Posts Tagged ‘story’

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The King’s Speech – review.

January 23, 2011

I went to see The King’s Speech with Toby last night, and thinking about the experience, the main sensation that I feel is guilt. Guilt that midway through the film’s second third, I surrendered to sleep; guilt that I could not concur with the film’s largely glowing reviews from critics and friends alike; guilt that despite the actors’ invariably fine performances, there was just something lacking. It didn’t take me long to put my finger on what the main missing ingredient was, but first, allow me to expand.

The King’s Speech is a smug, self-satisfied film that surrounds itself with a certain air that says to its audience, that proclaims  to those who see its advertisements, “You are watching this because you are intelligent, because you are interested in History. Feel congratulated, feel superior to the hoi polloi.” This air of self-importance is perhaps fitting with the film’s focus on early 20th century royalty, but is certainly at odds with the flat cinematography. In Lionel’s basement, this cheapness, this absence of depth between the background, the foreground and the actors can perhaps be forgiven as it is evocative of the speech therapist’s relative poverty – all the more pointing out with a wry smile that the future King of England has had to go there, to such a lowly place (after all, it is in a basement that can only be accessed through a cramped lift) in order to find his redemption. But when in more royal quarters, how can you really feel a sense of majesty when the decor, the scenery does not evoke this? The film’s rather small budget of $15 million reveals itself early on. And yet, Firth’s previous film, the sumptuous A Single Man, was made on half that budget and both looks and, more importantly, feels like a million dollars. Go figure.

Nevertheless, the actors all provide stellar showings – none more so than Colin Firth, whose stammer never feels affected or artificial; whose frustration, anger, silence, tenderness towards his family, fear of and eagerness for being the country’s king ring true at every turn. Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue with sincerity and humility, and while I much prefer Helena Bonham Carter as a sexy temptress à la Fight Club or a ridiculously pompous Red Queen in Alice In Wonderland, she more than does her part as Queen Elizabeth here. The King’s Speech is certainly not lacking in fine performances.

But unfortunately, the crux of the problem is this – characters cannot do anything without a story. The plot of The King’s Speech is as follows: the King has a stammer, so he gets some speech therapy to fix it so he can deliver speeches (thus the title’s double reference to the king’s ability to speak, and the film’s final speech – his ultimate test). That’s it. This plot is less than linear – it’s a dot. It goes nowhere, it does nothing unexpected or even notable. As mentioned earlier, I fell asleep for 20 minutes in the film’s second half, woke up and events were more or less where I had left them. And even worse, 99% of the film’s audience know the entirety of the plot before even entering the cinema! Even if you are not au fait with 20th century British history, the British monarchy nor the stories of wartime Britain, you will know how the film ends – for the pure fact that nobody under the age of 15 is going to see this film of their own accord, and the vast majority of those over 15 know that there has never been a king who died moments after being crowned during a World War, nor has there ever been a king whose stammer prevented him from delivering speeches. If either of these things had happened, they would be etched in our history in such a way that everyone would know about them, just as they know of the death of Princess Diana, of her wedding to Prince Charles, of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, of the Queen’s two birthdays. It would be another elementary fact. Thus, this means that it is inevitable that the King gets his stammer cured, or at least is able to manage it in order to perform his duties.

There is nothing approaching a subplot in the film to maintain interest. Edward abdicates in order to pursue love, and the audience is expected to just accept this because that’s how it happened in history – there is no attempt to probe beneath the façade of pompous dignity to question whether Edward is actually doing the right thing, the brave thing, pursuing truth over the pretences inherent in being a monarch (according to King George V himself). The film has only room for one triumphant victim, and that is Firth’s character – even when he is acting like a snobbish, spoilt moron, the viewer is not invited to feel repulsed or even more than mildly annoyed at his presumptuous pride, because he is the film’s Hero, the country’s King, and thus must not be questioned. If you are choosing to question him and other aspects of the film, then good for you – but you’re going above and beyond what the film requires you to do in order to get to the final triumph and achieve your gold star. Any attempts to psychologise the King’s speech impediment are completely reductionist – is it the absence of Daddy’s affections? The taunting of the mean big brother? Peer pressure? The King’s Speech expects its audience to overlook this simplicity because it is British, it is Royal, it is Historical – but if these explanations were transposed to an American rom-com or a Channel 5 drama, they would be seen and derided for the facile clichés they are.

Ultimately, The King’s Speech is a simple film that contains faultless performances, and whose stars should be amply rewarded for their acting. But nevertheless, it is a film that is a plotless puddle, all the while proclaiming itself a majestic ocean.

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racism in a modern age.

June 20, 2010

I just got home from my nan’s.  For the second part of my journey, I took the number 6 from town to Kingswood, and while I was on the bus, a group of Somali women were having a conversation.  Suddenly, an English woman (I’m guessing about 55 years old; she was certainly older than my mother, who is 50) turns around and yells at them “Would you please shut up?!?!” After everyone looks up, shocked, she continues her diatribe: “Natter natter (with hand gesture), shut the fuck up or get off the bus.”  The women began to protest, but the woman just got angrier and nastier, and the Somali women ended up getting off the bus at that stop.  The English woman yelled after them “Fucking go home to your own country!” After a beat of shocked silence from all the passengers, the driver (who was mixed race himself) got up and challenged the woman.  “They are allowed to chat if they want, everyone here is just trying to get home, there is no reason to disrupt anyone else’s journey or otherwise YOU will have to get off the bus.” At this point, the woman went to get off the bus, and the bus driver said “Ma’am, you can take your seat, but please respect other customers because we all paid to use this bus, and please enjoy your journey.”  The woman sat back down, but then got off at the next stop (I wonder if she was not too bothered about getting off the bus if she was only getting off at the next stop anyway?), and the rest of the bus breathed a sigh of relief.

I was shocked that in 2010, such blatant racism still exists.  Well, I am shocked and I am not; I’m not naive and I know very well that racism is very much alive and well, but I was shocked to be present at such an outrageous and blatant display of it.  I was tempted to say something myself, but at the same time it was not my place to get involved; these women are old enough and strong enough to defend themselves, and quite rightly the driver made a stand for his bus and for the passengers on it; he is running the service, not me or any of the other passengers.  I wonder however, if the driver had not said anything, whether I would have been brave enough to say something? Plenty of things sprang to my mind; to challenge her and say that if her problem was with the volume at which these women were speaking, then instead of yelling at them and thus making herself a hypocrite, she should just ask them politely if they could talk more quietly.  If this wasn’t the case, it would have exposed her own racism without saying any more (racism she already exposed with her parting comment to them as they got off the bus).  I felt like saying that if her problem was with the fact that these women were not English (I know this woman was English just by coincidence, as I saw her loudly supporting England at Rewind when I was out watching the game with my friends from uni on Friday night – she had memorable cuts and grazes on her elbow that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the same woman), then should I get off the bus too as I am half-Italian, and I would not be here if my family had not come from another country to live here?  Until she knows the story of these Somali woman, who is she to judge whether they have (on a journey which they paid for, just like the rest of the passengers) less of a right to be on the bus and talk on the bus than her?  If I were speaking to my friends in Spanish, French or Italian, would I be less entitled to talk on the bus than if I were speaking in English? Does the fact that my skin barely looks any different to an English person’s (I am a tiny tiny bit more tanned, but it’s negligible) mean that I am not as mixed-race, or as ethnically diverse, as someone with a different skin colour? Am I entitled to the same rights as an English person simply because I speak native English, have an English surname and my skin is light; in return for these rights do I have to sacrifice my own ethnic background in the process just to fit in?

When I lived in Spain, if someone had spoken to me in that way because I was speaking English on the phone or to my family, I would have been utterly outraged.  Are we literally rewinding back to the story of Rosa Parks on the bus in the USA, before Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement? It felt like it.  Another thing I wanted to point out was that, as a result of my colleague Clare’s presentation on breaking down cultural barriers in guidance, I know that Bristol is considered a popular (if that is the right word) destination for asylum seekers and refugees coming from all over the world, because it is considered a racially-tolerant city in England. This is my hometown, my city, and I am proud of that fact.  By demonstrating such a racially-intolerant attitude, this woman is not only giving a bad example of herself, but of Bristol as a city and of England as a country; in actual fact, she is making herself look stupid and only propagating bad feeling for foreign people, whatever their reason or length of stay in England, which in turn only reinforces cultural barriers rather than breaking them down.  We’re in 2010; this should never have been happening, but it should certainly not be happening in this day and age.  And so I felt that if I didn’t speak up on the bus at the time (and it turned out that it wasn’t my place, nor did I have to – quite rightly, the driver did so), the least I could do was recount the event on here and spread more awareness that these attitudes still exist in our country and are very much alive in everyday life and situations.  This needs to change, and this entry is my little contribution; in my forthcoming job as a Personal Tutor at Cirencester College, one of the things I may well have to do in both interviews and group sessions is work on challenging racial stereotypes and breaking down cultural barriers and misconceptions.

Funnily enough, only earlier my nan and I were discussing the nature of football fans (topical considering that it is currently the World Cup).  English fans, deservedly or undeservedly, have a reputation for being violent, thuggish and neanderthal-like throughout Europe and possibly worldwide.  At the bar on Friday night, there was a fair amount of brainless chanting, stomping and cursing; but then, England did play poorly and I suppose that if so many people are passionate about this, it amasses a certain amount of volume.  I personally don’t like that kind of behaviour, but in itself it’s not racist; it’s only when it either causes damage or turns nasty against other ethnicities, races or against people of other countries that it’s inexcusable.  Nevertheless, I believe in conducting myself in a dignified way at all times whenever and wherever possible; by living up to hooligan stereotypes, England fans only propagate this image of themselves nationally and internationally; it’s not vogue and it doesn’t do the country or the sport any favours.  What’s more, my nan made a very good point that why do many England fans only support England during the football; if they really liked football, why do they not watch or show any interest in the matches involving other countries? Is it about the sport, or is it about the country? If it is about the country, why act so intimidating when watching the football (as opposed to other sports)? Surely this only sends out the wrong kind of message, a bad example to everyone – that this is how England fans behave, and that this country accepts that behaviour as tolerable and normal for football fans towards each other, and towards other people both from this country and from outside it?  I know that there are plenty of people who support England in the World Cup who don’t act this way – a lot of my friends fall under this category – and if I were them I would be somewhat embarrassed and angry that this reputation precedes me.  Everyone is entitled to behave in their own way, but I really wish we considered the feelings and cultures of others more than we do.

A final anecdote, in case I sound holier than thou – I’m not perfect.  When I was 12 years old, I once used a racial slur – I am ashamed to say.  Even more stupidly, it was towards a friend of mine whom I had known for 7 or 8 years by that time; he was acting in a very irritating way during a DT lesson, and out of sheer frustration and for pure shock value, I told him to “shut up you Paki”. Now, I am not racist nor have I ever been – so why portray myself in that way? Even though I was a child, I knew better before and after that event, and yet I did it. It had the desired effect, but I belittled myself by doing it, and my friend (to his credit) handled it very classily by laughing and saying in response to my immediate apology: “Um, no offence taken because I am Indian so that’s not what I am”.  His response made me feel all the more ashamed because not only had I attempted to use a racist expression in order to shut him up, I had used it in an incorrect context; it showed up my foolish behaviour for what it was.  Our friendship did not suffer for it; in fact I believe that the event was all but forgotten by breaktime, but it taught me a valuable lesson: that kind of behaviour is never acceptable, never appropriate, and never necessary.  I apologised profusely and he forgave me, but even recalling that incident makes me feel ashamed 12 years on; I was old enough to know better, and the lessons I learned as a result of that event are the redeeming factor; I have never thought or acted in that way since, and I am now in a position of responsibility to challenge others who do so. During a practice day, I successfully challenged one young person’s attitude to immigrants and the labour market; during my job at Cirencester, I anticipate doing this kind of thing more.  In this blog entry, I have also tried to challenge this behaviour.  Thankyou for reading.

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break the ice.

September 21, 2009

So today was my first day of my Careers Guidance course at uni!  It went well, there was a lot of information to take in and my head is still spinning a tiny bit, but it was good, everyone seems nice and I made a couple of friends already!  It seems a bit daunting and also a very fast-moving course, but I am ready for the challenge (I think!) and I know that it’s only natural to be nervous and I am capable of it.  I can do this.  Let’s go!

So as it was our first day in the classroom, and we only knew a couple of people (whom we’d gone to interview with) very barely, so it was natural that we had to do some icebreaker games.  I had feared this, but I had expected this too.  We had to each write down something “unusual” about ourselves, and although thinking about it now, I could have written that when I was 18, I met Janet Jackson at an album release party for Damita Jo (I won a radio competition with Star FM) and talked to her very briefly.  I could have also written some other stuff that I can’t recall right now, but in the end, I came out with the fact that I sing, write and produce my own music, and I promote it here online (on this blog, on myspace and on youtube, as well as through my twitter account).

There were several people who had done musical things, like me, and it was very interesting.  However, everyone seemed to take an interest in me to the point that I almost felt a little embarrassed about mentioning it, because although I am very proud of my material (and listening to some of the songs from Quiet Storm again last night, I really did some bangers on this album!!!! I can’t wait for y’all to hear it 😀 ), it was strange for people to be so interested in it.  Especially for people who a) didn’t know me from Adam, and b) people who have done their own music things (with varying degrees of success but some certainly more successful than me) in a variety of genres and settings.  I was touched that they took such an interest and gave me respect, but I did feel the glare of attention on me and I wished I had chosen something else to reveal about myself.

Especially because out of the 22 of us, only me and one other guy (Mike) smokes.  Though it seems not to have crossed anyone’s mind yet, I am anticipating someone’s eventual question “why do you smoke if you sing?” I know that I shouldn’t, but luckily up until now I have gotten away with it with barely a scratch on my vocals, so to speak.  I can still sing, I can still belt, I can still whisper, I can still whistle (sort of… I can do a pretty good whistle for a guy).  I am learning to belt less and to sing powerfully with my head voice more, which sounds less straining and also allows me to control myself more and emote slightly more.  So my technique is changing, but improving; not declining.  My father said the other night that although I am apparently “still too loud”, I “sing more and howl less”.  It was supposed to be a compliment and I took it as such – although I don’t deny that I am loud when I sing at home against the stereo (poor neighbours), I was touched that my dad can hear the improvement in my technique.  Power is important, but also I value transmitting the emotion when I sing and trying to carry the impact of the tune and the lyrics and the emotions all at once.  That’s what I feel is the true task and true skill of a singer – to really feel the story / mood that a song tells, and to transmit that to your audience so that the song becomes special / significant to them and they feel a little bit of what you feel.  Singing may be a technical thing, but it’s also a primal and emotional thing.

I guess it did break the ice, and I guess I do feel more comfortable within the group.  I certainly don’t dread tomorrow!  But I hope that the music thing becomes a footnote in my year on the course, unless I decide to make it otherwise.  I want to have the control and power over what I sing and when I do it.  That’s what I’ve always enjoyed up to now, and that’s something I hope to maintain throughout my life. 🙂