Tuesday, 29 September 2009

My Very Own Moondial

Television is often criticised for damaging children's minds, corrupting young brains, the source of all eville and wrong in society. Whilst it is true we perhaps watch too much television or spend too long sat in front of a computer screen, it is an injustice to think television cannot be educational or inspirational.

The other day I visited Dyffryn Gardens, a stately home in the Vale of Glamorgan with vast, beautiful gardens. The house is a typical Edwardian structure, a superb building to gaze at (if you enjoy architecture as much as I do). The gardens are a wonder, even to a gardening/flower ignoramous such as myself. Each section with a different theme, almost like outdoor rooms - my favourite, for example, is the Pompeii styled garden, with it's Roman-esque pillars and layout.

My parents used to take us to Dyffryn Gardens regularly when we were growing up, but I had not been there for years. Returning there was a sudden passage back to my childhood, reminiscent of Sunday afternoons; the exhiliration of running around on the grass of the gardens, elaborately ridiculous games with my sisters; the sensation of slight sadness that only Sundays seem to be draped in - that the weekend was on the wane, that the shackles of school beckoned, and that fun freedom was to be banished soon.

But most of all, I was struck with the memory of a tv show. Back in the 1980s, Children's BBC had a wealth of wonderful tv programmes, and the adaptations of books were most definitely my favourites. Two of my favourite books growing up as a child, were also adapted into enchanting TV series. These books were Tom's Midnight Garden written by Phillipa Pearce, and Helen Cresswell's Moondial. Both wonderful books and the two subsequent tv shows had a profounding effect on me as a child, and have stayed with me ever since.

Both stories involve supernatural, other-worldly occurances; both look at themes of time, of the past and history. These storylines captured my imagination, and possibly influenced my later interests.

But it was Moondial that I loved the most. A ghost story, a dark tale, where bad things happen in the world. It is a rather mature storyline, and rather sinister undertones. And I don't just mean the spooky music. I feel forever indebted to Helen Cresswell's superb writing.
Dyffryn Gardens reminded me of the house and gardens in the story. Every time we visited I used to pretend I was in the story, dreaming up my own ghosts and images of the past. The statues were the ghosts, whom would come alive if I stared at them long enough. I adored the pretence, the being the characters; all so much more interesting and exciting than myself. As most children do, I used to pray and dream that this other world would pay me a visit. I would stand at the gardens' sundial and pretend it was the moondial in the book, imagining the landscape spinning me into the past.

I saw the tv version before I read the book. The programme introduced me to a whole new world of the supernatural, of darkness. It led me to read the novel, which I devoured eagerly. Ever since, I have loved these dark themes. It was the forefather of my love for David Lynchian perspectives, that has influenced my view on the world through writing and photography.

All these memories came flooding back when I re-visited the estate. The walls are cleaner now, the gardens tidier; there's a visitor centre all shiny and new, but the mystic spark of the gardens is still there, the dreamy connotations amidst the creeping ivy and array of bony hand-tree branches, that something special existed beyond the mundane reality. Like in Tom's Midnight Garden, as I thought about my childhood, I was struck by the sad reality of time passing, of us all falling into the inevitable. And I was left to ponder the influence some fantastic television storytelling had on me, as I walked amongst the statues whose stony eyes stalked my movements, still dreaming of that something beautifully magical whispering amongst the leaves.

My photographs of Dyffryn Gardens

Monday, 14 September 2009

Lights! Camera! Action! If only it was that simple...

Forgive me, I hath sinned...and I've neglected my film watching of late. I have been known in the past to watch a film a day. Hour. Minute even (maybe stretching that a little). All I wanted to do was watch films. It was almost tempting to buy a wall of televisions, and have different movies on each screen at the same time. The next stage would have involved surgically implanting extra eyes onto my body to increase the movie watching levels. I await Apple to develop an iEyeEyei technology.

Then mundane things get in the way of my film nerdery. I shamefully began to lose opportunities to waste my life in celuloid fantasy to block out the pain of reality. Especially when I have t'interwebs to see to, post its to draw, people to annoy. However, the one positive of feeling flu-esque is that it gives me a good excuse to watch copious amounts of dvds.

This past week I have watched a begillion and one films, including what I believe is possibly the worst one of the lot. Even worse than SpiceWorld. It was a film that made my eyes bleed. It attacked my intelligence so much, it called it a plethora of insults before stuffing its head down the toilet. It was about as funny as a mass suicide of puppies (it was supposed to be a comedy). The name of this abomnination of a movie, is Burn Hollywood Burn. Imagine everything that could be wrong about a film, triple that by 10 Jim Davidsons and a Crossroads, and you have this piece. Even the title begs for correct punctuation. It is truly magnificently awful, it makes Neighbours look like a Dennis Potter adaptation, starring Ian McKellen and directed by Felini.

But it did make me ponder about the whole film-making world. Last week I photographed some film stills for a short film in Cardiff. Despite making films at University, it still always amazes me just how complex a process making movies is. You cannot beat seeing the workings at the coalface to really appreciate this. I found being on set fascinating. Even for a relatively small project, there needed to be a wealth of organisation, and a never ending stream of components.

It's not just the writing, the camera shots, lighting, the costume; it's the acting, the continuity, the attention to detail. There are money constraints, weather issues, location considerations. Make no bones about it, producing and completing a film is a rather difficult, intricate process. One that people take for granted as being easy, simply because it is in the media/entertainment industry. Which admittedly is a bizarre and surreal world at the best of times, but it isn't always as shallow as some of the plastic stars that often take all the limelight.

Good film (and TV drama for that matter) makes it all look simple. You don't at first, notice the cuts and edits, or the fact that one scene would take possibly hours even days to film. I used to love film editing during my degree for precisely this reason. Putting numerous pieces of footage from different angles together to make it all look as if it was simply happening in front of your eyes in real time, was a gloriously satisfying task. It really is like completing a jigsaw, only a moving image jigsaw with bells and whistles. It is also painstakingly lengthy, and made me appreciate the early masters of film direction and editing.

No one sets out to make a bad film (hopefully, anyway). Sometimes there is even a warped charm with a bad film or TV. You know it is bad but it is still enjoyable. Why else is Murder She Wrote so popular? It can't all be the lure of Angela Lansbury and her remarkable shoulder pads, as wonderful as she is.
It is often worth remembering that it is not always so easy to get all the correct ingredients to make a movie a good one, although Burn Hollywood Burn is so ridiculously bad, even I can't excuse it. And I fully admit to loving Neighbours.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Unfathomable It

Is this it,
Unfathomable it,
Cruel mundane,
A heart to maim.

Every breath, the blood does drain,
Playing this damn waiting game.

In such maelstrom, amongst the fog,
In such vain, a useless cog,
For once the waiting will cease,
The ironing out, at the crease,
It all just continues plodding along,
No standstill, end, fuss or song.
Barely memory, hardly a sign,
Not even a shadow, a faint outline.

That is it.
Unfathomable it.
Otiose, but It.

A Torrid Void

The elation of curious feeling,
Certainly left me double-reeling.
Finally grasping that message sent
By so many, at last I knew it meant:
It made breathing more than to survive,
It was to be, exist, enjoy - alive.

And yet it's like an eville curse,
To make the whole thing even worse.
For every up it's double low,
For every good, a harder blow.
Because this is severely blighted,
A futile exercise, damned unrequited.

So back forever, there I sit.
In that wretched woebegone pit.
Hope and good unemployed,
Nothing to fill a torrid void.
The barren solitude so great to fear,
Causes pain so copiously severe.

I kid myself that it never mattered,
But the crux of my being is shattered.
I am so cruelly blighted,
Damn you fucking unrequited.