Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Three items with increasingly tenuous links to Victorians

First, 2009 is the 150th anniversary of Big Ben – the bell inside the clock tower of the what tourists call the Houses of Parliament. The official Big Ben website has a neat Flash wossname showing how the clock works, plus a wealth of info and images. I’m particularly pleased with HJ Brewer’s perspective view of the old Palace of Westminster in the reign of Henry VIII.

Secondly, you’ve five days left to hear the Radio 3’s Sunday night feature, “Vril”. Says the BBC's own website:
“Matthew Sweet finds out about Vril, the infinitely powerful energy source of the species of superhumans which featured in Victorian author and politician Edward Bulwer Lytton's pioneering science fiction novel The Coming Race (1871). Although it was completely fictional, many people were desperate to believe it really existed and had the power to transform their lives. With a visit to Knebworth House, Lytton's vast, grandiloquent Gothic mansion, where Matthew meets Lytton's great-great-great-grandson, and hears how his book was meant to be a warning about technology, soulless materialism and utopian dreams. At London's Royal Albert Hall, he discovers how a doctor, Herbert Tibbits, along with a handful of aristocrats, tried to promote the notion of electrical cures and the possibility of a 'coming race'. Along the way, Matthew and his contributors consider why so many English people have been so desperate to see the fantasy of regeneration transformed into fact.”
Thirdly, last night the Dr and I attended a special screening of Slumdog Millionaire, followed by a Q and A with director Danny Boyle.

A lowly “chai wallah” in Mumbai makes it to the last round of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The police can’t believe he’s not cheating, so attach electrodes and smack him about. Slowly they unfold his story…

It’s a great, on-the-whole feel-good film, probably Boyle’s best since Trainspotting. In fact, it’s full of the same chases, frenetic editing, wild mix of comedy and horror, and even a bit that’s quite like the “worst toilet in Scotland”. It’s fast and noisy and vivid, buzzing with wild, desperate life.

Jamal’s brother and the use of local talent (plus Dev Patel from Skins) reminded me of Children of God, but screenwriter Simon Beaufoy says its “Dickensian”. I can kind of see that, with the comedy and tragedy as pressed together as the very rich and very poor. It made me think of Charles Booth’s 1891 poverty map of London – which I only saw last week. There are issues of urban development, social mobility and education that might spring from Victorian novels or pamphlets. Yet Dickens made much more memorable wrong ‘uns – there’s no Skimpole, Micawber or Dombey here, just a motley crew of hoods.

The questioners – uniquely, in my experience – didn’t ask for advice for budding film-makers but instead challenged Boyle on the morality, truth and disregard for the horizon in his films. Some who knew India expressed amazement at his getting past red tape and state interference (he said they allowed the film to show police torturing a suspect so long as it involved no one of higher rank than inspector).

He talked about the complex moral quagmire of casting people from the real slums: does he take them and their families to the Oscars? And he explained that, with Disney and Sony already producing their first films in Hindi, we’re going to see much more erosion of the line between Bolly- and Hollywood.

Afterwards, we went for a pizza and shared a bottle of wine and a Banoffi pie. The Banoffi pie was, of course, first invented by Nigel McKenzie for the Hungry Monk restaurant, Jevington, in 1972. No, I can’t think of a way to link this last bit to the Victorians.


Le Mc said...

Oh, thanks for the heads up on Vril. I meant to listen to it and forgot all about it! Matthew Sweet, my hero!

Le Mc said...

Okay, had a listen. Very interesting. I always wondered where the world "bovril" had come from. Has Matthew never done yoga or breath exercises for strengthening the diaphragm? Either of those sound similar to the breath boosting the historians tried near the end.