Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Valley of the dulls

The last of the mist lifts off the village, flung down in a valley, flanked by two oceans. The cold Atlantic is on the left, the warm Indian and our local beach off to the right. The only dull note is the dusty conservatism of many locals, seaside pensioners whose numbers decline annually. As they sell up and move into walled retirement villages, the wealthy refugees from Johannesburg and Zimbabwe turn their snug homes into mountainside mansions and their lovingly tended gardens into pool decks.

Darkness at Noon 2

This is becoming very tedious. The nuclear generator has crashed again and the power cuts are rolling across Cape Town. It's pretty obvious that we are being lied to; every time some minor fault on the transmission lines is blamed. Either this is not true, or the generator itself is acting its age (geriatric in nuclear terms). And it takes up to five days to bring it up to speed.

So there I was, sitting in a traffic jam as our deadline for the City Late approached. This allowed me to listen to all of Handel's Water Music, a big fave of mine, followed by the bubbly and talented Miss Jane Monheit on her latest album. Of course, what is considered virtual gridlock in Cape Town would be fairly average traffic in London. Here we expect to keep up a brisk clip through the inner suburbs.

Most popular stock items among the roadside vendors who run up and down between the vehicles at traffic lights: 1 Coat hangers, tops countrywide. 2. Wire ornaments, particularly metal flowers, a craft that began in the townships. 3 Jokes -- a small donation buys you a piece of paper with a picture and a feeble joke on it; the sellers grin and clown their pitch. 4 New, and in with a pellet: catapults -- vendors watch out for cars with small boys in them. 5 Newspapers or the Big Issue Cape Town. 6 Grapes or flowers (real).

With the traffic stalled at dead lights, the fearless entrepreneurs did landslide business today. I imagine even the jokers did well.

A walk along the beach and over the rocks requires only leg power and mine today was rewarded by the remarkable sight of a squadron of cormorants banking over the bay, then adopting line formation and simultaneously divebombing the water, having presumably spotted a large shoal of fish. My camera lens buzzed forth just too late. I waited for a while, hoping they might ascend in unison, but no sign. I guess underwater it's every bird for itself.

Must get this posted before the darkness comes.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Lost and found

Thanks to power cuts and my fumbling efforts to get this blog off the ground last week, I managed to miss the first episode of the new season of Lost. But it's no loss. TWOP's recap brought me fully up to date while making me laugh like a drain. I'm very concerned about Walt, though.

Commenters, if any, are asked to avoid letting spoilers slip. Last season we were way ahead of UK viewers, but for some reason the new series has been long delayed. And Hysteria Lane has yet to hove into view. I'll just have to overcome my phobia about medical dramas and watch House instead. I haven't checked out Weeds yet either.

Having just returned via rush hour traffic from a fullblown gum operation at the orthodontist, I am feeling somewhat ragged, with a mouthful of stitches and apparently no bottom jaw. The dentist has a TV in the ceiling, so I was forced to watch E! Entertainment Television while he rummaged about unspeakably in my mouth, which constituted cruel and unusual punishment. I was scarcely in a position to complain, however.

So it's a nice invalidish evening, with a good excuse to watch my new DVD of David Cronenberg's repulsive but enjoyable
Videodrome. "Long live the new flesh!" Indeed, I could do with some.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hell's teeth

Ella Watson: "Do you think a woman can love two men?" James Averill: "Sure you can. Why not three? But it sure as hell isn't convenient."

Or 300, if Michael Cimino could have got away with it.

Today was to have featured my retrospective look at the notorious movie disaster
Heaven's Gate. But IE swallowed it by closing unexpectedly and it can't be retrieved. It's probably a mercy; it was looking almost as bloated as the film.

I 'd heard all the stories about how this was the most spectacular failure ever bankrolled by a Hollywood studio, and an artistic disaster to boot. So I'd mentally written it off until I spotted the DVD at a bargain price and thought, what the hell, I'll see for myself -- at 210 minutes it would be an absolute bum anaethestic in a cinema seat, but in my recliner with the pause button and coffee to hand, no problem.

The most remarkable thing about this notorious epic, which nearly bankrupted United Artists and blighted director Michael Cimino's sometimes brilliant career, is the enormous scale of the set pieces that provide the only functioning engine to propel this 210-minute behemoth to a non-conclusion. Nothing less than hundreds of extras will do on every conceivable occasion. And these were real people who had to be marshalled, fed and paid, unlike today's CGI clones.

The first two scenes set the tone -- Mr Cimino shoehorns the obligatory army of newly graduated Harvard students into a great hall for the uproarious valedictory ceremony. There are to be a great many more teeming and uproarious scenes before we're done. But here we meet two of the main characters, Kris Kristofferson as the afore-mentioned James Averill and John Hurt as Billy Irvine, the star debater and wit of the class of 1870. The taciturn Averill (natch) turns out to be the good guy and the witty and likeable Hurt a weakling who falls in with the villains, rich cattle barons in Johnson County, Wyoming, who are trying to drive poor immigrants from their miserable patches of land and keep the world safe for steers. This first scene seems to go on for a very long time. But there is to be no still calm moment before we are plunged into a whirl of dancers circling a maypole in the quad -- hundreds of them, inevitably. This very kinetic scene is in some ways brilliant, perhaps thanks mainly to cinematographer Vilmos Szigmond, one of the greats. There are several outstanding scenes in the film and even the set pieces might have been bearable if Cimino just knew when to stop.

One interesting thing I learnt while researching the piece was that Cimino has eked out four movies since, so his career may be in the toilet but hasn't been flushed. A fifth is on the way. And he has regularly churned out screenplays. Some of his work has been uncredited, perhaps because producers fear the albatross effect.

I'm prepared to recommend you see for yourself.

In total contrast, my DVD viewing last night was Flightplan (sic), 85 electrifying minutes on a giant "new" jumbo jet with Jodie Foster doing what she does best, playing a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, who in this case recovers her wits hunting for her daughter on the huge (fictitious) aircraft. Is the daughter imaginary.? Is she deluded? Or are they really out to get her?

Tight, classic suspense thriller, recommended despite some clunky lines given to lesser characters.

And now I'm going to wallow in the SA-Australia one-day international cricket match. Longer than Heaven's Gate, but hopefully a classic with no long and painful passages.

Friday, February 24, 2006

In other nudes

From a film review of Running Scared in today's Christian Science Monitor:

Sex/Nudity: 9 instances, including inudendo. Violence: 31 instances. Profanity: 354 instances, mostly harsh. Drugs/alcohol/tobacco: 12 scenes.

Marvellous. If the word inudendo doesn't exist, it jolly well ought to. In fact I invite visitors to give their own dictionary definitions. My first efforts:

Inudendo (n.): the act of undressing with the eyes; a suggestion to slip into something more comfortable.

Black Bart

Is Cape Town cool or what? Prizewinning public sculpture and mountie in a pedestrian mall that traverses the length of the CBD. There are pavement cafes every few yards with tables under the trees, and stalls of African art and crafts, many of them run by Congolese refugees who will chat away in French if you want.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cockup on the template front

Apologies to anyone visiting this strange-looking site at present. It looks like the extra picture width has buggered up the shape. Can't repair it until later today because I'm stuck on a PowerMac at work.

Update: resizing the photo did the trick.

Mobile madness

I'm one of those people who refuses to have a cellphone, or mobile, as Brits call it. It seems to me this is a modern form of slavery and a powerful addiction to boot. And every day, it seems, my refusenik stance is buttressed by the rude, daft or downright dangerous behaviour of the majority of enslaved mobile addicts.

Today's encounter was an extreme example of the genre. Returning to the office with a cup of coffee, I swiped my security pass over the magic eye and opened the door just as a minion approached it from the other side in a southerly direction, m'lud, trundling a porter's trolley loaded with newspapers. I obligingly held the pneumatic door open, by no means an easy task, but as he entered the doorway -- yes, his mobile rang. He halted instantly twixt newsroom and passage, whipped it out and started gabbing. This was too much.

"Keep bloody moving and get off that fucking phone!" I yelled, straining against the door's attempt to close.

He did not, as you would have expected, respond to this rough injunction immediately. "Yeah ... right ... look, I'd better go, I'm just on my way to the fifth floor with their papers. OK. Catch you later." No forward movement accompanied this monologue.

"For Christ's sake, come ON!" I bellowed.

He tucked his phone away and trundled past looking blankly ahead, like the zombie slave he is, and without a word of apology or thanks. I don't think he even knew I was there. Typical

When I take power, all mobiles will be tossed on bonfires throughout the land, and I expect many will still be attached to their puppets. "Yeah, did you want the Vesuvio extra virgin cold pressed or the Marks and Sparks house brand extra virgin first cold pressing? ... Oh, hang on -- look, love, sorry, I've gotta go, something's burning. Ohhh. Shit."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Summer's end

Remember when you were nine or ten and those long summer afternoons seemed to last forever?
And tired as you were as the sun sank lower, still you wandered in the dreamtime, squeezing the last drop of life from this long moment as if it was the last. And now here you are watching the children track the last rays lasering over the beach. And you're impatient for that sunset you stayed for: your clothes are crunchy with sand, your overheated skin is simmering ... you hope you haven't had too much UV. And somebody's got to get the supper on. The hungry monsters won't want to wait even a split second.

Today's poem


He was juggling a poem
of her, of Brahms
of a certain plaster head (untitled)
when all the light went
and she turned on him, spitting
and Brahms gurgled into silence
and the bleached blind head said "Death"
and he let all three fall to the floor and smash
being (as he had suspected all along)
blind and powerless and afraid.

Darkness at Noon

It could not have been a less auspicious beginning. My first post on my brand new blog was rudely interrupted by one of a series of power cuts in the Cape Town area yesterday, the third successive day of what the utility operator fancifully calls "rolling blackouts". So instead of launching into my carefully composed manifesto, I trudged cursing up the stairs, candle held aloft. And so to bed.

The cuts, better described as random crashes of the system, have apparently been caused by a generator failure at the geriatric nuclear reactor which provides a significant amount of the city's power. They would be more accurately described as random collapses of the system. Or else someone is sticking a pin in the map blindfolded. An excuse early on was "damp soot from bush fires on transmission lines". At least it wasn't leaves on the line or the wrong kind of snow. Didn't they lie about Chernobyl at first?

However, the so-called manager of public lighting, no doubt keen to avert the possibility of being hanged from one of his own streetlights, has given one firm promise to this rugby-crazed city -- there will be power at Newlands Stadium on Friday night for the "Super 14 " game between the local Stormers and the visiting Brumbies. Praise the lord! "I may be stupid, but I'm not that stupid," he declared. I rest my case.

Thus this goodly frame is born under a foul and pestilential cloud and I have indeed, for the moment, lost all my mirth. Sorry about that.

So no manifesto except to say this is my baby, it is for my own amusement first of all and, I devoutly hope, the delectation of my bloggy friends. And to any visitors who might be googled into my clutches, come in, pull up a chair and feel free to spout off. To wandering trolls: don't even think about it.

Topics will be whatever my dilettante wafting may alight upon, but will certainly include the odd poem (mine, mostly), photograph (likewise), music bulletin, rant, encounter with idiots, pseuds and posers and more. Anything to keep it going.

Big ups to midwives and cheerleaders Pashmina of
Grammar Puss and Patroclus of Quinquireme, and to the eminent Norm Geras, he of Normblog, who first sowed the seed. And to the little circle of blog friends who have endured my incessant and often facetious comments. Welcome to my twilight zone.