-A window ajar is a prelude in building to the joy of being limitless! That uneasiness of being familiar somehow, sometime, somewhere.......

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Troika Reviews

One of the age old norms in the college was-When bestowed the luxury of being in the bed; ill and convalescing, one must indulge in as many books, movies and music as possible to review them later for the greater health and prosperity of the brethren.

And as old habits die hard (why else you think they are called old habits?), here go a obscure few....


Portrait of an artist, as an old man: a novel

Joseph Heller 2000
Scribner fiction in UK £12.99

Joseph Heller needs no introduction. Though the title carries a rare emphasis of being a novel, it becomes clear as we sail past impeccable narration of the initial few chapters, that the book is a far from being a novel. It is put together as a clever collage of autobiographical insights that finds its way as fictionalised accounts glued by inimitable wit with his twisted semi efforts to write one final reputable novel.

In this last book published after his death, Heller speaks through his alter-ego protagonist Eugene Pota (Portrait Of The Artist), a previously successful novelist walking into the sunset of his literary winter, with too much idyllic time at hands and pride to wear, with a faithful publisher by his side trying to put forth one final piece before his farewell.

At the crux, the book deals with writer’s block and his jovial struggles to come up with an idea worthy of a marketable novel and through such pursuits he half heartedly tries to explore, Greek mythology, biblical themes and also several of his favourite fictions/lines twisting them into parodies that are often shuffled about before being abandoned. The result is a combination chronicle of his brilliant false starts interspersed with his personal takes on several things in life.

Personally he traces the uninspired writer’s world, reclusive and dull often trying to find muses in inanely imaginative things from his wife’s possible sexual biography to reflections of women in his life, The idea of Gods wife, to a consultation with his doctor and often at times tries his hand at weaving some fiction out of them. Needless to add there is a distinct sexual undertone in many such chapters.

As we move on, it is obvious his false starts are bound to loose steam ending up as paragraphs, chapters and at times just headings. However some of themes like Hera speaking of Zeus’ wives and the chapter on Isaac have brilliant sparks that bring back memories of what a gut twistingly hilarious talent he is.

But the more insightful segments of the book are when he tries on some of his favourite lines from fiction like - A beautiful woman has trouble living up to her looks for very long: Kurt Vonnegut, Last night my lord returned from the wars and pleasured me twice/thrice? with his boots on: Duchess of Marlborough or at times manages to exploit in satire some familiar chapters(or parts at least) from Tom sawyer, Metamorphosis and Moby Dick to get across his point of what a great torture writing can be?

The best theme is undoubtedly in the chapter Tom sawyer, The novelist which deals with, what Heller calls the literature of despair where Tom sawyer is re-fictionalised as a keen young american novelist trying to trace the final days of various eminent writers all over America (Mark Twain, Jack London, Flaubert, Melville, Poe, Fitzgerald etc) and across the pond (James, Dickens, Conrad, et al) only to learn about the various states of their pathological melancholia , breakdown and hopeless end. This manages to convince Sawyer to abandon his ambition of writing and to wish to become a railroad engineer instead.

Further, in the following chapter he goes on to examine the illnesses and idiosyncrasies of many writers as part of his talk to young college students only to conclude in a subtle warning veiled in humour:It is almost enough to chill the heart of the parent whose child declares the wish to seek a career as an author.

The narration when discreetly autobiographical is learnt and graceful and while experimenting with his numerous ideas is clever with flashes of his reputedly dangerous satire. This is indeed a unique book in a special genre. And for people who seek plots, mystery, meaning or perhaps even laughter, it should hold little interest for it is just a pastiche account about writing or the lack of it.

In the end, one gets a feeling that beneath all there is a unmistakable wry and the sardonic laugh at the evolution of meaninglessness into life, though perhaps not as satirical (twenty two teethed laugh) at the absurdity of war, a laugh definitely wise and subtle enough to escape a post modern conscience, a laugh perhaps enriched only by the meaning of life.

Flaky or otherwise, he has succeeded in hiding whatever he intended to hide!



Girl With a Pearl Earring
Beauty inspires obsession

Production: Lionsgate films, Pathé distribution 2003
Director: Peter Webber
Runtime: 100 mins
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Essie Davis, Cillian Murphy, Judy Parfitt.
DVD: £ 5.97
Country: United Kingdom/Luxembourg

Based on a novel by Tracy Chevalier this movie is a story of Griet a beautiful peasant who starts to work as a maid in the wealthy home of the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and how she with her innocence and curiosity inspires the talented Vermeer, initially by assisting him and eventually by modelling one of his natural masterpieces. On an abstract plane there is a parallel and subtle exploration of the meaning and the boundaries of love {?} within and out of society in the uncertain backdrop of art.

The story is just a lovely fiction by Tracy Chevalier adding imagination to the making of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Young Griet begins to work as a maid in the patrician family of Vermeer to support her financially struggling parents. Although illiterate she exhibits an innate understanding of subtleties of colour and light often unnoticed by Vermeer’s own lavish family mainly made of wife and mother in law. As she spends more time amongst the paintings, the studio turns into an imaginative respite and she finds herself slowly drawn into his world which in turn, offers him a natural way out from the bauble of his kitschy family before ultimately inspiring him to paint her as the model. And all through this, Vermeer finds himself torn between a dull family and his love for true art, while she conscious of the futility of their intrigue and the class distinctions finds herself in the affections of a native butcher boy. That a wealthy patron of Vermeer’s art also starts to develop more than a wild interest in Griet doesn’t help the quagmire any bit. Sailing through such testing waters, the story moves along to capture how, held by their conviction and bound by love for art they manage to be immortalised in one of the most genuinely captivating paintings ever. Beauty as it is aptly said inspires obsession.

Scarlett Johansson as griet is refined and breathtakingly luminous at times, Colin Firth(Vermeer) although just about manages to convince himself off the lover boy image, one tends to get a feeling that a more gifted actor would have justified the silent and intriguing chemistry between them better. The familial characters manage to fulfil the demands of their role quite unremarkably. Essie Davis as Vermeer's wife is just about tailor- made for the role. For veterans Tom Wilkinson(MasterVan Ruijven), Judy Parfitt( Maria Thins/Mother in law)and Joanna Scanlan(Tanneke) it is just another day in the office. Cillian Murphy(Pieter), as the love interest of griet shows promise.

It is the art direction that is quite outstanding to recreate the feel of 17th century Netherlands, in fact I can’t remember of any better reconstructed renaissance films amongst that I’ve seen. Since Olivia Hetreed has done a decent job in screenwriting, director Peter Webber’s role is reduced to unimaginative supervision with very little room to improvise.

The music, crowned by an alluring soundtrack aptly compliments the ambience of the movie. Eduardo Serra’s exquisite cinematography is a treat that justifies the motif of the movie as the different scenes are brilliantly captured in the artistic interplay of shadows and light.

To conclude, the story line is no where near exciting neither is anything sensational in the movie; this film is about and in images, and that is exactly what makes it a memorable viewing more than anything else, especially for viewers like me who think in images.So if you are the types who cherish computer aided imagistic memories, you are advised to give yourself an easier choice.



Push Barman to Open Old Wounds--CD compilation
Artist: Belle and Sebastian

Jeepster Recordings May 2005
UK price: £ 10.97

Convalescing from an arduous delirium is hardly a state preferred to write about the melody of Belle and Sebastian, so let me just keep the background brief.

Belle and Sebastian formed in 1997, is an enigmatic Glasgow based indie band named after French television show from the sixties.
I accidentally discovered them via a friend a while back and since then have been a huge admirer of the type of modern pop-chamber music they are renowned to craft. First for the sheer genius of their expansive experimentation and two for the subtle melancholic narrative in their lyrics which personally, I find so easy to identify with.
In a sense, they have come to mean what music means to me, - unique, evocative and evolving. Their core music is best described as a version of a cross between Simon Garfunkel and Dylan, and if you like either of them, I suggest you should give Belle and Sebastian a try, if you haven’t already.

As you listen, It’s not hard to see why you can’t recall of any active bands that sound as versatile as they sound. The unique feature, which lends identity (hence value) to the band is undoubtedly the wistful lyrics, written by front man Stuart Murdoch (mostly on Glasgow buses). It is backed by softish easy to fall in love with vocals, and a wide range of innovative music; the combination of all often reflecting a dreamy state of purposeless anomie in the suburban life.

And when I speak of lyrics, how many bands can come up with such words in their songs like this-?
ou are in two minds tossing a coin to decide whether you should tell your folks
about a dose of thrush you got while you were licking railings
and more importantly gotten away with them in perfect harmony?

The two CD compilation of twenty five songs , is a must have collector’s item, as it not only forms a decent introduction for a newbie but also has a good package of their more obscure tracks to an avowed fan.
The first CD is an assort of alluringly precious tracks of their folksy earlier songs, epitomised by their pensive lyrics. The variety of musical instruments complement the words and vocals to perfection.
It kicks off with the clever and whimsical dog on wheels that grows on you the more you listen, the second number, the state I am in is genius of a song-story told in clever fragmented tune followed by the gorgeously written simonseque string bean jean.
As you are still recovering from those haunting melodies, you are offered to savour Belle and Sebastian, a summery, suave number.
The next song is the crux of the CD, Lazy Line Painter Jane, a duet with guest vocalist Monica Queen the best of the compilation is flirtatiously evocative and undeniable of its brilliance in concept and execution. The experimental a century of Elvis sounds bit of Mike Skinneresque. le pastie de la bourgeoisie is an amazingly written and sung retro-treat A few other songs like Photo Jenny, Put the book back on shelf are in the magical league of their own making the CD as delicious as any CD can ever become. To say that this CD carries some of the most impressive music of our times is an understatement and an injustice.

The second CD formed mostly of their later songs, is patchy. It begins with the lengthy and ethereal this is just a modern rock song and goes on further to build up into other crisp melodies like I know where the summer goes and slow graffiti. The legal man, an amorphous tappy piece by Isobel is the undoubted star of the second CD .The later songs become extremely ordinary and characterless like in the instrumental Judy is a dick slap where you wonder whether you are just listening to any other chart pop band. The rest of the songs are unabashedly conscious only evoking at times the memory of the wistful charm so rich in the first CD but they fairly manage to carve their own pop identities as in Jonathan David, and The loneliness of a middle distance runner.

All in all it’s definitely a worthy compilation both on the pocket and ears, however my favourite Dear catastrophe waitress (Isn’t that friggin worthy to kill title?) is in another album of the same title!
If you haven’t listened to Belle and Sebastian you have definitely missed out on some sincere and soulful music of our generation, irrespective of whether you end up liking them or not.

So long,


Rajesh said...

Troika potion is good for health.

A triple whammy. Just breezed through the movie review and I caught this:

viewers ... who think in images..

Tarkovsky's movies were all an arrangement of images, trains of them and they were sonorous. I will look for this movie.

will read the other two reviews at leisure.

. : A : . said...

Phew. All 3 were new for me.

Extempore said...

Oh my! That's some seriously well spent convalescence! I love the book - Heller is a total genius. The other two however were totally new. Will try and check them out asap.

Welcome back! :)

Ubermensch said...

Thanks.I knew the posts were like war and peace, but cudnt help.
I have seen only one tarkovsky movie the name of which I cant recall now.But I take your word when it comes to movies,:) I always believed russians knew a lot innately.

yes , as I have mentioned, they are not quite as popular as the others.Im not recommending them either, its just what I happened to catch and review although I must admit Ive been wanting to say something about Belle and Sebastian for a while now.

Thanks, the book is definitely unique and Heller is gifted.
Thanks as well for the welcome:)

asuph said...


I was almost tempted to say god that was coherent :D :D. but I won't. That was lucid... I didn't know reviews can be so engrossing a read. You know what, you've biased the readers already...

I am in the same boat as :a:.. hadn't heard of any of them. But you've ignited my interests... thanks for the reviews.


Ubermensch said...

hey asuph,
Thanks for reading the dump as well for the comments.
Yes, I believe in just igniting interests, I dont subscribe to teh fact of being unbiased in the reviews. If it were to be that, It would be anyone's review!
btw, Ive fallen in love with the sound of 'coherent', remmenber your stint with poignant?:)


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