I very much enjoyed this warm, hilarious, affectionate film about the worst opera singer of all time, an eccentric 1940s New York socialite whose amazingly godawful singing emerged on the other side of terrible to become its own kind of remarkable. At one point, Jenkins’ vocal coach stares into her eyes and tells her in a honeyed voice that there’s no one else like her, and in a weird way it felt like he actually meant it, though probably not in the way the lady herself thought.
Mark Lanegan – Phantom Radio & Gargoyle
Mark Lanegan might be my favourite male singer of all time, with a gravelly cigarettes-and-alcohol baritone that sounds so richly lived-in and is deceptively controlled and flexible. And he looks like his voice too – like a person who’s lived through some dark and troubled times. His pipes have become more brittle with years and these days Lanegan sounds less like he’s about to jump out of the speakers and punch you in the face, and his lower register on Gargoyle is almost Leonard Cohen-esque. But his grizzled vocals are no less compelling for that.
These latest two albums continue the experimentation with electronica and synths that first appeared on the 2012 Blues Funeral, while retaining the trademark dark bluesy vibes and oblique lyrics full of macabre gothic imagery and ruminations on sin, death, love and redemption. Business as usual in other words, but as long as his output remains this strong and consistent I’m not complaining. Now bring on the tour!
Neil Gaiman has become one of my favourite writers over the years and I was happy to get my hands on this latest third collection of short trips into the weird, shadowy country of Gaiman’s mind. It never really occurred to me to compare him to Ray Bradbury, but in fact Gaiman’s short stories have the same effect on me that I had while engrossed in Bradbury’s fiction when a teenager – a pleasantly uneasy sensation of looking at the world in a distorted mirror, or lifting the fabric of reality to find some dark, strange, disturbing things lurking underneath. Gaiman’s imagination is just as boundless, and his voice as a writer is just as distinctive (his books on the whole have a lot more graphic sex, though not in this particular collection).
Another gem brought to my attention by the History Buffs YouTube channel. Directed by Peter Weir and adapted from nautical historical novels by Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander unfortunately didn’t make enough money to become a series, which is a shame. Maybe the long unwieldy name put people off; as far as terrible film titles go it’s no Mrs Caldicot’s Cabbage War, but unless you’re a fan of the books it doesn’t really sound like an exciting proposition, which is probably why I skipped the theatrical release myself.
Loosely based on a novel by Virginia Wolf, Orlando chronicles 400 years through the eyes of its gender-bending hero/heroine, played by Tilda Swinton. Born in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Orlando is a young nobleman who becomes the favourite of the aging monarch, and is commanded to never wither and grow old. The film then moves through the four centuries as Orlando falls in love with a Russian princess, tries different careers including a stint as an ambassador to the Middle East, dabbles in poetry… and changes sex midway, awakening one morning to find herself a woman (Orlando’s calm reaction while observing her new body: Same person. No difference at all… just a different sex.)
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
– Isaac Asimov
I watched this film once 20 years ago, after it swept the 1997 Academy Awards and famously became the object of hatred for Elaine from Seinfeld:
I didn’t share Elaine’s visceral loathing for the movie, but I remember feeling rather underwhelmed and wondering why on earth this film was praised so much. Then recently I found a DVD of The English Patient in Mum’s collection (she’s one of the many people who loved the movie), and thought I’d give it a second chance.