Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween, dears.

Scariest attempts to act -
Kyle McLachlan, "Blue Velvet"
Scarlett Johansson, "Lost in Translation"
Keira Knightley, POTC
Emma Watson, all Harry Potter movies, especially "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"

Ebert's all time top 10.

1. Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog) [yes]
2. Apocalypse Now (Coppola) [Meh]
3. Citizen Kane (Welles) [sooooooooooooo overrated and boring. Sorry, but it is!]
4. Dekalog (Kieslowski) [bah]
5. La dolce vita (Fellini) [masterpiece]
6. The General (Keaton) [Yeah, decent]
7. Raging Bull (Scorsese) [slightly overrated, imo]
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick) [I detest Kubrick, Lolita's his only acceptable film.]
9. Tokyo Story (Ozu) [yes]
10. Vertigo (Hitchcock) [yes]

My thoughts: "meh".

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"You know you love me. gossip girl. xoxo"

I’ve been at a sleepover at a friend’s house for the past day and a bit, and she had the first five episodes of gossip girl downloaded, this American TV programme that “Manhattan’s elite” through their daily lives of school, boyfriends and partying. Based on the extremely popular novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, it revolves around Serena van der Woodsen, a former it girl and popular New York socialite who has been on hiatus for 6 months and returned to the city to be with her younger brother, who has just attempted suicide. However, coming back is never as easy as it seems, and she has more than a bit of explaining to do to her best friend Blair, whom she left without a goodbye. [The reason for Serena’s departure is revealed soon enough, don’t worry.]

gossip girl could be likened to The O.C. for several reasons - the protagonists are rich, almost numb with money, and for that it is initially quite difficult to connect with them. Josh Schwartz produced both. Blair, in particular (played well by Leighton Meester) is highly reminiscent of Summer in her early stages in The O.C., judging people purely by their riches and social status, and perfectly willing to use people for her own means. Serena is a lot more likeable, and Blake Lively (who played the besotted teenager on sports camp in The Sisterhood of The Travelling Pants) plays her well. The supporting cast also include more than its fair share of attractive male stars, from the actors who play Nate, to Dan, to Serena’s younger brother (don’t know any of their names.)

To add to the eye candy, the clothes are an absolute feast. Here are kids who clearly know what colours are slimming and what not to wear, because in every frame of the show, everyone looks spectacular. The music is good too, with usages of “The Way I Am” from Timbaland and “Happy Ending” from Mika to contribute to the hip, happening style of the show.

But the icing on the cake is the narration from the eponymous gossip girl, an anonymous writer of a blog that dishes all the dirt on everyone in Manhattan. Voiced with a biting scathe by Veronica Mars’ Kristen Bell, you hold on to every word she says. And honestly, this show is everything an aspiring property-owner-in-Chelsea looks for, it has fashion, it has scandal, it has cute lads, and it even has moments of poignancy.

So, yeah. When this show gets aired in the UK, I recommend it. C’est très très chic!

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And to end with, some icons for today.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Explore the varied ways in which Rose Tremain presents the situation and its possible impact on the reader. You should support your answer with close reference to the text.

The entire passage contains just one scene, and contains a balance of dialogue and descriptions. It begins with an ominous description describing Celia “wrapped up in a cloak”, as “her long hair fell loose on her face, like a curtain”. These images have connotations of darkness and suffering, and foreshadows the atmospheric qualities of the scene that are to follow. By using images of a “lighted candle” and descriptions of the coldness, Tremain effectively draws in the reader and creates an ambiance of ambiguity as to the events and speech that is to follow.

Celia speaks to the narrator in whispers of “great urgency” and tells him that “Your bird is dying”, which accentuates to the bleak atmosphere already created. We learn from Celia that the narrator is a physician, and that only he can save the bird. This contributes to the sense of danger, and we realise that the narrator is integral to the plot.

We are made aware of the time period when we learn that the narrator “forgot to wind [his] timepiece”, as well as the fact that he works for the King. Tremain hints at tension when she writes, “if I had been the King, I would have had a diversity of clocks to choose from”. The narrator writes this in brackets perhaps because it is an obvious fact, yet he chooses to state it anyway, which could be a sign of resentment or even mocking at the King’s wealth, as opposed to the squalor in which the narrator lives in, where the night is “so cold that [he] can see [his] breath by the candle.” This image contributes to the sense of discomfort in which the narrator lives, and the candle imagery is sustained from before. This alerts the reader to perhaps later danger, as the fire has links with danger.

The word “candle” is repeated again, as Celia is said to have “fled” from the room. Again, this sustains the tension and pace of the extract, as well as prefiguring the upcoming violence. We are then taken into the narrators thoughts regarding Celia, “I wondered why in the world Celia had been looking at my bird in this peculiar hour”, and we as the reader feel that something is not right. However, when the narrator reveals “I was more puzzled by this than filled with worry for my bird”, we come to realise that the narrator has strong feelings towards Celia, and in this passage, there will be three players – Merivel, Celia, and the nightingale.

In describing the nightingale, Tremain uses language of vulnerability to evoke the pain felt by it, such as “fallen over” and “feebly flapping.” It can be argued that like the poor conditions in which Merivel lives, the bird is equally poor and weak. However, amidst the bird suffering, “legs in the air”, it is interesting that the narrator’s focus is with Celia, “I was so utterly astonished that she should appear to care so much”, showing that his feelings for her overtake his regard for the pet. This adds an extra psychological edge to the passage, and it is interesting that in a time where his pet is suffering, the narrator feels “astonishment” as his primary emotion.

Tremain successfully conveys the suffering felt by the nightingale through the usage of colour imagery, especially in showing how it was and how it is – the “clouded” eye, usually “bright” and “marigold”. Further compassion is felt for the nightingale when the narrator asserts, “I know not what is to be done”, which suggests the futility in attempting to aid him. Merivel, who concentrates on his own shortcomings, “Starved of sleep”, he seems to show a surprising lack of interest in the nightingale, and this is contrasted starkly to Celia’s urgent worry – “Then try something! Get out your instruments!”

Ironically, it is Celia’s urgency that inspires Merivel to save the nightingale. We as the audience see his thought processes, “If I could save the bird, I would no doubt earn a little respect from her”, and his intentions are apparent. It is now that the action truly begins, and Tremain marks this with a litany of objects- “I returned with a strong physic, a senna and rhubarb preparation, some linen bandages.”

Tremain marks out Celia as different from the stereotypes of women in the time when she shows her stronger qualities – “Celia did not flinch.” It is likely that these are the type of qualities that drew the narrator to her. In the description of saving the bird, the imagery of light is uses once again – “we worked by three candles”, to accentuate the “shadowy” conditions in which Merivel is working in, as well as, perhaps his “shadowy” knowledge of the bird’s physiology. This creates a sense of impending doom, not only for the fate of the bird, but for Merivel as well.

Bizarrely, the narrator comments that “A stranger entering the room would have assumed that we were at cards or dice”, as the tension conjured in this scene could easily be present in a game of cards or dice. However, the scenario here is completely different. The nightingale is described to “kicked its legs”, but calms itself once within Celia’s hands. This suggests that she bears peaceful characteristic, which again could be something that attracts her to the narrator. Celia also reveals that “[she] is concerned for the bird, for if it should die, [she] cannot but feel some misfortune that may follow”, which shows her to be practical. This also raises the question to the audience as to what the misfortune may be.

Celia believes the nightingale to be a gift from the King, when we learn that it was in fact a bribe, and not from the King. This somewhat justifies the apathetic attitude that Merivel has shown the nightingale. Merivel interestingly chooses not to correct Celia about where the nightingale comes from, because he “did not wish Celia to desert me in the middle of it”, showing that our previous suspicions about Merivels’ feelings toward Celia may indeed be correct.

Tremain then reveals some technical information about the scene, and the description of the blood-letting is highly evocative, with short, staccato words describe the process. The lack of hope felt by Merivel and Celia is apparent, through words such as “anxiety”, “piteously” and “exceedingly tragic.” By now, the audience should feel pathos toward both the nightingale and the two attending it. A particularly haunting image used is “Celia picked it up and held it close to her face, trying to feel its heartbeat.” This evokes ideas of birth and a human dying, and intensifies the tragedy of this scene.

After this attempt to save the nightingale comes time for reflection. Celia asks Merivel a question that clearly touches a nerve, and it leads to a heated conversation, so much so that Merivel tells us “I shall spare you the little discourse that followed”, one that left him “deeply vexed.” However, even in his feelings of annoyance, he “does not wish to wound Celia.”

Autumn time, and the living is cold.

For some reason, during autumn, I get into a certain “mood” where I’m at a state of malaise unless I watch certain movies. Here they are:

I love him!

- A Common Thread (this movie just missed my top 100 cut.)
Claire Moutiers is an emotional, different teenager with a head full of curly pre-Raphaelite hair a serious predilection for embroidery. She also happens to be pregnant. The film follows her journey as she gives up her humdrum job in a supermarket to work for famous sequinist Mme. Mélikian, who is mourning the loss of her son. Directed with meticulous detail by Éléonore Faucher and with gorgeous scenes of the two women working on a piece of embroidery, A Common Thread is quite slow-moving and definitely goes with its own pace, but it’s a seriously beautiful movie encompassing themes such as maternity, creation and loneliness. Lola Naymark is terrific as the mercurial, feisty lead, and you find yourself rooting for her throughout, even if you don’t know her that well. And there is an insanely beautiful/sexy scene where the love interest (played by Thomas Laroppe) kisses a highly pregnant Claire near a tree which is pretty much my highlight of the whole movie. My mundane description of the kiss does it no justice at all, you need to go and see it!

- A Streetcar Named DesireWhen I first saw this film in 2003, I completely fell head-over-heels in love with Marlon Brando, the art of acting, and movies. Having studied the text for English Literature AS and had to sit an exam on it (“Stella is also a victim. Discuss.”), I feel I know the text quite well, and am truly amazed with what Brando did with Stanley. Actually, in many ways, he presented Stanley in too nice a light; in several scenes he lacks the edge of maliciousness that Stanley Kowalski had in the novel and his choice to tell Mitch seems more about Blanche’s history seems to genuinely be out of concern for his mate rather than a personal vindication, but, considering all the moral codes of the 50s, Elia Kazan really manages to stay as true to the play as he can, and the film contains two of the best male and female performances of all time. Plus, as I said, Brando is rather buff.

- Finding Nemo
I’m actually kinda ashamed to admit that when I first saw Finding Nemo, I wasn’t overly taken with it. But now, I have it in my top 20 and consider it one of the cutest films of all time. My extended review of it can be found here, but there are several things I love about it:
a) the message of the importance of family.
b) Thomas Newman’s eargasmic score.
c) Dory!
d) The beautiful animation.
e) Etc.

- Breakfast at Tiffany’sWe had my favourite actor, now let’s talk about my favourite actress, the Goddess that is Audrey Hepburn. Breakfast at Tiffany’s has everything that I love about New York, Henry Mancini's score is a classic (Audrey singing Moon River is one of the most iconic moments in cinema), and 99% of the supporting players are likeable (Mickey Rooney is my second least favourite Rooney of all time; his “performance” is a joke.) I need to watch this movie every year, to pamper to Holly in myself.

- Far from Heaven
I love the lushness and richness of the set design so much in this movie that I have to watch this every October to relate to the falling leaves and glorious colours in the movie (it never works, I live in London, for God’s sake. :P) Technicals aside, this is also one of my favourite movies for emotional reasons; the story of Cathy Whitaker, the “perfect wife” whose life slowly falls apart in front of her as she discovers of her husband’s interest in men is heartbreaking as it is engrossing, and Julianne Moore transcends as Cathy, giving one of my favourite performances of all time. She’s a joy to watch from start to finish, and in particular, he scenes 24’s Dennis Haysbert tingle erotically with the unsaid. Oh, and Elmer Bernstein’s score is, as my Maths teacher would say, “well good!”

- Autumn Sonata
A truly magnificent film, and I love it more than many if Bergman’s more critically acclaimed ones, such as The Seventh Seal. A powerful and almost unbearable tense drama on family, inadequacy and playing the piano, Liv Ullman is so incredible that she even outshines Ingrid Bergman. The late night showdown between the mother (Bergman) and Ullman (daughter) is one of the most painful and draining scenes in cinema history. Yeah, recommended!

So, now it’s over to you – what movies do you like to watch during the Autumn?.

48. They Live by Night (Nicholas Ray, 1948)

Monday, October 22, 2007

49. The Road Home (Zhang Yimou, 1999).

A truly beautiful movie.

Speaking of reasons to be proud to be Chinese, just watch this. Have you ever seen someone so talented?

P.S. - I still want my readers' Facebooks!

Is Jimmy Gatz “just a big bootlegger” in The Great Gatsby or does Fitzgerald expect us to judge him more sympathetically than Tom?

Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1924, The Great Gatsby is a satirical look at the Jazz age, when the Rich’s endless partying and high-living would soon lead to disaster, which it did, in the form of the Wall Street crash. Many of the rich lives depicted did not earn their wealth through honest work; the Jazz age was notorious for its opening of the Black Market. The titular Jay Gatsby was one of these; Tom Buchanan was not. However, the writer expects us to judge Gatsby with more compassion than Tom, and for us to accept that it’s not just the job that makes the man.

The narrator of the novel is Nick Carraway, a seemingly honest, and at the start, rather naïve character, from the West, where the people led fair and simplistic lives. His first impressions of Gatsby are of him as a mysterious, popular, glamorous person:
“In his gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”
Fitzgerald uses repetition of “and” to inform us of how much of everything there were as well as imagery to describe the food at the party, tantalising our taste buds and stirring our smells, applying heavy sensory appeal. Chapter III in The Great Gatsby features one of the most well-known descriptions in American literature, using metaphors, similes, and personification to romanticise the parties that Gatsby held:
“The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music”
Nick pines to be invited to one of the Gatsby’s parties, so that he can meet the secretive man. At the moment the writer is far from feeling sorry for him; they are entranced by him.

Tom is presented in a less flattering way. On Nick’s first meeting with him in the book, the words “supercilious” and “arrogant,” are used, showing Tom to be somewhat of a snob, a suspicion further proved as he shows off to Nick about his belongings, house, and lastly his wife Daisy. Daisy Fay Buchanan herself is somewhat of a mystery. She is very beautiful, and Nick, her cousin, acknowledges this. But Nick, though his inexperience, also knows that Daisy is more intelligent than she lets on, and some of her actions are purposely to entice:
“I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her.”
Women who knowingly seduce are usually manipulative and mercenary; Nick is allured into Daisy’s world, but Fitzgerald subtly reminds us to be careful about her. Nick’s dislike towards Tom increases, as everything Tom says is either pretentious smooth talk he has stolen from a book, or sexist and racist remarks:
“The idea is if we don’t like out the white race will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”
His desire to prove himself to Nick constantly shows that he has an insecure edge, rather like a bully. The reader dislikes him immediately.

Although his work in organized crime gives Gatsby an edge of criminality, one of the main reasons he is a much more likeable character than Tom is his justification towards his illegal profession: love. Gatsby is, and always has been, in love with Daisy. Daisy had loved Gatsby, but when he left for the war, she found herself marrying Tom for two main reasons – she wanted money, and she could not wait five years for Gatsby. Despite this, Gatsby waits for her. He buys his mansion at its position so that he can be near Daisy, throws lavish parties in the hope that she shows up, and befriends Nick when he learns that he’s related to her. Love can make people do odd things, and as Gatsby has gone to such lengths to fulfil his thirst for her, it seems fair that he is reunited with Daisy. He had innocent goal which he hoped to achieve, but could only achieve by being corrupt, which is contradictory, like life itself. So Gatsby shouldn’t be blamed too much, instead he should be rewarded for being so loyal, a reward in the form of Daisy Buchanan.

Most bootleggers are driven by the motive of avarice, making them appear hateful but Jay Gatsby is not a greedy person. He is friendly and polite, and very patient, who even waits before asking Nick for his help:
“He had waited five years and brought a mansion so that he could “come over” some afternoon to a strangers garden.”
Gatsby is willing to wait all the time in the world for Daisy, as well as going to extreme lengths such as planning his home to be near her. He doesn’t even consider any other women, rejecting their advances immediately: “Gatsby’s very careful about women.” This is contrasting from Tom, who has many infamous “sprees.” Gatsby is instantly likeable, Tom, instantly dislikeable.

Unfortunately, Daisy’s husband Tom is a hulking, violent brute. Although Tom feels possessive of Daisy, he doesn’t make it clear enough to her than he cares about her until it is almost too late. He indulges in many affairs, and his latest, Myrtle Wilson. She is jealous of Daisy and craves to be like her, especially in the company of other people, she behaves as if she is the queen, and is surrounded by servants:
“The she flounced over to the dog, kissed it with ecstasy, and flounced into the kitchen, implying that a dozen chefs awaited her orders there.”
Nick finds out that evening about Myrtle and Tom’s crumbling marriages, causing the reader to question whether or not Daisy does herself deserve someone better, as an argument breaks out and Tom, rather drunkenly and angrily breaks Myrtle’s nose. This confirms what Daisy had earlier said about her husband being a “brute.” Earlier on, he had been menacing to Daisy, and now he is to Myrtle. As Nick continues to dislike Tom, so do we. Tom is corrupt from his riches, a common trait of rich in 1920s America. In fact, had this story occurred one hundred years earlier, it may have had a happy ending, but not in the 1920s, where rich girls do not marry poor boys.

In Chapter VII, the turning point of The Great Gatsby, everything, including the weather, is symbolic of emotions running. At the start, Daisy and Gatsby behave like a newly wedded couple, displaying their affections for each other any time Tom isn’t present. But then they travel into town and into a hotel room, where Tom reveals that he knows about Daisy’s affair with Gatsby, and he is furious about it:
“I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr Nobody from nowhere make love to your wife.”
However, Fitzgerald does not expect us to have any sympathy for him. Tom is a hypocrite to complain, as he has had more than enough affairs, despite being married to Daisy. What follows is a bitter and revealing confrontation between Gatsby, Daisy and Tom, as Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy is planning on leaving him, and that she never loved him, while Daisy uses her delicate demeanour to avoid speaking to Tom seriously about it. He is shocked:
“Not the time I carried you down from the Punch Bowl to keep your shoes dry?”
It is here that he is presented as a feeling, loving human for the first time in the book. However, this is short-lived as Tom reveals that Gatsby is a bootlegger, almost as his last resort, and all of a sudden, Daisy isn’t as interested in Gatsby, because his job could cause danger to her. This shows that Daisy is a manipulator, and will stay and go as she pleases, without any consideration for people’s feelings.

Gatsby’s love for Daisy is pleasant and innocent enough, but his thinking that she would divorce Tom and marry him is idealistic, delusional, wishful thinking. He goes out of his way to make things perfect for her:
“The whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes.”
In the end he risks his own life to make sure she is happy, in the case of the car crash that killed Myrtle, which had Daisy behind the wheel. Gatsby says:
‘“I told Daisy I thought so. It’s better that the shock should come all at once. She stood it pretty well.”
He spoke as if Daisy’s reaction was the only thing that mattered.’
This is quite poignant, but it presents Gatsby as a doormat, for Daisy to walk all over as she pleases. Cars were a prominent fashion accessory in the 1920s and accidents caused by coupes would be frequent. However, many people were reckless with driving, which lead to many accidents. The car accidents in the novel are caused by the lack of caution from all that owned cars, the careless rich.

Sadly, Gatsby dies. Wilson, who believes that Gatsby was having an affair with his wife, murders him. Myrtle was indeed having an affair, but with Tom. In this sense, Gatsby’s death is paying for Tom’s mistakes, which Nick, along with the reader, feels is very unjust. But what makes it the epitome of injustice is the fact that Wilson, in a state of grief and despair, went to Tom’s house, thinking it was his yellow car than ran over his wife, and planning to kill him. Tom directs Wilson into Gatsby’s direction, knowing that Gatsby would die as a result. Nick wanders if Tom knew that it was Daisy who drove the car, and this is a question left in the air, for the reader to ponder over.
There are some parallels between Wilson and Gatsby that indirectly cause sympathy for both characters – their physical appearances are similar; they are both in love with women who are wrong for them, and they both die for love. The main difference between Wilson and Gatsby is that Wilson made a living from honest work, yet they both ended by dying a death as sticky and miserable as each others, so what is also implied is that in the Jazz age, wealth did not mean happiness, peace of mind did.

After he dies, the only people present at Gatsby’s funeral other than Nick and his father is Owl Eyes, a tiny procession, nothing like the size of Gatsby’s parties. Even Gatsby’s instructor into the corrupt world, Meyer Wolfshiem, is reluctant to speak to Nick about events, and when he does, he refuses to show up at the funeral. Daisy does not even write Nick a little, and when people call, Nick assumes they are calling to ask for details about the funeral, but this is yet another naïve thought – Klipspringer calls because he left a pair of shoes at Gatsby’s house. This is another example of how he was used, and since his demise, forgotten.
Henry Gatz’s adoration and fascination with all things related to his son is another way that the writer creates sympathy for Gatsby’s character. Gatz is poor, nothing like Gatsby appeared to be, yet we know that Gatsby was born into a family like this, and worked hard to get where he did. Nick uses emotive language on describing him for the first time, “helpless and dismayed,” and “bundled up in a long cheap ulster,” for us to pity him, thus, pitying Gatsby. Furthermore, when Gatz speaks about Jimmy’s childhood, it accentuates his potential, manners, and, though Jimmy Gatsby was never heavily condemned before for being a bootlegger, the few actions of his father completely relieve him of those indictments.
Before the funeral, Gatsby, real name Gatz’s, father reveals a schedule of his from when he was a young boy, revealing to-dos such as to stop smoking and be better to parents. The list appears features some endearing and sweet missions, and just the action of keeping a “General resolves” list is beautiful, and, at this moment, nostalgically sad. When Gatz says, “Jimmy was bound to get ahead,” he’s absolutely right, yet, the reader wonders how much further Jay Gatsby would’ve gotten ahead if he hadn’t met Daisy at the party when he was a soldier, only to have her dazzle and ruin his life.

Towards the end, Nick sees Tom, at first Tom tries to justify everything he did, knowing this is why Nick is angry with him:
“He was crazy enough to kill me if I hadn’t told him who owned the car.”
But then his sense of arrogance kicks in, and he tells himself, more than Nick, that he did the right thing: “That fellow had it coming to him.” Nick does not accept this, but he realises that Tom does, so he shakes his hand, although he had not forgiven Tom. His last thoughts on Tom and Daisy are:
“They smashed up things or creatures and retreated back into their vast carelessness.”
Deluged with money, Tom and Daisy are selfish, hedonistic people who don’t take anything seriously enough and always have their riches to hide behind. This is representative of the East as a whole – rich, corrupt beings, leading empty, hollow lives. At this point the writer expects us to sympathise with Gatsby – someone with such ideas, manners, and potential deserved someone better than Daisy, whom he viewed as his Goddess, his muse, his inspiration behind everything he did, who left Tom for a brief while to have her fun with Gatsby, but returned back to him when there was a disaster, due to her carelessness.

One of the messages of the book is that, perhaps, America doesn’t give enough recognition to its soldiers who fought in the war. Tom didn’t even go into the war, instead sending someone on his behalf, while he earns his wealth. Gatsby did the honest thing and went, then needed to get hold of money after the war, and the easiest way for him seemed to be on the Black market. The Jazz Age was also known for its obsession with materialism, real, or false. Nick, who started out so naïve, has travelled a personal voyage of discovery, learning what is right and wrong. Out of all the main characters presented, Nick, is the one who is closest to achieving the true American Dream.

Gatsby was by no means perfect, yet Nick chooses his representation of him to veer on hagiographical, because he realises, that out of the shallow, superficial people he meets in his 30th year, Gatsby is probably the best version of a human being. The Great Gatsby asks many questions, one of which is: “What is the American dream, and does it really exist?” It incorporates ideas of “Rags to Riches,” as well as happiness and discovery. Gatsby came to America, seeking it. He never received it, instead receiving several bullets, which killed him in an instant. Another branch of the American Dream that still exists today was to aspire to better things, which Gatsby also did, and all of his ambitions involved Daisy, someone who in the end, duped and used him. Tom argues that he had it coming, but when the events are weighed out, Gatsby is a much more pleasant character than Tom, as well as a man of hidden depths, and had more morals than both the Buchanans put together; he was much more than “just a big bootlegger.”

Grumpy Autumn Evening Corner: Slough by John Betjeman.

I'm currently not in a very good mood, so I just thought I'd post one of the finest pieces of bitchery in poetry: Slough by John Betjeman, as read with disgust by The Office's David Brent:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who'll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women's tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It's not their fault that they are mad,
They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It's not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren't look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

· Slough, one of Betjeman’s most cutting poems, was published in 1937 in the collected works Continual Dew. Slough was becoming increasingly industrial and some housing conditions were very cramped. In willing the destruction of Slough, Betjeman urges the bombs to pick out the vulgar profiteers but to spare the bald young clerks. However, on the centenary of the poet's birth, Betjeman’s daughter apologised for the poem. Candida Lycett-Green said her father "regretted having ever written it". During her visit, Ms Lycett-Green presented Mayor of Slough David MacIsaac with a book of her father's poems. In it was written: "We love Slough"

· Slough is written in the conventional quatrain scheme, with rhyme pattern of AAAB. Betjeman’s usage of three rhymes in each stanza adds an ironic lyrical quality to a poem describing a place as “Hell” and the shorter fourth line of each stanza acts as a conclusion of the quatrain. These are shorter, using hard words such as “belch” and “yell” to add impact. Slough is divided into ten stanzas, showing there is plenty of information to convey about this area.

· Whereas many of Betjeman’s poems are about his love of topography, Slough expresses his hatred of this area. This is apparent from the beginning, where he asks for “friendly bombs, come fall on Slough.” The juxtaposition of “friendly” and “bombs” are ironic, and paint a Hellish image, of the area, and this is sustained with words like “Death”, “mess” and “Hell.” Furthermore, the imagery of the poem is violent and horrific, “They’ve tasted Hell”, and “dry it in the synthetic air”, further adding to the negativity of Slough.

· War imagery is rife, from the repetition of “tinned”: “tinned fruit, tinned milk, tinned bins”, which creates the image of rationing and constriction. Betjeman then personifies this with “tinned minds, tinned breath”, implying that it is not just the area that is bad, but the people too. His social satire continues when he mentions “that man with the double chin” and “the bald young clerks”, further continuing the “repulsive” description of Slough. The people, like the place, are conveyed violently, with repetitions of “smash”.

· However, Betjeman does not just satirise the appearances of these people, but also their personalities. They tell “boring dirty jokes” and are by his description “mad”, showing that the terrible state of Slough reflects in its residents, and that “it isn’t fit for humans now.” He describes the residents as uncultured, “It’s not their fault they do not know the birdsong from the radio”, and uses vulgar words to reflect the vulgarity of their actions, “belch” and even implies misogyny, “Who washes his repulsive skin in women’s tears.” Furthermore, Betjeman offers sarcastic sympathy to the “cheats” by repetition of the phrase “It’s not their fault”, which suggest the opposite, and that his derogatory comments to the people are deserved.

· Many of the key words and phrases in Slough deal with the superficial, which could be used to convey his dislike of change. He describes the banal actions with derision, “with care/Their wives frizz out peroxide” and “bogus Tudor bars”, which, relating to “tinned minds”, show the people’s inability to appreciate the better aspects of life. Instead of “see the stars”, they “belch.”

· The final stanza repeats the first line of the poem to accentuate the awfulness of it. When the last line, “the earth exhales” is completed, the reader feels the full sense of the “Hell” and repulsion that has been apparent throughout.

Sigh. I miss English Literature.

50. L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)

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