Archive for the ‘ Cinema ’ Category

Silent hallows

Last night I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 with my housemates.  Others who are much more qualified than I to talk about film have commented on the many things to like, dislike and puzzle over, and I am sure fan sites are full of people comparing every line of dialogue, item of clothing and significant glance to the book.  However, one thing really struck me, and that was a particular brilliance in the soundtrack.  In terms of music, a good job was done throughout.  However, I did not often notice the specifics of the music in the score (other than a particularly apt use of Hedwig’s Theme), but I did notice that somebody – perhaps Alexandre Desplat (the composer), perhaps David Yates (the director), perhaps someone else – displayed great wisdom about moments when the score was not needed at all. So many films and television shows these days have constant background music, and in some cases it threatens to overwhelm the sounds in the foreground, including unimportant little things like dialogue.  Doctor Who is particularly guilty of this.  Murray Gold’s music in the episodes is uniformly brilliant, but it’s often very obtrusive to the point you wish it would just stop (which, in one episode where we had a view from the vacuum of space, it did). 

In Deathly Hallows, the score is used sparingly, and is so much more effective for it.  Poignant and scary moments are not telegraphed to the viewer, leaving us to decide how to react.  Film scores can often tell us, generally subconsciously, how we are supposed to be feeling at any given moment – tense, excited, elated, depressed.  But some of the most effective moments in the film were carried out in silence, or at least with no intrusions from the invisible orchestra.  Footsteps, breathing and real background sounds came through with unusual clarity in these moments.  I found that the silence somehow added to the tension in a certain scene set at Godric’s Hollow, and at other times the emptiness of the soundscape echoed the way in which the characters themselves felt spent and empty.  The film is a perfect example of the ‘less is more’ maxim (or at least, less can be more) applied to movie music.

When the film comes out on DVD, I would be quite tempted to watch it through paying particular attention to the score and the moments when it is not present.  This would, I believe, be an absolutely fascinating experience.  If I took nothing else away from it, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 showed me that silence really can be golden.

The Singing Librarian looks back on 2007

This time last year, I looked back over the previous 12 months from a personal perspective of achievements, experiences and lessons learned.  This year, to avoid creating an annual tradition, my year-end post will look instead at some bests and one or two worsts.


There’s really no contest for me.  Parade was not only the best production I’ve seen this year, but the best production I’ve seen for a very long time.  I was fortunate to see a number of excellent productions this year, but this one was head and shoulder above the rest.  It was emotionally moving, intellectually engaging and theatrically inspired.  I haven’t seen Hairspray, the winner of this year’s Evening Standard award, but from my position of ignorance, I cannot see how it can in any way be considered better, unless ‘better’ means ‘more profitable’.  I waxed lyrical on Parade when I saw it, so won’t repeat myself.  It really was extraordinary, though.


It may be odd, but the best thing I’ve seen on television this year is ‘Blink’.  Why odd?  Well, it’s a single episode of Doctor Who, a science fiction drama for a family audience.  It is, however, a series that attracts very talented writers and actors and this episode was wonderful.  Deeply scary (what could be more disturbing than statues that move whenever you stop looking at them?) and probably produced on a lower budget than your average episode with an emphasis on characters being drawn in to the Doctor’s strange world of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey…stuff” though meeting him only briefly.  The new incarnation of Who has had some stunning episodes and for me, this was the best thing I caught on the small screen all year.

On the opposite end of the scale is a show that shares the same time-slot when Doctor Who is not being broadcast.  Robin Hood.  It has become traditional for the denizens of my house to gather round and watch this together and although I rather enjoyed the first series, I have found other things to do as this year’s batch of episodes has gone on.  It has taken preposterousness to new heights (or rather depths), which is really saying something since my favourite piece of television this year features a time traveller and living statues.  I didn’t mind the occasional anachronism, the odd bit of perturbing erotic subtext and what have you, but several of the episodes I’ve seen recently have made me despair.  Perhaps not the worst thing I’ve seen, but by far the most disappointing.


The Simpsons Movie is probably the most entertaining film I’ve seen this year, with the choral arrangement of ‘Spider-Pig’ over the end credits being a particular delight, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  Enchanted was almost as entertaining, nodding and winking to Disney movies of the past and containing a few wonderful musical moments, but that wasn’t the best of the year either.  Stardust was the most anticipated, and I enjoyed it, but that wasn’t the best.  Atonement was very moving, but that doesn’t clinch it for me.  No, my cinematic highlight of the year is a film I hadn’t even heard of before I arrived at the cinema, and which I only saw because we arrived too late to an attempt to see Stardust.  A drama called Lions for Lambs, which is essentially composed of three conversations, each in a static location (though one of those locations is a mountainside in Afghanistan with Taliban fighters approaching, so static is perhaps not the right word).  Six people.  Talking. 

But it was incredible.  Tom Cruise was superb (not something you’ll hear me say very often), Meryl Streep and Robert Redford proved that they deserve their longevity in the business, and the three younger actors more than had what it took.  It was a film about choices.  Right choices, wrong choices, right reasons, wrong reasons.  Highly politically charged, it managed not to preach any particular angle without sitting on the fence either.  And it left things open.  At least one key choice remained unclear as the credits rolled.  It made me think very hard, and that’s always a good thing.


Leaving aside theatre music (the London cast recording of ParadeNoise Ensemble recorded!  Me and Julietreleased on a public domain label!), the music charts provided some interest for me this year.  John Barrowman’s pop recording debut was underwhelming to these ears, but he was far from the biggest disappointment of the year.  That was Paul Potts, an opera-singing average bloke who won a TV contest called Britain’s Got Talent in June which led to a recording contract and an appearance on the Royal Variety Performance, which is where I finally saw and heard him.  My goodness.  Worst opera singer I’ve ever seen or heard.  He hit the notes and had a fairly pleasant voice, but there was no soul behind the performance, no special spark at all.  I totally fail to see what all the fuss was about.  Meh.

More positively, Michael Bublé released another album, Call Me Irresponsible, which contained many pleasures, though perhaps not as many as previous albums.  Mika was an impressive newcomer, the Plain White T’s had me hooked on ‘Hey There, Delilah’ but my favourite singles this year are perhaps two by Take That.  I know, I know, and I may even have ridiculed some people for liking the group in my time.  But ‘Shine’ and ‘Rule the World’ (the latter written for the film Stardust) were infectiously enjoyable singles.  So much so that I downloaded them from i-Tunes.


This has not been a fantastic year for reading chez Singing Librarian, and much that I have read was not published in 2007.  In fact, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may well be the only 2007 book I’ve read this year.  The books that I have most enjoyed reading this year have been The Moonstoneby Wilkie Collins (I find I enjoy Collins more than I enjoy Dickens, though I still feel that Dickens is in some way ‘better’), Night Watchby Sergei Lukyanenko and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  All were read over the summer months and all were excellent.  The only execrable book I’ve read this year is The Alchemist.  Blah.

I was given the latest Terry Pratchett and the original illustrated novel of Stardust for Christmas, though, and am greatly looking forward to reading them.


I don’t appear to have blogged about comics this year, but I have been reading them.  52 concluded well after a dip in excitement and interest levels, going out with a bang in May.  It introduced new characters, brought others to greater prominence and  was followed up by a rather less well-produced weekly series called Countdown.  It has spawned a number of followups and Countdownis a spinoff-producing monster which I have been ignoring more and more as the year plods on.  Most entertaining 52-followup is definitely Booster Gold.  Time travel, egotism, heroism, betrayal and comedy is a heady mixture.  Ongoing series in the DC Universe (home of Batman, Superman et al) which have been most enjoyable are probably the most obscure.  Blue Beetle has introduced a great new hero, and Checkmate, which features political skull-duggery where the lines between superheroes and the United Nations blur, is quite simply an excellent read.

But my favourite is less mainstream and sadly, much less regular.  Rex Libris features the black and white adventures of a librarian who will travel the universe and the time-stream to recover an overdue book, saving lives and defeating monsters along the way.  It’s silly but intriguing and I am thrilled each time it appears.


So what do we make of this?  My favourites of the year include a musical about a miscarriage of justice, an episode of television about killer statues, a film about the war on terror, the return of a boy band and the adventures of a gun-toting librarian.  I think we can gather that I have eclectic tastes and that 2007 has managed to cater to them.  2007, I salute you!

Gotta dance?

Dance has rather been on my mind recently, for a number of reasons.  I’ve had to do a spot of dancing in The Sound of Gershwin, where I was taught how to do the Viennese waltz.  A colleague is about to be wed, which always leads to interesting speculation on the potential form of the reception – barn dance, disco, live band?  And I borrowed the Library of Doom’s DVD of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, quite possibly the only ballet I’ve watched all the way through.

Dance is not something that comes naturally to me, though I am improving slowly.  I can follow choreography, but it takes quite some time to learn it, and dance on stage only tends to look good once the steps have become second nature so that the performer can throw him or herself into it wholeheartedly with a sense of abandon.  When I can reach that point, dance becomes as joyous as song.  Unchoreographed dancing is even harder, though I will sometimes allow myself to let go and do more than simply wobble from side to side at a disco type event.  I much prefer a barn dance if I’m a wedding guest, as you get told exactly what to do, and my Christian upbringing has exposed me to many barn dances and ceilidhs over the years.

When I watch dance, I have a fairly low boredom theshhold, so the inevitable dream ballet of the 1940s and 50s musicals is like unto a torture to me unless it’s done really well.  Singin’ in the Rain is one of my favourite films, but I find that final, endless dance sequence rather tedious.  The dance breaks in the title number and ‘Good Morning’ don’t bother me, though, which is a little odd.  I think it may be because they spring more naturally from the characters, and I’m a plot and character man when it comes to film and theatre.  It is a truism of the musical that song takes over when words are not enough for the emotions, and dance takes over when even sung words get in the way.  When this is really true, I find the dance thrilling and involving.  Anna and the King’s polka is worth a hundred random dance breaks in less emotionally revealing moments.

Swan Lake, in case you’re wondering, was interesting.  I was variously intrigued, bored and thrilled.  I thought the men of the corps de ballet were far more effective as swans than they were in human form, and I appreciated the comic touches which are sprinkled throughout, particularly the ditzy girlfriend at the opera house.  The swans themselves were amazing.  I was enthralled by the way in which the choreography made them both sensual and dangerous, beautiful and awesome, just like the birds themselves.  Swans are graceful, but rather frightening at the same time.  That they could be both redemption and downfall for the hero prince seemed remarkably apt.  I doubt I’ll ever be moved to shell out the money to see a dance piece at the theatre, but I shall certainly keep an eye out for broadcasts of Bourne’s Car Man, or grab the DVD if we add it to stock.

It’s a funny thing dance.  For me it’s both a challenge and a thrill, and can cause me to be enthralled or to reach for the off switch.  It has a language which I know I will never speak, but it can communicate even to outsiders like me.  The joy that comes when I am abandoned to dance, as participant or observer, is a truly special joy.  Sometimes it feels like the most natural thing in the world.  Gotta dance!

Dancing penguins cause a stir

Just before Christmas, I trundled off to the cinema to see Happy Feet, drawn by the concept of tap-dancing penguins – what could possibly be better than penguins doing a bit of shuffle-hop-step?  Well, having one of them sing with the wonderful tones of Hugh Jackman certainly didn’t do any harm.  It wasn’t one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t the best I’ve seen this year, but it was certainly entertaining with amusing characters, catchy music and wonderful choreographed penguins.  Some aspects of the ending are rather credulity-stretching, which is quite a feat when suspension of disbelief has managed to cope with flightless birds singing and dancing their hearts out.  But overall a most pleasant viewing experience, and I’m quite tempted to buy the soundtrack.

However, the film seems to have caused a bit of a stir on the other side of the Atlantic, as I discovered when wandering around the internet looking for various views on the penguins.  The environmental theme of some of the movie has irritated certain columnists, and it has even been labelled as propaganda by some.  The most bile-filed reaction to it would seem to be the words of Michael Medved.  I hadn’t heard his name before, and will be sure that I don’t return to his little patch of cyberspace in a hurry.  His main bone of contention is that the film’s trailers do not indicate that there is any environmental message, which means that it is stealth indoctrination.  It is true, of course, that the trailers don’t go in to this aspect, but trailers always go for the flashiest aspects of a movie rather than any political or social content (unless that is itself a selling point), as that will ensure more bums on seats.  I suppose I can give him, and other detractors, that point, but the other objections to the film just make me cross.

Continue reading

Betty Comden

The world of the musical has lost a key figure – lyricist and librettist Betty Comden died of heart failure earlier this week.  Along with Adolph Green (who died in 2002), she contributed to such gems as Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town and Wonderful Townand Jule Styne’s Bells Are Ringing.  The pair also wrote various screenplays, including the wonderful script for Singin’ in the Rain, so their work is certainly going to outlive them by many, many decades.

Some of the more obscure musicals that Comden and Green contributed to (always, always a partnership) are particular favourites of mine, although come to think of it, I’ve only ever heard the music and read the libretti for these, as they are so seldom performed.  Their absolute best, in my view, was On the Twentieth Century, a farce with a score by the great Cy Coleman.  Set on board a train, it’s wonderful fun with a cast of larger than life characters who typify the comedic gifts of Comden and Green.  They created parts and song lyrics which are an absolute gift to the actor and the audience alike.  Their contributions to film and musical theatre will no doubt be greatly missed by a great many people.

I leave you with a verse from ‘Some Other Time’, a poignant song from On the Town:

Just when the fun is starting
Comes the time for parting
But let’s be glad for what we had
And what’s to come

Oh, well
We’ll catch up some other time

25 greatest musical movies?

The American Film Institute, in their infinite wisdom, have announced the 25 greatest film musicals, probably so that there can be some sort of exciting countdown documentary on American television at some point soon.  These things are always fun, and great for a debate/argument/fight.  It’s an interesting list – the oldest is 42nd Street from 1933 and the newest is 2002’s Chicago.  Some are adaptations from the stage, like West Side Story and the inevitable Sound of Music, others are originals written specifically for the big screen.  Some I agree with, some I don’t. Continue reading

Superman Begins

No, I haven’t got my super-hero films muddled up, although I have seen Superman Returns, and rather enjoyed it.  Not a fantastic film, but good fun and with good performances all round.  I also have Batman Begins on DVD, and think it’s a rather smashing film with an odd, but very effective, soundtrack.  Anyway…  What I actually intend to ramble about are Superman’s beginnings.  Not his fictional back-story (rocketed from a dying world and all that stuff), but his first adventures in print, way back in the late 1930s. Continue reading

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