Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gavin and Stacey

I'm not going to lie to you; it took me a while to make up my mind about Gavin and Stacey. It seemed to me neither one thing or another: neither drama nor full-on comedy; and its effort to be both must surely be too ambitious. However, the more of it I watched, the more I was being drawn in, and I grew to like the characters, despite myself. Its humour is quite subtle for the most part, though there are several 'laugh-out-loud' moments, and its humour derives mainly from the characters.
The main storyline is the meeting and rash marriage of Gavin and Stacey, from London and Barry (Wales) respectively, and how their families and friends interact with eachother. Ruth Jones and James Corden, the creators of this sitcom, play Nessa and Smithy, friends of the couple, who in turn become embroiled with eachother, adding an extra orbital link between the two families. Domestic dialogue is particularly strong Gavin and Stacey, and within the two families, we learn of their personal and cultural differences. This is very true to life, and allows us to identify with the various situations in which the characters find themselves, but because it focuses on humour, it doesn't become too heavy.
The characters are likeable for the most part, though personally, I find Uncle Brynn extremely annoying (all part of the comedy, I'm sure!) My favourite is Pam, Gavin's mother, who is played by Alison Steadman. She's loud, pretentious, a true drama queen, but warm behind it all. She plays 'hostess with the mostess' on several occasions, aiming at all costs, to make a good impression, which lands her in all sorts of trouble. On one occasion, her obsequiousness led her to feigning vegetarianism, much to her chagrin when she had to keep up this charade in later episodes. She is complemented by husband Mick, quiet and reasonable, who is a very good foil to Pam, as is the case with many comic couples, Hyacinth Bouquet and Richard coming quickly to mind.
So, 'what's occurring' with this comedy? I'll tell you what's occurring: it's 'well lush'! I have revised my initial opinion of it, and two seasons down, I'll be awaiting the third with anticipation!


Precious, a film based on the novel, ‘Push’ by Sapphire, tells the story of Clarisse Precious Jones, an obese fifteen year old girl, who has been subjected to horrendous abuse and neglect all her life. The film opens showing her life as it has always been, presenting us with scenes from her tortured life. At home, she is the victim of sexual abuse from her mother’s boyfriend, her own father, and is bearing a second child by him (the first, who has Down’s Syndrome, is cared for elsewhere by her grandmother). Her mother, a pathetic and angry individual, shows not an ounce of love for her daughter. Not only does she fail to protect her from her father’s violent attacks, but she even blames her for diverting his attention away from her. She verbally abuses her, makes her cook and serve her, and forces her to eat meals when she isn’t hungry, while she sits, day after day, in front of trashy T.V. shows. At school, Precious is ignored or mocked by her peers, never speaks, and feels invisible, despite crude comments on her physical body. Her second pregnancy means she has to leave, but is given the opportunity to enroll in a special educational programme for socially deprived youths. It is at this point that the story begins.

I felt emotionally drawn into the film, and the scenes are so well captured that the intensity and violence is palpable. The lighting in the home scenes was bleak, and cast with a reddish tinge, with the only colour from the rooted television set. Furthermore, there is a constant bubbling sound from the pot of pigs hooves that Precious is cooking, and the steam and simmer speak of the heated and violent relationship. Relationship is hardly an appropriate word, as Precious is completely passive, and the unfortunate recipient of whatever is thrown at her, both metaphorically and literally.

Precious meets her kindly new teacher, Ms. Rain, who cares for Precious like a daughter. Precious also forges friendships with her new classmates who accept her as she is. In the safety of the small class setting, she feels able to participate. On her first day, she claims that speaking makes her feel present: ‘I feel here’. Joining this school was her first independent decision, and as she learns to read and write, she is enabled towards further independence, which is her salvation. Writing also helps her to discover who she is, and to develop her identity.
Much of the film is tear-provoking, and a scene in the classroom, when Precious just discovers she’s HIV positive, and that she ‘ain’t loved by no-one’, is one such scene. Here, the teacher’s response is essential, and in a beautifully executed piece of drama, she asserts her love for Precious, and continually invokes her to ‘Write’, as this, as they are both aware, is the only way for Precious to unburden some of the abuse that she carries within, and to open herself up to being loved.

Her social worker, played by Mariah Carey, is quite an interesting character, and becomes the link between Precious and her mother, after Precious has moved out. While she genuinely has Precious’ best interests at heart, having discovered the incest to which she was subjected, such ingrained trauma is beyond the realm of her experience. Precious points this out before walking out of the office after a convincing emotional performance by her mother as she tries to justify her heinous behaviour. I thought this was quite an interesting point as it showed how subjective the experience of each family is, how deeply entrenched the dysfunction becomes, and how despite a well-meaning outsider’s best efforts, this experience can never be fully understood.

This is where writing comes in for Precious. By being taught to read and write, she can become the creator of her own destiny, build up an awareness of herself, and begin to cast off some of the layers of her past, in a bid to forge a brighter future.

Monday, February 15, 2010

'Thingamajig':exhibition at the Glucksman

At first, this seemed a very sparse, insubstantial exhibition, with a few seemingly unrelated objects occupying but a little space in two floors of the gallery. However, it was quite intriguing, with a few pieces in particular standing out. On that note, it's two days since I went to the exhibition, in which time I have processed some of what I saw, and those pieces that are strongest in my mind now, are clearly those that left the biggest impression.
The most fascinating piece, without a doubt, was an installation piece by two Swedish artists, in which they took objects from everyday life, such as candles, bottles, bags etc and set up a lengthy series of experiments involving cause and effect, managing to connect them all in what resulted in a transfixing piece of viewing. We stood watching from the beginning, a ball-chain slowly rotating, eventually tipping off a black sack to rotate from the pole on which it was hung, and after about ten minutes of enthralled watching, both decided we had to see how it ended. So, we watched, agape, as it slowly continued its journey to...? Well, I'm not going to'll just have to make it your business to go and see for yourself!
Another interesting item was that of the videos recounting the story of Ford boxes. Ford, a large factory in Cork until 1984 was not only responsible for making cars but also car parts that had to be contained so as to be assembled elsewhere. And so the Ford boxes became a by-product of Ford’s production methods. These boxes, which were also used in the shipping business, were waterproof, so were quite a valuable resource to anyone at the time seeking building materials. So, indeed, they were used, despite furtive appropriation methods, by innovative locals, often with a connection to the Ford or Dunlop factories. These houses still remain today, and their inhabitants were interviewed to tell their story.
Random items that contained 'found' objects put to valid use were also included, showing the innovation of their creator, elevating their status to that of 'art'. Such items included a telephone used as a mains adapter, an umbrella handle used as a lever in a welding device and golf tees used as tuning pegs in an Irish harp.
Videos, made by local broadcasters were also shown, one that sought to answer: Is Ireland clean? 'Indeed Ireland is beautiful', it said, 'but is Ireland clean?' It was rather amusing actually, to see the effort that went into answering this question, and also interesting to see the old footage, especially when it was so local, for example old parking discs, the old stripy HB signs outside shops...
The exhibition gave due recognition to everyday objects, items that surround us, but whose story would never be known if someone didn't take the trouble to ask. It shows how completely separate objects, often rubbish, can be creatively fused with others to make something great. And it demonstrated the principals of cause and effect: everything happens for a reason, things can have many uses, and how cultural boundaries are continually shifting as we see the interconnectedness of everything and everyone.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Conversations with Other Women

I watched this film as it was one that was lying around the house for a long time, looking vaguely interesting, but obviously not enough to engage my time before now. With Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham-Carter as the two leads, I figured it must be worthwhile.

The style of this film is what makes it stand out as ‘a bit different’ as we are presented with two screens simultaneously, with a different aspect in each: at times, we are just shown the characters in the present time from a different angle, at other times, we are given a scene from the past, meant to represent the character’s thoughts at the time. This is a very interesting device as it allows us into the inner world of the character, and also gives the interaction between the two main characters much more credence: the way in which the character’s mind is elsewhere during their conversation very much replicates the way our mind darts from one thing to another, and how memory can be triggered in a vast range of ways.

The story tells of a former husband of wife, estranged for many years, who meet up at the husband’s sister’s wedding, for which the [wife] was asked, last minute, to stand in for the seventh bridesmaid who failed to turn up. Both the man and woman have since moved on with their lives, but their relationship ended abruptly, leaving them both with a lot of emotional baggage, and questions that were never answered. From the outset, we are led to believe that these are strangers, meeting for the first time, but as the night unfolds, more and more about their characters, their past and their relationship is revealed, in a manner that is intriguing, leaving much to the imagination and keeping us engaged during parts of the conversation that are otherwise dull and tedious. I think this is done purposefully for two reasons: firstly, it is more true to life that a conversation between two people with such a distant past is never going to roll off the tongue, as it were, but rather be more awkward, fragmented and uncomfortable. And secondly, the tedium of the conversation brings us into real time, so we are drawn into the experience of the characters.

The way in which this film was directed was very creative, and really worked well for this particular film, whose screenplay was sensitively devised and characters skilfully portrayed