selenak: (Band on the Run - Jackdawsonsgrl)
Back in Munich, I finally had the chance to watch this. A good thing, too, doing it today, because some of the news were stomach-turning. (If you're German and have watched them, you know what I mean. If not, you don't want to know.) I needed cheering up.

Which this film, subtitled "The Touring Years", did. No, it's not an in-depth documentary about the Beatles in totem, or does much in terms of analysis, but then it doesn't pretend to be. It skips, dips and glides on the waves of the ocean that's the phenomenon, and is incredibly charming and a fannish love declaration.

What it does do: give a great sense of both the utter sense of joy the Beatles were able to evoke in their audience at their best, and the increasing madness/claustrophobia/freak show feeling that was a big reason why they stopped touring in 1966. In addition to old interview snippets from George and John and now ones with Paul and Ringo, you get the usual suspects dead and living (even those who rarely went on the record in front of the camera, like Neil Aspinall), plus a couple of very prominent fans who were teenagers then and fully in the grip of Beatlemania, like Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver, Eddie Izzard and Richard "Four Weddings and a Funeral" Curtis. I found it both amusing and touching that Richard Curtis declared his entire career was in a way an attempt to recapture what the Beatles were to his teenage self, friends who know each other really well effortlessly bantering with one or two glasses down already. (Richard Curtis movie characters: all Beatles avatars. You know, it works for me.)

(Ron Howard, btw, is really good with using not just the songs but the banter from various studio outtakes and live performances, so it's not just Curtis et all explaining this as a quintessential part of the Beatles allure but the audience sees/hears it as well.)

Being the avid fan I am, I had seen much of the footage before, but never on the big screen, or with this sound quality, and I fell in love all over again. With the music, but also with the great chemistry and connection they had with each other (I hear you, Richard Curtis). The movie has two endings, since there's a remastered version of the Shea Stadium documentary attached, but the documentary proper ends thusly: decision to stop touring -> off we go to the studio to make Sgt. Pepper -> artistic triumph - > short "and then there were five more albums, but they only played live together one more time" credit explanation -> excerpt from the rooftop concert from "Let it Be", to be specific, "Don't Let Me Down/I've Got a Feeling", which is the final scene of Ron Howard's documentary. This could have been a bit of a gamble, considering we go from moptop Beatles concert excerpts to the 1969 look and music, and it's a bit of a shock how much older they look only three years later if you're not familiar, BUT the gamble pays off because lo and behold, there it is again, that joy of performance, that clicking with each other and the audience. (That, btw, is the marvel of the Let It Be movie this excerpt is from, too - misery misery misery and suddenly! Joy!) It's a great way to wrap things up, and as a bonus through the credits, we get more banter (from the Christmas Record for the fan club from 1963 when fame was still new and wild), going full circle from end to beginning.

There are lots of tributes to Brian Epstein and George Martin (to whom the movie is dedicated), and the credits also single out the late Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans and Derek Taylor for special thaniks (and justly so, given Neil and Mal were the roadies/condidantes since Liverpool and Derek Taylor had to manage the PR madness through the touring years), but one particular name dropping was my favourite: when Paul, referring to how by 1966, they all needed some non-Beatles space and passion in their lives, mentions George found Indian music "and I got involved with a gallery owner, Robert Fraser" - cue photo, thanks, Ron Howard, because there aren't many available other than the famous drug raid one with Mick Jagger. (The Paul and Robert Fraser relationship being something of a special interest of mine.)

Like I said, the movie skips and dips, which means you get due mention of the fact they were stoned throughout "Help!" (obviously), but no more than that, and other than George's comment about ye early Hamburg days ("being 17 in the naughtiest city of the world"), no mention of the part of being a touring musician that includes lots of sex. Otoh you do get an unexpected brief excursion into the 1965 US civil rights state when the fact the Beatles refused to play to segregated audiences (which became an issue in Jackson, Mississippi) comes up. I thought Ron Howard was playing it just right; he doesn't claim they did something major for the cause here, but lets the story speak for itself, by using interviews not from years later but made at the time (by Larry Sanders, in which they all unequivocally say that segregation is nuts, we also see their original contract for the tour which indeed has s a clause saying that the artists won't play in front of segregated audiences ), then lets a black fan describe what it was like.

As mentioned, after the film proper is over, you get the Shea Stadium documentary remix, cut down to thirty minutes (the original documentary of Shea Stadium was 50 minutes and included footage of the other groups playing that night and some interviews), which, seen uninterrupted, not only provides a great sense of what it was like but in fact allows you to do what neither the audience nor the Beatles could at the time due to the scream level - hear the music. (Earlier in Howard's coumentary, Ringo says he could not hear anything and had to focus on John's and Paul's backsides and the rhythm to goes where in the song they were.) Like Elvis Costello said, it's amazing that it sounds as great as it does under these insane conditions - and when two young 'uns behind me expressed (impressed) amazement that the Beatles would finish said concert with "I'm Down" and make that song hilarious instead of depressing, I felt that pang/gratification you do when hearing people experience something you're fannish about for the first time. (Yes, self, there are lots of people who don't know they used to finish their acts with Paul doing one of his Little Richard-like numbers. Resist the temptation to turn around and provide a know-it-all-explanation!) Which is one of the reasons why I'm glad this new movie exists - not just for nostalgia but to introduce newbies to the Beatles. The best kind of fan service.
selenak: (Alex Drake by Renestarko)
If your day, like mine, needs brightening up, why not watch this fantastic Unexpected Dance Sequence from the movie Pride, which I reviewed here? Short version: fabulous movie about the irresistable union of London based gay activists and striking Welsh miners in the early 1980s. Stars a great many well known and not so well known British actors. Here's Dominic West as Jonathan shaking things up:

If you're wondering, the song is Shame, Shame, Shame" By Shirley & Company.

And while you're in a musical mood, have another Ron Howard interview about his new Beatles documentary. In this one, he compares their touring days to Das Boot, which cracks me up not least because it's...not wrong, in a way. Also the article promises Sigourney Weaver, her teenage self identified in one of the concert clips. I knew Meryl Streep had been at Shea Stadium, but didn't know about Ms Weaver screaming her heart out, too. Just goes to show: they always had great taste! :)
selenak: (Beatles by Alexis3)
Excerpts of John Le Carré's memoirs, The Pigeon Tunnel, containing striking descriptions of his con man father, Rupert Murdoch, Alec Guinness et al. That book's now definitely on my "to be read" list.

Ron Howard on making the latest Beatles documentary, "Eight Days A Week", about their touring days, and also why he felt the need for yet another one. He's endearingly fannish, and I'll try to catch this one in the cinemas.

Harry Potter and the Conscience of a Liberal: Laurie Penny entertainingly sums up the current JKR versus hardcore Corbynites battle on twitter.
selenak: (JohnPaul by Jennymacca)
So, guess how I spent Friday night?

Lady Madonna photo 2016_0610PaulMcCartney0040_zpsbojrwubb.jpg

Read more... )
selenak: (Band on the Run - Jackdawsonsgrl)
Not unexpected, and he lived to a proud old age while staying sharp and alert and active, but still very sad for yours truly as a fan: George Martin has died.

I wish I could do a proper post with clips from interviews and his works, but Darth Real Life won't let me. But he was certainly the coolest producer ever, and even at the most dramatic and fraught of times in the Beatles saga when everyone else involved showed their bad sides, he kept said cool, competence and grace. Of course I never met the man, but I'm one of a million of record listeners who feels a loss today.
selenak: (JohnPaul by Jennymacca)
So here I am, sitting in a train, idly reading the "Literary Review" from November, when lo and behold, I come across an article opening with the following lines:

"If Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were the Lennon and McCartney of the Inklings, then Charles Williams was the George Harrison. (And their Ringo? Possibly Owen Barfield. Another story.)"

My both Beatles and Inklings interested mind, it boggled. Also, considering their lifetimes overlapped, I wonder what Tolkien & Lewis would have made of the comparison. Anyway, the article writer, one Kevin Jackson, makes a good case for Charles Williams as George, not just because of the fame factor("Williams's considerable, highly ideosyncratic achievement have long since been overshadowed by those of his two world famous Oxford pals, and no doubt always will be", but also because of the minus and plus sides of Williams' character (on the minus side: neglectful husband, obsession with pretty muse figures, given to jealous; on the plus side, inspiring, sometimes even life changing teacher, ardent scholar, one of the great all round autodidacts, and no less a person than W.H. Auden raved about Williams "personal sanctity"; on the neutral side, he was famously a practicing occultist). But where I'm currently stuck is: between Tolkien and Lewis, who gets to be who? Jackson by the order of names seems to be casting Tolkien as John, but Tollers strikes me as not nearly aggressive and quarrelsome for that, not to mention that he loved to work and had endless patience, both very un-Lennonian traits. But on the other hand Lewis also was a workoholic, and certainly once the Narnia novels took off in rapid succession while Tolkien painstakingly labored and was annoyed by both Lewis' shoddy worldbuilding and commercial appeal, you can see some McCartney parallels there. Then again, Joy Gresham works better as Yoko than Edith Tolkien does.

Nah, I can't decide. Anyway, Jackson was probably just thinking of their standing in the group vis a vis that of Williams, I know, but it's still fun to wonder. If they'd been born two generations later and in very different social circumstances, how would Tolkien and Lewis have fared in a rock group?
selenak: (Hyperion by son_of)
Before I'm off to confront Darth Real Life on a new day: all the new images of Pluto certainly pleased my space romancing heart, but what made me start this morning with a smile was this:

Pluto Tells All:

And then he started trying to spin the demotion like it was a positive. Look at Phil Collins, he said. He was an ex-member of Genesis but then he had this huge solo career. And I said, first, Phil Collins sucks, and second, I’m not exactly the lead singer of the solar system, am I? This isn’t the Phil Collins scenario, it’s the Pete Best scenario. I’m the Pete Best of the goddamn solar system.

I shall forever think of Pluto as Pete Best now.

Meanwhile, Holmes meets Holmes:

Ian McKellen paid the Elementary cast a visit. Awwww.
selenak: (Brian 1963 by Naraht)
As opposed to the Beatles, I don't know much about the Beach Boys. I did know a few things about Brian Wilson going, though, both via general osmosis and because there isn't a Beatles related book worth its money which fails to point out that Rubber Soul leads to Pet Sounds which leads to Revolver which leads to Brian starting Smile which leads to Sergeant Pepper which isn't the only thing leading to Brian Wlson's breakdown, but contributes to it. (Oh, and Mike Love was in India, too, during those ill fated weeks with the Maharishi, which came in handy for Back in the USSR.) Also Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney have a decades long mutual admiration society & friendship going, and despite strong competition, Brian Wilson wins effortlessly when it comes to "Sixties Pop Culture Icon With Most Tragic Life". Seriously, the man puts fictional woobies in many a fandom to shame. Horrible abusive and exploitative dad who hit him hard enough for Brian to go deaf in one ear? Check. Mental illness not understood and badly treated? Check. Band turning against him at crucial artistic and emotional crisis? Check. Drug abuse? But of course. Evil abusive therapist charlatan moving in to create total dependence and abusing medication and psychology to do so? Check. So that's what I knew going in, that and that the charlatan got the boot at some point, and that Brian Wilson is better off now. But more, I didn't know (like, say, anything about the dynamics between Brian Wilson and his brothers Carl and Dennis), and thus I'm not qualified to say whether or not the film I'm about to review is biographically accurate, though a quick look at Wikipedia (not, of course, necessarily the most reliable information tool) makes it look like no obvious liberties were taken. I'll talk about the movie as a movie, with no contrast and compare to biography.

First of all, the director and his scriptwriters have wisely avoided the biopic curse which usually comes when you go for a "greatest highlights/by the numbers" approach. (A recent example of this would be Mandela, whose subject would have been better served by a miniseries which could have explored the various stages of his life thoroughly, instead of going for the "now he's a lawyer! Now he's an activist! Now the first wife's gone! Here is Winnie! etc." work through Mandela's biography.) Instead of trying to present Brian Wilson's entire life, they pick two different stages, the middle to late 60s (when he's played by Paul Dana) and the 80s (when he's played by John Cusack). While the elements of your avarage pop or rock star saga are there (early success, drugs, crash, recovery via help of true love), they're presented in an entirely different way, and not just because Love & Mercy constantly moves between the 60s and the 80s, but because the film doesn't bother with the "rise of unknown to the top" stage which is so beloved by just about any other take on a musical star that I've seen. (There's a quick montage showing the Beach Boys becoming famous and beloved at the start, but that's it, the first proper scene set in the 60s is when Brian after a panic attack in the air plane decides not to go on tour with the rest of the band but stay at home in the studio instead, working on his response to Rubber Soul. (This, btw, is the only way you know it's 1965 - Brian talking about Rubber Soul just having been released. This movie doesn't offer dates to tell you in which era you are at any given point, the audience is expected to keep up.) It also doesn't bother with that other stalwart of the genre, the recreation of live performances. Instead, and very fittingly given its subjects, it goes for the creation of music in the studio as its musical heart, and it miraculously manages to get across both the sense of joy and musical exploration and the infinite attention to detail Brian Wilson at his artistic peak must have been capable of. What's more, the studio musicians, usually hardly existing at all in rock/pop biopics (and if they do, they're presented as the conventional enemy versus the creative newcomer) are presented as avid and supportive collaborators.

(Incidentally: the producers seem to have acquired all the musical rights, but use the songs with restraint. This is no "greatest hits of the Beach Boys" type of picture, either, but having the rights means we get to listen all the various soundtracks for Pet Sounds being created.)

Another big difference to most other depictions of a musical icon is that Brian Wilson must have been the least macho pop star on the planet. Dano's Wilson is a shy, sweet-natured boy in a man's body who does have drive and determination when it comes to his music but doesn't do shouting matches (be it with his godawful father or cousin Mike) as much as he vanishes into himself and increasingly loses his grip on to reality. Cusack's Wilson is basically a damsel held captive by the California version of Dr. Dracula, in many ways a shell of a man with his sense of self all but eroded, but just enough left to respond when he meets our heroine, Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks), to reach out to her and ask for help. (Melinda later became and still is his second wife.) While the 60s scenes are all from Brian's pov (there is no scene where he's not present), the 80s are, all but one, from Melinda's, who, writing wise, could have been the most boring character of the film (since she's an angel of mercy and Brian's rescuer without any flaws or the possibility of mixed feelings as much as indicated), but Banks' performance gives her an earthy charm and vivacity that makes you buy it as a viewer and believe it, not to mention that of course it's impossible not to root for Brian to be freed from Dr. Landy the Creep. (Paul Giametti, quickly dropping the faux geniality to reveal the power mad leech within.) Dano and Cusack don't look alike physically, but you buy - at least I did - that they're the same man, decades apart, and the constant intertwining of two eras makes you feel you understand how we get from one version to the other.

Still rare in biopics: there's no vilification or "she just couldn't understand him" blaming of the first wife, who is presented as sympathetic and loving in the 1960s. (By the 80s, the marriage had long been over.) There are two boo-hiss villains, Wilson Snr. in the 60s and Dr. Landy in the 80s, with cousin Mike Love getting the more layered role of commercial objector (i.e. he's presented as the "don't fuck with the formula" type who just wants to continue having hits), but he's not presented as spiteful or malicious, and you can even see where he's coming from when he's pointing out that on Pet Sounds, all the other Beach Boys contribute are their voices, while the instrumental parts come solely from the studio musicians and the music itself solely from Brian, which makes it not a group effort), plus when Brian plays what then develops into Good Vibrations, he immediately recognizes the potential, so he's not presented as hopelessly icompetent. But he does have the role of constant buzzkill when it comes to the joy of musical experimentation. Carl and Dennis Wilson are presented as sympathetic to Brian but helpless to deal with his spirralling out of control mental problems, though you don't get a sense of what they're like as people otherwise. (Whereas Mike Love is given a clear cut personality in the movie.)

The movie is careful not to present Brian's mental issues as the reason for his musical talent (or vice versa the music as causing the mental problems), but it does a great job of getting across of how avarage noises can be both inspiring and frightening to him, depending on his state of being. (It also goes for a mainly auditory approach when it comes to rendering both hallucinations and later the effect of LSD.) And it's not vilifying psychiatrists, either, making it clear the problem isn't therapy or medication but that Landy is abusing both. It also trusts its audience to use their imagination; we don't get shown Wilson Snrs' hitting his sons in their childhood (except for a very very quick image near the end, in a blink and you'll miss it fashion), but when Cusack!Brian describes to Melinda matter-of-factly the difference of sound between"normal spanking" and the noise of his father's beatings, she and the audience get the full implication and are duly horrified. (All the more so because Brian is seemingly unaware he described something unusual.) Being set in California (in both timelines), it's pretty much drenched in sunlight, but there's a difference between the 1960s pop colours and the 1980s pastels. It feels neither rushed nor drawn out, and the two era setting contributes to giving you an inkling of its subjects headspace, especially when they at last collapse into each other (that's the one 80s sequence where we leave Melinda's pov and are in Brian's).

All in all: compelling story, sensitively told, with a cinematic life of its own (which biopics all too often can't really manage). I'm glad I watched it.
selenak: (Black Widow by Endlessdeep)
I strongly suspect one of the reasons why, by and large, I like the cinematic Marvelverse better than the DC-based movies, is that while DC ever since Nolan made his first Batman movie puts all their money on grimdark (both in themes and look) and shies away from anything looking remotely like it could be perceived as camp, the Marval guys embrace their comicbook origins and looks with gusto. (See also: Loki in full reindeer Asgard regalia in The Avengers.) This vid celebrates the comicness of the MCU (and the eyecandy) with equal gusto.

More on the thematic exploration side, but still MCU based, to be specific, about how Phase 2 of the MCU movies (Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Cap 2) had our heroes questioning the identiies they've built themselves without losing the drive to make a difference: Counting Stars .

Which was made by [personal profile] such_heights, who also made a great vid celebrating Buffy the Vampire Slayer (both show and girl): Level Up.

And lastly, I got 12 out of 13 questions right in this Beatles quiz, which is good or pathetic, depending on your pov. (I appreciated the questions weren't of the dumb "what were their last names" type you often find with quizzes.)
selenak: (JohnPaul by Jennymacca)
Briefly, I flirted with linking one of my meta-as-fanfiction stories here, as they usually happen when I have issues and/or am on a collision course with a sizable majority in fandom re: characters and issues. (Cases in point: Five in One in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Discordance in Merlin fandom.) However, I'd be blatantly lying if I said I write these kind of stories for myself. They're very much an attempt to reach out and communicate what's bothering/captivating me in an entertaining way. However, every now and then I indulge myself with silliness and crack fic that usually unites more than one of my interests, and that definitely was the case with the story below, which happened due to me having some crossover ideas that made me smile. It's so self indulgent that I never uploaded it to a fanfiction archive and just posted it on lj and dw.

...welll, okay, one bit of it is perhaps meant seriously. Because I've seen on lj various attempt to sort the Beatles into Hogwarts. Some people invariably sort John Lennon into Slytherin and Paul McCartney into Gryffindor. Those people are wrong.

Title: Magical Mystery Tours

Disclaimer: Harry Potter owned by J.K. Rowling, Buffy the Vampire Slayer owned by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemies, X-Men owned by Marvel. Beatles owned by themselves, and certainly unrelated to their fictional counterparts here.

Summary: Three fictional universes the Beatles didn't end up in, or: how they fared at Hogwarts, who the Vampire Slayer of the 60s and 70s and her Watcher were and why Timothy Leary was so sure the Beatles were mutants.

Rating: PG 13 solely for swearing, discussed drug use and discussed adultery.

Characters: Albus Dumbledore, Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Maureen Starkey, Chris O'Dell and Brian Epstein.

Spoilers: Some for the Harry Potter books (and Dumbledore's backstory), basic ones for X-Men: First Class (the movie, not the comic), and only premise ones for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Author's note: Started out as a meme reply and got away from me. Considering the sheer silliness and gen-ness of the premise, I think even utter objecters to RPF are safe to read it.

The rest of the days )
selenak: (Band on the Run - Jackdawsonsgrl)
There will be a NBC miniseries about the Beatles written by Michael "The Tudors" Hirst. . Oh my.

...I'm not sure whether I'm horrordelighted or amusedified or what. The Tudors was such an odd thing: it had elements that were genuinely compelling - Wolsey in season 1, Anne Boleyn in season 2 (but not in s1), Thomas Cromwell ditto -, and then again it never gave a flying fig about accuracy if it could help it (nobody at that court ever seemed to worry about pregnancies, Henry's sisters becoming one sister, Margaret, who got to marry the King of Portugal instead of the King of France, with no sister marrying a King of Scotland at all which presumably means in that verse Mary Stuart never existed is but two examples), and of course there's Jonathan Rhys Meyer not gaining weight until the very last possible moment in the last season... but then again, most accurate rendition of Anne's death (complete with actual speech), and most interesting Mary Tudor as a young girl.

...I think I'd roll with the trashiness, because let's face it, 60s rock stars did have a life that begs for trashy, if Hirst manages to get across the genuine passion for music (which is why we all still bother) as well, but what I'm really worried about is that he leaves out the humor. Which would be deadly. It was a quintessential part of their appeal and a key character trait of all four. And The Tudors was many things, but funny it was not.

Casting: Hirst does have a good eye. Natalie Dormer got an international audience first through playing Anne Boleyn, ditto for Sarah Bolger as Mary. I do hope he'll go with actors not already known for the Beatles themselves, because that makes it easier, and will use the already established stars for other roles. Mark Strong for George Martin? Rufus Sewell for Allan Williams? I did love Kristin Scott-Thomas as Mimi in Nowhwere Boy, but I doubt he'll go for encores. May I suggest Ian Hart, who was an eerily good John Lennon twice in his youth, as John's never do'well absent father Alfred (aka Alf aka Freddie)? On a similar note, Aidan Quinn (who was a good Paul in Two of Us) for Jim McCartney. Oh, and please, Mr. Hirst, do your part against the European crisis, show European cooperation and cast actual Germans for the Hamburg parts as opposed to Brits or Americans pretending to speak German.

...see, if James Gandolfini hadn't died, he could have cast him as Allen Klein.

In conclusion: maybe it'll be a trainwreck, but of course I'll watch. Meanwhile, here's the skit from A Midsumemr Night's Dream again which they boys did for Shakespeare's 400th anniversary:

selenak: (Band on the Run - Jackdawsonsgrl)
In fiction, one of the trickiest literary devices to handle is the unreliable narrator; the point of view character/first person narrator whose perception of reality is actually intentionally skewered, so that the reader isn't meant to agree with it. It's not easy to pull off successfully. Otoh, when reading through non-fiction in the form of memoirs I come quite often about unintional uses of that same device, or rather: the book the author(s) think they're writing is definitely not the one I'm reading.

Most recent example: "The Guitar's All RIght As A Hobby, John" by Kathy Burns. Which is the account of its author's friendship with John Lennon's aunt Mimi Smith. What the book thinks it is: liberation of Mimi from her stern disciplinarian image, portraying her instead as loving and full of humour.

What I've read: Portrait of a Mother-in-Law From Hell. Also of a relentless narcisissist.

How so? Partly, I think, because our author, who started out as a Beatle and John Lennon fan writing to John's aunt and became a pen-pal and visitor for the next decades, doesn't understand the show, not tell principle. We're told, for example, that Mimi liked Ringo's mother (while disliking most other Beatle relations), but the problem here is that Mimi never gets quoted saying anything nice about Ringo's mother whereas she gets quoted a plenty dissing everyone else. Now I can understand finding sharp tongued dissings more quotable than good humoured praise, but this is a problem if you're trying to sell me on Mimi being the "telling it as it is yet fair in her judgment" type as opposed to the "everyone sucks but me" type. More seriously, though, is the matter of the two Mrs. Lennons. Now if you've read various Beatle biographies and/or Cynthia Lennon's memoirs and/or Julia Baid's memoirs, it's no secret that Mimi and Cynthia disliked each other, and that Mimi at least during John's life time was less than thrilled with Yoko, too. But the impression Kathy Burns' memoirs give is that every second letter Mimi wrote to Kathy consisted of relentless Cynthia bashing, and that this went on verbally during visits as well. That Mimi's idea of the John/Cynthia relationship was that her poor boy was relentlessly chased down by the evil Miss Powell who then proceeded to trap him by getting intentionally pregnant wasn't news to me. (Never mind Cynthia's own account, just about everybody who witnessed John and Cynthia at art college disagrees with Mimi there; John was both eager and then possessive and jealous as hell, notoriously demanding a complete makeover from Cynthia to please him, so the idea of him being roped into a relationship he didn't want for three years before Cynthia gets pregnant is extremely preposterous. News to me, however, was Mimi's idea that heartless Cynthia wanted to party and go out while the couple were living in Weybridge whereas poor overworked John wanted to stay at home. Given that the constant complaint about Cynthia from male biographers is that she was too boring and housewifey to keep up with a spouse like John, this is darkly hilarious. Again, you don't even have to consider Cynthia's own account, or pro-Cyn sources. Pattie Boyd (Harrison), who is a Cyn criticial memoirist, critisizes her for being mumsy, stay-at-home and boring and behaving "more like John's mother than like his wife" (this in regard to John's second marriage has an obvious irony). That John should have told his aunt he was divorcing his wife not because of Yoko but because she had an affair again wasn't a surprise because he tried to pull that one on the law, too, until his lawyer pointed out that with Yoko pregnant this was getting ridiculous; Mimi complaining that the measly divorce settlement John coughed up - (John settled with Cynthia for a total of £75,000, plus £ 25,000 for a house, and left Julian a trust fund of £100,000, which would be divided equally among any additional children. Since John only had Sean, Julian was entitled to £ 50,000 out of his father's £220 million estate) - was far too much for Cynthia, and using the exact same term Cynthia in her memoirs reports John using - "you/she didn't win the pool" - isn't, either, though it's depressing. (More about the ghastly divorce business here.) You'd think, though, that with Cynthia divorced and out of John's life Mimi would have given it a rest. Not so. Instead, the complaints about Cynthia (now with newly added slutshaming because of Cynthia's remarriages) go on and on and on. Julian, too, gets no sympathy from Mimi, being Cynthia's son. When John dies, Mimi gets asked why she doesn't try to establish a relationship with Julian, and she says that she's old and Julian had enough death in his life already. He shouldn't suffer by losing her, Mimi, as well, so she was doing him a favour by not having a relationship with him. This, however, Kathy Burns adds disingeniously, did not stop Mimi from adoring Sean and keeping in contact with him. As for Julian, in the wake of John's death Mimi accomplishes the feat of blaming him for being Cynthia's son and Yoko's stepson, complaining about Julian going to New York to stay with Yoko for a while after his father's assassination. (Once it became clear there was no love lost between Julian and Yoko, the later blame presumably dropped.)

Speaking of Yoko, here's Mimi-as-quoted-by-Kathy-Burns on Yoko to John the first time John introduced them: "Who is the monkey in the garden then, John?" And thus it continues, until a few years after John's death, when Mimi starts to warm up to Yoko a bit. (Could be because Yoko was holding the pursestrings to the Lennon estate, if you want to be cynical, or because Mimi was getting mellower in her old age, if you want to be kind.) Generally speaking, Mimi was a firm believer in the blaming-Yoko-and-Linda school of thought re: the Beatles breakup (not a surprise, there's a 1970 Mimi interview saying as much), though Kathy Burns thinks she might have softened towards Linda if she'd lived long enough to see Linda die by cancer. So, is there any woman in this book Mimi actually isn't negative about? That's where the tell-not-show problem comes in again. As I said, our author says Mimi liked Ringo's mother Elsie but gives no example of an action or quote supporting this. She also says Mimi liked Pattie Boyd and Jane Asher, and that Mimi was proud of her niece Liela (which is interesting considering the Hunter Davies edition of John's letters includes some to eyerolling ones about Mimi to Liela ("Mimi is a mimi is a mimi etc...altho I must admit I'm always surprised by her 'outbursts'... I got a VERY STRANGE letter from her for which she has since 'apologised' in her own sweet way)...I typed an answer... but never posted it... deciding it just wasn't worth 'biting back'...inperson I might not be so, err, reserved!). Though, again: "Mimi bragged about Liela" is one statement, whereas we get two to four page letters on the evilness of Cynthia (and Cynthia's mother). There are two women we do get positive Mimi quotes about. One is her late sister Julia, and there, Mimi sounds kind and generous (the quote to Kathy Burns is similar to a statement Mimi gave to Hunter Davies as early as the 1960s, "I loved Julia. She was so witty and amusing, always laughing. We all make mistakes"), though Kathy Burns also says Mimi was deeply hurt by John writing the song Julia. (Incidentally: this reminds me of a letter of Mimi's published last year where she complains to John about him having seen his father in 1967 and having had him stay at his house for a while. Mimi seems to have regarded John demonstrating love and/or interest in his biological parents as implicit rejection of her own parenting. No question where John's idea that loving someone else means rejecting him or giving him less love hails from.) The other remarkable positive statement of Mimi as quoted by Kathy Burns about another woman is about our author herself; during one shared tea, Mimi, so the book tells us, wonders out loud "Why couldn't John have married a nice girl like you?"


Well, then. I was curious whether it had anything on Mimi's relationship with Julia's daughters, younger Julia and Jackie, because if Cynthia's memoirs are cold on Mimi, Julia Baird's are deep deep in the Antarctic. But according to Kathy Burns, she only mentioned them once - in an early letter during the 60s - and never again. (A John Lennon letter to one of his other aunts, Mater, from 1975 says about Julia and Jackie after Julia's death, "Mimi wouldn't take them..tho I wanted it...aprt from Mummy...for COMPANY".) To move on to the male gender, Mimi is also quoted on the other Beatles. Her George opinion as reported in this book is as snobbish as in all the other Beatle bios from Davies onwards. ("Forget about the way he dressed though that was bad enough, it was his horrible accent and his equally horrible use of the English language that completely turned her off.") Ringo she hardly knew since he joined last. Paul fares best in only being critisized for a big ego and needing to be taken down a peck or two, except for the aftermath of John's death, where his failure to call her results in her writing to Kathy Burns "I expect he knew I knew too much about his attempts to discredit John re the songs and music". (Mimi told Neil Aspinall about being upset, after which Paul called her, which barely mollified her ("he was nervous of me... I told you...many excuses"), but by then she had biographer Philipp Norman as a new target of ire (in addition to Julian and Cynthia who were never off the anger menu, it seems), so she went back to putting Paul in the redeemable with a big ego category. (As always, according to this book.) (BTW: given that Norman's 1981 Shout! is depending on your pov famous or infamous for being a milestone in extolling John Lennon at the expense of the rest of the group, you'd think Mimi would have liked it, but no.)

In conclusion: the book has some parts about fan life in the 1960s and 1970s that are perhaps valuable from a sociological pov. As a source on the Beatles themselves, it doesn't offer much. As a source on Mimi Smith, which after all is the main reason why I wanted to read it - I was all for Mimi getting her own biography, fleshing her out -, it thinks it offers a vindication but in fact presents her as a complete fright. Now, I'm sure there was far more to Mimi, who brought up John in a difficult situation and who saw her belated shot at a life as something other than an aunt/mother figure be inadvertendly destroyed when Julia died (as Mimi had been planning to emigrate to New Zealand with the subletter, something not mentioned in the Burns book at all), but ironically, Mimi comes across far more sympathetically in the biographies about the Fab Four (most recently, Mark Lewisohn's, who among other things unearthed a very thoughtful and tender poem John wrote for Mimi after his uncle George died) than she does in this book about herself.
selenak: (Band on the Run - Jackdawsonsgrl)
Wherein the Doctor saves the Beatles, because of course he does. It's one in a series of Big Finish audio plays done specifically to honor the big 50 years anniversary by connecting them to the year 1963, aka Annus Mirabilis, between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP, to use the obvious Larkin quote...and of course the year in which Doctor Who started broadcasting. Doylist and Watsonian Doctor Who/Beatles connections have existed from the start - Beatles producer George Martin worked with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Paul McCartney knew Delia Derbyshire who created the Doctor Who theme, the Beatles themselves show up in a concert clip in a First Doctor adventure (in which, btw, the show accuractely speculates that there'll be a Beatles museum in Liverpool to go to years in the future - which the Doctor's Companion Vicky who is from 200 years into the future has visited, to the shock of Barbara who is from the 1960s), which, given that the Beatles were a current band at the time the episode in question was broadcast must have sounded ridiculous). So a Doctor Who 1963 Beatles themed adventure may have been logical, but the way scriptwriter Eddie Robson pulls it off is genius. It works on so many levels - for starters, both if you're deeply into DW and the Beatles and if you're not that familiar with either. But oh, all the inside gags had me in stitches.

The premise: the Doctor (Five, played by Peter Davison, who is having a blast here) takes Nyssa to see the Beatles in 1963 and to his utter shock finds that nobody has heard of them while the band everyone is starting to go crazy about is called The Common Man and consists of not four but three fellows named Mark, James and Corky. ("The Fab Three doesn't have quite the same ring to it.") Clearly, someone has changed history, and in the course of finding out why and put history back on track, Eddie Robson the scriptwriter checks off various important points of the Beatles saga - Hamburg, Royal Variety concert, Maharishi, split up; while Nyssa for plot reasons ends up in the Hamburg era, the Doctor dashes through the 60s in an effort to first find out what's going on and why and then to stop it. (He does try 1957 first - known to fans like yours truly as the year John met Paul - but it's timelocked by the story's villain, so he can't go there.) The three Common Man bandmembers are obviously modelled on the Beatles (Mark on John, James on Paul, and Corky is a George-and-Ringo amalgan), for which there is an in-story reason, but it also allows the script to use their characters without having to worry about law suits; after all, Mark, James and Corky are fictional. :) The actors, btw, to this German sound great with their Liverpudlian accents, and their music, specifically written for this audio tale, is a neat 60s Britpop pastiche without being on a Beatles level (as the Doctor points out which nearly gets him lynched by The Common Man fans), for which, again, there is an in-story reason. You can tell Eddie Robson really knows his Beatles stuff, btw; for part of the audio, Mark provides a narration which turns out to be his equivalent of the 1970 Lennon Remembers interview, only unlike John, Mark's interviewer calls him out on the inconsistencies (which happen because the Doctor and the villain keep changing the timeline and hence also Mark's memories). Mark and James have a condensed split up era John and Paul argument ("We were in the studio nine hours, take after take after take, and then you said we still hadn't got it right!" versus "Someone had to hold the band together and it sure as hell wasn't you! You couldn't even be bothered to show up when Corky was recording his songs!"); the villain of the tale turns out to be Allen Klein Lenny Krieger, evil American manager extraordinaire (with an American accent that's a bit over the top, but that's okay, he turns out to be not really American); two of the fans get to play larger roles, one of the potentially lethal fanatic variety (named Sadie) and one of the enjoys-is-inspired-but-keeps-her-head-and-own-goals variety (named Rita), and if you haven't noticed they're both called after Beatles songs I'm disappointed. Lastly, the way the show uses the Paul-is-dead nonsense that was cooked up by a bored discjockey in 1969 and became a suburban legend had me rolling on the floor, because it's so clever, both on a Doylist and Watsonian level. (Also it serves the rl extremely creepy PiD crowd right.)

As to what happened in this timeline to the real Beatles: the villain's sinister scheme started by postponing one key historical event, the point at which Britain ended national service, which meant John, Paul and George had to do their time in the army. (Ringo didn't, for health reasons, but he never joined the band, either.) Which, as the Beatles in rl often remarked, would have ended their career before it ever began. Via Rita, the Doctor does find out what became of them in 1963. (John is in a band consisting of "Pete, Chaz and another Pete" - if you're a Beatles fan you know who they are supposed to be, btw, but it's not important to the story - which never went anyhere. Paul gave in to his father's demands to get a proper job though he's writing songs of his own in his spare time - "but he missed his point in time", comments the Doctor. George became an electrician's apprentice. Ringo is drumming for the Hurricanes.) But they're off stage for the rest of the tale, until the very end, when the timeline is back to the original and the Doctor can finally take Nyssa to that promised Beatles concert, so the story ends with the first few chords of an immediately identifiable song. :)

Because the Doctor when dashing about in the 60s has most of his interaction with Mark and James, Nyssa in Hamburg has most of hers with Corky, who is smitten with her (btw, can see both Nyssa/Ringo and Nyssa/George). And here's why the script is really good from a DW point of view: it uses both the fact Nyssa is a scientist (she figures out just who The Common Man really are that way) and her backstory, which I thought the show itself handwaved after Logopolis. At one point, Corky asks Nyssa whether if she's with a time traveller she can't return to her destroyed home planet before said planet's destruction. Nyssa: "No, I couldn't." Corky: "But you said..." Nyssa: "Oh, it's possible. But I couldn't." And the way Sarah Sutton says this second "I couldn't" has so much weight and sadness in it. Speaking of DW continuity, the Doctor mentions Susan a couple of times, and there is an absolutely golden explanation as to just which song Susan was listening to in An Unearthly Child.

In conclusion: two of my fannish loves together in a very enjoyable mix. Get thee to to the Big Finish website and download, gentle reader! With an audio like that, you know you should be glad. Yeah, yeah, yeah. .:)
selenak: (Dork)
Because there was the occasional spot of sunshine. Like yesterday morning, before I had to catch my flight. Guess what I did before I left that island on the silver sea?

 photo 2014_0221England0126_zps58ddcd5b.jpg

Pity the traffic which has to go through Abbey Road because they literally have not a moment of uninterrupted access from dawn to dusk... )
selenak: (City - KathyH)
Monday saw me visiting another bunch of dead Victorians - or perhaps more accurately dead Georgians who made it into Victoria's reign and some additional Victorians - at Kensal Green Cemetery, more on that below the cut complete with photos; and before you ask, that is the end of my morbid cemetery exploration during this particular London trip.

On the other hand, hitting the London theatres continues; on Monday I also met up with [personal profile] kangeiko and saw A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney at the National. Neither of us knew anything about the play other than the name of the author, the title and that it was now considered a modern classic. My main reason for wanting to see it was that Lesley Sharpe plays one of the two leading roles. Now that I've watched it, though, I am in awe that a play like this could be created and staged in 1958, by a female author, and so utterly unlike the simultanous plays of John Osborne & Co. In fact, depressingly it still stands out compared with much of today's theatre, tv and cinema output, many decades later. First of all, the main focus is on a complex mother-daughter relationship. Secondly, the daughter, Jo, has an affair with a black sailor, Jimmie, and later has a gay friend, Geoffrey, who moves in with her. The mother, Helen, had Jo when she was young and the two at times act more like bickering sisters than like mother and daughter, with Jo as the responsible one; Helen is also in and out of relationships which more or less provide her income. Inevitably, Jo, too, gets pregnant. And yet: Nobody committs suicide or beats each other up or gets murdered. No one is slut shamed. And not because anyone is living in an idyll or life is kind. The program had a line about the characters being "different types of survivors in a world that doesn't throw anyone lifebelts", and that's true, and yet it is not a cynical play. The characters and their relationships come across as three dimensional and true, and no one feels like a vehicle for the author's rant on issue X. Now I'm all the more frustrated Shelagh Delaney didn't go on to write many more plays (though she did write one more play and some radio and tv scripts, as a quick googling tells me). What a talent! Yes, some writers have only one perfect work in them - see also Harper Lee - but those are the exception; most, given the opportunity, can do more.

As for the production, I thought both Kate O'Flynn as Jo - who is on stage in most scenes and so really needs to be good - and Lesley Sharpe as Helen were fabulous, and so was their supporting cast. The staging and costumes went for the time the play was written in and set, i.e. late 50s, and yet it didn't feel "period" in the sense of feeling distanced; it never played into nostalgia, being too sharp and witty for that. In conclusion: if you're in London for the next two months, try and catch it!

Yesterday was no theatre day because I was invited to a wonderful friend of mine for dinner, a lovely old lady who is one of the most amazing people I've known, and who'll be 90 next year. She's originally from Munich where her father was a very respected lawyer. You may have seen his photo, because when the Third Reich arrived, her father made the mistake believing in justice and complained to the police about harrasment. In response, they made him run through Munich in his underwear with a sign around his neck saying "I am a Jewish pig and will never complain to the police again". (Last year at the anniversary of the so-called "Reichskristallnacht" the photo got reprinted in a lot of Munich-based media again.) Anyway, Bea's parents then got her out of the country via the Kindertransport to England, hence her ending up here. I met her over a decade ago and we've been in contact ever since; she's so full of life and charming and optimistic that you're moved and humbled by her very presence if it wasn't that she's far too animated and drawing response not to enjoy oneself just for the good company.
(I cried once anyway, years ago, because sometimes the awful horror of it all overwhelms you anew.)

Anyway, yesterday evening I visited her and her family, and we had a great evening. It included an anecdote about an encounter with the royals apropos a Holocaust museum/exhibition opening here in London, where Bea and other surviving children who came to England through the Kindertransport had been invited and were presented to the Queen and Prince Philipp. Said exhibition included a model of Auschwitz, with the huts all in white, according to Bea. Says Philipp, gesturing towards the Auschwitz model: "And where do you live now? Not there anymore, right?"


Tuesday was good for hanging out with friends, though; lunch I spent with [personal profile] kathyh at a pub which was an amazing relic of the turn of the (19th into 20th) century full of art deco. Originally we met at the Modern Tate and were planning to have lunch there, but it was too crowded, it being half term in Britain this week, which I hadn't known but which explained all the children I encountered. Generally speaking, I prefer the Tate Britain because of the Williams Turner and Blake represented there, but I did want to see the Richard Hamilton exhibition, which included his series of pictures called "Swingeing London" (sic, it's a pun) using the photo of Robert Fraser and Mick Jagger handcuffed to each other when arrested during the 1967 drug bust, and his design for the Beatles' White Album. (The cover, obviously, is just white, but the exhibition also had the original for the inside poster that came with the LP and was based on a collage of photographs culled from their archives. Today in the age of the cd (well, the age of Itunes, I guess,now), you can't make out individual photos,far too tiny, but in the big A3 size original where all the photos are in their original size, too, you can, and my inner Beatles obsessive was not a bit embarrassed to be able to identify many of them. (Both the original cover design and the original inside poster design were said to be on loan from a "private collection", which I guess means Paul McCartney.)

And now for the graves of Victorian writers (guess who still gets flowers and who doesn't?) and the sisters, wives and best buddies of Mr. Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know himself, Lord Byron (those would be the Georgians I mentioned earlier. And because they are adorable, some of Sunday morning's pelicans, whose ancestors supposedly came to St. James Park with the Restoration and Charles II.

Collins versus Thackeray versus Wilde (mother of Oscar) )
selenak: (Band on the Run - Jackdawsonsgrl)
For today, I was asked to talk about that Liverpool band I like so much. It's good to be reminded why, because like any other fandom, Beatles fandom comes with the downsides as well as the upsides: kerfuffles, the sense that people go on about the same old points and partisanship in the sense of not allowing any other pov. But every time, just when you reach the eye rolling point, you have a dicussion or find a gem that reminds you of the loveliness of shared enthusiasm, the bright side of fandom as well, luckily. Incidentally, not the least interesting aspect of Mark Lewisohn's three volume biography, the first of which just got published this year, is that he interviewed the very early fans as well - those around long before Beatlemania, when the Beatles were simply another teenage Northern band just barely out of school - and it made for some great stories about what it was like, getting enthusiastic about a rock'n roll band as a female teenager in the late 50s with your parents convinced this was the beginning of the end.

Now, what it all comes back to is the music, of course. The Beatles' first single got released in 1962, and they officially ended in 1970; in between that time, the sheer range of musical development and variety is breathtaking. Which is one reason why you have fans who only love the early tunes and fans of the "only the late Beatles are musically interesting" persuasion and anything in between. I appreciate the entire canon, so to speak, and I like that depending on my mood I have such a great variety of songs to choose from. It's not every day you want to be disturbed by She Said She Said or Helter Skelter, after all. Sometimes you'd rather be soothed by way of Let it Be or be irresistably cheered up by She Loves You. Or you are hiking in the mountains with friends and family and are in the mood for a Yellow Submarine singalong. (Don't ask.) Or you want a discussion about why Joe Cocker totally gets it wrong when making With a little help from my friends a throat tearing soul hymn instead of the casual mixture of mocking affection and pastiche it is when Paul and John wrote it for Ringo to sing. Truth is, I might not always be in the mood of active fandom but there hasn't been a time in my life, no matter whether happy or miserable, when a Beatles song or the other hasn't added something to it or helped.

(Two years ago, when I lost weight together with my mother, I brought Revolver along, and my mother asked me since when I was into those ghastly techno bands. "Mum," quoth I, shocked, "first of all, this is not techno, and secondly, these are the Beatles." "No, they are not!" she said determinedly. Turns out she missed the entire psychedelic phase in the mid 60s, though she did recognize Eleanor Rigby. Anyway, I can assure you listening to George Harrison complaining about having to pay a gigantic amount of tax in Taxman is helpful to losing weight if you're me.)

The great musical variety, of course, is the result of various lucky circumstances, including having an awesome producer ready to go with experiments, George Martin, but most of all the result of having not one but three great composers, even if the third one didn't come really into his own until the last two years of the band. And of having not one but three vocalists. And of having Ringo as a drummer, both because of the drumming (it's quite satisfying to read Lewisohn establishing once and for all that Ringo pre-Beatles really was one of the top drummers in Liverpool and they were lucky to get him), and because he was in many ways the glue balancing three egos together.

The band dynamics are of course another case for fascination. The pre-Beatles cases of world superstardom were mainly solo singers - Sinatra and Elvis Presley mainly - and for that matter, that goes for post-Beatles cases as well: Michael Jackson. If there was a band, there was a clear leader, and a clear hierarchy. But not for the Beatles. Now the Beatles themselves, not agreeing on much in hindsight, always agreed on how lucky it was that when fame hit the way it did, it happened to the four of them. They weren't alone with the mass adoration, life in the goldfish bowl and corresponding almost inevitable change in friends and family to minions and courtiers. (Ringo once summed this phenomenon up thusly: In 1963 the attitude of my whole family changed. They treated me like a different person. One absolutely clear vision I had was round at my auntie's, where I'd been a thousand times before. We were having a cup of tea one night and somebody knocked the coffee table and my tea split into my saucer. Everyone's reaction was, 'He can't have that. We have to tidy up.' That would never have happened before. I thought then, 'Things are changing.' It was absolutely an arrow in the brain. Suddenly I was ‘one of those’, even within my family, and it was very difficult to get used to. I’d grown up and lived with these people and now I found myself in weirdland. Home and family were the two things I didn't want to change, because it had all changed 'out there' and we were no longer really sure who our friends were, unless we'd had them before the fame. The guys and the girls I used to hang about with I could trust. But once we'd become big and famous, we soon learnt that people were with us only because of the vague notoriety of being 'a Beatle'. And when this happened in the family, it was quite a blow. I didn't know what to do about it; I couldn't stand up and say, 'Treat me like you used to,' because that would be acting 'big time'.) Being four, not one, was a way to at least keep that bit of groundedness. Though like everything, it was a two-edged sword. There was also enormous group pressure. (For example, when Paul refused to take LSD for near two years.) And when things started to implode, you got the ugly in-fighting that happens when people know each other really, really well and know exactly where to hit.

One of the most famous descriptions of the late Beatles dynamic comes from Ray Connolly, who compared them to a classic dysfunctional family, absent deadbeat yet brilliant Dad (John), hard-working Mum keeping the family together but also perceived as nagging shrew for doing so (Paul), rebellious teenage son (George) and adorable toddler whom everyone loves (Ringo). This is a far cry of the public selves their audience was used to from A Hard Day's Night, when they they were sold as The Witty One, the Cute One, the Quiet One and the Funny One. It's also not how they themselves would have described themselves in either phase, other than the marriage/divorce metaphor, which was used already extensively in 1969 and 1970 when they split up by both John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Which is another reason why the whole Beatles story is interesting to me; it's very much a case of the Rashomon principle at work, depending on who tells it and who gets emphasized, and that holds doubly true if the person at the heart of the story is someone other than the Fab Four - say, Brian Epstein, their manager, or one of the wives. I like complex situations which can't get simplified to X was always right, and Y was always wrong, and I like messed up family dynamics; which is why the entire biographical situation still holds a certain fascination for me.

But really, it always comes back to the music. And the way it became a way to perceive reality to me. I can't see an old lady shuffling through the streets and not think of Eleanor Rigby, having a face that she keeps in a jar by the door. When I hear about parent/child disputes (of the none abusive type, I hasten to add!), generational conflicts, I hear She's Leaving Home, which manages to be simultanously on the side of the girl and present the point of view of the parents (which itself makes it clear why she left without the parents being demonized). When I'm in that strange state of not sleeping but also very tired, it's impossible not to think my mind is on the blink with appropriate chords. Submarines always let me down a bit due to not being yellow. Once there was a way to get back home. And well, some times, you've just got a hard day's night. :)
selenak: (M)
One of the advantages of not being on the road but in one's place of residence: Munich offers one of those cinemas where they occasionally show live broadcasts of British theatre. Such as, last night, The National Theatre's 50th anniversary celebration, which was rather splendid, and great fun to watch on the big screen. As awesome as all the performances were (and btw, must check out that Brenton/Hare play about Rupert Murdoch), both the funny and the tragic, not to mention the musical (Judi Dench: still a goddess), here's what got the biggest laugh in a Munich cinema: during the introduction about the history of the NT, there is this news clip of Laurence Olivier, asked whether he's saying that a building for the NT should be prioritized over a new school or hospital, snarking back at the press: "No, I am not saying that. I'm just saying that in Germany, they would be."

(Okay, we did have subsidiized theatre earlier than Britain, but this has been something of a very mixed blessing. Not least because of the Regietheater excesses. Let's just say that while whenever I visit London I watch a play each nicht, I'm very rarely in the theatre in Munich, not because we don't have several but because it's really hard to find one that puts on a production using most of actual play text and not descending into endless gimmicks.)

(Anyway, that's not the only reason why Olivier's line had the audience chuckling, of course. We were aware he was playing on national rivalries there.)

This particular Munich cinema, as I learned yesterday, will also show The Day of the Doctor, aka the big DW 50th anniversary episode, live as the BBC broadcasts it on November 23rd, and hence I bought a ticket - they only announced that German cinemas would be included in the world wide broadcast yesterday morning, and by evening most of the tickets had already been sold out, which shows you Doctor Who has a lot of German fans, too. So I shall see The Day of the Doctor on the big screen as it happens, surrounded by fellow fans. Even if the Moff doesn't come through with the script, this should make it a great experience.


Rewatching Breaking Bad's third season would be compelling under any circumstances, but it's especially fascinating if you do so relatively shortly after the finale, because that's where so many paths took their crucial turn. Also, despite me marathoning the first four seasons during the s4/s5 hiatus, i.e. not that long ago, it turns out I had forgotten some important stuff, for example: cut for spoilers because of potential BB newbies. ) It's just such a rich, rewarding show that deserves all the awards it ever got and then some. Golden age of tv indeed.


When you suddenly start to get kudos and comments on an old story, it stands to reason that someone must have reccomended somewhere, and after some digging, I found out this was indeed the case of my DS9 tale Abraham's Son, which made the grade here. Cue a very pleased author I. I loved Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but I did have some issues with it, too, and this story was inspired by a big one, so I'm thrilled when it still speaks to people.


And lastly, some months ago I linked to that John-Lennon-parodies-Bob-Dylan post of hilarity; the 60s crowd did that kind of thing a lot while also digging each other's music. Here's another example, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in 1965 whiling the hours away while having a go at Beatles hits, I've just seen a face and Eight Days A Week specifically. (Keith can't sing, but that's not the point. :)
selenak: (Band on the Run - Jackdawsonsgrl)
If you're only a casual Beatles fan - or no fan at all, for that matter -, then all the attention paid to the first volume of a planned biographical trilogy about the band is probably bemusing for you. Another biography? Why? Etc. If, otoh, you're somewhat familiar with at least part of the biographical literature already in existence, then the name Mark Lewisohn makes you sit up. He has a - deserved - reputation as the expert of experts, whose research was invaluable to many a preceding biographer, whose 1988 The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, which used just about every note EMI ever archived on the Beatles recording, revolutionized and partially turned upside down the until then accepted ideas about who contributed what. So when a couple of years ago it was announced he was working on his own biography, which, this being Mark Lewisohn, would not be contained in one volume but in three, the expectations were high. (Also a bit of nervousness. A brilliant fact finder does not necessarily a good prose stylist make.)

Now that the eagerly awaited first volume (covering basically births till New Year's Eve 1962/1963, i.e. stopping at the dawn of the Philip Larkin immortalized Annus Mirabilis) is out there, we can judge for ourselves. Naturally, I pounced as soon as I could and have now emerged bleary eyed and rivetted. General judgment: worth the wait, and the expectations. How a reader who has no idea who the hell any of these people were beyond being able to name the four Beatles themselves would approach it, I have no idea, of course, but I think Lewisohn does a good job of writing for fans and casual readers alike, not taking for granted you know your Neil Aspinall from your Mal Evans, or for that matter have any idea what the hell a Getsch is. Also, which is great for me since I'd rather know where Quote X and avowed circumstance Y are coming from, he's excellent with the footnotes. Of which there are actually two categories; some are given at the end of each chapter (pronounciation guides for the names once the Beatles have arrived in Germany, for example), while the quote annotations (i.e. which quote is from which interview/memoir/other primary source) are in the appendix. While Mark Lewisohn is no Terry Pratchett, his footnotes are always worth reading, not least because there some hidden gems of additional information in them and because he sometimes includes some evaluation of source trustworthiness there.

As for the story: it has the advantage of being an origin story, which tends to be most people's favourite part of anyone's dramatic tale anyway, and there is a reason why so many people have told it before. Format-wise, Lewisohn makes one choice from the get go that sets his work apart from the previous volumes. Your other Beatles group biographies are basically structured thusly:

A) John Lennon's birth, childhood and adolescence up to the point where he meets Paul
B) Paul McCartney's childhood, a bit shorter than the Lennon one, until the encounter; then a chapter or so on John and Paul befriending before Paul brings in George.
C) George Harrison's childhood, even briefer. Group biography procedes until 1962, at which point:
D) Mini Ringo biography up to his replacing Pete Best as the drummer of the Beatles.

Not Tune In, which can't resist starting with John (though in order of birth Ringo is older), either, but immediately after setting up the Lennon family background pre John's birth switches over to the McCartneys, then the Harrisons, then the Starkeys, and then procedes to write a genuine life story for all four from the get go, with all four getting detailed narrative attention, which means, among other things, that by the time Ringo joins the group you know as much about his previous life as you do about theirs. Since the groups Ringo played in, most importantly, but not exclusively the Hurricanes, were successful before the Beatles were, this also enriches the picture of the Liverpool musical scene. Nor is he the only one introduced into the narrative before his path crosses with his future bandmates. Brian Epstein and George Martin both enter the tale in 1960, so that again, by the time they encounter the Beatles the reader is far more familiar with Brian and George M. than if they'd gotten just a brief summary of their pre-Beatles lives.( In Brian Epstein's case, this narrative approach also serves to underline who much he and the Beatles were made for each other, because by late 1961 they were as restless and dissatisfied with their then status quo as he was.) Singling out these two for particular narrative attention (in addition to the future Fab Four) also feels right in terms of the importance they were going to have on each other's lives, though Lewisohn doesn't do obvious foreshadowing. It's there if you want to spot it, but not hammered down. (For example, the drinking situation in the Starkey household, and Ringo's observance that his parents - meaning his mother and stepfather, his biological father having walked out very early in his life - were alcoholics without him or them realising or calling it thus - is foreshadowing if you know that by the 1980, Ringo himself was well beyond even what's taken for granted with rock stars and ended up going Alcoholics Anonymous for a reason, but if you don't, it's simply part of the story told.)

In terms of agenda and partiality, my own impression is that Lewisohn is fair to all four, describing their virtues and flaws alike. Mind you, that won't stop the more hardcore partisans of each to feel their guy didn't get enough understanding/got more than his fair share of criticism, because such is the nature of fandom. (Peter Doggett, whose You Never Give Me Your Money about the breakup of the Beatles and the aftermath is also a book which in my opinion manages to be fair to all four, wrote an entertaining blog entry about this phenomenon: "Equally valuable for me was the chance to read other people's interpretations of which Beatle(s) I favoured in the narrative. My intention was to be as even-handed as possible, but during the course of writing the book, I felt saddest and sorriest for Paul McCartney - even while I was highlighting things that he might have done and said differently. One Amazon reviewer reckoned that I showed a definite bias towards George Harrison; another, in an unrestrained attack on the book, decided that I was nothing more than another author adopting the "brown nose" position towards John Lennon, without a good word to say for Paul. ("PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't buy this book!", his review ends.) And another felt that Ringo came out best, whereas I was concerned that, because he maintained the lowest profile for most of my narrative, Ringo tended only to appear in the story in negative terms. Nobody, however, thought that I showed any special sympathy for Paul - which just goes to prove that the book you're writing, and the book you THINK you're writing, can be two very different things. " ) He's also really good in including fandom itself into the tale; from the earliest fans of the band (very few pre-Hamburg, but they did exist, and the earnest correspondance excerpts are rather endearing, because the boys - who really were boys at that point, teenagers, were thrilled about the fanmail and wrote back) to the first mass reactions when the Beatles started get on the radio in 1962, it's all brought to life, and there are priceless gems among these stories. Since most of them are told by female fans, they also illuminate what it was like to be a rock music interested girl in the late 50s/early 60s, which forms an interesting counter point to the main narrative since of course Our Heroes started out as passionate male fans of rock music themselves.

New information: some, going from the minor (say, an origin story of I Saw Her Standing There I hadn't been familiar with) to the major (one of Lewisohn's big coups is to debunk no less a story than the John Lennon Ur-Trauma Tale of having to choose between his parents, or at the very least call it heavily into question, more about that below the cut). Also, he's simply able to provide details about things that previous biographers had to only briefly mention because they were covering far more time in only volume (say, Paul's and George's teenage hitchhiking trips). And one of his great strengths is the firmness of dates, which allows him to illuminate contexts that were previously unlooked at. (For example: Julia being pregnant with her third child when returning John to Mimi for good.) And he managed to interview Neil Aspinall (Liverpool Institute schoolmate, roadie, confidant and later Apple boss; one of the two people most constantly around the Beatles throughout their lives) before the later's death, which since Neil Aspinall spent a life time NOT giving interviews is fantastic from a historian's pov.

What about the competition? Without mentioning him by name, he's unable to resist taking a potshot at Philip Norman (in the section discussing how much or little Brian's homosexuality and supposed attraction to John in particular informed his choice of the Beatles), but other than that, I didn't get the impression he's settling scores, and in the footnotes there is often praise for this book or that which first unearthed this and that information.

Style: earnest and readable. He goes for matter of factly but can't resist being swept away by the drama a couple of times. There is the occasional pun, but only one comparison/metaphor that made me groan. Most importantly, though, the narrative voice gives you the impression that the author somehow managed to never lose his passion for what made the Beatles compelling to him to begin with. (Important, that; I remember choosing the subject of my doctoral thesis with the question "whose novels will I still be able to enjoy reading for the hell of it even after combing them through academically?" in mind, because wading through details and looking at downsides really can sometimes take the joy away.)

With all this in minds: here are some choice quotes for your own judgment:

Details, Details and Examples below the cut )
selenak: (Charles and Erik by Trekkiebeth)
Back in Munich, with the first volume of Mark Lewisohn's Ultimate Beatles biography to read, the new X-Men: Days of Future Past trailer to admire (a combination that might lead to a sequel to this, because Charles and his 1970s hair are clearly having a Lost Weekend), and a lovely surprise of a book for good measure.

If anyone needs me, I'm reading. When I'm not researching for Yuletide via refreshing my canon knowledge of the source, that is. :)


selenak: (Default)

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