Archive for December, 2011

Dreams of a Life, Greenwich Picturehouse 24 December

December 24, 2011


This film is about Joyce Vincent, a woman who died alone in her flat around Christmas 2003 and remained undiscovered until 2006.  Since she was apparently a popular clever pretty young woman it was difficult for it not to be unbearably affecting.  But the film managed to deaden its impact by a confusion of approaches.  We had interviews with people who had known Joyce (friends, flatmates, colleagues–not her family).  We had reconstructions of scenes from her life and of the grisly process of clearing up her flat.  We had something of ‘Desperately seeking Joyce’ in the form of a whiteboard attempting to piece together her life and a taxi driving around with an advert appealing for information on its side.

I think that what you need is hard facts containing raw emotion, but there was neither here.  It would have been possible to at least establish what she did for a living and when–instead we were left in confusion as to whether she had a responsible position in the Treasury Department or was she just a secretary?  I suppose establishing the facts might have been a little difficult in the face of determined obstruction from her family.  But surely not impossible.

Then the film ended with a reconstruction of her last hours, but since they hadn’t decided what they thought had happened to her it wasn’t very convincing.  T S Eliot did it a lot better:

When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

In fact, Joyce Vincent seems to have been an absolutely typical heroine out of Jean Rhys, which once more gives me the feeling that this has been done before as well as better.

The question of time continues to worry me.  We learn that Joyce Vincent was 38 when she dies in 2003, so she was born in 1965.  The former boyfriend who relates holding a 21st party for her and then regrets not having saved her when she stayed with him later on is surely being too guilty–assuming she was in her mid-20s when they broke up that was ten years in the past.  More importantly perhaps, the colleagues and acquaintances interviewed are more or less Joyce Vincent’s contemporaries so they look pretty bad when contrasted with a beautiful 27-year-old actress in Zawe Ashton.

It is just not the case that the very young woman we saw being  played by Ashton died alone in her flat.  First of all she got older and at an age when she might have learned better she had a relationship with a violent man so that she was in a Women’s Refuge and then in her final flat.  So I feel the film is just being dishonest–it insists on showing us a beautiful young woman to engage our sympathy.

A union writes

December 21, 2011

We have received a letter as below.  Sending personal data to an unchecked external email address–well, they’ll know better now…


On behalf of Prospect I regret to inform you that there has been a breach in our data security procedures which has resulted in personal details (but not bank details) of a number of our members that are held on the Prospect membership system, being released accidentally by email to an unknown 3rd party. You are one of the members affected.

The breach arose during development work on the membership system. A sample data file, originally extracted from the membership system 7 months ago, was sent electronically to the developer to be tested on new software. Unfortunately, the email address to which the data file was sent was not the correct one. Although we have done our utmost to get the file returned or deleted, at this point the holder of the email address has not responded to our email requests. We have no way of obtaining their identity and contacting them any other way. It is quite possible that the email address may well be inactive and the addressee may simply be unaware of its existence. In this case the file may remain unopened indefinitely and there will be no release of the details on it. However, we cannot be sure of this and we therefore must act as though the data has been released into the public domain.

The data released did not include bank or building society details but it did include: your name, date of birth, home address & phone numbers and email address, employer name, work address, work phone number and email, subscription rate, and branch/section details. (Please note that this lists the main fields of information that we hold. If you had not provided any of this information to us it would not have been held on our database.) We have reported the incident to the Information Commissioner who has responsibility for Data Protection, so there is no need for you contact them, although you may do so if you wish.

It is probable that the release will not cause a threat to your personal safety or security. However, you may wish to be especially alert to any potential misuse of this data, such as via identity theft. For example, do not give out any information to anyone who rings you unless you are very sure of their identity. If you use passwords that contain any personal identifiers (date of birth, names, etc) you may wish to change them. You should also look at your bank account at regular intervals and check there have been no unusual transactions.

Please note that Prospect will never ask you for the following information in an e-mail communication:

. Your National Insurance Number

. Your bank account information, credit card number, PIN number, or credit
card security code (including “updates” to any of the above)

. Your mother’s maiden name or other information to identify you (such as your
place of birth or your favourite pet’s name)

. Your password

If you get asked for this information by email, even if it looks as though it originates from Prospect, do not provide this information. If you are asked for any of this information by phone and are at all suspicious, ask for the name of the person and then ring the Prospect membership department number given at the bottom of this letter.

We are very sorry that this breach in data security has occurred. This is the first time that Prospect has experienced such a breach but we are treating it extremely seriously and are conducting a thorough review of all our Data Protection procedures to ensure there is no recurrence.

If you have any queries about the breach or your personal data then please contact the Prospect Membership Department on: [redacted].

Yours sincerely

David Pelly
Resource Director

Lady Audley’s Secret (Mary Elizabeth Braddon)

December 21, 2011


Another Try Books! book, and one chosen by Judy’s daughter Jessica, who turned out to be doing a Ph. D. on Victorian novels (though not this one).

To start with, I was very despondent.

At the beginning of the book, Braddon describes a large house in the country in such a way that I couldn’t visualise it at all.  There was one room going off on a tangent from another–how?–a tangent touches  a curve in one point.  I think she meant the walls weren’t at right-angles.  Then there were the dreamy melodies of Beethoven and Mendelssohn–with the single exception of the Moonlight Sonata that’s hard to fit to Beethoven–presumably she was thinking if anything of that and Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Then we had the plop of the trout in the fish-pond.  Trout live in running waterCarp live in fish-ponds.

I had also gathered from the rather good introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition that this was going to be a book where the action flowed from the demands of an elaborate and artificial plot, not from the characters themselves.

But I thought it would be impolite not to make an effort for our visitor, so I adjusted my expectations and soldiered on.

Once I’d done that, the experience was enjoyable.

Wikipedia has a plot summary and some other interesting information about the book here and an article about ME  Braddon here.

I think the thing that makes the book interesting is that Lady Audley undergoes very much the same experiences as her creator–broken family, people going off abroad, being left to fend for oneself from an early age, de facto bigamy, a wife put in madhouse, dreadful secrets that must be hidden from the world–but they appear in a different pattern, the way that things do in a dream.  The interest comes from the tension between what MEB probably wanted to write and what the strictly moralistic book market of her time would allow.  Or to put the same point another way:  ME Braddon’s attitude to Lady  A is conflicted–she can’t find a way of making her safe–which means the book is more than a collection of stereotypes.

The book did have the vigour and breadth we associate with Victorian novels–Robert Audley gets on the train and goes somewhere and questions  different people from different social classes and you felt this was the kind of thing the author had lived, not just sat in a study with a neurasthenic imagination for company.  As Stephanie pointed out, the corollary was that sex was unfortunately absent–strangely so in the story of an adventuress making her way by her feminine wiles.

Maybe that was why Lady Audley–a 20 year old woman–is represented as being unable to walk the three miles there and back to arsonise Castle Inn. She cannot have a real  body at all,  so as not to imperil the morals of a mass audience.

We were scandalised by the author’s description of her as stupid when she’d brought to fruition a number of ingenious plots and managed to deceive all around her.  (The only stupid thing she did was not to go armed when Robert Audley was preaching at her and get rid of the useless bastard.)  Of course, she did GO MAD IN CAPITAL LETTERS towards the end, but that was just Braddon looking for the way  to put her back in the box.

There were issues of continuity throughout the book, caused by it having been written in a tearing hurry for serial publication.  She couldn’t make up her mind whether Lady Audley’s father was a Lieutenant or a Captain, and I’m sure he changed from being an army officer to a naval one in the course of the book.  Then there were the words she used like lymphatic that she didn’t know the meaning of.  Phoebe Marks was Phoebe Marks before and after marriage, but that could just have been your normal rural inbreeding.  I thought that Robert Audley and George Talboys had been together at Eton because it was the only school ME Braddon had heard of, but Jessica said it was more likely the only school the  readers had heard of .

I hope you can take the happy ending for the good and punishment for the wicked–‘I have to say this but you don’t have to believe it’.

Robert Audley ends up marrying George’s sister Clara, seemingly on the grounds that she looks like George, as well as having internalised patriarchal values in obeying her father and devoting herself to finding her brother.  At least that lends a pleasingly homoerotic tinge to the Teddington menage-a-trois at the end.

I was disappointed nobody complained about  the heroine being condemned for abandoning her son when she makes complicated arrangements for having him looked after while good guy Robert Audley merely has to give him dinner, take him down the road and put him in a school!

We were entirely supportive of Lady A and her decision to sell her fanny in the best market she could find–what was she supposed to do, starve?  Any guilt lay with George Talboys (who abandoned her) and Sir Michael Audley (who married a woman more than thirty years his junior–put him on the Sex Offenders’ Register is what I say).  If only she’d carried a concealed weapon and made away with Robert Audley during one of his interminable preachy addresses to her…

Jessica  helpfully explained that this book started off the Novel of Sensation, so called because the genre was so exciting it caused uncontrollable physical reaction in the readers; and that it was thought alarming because mistresses and their maids ended up reading and enjoying the same books.

Elegy of Life: Rostropovich. Vishnevskaya, BFI Southbank 18 December

December 18, 2011


This was a further rarity in the BFI Sokurov season.  Before the film began, a man adorned with a red scarf appeared to tell us that what we were going to see was on tape rather than film.  I can’t say I noticed.  But I did notice that the titles were in English, and there this was called ‘Part 2’.  So what happened to Part 1?  The hard copy handout certainly described the whole thing…a whole thing that I’ve never seen…

To start off with, I was most interested in the health condition of the two subjects:  they both spoke like they’d had strokes, his worse than hers, and Vishnevskaya had a puffy steroid face.  And there was this grand celebration dinner packed full of crowned and titled nonentities; unlike Hitler, Hirohito and Lenin, Sokurov didn’t think that these ones were worth shrouding in darkness.

Then there was the description of their early lives over faded photos, the immense unbounded emotion and the cramped particular circumstances; and a stocky old woman in an unfortunate embroidered jacket rehearsing a young singer in the role of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Lyubasha (from Tsarskaya nevesta) and something happened I believed–it was worthwhile.  I even managed not to get to annoyed by Vishnevskaya drivelling on about the Russian national character.

That was worth seeing, even if only half of it was there.

Update 22 December

BFI have now emailed as follows:

Dear Member,

We are pleased to announce that the screening of ‘Elegy of Life Rostropovich Vishnevskaya’ on Wednesday the 28th December at 20:40 will be the full-length version.

The box office would like to offer free tickets to those who booked for 17th December screening or alternatively you can recieve a  refund for the previous screening.

Please contact the BFI Southbank Box Office on 0207 928 3232 between 11.00 AM to 08.30 PM daily (sadly we will be closed on Decmber 24th, 25th and 26th).

Thank you for supporting The BFI Southbank

Kind Regards,

BFI Southbank Box Office

Conway Hall Sunday Concerts

December 12, 2011

At the last one of these I went to, the person sitting next to me described himself as the former director of the concerts, and said that they would benefit from a larger audience. Accordingly, this blog urges its readers to have a go.  It’s cheap (£ 8), you hear ensembles you would pay a great deal more for elsewhere, you don’t have to book and you can sit where you like.  The concerts with some slightly unusual pieces on the programme are often the most interesting ones:  this isn’t necessarily the place you’d go to hear definitive performances of the classical/romantic repertoire, and if there’s an unusual piece on the programme it often means the performers really want to play it and have something to say.  Nowadays you can even get a piano recital at no extra charge before the main event on some dates.

As a service to the community, we present below the concerts featuring in the new brochure (Spring 2012 Part I)–official website here:

January 8th
Pre-concert Recital (5.30pm):
Simon Callaghan piano
Bach: Partita in C minor BWV825

Fibonacci Sequence
Gina McCormack violin
Catherine Yates violin
Yuko lnoue viola
Benjamin Hughes ‘cello
Kathron Sturrock piano
Simon Callaghan piano*

Brahms: Hungarian Dances [selection]*
Mozart: Piano Concerto in A K414
Moskowskii Spanish Dances Op.12 [selection]*
Dvorak: Piano Quintet in A Op.81a

January 15th
Tippett Quartet
John Mills violin
Jeremy Isaac violin
Julia O’Riordan viola
Bozidar Vukotic ‘cello

Haydn: Quartet in C Op.20/2
Beethoven: Quartet in E flat Op.74 ‘Harp’
Dvorak: Quartet in F Op.96 ‘American’

January 22nd
Bacchus Trio
Thomas Goud violin
James Barralet ‘cello
Atisdair Beatson piano

Beethoven: Trio in C minor Op.1/3
Liszt arr. Liszt Vallee d’Obermann
Chopin arr. Barralet: Polonaise Op. 3
Brahms: Trio in B Op.8

January 29th
Fitzwilliam Quartet
[Delius Anniversary Concert]
Lucy Russell violin
Cotin Scobie violin
Atan George viola
Heather Tuach ‘cello

Grainger: Molly on the Shore
Grieg: Quartet in G minor Op. 27
Delius: String Quartet

February 5th
Greenwich Trio
Lana Trotovsek violin
Stjepan Hauser’cello
Yoko Misumi piano

Mozart: Trio in G K546
Rachmaninov: Trio Elegiaque No. 1
Schumann: Trio No.2 in F Op.80

February 12th
Easton Trio
Madeleine Easton violin
Jonathan Ayling ‘cello
Daniel Grimwood piano

Beethoven: Trio in D Op.70/1 ‘Ghost’
Ross Edwards: Trio
Mendelssohn: Trio in C minor Op.66

February 19th
Pre-concert Recital (5.30 pm):
Hiro Takenouchi piano

Rachmaninov Sonata No.2
and works by Georgy Catoire

Maggini Quartet /
Hiro Takenouchi piano
[Rose Hacker Memorial Concert]

Suzanne Stanzeleit violin
David Angel violin
Martin Outram viola
Michal Kaznowski ‘cello

Haydn: Quartet in E Op.54/3
Bridge: Quartet No.4
Elgar: Piano Quintet in A minor Op.84

February 26th
Badke Quartet
Lana Trotovsek violin
Emma Parke viotin
Jon Thorne viola
Jonathan Byers ‘cello

Beethoven: Quartet in G op.18\2
Thomas Tomkins: A Sad Paven for these Distracted Tymes
Maxwell Davies: A Sad Paven for these Distracted Tymes
Mendelssohn: Quartet in F. Minor Op.80

March 4th
Lakeside Trio
Chihiro Ono violin
Vladimir Waltham ‘cello
Prach Boondiskulchok piano

Dvorak: Trio in F minor Op.65
Panufnik: Piano Trio
Ravel: Piano Trio

March 11th
Tim Orpen Trio
Tim Orpen clarinet
Victoria Simonsen ‘cello
Daniel Tong piano

Beethoven: Trio in B flat Op.11
Beethoven:’Cello Sonata
in G minor Op.5/2
Poulenc: Clarinet Sonata
Brahms: Trio in A minor Op.114

March 18th
Edinburgh Quartet
Tristan Gurney violin
Philip Burrin violin
Jessica Beeston viola
Mark Bailey ‘cello

Haydn: Quartet in C Op.76/3
Shostakovich: Quartet No.8
in C minor Op. 110
Beethoven: Quartet in F Op.135

March 25th
Rautio Trio
Jane Gordon violin
Adi Tal ‘cello
Jan Rautio piano

Haydn: Trio in E flat HobXV:10
Beethoven: Trio in E flat Op.1/1
Bridge: Phantasie Trio
Faure: Trio in D minor Op.120

Даниэль Штайн, переводчик (Daniel Stein, Interpreter)

December 10, 2011


This is a good book.  It is also not clear that it should ever have been written.

The book revolves around the life of Daniel Stein, a young Polish Jew in pre-WWII Poland.  At the time of the German invasion he succeeds in fleeing Eastwards.  He manages to pass himself off as a Pole of German ancestry and finds himself employed as an interpreter, first of all by the Belorussian police collaborating with the German occupation, where he tries to prevent the local inhabitants from perishing just because they do not understand what it is they are meant to do.  Then he is recruited by the Gestapo and helps a part of  the local ghetto escape their planned annihilation.

After being found out, he is concealed in a convent where he ends up by converting to Catholicism.  After the War, he is for a time a monk in Poland before emigrating to Israel where he establishes a church (of Elijah by the Spring) where he conducts services in Hebrew.  While not enjoying the favour of church authorities, he gathers some followers around himself and finances his activities by doing guided tours around Israel.

The narrative is carried on in more-than-epistolary or semi-documentary style by means of extracts from letters, official reports, newspapers, cassettes sent in place of letters, but there is no effort to reproduce the appearance of these sources.  It includes within itself escapees from the ghetto, Daniel’s family, a secret nun in Lithuania, her devilish temptations and fictive husband, Pope John Paul II, a repentant German girl who comes to aid Daniel Stein and carries on a twenty year affair with the gardener Musa.  It also includes letters from Ulitskaya to her pal saying how difficult writing the book is.

Ludmila Ulitskaya can be an extremely artless writer, but she has the Thing, the ability to turn human experience into black-and-white patterns on the page and make it pass like a virus into the nerves of her readers.  Especially as regards families, which I think is here as ever her main theme.  I think her idea is that the family is the main thing, to keep it going and add to it, and the church is the same kind of thing but not as good.  Daniel Stein certainly expounds the family-is-good motto in unplanned pregnancy and similar cases.

The character of Daniel Stein is closely modelled on Oswald (Daniel) Rufeisen, and it seems as if Ulitskaya started off with the idea of writing a factual book about Rufeisen and then got drawn into a novel instead.  I’m not sure that was a good decision, but the novel is a good one and well worth reading.

There is now an English translation.  Ludmila Ulitskaya will be in London in February to talk about the book (details here).  And a short account of her session here.

Taurus (Телец) BFI South Bank 4 December

December 5, 2011


A film by Aleksandr Sokurov and not for the first time he makes it difficult to see what ‘s going on.

It is 1924 and Lenin (a kind of Lenin) is dying in a country house outside Moscow.  His wife and sister squabble over him.  He can’t do 17 x 22, but wants still to know about corporal punishment.  There is no telephone, there are no letters.  Stalin arrives in a posh motor car and spends a long time preening before threatening in a thick accent.  Lenin has an outburst of impotent fury over the soup at an overelaborate dinner table, like Hitler in Sokurov’s Moloch as I recall.  Snatches of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations play slowly from time to time.  Also on occasions, Leonid Mozgovoi playing Lenin forgets that the right side of his face is meant to be paralysed, as well as his body.

Lenin dies at the end, after Nadezhda Krupskaya has gone to answer a phone call from the Central Committee.  Nature goes on, unheeding and unkempt.  The audience departs thinking Now that’s over and I’m glad it’s ended.