I only found out recently that the first movie my parents saw together many years ago was Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
They told me this not long after I’d been to see the new biopic, Hitchcock, starring Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins, at FACT in Liverpool.
So, who knows, perhaps these several shots of seagulls taken weeks later, might have been influenced in a subliminal way by the master’s classic movie. The Birds? There was certainly something menacing about them.
I was actually sitting in my car eating fish and chips when I spotted them all just a few feet ahead of me. That view is the North Sea at a brilliant seaside town called Saltburn. Weather was reasonably promising here. That wasn’t always to be the case as the shot below shows. More seagulls, you’ll notice.
Here’s one more shot of them – just for luck – this time, from down on the beach.
Spotted high up on the windows of one of the large stores in Liverpool One – the city’s main shopping area – this image struck me as being quite chic and reminiscent of the late Audrey Hepburn. Or was it Marilyn Monroe?
This is Falkner Square, Liverpool, as a beautiful Spring day turns to a dusky haze. The large building in the distance is Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. John Lennon was living just round the corner in Falkner Street when The Beatles first topped the charts back in 1962-1963. These days the area is popular as a film set for television programmes and movies, too.
Ballet film, right? First those opening shots; it’s got be be set in Paris surely. It could be the Metro she’s riding I suppose. But no, it’s the New York Subway. Mystery solved. The rest of the movie is nowhere near as easy to fathom though. And all the better for it.
On the surface at least, this is about one young woman’s rigid ambition to succeed as a prima ballerina. Yet like any swan gently gliding along, there are often powerful forces churning away beneath the surface of the movie, driving altogether more sinister and disturbing motives. Nina, the innocent ballerina selected to be the Swan Queen, is most obviously prone to the dangerously deranged and obsessive influence of her mad mentor of a mother, played by Barbara Hershey.
Played with a chilling intensity, we watch Nina’s mother teetering on the verge of a sort of brittle madness. Nowhere does the insanity reveal itself more clearly than in the call sign MOM appearing with terrible regularity on Nina’s cellphone. By the end of the movie, however, you have to wonder whether that insanity had been contagious, with Nina falling cruel victim to it’s clutches. Just as in The Sixth Sense, it’s only then that you reflect on what you’ve seen and wonder whether it was indeed reality or the visions of a disturbed soul. You’re left with the distinct impression that Nina has a sharper focus as she spins and spins in the dance than she does in trying to retain a grip on her senses in the daily round of her life preparing for the opening night of Swan Lake.
Natalie Portman’s transformation within the role of Nina is mesmerising, no more so than in the closing sequences, and her Academy Award is well deserved. I probably won’t be rushing off to the ballet after watching this movie, but I’ll certainly make time to watch this over again sometime. Only sorry I didn’t see it on the big screen when it was first released.
Everybody said I should watch ‘ Pirates of the Caribbean’, not least because Johnny Depp had created another iconic character in Captain Jack Sparrow. With hours to spare before boarding a flight home from Miami to London, I managed to pick a copy up on dvd at a local Target store, only to discover that what I’d bought back then was not compatible with UK dvd players. So as the British Airways 747 soared over the glittering Miami suburbs and skyline and out across the Atlantic shoreline, this was the closest I was going to get to the Caribbean for now.
The movie owes a large debt to ‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1883, well over a century before Johnny Depp first perused the script for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. Perhaps also to earlier film versions of ‘Treasure Island’, such as the 1950 Walt Disney version with Robert Newton as Long John Silver. Apart from the action on the high seas, the book uses the ‘Admiral Benbow’ Inn as the setting for much of the opening section. I used to drink in a pub in Bristol years ago called ‘The Llandoger Trow’ and it’s reputed that Stevenson based the ‘Admiral Benbow’ on it. This is it below.
Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ was to become a classic read for many generations of boys in England and across the old British Empire and beyond. It had it all, really; a ‘cast’ of idiosyncratic characters; good versus the not so good; plenty of adventure and a meandering narrative threading it’s way around the seven seas. Before today’s multiple distractions appeared, books like ‘Treasure Island’ were a window to worlds well beyond the everyday and allowed the imagination free rein.
I recently found a copy of ‘Redwall’ by Liverpool author, the late Brian Jacques. This tale of the courage of a community of mice against the wicked threat of Cluny the Scourge, is set in an imaginary land not a million miles removed from Tolkein’s Middle Earth. And it wasn’t too long before J K Rowling went on to create the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter. In case you’re interested, by the way, here’s a link to the Redwall website; http://www.redwallabbey.com/
Even though I only skirted the edge of the Caribbean for a while down in Key West, I’ve been fortunate to travel quite widely. But until those opportunities present themselves, it’s great writing such as the above that has the power to nurture and sustain children’s imaginations.
I’ll be sure to write a future post about that well known man of letters and denizen of Key West, Ernest Hemingway. Here’s his home at 907 Whitehead Street. I was lucky and got to stay in a guest house right opposite!