Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Yawn

Standard

tinkerTailorI like spy stories, mysteries, caper plots, and thrillers, and a friend had strongly recommended this six-hour television mini-series from 1979. It stars Alec Guinness and Ian Richardson, and it looked great. I love those guys. Tonight I settled down to watch. The first hour: not much happenedWe got some backstory that had one pretty exciting scene, but it was backstory. When the credits rolled at the end, I thought I had misunderstood how the disk was set up, and I was getting intro credits really late into the show. Really late. Like an hour late.

But no. I needed to click again to get the second hour to start. Okay, so the producers/directors like long set-ups. The mini-series has a lot of characters, and they’re all white British men who wear trenchcoats, so maybe the producers thought we needed a long intro to get everybody straight. The second hour started. And again…waiting for something to happen. Waiting. Waiting. Then I fell asleep. When I woke up, five minutes before the end, I learned that Alec Guinness has been called out of retirement to find a mole in Britain’s secret service. Okay.

I plan to watch this mini-series to the end: the disks are here, after all. I think what’s making me yawn is the way the story is unfolding, in way too leisurely a style for what we’re used to these days. This mini-series was filmed 35 years ago, and I don’t think this story would be scripted this way today, no matter how John Le Carre had written the book. These days, most spy films seem to lead with a car chase or a scene that leads to a car chase–something that is big, bold, noisy, and fast—something that producers think will hook the viewer and make them sit up and pay attention. Just think of the recent Bond films with Daniel Craig, for example. A slower build doesn’t work that well any more.

That’s true for books, too. We’re taught that contemporary fiction, especially genre fiction, should begin in medias res—the beginning of the action. And that usually means literally—like the middle of an argument or a fire or burglary or some other central problem for the characters. Then the beginning of the problem—like the why of the argument or the fire—is layered in later as backstory, and then, writers hope, the ending will take care of itself.

I’m a big fan of old movies and old TV—and by “old” I mean from the 1930s and 1940s for film and 1950s for TV—and a lot of technique from those days looks dated today, even though the stories might still be fun. So I’m willing to cut Tinker, Tailor a lot of slack for what I think is a style convention of 35 years ago. Even with not a single car chase, Ian Richardson is deliciously evil, and Alec Guinness carries off his part brilliantly. Now in the next episodes, I know we’ll start to get some action. Even if it’s not car chases. Or fires.

Happy Boxing Day!

Standard

I’m too late to wish everyone merriness for Christmas, Hanukah, the Solstice, Kwanzaa, and no doubt many other December holidays, but I’m just in time for Boxing Day. The day after Christmas is celebrated by most countries in the Commonwealth—historically, by charitable giving. Today, though, it seems to be mostly about resting from the Christmas frenzy, and shopping. It’s a mystery why Americans haven’t adopted it.

The origins of Boxing Day are shrouded in mystery. One theory says that “Good King Wenceslas” was out surveying his land on St. Stephen’s Day — Dec. 26 — when he saw a poor man collecting wood in a snowstorm. Moved, the King gathered surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant’s door, thus institutionalizing a tradition of alms-giving.

A second theory is that during Advent, Anglican parishes collected donations in a box, which was broken open the day after Christmas and its contents distributed among the poor. Also on the day after Christmas, the aristocracy traditionally distributed presents (boxes) to servants and employees.

Boxing Day has been a national holiday in England, Wales, Ireland, and Canada since 1871. Boxing Day fox hunts were held all over the English countryside for hundreds of years, but in 2005 Parliament banned the traditional method of using dogs to kill the prey. Hundreds of thousands of people still turn out at Boxing Day fox hunts around Britain.

The Irish refer to the holiday as St. Stephen’s Day, or Wren Day, which supposedly commemorates the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. The Irish tried to sneak up on the English invaders, but were betrayed by the song of a wren. Most historians find this story to be an excellent example of the Irish story-telling tradition.

The Bahamas celebrate Boxing Day with a street parade and festival called Junkanoo, in which traditional rhythmic dancers called gombeys, wearing elaborate costumes and headdresses, fill the streets.

So, my friends, have fun: hunt for a fox, parade with a wren, dance down the street, or even watch a bit of football on TV. It’s Boxing Day!

Thanks to Time Newsfeed for the info.

 

Okay, I lied

Standard

acrobat girlA while ago, I announced that I’d be dropping this blog to blog over at eightladieswriting, where I’ve joined seven other refugees — I mean, former classmates — from the romance writing program at McDaniel College. I guess obviously enough, we talk about writing over there. But it turns out, as infrequently as I post here, I don’t want to let go. So…look for me. Occasionally.

Expect more of the same!

Standard

Hanna gave me a great idea today–do a monthly notice/review of a book (maybe a free book, if I can find enough that I like enough, otherwise maybe paid but obscure, or paid and best seller, we’ll see how it goes). And–I just did that yesterday! So consider that post the first of a series. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m open. I’m partial to genre fiction and literary fiction where the characters do things. I read other stuff, too.

This book here is available on Amazon for $9.72 at the current time. It has stellar reviews. I don’t happen to be reading it; I just like the cover and the concept. So that’s the story there.

Dreaming of summer

Standard

I just finished reading The Villa Dante by Elizabeth Edmondson. Four emotionally damaged English strangers are summoned to an Italian villa to learn what an unknown woman has left to them in her will. Sounds like it could be the plotline for a Twilight Zone episode, right? Instead, it’s a lyrical, magical book about love and friendship. I loved the characters, and I loved the Italian climate–these people were all thrilled to be leaving the cold, foggy winter of England for the warm, soft Italian spring. Which could say a lot for their emotional state, too.

Edmondson must have Spanish publishers; the only English edition I saw was the digital version. She’s very international: born in Chile, educated in Calcutta and London, she then went to Oxford. She lives in Oxford half-time and Rome half-time, so it’s no wonder she gets the Italy part so spot-on.

For those of you who are sick of cold and rainy or snowy winters, this might be the very thing to make you forget the weather for a few hours.

Not just another pretty face

Standard

While I was sick last fall and then over the holiday break I caught up on old TV shows. Well, “catching up” is the nice way to put it. I was glued to the set. One of my all-time favorites: Perry Mason. This show has run seemingly continuously with different actors from the 1930s (in movies back then, starring first Warren William and then Ricardo Cortez and Donald Woods), and then in the 1960s TV series with Raymond Burr playing Perry, and then the 1970s, with Monte Markham, then back to Raymond Burr in the 1980s and 1990s again.

The show often featured well-known guest stars (Bette Davis, Jackie Coogan, Dick Clarke, Cloris Leachman, Fay Wray, and many others), which is always fun. Another thing I like about the show is that although all the lead actors are attractive, most of the supporting cast is…not necessarily. Maybe the casting falls into stereotypes sometimes. You’ve got a Rancher, an Insurance Agent, a Shopkeeper, a Businessman, a Housewife. They all look like people you might know. Usually none of them is anything remarkable in the looks department.

Only when the plot calls for a “pretty girl” (you can practically hear them call Central Casting: “Hey, Joe! We need a looker on the set!”) do you actually get a conventionally attractive young woman on the screen. And she might be a Good Girl or a Bad Girl, but her looks often have something to do with the plot. The character’s looks often helped propel her into the action for one reason or another, good or bad.

This is also true for another show I watched: Police Story, which originally ran for six years from 1973 through 1978 and starred at least briefly at least every working actor in Hollywood. In the case of Police Story, it’s less about pretty girls than good-looking guys: some of them are, but plenty of them–maybe most of them–aren’t. The show is gritty. Watching these tough, tired guys at work, you feel like you’re watching real cops, which is not something I think when I watch the current batch of police shows.

Perry Mason was a character that the lawyer and crime writer Erle Stanley Gardner created. Gardner wrote many books before the movies or TV ever beckoned. Police Story was created by Joseph Wambaugh, a 14-year veteran of the Los Angeles police department, who wrote crime fiction and nonfiction before he became involved with television and wrote 95 episodes for the show and consulted on its development.

Perhaps it was a consequence of my feverish flu, but I’ve been wondering why these old shows didn’t employ more drop-dead handsome actors. Hollywood certainly had plenty of them. Today, you can’t turn on the tube without finding zillions of shows full of people who, despite their many professional acting talents, could also win beauty pageants by the score. Some of these new shows I like to watch, because the writing is good and the acting is fun. But many times I find these shows really depressing. Whose lives look like that? Who knows these people? It seems like the producers look for two or five pretty faces and think, Let’s put on a show! And the story can come afterwards.

Maybe I like Perry Mason and Police Story so much because with these shows, the writing came first. The writers created those characters, and those characters didn’t have to be gorgeous to get you to watch. They just had to be interesting.