RANT AND RAVE Hilary Term 2013 Inside: Reviews, Opinions, Literary Criticism & more
Contents EDITOR’S NOTE
WHY I HATE AWARDS CEREMONIES
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
12 YEARS A SLAVE
THE CITY & THE CITY
A BECKETTIAN CINDERELLA STORY
OH BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?
DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB
Editor: Molly Rowan-Hamilton Co-editors: Tanya Sheehan & William Brady Design: Clara Murray PRO: Alicia Byrne Keane Featured lecturer: Daragh Downes
Renegades: Cathal Kavanagh Claire O’Brien Emily Daly Hugo Lau Jack Looby Maud Sampson Sorcha Gannon Tiana M. Fischer
been preoccupied here at The W e’ve Rant and Rave over the controversy that surrounded The Abbey last month. Critics claim that the theatre has failed to live up to its supposed mandate to provide a ‘world- class’ theatre for Ireland. The dispute stems from the Arts Council, which awards more funding to the national theatre than it does to any other arts project in Ireland. Understandably, those in Ireland’s artistic sphere who have done less fortunately from the Arts Council’s purse, as well as the Council itself, are yapping at the heels of the theatre, desperate to hold it to account. In an attempt to do just this, a panel was established to judge 12 productions produced by the theatre. During this they found only 4 to be of ‘excellent/good’ level, and each of the three critics rated only 1 play they saw as ‘world-class’. This, of course, is seen as a damning report on the standard of productions created by the theatre. Several factors have struck me in this issue. Primarily, the criticism seems to forget The Abbey’s simultaneous aim stated in its mandate: to facilitate theatre that ‘actively engages with and reflects Irish society’. Although a somewhat less
ambitious aspiration, it is perhaps a more worthy one. What the decriers of the theatre are failing to acknowledge is the other expectations on a national theatre: to promote new talent, both in front of and behind the curtain, to perform Irish repertoire and to manage the national archive. Additionally, The Abbey’s funding looks poor in comparison to other national theatres, for example The National Theatre in London. The former’s grant was cut to €600,000 this year, but in comparison, the National Theatre in London receives £17.4 million per annum. Taking this into account seems only to increase the achievement of The Abbey’s theatrical attainment. Finally, the arbitrary standard of ‘world- class’ is perhaps a poor choice of phrase. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that ‘in my reviews, I feel it’s good to make it clear that I’m not proposing objective truth, but subjective reactions’. Although a somewhat obvious assertion, it is crucial in this instance to remember that art is fundamentally subjective, which casts doubt over whether one can ever judge something to be ‘world class’.We must be wary about the strength of opinion [cont.]
ILLUSTRATION: CLARA MURRAY
in relation to any artistic endeavour and not forget that it is just that: the opinion of an individual, which should never be blanketed as the opinion of many. At the end of ‘Awards Season’, this seems a particularly relevant assertion, and something discussed in further depth in Hugo Lau’s article later on in this issue. Contrary to criticism, I feel The Abbey is due a round of applause. Since its foundation during the Celtic Renaissance, it has continued to be a driving force behind Irish theatre, particularly when its broader context is acknowledged,
encompassing the different roles and responsibilities of a national theatre.Let’s hope this may continue for many years to come. As we start to look for a new editorial team, I’d like to encourage every one of our readers to get involved. It’s a hugely fulfilling job, and I cannot stress how exciting it is to be part of growing publication, which has, I’m sure you’ll agree, so much potential. I wish our successors all the luck in the world, and I hope that our followers, readers and contributors continue to be as supportive and encouraging as they’ve proved to be for us this year. Enjoy this issue, Lots of love, Molly Rowan Hamilton Editor
Why I Hate Awards Ceremonies Hugo Lau
ello embittered readers of the Rant and Rave, Thank you for taking a moment of your time to read my little ditty. I hope it makes you smile, makes you think, and maybe even makes you want to buy me a pint (because that means we would be friends. And friends are nice, you know… when will this loneliness be over?). Let me preface this rant by saying that I am aware of its status as ‘entirely unoriginal’. This is a point Woody Allen (who’s he?) and various others have been making for years. We all know how awful awards are, right? And yet, we all continue to be enthralled every Oscars’ Season, every ISDA, every CSC Awards, every BAFTAs, Grammys, Gloden Golbes (that was an unintentional type-o, but it made me laugh so I kept it in) and so on and so on – there so many of the things! Awards are evil things because they encourage us to believe that there is an objective measurement for things that there is no objective measurement for – a way to quantify things that ought to remain unquantifiable. When Daniel Day-Lewis wins an Oscar for Best Actor, it is because an arbitrary group of people liked him the best out of the actors in the movies they wanted to watch that year. Actually. No, I’m not being facetious, that is ACTUALLY the reason. But for some reason we continue
to believe that because this gaggle of humans get to give a shiny thing to the actor they liked the best, this means that he was the doubleplusgood actor last year – that his performance was quantifiably plusgood than every other actor that year (cheeky bit of Newspeak there, just to drive my point home). And there’s something a bit messed up about that, you know? It’s misleading, and it turns the whole art form into an episode of The X-Factor. Why can’t we just revel in the beauty of this thing that is still unquantifiable, in a world where everything is increasingly allocated a price tag? Now, there are things that I find laudable about Awards. They can be an opportunity for more people to find out about the achievements of others, and to discover films and plays and talents that they would not otherwise have discovered. It’s a chance to congratulate people for their achievements. “Nice one Daniel Day-Lewis, you did good, kid.” It’s a chance for us to enjoy a spectacle of pretty people wearing nice clothes and clapping and pretending to be themselves instead of other people. So, as long as we remember that winning ‘Best Actor’ doesn’t actually make you the ‘Best Actor,’ I think it’s okay if we get a bit carried away.
Daragh Downes of the truly champion moments O neof my childhood was the day I discovered TV snooker. I had gotten a 6x3 table from Santy that Christmas (actually it was from Santry, but I wasn’t to know) and I quickly got the hang of the rules. But where it had been fun knocking out the occasional frame with the kids from next door, being able to sit back and watch real masters at work in the Embassy World Snooker Championship was very heaven. One thing bugged me though. Why was the audience at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield so bloody unpredictable? They kept applauding the players for no apparent reason. A routine chalking of the cue... clap clap. A tedious circumnavigation of the table... clap clap. A missed easy pot... clap clap. What in the Sam Hill was going on? Were rogue elements in the crowd taking the absolute Mícheál out of the poor players? Or was there some occult significance to these non-events to which I in my nonage was not privy? It was, in short, a bona fide staggerer, and one I coped with manfully all the way through to the quarter finals. Finally I took my Dad aside and broached the matter. He leaned down and, in a confidential whisper, gave me the needful: there’s another match going on on the other side of the room. How could I have missed it? A game, literally, of two halves!
Now here’s the thing: I don’t think I ever attended to a frame of snooker quite so closely again after that. The hermeneutic energy I had been bringing to the action prior to my enlightenment had been really rather special. The audience’s predilection for weirdly off-topic applause had stimulated me into a state of hyper-alertness. A player’s merest scratching of the nose became positively surcharged with code, generating a host of rich and damn-near-viable speculations. All of which was of course liquidated the minute my Dad slipped me that all-important ratio: 1 hall, 2 matches. For such loss, abundant recompense and all that. But still... a dark glory had passed from the game. I found myself thinking back to all this years later when I first came across Twin Peaks and, shortly after that, ventured into the weird world of Kafka. David Lynch and old Franz understood instinctively what the likes of David Mamet and Clive Barker never will: that the Uncanny depends precisely upon keeping your work’s latent meanings constitutionally obscene, off-the-scene, ever unshown and ever unshowable. Heck, the latent meanings don’t even need to exist or be worked out¸ they just need to enjoy an unsettling implicate existence. Your job as an artist of the Uncanny? To integrate your bizarrities in a way that keeps your audience transcendentally tantalised. Consider if you will the following narreme: A well-dressed man in 1790s England asks a young rustic girl how many siblings she has. She blurts out, ‘Six’, before suddenly realising that he may be a government official come to press-gang her brothers into the army for the war with France. So she tries to finesse over her
“To what extent does a literary text fascinate by sheer dint of having an ex-centric centre of gravity?” blunder by improvising a clumsy explanation: she was including two dead siblings in the tally. Okay, now let’s rewrite the above under a simple truncation: A well-dressed man in 1790s England asks a young rustic girl how many siblings she has. She tells him ‘Six’ and explains that even though two siblings are in their graves they must still be included. Does the press-gang scenario yield the withheld key to Wordsworth’s ‘We Are Seven’? I rather suspect so. Does identification of this key enhance our enjoyment of the poem? And would inclusion by Wordsworth of this all-important datum have improved the poem? Doubtful on both counts. Does it help or hinder our response to the gothic wonder that is Coleridge’s Christabel to be made aware of certain marginal notes entered in a copy of the 1816 printed text by Coleridge himself that clarify the action at key points? Does it deepen or dissipate our understanding of Coleridge’s remarks in Biographia Literaria on the curious epistemological “coincidence of an object with a subject” to be told that the Sage of Highgate has nicked these remarks wholesale from the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling— and that Coleridge wants us to rumble him n this brazen plagiarism because it is his inspired way of performatively driving home the philosophical point at issue? Does it benefit or banalise our response to Rilke’s gnomic lines in the tenth Duino
Elegy—“But in the southern sky, pure as on/ the palm of a sacred hand, the clearly shining M,/ that stands for the Mothers......”—to notice the capital M in the palm of our own hand? Would it rescue or ruin Dickens’s final, unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood if a memorandum were one day to be discovered sewn into the lining of his waistcoat disclosing the key to the novel’s mythologies (“Not Jasper the murderer—but Grewgious”)? Seems to me such questions focus a more general LitCrit dilemma, and one flagged decades ago by Susan Sontag in her essay ‘Against Interpretation’. How much of the primal energy of a given text depends precisely on the reader’s not turning explicator, not sussing the key to the text’s mythology, not getting beyond the question mark? To what extent does a literary text—a good one, in any event—fascinate by sheer dint of having an ex-centric centre of gravity? Should full intelligibility be even the notional utopia of reading and criticism? Might there not be a tragic trade-off between critical insight and readerly response? Might not the industrious scholar-critic risk ending up with a phenomenological response to the text so impoverished as to make the excited naïveté of the first-time reader something to be envied? And could it be that the greatest criticism of all requires an act of intellectual anamnesis, an unforgetting, on the far side of learning in order to restore the literary text to its very status as—a primary text?
Inside Llewyn Davis Joel & Ethan Coen Sorcha Gannon
he Coen brothers don’t do anything you want to them to with Inside Llewyn Davis. Llewyn doesn’t get the girl, or the record deal. He ends up (literally) right where he started. He’s not even that nice. But from the opening shot, a close up of Llewyn playing a song by folk artist Dave Van Ronk (on whose autobiography the film is partly based), the film wins our affection. It follows the trials and tribulations of the lead navigating the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s. Either you’ll enjoy the disappointments, or just be disappointed. Sleeping on couches, chasing runaway cats, and getting his friend’s wife pregnant, Llewyn isn’t too successful in his attempts to maintain his integrity in an industry which doesn’t lend itself in that direction. After the quintessentially American road trip to Chicago where he gets his shot to prove his worth, the depressing response is ‘I don’t see a lot of money here’. Llewyn is emotionally immature and content to freeload off his friends yet call the ‘bullshit’ on everyone else, but his refusal to compromise for the record deal, and a compelling performance by Oscar Isaac, means we believe in his belief in the music.
Although it’s full of painful moments for the protagonist, the film is still a pleasure to watch. This is partially due to the fantastic dialogue and vignettes of various idiosyncratic characters, of which John Goodman is the best, though Carey Mulligan as the furious Jean doesn’t quite hit the mark. And of course, being the Coen brothers, it’s all done with a gleeful sense of humor. An understated film in some ways, it can also be outrageously funny. Characteristically, the directors do an ironic take on a classic Hollywood narrative, in this case the story of the deserving artist making it big. They don’t try and obviously charm us with the sixties setting like other films set retrospectively in the most eulogized of modern cities, New York. The film is compiled of muted browns, blues and greens, with a gritty and authentic feel (and cold, oh so cold), captured by curling cigarette smoke, headlights on the highway, and the dingy Gaslight where Llewyn performs. Shots of the open road and deserted diners also contribute to the film’s melancholy appeal. Although the film sees our hero’s resolve sap away over the course of a week, eventually giving up and shipping out because he’s just ‘so tired’, it still works, and brilliantly, as an ode to folk music. It is all the more enduring because it resists the Hollywood clichés. The glimpse of Bob Dylan at the end, but mainly the music itself, stands testament to the fact that, despite what happened to this musician, the sixties was a glorious decade for folk. Llewyn Davis’ disillusionment speaks the protest at the heart of this movement that was the voice of a generation.
12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen Claire O’Brien a Slave recounts the true 12 Years experience of Solomon Northup, a free man drugged and kidnapped into slavery by Northern slave traders. An accomplished musician, Solomon is inveigled by two surreptitious men into going to Washington under the assumption that he will perform for a travelling circus. Solomon’s arrival in Washington initiates his brutal trajectory into slavery, as he is drugged and chained by his duplicitous companions. From there, Solomon endeavours to retain his identity and the hope of being free as he endures unimaginable cruelty at the hands of several slave owners. Steve McQueen’s unflinching portrayal of the harsh veracities of slavery is what ultimately elevates and distinguishes the film from other renditions of slavery such as Quentin Tarantino’s garish spaghetti Western Django Unchained and Alex Hayley’s television drama Roots. McQueen’s skill is his ability to transplant the viewer into the slave’s experience through his protracted scenes and his spine-chilling shots of Louisiana’s plantation landscape. McQueen’s extended shots refuse to give the viewer any respite from the brutality of slavery and disturbingly integrate the viewer into this experience. While McQueen’s audacious and uncompromising portrayal of brutality has encouraged some critics to accuse him of fetishizing violence, this overlooks McQueen’s overarching aim for the film. McQueen startles the viewer with unadulterated
acts of brutality by defamiliarising the condition of slavery and the slave trade. Solomon’s suffering intensifies as his benign slavemaster Ford, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is compelled to sell Solomon to the cotton farmer Epps, played by Michael Fassbender. Although Chiwetel Ejiofor’s portrayal of Solomon is an incredibly compelling and controlled performace, Michael Fassbender steals the show with a stunningly realistic and captivating performance of the barbaric and merciless Epps. Proud of his reputation for “breaking down the belligerent”, his methods of psychological torture are just as disturbing as his physical punishments. Epps frequently inculcates his slaves with the belief that slavery is divinely ordered through scripture and wakes his slaves in the middle of the night, forcing them to dance for his amusement. Epps’ obsession with his slave Patsey, played by Lupita Nyongo’o, produces some of the most unsettling and unwatchable scenes of the film. Epps’ jealousy manifests itself in a truly unbearable scene, as he ties her to a tree and whips her for fetching a bar of soap. Nyongo’o’s portrayal of the tortured and sexually abused slave Patsey is so heart-rending that our sense of elation for Solomon as he obtains his freedom is punctured by the probability that Patsey will not be so fortunate. While Solomon is reunited with his family, the viewer is left with a profound sense of unease over the horrific injustice of Solomon’s situation. 12 Years a Slave will not be remembered for its actor’s dazzling performances or the amount of Oscars that it received. Rather, its legacy will be its ability to set a precedent for accurately rendering a subject matter that has been largely sidestepped by the film industry.
Spike Jonze Emily Daly
ILLUSTRATION: CLARA MURRAY
ales of romance between humans and non-humans are not uncommon in science fiction, ranging from androids to computer-generated creatures. Yet rarely do we find films which explore such relationships with the same depth and nuance as Spike Jonze’s iconoclastic Her. Jonze is known for his offbeat and challenging creations such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, and Her proves a valuable addition to the film-maker’s repertoire. Jonze serves up a meditation on love and loneliness in the form of a romantic comedy tailored to the technological society. Set in the slightly distant future, the film follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a withdrawn loner who finds love with his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Exploring issues surrounding artificial intelligence and the nature of humanity, the film emphasises our continual need for connection. Despite modern advancements which make life more comfortable and convenient, the surplus of various devices seems only to further disengage individuals from each oth er in this high-tech world. Reclusive Theodore finds human interaction difficult, opting instead to spend his evenings in a
virtual gaming reality. He works as a ghostwriter for the inarticulate, composing personalised letters. His company synthesises sentiment, even using software that prints handwritten font. This ironic comment upon the commercialisation and outsourcing of human emotion is complicated by Theodore’s genuine attachment to his customers and investment in their lives. Theodore first purchases the operating system as a personal assistant. However, as Samantha’s warm and witty personality begins to show, Theodore finds himself irresistibly drawn to her. Gradually, she becomes a fully formed personality with her own interests, desires and insecurities. It is this recognition of another’s individuality which allows their relationship to both blossom and strain, much like any. The film poses interesting philosophical questions about the nature of personal identity. This hyper-intelligent OS seems to experience and interpret reality for itself, dispelling concerns about quasi-emotions. It is particularly striking that Theodore’s scorned exwife is the only characterwith a cynical attitude. towards the romance. Theodore’s friends and
the wider society are wonderfully open-minded. This is a culture in which relationships with operating systems, from friendship to romance, are gradually becoming normalised. This culture draws parallels to our own computer-savvy society in which online avatars and cyber-sex are gradually gathering popularity. Online daters often profess genuine feelings for individuals they have never met or even seen. Notably, Johansson’s sultry husky voice heightens the sexual chemistry, adding credibility to the couple’s virtual sex scenes. The sensual side of their relationship is explored earnestly, prompting the viewer to question whether such a relationship is really all that different from non-physical longdistance romances which occur the world over. This is not simply a sci-fi software romance, but a universal love story with implications for all relationships. Her is an emotionally engaging film in which technology recedes into the background. Although the ending has been criticised as sentimental by some, this is far from the conventional rom-com. Her proves to be a sincere and refreshing look at love.
The City & The City China Miéville
eviews of novels normally begin with some background on the author and a plot summary. I find this convention rather dull most of the time, but in this case the latter of these is entirely necessary. The former is less so, but I may as well, just to tick the box: China Miéville is a male human from Enga-lund with an unusual name. He occupies himself with eating, sleeping, writing science-fiction novels and winning awards. The City & The City follows Inspector Borlú on a murder investigation in the city of Besźel. The murder victim is a pretty young woman, the inspector is a bit of a loose canon, the department doesn’t like his unconventional methods, there’s more to the case than initially meets the eye, etc. Nothing unusual. However, the city of Besźel actually coexists in the same space with the city of Ul Qoma, though they are also completely separate. They are the same, and not he same. There are areas that are entirely in Besźel, or entirely in UltQoma,
but the majority are somehow… both.The residents of each city are restricted to wearing certain colours, and they walk and move in a particular way specific to their city. They are able to see the other city, and the people in it, but must endeavour to ‘unsee’ it, for fear of the mysterious power that hangs over the two cities, ‘Breach.’ The nuanced universe of The City & The City is masterfully revealed to the reader. At first, you are completely at a loss to what is going on. You are thrown into a world of difficult, Eastern European-style names and odd references to things that are – yet are not – happening in this impenetrable novel. And yet there is something satisfying to be found in the initial frustration, something that entices you to read on, and, if you do, you will be wonderfully rewarded. Miéville’s style allows the universe to take shape in your mind, not as a finite ‘city that’s also somehow another city,’ but as an idea in itself. You begin to see and ‘unsee’ with Borlú. To understand,
Hugo Lau and not understand. It is nothing short of remarkable. Now, as well as this, there is a compelling ensemble of characters and plot that takes place in this wonderful universe. Although, as stated, there is nothing entirely original to be found in the noirstyle investigation, Miéville has the ability to engage the reader in hilarious dialogue and charming observations. Though, in terms of classic writing technique, his main strength lies in his unrivalled ability to build tension – an absolute must in a whodunit murder mystery. If I had to level a criticism at the thing, it would be that Miéville could do better to maintain a fast pace at the climax of the novel, as he clearly has the ability to do in car-chases and the like earlier on. This is a bit of a shame, but one that I have no problem forgiving him for given all the utterly incredible stuff he manages to pull off, which I already covered. I read The City & The City and thought it was great – you might too.
A Beckettian Cinderella Story Tiana M. Fischer as Samuel Beckett
PASTICHE: it’s all the rage these days. From online fanfiction to Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, it’s clear that literature is no stranger to fancy dress. That’’s why we at the Rant and Rave decided to hold a contest devoted to the underappreciated art of pastiche. We asked our readers to submit their retellings of classic fairytales in the style of any author. The winner and runner-up are printed on the following pages. To read the full selection of submitted stories visit our blog: tcdrantandrave.wordpress.com
am in my stepmother’s room. I do not know with any certainty how I got there, presumably they brought me here, when my father had left me – that is if I ever had one, though I must have, biology demands it. I am not yet devoid of reason, they did not take that from me. I will tell myself stories while I wait for it to be over. How to begin? Once upon a time, no, won’t do, try again, fail again, this time better, better than the last time, no matter. They found me crawling through the ashes. I was alone but for a sack tied to my neck, peas and lentils and ashes in there, myriads of them.Then an odd shoe, like a pantofle. What else, must relate my inventory, before it is too late, lest I expire. It will be soon, I feel it, hear it, the voice … I say it as I hear it. Is he calling out to me, that other Father of us all referred to as God, or son, or is it sun, I forget? We are all there, I don’t know where, revolving around him like planets around the sun. The one that always sleeps, one who is so snowy-white [cont..]
she appears to be dead, an apple in her hand. Yes, all of us, them and me, murmuring in the dark, or me alone, for they were never there. All balls, Snow balls, Beauty balls, only my voice inside me. Must go on. Only me creeping in primordial ashes in impenetrable darkness. There they are again. An image. Two women, a third dictating, the two craving words on my back with their nails stop agony YOU CINDER GIRL. No. Yes YOU CINDER GIRL this is your name now. No please YOU CINDER GIRL yes me cinder girl no yes.Yes. Must have fallen asleep. Quick, another, quick, a story, sing There was a little girl A lonely girl was she Yet she escaped her fortress A castle for to see Yes, give her a name, Samantha, that will do. Sam’s mother was dead as a doornail, Sam was in her room now, and her father had abandoned her, slimy turd, the nerve of him. No, must tell the story, only the telling keeps me alive, once it ceases I am dead. Go on. What tedium. The orphan now had no family – no, that won’t do. She had to live with her cruel stepmother Mrs Watty and her wicked stepsisters Molly and Mary. They took everything from her, even her father’s greatcoat with the lucky stones in the pocket, which she had wanted to wear for her first ball. However, Sam was quick of mind, for albeit they had taken even her name from her, she had kept one lucky stone. She had taken it out of the right pocket of the greatcoat, sucked it, and then put it into the left pocket of her rag. She planted it beside his grave, and
the wetness that escaped her eyes fell and nurtured the hump.Thus grew a tree from the mud. Yes. And when there was to be a ball, which her stepmother forbade her to attend unless she would overnight separate a sackful of lentils and peas, Sam obliged. She knew what to do, and that her father’s greatcoat had been hidden in the dovecote. Sam purloined a cord, fastened it around her neck and the sack so that she would not lose it, then crouched into the dovecote, through dove piss and shit. After instructing the pigeons as to how they should sort out the sack content (remove one item, suck it, and deposit the peas in the left pocket of the greatcoat, the lentils in the right one), she could finally die in the ashes. No, sleep, finish, no more, make it stop, silence. Can’t go on, must go on, through the dark, the ashes. No, Sam, one more story to tell before the last story and then that last moment may arrive. On. Samantha was still not allowed to go, Mrs Watty broke her promise THAT CUNT so Sam went to her stone-seed tree, yes, nearly done, only a little longer, then my inventory and be done with it all. Worstward. From that tree fell a greatcoat and hat of such beauty that she would be the least ugly one at the ball, and so she got on her bicycle, rode to the castle, met French Prince, call him Magot, and they danced and she left and lost a shoe and all lost all done with. Over. No it’s not over yet I cannot stop Yet it hurts too much to go on I can’t on invntoI ILLUSTRATION: ALICIA BYRNE KEANE
COMPETITION RUNNER UP
Wolf Jack Looby as Ernest Hemingway
he morning light damply lit the grey room enough to open the boy’s eyes. He bathed his face in the basin at the foot of his bed and then went downstairs. Breakfast was scarce, consisting of stale bread softened in sheep’s milk and bitter thin coffee in a chipped cup. He stepped over the prone form of his grandmother by the fire and took the half-empty bottle of grappa she had not had the chance to finish with him for the walk. Filling his bag with some further hunks of bread and a little crumbly sheep’s cheese he ducked through the low doorway. Already the sun was heating the hard flat road surface. The night’s dew steamed up visibly and intangibly. It was always gone when he caught up. Three miles outside the town he stopped to fill his leather flask from a spring he knew. It was a three minute hike through dense heather and sharp rock, but the view it afforded him of his village went well with the cool water. The blossom of the trees
that ringed the top of the hill made the water sweet. The spring was his secret. He never spoke about the spring when he was with his father and the other men sitting on hard benches drinking fruit wine and trading stories for cigarettes . Paco would likely be asleep when he reached the sparse hillside where they kept their sheep. Determined to beat the full sunrise to the foothills, he shouldered his bag once more. His back twinged in protest just above the shoulder blade where the teeth had gone in. He lay half in the doorway of the rough shepherds hut with his face in the dust. Paco found him. He knew better than to leave the sheep alone, so he drove them back to town with him for help. By the time the men got back to the hillside he was delirious. Later, he was scolded for scaring the men who rescued him. He was told he was attacked by a feral dog. There were no more wolves in Spain. In the low meadows in the
shadow of the mountain he marched slowly watching his feet. He enjoyed watching the dew wash the road dust from his feet. A hare bounded past him clearing the hip-high grass momentarily with each leap before disappearing. He wished he’d had his father’s gun. There was wild garlic and mint down by the stream where the sheep drank to flavour a hare stew. Paco was not one to cook more than coffee or fry some slices of ham so the pot ought to be clean. He would make do with bread and cheese. At the top of the meadow there
cast in the light of the big Iberian moon and smoke or pace the field with his stick, tapping out the rhythm of his steps on the low stone fences that kept the sheep in. One night when the moon was big and round and full he saw a shadow slope along the top of the field. He tensed up, feeling knot of scar tissue on his back. He stared into the dark and edged over to the bell they had put in after the last attack. A rock clattered somewhere to his right and he rang the bell hard. He was beaten for waking the men when they arrived. They came with torches
“He knew better than to leave them alone on the mountain ”. was a fence that closed off the Doctor’s lands. He had made his money selling youth to the rich and now he owned a plateau above the town where he kept horses and mistresses. He did not take kindly to trespassers. He skirted the Doctor’s fence. There was a well flattened path in the grass where he and the other shepherds who used the mountain had worn away the grass. The plateau formed a lip which ran a third of the way around the mountain. The shepherds all had to round the fence at one corner then trek back the same distance once they were up higher than the Doctor’s land. He took pot-shots at trespassers. The soil up here was only good for scrub and heather with a few stubborn olive trees twisted up by the stream. In the distance he could see Paco’s silhouette plumply adding to the shadow of the hut. In July the hut with its tin roof was unbearable to sit in. He found it more comfortable to squat in the shadow the hut
and saw that his wolf was a fox.They left him with a bloody lip in the night on the mountain. The sun was setting on the other side of the valley by the time he returned in the evening. Lit by the low disc of the sun, shadows at deep angles cast up over his face. His back had given out three times on the hike down. He deposited his burden at the door to his home. The entrance wasn’t wide enough. His vision was blurring at the edges so he pulled a bucket of water from the well in the square and slaked his thirst, then lit a cigarette. When he got back to his home a crowd had formed. “You never came”, he said. “I rang and you never came. He was still alive when I left the mountainside.” His mother wept over Paco holding him limply over her lap. His father helped him bring in the sheep to the small pen out the back. He knew better than to leave them alone on the mountain.
Appearance, Identity, and Power: A Reading of the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?
ar from being a film concerned exclusively with the comedic capers of a trio of 1930’s outlaws, the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2001) is in fact, amongst other things, a profound and complex meditation on the nature of personal identity and how this relates to concepts and realities of power. First and foremost, the notion of personal power, of an individual’s ability to self-actualise, gain acceptance and increase social standing, is inextricably linked to the concept of personal identity throughout. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) repeatedly tries to gain some form of power through the manipulation of identity. Posing first as a lawyer, but “without a licence”, and later hoping to have a dentist’s licence printed up to give himself financial credibility with his estranged wife Penny (Holly Hunter), he seeks to advance his own position by means of altering and changing his professional identity as is perceived by society. Crucially, it is Everett’s playing the part of a major criminal, by pretending to have buried a fortune after an “armoured car job”, that originally convinces Delmar and Pete to follow him off the prison farm, thus giving him a degree of power and authority over them. Of course, Everett is also the victim of identity manipulation, as Penny seeks to push him out of the Magill family’s life after his conviction. Everett’s children are no longer McGills, but the
“lil’ Wharvey gals”, as Everett himself assumes the identity not of the “pater familias” he considers himself to be, but of a dead man, “hit by a train”, as Penny and her new fiancé Vernon (Ray McKinnon) attempt to ostracise him and strip him of his power to be the head of the family. Elsewhere in the film, the idea of identity as the key to personal power repeats itself in the personas of a number of minor characters. Bank robber George Nelson (Michael Badalucco) seems to have his entire sense of self-worth based around his identity as a tough, ruthless criminal, “born to raise hell”, and not ‘Babyface’, the nickname by which he is known in the areas he terrorises. ‘Big’ Dan Teague (John Goodman), meanwhile, also derives much of his power and persuasion over Everett and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) from his identity (true or false) as a Bible salesman. The financial security and entrepreneurial opportunity entailed in this image allows him to coax them into a position of physical and psychological inferiority from which they can be robbed. To conclude, it is clear that ideas of appearance, identity and power play a large role in O Brother, Where Art Thou? While such a short piece cannot hope to do justice to such an interestingly and intricately explored theme, hopefully it has managed to bring the concept to the attention of viewers and those seeking to better understand the film.
Dallas Buyers Club Jean-Marc Vallée Maud Sampson
ast month saw the release of Dallas Buyers Club, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, a film set in 1985 midwest Texas at the height of the Aids epidemic. Rom-comhunk-turned-serious-actor Mathew McConaughy plays Ron Woodroof, a small-town electrician who indulges in drink, cocaine and women to occupy his monotonous existence. After having unprotected heterosexual sex he contracts the HIV virus and is told he has just thirty days to live, yet defies doctors to live a further seven years with Aids. Capitalising on the widespread panic that there was no cure for the disease, Woodroof and his
Dallas Buyers Club is a rare film . Bleak and gritty, there is no happy ending or light at the end of the tunnel transgender side-kick Rayon (played by Jared Leto) set up a thriving business smuggling non-approved anti-viral medications into America to sell to other Aids patients. Despite being more a biographical account of Woodrof’s life than a commentary on the history of Aids, LGBT activists may not take kindly to the conservative political undercurrent of the film. The use of condoms is never mentioned, and after being diagnosed with the disease Ron only sleeps with one woman who has Aids herself, clearly advocating the practice of sexual abstinence for Aids patients. Similarly, the “straight man saves the gays” storyline may sit uncomfortably with some, as Vallée places the heterosexual experience at the centre of a film dealing with a disease where the majority of those affected are still gay men; in 2009 they accounted for 52% of all people living with HIV. [cont..]
However, the nuanced and almost faultless performance of McConaughy, unrecognisable in his 3-stone weight loss, ensures the film effectively and fairly depicts the ignorance and misinformation surrounding the disease in the 1980s. Aids was medically named GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency) until 1982, characterising it explicitly and almost exclusively as a disease for gay men. Woodroof is deeply homophobic and no one is more disgusted at himself when he finds out he has contracted the “fag” disease. Ignorant and misinformed, he represents the majority of Americans at the time who feared homosexuals. Yet Vallée uses his inherently homophobic protagnoist as an encompassing tool to engage an audience who might have been scared off by a film about Aids or gay men. This allows for an exploration of bigotry from a first person perspective, as McConaughy recently explained to the Irish Times. Woodroof’s relationship with Rayon is subtly but brilliantly played out between McConaughy and Leto, their professional symbiosis acting as a social leveller between the unlikely pair to ensure no condescension is present when Woodroof overcomes his homophobic prejudices. This saves the film from being a moralising tale of how the heterosexual learned to love the homosexual, giving Woodroof’s hostile character credibility. Dallas Buyers Club is a rare film. Bleak and gritty, there is no happy ending or light at the end of the tunnel; Woodroof and Rayon’s business is shut down, and both die of Aids. Yet it is an important and brave exploration of a dark period in the history of Aids, with McConaughy’s performance ensuring the audience begrudgingly sympathise and admire a man who is the product of a deeply prejudiced society.
Speakeasy Alicia Byrne Keane
he Trinity Literary Festival never disappoints. This year, among other events, the line-up for the week consisted of a Joycean Evening at Sweny’s Pharmacy, one of the locations featured in Ulysses; a publishing symposium with a guest appearance from John Boyne, author of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas; a Harry Potterthemed debate based on the fairly incendiary statement ‘This House Believes Harry Should Have Married Hermione’; an erotic writing workshop; and the Litfest Ball, a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-themed night at the Twisted Pepper (Hawaiian shirts were advised as dress-code). There was certainly a lot to choose from. Among these innovative events, I was interested to see how the Wednesday night Litfest Speakeasy fared. The Speakeasy is the Literary Society’s much-loved regular open mic night, billed as a flagship event. Aspiring authors, poets, and songwriters are welcome, and participants can sign up to read works by authors dear to them or compositions of their own. Given the line-up of esoteric and wonderful events of Litfest 2014, it was difficult to predict whether the
“Recitals of Tennyson rubbed shoulders with Mandarin poetry” Speakeasy event would seem almost ‘too normal’ in comparison. But the Literary Society being the Literary Society and knowing their stuff, this happily wasn’t the case. The Literary Society appears to be constantly evolving and its increased emphasis on the more modern and accessible aspects of literature has led to a growing connection with performance-based arts such as spoken word and slam poetry. It quickly became apparent that this Speakeasy would match the extravagant mood of the week. The night was held in the basement of Pacino’s, the bar and restaurant on Suffolk Street. This meant that the location was conveniently close to Trinity, at the same time offering a change from the usual pub venues of society events. The turn-out was impressive in terms of the quantity and variety of acts. Recitals of Tennyson rubbed shoulders with Mandarin poetry. This healthy mix of the traditional and the contemporary made it evident that despite its modern slant,
the Literary Society still fosters a love of the canonical greats. Also encouraging was the mix of Trinity and non-Trinity attendees, suggesting that such events have gained a wider audience. This is of course, not to mention the guest speakers. With appearances from John Cummins and Paul Curran, the college event borrowed elements of the wider Dublin performance scene. Paul Curran, a spoken word artist who has recently released an EP, played a captivating set that fused slam poetry, autobiography, and vivid urban storytelling. John Cummins, the current All-Ireland slam poetry champion, gave a memorable performance to finish the night. His style is unique, using catchy refrains and eccentric rhymes, fantastical made-up words and odes to tea. Both poets ensured that it was a very special and memorable evening. The Speakeasy kept up the standard of the week, adding a special twist to the well-loved flagship event.
“Fiction is the only way to redeem the formlessness of life” Martin Amis ‘Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.’ Virginia Woolf
‘...in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must write dangerously’ James Joyce
‘And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.’ Sylvia Plath “I think the way kids create is so inspiring. They’re drawing a picture? They love the picture they drew; they’re not tortured about it.” Spike Jonze “Classic’ - a book which people praise and don’t read.” Mark Twain
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.” Ernest Hemingway “A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad.” Samuel Goldwyn “Everything popular is wrong.” Oscar Wilde “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” Oscar Wilde “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” Voltaire
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