10 Magic Movie Moments

1. Manon de Sources – a film by Claude Berri, and follow-up to Jean de Florette. There he is, Ugolin, (Daniel Auteuil) breaking his heart over Manon, (Emmanuelle Béart) sewing a ribbon from her hair onto his chest. His face – I will never forget it, the pain, the anguish  – I could hardly bear to watch!

2. Raging Bull, Scorcese of course, with Robert de Niro. I loved the opening sequence of this movie – De Niro shadow boxing to Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. A dreamy, misty, unforgettable image.

3.Billy Elliot, directed by Stephen Daldry and written by Lee Hall. The best scene (for me) in this movie is the last one, where the grown up Billy is preparing to go on stage to dance in Swan Lake. The viewer only sees him from the back, wearing a cloak. Someone behind him removes the cloak revealing his broad, strong back and he looks magical, majestic, magnetic.

4. La Cage aux Folles, a film by Eduard Molinaro, adapted from the play by Jean Poiret. I loved this movie so much, mostly because of Michel Serrault who plays the part of Albin, a female impersonator in a night club run by his partner, Renato. When Renato’s son is to marry into a very conservative family, Albin has to pretend to be truly masculine. He has to practice – he dons a man’s suit and makes an entrance. He has to cross the room and sit down, and oh, how he does it. It makes me laugh and cry at the same time. For his inability to play masculine, for his whole-hearted attempts to get it right, for his utter humanity and lovability. I have seen the American version of this movie as well and it copies every scene religiously; the cast even resembles the French cast – except for Albin. To play Albin there is only Michel Serrault!

5. Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds – not a scene in this one, only a few moments, when Brad Pitt, impersonating an Italian lifts a casual hand and says – Arrivederci – priceless!

6. Death in Venice, by Luchino Visconti, adapted from a short story by Thomas Mann. Dirk Bogarde plays the part of an aging musician (a writer in the story) travelling for health reasons when he falls madly in love with a beautiful boy staying in the same hotel with his family. He attempts to look younger; he gets his hair and moustache died very black. One day when he is following the boy through the narrow streets he feels weak and sits down in the rain; the hair dye begins to run down his cheeks. It’s like a painting, a very sad painting. And over all the strains of Mahler’s 5th. (One movement of it, I forget which one. I bought the CD but I only liked that one movement.)

7. Glengarry Glen Ross, (from the play by David Mamet) stars two of my favourite actors, Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino. Jack Lemmon plays Levane Shelley, a salesman no longer young, who has lost his touch. There are younger, smarter men in the game now and Al Pacino is ruthless. All day, every day, they chase leads. The moment for me in this film is Levane in a phone box desperately trying to clinch a sale. his face furrowed, almost in tears, with anxiety. I don’t know how actors do it; I believed every word out of his mouth.

8. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the first Ang Lee movie I saw, filled me with awe. I’m not generally a lover of Martial Arts but I loved every moment of this film. And what I remember best is the scene of a battle which takes place in the tree tops; the combatants swaying in the branches. The trees are so green, so graceful, balletic almost and truly beautiful.

9. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Even writing down that title makes me laugh a bit. The Coen Bros are wonderful and I’m a fan of all their movies. In this one, the moment I can’t forget is when The Soggy Bottom Boys are performing at a music festival. I love George Clooney because he plays the clown so well – and him so good-looking! And I loved all the music throughout.

10. Fellini’s Amarcord. The whole film is wonderful but there’s a scene where a ship is coming into harbour; it’s night time and the ship is lit up with myriad lights, like something out of fairy land.

So this is my list of ten best cinema moments. Do you agree or disagree? And what are your favourites?

Cold Turkey

I wear your absence

Like a heavy coat

How pale the day

I never thought

That it would be so hard

To root you out

But I will not regret

The desolation

Of these desert days

The shock of separation

From where my spirit

Lay so easy

Life’s a bugger

But I will grab

it by the ears

And shake it till it screams

Ecstatic.

Random thoughts . . .

Consider the English language – a mixture of Teutonic, Latin and Greek. Recently I read “Mythos” by Stephen Fry; it’s a reader-friendly retelling of the Greek myths and I was astonished to see how many English words are Greek in origin. Any word beginning with ph, like phrase, photo, physical, and other words – grammar, geography, antiques, and millions more.

English is spoken all over the world now, second only to Spanish, and maybe Chinese? I’m not sure. But there is a lot of difference between English as spoken in Ireland, in Britain and in the United States. I sometimes think that if there was no communication at all between these countries for – say – a couple of centuries – each country would end up with a completely separate language. Because the words we use express how we think and what we believe, and we are all surely different.

Language grows and changes all the time anyway. The first poem (anonymous) in a poetry book I had at school goes as follows:

“Sumer is icumen in,

     Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweth sed, and bloweth med,

     And springeth the wude nu –

                                Sing cuccu!”

I have never forgotten it; I hear it in my head from time to time.

What about grammar? There are new verbs around – I seen for I saw; I done for I did; I should have went for I should have gone. And I hear eXpresso when the word is eSpresso, and eC cetera in place of eT cetera. I find these things terribly irritating but I know I am pedantic. And maybe I’m wrong; the point of language is to communicate so perhaps grammar and spelling and pronunciation aren’t that important.

On a lighter note, there are phrases I can’t get my head around. “She’s no better than she should be.” I know what it means – but I don’t get how those words in that order mean what they do. I take the sentence apart but it still escapes me. Another is “Put up or shut up.” I think about that one a lot. I wonder if other languages are like this. I speak Irish but not to the degree that I can examine it in detail.

And then there are double words, like – upset – how does the combination of up and set mean to be distressed? For-give; under-stand; for-get; and I’m sure there are many more like that.

These things puzzle me and I ponder them from time to time. That reminds me of the line from Alice in Wonderland – I’m not sure which character, the Mad Hatter maybe.

“I shall sit here off and on for days and days” – so deliciously ambivalent.

A Review: Peaches by Dylan Thomas

I first read this story many years ago and never forgot about it so recently I read it again, and again it seemed terrific. It is written from the point of view of a very young Dylan, perhaps ten years old. He is spending time with his aunt and uncle in rural Wales, and his best friend from school, Jack, is coming to visit. Jack’s people are well off and he is expected to arrive, accompanied by his mother, in a Daimler. Dylan’s aunt has been holding on to a tin of peaches for a special occasion and is now looking forward to serving them, with a dollop of cream, to Jack’s mother.

And all around this situation is built a whole world of characters:

” . . .  a thin, bald, pale old man, with his cheeks in his mouth . . . “

” . . . a sour woman with a flowered blouse and a man’s cap.”

There is not a wasted word in the story of this small boy with his fears and fancies; it draws you in, subsuming you almost, until you are living on that farm,  playing in that farmyard:

“On my haunches, eager and alone, casting an ebony shadow, with the Gorsehill jungle swarming, the violent, impossible birds and fishes leaping, hidden under four-stemmed flowers the height of horses . . . my friend Jack Williams invisibly near me, I felt all my young body like an excited animal surrounding me, the torn knees bent, the bumping heart . . . the sweat prickling in the hands, the tunnels down to the eardrums, the little balls of dirt between my toes . . . “

The young Dylan imagines his uncle:

“I could see uncle, tall and sly and red, holding the writhing pig in his two hairy hands, sinking his teeth into its thigh . . .  leaning over the wall of the sty with the pig’s legs sticking out of his mouth.”

And about his his aunt he writes:

“She went upstairs to dress like Sunday.”

In this tale the writing is the thing. It is hardly like reading at all; it’s like someone sitting beside you telling the story, the language rich and sumptuous and deep and luscious, full of adverbs and adjectives:

” . . . for his uncle to light his pipe and set the darkness on fire and show his long, red, drunken fox’s face to me, with its bristling side-brushes and wet, sensitive nose.”

It makes today’s pared-down prose appear without smell or taste or colour, and it reminds me of “A Christmas Carol”, especially the middle part, about Christmas Present. I found it very difficult to choose which quotes to include in this short commentary – every line is memorable.