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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 08:15:21 AM EST) Watching, Reading, Museums, Web (all tags)
Watching: "Richard III", "No Country for Old Men". Reading: "The Pirate Wars". Museums. Web.


What I'm Watching 1
Saw the Olivier Richard III on DVD. Couldn't really get into this one though. Kept losing track of the intrigue. I quite often watch DVDs with the subtitles on to keep things clear, but this disc didn't have any.

Also, I think my brain rejected the contrast between the attempt at realistic staging with big battles and men on horseback, and the stylised Shakespearianicity with accelerated plot development and messengers rushing around. And the ostentatious Fifties incidental music was a bit of a drag.

Good performances though: as well as Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud manage to speak the lines tremendously naturally.

Overall though, liked the Ian McKellan version more.

What I'm Reading
The Pirate Wars by Peter Earle. History book covering piracy from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Has a slightly different angle in that the author has studied naval records on piracy as well as the usual sources: it concentrates on the conflict between navy and pirates.

Ranges quite widely, not concentrating exclusively on the glamorous and well-documented Caribbean pirates. Also deals with the Barbary pirates, piracy in the Indian Ocean, the large pirate fleets operating from Ireland in the 1600s, and the resurgence of piracy in the 1820s. Some of this was new to me.

He criticizes the Admiralty somewhat for failing to deal with pirates effectively. Pirates favoured fast, shallow-draught vessels with oars; and found it generally easy to evade conventional naval vessels. In addition, the Admiralty penny-pinched on supplies and maintenance. Pirates careened (cleaned and de-barnacled) their hulls every two months for speed: naval ships were sometimes explicitly forbidden from careening too often, and from resupplying in (more expensive) foreign ports.

In addition, the cycles of war had a well-known impact. At wartime, large numbers of seamen were recruited and privateering was encouraged: whenever peace broke out they turned to piracy. Governments also tended to encourage privateering against their rivals, and privateers routinely crossed the nebulous line into piracy.

The primary causes of the end of the age of piracy was the rise of trade to the point where it was more valuable to protect your shipping than attack other people, and the increased power of nation-states to keep local nobles from sponsoring piracy. The practical means consisted of directing more resources at the problem, and gaining local knowledge. Some anti-pirate vessels were purpose built, though more were bought. The Navy developed a strategy of lowering cutters, (fast rowing boats) to pursue the pirates on long chases through the shallows.

While it's good to see a Navy-centred view on piracy, the book does have some weaknesses. It follows a very linear structure with a chapter for each period. Would have been nice to see some chapters devoted to the particular strategies and tactics in more detail: it feels like there are some frustrating omissions. For instance, I'm still not sure how the chasing cutters managed to avoid being blasted to oblivion by cannon in the sloops they were chasing. And if you're going to mention that a pirate ship was taken "by stratagem" I for one would really like to know what the stratagem was.

Overall, informative overview but a little on the dry side.

Museums
Popped into Tate Britain. Thought the Peter Doig exhibition was brilliant: best contemporary art I've seen in ages. He does eerily calm paintings: lots of landscapes, with almost ghostly figures hovering in them. Haven't seen much new art that's actually beautiful for a while.

He has careful compositions: mainly lots of horizontals and big expanses of faded colour; but liked the tree paintings with branches ramifying throughout the frame. Interesting if artificial pastel colours in some of them.

Overall, well worth seeing. Not too crowded. Guardian Review, gallery. Times review.

Museums 2
Also saw the Camden Town Group exhibition downstairs. Apart from the Sickerts, mostly interesting historically: strange to see how much and how little London has changed since the Edwardian era.

They've also got a neo-classical sculpture exhibition in the main hall. Some fairly twee Victoriana, but thought the boxer, with a classical body, classical hairdo and giant Victorian buttoned shorts, was interesting. Also they've moved the Three Graces there from the British Museum, and it's a chance to see the old girls in a much quieter environment. At the BM they're permanently surrounded by a swarm of shutterbugs, but here the tourists don't seem to realise they're seeing a bona fide Attraction. I think it's partly because at the Tate it's mixed in with other white marble so it doesn't stand out, but also because their guidebooks don't tell them to look out for it.

What I'm Watching 2
Saw No Country For Old Men at the cinema. Pretty good existential thriller by the Coen brothers. Various characters pursue the obligatory Bag of Money McGuffin after a drug deal goes wrong. Has a brilliantly creepy psychotic killer with a Beatle haircut and a boltgun. Also thought the 1980 setting was very well handled: had a period feel but didn't ram it down your throat with pop-culture references. And there are some brilliantly tense battles of wits as the characters stalk each other through deserts and cities.

However, the philosophical musings on Chance and Fate didn't really do a lot for me: seemed a bit like a teenager who's been let loose on the Sartre. Also the attempts at seriousness seemed to clash a bit with the genre clichés. Seemed to be a touch of the signal from Fred when characters sarcastically ask if Ultimate Badass Stereotype is supposed to be the Ultimate Badass.

Wanted to like the ending more. Quite liked the bleakness of it, but did ending up sitting there thinking 'Oh. Is that it? Is something going to happen after a few credits?'.

I think the main problem was with the Ed Tom Bell character played by Tommy Lee Jones: whether he wins or loses, you expect him to have some kind of conflict with Chigurh; it seems disappointing when he just retires instead.

I'm reminded of something I read by the screenwriter of the Bridge on the River Kwai movie. The book is told from the point of view of a minor officer, but he realised the movie just didn't need that kind of character. In film, the camera itself acts as the audience's point of view.

I haven't read the book, but I suspect the Ed Tom Bell character works better there. He's responsible for the philosophical voiceovers and might function in a call-him-Ishmael way there, but in a movie he just seems annoyingly passive in the end.

Overall, worth a look, but didn't see it as much better than "A History of Violence" or even "Road to Perdition". Probably a weak Oscar year.

Guardian, Observer, Ebert, Wikipedia.

Web
Pics. Catfish cake.

Quacks close Quackometer Blog.

Articles. Sailors tattoos meanings. Pistol trigger actions.

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Who should 'scape whipping? | 17 comments (17 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
No Country For Old Men by spacejack (4.00 / 2) #1 Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 08:30:59 AM EST
= Shaggy Dog Story.

subtitles and Shakespeare by gzt (4.00 / 1) #2 Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 08:58:23 AM EST
I find subtitles on Shakespeare helpful because, while I don't have much trouble following the written dialogue (save for occasional obscure words) due to my familiarity with early modern and late middle English (and etymology), I'm not used to hearing them spoken in real time. Pronunciation obscures orthography which obscures etymology on the more difficult ones.

For similar reasons, I found watching French movies with the French subtitles on helpful back in the days when I still spoke a little French - these days, it would be a hopelessly useless endeavour. Of course, I also found that subtitles excise a lot of dialogue, even in the original tongue.

Anyways, that's what your diary forced me to discuss.

Richard III by ad hoc (4.00 / 2) #3 Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 09:32:36 AM EST
I agree. I thought he McKellen version was great.

Reading: Joke's Over on your recommendation. So far, so good.
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The three things that make a diamond also make a waffle.

I don't think I've read Joke's Over by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #4 Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 09:41:01 AM EST
Must have been someone else.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
I stand corrected by ad hoc (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 11:40:36 AM EST
Pistol trigger actions by DullTrev (4.00 / 1) #6 Tue Feb 26, 2008 at 03:44:19 AM EST

I always feel this kind of disconnect when I read these things. I mean, I know in certain parts of the world (darker, heathen parts, without the light of being part of Britain) these things are perfectly normal. In those areas, it makes sense to have these sort of primers, and reviews, and suchlike, just as you would with any other piece of machinery. But when I read them, I just think it is weird, surreal, and vaguely disturbing.

Bit like the US, really.


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DFJ?
Don't go to the box of truth then by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #8 Tue Feb 26, 2008 at 07:36:27 AM EST



[ Parent ]
Doubleplusgood by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #11 Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 12:14:58 AM EST
Pistols were only banned in 1996/1997 in response to the post-Dunblane moral panic.

In only 12 years you have completely internalized a piece of knee-jerk legislation as an intrinsic attribute of Britishness.

[ Parent ]
Not really by DullTrev (2.00 / 0) #12 Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 12:22:47 AM EST

I'd have been 18, then. And I already thought people who were interested in pistols were weird.

More relevantly, though, the sale and use of pistols in the UK was to a very, very small niche. It never had pretensions of mass market appeal, unlike the sale of weapons in the US, which leads to this type of consumer type information. It's that which I find weird.


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DFJ?
[ Parent ]
I think it was reasonably popular by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #13 Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 03:14:00 AM EST
Pretty much every University had a shooting club. Maybe because it takes place on ranges away from public view people didn't perceive it much.

But I suspect if, say, they banned basketball after some kind of gangsta-rap scare, in a few years time you'd regard its practioners as similarly un-British.

[ Parent ]
Really? by DullTrev (2.00 / 0) #14 Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 03:51:24 AM EST

I don't have any figures, and, as I said, part of it may have been my age at the time.

And I already think of basketball players as un-British...

A better example may be this idea of banning 'samurai' swords, which is likely to capture some of teh historical re-enactment crowd. That is a bunch of people I think of as being weird, but also as representing a rather British eccentricity.


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DFJ?
[ Parent ]
Nothing on East Asian pirates in that one? by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #7 Tue Feb 26, 2008 at 05:06:41 AM EST


The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

There's a bit on Indian Ocean piracy by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Tue Feb 26, 2008 at 10:05:46 AM EST
But the book mostly covers the 1600s to 1800s.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
There's a whole tradition by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #15 Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 04:08:15 AM EST
.. Chinese / Japanese piracy, I thought the European navies ran into it in the 19th century as well.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #16 Wed Feb 27, 2008 at 09:26:03 AM EST
I don't remember any mention of Chinese or Japanese pirates, and there's nothing in the index.

There's a fair bit about the Indian ocean, but mostly by and on Western ships.

These country ships plying in the Indian Ocean were often much larger than the European or American ships, few of which exceeded 300 tons, while some of the Asian ships were as much as 1,000 tons and 300 to 500 tons was commonplace. These capacious ships were manned with huge crews, usually well over a hundred men, but were weakly armed with only a handful of cannon since they appeared to face no real threat, attacks on native vessels being rare once the European nations had established their naval superiority.
I think the Chinese and Japanese "pirates" stuck mostly to raiding villages, rather than attacking shipping. They acted more like Viking raiders than pirates as far as I can see.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Vikings by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #17 Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 04:07:59 AM EST
Probably not a bad comparison. I had thought they were involved in a few more actual naval actions though, especially during those periods where the emperors let the navy run down. Zheng Yi Sao seems like she was pretty hard core.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
No country for old men by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #10 Tue Feb 26, 2008 at 11:18:28 AM EST
I agree with you. Also I thought it was a little naive to make a film about the shocking callousness of a new, modern kind of violence when we've been watching it in the movies since the 70s.

Having said that, some of the desert and motel scenes are amongst my favourite ever film making. Wonderfully atmospheric too.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

Who should 'scape whipping? | 17 comments (17 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback