Archive for March, 2008

Some criteria for “worst films”

21 March 2008

I’m not a fan of the film critic Joe Queenan – a man for whom the word “meretricious” might have been invented, too interested in the easy gag regardless of its truth – but he has a list of six criteria for “worst films ever” in an article in the Guardian. (Really five, since one effectively repeats itself).

For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. … Two, an authentically bad movie has to be famous; it can’t simply be an obscure student film about a boy who eats live rodents to impress dead girls. Three, the film cannot be a deliberate attempt to make the worst movie ever, as this is cheating. Four, the film must feature real movie stars, not jocks, bozos, has-beens or fleetingly famous media fabrications like Hilton. Five, the film must generate a negative buzz long before it reaches cinemas; … it cannot simply appear out of nowhere. And it must, upon release, answer the question: could it possibly be as bad as everyone says it is? … Six, to qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again – and again – and again.


Picasso’s paradox

16 March 2008

A quote from Picasso:

“Art is a lie that tells the truth”.

Paul Robeson on politics

15 March 2008


I’ve just turned up some notes from a visit to last year’s exhibition about the inspirational black American singer and activist Paul Robeson, at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea.

To a meeting at the Albert Hall in London in 1937 in support of the Spanish Republic:

“The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice”.

Also in 1937 about the Spanish Civil War:

“The war is between the Spanish people, poor, landless and disenfranchised, and the army, which is controlled by those who want to keep the Spanish people poor, landless, and disenfranchised”.

And in 1948, during the anti-Communist witch-hunts (which eventually led to Robeson having his passport impounded by the US authorities for five years in the 1950s):

“Whether I am or am not a Communist or Communist sympathiser, is irrelevant. The question is whether American citizens, regardless of their political beliefs or sympathies, may enjoy their constitutional rights.”

Robeson’s links with Wales were close, apparently after a chance encounter in London with some Welsh hunger marchers during the 1930s. There’s a fine lecture by Hywel Francis which explores this further.

The picture of Robeson in 1942 is from Wikimedia Commons.

On museums and monuments

14 March 2008

Berlin Holocaust Memorial, Mandan Lynn

This quote from the film-maker Claude Lanzmann, who made Shoah, among other documentaries:

“Museums and monuments institute oblivion as well as remembrance”.

The full interview, about his film on Sobibor, is here.

The photograph, of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, was taken by Mandan Lynn.

Elgar on Pomp and Circumstance

13 March 2008

Edward Elgar said that Pomp and Circumstance was “A tune that comes once in a lifetime”. But he knew how good it was at the time, since he told his friend Dora Penney, “I’ve got a tune that will knock ‘em – knock ‘em flat.”

The words (“Land of Hope and Glory“) were added the following year for the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902.

And here is a clip of it being played at The Albert Hall:

Poetry’s challenge to language and utilitarianism

8 March 2008

sean o’brien

Sean O’Brien has an article in The Guardian’s Review today in which he suggests that poetry is difficult for readers precisely because it is a challenge to the mundane way in which we now expect to use language (‘The facts, Mr Gradgrind…).

The difficulty that readers face owes much to the fundamentally prosaic and utilitarian view of language which dominates our period: speed, impact and “the facts” are pre-eminent. … “Read poetry: it’s quite hard,” the poet Don Paterson crisply suggested. To do so requires us to claim that imaginative space, and to live with Keats’s “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts”, rather than rush to conclude and summarise. Part of what Eliot called “the shock of poetry” lies in the fact that what it offers is often both instinctively recognisable and at the same time resistant to interpretation – a three-dimensional experience for the imagination, not a mere scanning of captions.

The three strangest words

8 March 2008

I work in futures (of the strategy and scenarios kind, not the financial speculation) which is how I first came across this poem by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1996. But I also love the lexicographical play on the three words.


When I say the word Future,
the first syllable is already a part of the past.

When I say the word Silence,
I spoil it.

When I say the word Nothing,
I create something that nothingness cannot contain.

The translation is by Ian Firla. The last time I looked, her work was out of print in English. But there are more poems here, and here.

On listening to Bach

3 March 2008

Esa-Pekka Salonen rehearsing

I’m moving my workspace at home at the moment, and keep turning up notebooks or scraps of paper on which I’ve written down interesting quotes. This one is the Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen on listening to Bach:

“An authentic performance of old music is possible, an authentic experience of it is not. … You cannot change the fact that when I listen to Bach, I have heard Haydn, I have heard Beethoven, I have heard Stravinsky, I have heard Jimi Hendrix, I have heard The Beatles, I have heard John Adams.”

The power of comedy

3 March 2008

Sullivan’s travels still

I watched Preston Sturges’ 1941 film Sullivan’s Travels again at the weekend. Without rehashing the plot, Sullivan, celebrated (and rich) Hollywood comedy director, decides he wants to make a film about the suffering around him – in an age of migrants and depression – and needs to get some experience of it before he does so. Well, be careful what you wish for…

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