The Reaper Grim and Not So Grim

Filmposter-Paolo-Sorrentinos-Film-Youth

Youth

I’ve had three interesting encounters with Death – of an artistic kind – in the last few days of variable quality and insight…

Close Encounter of the 1st Kind: Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

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Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

I took my 11 year old nephew to a screening of this movie as it is a book he really likes, plus he has impeccable, mature taste in movies. He is the only other person I have met, for example, who noticed and loved A Long Long Way Back in 2013. We both really enjoyed Earl (one of the best two BAFTA/awards season movies I have seen so far) and in the wake of our evening out he lent me the book – and he, like me, both being Virgos, is very fussy about the state of his books.

I enjoyed reading the book – he had bunked school the day before the screening so he could read all day and finish the novel, be fully prepared.  I see it as being in the tradition of A Catcher in the Rye (i.e. a quality coming of age book) and it is interesting on being self-effacing to avoid engagement as well as on dealing with death close at hand. I also like what it has to say on just being, being together, hanging out. It would be a great book to give a teen in the face of cancer or other terminal illness in their close circles.

Close Encounter of the 2nd Kind: Here We Go

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Here We Go

Here We Go, apart from being the first book I ever read (Look, John, look),  is a new short play by Caryll Churchill. I used to go, taken by my mum, with her and my younger brother most Saturday mornings to get cheap tickets for the National Theatre. What sometimes seemed like a haul then we are both profoundly grateful for now as we saw the best of theatre in a golden era for the NT. So the three of us reunited for this trip. Unfortunately it was a pretty provocative piece. Us two siblings pronounced on it on exit and it turned out our judgments exactly matched the two reviews (of the previous night’s opening performance) we read on the way home. He said it was more like an arts performance piece. I said it was not right for such a big venue of that kind (the Lyttleton).

The first of the three scenes that make up the 40 minute piece (ticket cost over £20 – not right) is made up of fragments of conversation at a funeral party. The next scene is a monologue conducted in a spotlight in the dark by the dead man. The last scene is the most provocative – but also the most thought-provoking. The dead man, flashing back to his last years, is in an old age home. His care assistant gets him dressed for the day, slowly and deliberately, in real time, with all the appropriate health and safety precautions. He shuffles a few feet across to his armchair. She then gets him undressed and ready for bed. He shuffles back to the bed with his zimmerframe, sits down and she starts getting him dressed again. It takes about 10 minutes to do the whole process. It was repeated twice in its entirety. No dialogue. All through the second cycle you’re thinking, they’re going to pull the plug on this any minute …surely. They don’t. As the third cycle starts the scene very slowly fades to black. Thought-provoking but bloody annoying and arguably not the stuff of theatre in this kind of context. I just came away thinking whatever happens, never get yourself into a situation where every day is the same as the last …and the one before that.

Close Encounter of the 3rd Kind: Youth

Youth-2

Youth

I went to a BAFTA screening in a cosy hotel screening room (Ham Yard) of this, the second English language film of Paolo Sorrentino, due to be attended by Michael Caine and Rachel Weitz. As it turned out the latter was unfortunately detained on set but the former was more than enough to make the screening special. What a grounded man for a famous movie star – and very funny, in a lovely dry London way (he’s from Elephant & Castle, similar territory to my hero, Charlie Chaplin). When asked how he felt about getting old, he replied: “Not too bad, considering the alternative.” Good perspective, one we often forget. That very English “Mustn’t grumble” is true.

I asked him a question about his fellow cast – How was it working with Harvey Keitel, and did he learn anything from him? He said the main thing was that they had both served in the infantry and that gave them both important common ground on which they founded a friendship.

The film was a free-ranging reflection on youth, age and approaching death – not totally my cup of tea but interesting, entertaining and original. The Grand Hotel Budapest meets Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. What was most inspiring was the dignity and joie de vivre Michael Caine aka Sir Disco Mike brought to being in your 80s. Certainly something to aspire to…

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