Westcountry Paradiso

One of the drawbacks to blog writing (I am sorry, I cannot bring myself to use the verb “to blog” in any conjugation) is that along with the weekly scrabble around for “content” (another ugly word, apologies) and the fact that I now regularly clog-up your Facebook and Twitter feeds with rushed and probably overly-effete pleas for you to read all this nonsense (although it is not as if your social media feeds are a thing of beauty that I am despoiling; if they are anything like mine they’ll be a collage of babies, drunks and aphorisms lifted from greetings cards and then “liked” the hell out of as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls – which don’t have a FB page, I checked) but it does give me another excuse to be forever online. The WordPress “Stats” page is another utterly brilliant way of using time that would be better spent having sex, or saving the world or contemplating cheese. Or even writing. It gives you all sorts of exciting statistical breakdowns (and I am sure there’s a joke about the AA to be made there but I can’t think of it) about who exactly is visiting your blog, what they are reading and where they live. It also lists search engine terms by which people have found your blog. Today someone banged this, not unreasonable question, into Google:

“anywhere in Gillingham to get my tongue pierced”.

Aside from some quite terrible mental images conjured by this phrase, one can only imagine their disappointment to be confronted by, well, this.  I am sorry. I’ve never actually been to Gillingham (with a hard G in Dorset) or Gillingham (with a soft G in Kent) let alone know the intimacies of their darkened alleys in order to point you towards Eugene’s Pierceorama or suchlike. When I was a boy the man who ran the corner shop at the end of our road was called Mr Pierce, although as far as I am aware he sold only milk and sweets in those tall glass jars from the 1930s, I don’t think he would have given you a Prince Albert. (Don’t do a Google image search for that phrase, just DON’T).

All of which is utterly unconnected with what I am intending to witter on about in the overly-numerous subsequent paragraphs. Actually, that is now not entirely true, given the memory of Mr Pierce that snuck in to the paragraph above. Mr Pierce is a character from my distant childhood in Devon. If you are reading this in America then Devon is very much the Manhattan of the country you call England. Yes indeed, Devon is just like Manhattan. Only sexier and with more murders. That is if your boat is floated by cross-dressing Young Farmers and you count the  slaughter of cattle in the murder statistics. We lived in a very large village, a village so large that it is now actually officially a town. I lived at Number 12 and Jimmy lived at Number 18. This is true, although it does seem unlikely. Now is not the time to share the many “Jimmy when he was a boy” stories (of which there are many) suffice to say his sartorial elegance started VERY young; one remembers particularly his knitted Thomas the Tank Engine jumper, which had “James” on the front and “Hay” on the back. It was that season’s must-have item and is surely due a renaissance.

This particular story takes place in our then village which is now a town and it is one that I’d forgotten altogether until clicking through a few videos on Youtube the other day. I’d read a review of the most recent film (see? this IS a film blog) by Guiseppe Tornatore (it is called “La migliore offerta” and is apparently not very good, although I haven’t seen it so this may be nonsense) and the journalist inevitably referenced Tornatore’s most famous, most successful film “Cinema Paradiso”. As I have mentioned before Cinema Paradiso was a film that you used say that you loved in order to impress a certain type of bookish-but-still-pretty girl. It was a cipher for literate sensitivity. Oh yes, you’d say overly-loudly, I just adored Cinema Paradiso . . . it is like so moving and like really well shot and like everything like that and do you fancy a drink or maybe a snog? And the girls who were pretending not to listen but actually were would think wow, this guy likes foreign films, and not only that, foreign films about childhood and memory and the transformative power of art . . . gosh, I really, really want to walk right over there and snog his spotty face right off. Except that didn’t happen. Ever. At least never to me or none of my similarly pretentious friends who tried the same trick. Anyway, even now I am still very fond of that film (and hopefully now for more genuine reasons) and the final sequence in which (deep breath) the main character who had been a boy for most of the film, splices together and then projects all the kisses that had been cut from the films that he watched in the cinema in which he formed a sort of friendship with an old man who worked there as a projectionist (and exhale) remains a moment of magic (and yes I know that was a terrible sentence). Here is the scene in an illegal Youtube video version:

It is a beautiful moment. What do pretentious people say? A “hymn” to the power of cinema. Well it is clearly not a hymn as it does not involve people standing in a church and loudly celebrating in organ-driven song form all things bright and beautiful, but it certainly delivers a moment of sentimental, slightly saccharine, but still irresistibly lovely charm. It is a genuine celebration of the moving image.

Now, it was only when watching this moment again the other day that I remembered that we had a Devon equivalent. I had to check with my sister that I hadn’t imagined it but she assures me that it is at least largely true. There was a chap in our village who ran what he called “Film Shows” in the hall of our junior school at the weekend. How frequently they occurred I have no idea but it has to be more than once for me to remember all these years later. I even remember the chap’s name, although I won’t repeat it here. These “Film Shows” involved stuffing the local children into the hall, selling them cheap crisps (my sister remembers the crisps particularly) and then showing them bits of relatively old films hacked together. You’d get maybe a whole “Tom and Jerry” or “Roadrunner” cartoon just to ease you in and then you’d get six minutes of Star Wars (one of the boring early scenes on Tatooine, never the cool bit at the end with the X-Wings and the Death Star) and then five minutes from “Herbie Goes Bananas” and then just as Herbie was about to drive into a lake the film would smash-cut into sequence from what I now think must have been (after much Googling) Disney’s “The Black Hole”. For a film I have never seen since (not that I saw much  of it then) I remember this sequence very clearly: children are in space, somehow, and they are running away from huge orange fireballs; they keep running and the flaming balls keep tumbling. It is quite thrilling. At least it was to the eight-year-old me. I remember thinking that the fireballs looked like giant balls of marmalade which suggests that, even then, I dedicated too much brain capacity to thinking about food.

This may have been my earliest experience of projected cinema. (Although I do remember that my godfather took me to see Return of the Jedi at the cinema but I think we left before it started because I got scared; a common occurrence in my early years – LIKE YOU CARE. Apologies, you really don’t need to know all this). It prefigured by many, many years the private montage that many people insist on curating for themselves as they sit at the television or the laptop and watch no more than ninety seconds of anything before jump-cutting to the next, increasingly deadening stimulus and in many ways, ways of nostalgia and romance, this was our own version Cinema Paradiso in South Devon, one with crisps and a small, pasty Westcountryman instead of a immaculately-suited, weeping Italian.

There is probably a blog post to be written about the top ten montages in film (it must have already been done, I am not even going to check) but for me the word immediately takes to me Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s unmatchable “Team America: World Police”.

And now oh-so-overly-contrived link is out of the way I must inevitably spend a few moments talking about Parker and Stone’s “new” project “The Book of Mormon” which I had the utter pleasure to see in London this week. (I know it’s not a film but I can’t NOT write about it) I really don’t want this to slide towards smug twattishness as I show off that I have seen what’s going to be THE SHOW in London this year but I must, must mention it. Thanks to the brilliance of my composer friend Andy and the fact the he knows one of the cast members, myself, Andy and Rupert had tickets for one of the preview performances of The Book of Mormon last Wednesday. I’d read a lot about the show and given Stone and Parker’s track record, I had expected to like it but I’d really no idea that I would leave the theatre thinking that I had seen a masterpiece.

But that’s what I did. Because it is that good. It is the kind of show that afterwards makes you just want to rush up to strangers, grab them by the shoulders and beg them to buy a ticket. You want all of humanity to go. Even those who would be offended by the miraculous swearing, ESPECIALLY those. You want to seek out others who’ve seen it and just sit next to them, hold their hand, and not need to say anything because THEY UNDERSTAND. They’ve been there. They know.

I have never seen a show so gloriously funny, so incisive in its satire, so completely tight as a piece of musical theatre that over two hours disappears in a moment. And did I say it was funny? That does not even come close to describing it.

See I am becoming all smug and twatty so I will stop. But please go. PLEASE go. Even if you have to wait two years until you can get a ticket. PLEASE GO. It not so much rips up the musical theatre rule book but  . . . . . (and you can finish your own version of that cliche – but if you are true to the show, ensure that it involves shit and hell).

Here’s a clip from one of the songs performed at the Tony Awards. And all the stuff about Mormonism; that’s true.

“A warlord who shoots people in the face; what’s so scary about that?” 

And that’s not even close to the best moment in the show. Five days later I am still smiling.

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