Category: ageing


CARRIE & LOWELL by Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty records, 2015)

It may be a bit early to name an album of the year but Sufjan Stevens’ elegiac seventh album will certainly take some beating.

It is a painfully sad yet breathtaking beautiful record written for and about his late mother, Carrie, who died of stomach cancer in 2012.

In the words of the opening song, Death With Dignity, “I don’t know where to begin”,  but ,suffice to say, I agree with Dave Eggers’s assessment of it as “an emotionally devastating masterpiece”.
Carrie’s death brought a sense of absence even though she was not a constant in her son’s life. She suffered from depression, schizophrenia, had bipolar disorder and was an alcoholic. On top of this, she also did drugs and had other substance abuse problems. It is not surprising that she was a difficult woman to get close to. Yet while the mother-son relationship was fraught and messy, these are songs of forgiveness not bitterness Continue reading

STILL ALICE  directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (USA, 2014)

This moving and sobering film is based on a bestseller by Lisa Genova. Her novel was initially self published after being rejected by numerous publishers who believed that readers would not be interested in such a depressing subject. Just goes to show what they know!

The movie vindicates Genova’s decision to choose a woman with an early onset of Alzheimer’s as a means showing the devastating effect of dementia on an active, otherwise healthy, individual’s life. This is a film about living with the disease rather than dying from it.

Catherine Shoard, writing in The Guardian, gets it spectacularly wrong when she says that the film “perpetuates the notion that dementia is more tragic when it affects the intellectual”. It does nothing of the kind.

The fact that Alice is a respected university professor of linguistics in no way suggests that the loss of communication would be any less devastating in a less prestigious job, as a film critic for example! Continue reading

BIRDMANBIRDMAN (OR ‘THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE’) directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (USA, 2014)

From the stylish opening credits and free-jazz drumming of Antonio Sanchez’s unorthodox soundtrack, this is a movie that is keen to make an immediate impression.

It is the kind of derring-do which could so easily have backfired and then been dismissed as nothing more than brash arty-fartiness. Yet Birdman postively revels in its showiness and having a excellent supporting cast, that includes Naomi Watts and Edward Norton in prime form, means that all the risks are calculated ones.

The story revolves around Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, one time celluloid superhero who now feels all too human as he approaches the third age. By adapting a Raymond Carver story for a Broadway show he wants revitalise his flagging career and, in the process, demonstrate that 60 is the new 30. Continue reading

PIRATE TEACHES MORALS

BLACKBEARD’S GHOST directed by Robert Stevenson  (USA, 1968)

blackbeard

What was your favourite movie when you were 10?

At that age, my tastes were strongly dictated by Disney so mine would have been a toss-up between Jungle Book and Blackbeard’s Ghost. The latter would probably have narrowly won by a hair of the dread pirate’s ragged whiskers.

Watching it again now, I can guess that one of main appeals was the way it pitched underdog outsiders against crooks and jocks.

It is based very loosely on real life 18th century pirate Edward Teach and a novel by Ben Stahl.

Blackbeard’s spirit has been wandering in limbo following a curse put on him by his aggrieved wife Aldetha as she was being burnt at the stake as a witch. Continue reading

BIRD CLOUD – A MEMOIR OF PLACE by Annie Proulx (Scribner, 2011)

birdcloud

Annie-ProulxPlace is a major part of Annie Proulx’s writing and life. Everything begins with the landscape.

However, as a  feature in The Guardian notes, she is scornful of the adage that you should write what you know. She has said: “All it produces is tiresome middle-class novels of people who I think are writing about things they know, but you wish to God they didn’t”.

Proulx is a late learner and was a thrice divorced 53 year-old woman when she wrote her first collection of short stories (Heart Songs). Five years later came her Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Shipping News. The film version of her short story Brokeback Mountain introduced her to an even wider audience.

My collection of Annie Proulx's books.

My collection of Annie Proulx’s books.

I am a big fan of her fiction and have made a point of buying any book of hers I see but this one turned out to be a big disappointment.

It is the account of an ambitious but ultimately misguided building project. The profits from her belated literary success was ploughed into what he hoped would be her dream home built on wild prairie land near a dramatic cliff in 640 acres of Wyoming, the least populous of the United States. Continue reading

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