Thursday, 11 January 2007

Happy Feet

Listening to:

Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet suite.

A recent movie:

Happy Feet. This is an animated film billed as being from the “same people” as did Shrek 2 and Babe. Happy Feet is all about an emperor penguin who can’t sing, and so won’t ever be able to attract a mate. (Apparently, there is some basis to this factoid, and it’s a cute idea to base a plot on, even if it isn’t true.) Instead, this penguin can tap-dance. So, I fully expected this to be a typical story about the outcast managing to show up the forces of conventional, hide-bound thinking, and to end up with the girl after all. (Needless to say, the hero penguin is a male one. Tap-Dancer is voiced by Elijah Wood/Frodo.)

But no. Sure, it works its way through a pretty standard story-line to start with: in exile, Tap-Dancer finds friends, comfort and comic relief among another species of penguins, who are all a deal hipper than the emperor penguins left behind. But then the last third to a quarter of the firm shifts focus pretty dramatically. We hear all about how the humans are eating all the penguins’ fish, and we get a very heavy-handed message about conservation.

If not actually a paid-up member of Greenpeace, I’m quite convinced that fishing is an industry way out of control, and that humanity does need to rein it in. (Even out of self-interest: if the fish-stocks are seriously depleted now, which is where they’re headed, then the fisheries may take generations to recover.) But it really does not work in this film. It’s positively jarring. Indeed, there is a very spooky series of scenes set in an aquarium that feel totally out of place. And you get a happy ending, but it feels completely unbelievable. Great political message (even if its handed out with zero subtlety), but not such a great film (early successful comedy notwithstanding). It does also feature some good songs.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007


Listening to:

Alkan, Motifs for piano, Op. 63, No. 5 (Les Initiés)

Just read:

Pat Barker, Regeneration.

This is a very good novel set during World War I in a Scottish hospital for shell-shocked soldiers. Central to the story are two real people, Siegfried Sassoon, there as a patient, and W. H. R. Rivers, a leading doctor at the hospital. This encounter really did happen, so Barker is presenting a fictionalised account of what might have happened. She does a very good job of it.

Sassoon is in the hospital because he has publicly condemned the conduct of the war and refused to return to it, and because the authorities (and Sassoon’s friends) wish to put him in a hospital as a head-case rather than in prison as a conscientious objector. Once there, he encounters the enlightened Rivers, as well as a number of other seriously disturbed soldiers. While there he also meets Wilfrid Owens. Owens is the author of Anthem for Doomed Youth, which begins

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

Sassoon, already an established poet at this point, helps Owens get his opening lines into just this shape, in what is an effective, if inevitably speculative scene.

Owens and Sassoon both eventually go back to war (it’s not easy to understand Sassoon’s motives, though their complexity is conveyed well), but the book is as much about Rivers’s career, and there’s quite a bit of theorising on just what the right thing to do is in a situation where patients are disturbed in novel ways, and where if made well, they are likely to be put right back into the situation that made them ill in the first place.

Regeneration is the first book of a trilogy; one that I look forward to completing.