Here I go again with this theme (I’ll be brief) – but again, we see that the best dancing on Strictly Come Dancing comes from those who give themselves to it in an honest way. The dancers are as real as they can be whilst ‘performing’ (and yet can often express much more whilst performing than they could off the dance floor). It’s good to see this, and hear the comments of the judges on this, on a fairly light-hearted programme on Saturday night. You don’t have to read philosophy to think about all this deep stuff – it’s in the everyday.
It feels like ages since I wrote – I’m aware my themes are sometimes similar and I’ve been lacking fresh ideas in the last few months; you’ve probably given up on me!
The John Lewis advert I think is delightful – it is simple in its message on one level but on another reminds us of the power of the imagination: the boy projects onto his toy penguin a real emotion, thus making the toy penguin live as a real penguin. What the unreal/real penguin desires is companionship – a very real need. However fantastical the advert is, its deeper meaning is universal. And, when the penguin gets this companionship, his other friend – the boy – is as happy as he is. Happiness gives happiness.
One hopes that the peace he couldn’t find in this world (which let’s face it offers no peace) has now been found following his death. As President Obama and many others have said – he knew every human emotion and this allowed him to be exposed to his own suffering. He gave all and was also wholly generous in how he listened to others.
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” – John Keating (Robin Williams), Dead Poets Society (1989)
The last line has a haunting resonance with me personally – these deeper emotions that we ‘stay alive’ for are often the ones that, in the end, take us away in searching for them. Losing Robin Williams is like losing someone who understands those on the edge – the person who wears the mask to conceal the truth. There are very few like him who don’t pass judgement, or who understand.
Richard Armitage, currently playing John Proctor in The Crucible at London’s Olc Vic theatre, says he approaches John from the inside. He says he is not a character who can be ‘put on’ from the outside. The fact that he draws from within himself is displayed for all to see on stage. It is a raw and honest portrayal of a man exposed for all the wrong reasons; John Proctor is a beacon of truth in a society ravaged by its own paranoia and eaten up by its abuse of religion.
It is fitting that Armitage is so willing and able to act this part from the inside, as the play’s subject matter is that of a society being attacked from its inner core; the values it thinks it lives by are the very values which are responsible for its destruction.
As with all Arthur Miller’s plays, we should learn from this.
I’m not saying anything new when I say that this year’s Eurovision winner won for more than a song (if people do win for their songs). It was a win for anyone who feels that they cannot be who they are – Conchita not only is who she is but stands up and sings about it. She has been interviewed many times since winning, and she talks about a difficult childhood – as usual, those who are seen as different are sidelined, or worse, bullied.
Her song ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ is about identity – she has also said since winning, that she is her own truth, which is as close as you can get to living authentically and being truly who you are. It’s ironic in one sense that there is still a stigma against people who want to do this – and have the guts to do it. You can be punished in this world for being truthful – be dishonest about who you are and this is preferred!
In Greek Mythology, the phoenix is a powerful symbol of rebirth and regeneration – it is also associated with Early Christianity for the same meanings. It can also mean the ‘exceptional man’. All of these apply to Conchita Wurst and as one person said, she not only provokes questions about identity, but she also provides the answers to them, all within herself. She won for the quality and power of her singing voice but also because thankfully, we saw that what she represented is not something so very foreign to all of us, that we all have a voice and with that an identity, and we should look to her to know that it is possible to be ourselves. Eurovision this year was meaningful.
I don’t always have material to write about so don’t like to write unless I’ve something new and meaningful to share; thankfully I’ve got something for this month’s post. I recently spent some time in Genoa Italy – which I found enchanting, beautiful, but with a shade of sadness within the town and its streets. I can’t put my finger on it, but some kind of ache for feelings and people past, got into my skin. It is also a place where time can stand still if you let it even though at times it is a fast place with people rushing about. But head out into the restaurants, coffee shops, the harbour with its views if you climb high enough, and the coast, and you are transported to a different time and level.
My fascination is with a statue in the rock at Monterossa, on the Cinque Terre (meaning Five Lands):
Bombs and harsh seas have reduced the giant man, ‘Il Gigante’ to an armless, over-powering figure keeping watch over the sea. He is Neptune, built in 1910. It was designed and built by Arrigo Minerbi, a Jewish Italian sculptor who had works in several cathedrals. In 1937 he was forced into hiding due to his Jewish ancestry. The statue is far from timid and shows its strength in its ruin – it is a ruin yes but its beauty is in its decay – it retains its watchful and perceptive eye on humanity. Is he holding up the world, and suffering as a result?
As I write this I can’t help but think of this figure as the ‘Ecce Homo’ – ‘Behold/Here is the man’ – which is especially poignant at Easter. The figure is not a personal one but nor is it removed from us. It is a human and we can identify with this. It is solid, yet at times, probably crumbling. Like our fragile world, and its people.
I was also interested in the writing on the walls in the streets in Genoa – in its alleyways mainly. Again there are links with my feelings for the giant – the words in the photo below mean ‘we are dead to the dead’ and ‘we have lost our meaning/centre’. Powerful and worrying words. If this is the case, this is tragic. Have we? What meaning do we have in our lives?
I leave you with the image of The Man; weak and strong at the same time, like us all, and always vulnerable.
There was a common thread to this year’s Oscars – many of the speeches paid tribute to the REAL characters they played. This is one of the reasons I tune into these Award Ceremonies because the drama they represent is the real life of other people.
Leto, whose performance was a revelation in Dallas Buyer’s Club, said: ‘And this is for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to Aids and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.’
The sadness of Leto’s character is that his character is most moved in the film when other people show him some humanity – and when those once against you become your closest supporters and recognise that you are not so different from them:
Twelve Years A Slave paid tribute to those on whom the story was based. McQueen reiterated his words from the BAFTA’s (see previous post)
and Lupita Nyong’o reminded the audience that her character was as real as she is: ‘It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s, and so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey, for her guidance.’
There is no other forum other than that of film and theatre which shows us so well the injustices of life. Yes these awards are also the glamorous side of acting that many of us won’t relate to but at their heart they showcase not only talent, but humankind, in its greatness but also its great injustice of the past, and in many cases, still today.