cinema

Oliver!

Oliver! won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1968, and picked up another five: Best Director (Carol Reed), Best Musical Adaptation Score, Best Art Direction, Best Sound and a special award for choreographer Onna White. It lost in five other categories.


The other Best Picture nominees were Funny Girl, The Lion In Winter, Rachel, Rachel and Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. IMDB users have not rated it as highly as Oscar voters did, placing it 11th on one system and 18th on the other; ahead of it on both rankings are 2001: A Space Odyssey, Once Upon a Time in the West, Rosemary's Baby, Planet of the Apes, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bullitt, Night of the Living Dead, Where Eagles Dare and Hang 'Em High. It's a good year for my cinematic education; apart from 2001, I have also seen The Lion In Winter, Romeo and Juliet, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Where Eagles Dare, Barbarella, Yellow Submarine, Lady in Cement, The Girl on a Motorcycle, and Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day (many many times).

Youtube claims that this is an original trailer:

We've had a run of Oscar winners set in some version or another of Merrie England: Around the World in Eighty Days, Tom Jones, My Fair Lady and A Man for All Seasons (OK, that last not quite so merrie). We have also had quite a number of musicals - The Broadway Melody, Going My Way, An American in Paris, Gigi, West Side Story, My Fair Lady (again) and The Sound of Music. This is the last of either for a while; catching the end of the Zeitgeist perhaps. As if you didn't know, it's an adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, about an orphan boy who is seduced into a life of crime but finds respectability and happiness.

The curtailing of the original title and extra exclamation mark has been mocked elsewhere - The Tall Guy features a musical adaptation of The Elephant Man called, inevitably, Elephant!, and Simon Brett's novel Star Trap more obscurely has a musical adaptation of She Stoops to Conquer with the title Lumpkin! There were not really all that many musicals of the time with names in that format; a quick check comes up with Blitz! (also by Lionel Bart), Carnival!, Donnybrook!, and Twang!! (again by Bart, with two exclamation marks, and a complete fiasco).

We have one actor here returning for a third Oscar-winning role: Hugh Griffith, who was Squire Western in Tom Jones and Sheikh Ilderim in Ben-Hur, here plays a drunken but unnamed magistrate (Mr Fang in Dickens' novel).



A couple of other appearances of note. Harry Secombe, of the Goons, plays Mr Bumble the Beadle. Many years later his grand-daughter was briefly our au pair. (She gave showbiz a try, but is now working in academic administration.)

And another familiar face, Mr Sowerberry the undertaker, is played by Leonard Rossiter, later famous as Reggie Perrin but previously seen in this same year's Hugo winner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, as a Russian scientist.


Mrs Bumble is played by Peggy Mount, who shows up twenty years later in the surreal Doctor Who story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy as a stallkeeper.


And to my delight one of the paupers doling out the gruel is played by Roy Evans, who pops up everywhere, as an alien delegate and two different doomed miners in Doctor Who, as a baker in Here Come the Double Deckers! and as a doomed slave in the second season of Blake's 7.


I'm putting Oliver! between a quarter and a third of the way down my list of Oscar winners, below The Apartment but above Ben-Hur. It's generally very entertaining, but I am a bit bothered by the anti-Semitism of Fagin and the rather passive title character. I should also note that apparently Shirley Bassey, who reached number two for 5 weeks on the United Kingdom charts with "As Long As He Needs Me" in 1960, was one of the original candidates for Nancy, but was thought to be too black (there is not a single visible minority actor in the film - Tom Jones, filmed five years before and set a century earlier, did better). Having said that, Shani Wallis is very very good as Nancy in the film.

Though Oliver Reed is a bit one-note as Bill Sykes, and it's not at all clear what Nancy can see in him.

Despite one's reservations about the Fagin character, Ron Moody makes him really interesting and the performance was enough to get him offered the role of Doctor Who the next year (he turned it down; Jon Pertwee took it).

Here he is, picking a pocket or two.

And despite the annying passivity of the title character, Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger turns in the best performance of a child actor we have seen since the young Roddy MacDowell in How Green Was My Valley (though there haven't been a lot - the kids in The Sound of Music and Going My Way, and that's about it).

The whole thing does look very convincing, and in particular, the music is very catchy (I remember playing selections from it with the Belfast Youth Orchestra back in the day) and the choreography is spectacular. "Consider Yourself" is the one that stuck in my mind from seeing this as a teenager.

But the other one that really struck me was "Who Will Buy", Oliver's reorientation song at the beginning of the second act. I feel that it somewhat jars the overall mood of the film a bit, but again is is just spectacular to watch, and it is very interesting musically.

So yeah, the last musical and last film set in Merrie Englande for a while, after a run with quite a lot of them. You can get it here.

I went back and reread the book. It is long. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
Let it not be supposed by the enemies of “the system,” that, during the period of his solitary incarceration, Oliver was denied the benefit of exercise, the pleasure of society, or the advantages of religious consolation. As for exercise, it was nice cold weather, and he was allowed to perform his ablutions every morning under the pump, in a stone yard, in the presence of Mr. Bumble, who prevented his catching cold, and caused a tingling sensation to pervade his frame, by repeated applications of the cane. As for society, he was carried every other day into the hall where the boys dined, and there sociably flogged as a public warning and example. And so far from being denied the advantages of religious consolation, he was kicked into the same apartment every evening at prayer-time, and there permitted to listen to, and console his mind with, a general supplication of the boys, containing a special clause, therein inserted by authority of the board, in which they entreated to be made good, virtuous, contented, and obedient, and to be guarded from the sins and vices of Oliver Twist: whom the supplication distinctly set forth to be under the exclusive patronage and protection of the powers of wickedness, and an article direct from the manufactory of the very Devil himself.
When I first read it in 2010, I wrote:
One of several classic Dickens books which I had not previously read, and which eventually worked to the top of my list. I am sure that it was spell-binding social commentary in 1838, but the character of Oliver seemed to me much too good to be true. Any child coming from that sort of brutal institutionalised background would have pretty serious psychological issues; in fact all Oliver need is a comfortable bed and a cuddle and he turns into an angel. The implication is that Oliver, as a Good Boy, is therefore part of the deserving poor, and the Artful Dodger and so on, as Bad Boys, are part of the undeserving poor, a distinction I find rather invidious - copper-fastened at the end by the fact that Oliver does inherit wealth, but on condition of his goodness rather than his absolute rights as his parents' son. There seems little room for redemption, and Nancy, the fallen woman who tries to redeem herself, gets killed off. The portrayal of Fagin must surely have appeared gratuitously anti-Semitic even by 1838 standards. I'm glad that I have read and enjoyed later Dickens, because I think if I had started here I would have written him off.
What struck me forcefully this time is that the interval of the film/musical, well over half-way through, comes at a point which is only 20% into the book. So (to save you the maths) the original plot is compressed roughly six times as much in the second act as in the first. And it's a wise choice by Lionel Bart; there are various tedious sub-plots around Oliver's true identity and the bad guys comin' to get him, and it's not really all that interesting.

Anyway, you can get it here.

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In Praise of Disobedience: The Soul of Man Under Socialism and Other Writings, by Oscar Wilde

Second paragraph of third essay ("Pen, Pencil, And Poison - A Study In Green", about Thomas Griffiths Wainewright) - brace yourself, it's a long 'un:
This remarkable man, so powerful with 'pen, pencil and poison,' as a great poet of our own day has finely said of him, was born at Chiswick, in 1794. His father was the son of a distinguished solicitor of Gray's Inn and Hatton Garden. His mother was the daughter of the celebrated Dr. Griffiths, the editor and founder of the Monthly Review, the partner in another literary speculation of Thomas Davis, that famous bookseller of whom Johnson said that he was not a bookseller, but 'a gentleman who dealt in books,' the friend of Goldsmith and Wedgwood, and one of the most well-known men of his day. Mrs. Wainewright died, in giving him birth, at the early age of twenty-one, and an obituary notice in the Gentleman's Magazine tells us of her 'amiable disposition and numerous accomplishments,' and adds somewhat quaintly that 'she is supposed to have understood the writings of Mr. Locke as well as perhaps any person of either sex now living.' His father did not long survive his young wife, and the little child seems to have been brought up by his grandfather, and, on the death of the latter in 1803, by his uncle George Edward Griffiths, whom he subsequently poisoned. His boyhood was passed at Linden House, Turnham Green, one of those many fine Georgian mansions that have unfortunately disappeared before the inroads of the suburban builder, and to its lovely gardens and well-timbered park he owed that simple and impassioned love of nature which never left him all through his life, and which made him so peculiarly susceptible to the spiritual influences of Wordsworth's poetry. He went to school at Charles Burney's academy at Hammersmith. Mr. Burney was the son of the historian of music, and the near kinsman of the artistic lad who was destined to turn out his most remarkable pupil. He seems to have been a man of a good deal of culture, and in after years Mr. Wainewright often spoke of him with much affection as a philosopher, an archaeologist, and an admirable teacher who, while he valued the intellectual side of education, did not forget the importance of early moral training. It was under Mr. Burney that he first developed his talent as an artist, and Mr. Hazlitt tells us that a drawing-book which he used at school is still extant, and displays great talent and natural feeling. Indeed, painting was the first art that fascinated him. It was not till much later that he sought to find expression by pen or poison.
Somehow my usual reading lists threw up a glut of philosophy books in quick succession, of which this is the first. Yes, Oscar Wilde as political philosopher; it is not forgotten in Ireland that his mother was literally a revolutionary, and he was consciously subversive through his own art.

This is a collection of his political works, mostly from 1891, starting with "The Soul of Man Under Socialism", an essay which forcefully argues that the abolition of property will be good for culture and happiness. Here we see his wit directed against, well, capitalism:
What is said by great employers of labour against agitators is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation.
The essay "Pen, Pencil, And Poison", about the writer and murderer Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, is an absolute thrill. I had never heard of this chap, who moved in the highest artistic circles, but was sentenced to transportation to Tasmania (then Van Diemen's Land) for forging financial documents from one of his victims (and never actually prosecuted for the murders).
From Newgate he was brought to the hulks at Portsmouth, and sent from there in the Susan to Van Diemen's Land along with three hundred other convicts. The voyage seems to have been most distasteful to him, and in a letter written to a friend he spoke bitterly about the ignominy of 'the companion of poets and artists' being compelled to associate with 'country bumpkins.' The phrase that he applies to his companions need not surprise us. Crime in England is rarely the result of sin. It is nearly always the result of starvation.
There are also some out-takes from The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I found fascinating, and some aesthetic dialogues which I found less effective. But all in all, this was a really interesting set of essays, and you can get it here.

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1915

Selangor, by Gerry Barton

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Beneath the canvas awning which shaded the deck aft of the second-class cabins and lounge, Kenneth Clouston sheltered from the sun's burning rays. Reclining in a cane chair he looked out over the discoloured water with no great enthusiasm. His white shirt, open at the neck, clung wetly to his back and more so to his armpits. His white duck trousers remained a little less intimate to his skin, thanks to his woollen underwear, the wearing of which was virtually regulation in Malaya. The jacket of the tropical day-suit hung from the back of his chair, somewhat out of shape, the pockets sagging from the weight of their contents. Desultorily fanning himself with his solar topee, Kenneth turned to a companion reclining at his right.
I have a certain fascination with Malaya, where my father was born, and this is a novel by a New Zealand writer featuring a chap managing a rubber plantation there in the 1920s, who marries in 1927 in a whirlwind romance; as it happens my grandfather also managed a rubber plantation there in the 1920s and married my grandmother in 1927 after a whirlwind romance, though there are some big differences (Barton's protagonists are English, in their early to mid twenties, and meet in London, my grandfather was Irish and my grandmother American, he was 47 and she was 28, and they met in Penang).

It's a well-meaning novel in which Kenneth (our hero) gets sucked into the local Rajah's dubious money-raising schemes, while his wife (who is more central to the narrative) gets stuck into an archaeological dig led by a visiting Englishman, with results that you can see coming fifteen chapters away. Not terribly deep, but the attention to period detail is unimpeachable, and there's a wee bit of social commentary in there (though little comfort for the Chinese). Certainly whetted my appetite to go there myself some day. You can get it here.

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books

Wednesday reading

Current
Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Last books finished
A Popular History of Ireland, by Thomas D'Arcy McGee (Did not finish)
The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders
The Aachen Memorandum, by Andrew Roberts
H.G. Wells: A Literary Life, by Adam Roberts
2020 Vision, ed. Jerry Pournelle
Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Next books
Small Island, by Andrea Levy
Babayaga, by Toby Barlow
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earthsea

Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver

Second paragraph of third chapter:
She’d been away in Boston only two weeks. How was that long enough for a hostile takeover at home? Iano and his new friend Pete Petrofaccio had cooked up a scheme of stopgap repairs to preserve what was left of their home’s integrity. Replacing the whole roof was pointless given the state of things, and wildly beyond their means, so they’d settled on a banged-together tin patch to close the widening rift.
I've generally enjoyed Kingsolver's novels, and enjoyed this as well, though it did not blow me away quite as much as Prodigal Summer or The Bean Trees. It's the story of two different families living in the same house (or at least the same plot of land) in New Jersey in 1871 and 2016, both dealing with the fact that the house is falling down, which is a fairly obvious metaphor for the disintegration of society. She draws a telling parallel between Trumpism and the anti-Darwin hysteria of the nineteenth century, but also there are some nicely depicted moments of both family and nature. As I said up top, I enjoyed it for description and coloration, but wasn't completely convinced by the linkage (or lack thereof) between the two plot strands. You can get it here.

This was my top unread non-genre fiction book. Next on that list (and on several others) is Small Island, by Andrea Levy.

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