#25 Only lovers left alive

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I love films.

Like most people, I’ve no idea how many I’ve seen, but films influence my life, they enrich my cultural references. I’m getting older and I’ve noticed my hit-rate- the ratio of films watched to films enjoyed- is diminishing. It may well be that I’m slipping predictably into the role of a grumpy old man, but it could also be that the quality of films (or at least, the films I watch) is in decline.

Take Only lovers left alive as an example. My girlfriend and I attempted to watch this a few weeks back. The reviews had suggested that this latest offering from Jim Jarmusch was worth seeing…

-[a]retro-chic haute-hippy vampire flick [which] gets its energy from the sulphurous chemistry between Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston

(Peter Bradshaw- The Guardian, 20th February, 2014)

Just when it’s time to call a moratorium on vampire movies, Jim Jarmusch has to go and make a good one.As unlikely as it sounds in the era of “Twilight” and its defanged imitators, Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” proves there are still new sights and sounds and meanings to be derived from the conceit of characters who rarely sleep, never die and feast on the blood of others

(Ann Hornaday – Washington Post, 17th April, 2014)

You can see how we might have got the impression that this was a decent film.

It begins with a record spinning on a record player. That is, a piece of retro vinyl revolving on a retro turntable and then… … hey, why not guess what camera shot Jim Jarmusch uses to introduce the two protagonists from this point?

Go on.

Remember, the first shot is of a record going around… and around… what cRaZy thing might you do??

You got it! Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are segued into the shot… r o t a t i n g. I know, A-mazing, never saw that coming:

I think it’s reminiscent of a Kula Shaker video from the 90’s. Or something by The Beatles, The Stones, The Charlatans, or any vaguely rock/psychedelia band from the last half a century. Except done badly. And interminably.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is dressed like Jim Morrison (before he got tubby). He’s topless, wearing rock-y, possibly leather trousers, lying on a giant chaise longue with a lute on his chest. A lute. There’s lots of old amps and bits of chintz about the place.

Tick- visual shorthand done.

Eve (Tilda Swinton) is wearing a kaftan/dressing gown and is passed out at the foot of a bed with a psychedelic throw on it. Got it? She’s a bit of a hippy.

Tick- again.

So, characters established. That’s all we need to know. And actually, come to think of it, in terms of narrative, characterisation, character development, crisis, resolution. Plot. Any of that stuff, you might as well stop here because this film doesn’t trouble itself with any of it. It is entirely superficial. Any meaning you might hope to extract from the film can only be derived from the look of the piece, which is a haphazard construction of cliches. Some of the reviewers are well aware of this, and have seen to find it laudable. Stylish. Clearly, I’m not a fan. But I have gone through the painful process of watching some of the film again so as to make a more reasoned case.

First of all, characterisation. Take, for example, the character of Adam. Essentially, Adam is presented to us as a tortured musician. He expresses his immortal existentialism through his art. We see him appraise a rare electric guitar in an early scene by looking horizontally up the fretboard. Tom Hiddleston then further reveals his hilarious lack of axemanship when he takes about thirty seconds in which to construct a chord (D minor) and strum. Later, he mooches about his bijou studio demonstrating a further range of skills he fails to convince us of by:

  • robotically tapping cymbals
  • experimenting with sound by hitting guitar strings with a drumstick. This farcical scene was one of my favourites and brought back fond memories of The Fast Show’s Jazz Club

Tilda Swinton’s character, Eve, is largely conveyed through her face. Her already enigmatic and expressive features have been over-intensified through matt-white make-up and massive black contact lenses, so that she seems like inanimate clay. Like Morph.

 

 

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Then the script.

When John Hurt scuffles into a Moroccan cafe to meet Eve, she says,

          So, how is the fabulous Christopher Marlowe tonight?

Clunk. Character name explained.

Jim Jarmusch wrote the screenplay. I’d like to say it’s shit, because it is. But mostly, it’s just incredibly mundane. Good actors (Tilda Swinton and John Hurt are good actors) are made to look clumsy and laboured because the words they have to deliver are hackneyed and were construed in a stagnant mind bent on stealing ideas.

I’m not going to go into more detail because, frankly, it’s not worth it. I’m writing this because I felt that I should redress the imbalance of criticism. Having started it, and having forced myself to re-watch sections of the film, I have to admit defeat. It’s too painful.

If you’d like to watch the film, I recommend watching it in digital format and skipping through at least x5 speed. You’ll pretty much get the gist of it  and, this way, you get to save that extra hour and forty five minutes for other things, like living, being creative, or even just sleeping. Almost anything you could find to do with your time, including staring blankly into nothingness, would be way more meaningful.

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                                                                                                                   Oh God, how can this film be so shit?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#24 Falmouth

Last Tuesday week, I went mackerel fishing with my children. We went with Falmouth fishing trips from Custom House Quay in Falmouth. It was a bright, fresh day. There was one other tourist with us, a reticent, retired man from Manchester who was staying in a guest house in the town. He agreed to take our photo.

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As we pulled out of the harbour into the final run of the River Fal, we passed a huge naval vessel, the  RFA Mounts Bay

RFA Mounts Bay

It utterly dwarfed our 12 man fishing vessel. Our fisherman/guide explained that it can hold fifty tanks, or a large number of small boats which are launched at sea by partially flooding the hull. Despite being a pacifist, it’s hard not to be amazed at the scale of such a thing.

We passed St Mawes

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with its castle stacked like cake tins.

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We were soon out of the river and into the English Channel. We edged a little way west along the coast, past Pendennis Castle and were soon opposite Swanpool. Our skipper had a fish-finder and explained that the other fishing tour, which was tagging along close-by, didn’t.

Soon, we drifted a little and received a brief tutorial on how to use the rods. They were baited with tinsels.

tinsel

Mackerel are voracious sight predators and devour anything flashy that catches their eye as they speed along. There were three or four tinsels per line. The key point was that we were to shout fish on! if anything bit. Nothing did for a while and we lifted our rods quietly up and down as we’d been shown.

        Fish on!

There was a sensation of tugging at my line which I assumed was a fish. It was. I reeled the line in and hauled a glistening mackerel from the water. I landed it and our guide (whose name you may have rightly deduced I have sadly forgotten) unhooked it. Within ten minutes, I felt another pull on the line and, as the words formed in my mouth, my daughter and the man from Manchester also shouted fish on.

It is the way it goes. Nothing for a while, then a shoal passes by and bites everything it sees.

I saw my daughter land four mackerel in one go. For five minutes, we all kept pulling mackerel out almost continuously. There wasn’t time to dispatch them all straightaway, and my son leapt around the catch-container amazed, as more and more mackerel thumped about in there.

After the frenzy, our guide showed us how to dispatch a mackerel cleanly. He hooked index and middle finger just inside the fish’s gills, pushed his thumb behind the head on the spine, then pulled the head upwards and back, breaking the neck. We watched as he quickly worked through the fish. A lance-like silver sand eel flew from the jaws of one fish, much to my son’s delight. He scooped it from the deck and stroked it for a while before throwing it back into the sea.

The shoal passed and we moved south, further out to sea between several massive tankers. While our boat bobbed about on the waves, these behemoths were utterly motionless, as if fixed in concrete.

Their implacable steeliness appeared devoid of any life,

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their shadowy immensity was intimidating.

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Falmouth boasts the world’s third largest and deepest natural harbour, and is a major refuelling stop. These tankers were each waiting to be refuelled via barge.

Soon, our skipper suggested we went back to where our earlier bonanza had been. Almost as soon as we’d returned, the fish were biting again and we landed another glut of tiger-striped beauties. There were thirty in all. When the shoal sped off, we turned away from the tankers and headed back toward Falmouth.


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As we neared the quay, the fish guts were flung out for the gulls. They plunged in diving squadrons around the boat,

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then glided triumphantly as an escort of angels,

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albeit with the occasional, barely noticeable gut bloodstain.

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We thanked our captain and guide as we disembarked, then drove back to Lanner where we were staying with friends to prepare the fish for dinner and the freezer. They had already lost much of their mother-of-pearl sheen, but remained beautiful.

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#23 Redventures

I sold my motorbike- Reddi-  on Monday. Here she is, or was:Image

It had not been quite a year that I had her, but we have had some memorable times:

  • never-ending waterfalls above Talybont reservoir
  • the after-work trip to Tintern last summer, sitting amongst the beeches above the Wye painting in the fading light, jumping the wall of the abbey, roaming the silent ruins in the dark, roaring back up the sinuous road to Chepstow, and across the Severn Bridge
  • Dymock woods, via the Wye valley- working the jaw of a badger skull , ceps,  yellow stagshorn fungi

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  • finding the Somerset floods- parking by Ivy Thorn Way on Cockrod, above Street, gazing out across the ruined fields shimmering in late afternoon sun, then skipping around puddles
  • coffee and breakfast in Bradford on Avon, then to Devizes and up Roundway Hill, cat and mouse with deer, sliding down the deep, fleshy folds of the landscape on our arses, water-colour painting side by side

IMG_2073 gliding partridge, a few hares.

Last Wednesday, I dismissed my class a minute earlier and was the first out the school gates; I had a taxi waiting there. We drove to my daughter’s school, collected her and then headed into Bristol to the Colston Hall. We met my daughter’s mum, who took my daughter home with her while I caught the 4:35 Megabus to Leeds, 207 miles away. Barry met me at Leeds bus station and drove us to his place near the A1, and I bought his motorbike:

8It was a long way to go, and it had only been a one-way ticket, but I had talked with Barry for quite a while during several long  phone conversations. What particularly encouraged me was that his voice was almost exactly the same combination of Yorkshire straightforwardness and gentle kindness of a previous Head of Department. Strange to perceive so much of a personality through a voice. He gave me several cups of tea and a cheese and tomato sandwich. His house was traditionally furnished, some oil paintings of sailing ships and a grandfather clock. He offered me a spare bed for the night but, as I needed to collect my daughter and go to work in the morning, I declined. I set off from Leeds on the new bike at around midnight.

I took it slowly at first, getting accustomed to the torque-y engine, then leaned forward and flew down along the misty carriageway. I got lost. I should have found my way to the M1 and shot south towards Birmingham. I somehow stayed on the older A1 and was soon penetrating the borders of alien territories: Rutland, Sherwood Forest, Cambridgeshire. The bike is quick, so by the time the recognition that I was far off-course fully dawned on me, I was in deep.

The truck stop at Stibbington was a welcome sight, I think I pulled in around 1:15am. The man working in the empty cafe sorted me out with directions to Leicester, black coffee and a snickers. The chairs were all up, the light seemed jaundiced and faded. I was glad to share a little time, small talk and company before stepping out into the void. Apparently, he’d never had the co-ordination for bikes- liked them, but would have killed himself.

His directions sent me on the A47, a much more involving road of plunging corners, rippled straights and unexpected, sleeping villages that scrolled past like silent narratives.

When I slipped into surburban Leicester at around 2:15am, I was quite tired. I pulled in to the Shell garage at the junction of Uppingham and Coleman Road to refuel. I asked a young asian lad getting out of a Golf GTI for directions toward Birmingham. He wasn’t sure, so he asked his mate who was pissing against the wall of the garage. When he’d finished, he offered to escort me to the M42. And so it was, that these two hospitable ambassadors of Leicester lead me through the intricate,  empty city. I left them at Enderby with a salute of thanks and began the penultimate stage.

I stopped in the Waitrose/Petrol station at Hopwood Park on the M42. I had another black coffee and texted J at 3:18am. I bought deep red tulips, which I locked into the top-box and set off. I arrived in Keynsham around 4:30. I took my bike cover off Reddi and, after it’d cooled, placed it onto my new bike. I got changed and drove to J’s.

There was a candle for me in the hallway. The pre-dawn chorus was beginning. I got a glass of water from the kitchen, blew out the candle and went upstairs, my mind still racing.

The motorbike journey had taken 4 1/2 hours from the witching hour until dawn.

281 miles

4 hours journey time

Average: 70 mph