Archive for November, 2006

Nancy Wynne-Jones 1922-2006

November 29, 2006

The Welsh-born painter, Nancy Wynne-Jones, who has died aged 83 on November the 9th  found in Cork, to which she moved to in 1972,  Wicklow, in which she settled 1988,  and especially my own birth place of  Mayo, which as far as I know she regularly visited, the inspiration that that she needed to become one of foremost landscape painters of the last two and half decades.

Her near-abstract of scenes in and around the Mayo’s  Nephin mountains are wonderfully evocative of places that can be vibrant and gloomy at almost one and the same time. I have to admit that I’m only familiar with her paintings in reproduction, but even in reproductions  you can see what the poet Seamus Heaney was was getting at when he said that the paintings were “place and palette and spirit all equal”.

David Whittaker  in his obituary  in The Guardian today  probably devotes too much of the space he’s been allotted to her life, the friends and acquaintances she made and too little to evaluating the work with which the general reader will be unfamiliar.

Bog with Nephin by Nancy Wynne-Jones

bog-with-nephin.jpg

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Betty Comden (1915-2006)

November 28, 2006

With her co-lyricist and co-writer, Adolph Green who died in 2002, aged 87, Betty Comden, who died on November the 23rd, wrote some of the most memorable shows and films of the mid twentieth century. In losing her, we have lost yet another of those very rare things – a lyricist who was effortlessly literate and could, by turns, be droll, subtle, brassy and high-spirited 

When people think of Singing in the Rain they rarely think of Comden and Green, but it was they who that wrote the ingenious script that gave the film its impetus.

If people think of the stage version of On the Town(1944), they probably are think the powerfully energetic Leonard Bernstein score, in which he catches the ebullient spirit of New York, but fail to realise that that Comden and Green had provided Bernstein with lyrics that not only fitted the music but added an extra dimension.

Those who have seen the 1949 film starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra  film version of that show will probably remember the Comden and Green lyrics better because they were there hitched not to Bernstein’s music but, at producer Arthur Freed’s insistence, to music by Roger Edens. 

In 1953 they had big film hit with The Band Wagon, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Then in 1955 their screenplay for It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), the Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly directed musical satire which starred Kelly, Dan Dailey and Cyd Charrise, received an Oscar nomination – unusual for a musical – but lost out to William Ludwig and Sonya Levien who won for their screenplay for Interrupted Melody, the screen biography of the Austrailian singer Marjorie Lawrence.    

The Comden and Green partnership’s finest hour came with  Bells are Ringing (1956), a show which starred long time associate Judy Holliday and saw them write with Jule Stein and at least three songs that have now become standards, and examples of popular lyric-writing at its best. Just In Time, Long Before I Knew You and The Party’s Over are, as some would say the business.  “Now you must wake up/All dreams must end/Take off your makeup/The party’s over/It’s all over, my friend” don’t sound very poetic when read, but when sung the words express such longing and regret that it’s difficult not to be moved.  

In Comden’s obituary in The Guardian, Christopher Hawtree, speaking of Comden and Green, summed their relationship up this way

Their writing partnership made for something so strong that it was flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the most diverse composers; indeed, it was a helluva pen.

So it was; so it was.

Betty Comden (1915-2006)

November 28, 2006

With her co-lyricist and co-writer, Adolph Green who died in 2002, aged 87, Betty Comden, who died on November the 23rd, wrote some of the most memorable shows and films of the mid twentieth century. In losing her, we have lost yet another of those very rare things – a lyricist who was effortlessly literate and could, by turns, be droll, subtle, brassy and high-spirited 

When people think of Singing in the Rain they rarely think of Comden and Green, but it was they who that wrote the ingenious script that gave the film its impetus.

If people think of the stage version of On the Town(1944), they probably are think the powerfully energetic Leonard Bernstein score, in which he catches the ebullient spirit of New York, but fail to realise that that Comden and Green had provided Bernstein with lyrics that not only fitted the music but added an extra dimension.

Those who have seen the 1949 film starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra  film version of that show will probably remember the Comden and Green lyrics better because they were there hitched not to Bernstein’s music but, at producer Arthur Freed’s insistence, to music by Roger Edens. 

In 1953 they had big film hit with The Band Wagon, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Then in 1955 their screenplay for It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), the Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly directed musical satire which starred Kelly, Dan Dailey and Cyd Charrise, received an Oscar nomination – unusual for a musical – but lost out to William Ludwig and Sonya Levien who won for their screenplay for Interrupted Melody, the screen biography of the Austrailian singer Marjorie Lawrence.    

The Comden and Green partnership’s finest hour came with  Bells are Ringing (1956), a show which starred long time associate Judy Holliday and saw them write with Jule Stein and at least three songs that have now become standards, and examples of popular lyric-writing at its best. Just In Time, Long Before I Knew You and The Party’s Over are, as some would say the business.  “Now you must wake up/All dreams must end/Take off your makeup/The party’s over/It’s all over, my friend” don’t sound very poetic when read, but when sung the words express such longing and regret that it’s difficult not to be moved.  

In Comden’s obituary in The Guardian, Christopher Hawtree, speaking of Comden and Green, summed their relationship up this way

Their writing partnership made for something so strong that it was flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the most diverse composers; indeed, it was a helluva pen.

So it was; so it was.

Good question,

November 28, 2006

I rather like the question Jon Henley puts in his Guardian diary column today. 

No one, it occurs to us, has yet seen fit to ask the most obvious question to arise from the death of Alexander Litvinenko, namely is there not an urgent and compelling case for military intervention in (at the very least) Piccadilly and Mayfair, given that substantially more nuclear material has now been found in the hotels, sushi bars and office buildings of central London than the combined efforts of the UN weapons inspectors and coalition forces managed to uncover in the whole of Iraq? Just a thought. 

Of course there is no need to bring the benefits of democracy to those places either. Or is there?

Better educated soap characters. What next?

November 28, 2006

This item is to be found in the Further diary section of today’s Education Guardian.  

· The dear dotty Learning and Skills Council has finally flipped. The pressure of meeting those government targets has become too great. The quango is now trying to persuade imaginary people to enrol on courses. It has issued its daftest ever press release, calling on the writers of telly soap operas to get their characters better qualified. Many of the characters are “stuck in dead-end jobs with few prospects – such as street cleaners, market traders, or bar workers”, it observes. Among the culprits is Stacey Slater of Eastenders, who ought to quit her market stall and go to theFashion Retail Academy. Her continued presence in the market sets a bad example to young viewers, pronounces one quangocrat solemnly.

· Nothing better exposes the foolishness and hubris of the centralist planning mindset that dreamed up the LSC than this. The young people who tune into Eastenders do so because they want to be entertained. They do not want to be prodded by a quango bossyboots into doing some qualification or other. Of course, it would be possible to give all soap characters middle-management training, transferable skills, cheap suits and all the rest. How dull they would be and how quickly they would lose their audience.

Further comment would be superfluous.

Piracy & Microsoft Vista.

November 27, 2006

When, in early 2007 after innumerable postponments,  Microsoft’s long-awated Windows Vista becomes available on the market, it will have many features which protect the operating system from tampering. Microsoft has added this new system a number of unique features that are aimed at deterring pirates and making piracy extremely difficult.

Some of these theft-deterrents include the standard features that came as part and parcel of Windows XP – Windows Genuine Advantage and Windows Product Activation, for instance – but some are brand new.

If, for example, you install Vista and fail to contact Microsoft to get it to verify that the Vista you are running is genuine and have it activated before 30 days have elapsed, you will find that your system is completely locked down.

When the PC is locked, there will be a small number of “modes” you may use in order to restore it back to normal. There will be the “crippled mode” which allows you to web-browse so that you can contact Microsoft to get the activation key. That key of course will only be given to those who have installed verifiably genuine copies of Vista. Added to that, there will be an over-the-phone and on-line purchasing modes which will give you alternative ways of obtaining the activation key you require.

Vista, I’m also told, comes with an inbuilt monitoring system that highlights any tampering you might try doing with the operating system. If, even post-activation, the software is found not to be rendered invalid for whatever reason, certain key features will all be disabled and you will be promptly notified that an issue has arisen with the software’s licensing. I’m not altogether certain how this is going to work on stand-lone computers, but I’d imagine they will have some monitors that come with Vista itself.

Of course all of this, according to Microsoft, is designed to make life difficult for the pirate. The thing is, it’s not just the pirates it makes life difficult for – it makes life difficult for everybody.

If you want to know just how difficult things are likely to get, have a peek at John Naughton’s online diary entry or his Observer column  of the 26th of November, and ask yourself the question he’s been asking for years: why bother with Microsoft?

Robert Altman (1925-2006)

November 26, 2006

One of Hollywood’s greatest directors, Robert Altman, passed away last week at the age of 81. The various obituaries I have read all full justice to the man and his output. There was little one could add to what had already been said.

Philip French comes closest to my view of Altman when, in today’s edition of The Observer, he writes that Altman ‘was one of  Hollywood‘s great mavericks, fit to stand alongside Griffith, Stroheim and Welles as an ambitious innovator.’   

If were asked to choose a hundred all-time favourite films, I’m pretty certain that three or four of Altman’s would have to be included. I’m sure the groundbreaking M*A*S*H, his freewheeling take on life in a Korean field hospital, would be on the list; so would well-observed report on the country music scene, Nashville(1975), his Hollywood satire, The Player(1992) and Short Cuts(1993), the cinematic tapestry he made by interweaving a number of Raymond Carver’s short stories. I’d be very tempted to include his bleak off-centre western McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971) and, of course, his soured reinterpretation of  Raymond Chanler’s Philip Marlow novel, The Long Goodbye(1973).

In fact, now that I’ve given it some consideration, I find that he’s the only American director I can think at present of from whose body of work I would pick more three films to be considered to be listed in any top hundred films I might compile. It’s often said that his work was variable in quality, and so it was. That said, one has to add that there are not many directors who have had so many masterpieces or near-masterpieces to their name.

Omkara (an Indian Othello)

November 25, 2006

Vivek Oberoi as Kesu (Cassio) & Saif Ali Khan as Langda (Iago)

After listening to this year’s Warwick Arts Centre sponsored Shakespeare on Screen Film Talk in which Tony Howard from the Dept of English at the University of Warwick explored the history of William Shakespeare’s Othello in the cinema,  I’ve attended a screening, of Omkara Vishal Bharadwaj’s  interesting cinematic reworking of the play as a drama set in a province of northern India run by corrupt politicians and gangsters.……         ………………………… Vivek Oberoi Kesu (Cassio)……………………………………… ……………  ………… Saif Ali Khan Langda (Iago)

In his Observer review, the film critic Philip French says that Bharadwaj ‘has made a fair fist of transposing Othello to present-day India’. I’d be inclined to disagree only in that I would have said he made more than a a rather good fist of managing the transposition.

What this director has done is many ways is pretty remarkable. He has convincingly welded what we have come to think of as the Bollywood style movie, with its obligatory and crowd-pleasing song and dance sequences, to the kind of muscular crime dramas that Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarintino make, with the result that what we see on the screen is a surprisingly effective film that should appeal to cinemagoers for whom the Bollywood fare, in the normal run of things, would have little appeal. This is a film that will repay two or three viewings on its own terms.

Forget that Shakespeare is the source. This is a rollicking good drama set in a region of the world with which most of us are unfamiliar.

Is one laptop per child the only answer?

November 23, 2006

A good many people will have heard of One Laptop Per Child project. The aim,  you may recall, is  to create a cheap — about $100 —  strong and sturdy laptop for use in the developing world. The man behind this. Nicholas Negroponte,  believes that if children can be given a laptop that they can take home with them, they will be better equippeid to deal with technology and to put to use for learning other things.   

For some time a former research scientist Quintin Stafford-Fraser & John Naughton (see blogroll right) have been engaged in developing an altogether different idea. Thir aim is to have a single PC, running the  Linux operating system (Ubuntu), supporting numerous simultaneous users. The intention of the project, called Ndiyo, (the word means “yes” in the Swahili),  is to enable  five to ten users link up to a single PC with very low energy consumption at any one time.

There is an extremely good introduction to the project, and the two men behind it, in today’s ZDnet.co.uk  

Microsoft does it again.

November 22, 2006

John Naughton (see blogroll right) has made the following entry  [link] to his diary

Mark Rasch, an IT lawyer, has a wonderful essay on the problems raised by the Vista EULA. The nub of it is this:

The terms of the Vista EULA, like the current EULA related to the “Windows Genuine Advantage,” allows Microsoft to unilaterally decide that you have breached the terms of the agreement, and they can essentially disable the software, and possibly deny you access to critical files on your computer without benefit of proof, hearing, testimony or judicial intervention. In fact, if Microsoft is wrong, and your software is, in fact, properly licensed, you probably will be forced to buy a license to another copy of the operating system from Microsoft just to be able to get access to your files, and then you can sue Microsoft for the original license fee. Even then, you wont be able to get any damages from Microsoft, and may not even be able to get the cost of the first license back…

Worth reading in full. Many thanks to Chris Walker for the link.

I have no better excuse for cribbing the lot than that it saves the reader having to refer to his blog. I’m sure he will excuse the cheek this time.