The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right

It’s funny how you can stumble across films. I don’t think I would ever have watched The Kids Are All Right if I didn’t have a keen interest in the work of Mark Ruffalo. And that came about because I had recently watched Zodiac where he played Inspector David Toschi and felt he gave such a brilliant performance in that supporting role, I wanted to find out what else he had appeared in (this is before the recent release of The Avengers by the way, where he had a much higher profile part, playing the role of Dr Bruce Banner).

So I googled him (Interesting isn’t it how ‘googled’ has come to be the word most commonly used for ‘search engine’, even though it’s a brand name. A bit like how people use the word ‘hoover’ for vacuum cleaning, ‘sellotape’ for any general clear adhesive tape and ‘thatcher’ for someone who renovates the roof of an old English cottage whilst wearing a blue suit and spouting vitriol about ‘Scargill and those bleeding miners’).

Mark Ruffalo had been in a few films of interest to me. He had appeared in Shutter Island, a Martin Scorsese film that I had yet to see. Further down the list I noticed ‘The Kids Are All Right’. Knowing that it was the title of a song by The Who, I wondered if the film was some sort of rock themed drama. I read the plot summary.

Ah, okay. Two lesbians, in a relationship, have had two children by an anonymous sperm donor. Now the children are teenagers and want to track down their biological father.

Right. Sounds like my kind of film.

I rented a copy from my local library and settled down to watch it. The other leading actress was Annette Bening, whom I hadn’t watched in a movie since The Grifters, which I had watched in the late eighties.

It turned out that this film had a lot of heart and was funnier than I was expecting. The comedic moments were well judged and balanced by a beautifully realised and heart-warming story. It not only dealt with the relationship of the two parents (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) but also their children, a son played by Josh Hutcherson and a daughter played by the deliciously beautiful Mia Wasikowska. The fact their parents are lesbians leads to some humorous observational moments, but principally, the story is about parenthood, love and betrayal. Mark Ruffalo, as the children’s father, gives a wonderfully laid back, laconic performance and his first meeting with his biological children is a wonderful set-piece with several guaranteed laughs.

Also, to my immense delight, there is a Joni Mitchell soundtrack. Specifically, there is a scene at a dining table where all the main characters, one by one, begin chatting about Joni Mitchell and begin singing her classic song All I Want – which ends in another poignant moment.

So, if you have an interest in lesbians, donating sperm and Joni Mitchell, then this is the film for you. I highly recommend it.

 

Schrödinger’s nuts

Erwin Schrödinger. But *only* when you look at him…

Most of us are aware of the paradox of the famous imaginary experiment of Schrödinger’s cat. Briefly, it involves placing a cat in a box with a radioactive element that might or might not discharge a burst of harmful radiation that might or might not kill the cat. You might or might not check the box in an hour and the cat might or might not be dead.

That’s about it. Or maybe it isn’t. That’s the whole point of the paradox. Or is it?

(See what I did there? Or see what I *didn’t* do there?)

Several years ago when I used to actually read books and not jump to the last page to see who did it as I do these days ( I’m turning into Harry Burns), I read a wonderful biography of Erwin Schrödinger called ‘Life and Thought’ by Walter Moore. The ideas and themes of this book have remained with me and so, a few days ago when I was contemplating the meaning of life, I began to apply the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat to the search for truth.

Truth is a bit funny at times and can change as we re-write history or predict the future. Truth to one person can be a lie to another. Most people who have a little knowledge of philosophy, will say that there can only be truth with empirical evidence. Others with no knowledge of philosophy will say that truth derives from mass belief – if everyone believes it’s true, then it must be. A third group of people believe that truth originates from newspapers and television. There are rumours of a fourth group of people that believe that truth only exists in outer space and is transmitted by aliens, via curly drinking straws, into our brains.

Anyway, my search for the meaning of life (and truth) began with the following idea.

‘The secret to longevity is remaining interested in life.’

That’s it really, in a nutshell.

Hmm.

That’s it really in a nutshell

What if the nutshell was like Schrödinger’s cat? What if the meaning of life was a truth that may or may not be there, when you cracked open the nut?

Inside this nut could be the meaning of life. Alternatively, it might just be a walnut. Or a pecan. Or a hazelnut. Or even a cat.

 

As a side note, the idea that remaining interested in life is the secret to longevity came about due to me watching a documentary on Monty Python. Terry Gilliam was being interviewed about film-making and observed that making a good film depends on being constantly interested by new experiences. I can relate to that. It is easy to become bored by new experiences. Or at least, the experience of experiencing new experiences can grow stale, unless you constantly remind yourself that what you are experiencing is new (rather than recalling an old experience and applying it to the new one).

That last sentence took longer than normal to compose, by the way, and it wasn’t even worth it.

Anyway, I hope you all have a happy day and if you come across the secret of life trapped in a nut, please let me know. Oh, and that’s not *you* trapped in a nut and chancing upon the secret of life. I meant the secret of life itself, contained within a nut, and you coming across it. The english language is paradoxical too I guess.

 

Or is it?

 

Another example of a quantum paradox.

Kate Bush – part 1

 

Pop singer Kate Bush poses in a garden full of daffodils and trees in December 1979, oblivious to the fact that inside, on TV, was Tiswas.

Kate Bush has played a large part in my life. In my formative teenage years, lacking the sort of parents that could provide me with the sort of role model that could, well, sort me out, I looked further afield. In 1987 John Noakes was too bourgeois and Burt Bacharach wasn’t hip enough so that only left Kate Bush. I discovered her accidentally of course. I guess that’s how most of the best things in life are discovered, by accident, like gravity, penicillin, and nocturnal sexual deviancy.

In 1985 the word on the street was that Back To The Future was a film worth watching. It had all the plot ingredients that can be found in any classic movie from Casablanca to Saving Private Ryan, namely, incest and skateboarding. However, Back To The Future mixed all of this with time travel and school, which was a stroke of genius.

My father took me to the main cinema in Newport, South Wales to watch it. It was October 1985 and I was fourteen years old. I loved going to the cinema. I loved the red velvet seats, the sordid red lighting, the long red curtains and the red flock wallpaper. I think that’s why my favourite colour is blue.

Back then, it was common for some ‘B’ feature to play before the main presentation. Just a year ago I had been to watch The Smurfs And The Magic Flute and had to sit through a full length feature film about a samurai warrior that had been frozen in ice and had come back to life in modern day New York. That was a bit of a bizarre feature to put on before a cartoon but hey, it was the 80s and a lot of bizarre things happened back then.

The ‘B’ feature on this occasion was the pop video for Cloudbusting, the second single to be released off the album Hounds of Love.

I had no idea who Kate Bush was at the time. But this strange music video, which had been produced and directed as if it was a genuine mini movie, entranced me. The images it contained, of a boy on a hill grappling with some strange mechanical machine that could create rain, remained in my head for a long time afterwards. A few months later, scouring the track listing on various compilation albums, I came across her name again. The album was Hits 4, a slightly less successful competitor to the Now That’s What I Call Music series of albums. The Kate Bush single ‘Hounds of Love’ was included on it. By this time I had forgotten the name of the song Cloudbusting and thought that Hounds of Love was, in fact, Cloudbusting. It wasn’t but I enjoyed that song just as much. Incidentally, that album also included The Captain of her Heart by Double, which I sometimes used to sing while standing in the queue at the dole office.

Hits 4.

I played Hits 4 constantly, but mostly I would skip to track 2, side 4, to listen to Hounds of Love. I was living in St Arvans Road, Southville, Cwmbran. It was 1986 and Cwmbran had yet to experience the industrial revolution – we still didn’t have a Somerfield, Waitrose or Morrisons. We had to make do with a Gateway and a Famous Army Stores. Online retailers like Amazon didn’t exist back then either. Most of my music was bought from Martin’s the Newsagents which doubled up as a Hornby retailer too.

At the end of 1986, the Kate Bush compilation album The Whole Story was released on a suspecting world. It sold a few million and was promoted by an extensive television advertising campaign, as well as a mention in my favourite comic, Whizzer & Chips. I bought The Whole Story from Boots, ‘the dispensing chemist’. Today, in 2012, Boots are mainly known for their toiletries, perfumes and pharmaceutical wares. In the 80s, they also used to sell computer games and music. Interestingly, I watched the classic film Brief Encounter the other day, which was made in 1943. There is a scene in that film that takes place in a branch of Boots that had a huge book department! Who knows – ten years from now Game might start selling fridges and Waterstones might begin offering in-store cognitive behavioural counselling.

So I bought The Whole Story and spent the next month listening to it at least twice a day on my Sony Walkman, scrutinising the cassette inlay and concentrating on the lyrics.

I noticed on the inlay that there was an official Kate Bush club, based in Welling, Kent. The next day I posted an s.a.e to them, asking for more information…

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

Brief Encounter (1945). Directed by David Lean.

At the beginning of the film Manhattan, Woody Allen, referring to the city, says “…I romanticised it out of all proportion.”

That’s a bit like how I have dealt with love throughout my life. I have romanticised it out of all proportion. I have tried wooing women like Heathcliff by growing my hair long and walking the moors. This was at the time I lived in Cwmbran, where moors are distinctly absent, so I used to walk along fourteen locks canal which was a poor substitute.

So I have always been up for a bit of wooing and a bit of old-fashioned romance. Why, at the age of 41, I still had not watched Brief Encounter, remains a mystery. I was always aware of it. I accepted it was regarded as a classic and it was on my list of ‘100 films to watch before I die’ at No.73, just below Pete’s Dragon but above Heaven’s Gate.

A few days ago it was on TCM and I had recorded it. This afternoon, it started to rain. Rain, particularly on a Monday afternoon, always puts me in the mood to watch a black & white movie. I am not usually at home on Monday afternoons but I am coming to the end of my annual leave, so this particular rainy Monday, I was free.

I browsed through my list of films and spotted Brief Encounter so, after making a very large mug of hot chocolate, I settled down to watch it with Joni (my cat) who took up residence on the other sofa.

Within minutes I was transfixed. The principal setting, that of a railway station, was immediately appealing. In 1945, a railway station meant steam engines. It meant ticket inspectors with handlebar moustaches and waiting rooms that were also mini off-licences. It meant Nestle chocolate machines where a bar of chocolate was 2d (two pence) and station master’s and porters and a quintessential English charm that is sadly lacking from most train station’s today.

The principal actors, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, were not that familiar to me and yet I was soon impressed by their performances. That repressed emotion that is attributed to us by foreigners – that ‘stiff upper lip’ – was conveyed delicately and powerfully and the chemistry between the two actors was perfect. I believed in them, which surely has to be the greatest praise that any actor can hear.

The story itself I found surprisingly daring for 1945. It was basically all about an affair. Both characters were married and yet both consented to embark on this clandestine love affair. The fact that it was never consummated and all they did was kiss, made it even more powerful. Proof, if ever there was, that you don’t need graphic sex scenes to tell a story. You don’t even need implied sex scenes to tell a story. All you need is the ability to convey a constant sexual tension between the two main protagonists and, if done well, that is all you need to create compelling storytelling.

The story was told without attempting to preach a message about infidelity. It was told objectively, without judgement. I was carried along, scene after beautiful scene, following the lives of these characters and wondering how it would end. Would they get together and live happily ever after, like a Mills & Boons romance? Would it have a more daring, tragic end, like Wuthering Heights?

Well, not to give away the ending for those who have yet to see it, the ending lies somewhere in-between. Not so slushy as to diminish what went on before, and yet no so tragic as to make you want to watch a Laurel & Hardy movie straight afterwards to help cope with your grief. The ending was poignant and thoughtful and left me thinking I had just watched one of the greatest movies ever made.

My encounter with Brief Encounter was all too brief. I am left wondering about those characters now, even though the film has ended. In my imagination, I am devising future scenes, chance meetings and another fateful kiss, between Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey.