Thinking Aloud on a Sunday

What would you change?

I woke up today thinking about things like body image, plastic surgery, and social pressures to look attractive and have a toned body. No idea why I was thinking of that of course, as I have never considered plastic surgery, or living my life in relation to image. For one thing, I am too scared to have any unnecessary surgery, and it is also very expensive.

But like most people, I have lived in a modern world subject to being bombarded of images of people who are considered to be beautiful, good-looking, and a cut above everyone else. Therefore, it is only natural that at times I might have wished to have been born looking more like George Clooney than Yoda, but I have never thought for one second about trying to achieve that by resorting to cosmetic surgery.

As with ‘Fake News’, we now live in times where people can also enhance their bodies or appearance by resorting to fakery of some kind. Lip plumping, breast enlargement, wrinkle removal, buttock inserts, to name but a few. And I am not just talking about women of course. Men are having their chins sculpted, chest muscles enhanced, hair woven, and even cheekbones altered surgically. Driven by the desire for that perfect look, a large percentage of the populations of some countries appears to be willing to undergo any pain and discomfort, and to spend a significant part of their income too. Some people have even ‘changed’ the colour of their eyes, by wearing contact lenses designed to give them that ‘piercing blue’ effect.

I thought about what I might change about myself, if I was brave enough, and rich enough to go about it. I have always wished that I had been a little taller. Not a basketball player height, but six feet tall would have been nice. I doubt that would really be possible, but it would have been a change not to have spent so much of my life looking up. Although I lost most of my hair in my early forties, that never bothered me much. I had it cut very short all the time anyway, and the change was minimal. But I have spent my life disliking the heavy bags under my eyes, which appeared when I was still young. Years ago, I read that the procedure to remove them was simple, and relatively cheap. But that old terror of surgery meant that was never going to be a consideration for me.

As you get older, people imagine that you don’t worry so much about how you look. To a degree, that is true, and I would never consider trying to disguise my age by attempting to look younger. Men who wear wigs and toupees just seem sad, as far as I am concerned. But that doesn’t mean that I am comfortable with having the beginnings of a ‘turkey neck’, or jowls like those on my dog. Maybe I would change those if surgery wasn’t involved, I’m not sure. Because I am a coward when it comes to surgical procedures, I am going to have to live with what life has thrown at me, and how my face and body appear to the world.

But what about you? What would you change, if I had a magic wand?
Anything? Or nothing at all?

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The Reblog Button

The easy to use reblog button seems to have disappeared. I just noticed that, when someone informed me that they had to cut and paste one of my posts, instead of being able to reblog.

Anyone got any ideas, or know the reason why?

Or is it just another famous WordPress glitch?

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: W

Close to the finish line now, with ‘W’. Before we get to the last tricky few, please continue to play along, adding your own choices in the comments. ‘W’ has lots to offer, and I will try to feature the less obvious choices, (with one exception) leaving many for you to select from.

German film-maker Wim Wenders is a man of many talents. As well as directing films, he also makes documentaries, and is an accomplished photographer too. He has made films in both German and English, and in Europe and America. I first noticed his name when watching the film ‘The Goalkeeper’s Fear Of The Penalty’ (1972), a downbeat crime thriller that showed obvious talent. I later saw the experimental ‘Alice In The Cities’ (1973), a black and white film with limited dialogue, that became famous as the first of Wenders’ ‘Road Trilogy’. That theme continued in 1984, with the outstanding ‘Paris, Texas’, starring Harry Dean Stanton in a haunting film about a man’s search for his missing wife. Wenders managed to make the bleak regions of Texas take on a European feel, and the soundtrack by Ry Cooder is unforgettable. He later made other award-winning films, including ‘Wings Of Desire’ (1987), and continues to work to this day.

Australian Peter Weir has been directing films since 1969, and has made some of my personal favourites during that time. ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ (1975) took a small story idea, and developed it into a mystical film experience, with tremendous performances from a mainly female cast. His political thriller ‘The Year Of Living Dangerously’ (1982) looked at the turbulent events in Indonesia, through the experiences of journalists based in that country. It starred Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, and also featured an amazing performance from Linda Hunt, playing a male role. The year before, he had brought the epic war film ‘Gallipoli’ to the screen, with the impressive tale of Australian troops fighting in Turkey, in WW1. His list of credits continues, with ‘Witness’ (1985), and ‘The Mosquito Coast’ (1986), both starring Harrison Ford. ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989), ‘Green Card’ (1990), and ‘The Truman Show’ (1998).

From Poland, I am featuring Andrzej Wajda. He made films from 1951 until his death in 2016, aged 90. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honours, as well as being acclaimed by critics and audiences all over the world. Perhaps his best known work internationally is the startling War Trilogy, which began with ‘A Generation’ (1954). This was followed by the riveting ‘Kanal’ in 1956, telling the story of resistance fighters during the Warsaw Uprising, fighting the Germans in and around the sewers of Warsaw. The trilogy was completed with ‘Ashes And Diamonds’ (1958), dealing with events immediately after the end of the war in Europe, with the upheaval and retribution that followed victory. It is generally thought to be one of the best 100 films films ever made.

No surprises with my top choice for ‘W’. A writer, actor, producer, director, theatrical wizard. He acted on stage, on the radio, and in many films too. During my lifetime, I can think of few people who have been as talented as Orson Welles. As a director, he made two of my all time favourites, and as an actor, he starred in many more. His 1941 film ‘Citizen Kane’ is hailed by many as the best film ever made, though I prefer some of his others myself. Like ‘Touch Of Evil’ (1958), with its legendary opening tracking crane shot, and Welles magnificent in the role of the bloated has-been detective, Quinlan. Or the wonderful ‘Chimes At Midnight’, something of a flawed masterpiece, with Welles never better as the tragi-comic Shakespearean character, Falstaff. So although I may prefer him for his acting, his directing is at the top of my list too.
Here’s that opening tracking crane shot I mentioned. This is film-making.

Mud again! With photos

After complaining about mud recently, I thought I might show you some pictures of it. Despite two days of bright sunshine, it doesn’t appear to be drying up. I took these shots on Hoe Rough today.

Soft mud, on reasonably firm ground.

Ollie, drinking watery mud. He loves the taste.

Mud under water, boots stuck fast.

Ollie rushing along a muddy path, blurred by his speed.

Thinking About Something on a Friday

My Dad, and Toilet Paper

Just after I got up today, I noticed that the toilet roll needed to be changed. As I was inserting a new one onto the holder, I thought of my Dad. That memory was sharp, and immediate, giving some indication of how the effects of something he used to do many years ago still resonate in my head, more than thirty years after his death.

My first experience of toilet paper wasn’t of toilet paper as we know it today. It was newspaper pages, cut into sheets measuring about 8 by 8 inches, threaded through a piece of string that was hanging from a nail driven into the wall. And the toilet wasn’t inside either, it was outside in the back yard, a small brick-built structure, with a wooden door made from planks. And Queen Victoria wasn’t still the Queen. I am talking about 1956-1960.

At school, we had outside toilets too. Across the large playground, were two solid structures marked clearly ‘BOYS’ and ‘GIRLS’, the words etched into the mortar. They had proper toilet paper in those, but once again it would be unfamiliar to almost anyone younger than me. It was called ‘IZAL’, and stored in small boxes, fixed to the inside of the toilet cubicles. It was transparent, something like tissue paper, and the box dispensed individual sheets, just one at a time. I can still see my young self getting ready, shuffling out a generous handful of the stuff from the box, like a casino dealer with a card shoe.

In 1960, we moved into a new maisonette. Two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, the toilet in a separate room from the one containing the bath and sink. The modern place was the height of luxury to us at the time. A large living room, well-equipped kitchen, and a bath with constant hot water when needed. No more Friday nights in a metal bath by the fire, in the soapy water already used before by my parents. And we had a toilet roll holder, with a real roll of toilet paper too. It still wasn’t much like any you see now. It was called ‘BRONCO’, which I think was the competitor to ‘IZAL’, but what did I know about brands? I was only eight years old. This was also transparent, but a little stronger. It was clear enough to be compared to tracing paper. In fact, I used it frequently to trace things for school projects, and it worked just as well, allowing for the perforation between each sheet.

You had to be careful with ‘BRONCO’ though. If you were too enthusiastic, it was prone to skid upwards, with results you can well imagine. But it remained a staple in our house for many years, until the arrival of the soft white toilet paper we all know and love.

So, what does this have to do with my Dad? (I hear you ask)

My Dad was a man of habit. He did things at a certain time, on the same day. His visits to the small toilet in our new maisonette were something of an event. He would announce them in advance, and prepare his necessaries to accompany him on the trip. These always included a daily (or evening ) newspaper, and his cigarettes and lighter. (There was a large ashtray in our toilet, on a tall stand, to avoid having to reach down low) He also liked to take a cup of tea to drink whilst relaxing, and at weekends, his breakfast sandwich of sausages or bacon too. This would be carried up on a plate, with the teacup resting on the edge. He would balance the plate on his thigh once his trousers were down, and he could read his paper and enjoy his breakfast, as he did what he needed to do. Afterwards, he would enjoy one or two cigarettes before emerging.

I have given you a few moments to picture that scene. I still have trouble with that myself.

He referred to this daily ritual as ‘retiring to the throne’, and when Mum and I heard those words, we knew that we had better get in quick, if either of us needed to pee.

My family was relatively well-off, in that working class area where we lived. Mum and Dad both had good jobs, I was an only child, and the cost of living was very reasonable at the time. Not rich, by any means, but certainly ‘comfortable. The price of toilet paper would not be a consideration, I’m sure. But if you could have heard my Dad, you might have thought that we were using pound notes for the purpose, instead of flimsy transparent paper. Not long after we moved into the new home, he began to remark about how much paper I used, when visiting the toilet. I wondered how he could tell, but he informed me that he was sure he could tell, by listening to roll move. He said that I was spinning it ‘like the wheels on a gambling fruit machine’, and as far as he was concerned, I was just ‘wasting it’.

I was not yet nine years old, but I still couldn’t comprehend how anyone could ‘waste’ toilet paper. You used what you had to use, surely? But the issue certainly got under his skin. As I sat in the toilet one day, he suddenly hammered his fist on the door, shouting “That’s enough now. Stop it, pull the chain, and get out here!” When I came out onto the landing, he gave me a lecture on the amount of toilet roll I had used, freely admitting to listening outside, calculating paper usage by the sound of the roll turning. I wanted to laugh out loud, to be honest. But he was my Dad. In 1961, you didn’t laugh at your Dad.

I began to avoid using the toilet when he was at home. The school holidays were a welcome break from his obsession, and most other times I tried to go in there before he returned from work. It wasn’t always possible of course, and on those occasions he continued to remark on the use of toilet paper, once declaring that ” I bet you use more than The Queen of England!” I had never realised she was the benchmark. This went on once we moved away to Kent, when I was fifteen. By then, we had long been using modern soft paper, known as ‘2-Ply’. In 1975, he left the family home, and went off with another woman.

I was pleased to see the back of him, and bought a six-pack of toilet rolls, in celebration.

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: U and V

As you might expect, the letter ‘U’ throws up very few directors with that surname, so I am using two letters in one post again today.

I have seen some of the films of one man with a ‘U’ surname though. American director Ron Underwood, who made the amusing monster horror, ‘Tremors’ in 1990, starring Kevin Bacon. He followed that with another comedy, ‘City Slickers’ (1991), then the ‘giant ape’ remake ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1998), with Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton in the leads. He made other films which I have not seen, and still works extensively, mainly for television.

‘V’ offers more fertile ground, with almost fifty to choose from, including American Indie film-maker Gus Van Sant. His powerful drama about the life of drug-addicted young people, ‘Drugstore Cowboy’ (1989), delivered a believable lead role from Matt Dillon that remains my favourite from that actor. This was followed in 1991 by ‘My Own Private Idaho’, a film about two young male prostitutes living a bleak and pointless life. I was very impressed by that film, especially with the completely convincing performances of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in the leads. In 1995, he directed the genre-busting crime comedy, ‘To Die For’, with a standout performance from Nicole Kidman. He is also known for three films lumped together as ‘The Death Trilogy’, including the immensely powerful ‘Elephant’ (2003), a film about a real high-school shooting that rightly won the ‘Palme D’Or at Cannes. (He also made the highly-acclaimed ‘Good Will Hunting (1997) but I never liked that film.)

I have to mention French director Roger Vadim, and not primarily for his films. Vadim was a man who was indeed lucky in love. Not only did he have an affair (and a child) with the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, he also married not only Brigette Bardot, but Jane Fonda too. As a teenager, I envied that man a great deal, I can tell you. In between, he made a lot of films, most notably the steamy drama ‘And God Created Woman’ (1956), which introduced the sexy Brigitte Bardot to a worldwide audience. As well as numerous films in his own language, he later directed the amusing (and very sexy) science-fiction romp, ‘Barbarella’ (1968). Fonda was the eponymous heroine, and she never looked better than in this role as the glamorous space adventurer. It also gave us Duran Duran, and his ‘Orgasmatron’. Priceless camp.

My final choice still leaves you with more ‘V’ film makers than you can shake a stick at, believe me.
It is popular to talk down Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. He makes exciting films, sexy films, and films that are very often an in-joke. He has no defined directorial style, and in many cases, settled for sensationalism, and style over substance. Yet there are times in life when even a self-styled film bore like me just needs to be entertained. To sit back and enjoy a story, soak up the visuals, and (yes, I confess) admire a pretty and usually half-naked woman. Verhoeven will not leave behind a legacy of classics, hailed in the cinematic halls of fame. But he undoubtedly knows how to entertain an audience at many levels, in various genres. Never heard of him? I think you will know at least some of the films. Exploitation? At times perhaps, but very well done indeed.
‘Soldier of Orange’ (1977) is a little-known Dutch war film that needs to get a wider audience. This story of resistance fighters, and Dutch volunteers in The German Waffen SS during WW2 is a fine drama, and stars the reliable Rutger Hauer too.
‘Flesh and Blood’ (1985) is a rip-roaring English-language swashbuckler, set in the 16th century. Hauer stars again, as the leader of a band of mercenaries who happily rape and pillage their way around Italy during the confusing wars and politics of that time.
‘Robocop’ (1987) was the original outing for this franchise. A futuristic action thriller that gave a whole new meaning to the warning, “Halt. Police!”
The list goes on. ‘Total Recall’ (1990), the sexy Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct’ (1992), and the pleasingly voyeuristic (at least for me) ‘Showgirls’ (1995). Monsters in space got a wonderfully inventive ironic treatment in the fun and exciting ‘Starship Troopers’ (1997), and Verhoeven returned to WW2 in 2006, with the satisfyingly sentimental ‘Black Book’, about the resistance in Holland. Something for everyone, in a career that continues in controversy with ‘Elle’ (2016), and more to come.

He might be my directorial ‘guilty pleasure’ indeed. Here’s a trailer.

Film Directors: A sort-of A-Z: T

After a break of a couple of days, I am finally up to ‘T’. Quite a few famous ones of course, including one American who shot to fame in 1992. I am only featuring foreign-language directors today, so there will be plenty left for you to add your own selections.

I have used the English language titles for all the foreign films mentioned.

I have to start with the world-famous French film-maker and actor, Francois Truffaut. Before his early death at the age of 52, Truffaut helped found the French New Wave, and left behind a legacy of important and critically-acclaimed films. His awards and nominations are too numerous to mention, but he won both Oscars and Baftas for his work, as well as many domestic plaudits too. From ‘The 400 Blows’ in 1959, to ‘Confidentially Yours’ in 1983, his career never flagged, and he retained his influence and the admiration of critics throughout. Other famous titles include the ‘film within a film’ ‘Day For Night’ (1973), ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (made in English, in 1966), and ‘The Last Metro’ (1980), a wartime drama starring Catherine Deneuve.

Another French director, Bertrand Tavernier may not be as well known as Truffaut, but in a long career, he has also made some outstanding films. These include ‘A Sunday In The Country’ (1984), the English-language Jazz drama ‘Round Midnight’ (1985) with music by Herbie Hancock, and the adaptation of ‘In The Electric Mist’ (2009), starring Tommy Lee Jones. But Tavernier is mainly included here for one of my personal favourite films, the almost unknown ‘Life And Nothing But’ (1989). Despite winning numerous awards, this subtle work has all but disappeared off of the radar of film fans. The touching story of widows searching for their husbands shortly after WW1 stars the wonderful Phillipe Noiret, as the officer in charge of trying to identify the bodies.

Swedish director Jan Troell may not be someone you have ever heard of. But he made a film that features on my personal list of the best films of all time, and one I have never forgotten. I have written about ‘Everlasting Moments’ (2008) many times on my blog, and even reviewed it on other sites. My love for this gentle and affecting film knows no bounds, I assure you. But he has made many other films, including the wonderful ‘The Emigrants’ (1971), starring Max von Sydow, and the sequel ‘The New land’ (1972). He still continues to work today, in his native Sweden.

My top choice today is the Russian auteur, Andrei Tarkovsky. Up to his death in 1986, he made some of the most remarkable films in the history of cinema. Beloved of film buffs and critics alike, his long and often complex films rarely make for light or easy viewing. But they can be incredibly rewarding, if you give them the attention they deserve. ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ (1962) is a haunting war drama, the story of a young boy acting as an army scout, in the mysterious swamp-lands of Russia during the German invasion. In 1966, Tarkovsky made ‘Andrei Rublev’, the true story of the life of the famous icon painter, set in the 15th century. This was followed in 1972 by the eerie science fiction epic, ‘Solaris’, which was later remade in America (in 2002) by Stephen Soderbergh, starring George Clooney. Other notable works include ‘Mirror’ (1975), and ‘Stalker’ (1979), rated by The British Film Institute as one of the fifty greatest films of all time. There has never really been anyone like Tarkovsky, I assure you.

Here’s a trailer for ‘Solaris’. It may look dated now, but don’t let that fool you.