This blog is on hiatus. I can still be contacted at the e-mail address included in the “About” section or, alternatively, through my Twitter account https://twitter.com/Mbenn75
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” – Henry David Thoreau
I started this blog in August 2o11. Writing it has allowed me to put a structure around at least some of the many ideas that swirl around in my head, but it is time for a sabbatical and for a new direction. E-mails sent to and received from a good friend in recent days have contained the subject line “rest” so it’s time for that, a rest from blogging. I may return to the blog but I’m far more likely to pop up in another guise, probably offline, but who knows for sure? So many things that I was certain about over the past two years have instead caused me to doubt myself, although instinct has served me well in the past and is doing so again now.
Thank you to all of my readers and especially to those who commented on and “liked” my posts. A special word of thanks to my subscribers. It has been a pleasure.
The imminent release of writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines prompted a re-watch this week of his previous feature, Blue Valentine. Released in 2010, Blue Valentine charts the relationship between Cindy and Dean, using a cross-cut device to focus on the beginning and seeming end of the relationship. I say seeming end because the movie’s plot is ambiguous, not least in its refusal to identify fully the reason or reasons why the relationship is failing. It just is, which is how many relationships in real life fail, it is not? They just do. Nonetheless, Cindy’s exhaustion and the extent to which she is exasperated with Dean is obvious. Furthermore, the couple’s sniping at each other is indicative of a fundamental breakdown in communication. There is an integrity about both of these characters, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to salvage their relationship.
In a Q&A on the DVD release, Cianfrance references his background in documentary and how it taught him to listen. And the movie does feel like eavesdropping on the conversation between the two protagonists. Cianfrance’s documentary experience is also reflected in the hyper-real cinematography and the spontaneous feel of the performances from Williams and Gosling, the result undoubtedly of the actors’ improvisation of dialogue. For his part, Cianfrance was fortunate to be working with Williams and Gosling, two of Hollywood’s most extraordinary talents. The scenes of their first date are beautifully rendered, as the two characters awkwardly find their way into getting to know each other. The movie’s feel is strengthened by Cianfrance’s own approach to its production. The part of the movie depicting the development of Cindy and Dean’s relationship was shot using Super 16mm, giving it a natural, lived-in and intimate look. The blue tint of the scenes depicting the relationship as it falls apart washes the vitality out of the camera work, almost as if it has been bleached, and reflects the distressed nature of the marriage.
Blue Valentine became caught up in a ratings controversy when the MPAA rated it NC-17, the category that replaced an X rating in 1989. The rating was in respect of a cunnilingus scene, prompting Gosling to accuse the ratings association of sexism and misogyny on the grounds that a scene involving oral sex performed on a male would never have received similar censure. Although the rating was changed to R following an appeal lodged by The Weinstein Company, distributors of the movie, the controversy did highlight the seeming discomfort with depictions of female sexuality in mainstream popular culture. The NC-17 rating is less about stopping children under 17 from being admitted to movie theatres to watch certain movies than it is about censoring movie content itself. In the case of Blue Valentine, the retention of the NC-17 rating would have effectively stigmatized the movie for its depiction of oral sex. At the time, Gosling was quoted as saying:
‘You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.’
The link below is to a recording of Cianfrance, Williams and Gosling on PBS’ Charlie Rose. It is well worth watching for the discussion of how Blue Valentine evolved and how different it was in its making compared to other movies.
- DNA tests revealed that the skeletal remains found in a Leicester car park are those of King Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet monarchs. Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in August 1485, a battle which arguably brought an end to the Middle Ages in England. Evidence shows that Richard was likely killed by two blows, one of which removed part of his skull. He was also stabbed through the buttock in a likely act of humiliation as his body was dragged by horse from the battlefield. Depicted in culture as a hunchbacked villain, most notably by Shakespeare, Richard has, in recent times, being given a more benign treatment.
- The Irish government published its official report into the state’s role in the Magdalene Laundries and the human rights abuses that occurred within them. Missing from the report were 800 pages of testimony from women who spent time in the laundries.
- Remember the minidisc – the technology that was going to revolutionise the way we listen to music? Sony has announced that it is to cease manufacture of MiniDisc stereo systems. Although the company is to continue making the discs themselves, the decision to abandon manufacture of MiniDisc stereo systems (portable MiniDisc players were discontinued in 2011) surely spells the end for the discs also.
- It was announced that China has become the world’s leading trading nation in goods, overtaking the U.S. Figures released by China’s customs administration showed that the combined total for imports and exports in Chinese goods was $3.87tn in 2012, compared to the $3.82tn trade in goods recorded by the U.S. commerce department. The U.S. economy remains by far the larger of the two, however, valued at $15 trillion versus the $7.3 trillion that China’s economy is worth.
- Israel was forced to admit publically that it had secretly imprisoned a man dubbed Prisoner X by the country’s media. His status and identity had been subject to a two-year media blackout in Israel. Prisoner X was Ben Zygier, a dual Israeli-Australian citizen and supposedly a spy for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. It has been speculated that Zygier was imprisoned on charges of sharing intelligence information with Australian officials. He was found hanged in his cell in 2010. Zygier had been kept in solitary confinement and even the prison guards were unaware of his true identity. It has also been reported that Zygier was being investigated by Australia’s domestic intelligence agency, ASIO, for attempting to procure Australian passports for use by the Mossad.
Some things you should know:
- If it didn’t happen in Dublin, it didn’t happen at all. This will become clear the more you watch or listen to RTÉ, the national broadcaster. It applies mostly to “freak” weather events, such as 3 cm of snow or winds above 100 kph. If you live in Dublin, you will learn that if it didn’t happen on the Southside, it didn’t happen at all. RTÉ is headquartered on the Southside.
- ‘Are you coming out for a drink?’ does not actually refer to a single drink.
- In terms of socialising, there’s going out and there’s going out/out.
- If you find work in Ireland and are obliged to share kitchen duties with other members of staff, be warned: there will be a dispute over Lyons or Barry’s. These are brands of tea. Wars have been fought over less.
- If things aren’t going well, it might be suggested, especially by people from older generations, that you ‘offer it up.’ It’s a Catholic thing.
- In the past, Ireland had hot, dry summers. It rains all year now so invest in good rain gear. The last really hot, dry summer was 1995. That was 18 years ago.
- If you have come from the U.K., you’ll find that our high streets are similar to your own. You may or may not think this is a good thing. You may be confused about how Anglo-centric much of Irish society and culture actually is (no.8 being an obvious exception). You may be even more confused when someone slags you on the basis of your nationality/accent while simultaneously watching their favourite team, Man United, on the telly. They’ll never have been to Manchester.
- It’s St. Stephen’s Day, not Boxing Day.
- That weird-looking program on RTÉ1 on Saturday nights is called Winning Streak. Contestants hope to come away with the top prize of half a million. It’s more likely that they’ll come away with ten grand (that’s €10,000) and a three-night break in New York. If they stayed at home and waited for the local credit union draw, they’d probably win just as much. It’s a day out, though, and sure it’s a bit of craic and they meet Marty Whelan. Okay, he’s no Marty Morrissey, but still…
- Begrudgery is widespread. Try not to spoil it for a person by pointing out that perhaps so and so isn’t too bad. This is especially true if so and so is Bono. The only successful native Irish people don’t begrudge is….actually, scratch that.
- It’s not unusual to watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin on a TV screen while seated in a pub as said parade passes by on the street outside. Don’t question how absurd it is if you find yourself dragged into this situation.
- If you want to visit Northern Ireland don’t ask friends/colleagues/neighbours for advice or recommendations. Most of them have never been further than Sainsbury’s in Newry.
- Irish people have a very recent relationship with sex, as opposed to reproduction. Sex didn’t get here until the 1960s. Something about a bishop and a nightie. Reproduction got here quite some time before that.
- If you are in a relationship with an Irish person and are invited to their family home, know this: Irish families, siblings in particular, frequently engage in furious although short-lived rows. After the row is over, everything will be ‘grand.’ Watch the father. If he leaves the room abruptly, there’s a row brewing and he wants nothing to do with it. The mother will be left to deal with what ensues. Follow the father out of the room.
- ‘Fine’ in Ireland has different meanings, from actually fine, to great, to terrible. It’s all in the tone of voice.
- If you want to have a shower or a bath, you may need to learn about the immersion. Thankfully not as common as they once were, immersions have huge economic implications, if used incorrectly.
- You might think that your work colleague/flatmate is looking up Facebook but they’re probably scanning the death notices from home.
- Irish people will drop the word ‘like’ into conversations randomly and out of context, like.
- Flat or boiled 7Up is a cure-all.
- Just because someone told you they would do what you asked of them doesn’t mean they’ll actually do it. At least not immediately. You may need to ask them again, and again and….
Some things to remember when writing literary fiction:
- Know when to shut up. John McGahern said ‘Nearly all good writing is suggestion and nearly all bad writing is statement.’
- Make yourself invisible on the page. As Flaubert advised, the writer should be present everywhere but nowhere visible, like God in nature.
- Think about the “aesthetic” of a greeting card and write the opposite.
- What you do – make up stories – is patently absurd. Try not to think about that too much.
- If there is anything else you want to do other than write do it instead. Writing will frequently make you miserable. You may never feel like a success, even if you get your work published. It is unlikely you will make much money, if any. Humour and perspective are useful.
- Language will frustrate you. Margaret Atwood told The Paris Review ‘All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.’
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the husband-and-wife team behind the 2006 hit Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks is a left-field look at the realities of making a relationship work. Novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is struggling with writer’s block following the success of his debut novel. He is also struggling with his romantic life, that is, until he writes a girl into existence. Ruby, played by Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the script, is Calvin’s dream woman, but as his brother Harry (Chris Messina) is quick to remind him ‘You haven’t written a person, okay, you’ve written a girl.’ Ruby is an extension of Calvin’s hopes, not least in her declaration that she will love him forever. However, when Ruby begins to assert herself, staying at her own apartment some nights a week and taking classes, Calvin becomes jealous. Harry’s revelation that his wife, Susie (Toni Trucks) left him once – ‘I could lose her at any time’ – adds to Calvin’s insecurity. Having locked away the manuscript that brought Ruby to life, Calvin takes it out again and alters Ruby’s behaviour to suit him.
As the movie progresses, Calvin’s insecurities, not just in love, but in life in general, become increasingly apparent. A weekend trip with Ruby to his mother, Gertrude’s, home proves uncomfortable for the set-in-his ways Calvin. Gertrude (Annette Bening) and her partner Murt (Antonio Banderas) seem to love each other for what they are and not for some idealistic wish of what the other would be. Then, at a party, he meets an ex, Lila (Deborah Ann Woll) who tells him ‘You just had this image of who I was. And anything I did that contradicted it, you just ignored.’
Ruby Sparks could have been one of those icky fantasies in which the “man” wills his ideal woman into existence and that would be that, but what gives the story its edge is Calvin’s controlling tendencies and the subtext that what makes a relationship work is two people meeting in the middle without one trying to assert dominance over the other. The final line of the movie, “Just don’t tell me how it ends,” is suggestive of the idea that a truly successful relationship starts from a point at which the end, if there is to be one, cannot be pre-defined, so to set down limits on how it will progress is to kill its momentum and remove all meaning. It’s interesting to note that Kazan and Dano are a couple in real life, so two couples brought their influences and feelings to bear in making the movie. And yes, Zoe Kazan is a granddaughter of Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan.