bookmark_borderNasty film review

Ilie Nastase was voted fifty-fifth. (according to the “Mari Romani” show.) 

His teammate, Ion Tiriac, ranked 77.  

While Ion Tiriac’s wax statue was displayed recently at Iulius mall, Ilie “Nasty” Nastase is the title character of the documentary about the golden age of men’s tennis in Romania. While a search for “Tiriac” might yield results for the former tennis great’s successful businesses (including Tiriac Auto and Allianz Tiriac insurance company) a search for “Nastase” brings results about the other player himself.  Ion Tiriac is a success story to be proud of, but Mr. Nastase is a character to remember.

Continue reading “Nasty film review”

bookmark_borderMy favorite films

What makes a good movie? That is, of course, a matter of taste.

If you ask a first year film student his favorite films on his first day, before he has been brainwashed, or educated, on why Kubrick and Eisenstein are great filmmakers, he might tell you that he loved Airplane, or the original Ghostbusters, or something with Abbot and Costello. (With me it was Laurel and Hardy).

Of course, even if he isn’t brainwashed, being exposed to new voices like Charlie Chaplin can increase what he has to choose from, and his favorite films can change simply because he wasn’t before exposed to what he really enjoyed.

Analysis can be a killjoy. Looking at a film like Airplane frame by frame and from an ideological perspective, it might seem sexist, or against one’s religious or political beliefs. Some innocent joke is suddenly a source of everything that is bad in the universe.

I never really liked most Kubrick films, but for some reason, I tried to learn from his filmmaking method. I found 2001 long and drawn out, other films I couldn’t even finish. Sure, Dr Strangelove was more interesting as I got older, but most of the ones that Kubrick fans recommend to me frankly bore me.

A lot of French films have the same effect: I hear the “making of” and they sound like masterpieces; but I try to watch them and I am fast asleep.

I am not the first to look at films this way. In their Caheirs du Cinema, the great French analysts who led the new wave looked at the B films of Hitchcock and analysed crowdpleases as the true masterpieces of cinema. But why not Harrihausen? Suddenly the works of Chaplin could also be enjoyed, but why not Laurel and Hardy?

If you need to talk about the making of a film, the politics or ethics, the economics or any other factor external to the film itself to tell me it is a good film, then I lose interest. A good salad is not a good salad because of the chef’s politics or how long he spent in the kitchen.

That said, I look at my favorite films, and how they were made, and I have observed a pattern. No one necessarily got rich off the film, but everyone from the above the line (producer, screenwriter and director) down to the runner was paid more than a living wage for the time. Unlike Kubrick’s movies and Elon Musk’s philosophy, most if not all the people involved worked fourty hour weeks, with adequate lunch breaks, free weekends, family time, and all the rest of it.

Almost every one of my favorite actors, writers, editors and directors has stories about time with their family, often spent during the making of a film. Some may be single, but they tend to have stories of time with their friends.

None of them used amateur actors. Sorry, I do not really like the films of Ken Loach or those social realists. (Though I hear that style was popular with certain dictators in the mid twentieth century). If you cannot afford professional actors, that is one thing, but those who choose to repeatedly work with amateurs tend to make films that look like bad documentaries.

I have written films that can be shot in one room because of a lack of confidence in raising money, but they are not my favorite to watch. And they are not necessarily that simple to make anyway. Keeping one room available for the entire production is more difficult than it seems, unless you are the sole owner of the property and any adjoining rooms. (even if your producers are partial owners, they may decide to do some spring cleaning or home improvements that ruin your set because they do not understand the filmmaking process as well as you do).

My favorite films have full-time (not overtime) professional casts and crew (but often not celebrities). People involved are paid well enough to live on, usually, but very seldom do they get rich off the movie.

I dislike films with so many stars that you get dizzy recognising them from other movies. Speilburg’s Lincoln was terribly boring, more like watching a poorly planned improve at the afterparty of an academy awards show than a proper movie. Even the flags and main characters felt like crowdfunding cameos.

Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West, on the other hand, had only two recognisable faces, both of which were not famous for their looks or politics, only for their talent. PeeWee Herman’s Big Adventure had some very brief celebrity cameos, but the main characters are played by actors I have not seen anywhere else.

But education can get quite political, and politics often get in the way of good judgement. While I often say that I would rather work with people with film degrees, I mean those who survived the degree without being contaminated by the politics, those who hold a strong interest in making films that are in their own right, rather than feeling the need to satisfy some socio-political goal. As Moliere says, the point of entertainment is to please the audience, not the critic. And I believe the best way to do that is making middle of the road pictures, with career professionals rather than celebrities or amateurs.

Currently, I think the countries doing this best are India and Hungary. I have very little time for British movies, for anything that shows at film festivals like Raindance. Well, I watch them sometimes, but do not tend to enjoy them (I am grateful that youtube and DVD players allow double speed).

Hungarian movies that get no European funding tend to be much better than British films that get European and Lottery funding. I do not know why, but government funding, even tax credits, seems to diminish the quality of art. (It might be because the EU and UK directives push bad art).

While newer films have much better effects, the writing and acting is terrible. Having a soldier play WonderWoman is distracting, it is like something Ed Wood would have done.

The truth is, I am not afraid of AI taking over films because it seems that it already has. The current generation of talent seem to act like robots, lacking any personality as they are shot down for the slightest controversial opinion. The worst part is that a growing part of the audience is a bunch of robots.

okay, rant over. Let us be grateful that we can still remember the old films and shows instead of seeing the remakes or reruns. Even if we become killjoys because we see their imperfections a second time, we have our innocent memories.

And a few films, like those with Laurel and Hardy, are pretty good even if we see them after getting a film degree.

bookmark_borderThe workout that built the camel’s back

f you know me well, you may know that there are a few roles that are not on my LinkedIn Profile. I had a rule, any project that lasted less than a year, I usually omitted, and anything less than a month I left out.

Asleep yet?

Yes, I hear some of you say, but if something lasts for months, are you just going to leave a hole in your resume?

A lot of my education is missing. I started a degree, took a few courses, and dropped out. I didn’t want to list it because I didn’t want to talk about it and answer that inevitable question – why did you quit?

Why did you quit?

Why did…

Yes, I started a PGCE, and dropped it. And suddenly, the questions kept coming. My driving instructor refused to give me more classes. Older relatives yelled at me. This only made me regret applying for the PGCE in the first place.

But why didn’t I just answer the question? Well, I wouldn’t be honest if I gave a simple answer. First of all, There wasn’t a single reason.

Sure, I could try to blame a bad boss, an unsupportive person in my personal life, an extra responsibility, an illness, or find some other scapegoat. Blaming would be an easy way out. But really, it was a case of the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can point to that straw, that moment when I made my decision, but it was just a small thing compared to some of the other pressures I felt.

So, why didn’t I just say that I was overwhelmed? That all these little things, and perhaps some big things, got me down, and I collapsed under the weight of so much pressure? Because I got over it.

Almost ten years later, I was running my own business and interviewing people for the position of sound engineer. Or maybe it was assistant audio technician, I forget the exact job title.

If I could go back in time, I would have found a way to hire multiple applicants. One applicant stood out, and I might regret not hiring him for something. (Recruiters often make mistakes. I was one of the recruiters who made them.)

I asked him about a gap on his CV. Here, a man younger than I was, gave the best answer ever. “I was young.”

This is the main reason I do not like the question, “Why did you quit that job.” The answer that was true of me then would not be true of me today.

As we get older, our muscles change. Our relationships change. What may have been too difficult for me to deal with 20 years ago is a cinch today. Things I didn’t like back then I have since learned to appreciate. I was once a toddler unable to walk across the room, but now I can run a marathon.

To me today, a much more interesting question is, how did you overcome the difficulties that you once faced? Why are you stronger today? How have you shaped your life to be able to deal with the challenges ahead? What has made you interested in work you once found boring or pointless?

I remember that when my grandfather died, my grandmother went to university and became a professional nurse. She had served in the war but needed a certificate to work.

Then, when she retired, she learned a new language. And other skills in order to help her friends. Perhaps you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but Grandma was never a dog.

That example was the first muscle that helped rebuild and strengthen the camel’s back. And the camel keeps getting stronger.

Now, of course, if someone tries to overwhelm the camel, the camel might spit. He doesn’t want his back broken again.

bookmark_borderArtificial Stupidity, a threat to history?

You might not know much about Chester A Arthur, one of the more obscure presidents of the USA. But if you are a history nut, or you even read a long article about the guy, then you probably know more than the AI does.

A lot of articles about Artificial Intelligence talk about how computer intelligence is a threat to writers (which may include historians). After a test drive of one popular engine, I do not feel the least bit intimidated by the engine’s “intelligence.” The bigger threat might be its popularity, and the possible impact it has on finding the facts.

Continue reading “Artificial Stupidity, a threat to history?”

bookmark_borderOpen by setting the scene

A lot of writing advice will pretend to teach you how to grab an audience’s attention. Well, there’s more to writing than getting attention.  There’s the reader to consider.

This is an editorial essay, so we start with an introduction.  In the first paragraph, I let you know the purpose, to determine whether or not this is something that interests you and is useful to you.  Good writing respects the reader, it doesn’t try to waste the reader’s time with sensationalism.

Not all writing is an essay, however.  In fiction, and in especially in journalism and in most other storytelling genres, writing usually starts with setting the scene.  If you were to write for the Ptara blog or an article for our journal, we’d normally expect the writing to start in the appropriate way, depending upon the genre. Continue reading “Open by setting the scene”

bookmark_borderBeaumarchais and the first writers’ strike

You may have heard of Beaumarchais. He was a watchmaker, a publisher of Voltaire’s works, a gun runner for the rebels in the American Revolution, but most notably a playwright of works such as The Barber of Seville (which Mozart adapted into an opera.)

In Beaumarchais’s time, writers were not well paid. The theatres of Paris held a kind of monopoly, or cartel.  They colluded together to keep writers’ fees down.

The Barber of Seville was one of the hits of 1775 and it continued bringing in audiences after that.  But, despite the money that the theatres got from Beaumarchais’s popular play, his remuneration wasn’t very high.

So, in 1777, Beaumarchais led the other French writers in a strike. If they didn’t get paid more for their successful plays, they wouldn’t write at all.

This led to a scarcity of plays and forced theatre owners into negotiations.

Theatre owners now paid royalties, instead of just a flat fee for plays.

bookmark_borderThe use of Flashback in Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace (dir. Michael Apted, written by Steven Knight) seems to be the first major film to depict the life and activism of Wilfred Wilberforce. I was reluctant to write any review because I’m not sure of the historical accuracy of Wilberforce’s life. However, from a creative point of view, I find the use of flashbacks interesting.

Many biopics, from made-for-tv movies to big-budget blockbusters, use flashbacks as a creative device. At one extreme you have The Iron Lady, where almost every other scene is the elderly Thatcher remembering her rise and fall. Then there’s the TV movie like Coco Chanel, where flashbacks are used intermittently to show a character still in her prime remembering how she got where she was while preparing a show.

The classic, however, is a film like Gandhi (Dir: David Attenborough, writer: John Briley, 1982), where we start at the death of the main character, then tell the story in sequence, introducing the protagonist just before that fateful first decision is made. But, all these devices open a story toward the end of the story, not in the middle. Continue reading “The use of Flashback in Amazing Grace”

bookmark_borderBen Franklin’s financial advice

Since the following quote is so long, I won’t put it in quote format.


As you have desired it of me, I write the following hints, which have been of service to me and may if observed be so to you.

REMEMBER that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor and goes abroad or sits idle one half of that day though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness ought not to reckon that the only expense, he has really spent or rather thrown away five shillings besides.

Remember that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me the interest or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good and large credit and makes good use of it. Continue reading “Ben Franklin’s financial advice”