The Shape of Love Serenade

Tales have been told for thousands of years about creatures which are part human and part water-creature. These hybrids are usually female in Graeco-Roman and European myth and legend, but British Islanders have also imagined male varieties.

Odysseus’s dangerous Scylla is an ancient example of the former, while the part-seal creature in the Scottish legend of the Silkie of Sule Skerry (as in the folk song) is one of the latter. The Loreley on the Rhein started out as just a big rock, but came to have a malevolent presence and eventually a female form.

These creatures make their way into works of art, such as painting, but notably also opera, in the form of the Rhine Maidens in Wagner’s Ring. They occasionally also venture into feature films, a notable but ambiguous example being Neil Jordan’s Ondine (2009) in which it’s Colin Farrell who has the encounter.

And there is even an Australian example: Selkie (2000). Donald Crombie’s film is intended for a young audience, and more about coming-of-age than the supernatural. The alien transformation is a metaphor for the changes of adolescence.

I understand all these imaginations as stemming originally from an aspect of animism – which sees a soul in all things. It’s one more small step to imagining that these things with souls – such as rocks and water – look surprisingly like human beings, and then one more to making them part-human.

If the creature is completely alien, as in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017) then the opportunity presents itself to investigate another metaphor: to do with the problem of communication. One sub-text of the story is about cultural collision – shown here as the absence of a shared language, and the best thing about the film is the way it deals with that.

Does Love Serenade (Shirley Barrett, 1996) belong to the same family of narratives? In both stories the male is also a fish – or behaves like one: breathing under water. In both cases he successfully seduces the maiden. Is Ken Sherry a silkie?

I say, narratologically, no! The shapes of the stories differ.

Whereas in the ancient legends and in Ondine and The Shape of Water, the ambiguous creature emerges from its watery element at the beginning of the narrative, and the encounter takes place in that context, Shirley Barrett’s story begins in (bucolic) suburbia, and one of the points of the film is the depiction of the barrenness of the sisters’ existence in Sunray. When the new bloke turns up next door, he may appear to have an exotic charm to Dimity and Vicki-Ann, but we viewers can see that he is merely an old sleazebag.

So when the first fishy event occurs, it comes out of the blue, and the ending of the film lurches into another mode of being – which cannot be explained by anything in the narrative!

This kind of non sequitur is what happens in dreams – and therefore also in surrealism, which is the best hermeneutic to explain this film.

The brilliant charm of this unusual film comes from the fact that it so successfully situates its small group of characters in their ordinary houses in their tiny tawdry town – and then throws all that out of the window in the last scene, and says: Surprise!

It’s Not Cricket

Until quite recently, and for centuries, ‘cricket’ was synonymous with ‘ethical’ – as in the phrase ‘it’s not cricket’ – meaning ‘it’s not the right thing to do’.

Then we had the ‘bodyline’ scandal. … It was only briefly a scandal, and is no longer seen as wrong, and it has become accepted practice to attempt to hurt, or at least intimidate, the batsman, as opposed to knocking down the wickets – which used to be the point of bowling.

Then we had match fixing. And now we have ball tampering – which has apparently been authorised by the Captain of Australia – a position which used to be seen as being as prestigious as that of the Ambassador for Australia in another country.

Cricket has become merely yet another human activity in which the point is to win at any cost. Ethically, it’s ‘not cricket’. And it’s a shame.

Radio Alphabet

I decided to memorise the ‘radio alphabet’ (it has a longer name), partly for the exercise. This entry was intended to be some thoughts about memorisation, but the more I noticed the thematic connexions between the names of the letters, the more I focussed on this one aspect of memorisation.

There is an American theme running through most of the names, and more specifically films, and even more specifically war (films).

Alfa is an unpromising start. It’s just the first letter of the Greek alphabet, alpha.
Bravo.  Rio Bravo, John Wayne.
Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was on the Berlin Wall. (I realise that’s circular.)
Delta. Um … Apocalpyse Now? There must be a film about a river delta.
Echo. Blank.
Foxtrot. Fred Astaire …
Golf. Bob Hope … Caddy Shack.
Hotel. Grand Hotel, among many others.
India. Song of India.
Juliet. Plus Romeo.
Kilo. 12 Grams?
Lima. Blank.
Mike. Michaels Douglas, Keaton …
November. The Hunt for Red October? (But there are quite a few films with November in the title: The November Man (2014) is one.
Oscar. Need I say more?
Papa. An odd one. A childish word.
Quebec. Blank.
Romeo. Plus Juliet.
Sierra. High Sierra. John Wayne again? (Actually it was Humphrey Bogart, miscast.)
Tango. Last Tango in Paris. By Bertolucci, but Brando’s in it.
Uniform. All war films.
Victory. All war films.
Whiskey. Most American films.
Xray. Blank.
Yankee. Most Americans.
Zulu. A British war, but directed by an American.

Boo Park

Almost all of the original planning for Booyeembara Park in the 1999 Master Plan has not been carried out. However, the Park is much used for the usual purposes of walking, playing, eating and drinking, contemplation – and sailing model yachts.

I have only just become aware of the original master plan for Boo Park – despite having been walking in it, and what was there before, for over two decades. I just happened to click on the Friends site because it was at the top of my links page – and then clicked on “creating-booyeembara.html”, and then clicked on “Montreal Open Space (full doc here)” and so was able to read the master plan – which I hadn’t read before, because I hadn’t persevered to that extent.

Having been informed about the three ‘narratives’, I tried to follow them, starting with the geomorphological, the only one that exists in any sense of the word.

There’s a sort of look-out on the corner of Montreal and Stevens St, which provides almost the only verbal interpretation of the Park. The Rose Wise Pinter plaque gives some of the history of the area, but does not say anything about the Park’s plan. There’s a signboard nearby with a copy of the 1999 master plan, but it’s in shades of grey, and is too small and too near the ground. There are also some words, but only a few, and hard to read, on one of those structures on the path down to the jetty.

The spiral, representing a shell (as I’ve now found out), is not only overgrown, as it has been for some time, but is also close to dead. Either there’s no reticulation there, or it doesn’t work. The type of vegetation chosen seems to have been a poor choice, as it’s too untidy to define the spiral shape.

The view down to jetty is somewhat obscured by the tree next to it. Likewise the view back to the jetty from the other side of the pond. The line is also obscured by the vegetation in the pond on the eastern side which now almost completely hides the ‘jetty’ posts which would otherwise suggest it.

The ‘recycling narrative’ line is now simply a blue metal road between the olive trees, laid for council trucks to get to the inner end of the park. It starts at a locked gate and just trails off at the eastern end. The ‘terraces’ are some purposeless low stone walls containing a grove of cypresses – apparently a poor choice as only about a quarter still exist – the rest having been blown over by gusting winds in various storms.

I don’t think there has ever been attempt to show the ‘community’ entrance and line from the Stevens St entrance. I guess the money ran out before Phase 3 really got going.

The amphitheatre is half finished and is mainly used by graffitists who enjoy painting on the large blank walls conveniently provided by council workers who keep (at significant cost) painting over the graffiti so that the ‘artists’ can start again with a blank canvas. Some examples down this page. It’s also used regularly – at least once a year – for parties, as that page also shows. The area is fenced off, so that, theoretically, normal punters like me should not enter it. Ironically, therefore, the graffitists’ work is seen only by them and the council workers. I suppose it’s one form of ‘use’ of part of the Park.

The ‘billabong’ is a large hole in the ground. The ‘story-telling circle’ is an area of inconvenient beach sand, with six large poles adjacent which must have been used for something – on only one occasion, I think.

The ‘overlook’ shown in one diagram does not exist. The nearest viewing place is the 17th tee on the Royal Fremantle golf course, but it’s not where the ‘narrative’ lines terminate, more or less at the same point, as was intended.

The most successful part of the Park is the round grassy area with three picnic tables and a free gas BBQ. As it’s near the playground, people quite often organise parties for birthdays or whatever and kids can play safely on the grass, the equipment – and the trees, by the way.

The Park is used mostly by people walking – almost always with dogs, about half of which are on leashes as required by regulation. In fifteen years, I’ve seen a ranger in there once (plus two policepersons on another occasion). The walkers mostly walk on the paved paths, so I guess they must be seen as a success, tho I personally much prefer the crushed limestone paths in what I call the ‘W’.

There have also been a large number of weddings – tho the best spot for those is not attractive at the moment as it’s a bit overgrown. Also, kids from the neighbourhood use one of the artificial hills as a bike jump, which has radically spoilt the entrance to the ‘wedding area’ from the south, as they’ve destroyed the grassy path by landing on it.

Ducks have not bred all that successfully, possibly because of the number of dogs. However, purple swamp hens have multiplied in recent years.

The three large koi are still in the pond, tho I suppose they should not be. They must have been there for more than five years now. I saw them together only a few days ago. I see them as a feature.

Oh, and at least one German backpacker lived in the Park for a couple of weeks, putting his tent up at night and taking it down in the morning. We are still FB friends.

Taxonomy of mystery stories

I went looking specifically for a taxonomy of detective plots. The ‘locked room’ plot is the only one of which I was aware, but I was sure there were other such. In the event, I did better, finding a more general taxonomy of mysteries, which includes plots but also other ways of classifying detective and mystery stories. For a listologist like me, it’s a delight:
https://www.talesofmurder.com/murderwiki/taxonomy-of-the-mystery/

I had in mind that Russian dude who did a thing on the Russian folk tale which was quite important in the development of narratology:
Propp, Vladimir 1968 [1928], The Morphology of the Folktale, tr. Laurence Scott, from Morfologia Skazi, Leningrad) University of Texas Press, Austin (second edition 1970). There’s also this:
Todorov, Tzvetan 1977, ‘The typology of detective fiction’ [1966] and ‘An introduction to verisimilitude,’ [1967] in The Poetics of Prose, Cornell UP, Ithaca.

Lady Bird

A pleasant domestic story, so in that sense not completely unlike Brooklyn, one difference being that Ronan does this one with a Californian accent, whereas in the other she drew on her genealogical background to play someone from Ireland. I didn’t believe for more than a moment that she was 17 (she was about 22), but it didn’t impede plausibility generally. This young lady has far to go. She won’t win the Oscar because Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins are in the queue ahead of her, but she may if she gets the right part later.

I was amused to learn that Sacramento (the capital) is the ‘mid-west of California’. I guess that wherever you happen to grow up can seem tedious, even if it is Paris or Machu Pichu.

(When I first heard the title I wondered why anyone would make a biopic about Lyndon Johnson’s wife. They could have thought of a different name with a similar effect.)

Get Out

This is a genuine thriller. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, it can have a real effect: it did on me.
Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017) prod. Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jordan Peele; Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener; nominated for Best Film Actor; nominated for Best Actor Oscar: Daniel Kaluuya

Darkest Hour

If you’d told me in 1996 when Idiot Box was released, or in 2000 with Sample People, or 2001, with Mullet, and above all in 2010, when Animal Kingdom came out, with Ben Mendelsohn superb as a loser, small-time career criminal, that Mendo would get to play the King of England in 2017, I would have lolled. I think Ben would have too. But here he is doing quite a plausible representation of Geo VI – tho HRH his daughter would almost certainly disagree.

Oh, and there’s this other guy, a Londoner, in the part of the PM. Unfortunately for my estimation of Oldman, I happen to live three doors from an actor who has recently played Churchill in a stage play. I worked with James Hagan on my front verandah reading in lines for him as he prepared for the role, and I have to say that I could believe that I was in the presence of Churchill himself when James was six feet away, with no (four-hour) makeup on: just acting – mostly with his amazing voice.

That digression is my self-disqualification for commenting on Oldman’s performance – which is pretty much the point of the film’s existing. It’s one of those specific acting exercises – which has been carried out by Robert Hardy, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Brendan Gleeson, and so on. Churchill created himself to some extent: the V sign, the cigar, the elocution, and it’s not surprising that it’s a recurrent challenge to re-create him.