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Monthly cultural round up: March

BOOKS

Siri Hustvedt The Summer Without Men This is quite a pleasant read, though in part I think that the various storylines don’t really gel, or at least do not coalesce in a way which makes thebook more than the sum of its parts. The most interesting parts of this for me was the contemplation of how close we live to our own insanity, when our expectations about the world are suddenly transformed, sometimes there is no place to go but insane. As the story of a woman finding her way back from this kind of traumatic break, it holds some interesting ideas about how one negotiates the world and the future. And then it wanders off into twee storylines about making teenagers like each other more through poetry. There are some interesting vignettes and some nice characters, but overall it doesn’ t quite hang together as well as it could and occasionally seems like a lot of fragments of Good Ideas have been smooshed together. But then again, maybe that is supposed to reflect the disorder of rethinking one’s life.

Alastair Reynolds The Prefect This starts of seeming like a much more straightforward novel than many of Reynolds, but this impression does not last. Beautifully rendered with textured characters, The Prefect is a clever mystery, but it also involves layers of complexity and concepts which make it on a par with other novels. It is fascinatingly dark and raises philosophical questions about what is right and reasonable and how one serves justice, and what justice even is. While it helps to have read other books in the same universe, it isn’t necessary. The world(s) of the Glitter Band are beatufiully thought out, and the book touches briefly on some of the concerns which Iain Banks’ Surface Detail explores in more depth – when should people be saved from themselves? Well worth a read – I am still yet to find a Reynolds’ which is disappointing.

FILMS

Hugo Another 3 D children’s movie – I nearly groaned. But I obviously hadn’t paid enough attention to the director (Martin Scorcese, so a favourite) or the plot. Actually, the publicity about the plot indicated “story of boy living in the walls of a train station in Paris” when in fact the film was really about film itself, but particulary the story of George Melies, the man who gave us the iconic early film image of a rocket smashing into the smiling face of the moon. While it started a little Disney-like with swirling snow and oafish authority figure chases rascally child through train station, it quickly became more interesting. It is clearly made by a man who loves and treasures the history of film and the scenes of Melies at work as a director are delightful. Beautifully cast and acted, it could occasionally have been a little faster paced – though it didn’t lose the attention of the small boys accompanying me.It provide nice vignettes of characters – and the slightly predictable or stereotyped nature of the charaters and their interactions seemed to be more about the exercise of film archetypes than a lack of originality. In fact, much of the film is a tribute to these tropes of film – the dream-within-a-dream, the dangling from the hands of a clock – the film is imbued throughout with clever little tributes to films. Even the use of iconic actors like Ben Kingsley and Christopher Lee seemed to be for their role as a symbol of film history rather than merely their acting skills. Enjoyable for the non-film lover, those who love this history of films will especially enjoy it.

MUSIC

Duran Duran Sydney Entertainment Centre I last saw Duran Duran 29 years ago when they first toured Australia. I thought it was completely amazing, my first experience of live music, so while I was very keen to go and see them again, there was a small touch of trepidation that all my teen memories would be crushed if they ended up being a bit lame. Interestingly, they referenced that tour 29 years ago – they had been the act to open the Sydney Entertainment Centre (I saw them in Adelaide at Memorial Drive). Anyway, there we were in a very diverse crowd, even if the majority were women about my age. They opened with a song from their current album, but it was soon into the old favourites.  They sounded tight, well rehearsed and professional and their multimedia show was enough to be interesting and entertaining without distracting from the band itself. It was definitely a music concert, rather than a visual spectacular. The pace in the first half of the show was a little slow and a bit stop-start and didn’t manage to carry the momentum it potentially could have. Everyone was up and dancign for old favourites, but with slightly too long/many pauses in between songs, the enthusiasm dropped for the newer, more unfamilar songs, and much of the audience was seated for these. This was overcome in the latter half where the songs flowed together better and kept you going through the newer ones. Practically all the old favourites were played, and I think there was a song from every album. There was a huge amount of energy in their performance, and some terrific versions – Wild Boys is one of my least favourite songs recorded, but the performance was fantastic. They closed with Girls on Film and Rio, and it seemed like they had enjoyed the show as much as we had. So I’ll definitely be back if they are. And the 30 year old crush on Simon Le Bon has been somewhat revived, made worse by the fact he is on Twitter.

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