Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sam Mendes Profile

The next assignment on my Film Journalism course is to write profile of director Sam Mendes, director of Jarhead, which I saw fairly recently, about some recruits who go out to fight in the gulf - all men's stuff, really violent but quite picturesque with shots of oil wells on fire in the desert. I have an interview on disc for the main material, but want to watch as much of his other films as I can. I also saw American Beauty when it came out, but couldn't see what all the fuss was about.

Roy said we'd seen Road to Perdition but it must have been one he saw on his own. Luckily, it was among the DVDs we brought back from China so I had the pleasure of watching it with Chinese subtitles. It was about set in 1931, mainly in Chicago, about a gangster on the run with his son. Again, a film with lots of moody shots with some stars in it - Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Craig Doulglas and no women except toen wife Jennifer Jason Leigh who gets bumed off quite soon on. The rest is all peripatetic motoring punctuated by shoot-outs and sentimental bonding scenes. Oh, Paul Newman was the head gangster.

Fortunately the director hasn't made many films - just the ones I mentioned plus one called Loser about an American college boy.

Sam Mendes went from public school and Oxford into theatre directing. Like his wife Kate Winslett he was born in Reading. She has an Independent School background. Loads of loot on both sides.

I was pleased I figured out how to download a photo from the Internet.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

BFI Seminar

The seminar for the Film Journalism course was held over Thursday and Friday this week in Stephen Street at the BFI. It was a bit nerve-wracking as all the other students - there were 40 of us - were aged around 25-30. I was surprised to learn some people had come from the US and Canada just to attend the seminar, which is a compulsory part of the five month distance-learning course. On Thursday we had talks from the Sight & Sound editor Nick James and some of the people who write for the magazine who described how they got into fim journalism. The only woman on the panel of four writers said he had spent three years working for nothing in the offices of places like Time Out, and the others all said not to expect to earn much.

On Friday we assembled for a screening, of which we'd had advance warning about writing a synopsis, review and commentary. We had to take notes in pitch darkness and despite bearing in mind what one speaker advised about using my thumb as a guide I still had to decipher some writing which had overlapped.

Anyway, I made a start when I got home and did some more yesterday, so I've finished the synopsis and made a good start on the review. I am glad to say I have decided on the 'argument' I will take. It was quite a difficult film but after 24 hours of mulling it over I realised what the main theme was and from there it has fallen into place. It's not due in until Wednesday but I hope to finish before then.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Although I have at least learned how to upload a photo from my own files, I can't understand why it has duplicated itself ,so it needs sorting out at some time. Perhaps I'll learn to upload other pictures from the web and even build in some links - who knows.

This week I'm likely to be held up as far as progress with my book is concerned. I have a two day seminar for my BFI Film Journalism course on Thurs/Fri and I have to prepare for that. We are going to view a film called 'Time to Leave' directed by Francois Ozon and write a 700 word review, 300 word synopsis and 300 word commentary with a deadline of March 22nd. I can make a start on the synopsis and commentary in advance of the screening and I've already done some research and hired a DVD called 'Under the Sand' (2001) It starred Charlotte Rampling as a Parisian in denial when her husband goes missing, almost certainly drowned, from a beach in Les Landes. I recognised the Atlantic breakers from when we used to take the children camping there in the early seventies. I liked the film very much, and what a change from all these 'state of the nation' films I've been seeing lately, but Roy said it was depressing.

In fact, he insisted on watching an episode of Rowan Atkinson in 'The Thin Blue Line' before we went to bed, and we were late up next day. I really had to hustle him to get him out on Sunday in time to arrive at David's place in Wimbledon and go out to lunch. David drove us to a pub in Cobham which had low ceilings and beams, called The Running Mare. I ate scallops, which were very good.

I've only seen one of this director's films before, something called '8 Women'(2003) which had these eight ageing French stars holed up in a big country house. I couldn't see the point, really. I think I have time to see another of his films before Thursday. I'm going to play bridge as usual at Blackheath tonight, then drive over to pick up Roy from a game in Beckenham which starts much later. Tomorrow I will go to my Chinese class in town and then swim in the afternoon, so I can watch the DVD in the evening. On Wednesday I have agreed to go to play bridge with Yvonne at Blackheath and in the evening I will be attending a talk about China at the British Library.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Relief at Last!

By dint of staying in all day and working at it on and off I've managed to finish the piece on unemployment in China. I was intending to go to the cinema, but was put off by the relentless rain and the need to get this issue settled. I feel now that I can start the 'backpacking teachers' chapter, to be written in tandem with the almost-completed 'language issues' one. I think I can use the 'backpacking teachers' to turn into a feature for my Goldsmiths Course, a kind of 'What to Expect and Precautions to Take if you go to teach in China' article.

I finally got my unemployment piece off to a good start after a brainwave about including a suitable quotation from Mao about what he intended to do for the peasants in 1949. I'd given the biography I had away, but I found a whole lot of Mao quotations divided into categorises on the Internet. It is really useful to be able to check things on the Internet as I'm writing, too.

I received an email from Ed, a colleague who worked with me as a 'foreign editor' in China. I was really pleased to hear he is writing a play, based on an idea which I'm sure will be popular.

I feel I deserve a good tuck in at Roy's birthday celebration dinner at the Curry Club tonight, although I haven't had any exercise today. Maybe I'll pass on the poppadums !

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tricky Chapters.

I'm troubled by the slow progress of my China book, having hit a couple of really difficult chapters. The themes seem promising: a) comparing poverty and prosperity in Tonghua, sparked by a Chinese teacher's writing on unemployment, and b)language mistakes thrown up during my work as an editor. The latter should be funny as well as informative but isn't, and the former has a lot of evidence resistant to my best wrangling efforts. Maybe the problem is that I'm trying to tackle two difficult pieces at once or maybe I'm just not getting enough time, what with my Chinese and film studies. No, it's not that. Other chapters have been relatively easy, although the 'monkeys, typewriters and Shakespeare theory' is something I believe in. If I just stick at them they'll come right in the end.

I think I'll make a start on my piece on backpacking teachers. It's so much easier to write a descriptive piece than one where I have to marshall arguments, and I can do it alongside each of the problem ones in turn. At least then I will have the satisfaction of another piece completed!