i do think that this is a film that should not have been made. It offers nothing substantial and little other than some occasional superficial prettiness. The account of the vintner, Sobran Jodeau’s luck is to be found, wonderfully, in the novel; and not at all in this film.

fine arts

•Sunday, 25 October, 2009 • 1 Comment

Invariably one of our entertainments when we’re visiting cities during our travels is to seek out art of one or another, and usually several kinds. Of course we did this on our recent visits to Melbourne and Adelaide.

Dali Tristan and Isolde pinMelbourne’s National Gallery was in the final days of its hosting of a large Salvador Dali exhibition.

This was very popular and we had to queue for some time for tickets. The works on show represented a wide range of his work but we found that only a small number of them drew our interest. Of those, it was pieces of jewelery that i’d not been aware Dali had created, that most impressed and fascinated.

At the Ian Potter Centre there were some interesting pieces among the entrants in the 2009 Clemenger Contemporary Art Award.

Fountain111 & FirebushThe Centre for the Moving Image was however, the place we spent most of our time with art this visit. acmi have an absorbing new exhibition of the history of the moving image, called Screen Worlds – lots and lots of detailed pieces on show and in action and many you can interact with, that build this story. We went back several times to revisit some of these. In another gallery is Hollywood Remix – several cheekily remixed sections of a few old Hollywood classics to put the characters and plots into new perspectives! But best of all a large retrospective of Len Lye’s work including several recreations of some of his brilliantly conceived kinetic sculptures – which we returned to watch several times.

khai liew1More briefly experienced, but equally memorable and impressive was the furniture of Khai Liew. Our friends R & C took us to meet Khai Liew in his showroom while we were in Adelaide. Curiously we had seen 2 of his pieces in the city Art Gallery the previous afternoon, noting but really unaware of just who had crafted these chairs. Liew’s furniture is exquisitely fine — amongst his tables, chairs, chests, sideboards are designs i found myself at once regarding covetously. We could very quickly see just why he and his work have international standing.

The following day as R & C were showing us parts of the Adelaide hills, they took us to a furniture store housed in what had once been a small church — now with added modern extension. This place has a good selection of modern stuff but what captured C’s and my attention were some small pieces of glass. We liked them lots, but left them there, taking only photos. Later [after an excellent late lunch — well, it was mid-afternoon by then — at Melt Pizzeria, in a very pleasant corner of the city — great crisp pizza, salad, & some just brilliant mushrooms sautéd with rosemary & served with polenta] we visited the JamFactory. A design/production/exhibition/sale centre this clutch of studios serves to foster design and crafting in ceramics, glass, furniture and metal. There was some really interesting stuff in exhibition and here in the selling gallery we found some more of the series of glass pieces that had so caught us earlier in the day. We looked and looked and finally succumbed. [Thank you R & C for leading us to this temptation!]

Just the other day we discovered that the glass piece we bought, one of a series called Jelly Block, and made there at the JamFactory, by Kumiko Nakajima, was a finalist in this year’s Ranamok Prize. How pleasing!

Kumiko Nakajima_ranamok2009[The piece we bought is the one on the left in the picture.]

Produce markets

•Sunday, 18 October, 2009 • Leave a Comment

market-fresh We’ve recently been back in Australia – Melbourne and Adelaide – to visit friends and also just to indulge ourselves a little. First to Melbourne where we stayed with M & A in their recently acquired townhouse in Toorak. This is in a brilliant location adjoining a small park, a few minutes walk from train station and tram stop, and only a little further to Prahran Market and Chapel Street. After a few days we took ourselves off to Adelaide for the weekend where we spent much of our time in the company of friends R & C who very generously gave up their days to show us many of their favourite corners of Adelaide and its environs. Then we returned for another three days in Melbourne.

On the Saturday morning in Adelaide we breakfasted on croissant and coffee in the Central Market, while marveling at the range of foodstuffs available. We wandered away, just as we had done from Prahran Market a couple of days earlier, feeling regret and disappointment that Christchurch does not have the population to support a similar enterprise. Loving food as we do we would consider living a few minutes walk from a good produce market such as both these are, to be a kind of heaven. We enviously eyed amongst so much, the really fresh vegetables, the big range of breads, and the banks of flowers. There is of course lots of fine stuff to be had in Christchurch but not in one place or in such range; often not quite so fresh nor as cheap.

Flaubert’s Parrot

•Wednesday, 16 September, 2009 • Leave a Comment

flauberts-parrotI’ve been re-reading Julian Barnes’ paean to Flaubert. Chapter 13, Pure Story, I particularly enjoyed. Which is odd since, thank the gods, i’ve not lost my lover, best friend, partner. But Barnes’ narrator here, strikes this reader as sane, insightful— ? — well, certainly entertaining in his examination, distillation and phrasing of our experience of life, and loss.

After the death of one’s love: first madness. “And then the loneliness: not the spectacular solitude you had anticipated, not the interesting martyrdom of widowhood, but just loneliness. … Mourning is of time; nothing but time. … And there is always time. Have some more time. Take your time. Extra time. Time on your hands. … Other people think you want to talk. … Sometimes you talk, sometimes you don’t; it makes little difference. The words aren’t the right ones; or rather, the right words don’t exist.”

Despair. “After a number of events, what is there left but repetition and diminishment? Who wants to go on living? The eccentric, the religious, the artistic (sometimes); those with a false sense of their own worth. Soft cheeses collapse; firm cheeses indurate. Both go mouldy.”

“Does life improve? … When you are young, you think that the old lament the deterioration of life because this makes it easier for them to die without regret. When you are old, you become impatient with the way in which the young applaud the most insignificant improvements — the invention of some new valve or sprocket — while remaining heedless of the world’s barbarism. I don’t say things have got worse; I merely say the young wouldn’t notice if they had. The old times were good because then we were young, and ignorant of how ignorant the young can be.”

“Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t. I’m not surprised some people prefer books. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people’s lives, never your own.”

film festival

•Friday, 14 August, 2009 • Leave a Comment

We’ve seen some very enjoyable movies in the past couple of weeks.

Moon — see my earlier post.

Adventureland — coming of age in 1987 US — Jesse Eisenberg is excellent as the smart but naive literature student learning that love is painful.

Looking for Eric — Ken Loach’s cheering tender comedy in the gritty real world.

Mary & Max — a delightfully amusing claymation recreation of the true tale of the most odd couple — 8 year old suburban Australian Mary Daisy Dinkle and reclusive paranoid 44 year old jewish New Yorker Max Horovitz.

Limits of Control — am not sure how we’ve missed Jim Jarmusch before — this is surreal but beautifully filmed, well evoking aspects of Spain.

Departures — captivating — ‘beautifully performed character study’, ‘with grace and humanity’, ‘eloquent’.

Summer Hours — wonderfully affirming generosity of spirit.l'heure-d'ete_siblings


•Tuesday, 4 August, 2009 • Leave a Comment

CAF_2009abundant_lands_CAFJohn Chen with the T’ang Quartet play Schnittke Piano Quintet; Gao Ping Mei, Lan, Zhu, Ju; and Dvorˆák Piano Quintet.
The quintet played wonderfully these contrasting works — and that contrast was entertaining in itself. Gao Ping’s new work had a wonderful range of references and echos from West as well as East and is very fine. Having explained the origins for his inspiration in the 4 symbolic Chinese plants, plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum, and their characters, he then invited us to ignore all he’d said and let the music speak to us in whatever way we and it chose.

Rieger_organ_CAFChristopher Herrick plays works by Bach, Brahms, Dupre, Hollins and Rinck.
We decided it was way beyond time that we actually heard the Town Hall organ! A terrible confession that we’d never heard it before now, it having been there only 10 years. These pieces were much varied selection — apt i guess for a Sunday afternoon concert. The organ is impressive of course, and now it would be great to hear a set of really fine and coherently chosen pieces.

van-Hout_CAFSeraphine Pick, Ronnie van Hout, et al. at the Christchurch Art Gallery.
None of these shows lit our imaginative fires. Van Hout’s was the perhaps more entertaining — briefly. Disappointing.

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