Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Volver and Dr Faustus

Christmas had always been a time of food for me, beginning with the arrival of a food Parcel from Gibraltar immediately after World War II, containing salami, olives sugared almonds, the two kinds of Turron, one almonds baked in egg white into a solid tooth breaking slab covered with a light white wafer, and the soft version of almond paste mixed with honey rather too sweet for my taste, and pulverones, a Spanish candy eaten especially at Christmas and also made from finely ground almonds, Ibérico shortening, sugar, and not much else, so they literally crumble in your mouth. They are made in different forms, with different tastes.

Christmas Dinner developed into a pattern with prawn cocktails where during my adult years my mother made her own sauce. This was followed by turkey and stuffing, cranberry jelly. hot baked ham, roast potatoes and other vegetables including Brussels sprouts. She would make her own Christmas pudding which included sixpenny and three penny pieces in old money and flamed, accompanied with mince pies and brandy sauce. There would be lemonade which later became and Pepsi/ coca cola. In later years I added wine usually an inexpensive sparking. The Christmas puddings were bought prepared and the Turkey changed to a large breast crown.

Christmas Day tea comprised salmon Sandwiches and Christmas Cake. There would be nuts in shell and chocolates to fill in the rest of the day

Boxing Day was cold meats, Turkey, Ham, Salami and pickles. Perhaps a baked potato wrapped in foil oozing with butter at its opening. Possibly Soup especially during the years when at Seaburn, Sunderland there was a walk along the sea front to where up to 1000 brave, mostly young people took a quick dip in the North Sea for Charity.

This year because of great defrost and cook on Christmas Eve the food at Christmas was different but not in its quality or quantity.

Christmas Day Breakfast comprised two small glasses of Asti and sixteen mini sausages wrapped in bacon.

Christmas Day lunch comprised slices of cold beef steak smothered in warm beef gravy and most of the rest of the bottle of Asti. There was a small individual Christmas pudding, a mince pie overpowered by a whole packet of thickly prepared custard, I usually have half a packet and the rest of the Asti. I had consumed a 96p box of chocolate covered nuts on Christmas eve, possible the day before, but I had rationed the thirty expensive chocolate coins in a small wooden box with metal clasp. There were rounds of chocolate made with Java cocoa from the lava planted hills 34%; There was Costa Rican cocoa 38% with its taste of Mocca and olives; The 43% Venezuela was just pure cocoa; the plain chocolate of Ecuador was 52% cocoa; that from San Domingo was 71% strong while the 85% from Ghana was very dark, strong and spicy. I had also rationed small Belgian chocolate cups filled with Praline, Champagne, Mocha, Caramel, and Pistache tasting soft chocolate.

Later there were slices of salami and some pieces of cold spiced Chicken breasts, a slice of cold smoked mackerel, a few olives stuffed with anchovy, a tiny tiny mounds of cheese topped with tiny tiny tiny pieces of olive, onion, basil and tomato, peppers, oregano and garlic. Some grapes and a slice of Vienetta Ice Cream

For boxing day there was time to finish the plate of coated chicken drum sticks, coasted spicy chicken breast pieces, and the second mini Christmas pudding and mince pie with a full packet of thickly prepared instant custard, before going to the match another repeated childhood experience. On return there was hot soup, and then a stir fry of onion, courgette, mange tout and the two remaining slices of beef steak chopped in pieces. There were a couple of slices of salami and ham for supper, a few olives stuffed with anchovy, a tiny tiny mounds of cheese topped with tiny tiny tiny pieces of olive onion, basil and tomato, peppers, oregano and garlic and some grapes. There was also the day’s ration of chocolate made with Java cocoa from the lava planted hills 34%; There was Costa Rican cocoa 38% with its taste of Mocca and olives; The 43% Venezuela was just pure cocoa; the plain chocolate of Ecuador was 52% cocoa; that from San Domingo was 71% strong while the 85% from Ghana was very dark, strong and spicy together with the ration of small Belgian chocolate cups with Praline, Champagne, Mocha, Caramel, and Pistache soft chocolate.

On the third day of Christmas there was a hot soup and two salmon fish cakes covered with a hot parsley sauce and a little of the fish, followed by a mince pie and a few grapes. Later there was a plate of four Jacobs biscuits for cheese, and although I did have four of the tiny tiny Italian mounds of cheese topped with tiny, tiny, tiny pieces of olive, onion, basil and tomato, peppers, oregano and garlic and some grapes, the crackers had thin slices of smoked salmon on them with twists of lemon and a few olives stuffed with anchovy and two slices of salami on the plate.

Later for the evening meal there was a pork chop followed by Vienetta ice cream and washed down with a Peroni Beer. There was also the day’s ration of chocolate made with Java cocoa from the lava planted hills 34%; There was Costa Rican cocoa 38% with its taste of Mocca and olives; The 43% Venezuela was just pure cocoa; the plain chocolate of Ecuador was 52% cocoa; that from San Domingo was 71% strong while the 85% from Ghana was very dark, strong and spicy together with the ration of small Belgian chocolate cups with Praline, Champagne, Mocha, Caramel, and Pistache soft chocolate.

Christmas also became a time for film and this year two will remain memorable. The first was a second viewing which only gained new appreciation and justified staying up until after 1 am for the start and going to A very different film was watched again overnight was the Almodóvar All About my mother 1999. Although as with the majority of Almodóvar films he has a fascination with characters at the edge of a conventional and conservative society still trying to break free from the rigid authority of a Spanish Catholic Church supported fascism. The characters in the film are all explored with a depth of understanding and complexity and the film is a serious study of loss and failure and our inability to repair the damage of mistakes and misjudgements. It is his best film, having experiences nearly all, and this includes the most recent and well known Volver 2006.

To-do Sobre my Madre, the mother in question came to Spain from Argentina with her husband who became a drug using bisexual, to the extent of dressing as a female and having the operation to develop breasts but retaining his manhood. Although part of his/her world the mother decides to run away from Barcelona for Madrid. when she becomes pregnant, without saying a word to her closest other friend also a male female who works the streets. The film opens on the 17th birthday of her son who is trying to become a writer and keeps a journal of his observations and experiences. To protect herself as much as her son, she tells him nothing of his father and their background life together, but takes him to see a contemporary version of the Tennessee Williams play A Street Car Named Desire in which she had played a major role as an amateur actress in her youth. The main character is played by an established actress whose face is seen on large poster hoardings, and the son persuades his mother to stand under an umbrella in the rain to get the autograph. The women leaves with another actress from the play in a taxi, a younger woman who is her lover and companion, and disappointed the young man rushes after vehicle and is knocked down by another and killed. The mother had agreed to tell the son about his father when they returned home.

If this was not tragedy enough, the mother has trained as a nurse and works as a coordinator in a transplant unit and gives consent for the organs of her son to be used to save other lives. She then misuses her position to find out where the heart has been transplanted and as a consequence knows she must leave the job and decides to return to Barcelona to try and find her former husband and tell him that he had a son who has died. This is not a cruel act but one of desperation to find someone who might share in her pain of her grief..

It is on return that the first twists in this melodrama occur. With the help of her former friend who she rescues from a violent assault while “doing business” she goes to visit the nun social worker at a clinic where the former husband had gone for help for drug addiction and then disappeared taking money and belonging of the best friend whose home the two male females had shared. The nun social worker is played by Penelope Cruz who played several alongside roles before coming to the fore in the Hollywood. She is about to go off on a mission to a central American country to replace massacred Sisters. She has no knowledge of the whereabouts of the former husband but has the idea of using the mother to help her own mother as a cook and as a nurse for her father who has severe memory loss. Thus apart from a member of the theatre company there are no normal men in this film which is often the way of Almodóvar whose work has concentrated on the characters, roles and relationships of women. She is rejected for this job but the nun turns to her for help (mothering), after admitting she is pregnant. The mother rejects unable to switch on again the role she has so cruelly lost especially when she finds that the nun is pregnant by her former husband. However she does offer help when the girl has complications and is diagnosed HIV positive thus emphasising that mothering once established tends to finds ways to continue alongside the other roles women are required to fulfil.

Finding the same company is performing the same play in Barcelona the mother not only experiences against the emotions of the night of her son’s death but attempts to see the actress at the very time the companion and performer has walked out on a drug spree. The mother takes on the position as assistant after finding the assistant, and then performs with great acclaim when the young actress is unfit to perform one evening. When the young actress recovers she turns on mother and this ends the job when the mother is forced to reveal the reasons of her original contact and the circumstances of the death of the son. The mother then devotes herself to the care of the nun who dies from the childbirth. Given the custody of the child she leaves again because of difficulties with the grandmother, but she returns after a couple of years, reconciles with the grand mother, finds her friend again and find her former husband who is dying of AIDS. She is able to introduced his son to him and share the grief of the death of their son.

In this film Almodóvar continues his use of vivid colours and cinematic references, All About Eve with Bette Davis and to the play. This is a brilliantly acted film with a brilliant adult script. You care about every character in this film with one exception, the only male male. Almodóvar dedicates his film "To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.

The contrast with the second memorable film experience could not be greater! I had not seen before The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe It is the first of the Narnia Chronicle series of stories by C S Lewis. I thought this was an excellently constructed film commencing with World War II and the four children, two boys and two girls are evacuated to the large country home of a reclusive professor and female fearsome housekeeper. The youngest girl goes into the wardrobe as part of a hide and seek game and makes her first entry into the frozen snow filled world of Narnia. She is then followed by the youngest brother on her next visit to see the fawn met on her first exploration. The rebellious brother always at odds with the older two meets the Witch who offers him a future if he brings his siblings to meet her. Following a cricket game in which a window is broken all four hide in the wardrobe and learn its secret entry into Narnia and the real adventure begins. The photography is beautiful and spectacular but not magical as in Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The adventure engages and will appeal strongly to the younger adolescent where once the adventure of Biggles and the Famous Five and Seven captured imaginations and influenced future lives.

It is a film about the eventual triumph of good against evil although its message for adolescents is terrifying but not unrealistic. You must learn to fight in order to save yourself and those you care most about, and for the greater good, and because it is can be the right thing to do in certain circumstances.

There were three other films to be mentioned. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor appeared at Oxford Playhouse in a production of Dr Faustus in 1966 by the Oxford University Drama Club. Elizabeth does not speak but looks expressively beautiful and naked not possible when Christopher Marlow had his play produced in 1588, given that all female parts were then played by males.

The 1967 film is in effect the stage play with cinema effects This was not a great performance for Burton whereas the Oxford student playing Mephistopheles was acclaimed. Andreas Teuber went on to become a Philosopher and is present an associate professor at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, USA although he has had guest appearances in TV shows such as I spy and the Big Valley.

The odd film of the holiday was Otley with the excellent British Actor Tom Courtney and a host of subsequent names including Leonard Rosittor, James Bolam and Freddie Jones. Romy Schneider plays a female James Bond character. Tom plays a sixties thief with friends who are in intelligence unknown to him, and who grow weary of providing hospitality and which in the last instance, leads to his being present at a murder and a complex chase mystery film involving various parties who one cares little about. The real villain is a senior figure in the counter intelligence service who is responsible for the setting up of a rogue agency designed to help feed disinformation. When things start to go pear shaped as one person changes sides, the inevitable happens as all traces of this situation have to be eliminated if the man is to get his knighthood which he does before pressed into retirement. Tom Courtney is very convincing as some one who when caught up in the big time tries to run a mile and get himself locked up rather than be killed. He is forced into helping the authorities survives and returns to his former life and loves as the film ends thus adding some reality.

The final film is a heavier dose of reality about the defeat of the French in then Indo China, the war to keep Algeria French. It is a story told through ambition of Anthony Quinn, a French peasant farmer who has risen to become an officer much to the dissatisfaction of the professional officers of the French army which still regarded the officers as representing the upper class of the Republic. Quinn plays the hero creative leader who keeps his men together and alive after their capture at Dien Bien Phu until the Armistice becomes official.

The war had gone on for eight years from 1946 with horrendous casualties on both sides with France losing over 75000 men and nearly the number wounded with an estimated 40000 captured, half of whom following the battle at Dien Bien Phu. The people of Indo China which covered what is now Vietnam Laos and Cambodia lost over 300000 dead more than half a million wounded and 100000 captured, Vietnam was divided at the 17th Parallel and this decision led to the involvement of the South and the Vietnam War and to the eventual USA departure. So much killing over so many years so what was achieved?

Following repatriation Anthony Quinn’s regiment is abandoned but after taking up the suggestion of staff officer regimental historian who joins the front line and is captured and who write a report commending his leadership, Quinn visit the widow of the General who had fallen at the battle, played by Michelle Morgan and through her connections he is given a command in Algeria. Here he finds that the local insurrectionists is a former colleague and officer under his command in Indo China. The Arab Officer is played by George Segal, I kid you not, whose brother is killed for daubing independence slogans after curfew and who becomes an actions after losing the family home and business because of their associations with the ruling French. The methods of both sides moves further and further away from the standards attempted through the Geneva convention, and Quinn is forced to take stronger and stronger methods in order to save his command and become a General. A sub plot is the relationship between the staff officer historian played by Alan Delon and the sister of the Algerian freedom fighter, played by Claudia Cardinale who is a bomb planting terrorist, At the end of the film while Quinn and his officers are being honoraria for their victory, Alan Delon leaves horrified by the tactics being used and being conned by Claudia. As he leaves the barracks he watches Algerians being forced to clean up an Independence slogan of a nearby wall, only then discover others painting new slogans a few yards away. What did France gain? What did the rest of humanity lose?

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