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Tuesday 4 March 2014

Been off the radar, I fear

Tis the year of the quiet RR. Well, not quite the year, perhaps a fortnight, perhaps three weeks.

I'd been neglecting Second Hand, just adding in a hundred or a hundred-and-fifty words at a time: the equivalent of driving at 28 mph with the handbrake on. Dabbling and - worst of all - forgetting what I'd previously written. The cure was to download SH to the Kindle and read it as it brushed shoulders with the collected verses of WB Yeats, Anna Of The Five Towns and Our Man In Havana.

A bit like giving myself an enema. An intellectual invasion. The shoddiness leaped out and 58,000-plus words quickly lost a thousand words.

Seamlessly this act of cauterisation (See, I'm mixing my metaphors) eased into the beginning of our local film festival, Borderlines. I'd booked twenty-three movies over thirteen days: of which five days involved two movies and three days involved three movies. Plus travelling to remote places. We'll be seeing Philomena at Ledbury, Gloria at Ross-on-Wye and Le Week-End at (a geographical collector's item) Bosbury Parish Hall.

Already seen: Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (tightly constructed; Cate Blanchett's Oscar well deserved), All is Lost (Robert Redford the sole actor, less than 100 words dialogue, techno-triumph), La Belle et La Bete (Cocteau's 1944 whimsy; imaginative; not my backyard), Jeune et Jolie ("Only the French could get away with this" - The Guardian), After Life (Japanese; superb; words fail me), Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Vallait le voyage - to Leominster)

The only duffer: Borodin’s opera Prince Igor from the New York Met. Gorgeous Russian singing but inanimate story, knee-jerk “advanced” direction. We left at first intermission. Luckily Borodin had a day job as a chemist


  1. I'm quite encouraged that you even went to see Prince Igor; I feared perhaps it was one of those outré vulgar things I would be shunned for even thinking of liking and should be afraid to admit to. In fact I only really know the Polovtsian Dances, but have a fondness for those having been taken to a concert which featured then when I was about ten.

    I began to have slight qualms that perhaps they were not in the highest order of good taste when I read a novel, whose title and author I now forget - sadly, as it was rather good - where a kind and hapless fellow is unhappily married to a dreadful, affected, shrewish retired ballerina, who pretends to be Russian but really hails from somewhere like Crewe or Croydon. He dreads her outbursts of temper but dreads it even more when he hears the Polovtsian Dances being played at full volume from upstairs as this is his summons to go and fulfil his husbandly sexual duties.

    Anyway, glad you're having such a full and interesting cultural time, it all sounds very stimulating!

  2. Lucy: Many people misunderstand Prince Igor and we, alas, were among them. The situation was initially confused by a stage musical (turned into a movie starring Howard Keel) called Kismet. Borodin's music from Prince Igor (including the Dances) was employed for the songs but the story of Kismet has nothing at all to do with the opera. Which, as you will see, is just as well.

    One song from Kismet got into the charts and, yes, it was based on the Dances. It was, of course, "Hold my hand I'm a stranger in Paradise". Its merits have encouraged people to imagine there must be more goodies from that source which explains why the opera is persisted with.

    Borodin was only a part-time composer and the opera languished incomplete for 16 years. Both Glazounov and Rimsky Korsakov, friends of B, tried to turn the score into something that might be playable. They failed.

    And here's why. Prince Igor intends to go war with the Polovtsians, his advisers and friends try to dissuade him, he refuses their advice, goes to war and is defeated. The Polovtsian Khan tells the captured Igor that they can be friends but Igor says that once freed he must again fight the Khan. Eventually Igor returns to his capital to find it and his country laid bare. All of the above is reported; there is no supportive action. Igor apologises to his people for being pig-headed. End of story.

    Even by operatic standards this is thin gruel. Recognising this the Met director decides to make a big thing out of the Dances by creating a huge poppy field. Igor wanders, singing about abstractions, the Khan makes his offer, then a troop of ballet dancers pretending to be high from the effect of the poppies dance to the Dances. Except they don't. Restricted by the narrow alleys between the flowers they are reduced to jumping.

    VR, afterwards reading reviews from lesser known New York publications discovered that two critics admitted leaving the theatre, as we did. VR was reluctant to do this, since she nearly always finishes whatever she starts, but I couldn't bear a moment more.

    The novel you describe will now add a further layer of incomprehension to this deservedly neglected work. Incidentally the Dances also appear (in a much more tractable form) in Borodin's second string quartet and I recommend this work if nostalgia gets the upper hand with you.

  3. There was so much good about Blue Jasmine I thought Blanchette's performance hardly stood out. Outstanding supporting actors. Just put After Life into my NF queue, will probably add All is Lost. Do they have popcorn in theaters there? If so, is it called popcorn or something more clever? Happy trails!

  4. I finally have some time off coming, so I plan on watching Blue Jasmine (Cate Blanchett is an actor I keep an eye on) and After Life. I admire you sitting through three movies in one day! Doubtful that I could sit still for that long.

    Recently, I was saddened that our local independent cinema screened The Lego Movie ... for 3 weeks! Really?

  5. Did you notice in the credits of ALL IS LOST, the name Eric d'Arbeloff as producer? That's my cousin! He and his partner are the Roadside Attractions film distribution company, now also branching out into production. I've yet to see the film but will, of course.
    Thanks for the lowdown on Prince Igor - sounds like something I'd walk out of almost immediately.