Monday, September 28, 2009

"We'll always have Paris"

Some places have a love affair thrust upon them by art. Paris is certainly a city loved by film, arguably in ways few other cities do. Certainly it's a city where the film makers are prepared to collude in the myth and avoid the seedier side of the reality; something that Venice, for instance, doesn't receive. London and New York have the gritty films out of the traps -- there are love stories filmed there, but few that are love affairs with those two rumbustious metropoli.

Here's a set of four films featuring the lighter, gayer side of Paris.

Fauteuils d'orchestre (badly translated as 'Orchestra Seats' for the English release, excepting the USA which gets 'Avenue Montaigne' instead; another fine example of importers' disservice to their art.) Starring Cécile De France as the protagonist, showing remarkably poor taste -- the man she gets it together with is clearly going to be a relationship disaster.... However this saves the film from descending into too much high quality sugar; and while the plot doesn't bear much examination, it is an enjoyable ode to a kind of up-market side to Paris. It got quite a hammering in the reviews; here's a more positive one.

It works well as a chance for good actors to show their stuff (sometimes over-egging it!) and some not-quite-fully-realised exploration of the nature of art and the bourgeoisie's relationship to it. The back story to the pianist's antipathy to the stranglehold of concerts is based on the (real) pianist's rather dramatic battles against the same stultifying suits and building.

But one of the favourite actors in the film was the theatre building. Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, a great Art Deco building with swoonable banisters. A certain pointy tower is dragged into the background with monotonous regularity, and they also use a typical Paris café carefully, as one could almost see them avoiding...

Amélie, or in French 'Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain', who needs no introduction here, I'm sure, but is in so many ways a precursor to Seats. The difference is clear, too, in that Amélie makes no attempt to be 'realistic' but works as a kind of semi-adult fairy tale.

Which leads neatly to Ratatouille, one where the film-makers stuck to their guns with the title (helped by the integral nature of it to the story) to the extent of having a pronunciation guide below on the posters for certain markets.

Yes, this too has a certain metal tower plonked in many shots, but the focus is in the detail - of the rats, the food, the idea of good food (another blow for diversity, along with the title) and the details of Paris' buildings and the cars and mopeds -- delightfully exaggerated. For the detail geeks, Colette's motorbike bears a recognisably foodie Italian brand, but I need a Pixar 2CV.

I also want to know why Pixar, having worked so hard to get the food and dining experience right, can't tell the difference between herbs and spices?

Still Pixar managed to do a lot better than the remarkably, joyfully bad back projection in the film that gave us our title. While Rick and Ilsa may always have Paris, Warner Bros and Michael Curtiz had to do without, due to a number of Germans on site. Casablanca is a classic for many reasons, but its 'Paris' is not one of them.

Finally comes Paris, je t'aime, a film we both enjoyed enormously, and a good pick for a desert island movie. It's short story format shows what diversity film can have. From the pretentious to the touching, from the comically exaggerated -- including mime -- to the remarkably understated, it seems to have a little of everything that cinema does well. A stellar cast helps, while guessing the director for each section is a good game. While this shows many other sides of the city, and many sequences don't actually have that tower featured -- probably against some Parisien filming ordinance. Some episodes are one trick denouements, but that only throws the re-viewer back on the acting and direction -- and the background city so much in the foreground.

Are there other Parisien films that should be included? Are there other cities that regularly have film-makers turn up to sell the light, lovable myth? Let us know your thoughts, and we may return to this topic.


[Stills & poster from film publicity - of course. Credited as such.]

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dropped Block

One of the great things about the internet is how often you can just come across something by accident. It might be silly, profound, something you learn, or just a bit off the wall.

Well this one's through the ceiling!

It appears to be some installation artists in residence, and they've done some fun stuff. The startling image above is quite prosaic when you look at how it was created (réalisation) whereas this one, an amusing idea, but with the trampoline, a bit over-worked, I think...

...resulted in some even more startling images during its creation:

All good fun. Images are from the blog, here. Oh, it's in French. You can handle that, can't you?


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cookbooks for Kinglake

On Sunday, we hosted the big event -- the cookbook launch! -- up at Kinglake.

As you'll know (because I don't stop going on about it), a group of crafty ladies (that includes me) gathered and created a cookbook as a way to help those 2000 people who lost their homes in the bushfires this last summer.

We wanted to give a copy for free to anyone who had lost everything because that's a way of sharing our family history and community, not to mention damn fine chocolate cake recipes. I seem to remember murbling something of the sort into a microphone at the launch (I do hate microphones. They freak me out.) but happily people took it pleasantly. Probably because we plied them with chocolate cake first, so their veins were flooded with chocolate endrophins.

I'm getting off track...

The launch was:
a) a party! Decorations, cake, face painter, prizes. Music!

b) dinner for the Kinglake community -- recipes from the book! Punjabi lamb shanks and Freda Bessie's chicken, plus a lentil and spinach tart and loads of yummy vegetables.

c) a real collaborative effort. So many lovely people helped, from those who worked on the book itself to get it ready and printed, to those who helped on the day in the kitchen and front of house -- occasionally both if they were one of the lucky ones to receive the two-finger-collarbone-grab from me and an 'ahoy lovely, you're in for some kitchen duty...' These ones took it in good humour, too, and are tinged with sainthood in my eyes.

So now it's over, we've met some lovely people, we're exhausted and happy and there are many thank yous to be written. Soon it will be time to reprint the book and promote the second run: we want to raise money to help the Salvos with their work for families and individuals finding themselves in all sorts of hardship. It feels good to be doing something so real.

You can see a little more about the launch prep and I'll be blogging launch photos soon over at Taccolina.



I'm sure I heard them say the words 'dog' and 'bath' in the same sentence...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bande dessinée

One of the great things about travelling is seeing stuff that's just not around in your own culture. Among others, the francophone world (and Italy) have a great tradition of what is known in French as 'bande dessinée', or BD, which roughly translates into 'drawn stories', but is usually mistranslated as comics or cartoons. Given the relatively lowly status of such things in most English culture (for kids or geeks) a lot of people are missing out. Remember two of the twentieth centuries greatest heroes are Asterix and Tintin, from France and Belgium respectively. Italy hasn't had the same export success, but nevertheless...

Italy has a strong culture of cartoon books, anchored in one corner with the weekly Topolino (Micky Mouse - lit. 'Small Mouse') cartoon books, I believe introduced to Italy in part with US culture in late World War Two, but which has grown to one of the biggest original non-English Disney markets. The booklets were everywhere when I was a kid in Italy in the 70s, and are everywhere even now. One other side of Italian cartoons is the use of strips to depict history and other 'educational' stories. I had a book covering Garibaldi's unification of Italy in cartoon format, which I wish I had now. There wasn't too much to catch while we were in Europe last year, but I did pick up this one, seen above and below. The draughtsmanship is a bit scrappy for my taste, but the story was original, covering a usually forgotten aspect of W.W.II in N E Africa, between the Italians on one side, and on the other the British and South Africans. From my point of view, it was of merit for the accurate and appropriate aircraft types shown:

Hawker Hartbestees, Fiat CR-42 and Bristol Blenheims, the latter two types seen above.

While we were in France last year, I tried to see if I could pick up any of the series featuring Biggles, produced in France. None of those were available, but there was other stuff, some found in a magnificent bookshop on a Parisen boulevard that gives me a warm feeling just remembering it. Top of the list which went into the backpack was this pair of stories, recounting the adventures of two heroes and their girl (very carefully and curvaceously drawn...) in the late 1930s and during World War Two.

Known as Au-delà des nuages (Beyond the Clouds), the draughtsmanship is, I think, superb, and the array of unusual aircraft shown accurately depicted in credible (but fictional) scenes is something to show the second-rate plot development of the Hollywood Multiplex fodder up very badly. For those interested in more details, the artist, Romain Hugault, also has a blog.

Beautiful 1930s racers and flying-boat airliners. One of them even had a Supermarine Walrus, depicted with a fictional, but credible nose art design. Given that the Walrus is one aircraft I have written a book about, I had to have it, didn't I?

Just to finish, for those that can't cope with other languages, our friend Max pointed out this book on her blog a while ago. It is The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert, by Marc-Antoine Mathieu, and it looks excellent, and well worth seeking out. I'd like a copy.

Now, I'd like the books back from the person who I loaned them to!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hot Coffee sacrifices

Sometimes people seem to fall in love with the snappy phrase without realising what it really means... Spotted while driving the other day (and taken while the cars were halted at the lights).

"I'd like an individually roasted individual please. I like my people cooked separately, as it avoids mixing the flavours. While you are doing that, I'll just pop next door to the the family butchers that offer a personal service."


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It's 10PM: Do you know where your gerunds are?

We've just come home from editing class. Yes, we are nerds and we're taking it together, but it applies to the work both of us do, in slightly different ways. And it's fun.

Tonight we waltzed our way from pronoun to pronoun. Oh, those ones are getting a little possessive in the corner! Or was it just implied?

The gerund attacks some peaceful pronouns.

From the spiffing tales of Molesworth, and the illustrative genius of Roald Searle.

But what, oh what, is one to do on a rainy night in late winter, when one needs to hunt the wild gerund?

A baffling case.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Right or left?

The left (blue) and right (red) worlds. But what type of left-right battle? Driving, of course. Image Wikipedia.

I was intrigued to read a BBC report regarding Samoa switching to driving on the left, having driven previously on the right. It's one of those not important but critical distinctions, I think, in that it doesn't matter which side you drive on, as long as everyone does the same. Having driven on both the left and right, as per the local road rules, and in Malta* as well as occasionally (briefly) on the wrong side of the road when not concentrating during international travel, I (mostly) feel comfortable with both. Claims for one being technically or ergonomically superior or inferior I think are bull, but as that's rather lacking in detail I'll ask my car ergonomicist and report back. Meanwhile...

It's also a good benchmark of international insularity. Anyone in a country that drives on the left (the minority) is aware that the majority drive on the right, but know it's possible to do either. Many used to driving on the right regard driving on the left as an unnecessary challenge to their international experience, and one that should be abolished. In other words, it's an example of the benefits of different options, rather than a monoculture - or diversity.

What makes Samoa interesting here, as they are switching from a majority preference to the minority one - against the odds, and according to the BBC the first country to attempt the change since the 1970s. Here there is an economic reason offered, to use second-hand cars from Australia, Japan and New Zealand, three of the strongest, industrialised democracies in the greater Asia-Pacific. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. Certainly driving a car designed for the other 'hand' in any country isn't much fun.

Wikipedia offers the listing of which preference countries have today; interestingly the Canadians preference for the right would at first glace seem to be one of the examples of the effect of the proximity of the USA in comparison to the other members of the old British Empire countries (- Australia, India, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand all still preferring the left) but, according to the Wiki link was resolving a very un-Canadian muddle. Newfoundland was an exception then, too. The oddest factor I ever observed in Canada was in Victoria, BC, whose somewhat over-dedication to Empire involved having London type Routemaster buses with the exit platform facing into the traffic - an excellent effort for tourist culling.

The history of the 'rule of the road' as it's usually known is fascinating (as in the Wiki link above) encapsulating a lot of social history, commerce, muddling as well as technical factors, the last usually being the only one generally considered in passing. Then there's the preferences (and effects) of mounting a horse, boarding an aircraft and the side bicycles chains are fitted.

I'm sure we'll return to this topic. In the meantime, remember: Look both ways when crossing.


* 'The British drive on the left, the Americans drive on the right, and the Maltese drive in the shade.'

Nan - 1914 - 2009

Nan, 95 well lived years.
"Before our ride to Mt Dunn, 1935."

In the garden, with Bev, talking plants and flowers.

At the Fairy Tree, Fitzroy Gardens.

At our house, tea and cake.

With her great grandson, and delight, Tom.

James & Bev