28 November, 2011

Puppy Film Festival 1 & 2 : The Lovely Bones / Tideland

The Puppies are on their ninth day of life I'm more relaxed that they don't need constant supervision, but I won't be going out to the movies for at least six weeks. So now's the time to catch up on those films sitting on the PVR, LOVEFiLM DVD's sitting unwatched in their return envelopes next to the player, mocking the postal rental concept as only beneficial to people with too much time on their hands (not to mention the list of offerings that I could stream to my TV via my netbook). Ahem.

So I'm starting my Puppy Film Festival today with two films (life got in the way and bumped the end of the second to tomorrow). The Lovely Bones and Tideland. The Lovely Bones was much derided on its release with the tautological judgement that the novel was unfilmable. As a Peter Jackson fan, particularly of his non-Tolkien efforts, I've been intrigued to see how interesting a failure this might be. So I recorded it when broadcast, but was holding off on watching it until I could read the book. During the first 48 hours of serial puppy vigil (the two most fragile days of their lives) I spent time in the whelping room making my way through the book, which I enjoyed, but through the remove of nostalgia for the period and place it describes, suburban Philly area in the 1970's. It's moving take on the relationship between the living and the dead is no doubt the element that has made it a favorite for many, and an occupant of those Books You Should Read memes. For my part, I could see that it was touching, but until precisely 3/4 of the way through, I was untouched, and this has been a particularly hard year for many of my loved ones who've suffered close losses. Then the narrator described her dog in a way that made me burst into tears.

As the film began, I realised that I wasn't going to be able to objectively enjoy it, first through the nostalgia factor, when I was recently back in the States, a friend pointed out to me that the MacDade Mall had been used for the film. This was easy to believe, as it sits in an area where the economic disadvantage is so entrenched, that it hasn't substantially changed since the 1970's. Some location scout had an orgasm when they saw it. The last movie that I saw in its duplex cinema was Do The Right Thing. I instantly wondered which area high-school had been used, it was a building very much of the same era as Springfield Delco where I grew up.

Then, with the book fresh in my mind, my view was further hobbled by comparison. Even as the film progresses, I can pick out the differences, and while its easy to concede trimming for space, some of the choices work against the story. Removal of the obsessive suspicion that the father of the murdered girl feels for her killer, robs the story of the engine for his breakdown, his wife's alienation, and much that comes from it. In fact the book is very much about the relationships within the family, living and dead., and extended to friends and lovers, but the film unwisely focusses too much on the story of the murderer, whose banality in the book makes him an unexpectedly incidental character as things progress.

Upsides are to be had in the visual sense, particularly the evocation of Susie's In-Between afterlife much of which works, even some of the more artificial shots, all the more for their artifice, but sadly much of it looks more like New Zealand than the alternative suburban heaven described in the novel. Two major characters interested in miniatures, as Jackson himself has proved to be both literally and figuratively, lead to some of the best sequences, the dollhouse as the subject for both the investigator and the voyeur, and a tantrum destroying ships in bottles becomes a fleet cast onto rocks despite the looming gaze of the lighthouse. There's also a well handled litany of the victims. Whatever Jackson has achieved here, it goes for nought in service of a script which flattens the characters compressing them along with their narratives into cyphers.

Saoirse Ronan breathes some life in her dead teenager role, and Stanley Tucci is great despite the fact that his very canny character in the book has been rewritten as the stupidest serial killer ever (in the book he does not keep the remains for a year, and his notebook has a cryptic page referring to the cornfield structure which isn't discovered until after the page comes to light, NOT obvious news clippings and a photo of the victim that he had no way of getting and a lock of her hair and the design for a TShirt reading I Did It, OK bar the last one). The greatest crime is that Rachel Weisz is given nothing to do, her character's departure and return are given little motivation, where in the book its an arc of great depth that carries through infidelity and self actualization over years. Here they may as well put her on skates so they can wheel her off and wheel her on. A muddle on so many levels, built to disappoint both those who know the book and those who don't.

Tideland is the extended tale of a child and her childhood surviving the grimmest of circumstances; two junkie parents, then cast adrift in an isolated prairie becalmed house, Jeliza-Rose weaves a protective veil with her imagination, as a powerful shield for her spirit, as vivid as Ofelia's in Pan's Labyrinth.

I must admit that this is the second time I've seen Tideland, but really the first time I've watched it. The first time was during my strungout week from hell before I went to the States in September, I attended Improbable's Open Space Impro Forum, prepared, cooked bbq for 20 owners of our canine progeny and went on forest walk with same and pooches, volunteered at three festival events and attended three more, which included the small awards ceremony where I came runner up for the Festival's Best Film Critic of the Year, lurked behind a tree making triffid noises to scare filmgoers on their way to see a horror film, had to dash into Southampton between the bbq and a silent film screening to buy a book for a friend in the states that I wanted signed by the author (and perhaps made a prat of myself doing so), participated in a workshop to support the establishment of a New Forest Nature Improvement Area, rebuilt a PC and installed a Netbook for the first time and shopped and packed for the trip, not sleeping for 32+ hours before travel, and perhaps having less than 16 hours shut eye in total all week. While formatting a 2 terabyte hard drive was taking forever, I thought I'd watch Tideland so that I could send it back to LOVEFiLM and then suspend my account during my vacation.

Well, in a tired strung out state, I simply could not follow the train of thought of the little girl's internal conversation that makes up much of the film, I found it repetitive and a bit annoying particularly when new stranger-stranger characters appear to move the action forward, or, sideways would be more accurate. I dozed near the end. To watch Tideland and take in its dizzying rollercoaster, you have to have the same patience and attention span you would need to actively engage with and look after a young child. On my first attempt to view, I was unfit, and perhaps DVD protective services should have been alerted to my abuse.

On a proper viewing it is magnificent, a poetic mid-west gothic with sprinklings of Flannery O'Connor, To Kill A Mockingbird, Texas Chainsaw and Trainspotting. It's a film that's brave enough to show a child in constant mild to severe peril, but wise enough to know that her innocence will blithely carry her through.

It's certainly one of Gilliam's most confident films, and possibly his most complete. I often feel that there's an intentional untidyness in Gilliam. He bursts with so many ideas it seems churlish to insist that he carries them all through. Perhaps there's a few producers in his wake who simply wish he had fewer ideas, I appreciate his generosity of mind. Here he carries off everything he attempts and does just enough to see the story through. He wisely only visualizes some of Jeliza-Rose's imaginative turns, allowing the stark beauty of the prairie scenery and Jodelle Ferland's stunning performance (including the multiple personalities of her imaginary dollhead incarnated friends) to do the rest. The cast is rounded out by grotesques, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, Janet McTeer, and Brendan Fletcher, providing counterpoint to the relative sanity of Jeliza-Rose's protective delusions.

I do advise DVD viewers to skip the optional Gilliam intro (but by all means watch it after), it seems there only to steel the faint hearted, and, perhaps slightly patronizingly, invite the audience to remember the imagination and resilience of children. If you've read this I think you have all you need to dive straight in to the glorious Lewis Caroll inflected opening. It will make you wish that Gilliam had directed The Lovely Bones,..... and Watchmen, ... and Harry Potter I & II, .... and.....

Both of these films feature excellent scores, The Lovely Bones a rare cinematic excursion by Brian Eno, and Tideland by brothers Jeff and Mychael Danna who later collaborated again on Gilliam's Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. In Gilliam and screencowriter Tony Grisoni commentary track they give extensive credit to the source novel by Mitch Cullin. I have no worries that they haven't done justice to it, Cullin has stated that he'd like to rewrite parts to include some of the new ideas introduced in the film. There's a book, I'll be tracking down at some point, hopefully won't need to wait until the next litter of puppies to read it.


Ken Russell, R.I.P.

Ken Russell died yesterday, Sunday 27th Of November, 2011. Very sad news and a great loss to film making. A uniquely British talent. Shouldn't be remembered solely for the wild abandon with which he could attack or display the outré, or his indulgence in gloriously over the top imagery; all his films display a spectacular cinematic sense, an artist's eye, and a composer's sense of emotion, tone, and tempo.

He lived locally, and I had hopes of some day meeting him, if only to thank him. A friend of mine told a story of Russell driving up to our local Fish and Chip shop in his vintage car, flamboyantly entering and attempting to order a fish not on the menu, and turning on his heel and walking out.

Here's a run-down of his works I've seen, and for the little that it's worth, my appreciation of them:

1967 Billion Dollar Brain
I should give this another chance. Last time I saw it, I felt that it had let the Harry Palmer series down with its satirical jabs, and sub-Avengers-cum-Strangelove tone. On the other hand it ain't the train wreck some have described it as.

1969 Women in Love
It's a film I find hard to take seriously more because I just don't appreciate D.H.Lawrence. It's OK. but the plot lurches at the end are hard to take straight faced. Of course if your idea of homoeroticism involves naked wrestling Oliver Reed, you have a stronger stomach than I.

1970 The Music Lovers
When I was really little, I preferred the Grieg biopic Song of Norway to this; what did I know when I was 7? Not anywhere near as good as Mahler.

1971 The Devils
This was the first Russell I saw theatrically. I think I saw it as part of my Uni's on campus film program, and the followed it on at least two more occasions at the local rep house, the Theater of the Living Arts. Despite its highly stylized look, its earthy unflinching portrayal of medieval grue, really made me smile. All history should be like this. Python summed it up a few years later in Grail with "How do you know he's a king?" "He hasn't got shit all over him."

And that's even before you get to the machinations of corrupt church and state, and the portrayal of religious hysteria (and the politically motivated fomenting thereof), routinely denounced by religious hysterics. Really his sharpest film, most human and misanthropic simultaneously.

1974 Mahler

The first Russell I ever saw, and I saw it on TV, I was erroneously informed that it was made for television, and I thought if someone could make something this cinematic for TV they must be a genius. Strangely I've a memory of a travelling shot through trees to music that I was hoping to someday pay homage to, and on rewatching it recently I couldn't find it. Imagery so fantastic it permeates your dreams. A great movie about creativity and brooding morbidity, no wonder I loved it as a teenager.

1975 Tommy
Great kitsch fun as a pop object, not much cop as a film, but that's down to the source material. Ken makes a great fist of it all the same. Anyone who could convince Ann Margaret to swim in Heinz Baked Beans is all right in my book.

1980 Altered States
One of my favorite films. It manages to convey both the notion that reality is a solipsistic creation of our primal brains, and that love, literally, is all we have to hold it together. Some mocked the whole apeman thing, but how are American Werewolves more credible than psychoactive drugs combined with flotation tanks unravelling an evolutionary regression? I cannot understand Paddy Chayefsky's quite vocal and credit withholding problem with the film. Having read his own, inferior, novelization of his screenplay, I cannot imagine how the film could be a better realization of his themes. A stunning achievement by Russell, and a landmark score by John Corigliano (one of the prizes of my dwindling LP collection).

1984 Crimes of Passion
Some of us used to think Kathleen Turner was sexy. Proof of that is that I remember the poster more than I do the film. There's some over the top stuff with Anthony Perkins and a killer dildo, I'd like to see him duel the twins from Dead Ringers with their gynecological instruments for mutant women. A weird thriller satire on sexuality. Everything that Russell does in this film was done with much less style humour and panache by Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut.

1986 Gothic
All I remember at the time was that the idea of the film seemed a bit better than what we got, and that Natasha Richardson made a very comely Mary Shelley. One of those, wish they'd had a couple more rewrites, they might have made it work, or not, films.

1987 Aria (segment "Nessun dorma")
I have little memory of this film, apart from liking the Robert Altman segment set in a theatre.

1988 The Lair of the White Worm
Anyone for Tennis, or Fangs? camp fun it certainly was, and made light relief of the tone of Gothic. I'd like to send Amanda Donahoe to eat up all these friggin' glitterin' vampyri who brood and take themselves so seriously. Maybe after that I'd send Lady Sylvia Marsh, the character she portrayed.

1989 The Rainbow
Didn't get around to seeing this one until this year. And it makes a nice D.H.Lawrence bookend with Women... , although its brief excursion into saphic-eroticism is not a patch on the former's sweaty alcoholic man love. It is nearly scuppered by Sammi Davis's acting in the lead role which is canny in naivete, but a bit all over the place the rest of the time. And, I still don't really care for Lawrence, wish Russell had done more Stoker.

Well, OK. There are only three of Ken Russell's films that I absolutely love, and boy do I, but I cherish the artistry in all of them. Even the pointless tasteless excess of the Nazi bits (can you imagine if he had collaborated with Russ Meyer?). There's some I need to seek out to see for the first time, and a few that I should review for pleasure and to note how they strike me now. All in all, I will feel grateful for his work and poorer for his loss.

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13 November, 2011

My Life in the Movies: Richard O'Brien , Unintentionally My Nemesis

The 2011 New Forest Film Festival featured a showing of the "cult" film Shock Treatment.  Cult, by virtue of the fact that it is little seen, an obscurity, from the author behind the "cult" film The Rocky Horror Picture Show, cult by virtue of its emergence from the midnight movie phenomenon with a large devoted following fetishizing characters and performing a one-sided call and response with the preserved celluloid performance.  The festival added value with a personal appearance and Q&A with the author and performer Richard O'Brien.  Shortlisted for an award to be presented by O'Brien at the screening, I reflected on my chequered history with his work, and whether I would again be subjected to his unwitting malevolence.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Summer of 1983. One of the hottest, most humid summers in the swampy urban heatsink known as Philly. W.C. Fields is known to have said, "I spent a lifetime in Philadelphia, one summer...."  A quote I used as an epigram for an essay titled Another Summer in Hell, in which I described Philly summer as "one of God's early drafts for hell."

I've nearly bombed out of my first year at Penn, with a plethora of incompletes on the back of a season of emotional turmoil.  I'd hid in my high-school years behind the relative safety of a humoungous unrequited crush on a beautiful and artistic genius who'd graduated two years early.  Now I'd made up for lost time with the theatrics of my first girlfriend. a petulant narcissist, and a middling crush on a friend, a geek goddess, probably just to keep my apparent unrequited addiction going.  Cracks were forming in my delusion that I could get through university without hard work when I'd previously skated through school on my creative charisma and smarts. On top of this were repercussions of my father's advancing Parkinson's.

I spend the summer trying to finish off the incompletes and pile on some summer school courses, despite my iffy academic record, I still have the hubris to imagine that I can pull off a dual major so I can add the Annenberg School of Communication (and its film courses) on top of my normal Penn BA.  I’ve moved into the geek house frat I joined in spring, in a strange back room that has its own shower.  I share the room with a guy whose only memorable influence on my life is that he lets me borrow his Tom Tom Club albums.  One of my coping mechanisms with the swelter is to wake in the middle of the night, sleepwalk to the shower for a minute long cool down, then back to bed.

I get a part time job at one of the two on campus movie theaters, both triplexes.  The Walnut Mall 1 2 3, I’m not sure which chain owned it at the time, as it went from GCC or AMC or Budco.  Unlike the SamEric triplex around the corner, we run two screens as normal, and the third one as a rep with different films every day or other, sometimes double features.  A few years ago, when my brother doing his Masters at Penn, he brought me here for a George Pal double, Forbidden Planet and The Time Machine.  One of the up sides of the job is that I talk the manager into letting me catalog the poster room in return for a share of the spares.

We have a weekly midnight movie showing of Rocky Horror, my previous experience of which had been limited to the scenes in Fame where the kids go to a screening.  We try to operate a no props policy,  vetting people’s bags as they enter.  This proves ineffective as people will hide the very things we’re looking for, and low paid young people are not very good at challenging their peers.  Most of the things get through.  Our regulars indulge in water pistols and newspaper during the rain scene at the beginning, hurling rolls of Scott brand toilet paper when “Great Scot!” is exclaimed, and toss rice at a wedding.  They also have their own cast of performers, sweet transvestites, teeny boppers and a straight couple all in fishnets. 

The regular Magenta, or was it Columbia? was a really cute artsy fartsy girl, who’d spend half the film out in the lobby flirting with me.  My spidey sense suggested that she was possibly still in high school, which kept me in an unanswerable dilemma. A high school student would just be too young, even though I'm only a year out, it's just a bit creepy for my ick factor. The wrong answer, I’d put full brakes on, but if the answer is right, the perversely thornier problem of testing the interest behind the flirt.  Leaving the question unanswered allowed the pleasant flirtation to continue, even if it merely added to the quantum of my sexual frustration.  My ersatz control freak girlfriend was in Brooklyn for the summer, or possibly forever.  She visited once and came to Rocky Horror, then chided me afterwards for my acquaintance, her jealousy, in retrospect, suggests maybe she detected substance behind the interest.  If I had not been at best lazy at worst a coward, I might have a different attitude to Rocky Horror.  Instead I’ve since had a slight aversion to relationships with younger women, but that’s not the worst of it, the worst was that I had to clean up after the bastard.

Let’s just say that on top of the traditional theater floor grue, spilled soda and popcorn, and chewing gum, the extra ingredients of wet newspaper and toilet roll and rice, create a sludge which most likely has at least one military application.  So in addition to my ordinary box office and concession stand duties, I’m drafted in as additional janitorial staff, the only upside is a smattering of overtime, which at the minimum wage is negligible.  At least once we were there until dawn, I think the latest we finished was 10 am.  at about 2 am the a/c cuts out, the house lights they use are always dimmed, so you are in poorly lit increasingly hot room for hours scooping up crap off the floor.  You would think that this would make you nauseous as well, but the sleep deprivation takes care of that.

I’ve had worse jobs.  I sold encyclopedia for two weeks.  I held a job that required me to work 60 hour weeks plus up to 25 hours of commuting.  Cleaning up after Rocky Horror in the humid Philadelphia stink for between 4 and 8 hours, was the single worst working experience of my life. Add to that the self-thwarted desires of my attenuated adolescence, and a regimen of cold showers and exhaustion, and you have one of the few visions of hell I've actually visited.

The Time Warp

It's 1989.  I'm working freelance as a computer database wrangler for Kraft Dairy Group while still taking occasional classes at Penn as I haven't quite sorted out my degree yet.  As I'm still student, barely, and living in West Philadelphia, I go out for student amdram productions.  I score a minor, fun, but strangely demanding part (I'm on stage almost continuously) in Carey Mazer's production of Richard II for U Penn's English Department.  His concept for the play was a fairly prescient take, the royals are sound biting politicians whilst their advisers are spin doctors.  The meta conceit places much of the action in a TV studio, I played the hapless on stage propmaster, occasionally stepping awkwardly into the shoes of minor characters, such as Berkeley as a spear carrying extra.  Unfortunately I had flu the first weekend the play went up, and one of my friends misinterpreted my attempts not to cough throughout as the stifling of my grief as one of Richard's vassals seeing him deposed and murdered.

After the second and final weekend of performances a cast party was held at the yuppie hangout for the Wharton students, the Gold Standard Bar in the middle of campus.  Although I lack confidence and coordination as a dancer, I enjoy it when the fog of disco, or a strobe light nullifies the visibility of my gracelessness.  So when they start playing out the Time Warp, Rocky Horror's built in dance craze song complete with instructional chorus, I am uninhibited enough to join in.

I still don't remember whether it was the jump to the left, or the step to the right, but part of me went in the wrong direction, and the bit below my left knee disagreed.  The knee in the middle of this argument contorted into a tantrum.  I'm not sure if I actually fell over or not, but I was suddenly in searing pain from  that taken for granted evenly distributing weight standing still thing.  Stupidly valuing my social survival over actual survival, I decide to deny offers of help to get me to the University Hospital.  I don't want to be a buzz kill and I somehow manage to make my way out of the bar unassisted.  I don't have health insurance, so I'm not heading to the Hospital either.  It's late, the campus is mostly deserted, and I have a half a city block to walk to the nearest street where I might be able to hail a cab to get me home.

The main logistical problem at this point is that I cannot put even an ounce of weight on my left leg.  It's a bitterly cold icy February night, so hopping is out of the question, if I fall over I won't be able to get up.  The answer is simply to walk slowly, waiting for each wave of pain to subside from a weight on left leg as right leg forward step.  Then repeat.  The cold is somewhat helpful, providing a small amount of numbness.

One of Penn's neighbours in West Philly was the VA Hospital, and the area also had half way houses some of whose tenants would go off their meds and wind up homeless.  ATM's had just been introduced and some were installed in small purpose built enclosures, the size of six phonebooths stuck together, and some of these homeless denizens would wind up sleeping rough in the ATMs.  One of the ATM regulars, a bit far from this habitual home, found me carefully walking toward Walnut Street.  It had taken half an hour for me to walk 30 yards, I'm about half way to my destination.

I recognized the homeless guy from his usual spot.  He watched my progress for a few minutes before attempting to engage me in conversation.  He wants to know if I want a hug.  I try to put him off, but he insists that a hug will make me feel better.

I'm in no position to refuse him.  He hugs me, and I take it.  Luckily either he adds no more weight to my left leg, or the sheer weird freakiness of wondering whether he will escalate to assault causes me no additional physical pain.  The cold wind also prevents his smell from knocking me out.

He asserts that he loves me.  He wants to know if I love him.

I decide to generalize.  I love all mankind, I assure him.  This seems enough to placate him.  He releases me and continues on his pathetic way, now that he has found someone he can pity.  Pain usually focusses me so that I get on with it and don't indulge in self pity of which, if I'd even a dint of it before this hug, would have evaporated.  I have a future that may involve pain, but at least includes a warm room and a bed.

Another half hour later I make it to the street, manage to hail the first of two cabs (one to the city limits, another to my parent's condo in the 'butbs which I have to myself as they are snowbirds ensconced in Florida's retort to the borscht belt). I can finally attempt the most basic treatments, analgesics and ice.  Ironically the bed I'd looked forward to does not provide the support to keep the knee stable in sleep so I eventually doss on the floor a couple of hours before dawn.

I'm on crutches for a week, but able to walk afterwards.  When I eventually pay for diagnosis and a nearly bankrupting MRI, I'm told that I've completely torn cartilage in my knee, and indeed a piece of it floats uselessly next to my kneecap,  The doctor offers to do keyhole surgery to remove it despite my protestations that I will be back-packing around Europe between job interviews in the UK a few weeks later.  I get a second opinion which is a) first doctor is a surgeon he only wants to solve my problem through surgery, b) if I have knee surgery now, I will likely need it every 5 to 10 years for the rest of my life c) physio may be a better approach.  I ask the first doctor if by doing the surgery to remove the detached cartilage, he will restore any of the lost functionality to my knee.  He says he doesn't know, but he'll "have a look around when he's in there."  At which point I follow the second opinion.

The knee is permanently damaged and will require management for the rest of my life.

Shock Treatment

The email that delivered the news on 11th September 2011, that I had been shortlisted for the 2011 New Forest Film Festival's Critic of the Year had left me walking on air.  An amateur competition may not seem like much, but most of my writing is subjected to perfectionist privacy that won't be seen until it's nearly done,  this blog being my sporadic scratchpad outlet barely seen outside of a small circle of friends.  I don't get much feedback about my writing, and friends are kind about what you write.

In quick succession I got a more personal email, congratulating me specifically and instructing me:
We'd like you to reserve the time and date: 7pm on Saturday 17th September 2011 at Brockenhurst College when you (or a person you nominate) and a guest of your choice are invited to attend the New Forest Film Critic Of The Year award ceremony at which the overall winner will be announced by none other than Richard O'Brien, creator of the Rocky Horror Show.

We'll be on contact shortly with further information.
I contacted Tempeste, the budding events planner tasked with the logistics of the Festival. As one of the volunteers for the Festival, I was down to be at Shock Treatment anyway, helping with set-up, parking and tickets.  She offers to give me a pass from those responsibilities, but I want to still do what I can, as long as I'm free to be in the audience for the awards and the film.  I cheekily request that my comps be used to allow my wife to attend both Shock Treatment, and if Finuala manages to make time available (she's getting the garden ready to be invaded by our annual BBQ for the progeny of our canines, and their owners), the Sing-a-long-a Mary Poppins earlier in the day (I'm a bit loathe to purchase a ticket which might not get used).  Nice, despite her ethereal prettiness (like an even thinner waif clawed her way out of Keira Knightley), Tempeste agreed.

On Tuesday, at the screening of Project Nim, I'm approached and congratulated by Simon Miller, one of the festival organizers, to whom I'd yet to be introduced.  I'd met his other half, Jo Cockwell, at last year's inaugural Festival event, a sort of ideas open house during a Dodge Brothers gig at the Thomas Tripp pub.  I'm suddenly slightly on a paranoid back foot: am I allowed to talk to the judges about my entry?  aren't the entries judged "blind"?  How does he know I'm the guy who wrote that?  If he's talking to me, is it because they've already decided the winner, and so there's no harm to be done?  If they've already decided, is he being kind to me because he already knows I've lost?

Of course he knows of me as a volunteer, and a couple of evenings hence he'll be instructing me to hide behind a tree in a dark wood making scary noises and spraying our ghost ride participants with giant water pistols.  I wonder if my volunteer status might complicate things, would a win seem an inside job.  I have enough sense to doubt my paranoia, my overthinking including the recursive admission that I'm overthinking.

I'm trying, despite my natural social inept, not to be standoffish.  I'd like to become a known and respected part of the Festival team although I appreciate the organizers top tier may turn out to be a closed shop.  Prof. Linda Ruth Williams, who I'd talked to last year at the Thomas Tripp, then again on the hop at the sister New Forest Festival's Minstead music, storytelling and crafty day, is leading the Nim Q&A.  She congratulates me, which puts me at ease.  I resist the urge to ask if her name's hyphenate Ruth-Williams or Linda-Ruth, and the consequent observation that the latter sounds like the Southern Belle that becomes a scold by the fourth reel and the former a star of Harold and Maude.  Rather than subject her to my irrelevant weird attempts at humour, I admit how pleased I am to be short listed: after all, your friends have to like what you write, strangers don't have to be nice about it.

Actually I'm a bit nonplussed about winning.  There's 50 quid in it and the prestige of having won, but the boost I had from finding myself on the short list so enervated me about my writing, it seems less important.  I, of course, think that mine is a better piece of writing than my rival's, though not necessarily a better piece of criticism.  So I can see there's not much in it

Saturday we had mostly fine weather.  The Mary Poppins screening went well and Finuala was able to come out.  Some changes mean I actually have unexpected time to run home for dinner before returning to Brock College for Shock prep.  The weather is starting to turn slightly a drizzle to light rain, naturally I get handed car park duty.  Some of the signs I put up earlier need sorting out, and then when the punters arrive they need to be waved in the right direction as they may be incapable of following the signs.

By the time the cars start arriving there's intermittent downpours, and I find a well situated doorway to stand in.  Mark Kermode, a top film critic here in the UK and the best known of the festival organizers strolls past purposefully.  I give him a nod which he mistakes as an attempt to communicate.  I do feel I should introduce myself as one of the finalists, but don't want to hold him up, so I just give a what is it like silent film shrug and mug and say something inconsequential about the weather so he can continue on.

Cars parked, comment forms on seats, I can go from volunteer to punter and join Finuala for the evening's entertainment.  We settle into some seats in the second row behind some fans of Shock Treatment who like their Rocky Horror counterparts are in character costume and clearly up for it.  We make sure I'm on the aisle, in the event I actually need to accept an award.

It seems that Richard O'Brien is running late, so the program begins with a run down of the film competition finalists.  Then it is time to announce the winners of the Film Critic Competition.  It turns out that Mark Kermode not Richard O'Brien who will now present these.  I can see that my tangent to O'Brien has again proved a bad omen.  O'Brien then turns up in time to present the awards to the short films, he's flamboyant, knows how to project an actorly voice when the sound system acts up, and is genuinely funny and lovely.  He's very abashed about the faults of Shock Treatment but in conjunction with his Q&A, the screening of the film, the whole event is very entertaining amusing and enjoyable.

Oh, and I didn't win.  Ah well....


Do I blame Richard O'Brien for any of this?

No.  I could have confronted him with these dire tales of his unwitting damage to my psyche and body.  I could have posed for a photo with him as the queue of Rocky Horror fans did (or perhaps to illustrate this piece).  I could at least have told him of my usher experience and had a self-deprecating laugh, or, at the risk of sounding the litigious yank, told him of my knee wrenching injury, or the third time unlucky portent of his untimely arrival but, perhaps it's best that he not know his crimes.

I don't think that Richard Wagner should be held accountable for what his fellow German nationalists and antisemites, the Nazis did, as they embraced his musical canon as the soundtrack for their Reich.  Artists create what they create, they can't possibly be mindful of all the consequences.
[For the O'Brien-free presentation of the Film Critic of the year award:
New Forest Film Festival: And the Winner...
or my review of Shock Treatment do what that mouse wants to do and click.
As for my knee. varying encasements of neoprene, some sporadic physio, allowed me to take up horseriding.  Now, it's started to tell me when it's about to rain.]   

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