Review of Dunkirk

On leaving the cinema, I felt moved and a little seasick after 2 hours in Nolan’s stylishly be-washed version of the Dunkirk evacuation. Looking back, however, I do think he missed quite a few tricks. More sea and sky than man and action. And the dialogue? Sparse, garbled and inaudible. Tom Hardy’s aviator goggles will probably get the Oscar for looking up…Then down…Then up… Perplexed yet calm.

Branagh and Rylance get their teeth stuck in, no question, but the screenplay doesn’t give them so much as a tin of spam to chew on. Lank grey scenes lap the repetitive sinking-ship action, as each new batch of grey extras topple off the decks. One or two figures form a bond and are distinguished from the crowd with a few close ups, but we’re given little to latch on to.

The rich tapestry of Dunkirk stories that could have populated the shores of both France and Britain, are not here – The tales within and behind the queues for boats, the tales of heroism from the civilian seamen from other side, are carried solely in Mark Rylance’s father-son skiff team, splashes of colour in desperate need of background.

The scale of the recovery feat, termed ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk’, the sheer number of men and the relatively small number of tiny boats that ferried them all back, (over 300,000 men in only 700 brave boats, back and forth, in just over a week) did not come across, visually or mentally.

It would be interesting to ask the veteran rescuers if they think Nolan did the scale of their efforts justice. Perhaps they weren’t the focus he was after. But, of all the lenses he could have put over Dunkirk, it seems to me he chose a very obvious one and lost the chance to distinguish Dunkirk from other war films.

What was unique about Dunkirk and why it is now known as ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk’ was that it demonstrated human capacity for hope and fearless altruism, en masse, collectively.  Not the old story, tired and tested in every war film – man saves men.  This one could have been different – hundreds of ordinary people of various ages and both sexes, getting up and going, against all odds, for the greater good, at the last minute, together. Rylance’s civilian voice was good but it could never be broad enough to hold all that water. Nolan needed to scale up the message. It would have been a timely one.

Further reading

That said – Nolan’s Dunkirk has done a good job in whetting my appetite for Dunkirk, or at least what ended up in the editing room floor.

‘Dunkirk, the History behind the motion picture’

‘The Little Ships of Dunkirk’

‘The Little Ships’ (tale for your little ones not lucky enough to be able to sit on great-grand-parents’ knees,  told from a girl’s perspective)

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Thoughts on Health and Artificial Intelligence

If it hadn’t been for a trip to the optician, I’d be, as my cockney gran and the Good Funeral Guide used to say, ‘pushing up daisies’. My sight had started to go, and it turned out that a tumour was eating into my optic nerves…

My life-saving optician pointed out:

‘Your eyes aren’t just the mirrors to your soul, they tell you how healthy the rest of your body is and, when you get ill, they do too.’

The only thing worse than going blind (I lost 70% of my vision before I had corrective surgery, and that was bad enough!) is going blind and knowing that it could have been avoided:

Eighty percent of blindness worldwide is preventable if detected and treated early (WHO).

Most people see blindness as one of life’s unavoidable poker hands, not realizing that regular screening can safeguard two of our most precious tools and that, if you’ve got a condition that affects your hormones, like diabetes (world’s top cause of blindness) you need to be extra vigilant..

The good news is that, with the help of a little Artificial Intelligence, we can now see previously undetectable/easy to miss pathologies in the eyes of say, diabetes sufferers or undiagnosed glaucoma patients. IBM Watson AI, famous for chess and Jeopardy triumphs, has begun to use its loaf to solve some of the most complex diabetes and glaucoma screening conundrums.

I was lucky enough to participate on winning team at the latest IBM & Ogilvy Hackathon. Our project involved the diagnosis of pre-diabetes. I hadn’t heard of pre-diabetes, let alone realised that one in three of us are at risk.

Doughnuts

I hadn’t realised that, if that one in three of us carry on with an unhealthy lifestyle, stress levels and being that wee bit overweight, we’re more likely to get diabetes, but that we can actually avoid it, quite easily, by making a few habit and mind-set changes..

It now occurs to me that whatever we can do to avoid diabetes, is also helping us protect our vision. All the more incentive for us all to look away from that Krispy crème for 2 mins and take the Know Your Risk survey

 

Read more

IBM & Ogilvy Hackathon site and Twitter

IBM Watson and spotting diabetes and glaucoma

WHO blindness data

Ads without borders

For 5 days last month, #MarchForGiants reminded at least 25,000 of us about the plight of elephants.

A 2,500 strong digital herd, created by brands and people, marched across billboards around the world, from Hong Kong to London and New York via Birmingham and Manchester.

It linked outdoor ads globally. No campaign has ever done this before. It’s the start of the outdoor web, the web jumping into our periphery vision, connecting us when we are out and about, above and beyond our pocketed phones..

During their digital trek, adult elephants wore corporate sponsors’ logos, while their babies sported the name and chosen colour of people who’d donated a £5/$6. Brands and people shared ‘their’ elephants on websites or social networks.

Elephant march

You might say that the elephants were just 2,500 corporate/personal brand vehicles, that  impact weighed against need was minimal. But let’s not be cynical. It’s a win win. Brands and, increasingly, people, like free/cheap exposure, elephants like marching.

I hope this new form of connected, user-generated outdoor ad, will see the ethical slant as part and parcel of it’s success. With all the water, food and fuel ‘elephants in the room’ just about to blow their trumps, this kind of a borderless approach to communication and action is what’s called for, urgently.

More about the march.

See how and why we should make More Space for Giants .

One a side note, I was inspired to draw some elephants and sell the prints to support the their cause.

Elephants etsy

King Lear: Glenda V Anthony

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And so out they come and stand in the spotlights to two rounds of standing ovations. I stand up to put my coat on and leave, no one will miss my feeble claps amid the din of whoop whoops.

What have I missed? Why does Glenda and her stellar crew leave me numb? There was nothing in this production that was any better, to me, than any of the productions I’ve ever seen. There was much that was was unnecessary at best; at worst, a smutty distraction from the glory of the text.

But this audience and no doubt the packed house watching tonight, lapped up every drop of mostly dreary, conveyor-belt delivery, washed down with large glasses of “shocking” nudity, loud “atmospheric” music and stark lighting that, from a purely practical perspective, made long tracks of the best scenes, however loudly throttled out,  almost  inaudible, let alone moving.

The best thing about it was the digital display overhanging the stage, telling us what act and scene we were on. I found myself looking at it more and more with that sinking feeling you get when the next bus isn’t for another 25 minutes, finding myself hoping there’d been a tech hitch and the final scene was already “due”.

In contrast, the Barbican’s Anthony Sher-led production was the triumph that critics should hail as one of the best  since John Hurt and Timothy West,and,  I’d say, better. But for Anthony and co, there was no standing ovation.

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Why? Because it was a great tragedy. We should all be highly suspicious of any tragic play that leaves you with enough energy to get up afterwards, let alone smile, clap and chat to your neighbor about how good it all was, not least Glenda.

Sher and his troop, through 5 acts and almost 3 hours , truly suspended my disbelief. Not for a half line did I look up to see if the scene’s ticking was digitally indicated overhead. Not for a second did I think I am here watching a load of celeb actors reciting Shakespeare like it needed their help, another language peppered with the odd ‘top ten  catchphrases of all time”.

No, unlike Deborah Warner’s Old Vic production, Gregory Doran’s Barbican show was life, on stage, and we were on it too, with the actors, just as Shakespeare intended. Every line had its own intrinsic timeless resonance, which was then expanded, sometimes creating new and unusual contexts, sometimes merely amplifying well-known interpretations, always keeping us hooked.

The bad characters were not all bad, the good characters were not all good, there was nuance. All parts had their nuances and got subtle treatment, whereas it seemed at the Old Vic that all the characters dangled off Glenda’s Lear like annoyingly obnoxious puppets she had grown bored of or lost the skill to move. To Warner’s credit, perhaps that was the point?

The props and scenery at the Barbican worked to evoke a sense of the play’s contexts, amplifying subtly, never clumsily varnished on for ‘effect’, always using and trusting the weight of voice and text. I won’t say how or carry on with any comparisons. Anyone who sees it should come at it fresh. You’ll leave utterly drained yet uplifted.

The Barbican’s production was the best I’ve ever seen, the Old Vic’s one of the worst. But that’s just me and most may disagree, I’d just say, ignore the media hype around Glenda and take advantage of the fact Sher’s reigns on at the Barbican until 23rd December 

Is a home without chess complete?

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I had just moved in. I had made a list. It was a shopping list for the flat. I had already got the essentials. The list was decadent. It came to me like a poem, a mixture of the ephemeral and the sublime. It came to me out of nowhere, a combination of inner and outer brain we use when daydreaming. As far as I can remember – this is it:

Lemon tree, Toaster, Grater, Chess set, Tea strainer, Colander, Cuckoo clock, Hot water bottle, Candle (fig/frankincense) with 3 wicks

I didn’t even know how to play chess, really, beyond knowing that pawns are at the bottom of the food chain and that, confusingly, some call Rooks Castles and others call Castles Rooks…And yet, ‘chess set’ had crept onto my list like a canny knight, sneaking between two smug bishops..

My boyfriend came round the next day. He gave me a package he’d wrapped in brown paper, for surprise. It wasn’t my birthday and  the house-warming box had already been ticked twice with a spice rack and knife block. “What was it?” I asked as I unwrapped it under his calm silence “How did you know a chess set was on my list?”, “I didn’t” He said “Do you play?”

And so we played every Sunday, for 4 or 5 weeks, until he got bored of winning and I of losing. One Sunday we silently agreed to let the pieces rest in their box. It’s now over 2 years they’ve spent in the dark.

Neither of us really wanted a chess set but we both somehow needed it.  During chess, we mapped something outside ourselves and yet part of ourselves and entwined our maps and followed the tracks the other had made, both deliberate and unintended.

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Through these 4 or 5 short games I feel some foundation  was constructed in my mind and his that has acted like a bridge between us ever since.

I think all mates should at some point have tried check mating each other. And I mean mate in both senses: friend and spouse. The board is a microcosm of the universe, the way you behave on it mirrors what you do off it, inside and out.

It’s not a question of who wins or loses, but how and why they won or lost and what they were willing or not willing to risk and do along the way.  And how they felt afterwards, immediately and long after the event.

Off the board, without squares and pieces to orchestrate reality, truths are less visible and opportunities cannot be traced mathematically. In chess, the future is tangible and multiple, perhaps the closest we will ever get to getting reality out of maths and in front of our own eyes.

You cannot be in any other time or place but now and here if you want to stay in the game. To play chess with someone is to share the present moment with them, as you see it, to communicate a truth, in all its danger, safety and  possibility, without speaking. It’s like being an animal again, back in Eden, just the problem of life to be solved, all thoughts shared through actions, not words.

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Watching the film, Queen of Katwe has reminded me that, although my set is likely to gather more dust, the lessons of those first few games will stay with me forever.

I’d recommend the film as the best I’ve seen all year. Chess it seems is a teacher fit for a Queen and the film does it justice, whilst teasing your tear-ducts, right up to the final move. The crowd in the Stratford Picture house didn’t stand up, but we did feel compelled to clap, who cares if no one in Stratford, let alone Katwe, could hear us? We felt good, we felt better and we needed to show our gratitude to something, and it wasn’t the glowing fire exit or the digital projector. Was it the god of Chess we were applauding? Hallelujah!!!

I haven’t said much about the film because I can’t say it better. Everyone should see it. Everyone must. Also everyone should play chess at least once and play it with someone they need to know better, to find and expose yet unfound weaknesses and possibilities, both in their opponents and in themselves.

queenofkatwe.com

 

Venice has a mask for every face

In 60 years sea levels will have crept 8 more inches up the Doge’s already stumpy columns. In 60 years, I, on the verge of death, hope to take my zimmer for one last ride up San Marco’s bell-tower lift and survey Venice’s mysterious, sinking glory.

There is nothing wrong with Venice. The stalls teeming with tack only set in relief the sheer beauty of this cunning floating city, scene to so much stinking tilted wonder.

It’s impossible to get lost in Venice. Every track, if you ignore ambiguous signs to the Rialto and San Marco, leads to some new, somehow intended, discovery: a part of Venice meant just for you, at that particular moment.

Lions  lead the way.  Immortalized in stone and bronze, they look down regally from the balconies or, guarding doors, gaze up watchfully. I feel intrusive, cruel and a little scared, as I push one of the many brass doorbells that is also a lion’s tongue.

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Having witnessed so much for so long, at such intimately close quarters, Venice and its lions have become somehow animate and wise. Whatever your mood, you feel it is sensed by more than the Venetian authorities’ liberal peppering of CCTV. The ancient canal-veined piazzas are like crafty Venetians, canny as they are charming – they play your mood up or down to suit their whim. You find that one piazza offers sweet antidotes, another plies irresistible corruption, the next lays you bare and leaves you pitifully exposed. And they swing from mood to mood. Today Santo Stefano is expansive, Campo Bandiera e Moro is vacant, San Marco is indecisive.  Tomorrow, the opposite may be true, depending on the light, the fog, your mood and theirs.

This is, I suppose, how we project our thoughts onto our environment at home, but Venice is a city of mirrors and the reflections are clearer, never quite what you expected. No two people or objects ever share the same view.

One day it will all be buried under the sea, like Atlantis.  Maybe a dozen lucky lions will be rescued and revived and speak of their masters.  Men who tricked geology and the waves for 3 millennia. Tricks of bricks and glass-flutes and chandelier-like masks, all continuously and elaborately confessed beside Tintorettos and Titians under precariously high belfries, with here and there a freshly minted icon, for luck and good measure.

I feel privileged to have seen Venice in all its weary decadence, before it puts on the final death mask. A place of constant magic. However old and jaded, it never tells the same story twice. Mother of the Commedia dell’ Arte, it too, is an unscripted drama. The light and sound and smell is forever switching, bringing out something new or secreted, in both itself and its audience. One moment it’s thick and clogging and fools you into thinking you can predict it; the next, it’s free and crisp and glistens anew with a brilliance that strikes fresh awe.

How I hope, beyond hope, that Venice somehow manages to carry on its magic tricks, recklessly ignoring the inevitable swell, facing sea, silt and pestilential swarms of selfie-sticks with its myriad of shimmering masks, grimacing and grinning into eternity!

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Where to eat

Dinner/Lunch

Osteria “Al Covo” (interesting twists on traditional favourites – all locally sourced as part of the Italian slow food movement. Known for it’s amazing biodynamic wine list

http://ristorantealcovo.com/   Tel: +39.041.5223812 Castello 3968 Venezia

TAVERNA DEL CAMPIELLO REMER (Venetian classics and nice live jazz music in an old cellar)

SESTIERE CANNAREGIO 5701 Venezia

Osteria “Il Paradiso Perduto” (nice place for lunch – don’t be put off by the multiple translations of the menu for tourists, home-made parpadelle is top notch)

Cannaregio, Fondamenta della Misericordia, 2540 – 30100 Venezia

Gelato:

I’ve tried a lot and this was definitely the best (pistachio actually tastes of pistachio and not just green food-colouring) and in a nice, off the beaten track square, :

Gelateria del Doge  (http://gelateriaildoge.com) Dorsoduro 3058/A, Rio Terà Canal, 30123 Venezia

 

What makes a portrait great?  

Photographs capture a moment in time.  In exchange for the depth and truth of this one moment, photographs risk loosing the whole truth of all the other moments that have brought it to the viewer.

Saint-Exupéry, in  The Little Prince,  says ‘What is essential is not seen’.  A great portrait can be entirely abstract or ‘warts and all’; the final goal should never be  to get a visual likeness, but to take us to unseen dimensions, beyond the skin.

A bad portrait  can be replaced by a photograph. A great portrait layers experience over appearance, to conjure up something that’s part of time and yet beyond it.

Many of the portraits in this year’s exhibition pointed towards this extra dimension.

The National Portrait Gallery’s 2016 BP Portrait Award runs until September

 

Recommended reading

‘Diversion’ by Charlie Masson, oil on board, shown above

The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry

The origin of the phrase ‘warts and all