Just been watching…(35)

The Sessions (2012) Also known as ‘The Surrogate’

***No real spoilers***

I consider myself to be something of a tough old man. Despite becoming more emotionally labile as I got older, there is very little that makes me cry. Indeed, I could count the films that have brought tears to my eyes on one hand, and one of those was about a dog! (Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, 2009)

I had never heard of the film, ‘The Sessions’, nor anything about the real-life person, Mark O’Brien, whose life is the subject of it. But it was on TV late at night, so I decided to watch it, perhaps drawn by the presence of Helen Hunt, an actress I have long admired.

Mark O’Brien was a Californian man who contracted Polio at the age of six. After that, he was unable to move anything except his head, and depended on living in an iron lung most of the time, just to stay alive. He became a writer, tapping the keys by using a stick in his mouth. He relied on paid carers for almost everything else, having to be fed, and to drink using a straw. He was able to go outside lying on an ambulance trolley, wheeled by his attendants, but was housebound the rest of the time. The added problem for Mark was that he still had all the usual emotional feelings and sexual urges, but could not act on them. After being rejected by a girl he proposes to, he decides to confess his feelings to his local Parish priest, (William H. Macy on his usual good form) and to ask his ‘permission’ to use the services of a sex surrogate and therapist, Cheryl. (Helen Hunt)

Cheryl is not a prostitute, rather a specialist who helps disabled and withdrawn men discover their sexuality by teaching them about sex, using her own body. I have to give a warning here for full-frontal female (not male) nudity, as well as some sex acts shown in a fair amount of detail. But PLEASE don’t let that put you off this film, as everything is done so naturally, and there is nothing at all salacious or titillating in this necessary inclusion.

Mark is allowed to employ Cheryl for six sessions only, (the Sessions of the title) during which time she educates him about the female body, and how to appreciate his own body too. Progressing from foreplay to full intercourse over the duration of the film, these sessions are warmhearted, sometimes very funny, and always beautifully handled. Knowing that the story is true elevates this film above any with a simply sexual theme. In fact, I cannot think of of many films with a similar theme at all!

As might be expected, Mark becomes very fond of Cheryl. And as their relationship builds, we see Cheryl also returning his affection, and the effect this has on her home life and marriage too. We also get more insight into Mark’s condition, and how it limits his life. Full marks have to go to John Hawkes, for his portrayal of Mark. It is almost impossible to believe that Hawkes is not suffering from the same condition, such is his ability to not only act the part with great emotion, but also to convey the physical defects so convincingly. Had this been a mainstream film, it might well have starred Daniel Day-Lewis, and he would have got a Best Actor Oscar. Hawkes deserved one, in my opinion.

Helen Hunt is a perfect choice for the role of Cheryl. Spending much of the film naked, she is completely relaxed at all times, and her interactions with Mark are always touchingly played, and totally believable. The rest of the cast are mostly unknown to me (except for Macy) but are all equally excellent in their understated style. I really cannot praise this film highly enough, and it has gone straight into my top twenty of films I have enjoyed, and been affected by. It is sold as a comedy, and does indeed have many very funny moments. However, I have rarely seen a film that combines such life-affirming feelings with sadness in quite the same way. Please try to see it.

And it made this grown man cry.

Here’s the American trailer.

Our National Day

This is a re-post from last year. Not only for the benefit of my many new followers, but also to remind us that we no longer celebrate our National Day, in England. We live in a world where so many seemingly pointless ‘Days’ are enthusiastically celebrated; from ‘Stroke A Pet Day’, to ‘Eat Some Chocolate Day’, and many others beloved of the Facebook Generation. Yet some acknowledgement of the long-standing tradition of the 23rd of April is hard to find.

St George’s Day

Today is the 23rd April. That date may have little or no significance to most people, and will pass just like any other day, with little or no fuss. But in England at least, it should count for something different. It is our National Day, though you would be forgiven for not knowing that fact.

Unlike Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, England does little to celebrate its patron saint, or the day named after him. More fuss is made of the fact that it is Shakespeare’s birthday, and the TV companies are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the works of the Bard of Avon. Nothing wrong with that of course, but how about poor old Saint George, and England as a separate nation?

If you were in Ireland (or almost anywhere else) on the 17th March, you could never be unaware that it is Saint Patrick’s Day. ‘The wearing of the green’, some crazy outfits, pubs and bars serving green beer, and many other celebrations, would all bring home the fact that Ireland’s Saint’s Day is celebrated wherever the Irish have a connection.

On 1st March, if you were Welsh, you might well be wearing a leek, listening to the songs of Druids, or watching a male voice choir singing ‘Men of Harlech.’ One thing’s for sure, you would know that it was Saint David’s Day, and no doubt be proud of your Welsh heritage, and separate nationality within the UK. Later in the year, on the 30th of November, Scotland joins in, with Saint Andrew’s Day. Scottish flags flying proudly, special meals, kilts and bagpipes in evidence all over. And since 2006, it is a public holiday in Scotland too.

So what happened in England? Did we just stop caring, or has it all been forgotten? There are some parades, but they are small ones. Some buildings fly the red and white flag of Saint George, but most don’t bother. It is not a public holiday, and very few young people even know that it exists. There is a small website campaigning to get better recognition, but you would be hard pressed to find it mentioned in the mainstream media, let alone celebrated in style. In central London, Trafalgar Square hosts a gathering of Morris Dancers, and a promotion of English food, for the benefit of some bemused tourists to wonder what is going on. The Prime Minister has issued an official message from Downing Street, and a few people are wandering about dressed in the style of 12th century Crusaders.

But we are missing the opportunity to celebrate England as a country in its own right, long before the formation of the UK, or the current union with Scotland, and the six counties of Northern Ireland. I am not a nationalist by nature, but surely we owe it to future generations to make them aware of the culture and heritage of the country that makes up such a large part of the British Isles? Has this country become so diverse, or so steeped in apathy, that such things no longer matter? I sincerely hope not.

Happy Saint George’s Day everyone, from good old England.

The Blogging Journey

Is it just me, or do others out there see being a blogger as like going on a journey into the unknown?

You start out tentatively, with those awkward first posts, and that hurriedly chosen theme. Your sidebars and widgets are undeveloped, and there is so much about WordPress that you just don’t get at all. The dashboard menus are confusing, and adding images doesn’t seem simple either. Then there are the Categories. What do you call them, and how many should there be, if any? Tags might seem obvious to some, but I had no idea how to tag posts. When I first started out, my posts had almost as many tags as text. Then I found out that it is best to only use five tags or less. I wondered which ones to use after that, and looked at other blogs to get some ideas.

Then came ‘Publicize’, and ‘Sharing’. I didn’t have a Twitter account, or a Google+ identity. So, off I went and created accounts with both. Many new bloggers already use Facebook, so that might give them some idea how to do all this stuff, but it was all Greek to me, as the old saying goes. It took me a long night to discover that I had to add images to my ‘Media Library’, before I could insert them into a post. Then a lot longer to realise that my allowance would soon be eaten up by adding too many photos. After a while, I decided to stick with what I had, even if it didn’t look anywhere near as good as the other blogs I was reading.

Remember that feeling of excitement, when someone viewed your post, and WordPress told you that you had a ‘Like’? You had written something, put it out there, and someone somewhere had not only read it, they had ‘Liked’ it too! Then came those first comments. What to do now? Do I reply, even if an answer doesn’t seem necessary? Then when I decided that I would, I forgot to click the ‘Reply’ box first, so my answer just appeared as another comment, with me suitably oblivious to that fact. The someone actually ‘Followed’ my blog. I was amazed that they would actually want to, and still new enough to be unaware that not all ‘Followers’ are really going to follow.

After a while, I suddenly thought that maybe I should be following some other blogs too. After all, some were kind enough to follow me, and the least I could do was to follow a few in return. Very soon, I started to be aware that we were all in a community. We followed each other’s blogs, commented on comments, and regularly posted more and more stuff. It started to all feel very ‘normal’, and routines of adding images, sharing, re-blogging, following, and commenting, all became second nature. It was like that moment when you have just started driving a car. Although you have passed your test, it feels strange to be out on your own. Then one day, you know your way around, no longer worry about what gear you are in, and feel just the same as all those other drivers.

But there is still more to learn, more tricks and tips to pick up. How to avoid Spammers and scammers, who not to follow, and who you should be following. Adapting your style to suit the blogging format, and making sure to keep your blog fresh and active by varying your posts, and keeping the flow going. Remembering to comment, to check your notifications for things you have missed, and adding replies to comments on your own blog, when appropriate. By now, you have got a long way into that journey, so what next?

For me, it was a change of Theme. After a long time with that original theme, I was becoming fed up with looking at it. And if it was getting that way for me, then what must it be like for those reading it? A change of theme, a different font, and a sort out of those categories. Adding the ‘Like’ button for comments was my next move. At least anyone who commented would know that I had read it, even if I hadn’t had time to reply. On the advice of a fellow blogger, I removed the long dull list of archive months and years from the sidebar, and replaced it with a drop-down menu instead. More advice from someone else made me move my ‘Follow’ buttons higher up, so it was easy for new readers to follow, if they so wished. My final addition was the ‘Choose language’ button. I know that the translations are far from perfect, but you are at least letting non-English speaking readers know that you value them too.

That was it for me, my journey was complete. For now, at least.

My trip to Madison

I have written before about some strange dreams I have had over the years. They often fascinate me, at least when I wake up remembering them in such detail. Sometimes, the reasons behind them are obvious, but on occasion, they are completely baffling.

When I woke up this morning, I was aware that I had been dreaming. It was probably one of those ‘just before you wake’ dreams, because the details were fixed in my mind, and seemed very real to me. Not like a dream at all, more like being in another place, then transported back to my bed in Beetley, awakened by the yapping of a neighbour’s dog. This one is worth examining.

I was walking by a huge lake. There was a well-constructed path, affording scenic views over what might have been a coastal area, with a large modern city behind me. I was walking with another man, and I can still see his features clearly, though I have no idea who he was or is. We were heading for a kind of food stall, perhaps a van converted to sell food. The man and I discussed what we might buy to eat, and he recommended the German Sausage, in a roll. He told me that it was the “Best in Madison”. I was speaking in my normal voice, and looked just as I do now, at the same age. He was undoubtedly American, and though around the same age as me, was much fitter-looking, with a full head of hair. When we got to the vendor, I ordered the sausage in the roll, and he handed me the food, declaring “You won’t get better anywhere in Wisconsin, my English friend.”
Then the dog started yapping, and I woke up.

I have never been to America. I have heard of Wisconsin, but only in the context of Schlitz Beer, the brand that ‘made Milwaukee famous’. I am also aware that it is close to the Great Lakes, and the Canadian border, but that’s about it. So, I looked up Madison, and this is what I found.

“Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin, lies west of Milwaukee. It’s known for the domed Wisconsin State Capitol, which sits on an isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona. The Wisconsin Historical Museum documents the state’s immigrant and farming history. The city’s paved Capital City State Trail runs past Monona Terrace, a lakefront convention center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.”

That have me a few chills up the spine. It has a lakeside path that runs along a waterfront, and the large city behind boasts a population of around 250,000. More research tells me that the area is famous for the production of German food, especially sausage, and that there are a lot of German restaurants in the area too.

I have no explanation for this dream. No idea why I should have been in that city that I had never heard of, walking with a man I don’t recognise, alongside a lake that I can still see in my mind. But I was surely there, as it felt as real as sitting here now, typing this. And how else would I have been aware of the small details?

Another of those wonderful mysteries of the mind.

Internet marketing: More evidence

We must have all seen it. Make any search online, and pretty soon those pop-up advertisements will appear on your email sidebars, or on other websites that you frequent. You will likely receive emails from suppliers of those products too, as well as all those ‘buying suggestions’ from the likes of Amazon.

There has been a lot of discussion about the topic of Internet Privacy recently. I think it is safe to assume that there has never been any. The ubiquitous ‘Cookies’ know their stuff, and everything we do is tracked, down to the most obscure search. Have a look at your Spam folder on WordPress, for example. When I bought some toys for our grandson, the Spam started to include offers for things like stair gates. After I searched online for wood stain to be used on exterior woodwork, I received many Spam emails about new fencing, garden gates, and spray-painting devices.

I suppose it comes down to the old adage that if you are doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear. The problem is, what is considered to be wrong? When I do research on ISIS or other organisations for a blog post, does that flag me as a terrorist suspect? If I look into the rise of Nazi Germany to get background for a short story, do I become associated with the Far Right? Once we log on to our computers, write emails, blog posts, or do any Internet searches at all, we open up the inner workings of our minds to anyone who cares to look, or to buy that information from others.

Some people believe that by using complicated software, they can conceal their activities from the ‘seekers’. They also use non-Microsoft platforms, and never use search engines like Google. They have ‘encrypted’ emails, and even go so far as to subscribe to redirected servers, in the hope of hiding their location. Trouble is, we all need one basic tool to access the Web. A phone line. Once you plug that into the back of your router, you have no control over what is monitored on it.

So, stop worrying about it, I suppose. It is intrusive, it can be annoying, and not unlike someone being able to have installed an implant in your head. The only way to avoid it is to unplug your computer, and throw it away. And it doesn’t seem likely that we are going to do that, does it?

On a lighter note, you may recall the two posts I published earlier about The Beetley Bra?
If any of you doubt that the Internet is monitored, look no further than the email I received today.