’twas the month before Christmas

It’s not even December yet, and the major TV networks have started broadcasting Christmas-themed shows and movies. Well, to be fair, it probably starts – at least – by about this time every year. The shopping malls, etc all had their Christmas decorations up weeks ago, so I suppose TV isn’t really the first to the party anyway.

I only had a half-day at work yesterday, finishing up at midday. I stayed back to have lunch, and went down to the cafeteria to put up more posters for The Compliment Project. I was quite chuffed to see that, of the two I’d put up on Monday, one had had all the tags taken (or I assume so, anyway, since the poster itself was no longer there) and the other had most of the tags taken. There’s also been a good response at my pharmacy (I’d put one up in the staff tearoom) but the one I’m most pleased with is the one I put on my local community noticeboard:  Continue reading

the unexpected tear-jerker

I have this kind of vague, kind of vivid memory about a conversation I had with a friend back in high school. I think it was the last day of grade 8, or the last day of semester in grade 8 or 9; and I remember this because there weren’t really any classes or, at least, we weren’t doing any learning. Instead, in one class, we watched a movie – something sad and poignant like The Notebook but not that.

In this particular conversation, this friend and I (and perhaps a few other friends who were around) were talking about movies that make you cry. The Notebook was one of her suggestions. As for myself, I’d never been moved to tears by a movie. Some time after this, I got around to watching The Notebook, and I didn’t cry. Don’t think I even felt tears welling up in my eyes. I appreciate the beauty of the story and all, and I’m sure I would’ve felt the emotion of the characters, but… no tears.

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come back

When ‘Atonement’ first came out in cinemas at the end of 2007, I went to watch it with a few friends. If I remember correctly, it was New Year’s Eve, and we watched it some time in the afternoon before heading over to South Bank to secure a good fireworks-viewing position. I don’t recall knowing anything about it before watching it, but I remember that I actually really, really liked it. In fact, I probably liked it the most out of all the friends I went to watch it with.

The following year, I had a uni placement out in Cleveland. One day, I arrived early so that I could explore around before heading over to my assigned pharmacy. Unsurprisingly, I ended up in the local library, and it was lucky I did because they were selling off some of their old books. Usually I don’t expect to find anything good in these sorts of sales because they usually just get rid of random old books that no one reads (or has ever heard of), or books that are just about falling apart. I had a look on my way out, and I cannot tell you how delighted I was to find a copy of ‘Atonement’ (by Ian McEwan) among the sale trolleys! And it was in pretty good nick, and was only 50 cents! What good fortune!

It's not very clear in this photo, but the receipt is dated 28/08/2008

It’s not very clear in this photo, but the receipt is dated 28/08/2008

I didn’t think twice about buying it, but it has since sat on my shelf for seven years before I finally decided to read it. Well, to be honest, I did pick it up a few years ago, but I mustn’t have been in the right mindset for it, or I must have just finished some epically draining novel, so I just didn’t have the mental energy to read it, and just put it down after a few pages.

I was prompted to read it by the same friend who had lent me her copy of ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’. I suppose there are some similarities (themes of war, suffering, relationships, etc) but they are still such different books. Both amazingly well-written though!

‘Atonement’ is one of those books where you have a lot of moments when things just click – when the puzzle pieces fall into place and it’s like a lightbulb has gone off. I had wanted to leave enough space between watching the movie and reading the book so that the former didn’t influence the latter too much, but hadn’t expected to have forgotten so much. Nor had I expected to remember as much as I did. There were parts that certainly sounded or felt familiar, and others that I could not remember at all from the movie (and I’m not talking about small details, but about huge chunks, like the entire part about Robbie going to war).

As soon as I’d finished reading the novel, I decided to re-watch the movie (which I haven’t seen since that NYE all those years ago) so that I could wallow further in the sadness of the story. And what a journey this story has taken me on! Watching it now, almost eight years on, I wonder if I really understood everything that happened in the movie when I first watched it. I mean, I’d just finished high school – there was a lot about the world I was yet to learn.

Watching the movie so close to finishing the novel also made all the omissions so much more glaringly obvious. Really, it just reinforced the reasons why I read: you can get so much more out of a book than a movie. It must be such a challenge for film-makers to adapt books into movies and try to maintain all the feeling and tension and history, let alone trying to decide which scenes will and won’t make the cut.

To describe ‘Atonement’ in a word, I’d probably call it “heart-breaking” (that still counts as one word because it’s hyphenated) or maybe “devastating”. Perhaps “devastatingly beautiful” if you allow me two words.

classically

I was just thinking about what I’d like to write about in my post for this week, so I browsed through my Filing Cabinet (not an actual cabinet – the one on the side of the blog with various blog categories), and realised that I haven’t published anything under the television category in a while. Having another look, I realised that I haven’t published anything movie-related in almost an entire year! Well, one day short of a year, so I can probably round that up.

The reason for this lack of movie posts is simply that I have not watched many movies in this past year. I seriously cannot remember the last time I watched a movie in the cinemas. I feel like maybe it was mid last year, but I’m not sure, and I cannot, for the life of me, remember what it was.

I do know that the most recent movie that I watched (outside of the cinemas) is, in fact, “The Sound of Music” but only because I just watched that on Christmas, and only because it seems to be some sort of crime against humanity to have never watched it. Ok, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I guess it’s just one of those sorts of classics. I actually wasn’t paying that much attention to it – just enough to get the idea of what was going on – and the other day, when I was talking to a colleague about it, I didn’t even recognise the name of one of the main characters.

It seems that I don’t tend to do well with “classic” films: “Chariots of Fire” and “Casablanca” are two that come to mind. Incidentally, they were both films that I watched in high school English classes…

One classic that I don’t mind too much is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, although, admittedly, I don’t remember an awful lot about what happens in it. But my memory’s not great on these sorts of things anyway, so it’s hardly indicative of how good it actually was. It would seem that the memory of enjoying something is generally greater than the memory of the actual event. I wonder if there’s some sort of neurological explanation for that…

Anyway, thinking of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” brings me to another thought (surprisingly for me, it’s not about breakfast). Despite the fact that Audrey Hepburn passed away at a time when a lot of the people of my generation were still learning to speak, she seems to be quite widely quoted on social media. Imagine having that much impact on people that, almost 22 years after your death, people are still quoting you as if you’re the authority on living life. Well, it could be said of other famous people who are now dead, but that’s beside the point.

As I was thinking about this, I realised that I knew nothing about Hepburn other than she was an actress famous for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and good quotes, so I did a quick internet search. Some of the things I discovered that I had not previously known include: she was born in Belgium, she could speak five different languages, and she was a UNICEF ambassador. Also, according to IMDb, she lived through the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, during which she suffered depression and malnutrition.

Before this, I had contemplated finding and reading a biography about Hepburn (considering her stature, I’m sure there are plenty out there), but after finding out a bit more about her, I definitely want to read more about her life. But, don’t worry, it’s not that I’m suddenly idolising, or even trying to emulate her; I’m just curious. Besides, doesn’t it sound like her life would be interesting to read about? Well, the main problem is finding the right biography to read. There’s a lot riding on this because I don’t read a lot of non-fiction (I would just much rather read fiction books), so one boring or poorly-written biography could spoil this entire category of books for me. If you have read an Audrey Hepburn biography before, or otherwise have a good recommendation, please do share!

Actually, in the spirit of generosity, I’ll also accept suggestions for biographies about people who are not Audrey Hepburn.

(After re-reading this post, I realised that, although I started off intending to write about movies, I finished this post by writing about books… Typical…)

watch & read

With all the books being turned into movies these days, there’s a lot of discussion about whether people should read the book before watching the movie, and about how good each is in relation to the other. This might seem controversial coming from a book-lover, but after recent discussions with friends about certain books/movies, it might seem that the maximum enjoyment is achieved by watching the movie first.

Please, let me explain.

I watched “The Book Thief” (the movie created from the novel by Marcus Zusak) on the week-end. I went to see it with a friend who had not read the book (yet). I did enjoy the movie, and I thought it was actually nicely done, but I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the things that were left out that I wished were in the movie. And there were certain details that were slightly different in terms of placement in the story and stuff like that.

My friend, however, seemed to enjoy the movie more than I did. Fair enough – that’s to be expected, right? However, I do believe that she will still enjoy the novel as much as I did (? ok, not sure about that – I did really like it). Reflecting back on the book, I feel like it was written in a way that allowed for “spoilers” somewhere in the middle that didn’t actually spoil the rest of the book, so whether or not someone has seen the movie probably has little bearing on how much they’ll like the book. As such, you could have optimum enjoyment of both media.

Another example is “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (novel by Audrey Niffenegger). I watched the movie before reading the book – it was the movie that made me want to read it – but I liked both a lot. However, my friend read the novel first (I lent her my copy because I thought she’d like it and, I don’t mean to brag (ok, I kind of do), but she did like it) and then watched the movie, and didn’t quite like the movie as much.

This is probably because there’s so much depth in these novels such that when you’re reading them you’re not just picturing characters and images. And, yes, actors and directors and whoever can be good at portraying and evoking emotions, but it’s hard to translate the depth of several hundred pages onto a couple of hours of silver screen time.

And then there’s also the question of leaving an appropriate time interval between one medium and the other. I think, ideally, enough time should be allowed to elapse, not so you forget the first completely, but enough so that it is a fond, distant memory. As such, when you view the other medium (I believe this applies regardless of which comes first), it’ll be like re-discovering a small treasure (assuming you actually like the story and basic concepts).

Getting back to “The Book Thief”, I just wanted to say that I reckon Sophie Nelisse, who played Liesel, and Nico Liersch, who played Rudy, were outstanding. I was disappointed, however, that this line, which featured in the trailer, did not make the final cut in the movie (unless I missed it because my mind was busy comparing things to the novel). It was something like this: “Sometimes, when life steals something from you, you have to steal something back”.

rewriting the classics

The other day, I was skimming over the book reviews in the newspaper (yes, I’m probably one of the few people of my generation who still read newspapers in this technological age), and noticed that one of the books being reviewed was titled “Sense and Sensibility”. My first thought was that maybe this was some sort of special edition with new introduction and notes and stuff in honour of some sort of Austen anniversary. Fair enough. But then I looked at the author’s name, which turned out to be not Jane Austen (can’t remember the actual author’s name now – too much shock).

Two more thoughts occurred to me: This person was either doing one of those adaptations of a classic (like making the setting and characters all modern while keeping the basic skeleton of the story the same), or they were outright stealing the name of a famous novel for their own, unrelated novel.

The review started with a warning – something along the lines of “if you don’t like people re-writing classics, don’t bother reading the rest of this review or this book”. I stopped reading at the end of that sentence and turned the page.

Why would anyone want to attempt to rewrite a classic novel? They’re classics because they’re timeless and they should be read as they were originally written.

Ok, sure, the author of this new version is probably a hardcore Austen fan who probably wants to modernise the language a bit (or whatever – remember, I didn’t read the review) and make the story more accessible to current generations. That’s probably an admirable thing to try to do. But, even then, I still couldn’t stop the question playing over and over in my mind: Why would you rewrite a classic?

And then it occurred to me that people remake classics all the time. Well, they seem to nowadays. People are always remaking classic songs, giving them a new voice, a new beat, a new audience. The lyrics may be the same, or they may be mixed with other/new lyrics, but the original source is clear. Some of the songs I really like were remakes that I didn’t even know were remakes. “Summer rain” and “Boys of summer” are two examples just off the top of my head (probably just thought of those because it’s getting pretty hot around here).

I wonder if true fans of the originals approve of the remakes of those songs. It’s like how, several years ago, I heard a remake of a Savage Garden song (can’t remember which one – I think I’ve successfully blocked out that memory) and I really didn’t like it because I thought it was nowhere near as good as the SG version. And now I’m wondering, if some of the “classics” from, say, the mid ’90s to now were remade and re-released in 20-30 years’ time, would today’s fans be fans of those too?

Remaking classic movies seems to be a bit of a thing now, too, but I’m not sure that this is a good thing. I recently watched a remake of “Carrie” and found it to be a bit boring and predictable – not because I already new the story, but the whole thing just didn’t seem worthwhile. (But I bet it was original and exciting when it first came out…)

Going back to books, I just want to say that I am certainly not against those books that add zombies and random stuff into classic novels that are otherwise relatively voilence-free. I’m even ok with those parody books and people who write fan fiction and stuff like that. I can understand if people want to make a movie or TV mini-series based on classic books. But plain rewriting a classic? I can’t say that I’m entirely ok with that.