Thursday 12 November 2009

Antique Clock (Flash Fiction)

I thought I'd try to lighten the mood after my last post, and dig out one of my old flash fictions that I particularly like. Enjoy.

Antique Clock

The minute hand crept slowly around the elegant clock face, caressing the curlicues and spirals that embraced the numbers. It inched closer to midnight, pulling itself through the darkness with calm, firm strokes. The dependable sound of ticking filled the room, and it comforted him. As long as he could hear that deep, solid ticking, he knew that life continued outside.

Sitting in his armchair in the small house at the end of the world, Father Time prodded the burning coals in the fireplace. As the glowing embers crackled and popped, he fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Wednesday 11 November 2009


I don't really wish to make this blog overly personal, or political, but sometimes I'm overcome by a need to write something that isn't related to films, or art, or books. As a writer, I absorb influence from everything around me, and my writing is as much a reflection of me as anything else. Besides, today isn't about me, it's about remembrance. 11 November marks Armistice Day, and I want to take some time out from waffling about films or wittering on about my NaNoWriMo effort to remember, not just those who lost their lives in the cold mud of northern Europe, but for those who continue to lose their lives in pointless conflict around the world today.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Dulce et Decorum Est was written by Wilfred Owen, a soldier who fought in the First World War, writing poetry in the trenches. He was killed in action just a week before the war ended. The Latin title comes from a poem written by Horace;

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo.

"How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country:
Death pursues the man who flees,
spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs
Of battle-shy youths."

We should remember them. Today, we will.

The image at the top is my own photo; I came across the grave in Brompton Cemetery and found it incredibly poignant.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Just why I love Pixar

I may have a fascination for zombies, a lifelong passion for Die Hard, and undying respect for Ripley, but in my heart of hearts, I simply adore Pixar. I've seen all of their films at the cinema, with the exception of The Incredibles, and the release of a new Pixar film fills me with the kind of childish glee normally associated with Christmas Day morning.

So it was with a lot of excitement that I saw Up last week. It's not their best film ever, and I couldn't put it in the same category as Cars or Monsters, Inc., but it's still a cracking good yarn, and just proves that Pixar are slowly moving into slightly more grown-up territory, managing to tackle such themes as miscarriage and being widowed in a short introductory session that manages to communicate such themes without being preachy, or spelling anything out.

Why can other filmmakers not manage this? So often I watch a film, or read a book, and feel like I'm being spoon-fed the plot, as if the director or writer feels I'm too moronic to get what's going on. Dan Brown is guilty of this on an epic scale with The Da Vinci Code, and Chris Colombus over-egged the pudding to such a stupid degree in Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone that it almost ruined an otherwise enjoyable film. Yet Pixar avoid this trap. Personally, I think it's because they simply enjoy telling stories, and they trust that their viewers can detect and understand the visual clues that tell the story, without having to brow-beat anyone into epiphany.

The trend towards CG films has exploded ever since Toy Story came out in 1995, with varying degrees of success. The first two Shrek films were interesting and enjoyable ventures from Dreamworks, but then they also foisted the godawful Shark Tale upon us. Such a preachy, horrible film carried the core message that you should always be happy with your station in life, and never strive to better yourself because if you do, you'll fail. What kind of ideal is that to be pushing onto people? Yet among all the dross, Pixar have always shone as an example of decent filmmaking. Some of their efforts haven't quite connected as well as others (e.g. A Bug's Life, Ratatouille), but even their 'poor' films are strides ahead of the best films released by their competitors.

I think their success is due in part to their attention to detail. Fur moves like fur, water behaves like water, objects appear to have true weight - all a testament to their partnership with Disney. Old Walt used to send his artists to draw from life, so even if the animals or birds were cartoons, they still had a level of verisimilitude that is unmatched today. Beyond that, they're happy to cast an actor based on how well they fit the role, not on their box office draw at the time of casting. If an A-lister happens to win the role, it's because they're the best person for the job. The characters thus become believeable, and not simply star vehicles.

Pixar love their craft, and it shines through in the finished film. They tell a story for the pure joy of telling a story - they leave the money-making aspect of the business to Disney. You can go into the cinema feeling burdened by the weight of the world, and come out feeling lighter, as though maybe this crazy lil thing called life isn't so bad after all. And in this day and age, that's no bad thing.