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cathy earnshaw (Berlin, Germany)

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Fame
Fame
by Tom Payne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.00

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rambling..., 20 Sept. 2009
This review is from: Fame (Hardcover)
I can only second the other reviewer's impatience with this book.

Across 278 pages, classicist Tom Payne litters examples of celebrities and rather tenuously links them with the events and traditions from the Bronze Age and classical literature. Frustratingly a coherent argument isn't developed (as far as I can see) and the reader is often left adrift by sudden changes of direction and emphasis. Take for example this: Having related how Mitch Winehouse believed that a boycott of his daughter's music would "send a message" to Amy, Payne's switches his commentary to Roman times without a clear logical bridge: "It's not such an original idea. In Rome, when an emperor died, he either became a god or else was given the memory punishment, the damnatio memoriae...". There follow tasteless comparisons of the execution of Saddam Hussein with the eviction of Jackiey Budden from Celebrity Big Brother as well as some quite embarrassing attempts to get down amongst the kids (e.g. when imitating American hip-hop speech or when he suggests that another word for aubergine - eggplant - isn't really English because the Americans and Australasians use it).

Payne is - as the British media once was - fond of quoting Jade Goody. But it is ultimately Goody who proves to be the clearer commentator on the second reality that the entertainment press and wider media create in these celebrity-saturated times:

"Orlando Bloom was sitting there in a black jumper...he smiled at me...I found myself stood in the queue with Kate Moss. She started chatting to me, asking how my boys were and stuff. I couldn't believe it - it was like I was in a parallel universe."


The People's Music: Selected Journalism
The People's Music: Selected Journalism
by Ian MacDonald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contains MacDonald's fascinating essay on Nick Drake, 18 Sept. 2009
Ian MacDonald (1948-2003) was a British music critic who wrote for NME, Mojo and Uncut and is the author of Revolution in the Head, a much-loved account of the music of The Beatles. I came across his writing through an essay he wrote for Mojo magazine on Nick Drake. A great admirer of his music and interested in the things that might have moved the man, I found the two biographies on Drake - by Patrick Humphries (1997) and Trevor Dann (2006) - frustrating and partly annoying: both are sloppily written, both offer superficial accounts of the music and Dann is guilty of claiming to have found "evidence of child abuse" in Drake's lyrics (any literary critic - especially those working on Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf - could have told him how much of a risky business that is).

'Exiled from Heaven', MacDonald's essay on Drake found at the end of this collection, deftly works against the romantic myth of him as an "otherworldly sage" by pinpointing the understated irony in his lyrics and tonal delivery (e.g. Poor Boy, Pink Moon) and demonstrating how Drake was more of an observer and less of a victim than many assume. In contrast to Humphries and Dann, MacDonald is very cautious about drawing conclusions about the man from his music ("There is no reliable link between Drake's work and anything we know, or think we know, about his states of mind"). Cutting through lazy mythologisation of him as a loner adrift in a sea of endless sorrow, MacDonald's analysis is much more sober and even-handed: "The unfashionable probability is that Drake was *different*...a reflective mind endowed with unusual perceptions." Although clearly a Drake fan (MacDonald even had the privilege of hearing him play whilst briefly at Cambridge), he doesn't fall into the slippery trap of blind adoration and concedes that Drake's lyrics can sometimes be "vague, awkward, even gauche".

MacDonald shows how Drake consistently deployed a series of symbols and codes in his music, almost all of which were rooted in nature - seasons, trees, rain, the stars, the sun - and how his songs were possibly influenced by Buddhism and the work of William Blake (who Drake apparently thought was "the only good English poet"). For all fans of Nick's music who want to delve deeper, this is essential reading.

This collection of essays also includes shorter pieces on Jimi Hendrix, Laura Nyro, Bob Marley, Lennon and McCartney, and Randy Newman as well as an interesting critical analysis of Bob Dylan.


Touching From a Distance
Touching From a Distance
by Deborah Curtis
Edition: Paperback

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "If somebody kills themselves, they have the last word." - Deborah Curtis, 14 Sept. 2009
Next year will see the 30th anniversary of the death of Joy Division's lead singer, Ian Curtis (1956-1980). Such were the forces of heroisation after his suicide in May 1980 that NME took to exclaiming "Ian Curtis died for you!". In this book by his widow, Deborah Curtis - who had initiated divorce proceedings prior to his death - doesn't go quite as far as that, but she does claim that his suicide at 23 was motivated by a desire for lasting cultural relevance: "All he needed was the excuse to follow his idols into immortality and being part of Joy Division gave him the tools to build the heart-rending reasons."

Thankfully that kind of mythologisation - which obscures his achievement, reducing it to a symptom of his illnesses, and suppresses other factors that played a role in his early demise - is tempered by a generally down-to-earth narrative of their married life. After they met as teenagers, Deborah became besotted and devotional, willing to give up everything to cater to Curtis's every whim: "Without me realising it, he began to take control of my life very early on in our relationship." When she heard Ian's lyrics and occasionally saw him perform on stage, she - along with his bandmates and management - downplayed the darkness and fatalism that emanated from him: "I felt self-satisfied and happy in my ignorance. I believed the depressive image and emotive lyrics merely to be part of the act." With the benefit of hindsight, his bandmates have since admitted that they were young and immature and didn't recognise the signs of Curtis's distress and the toll that mounting responsibilities - a wife, a baby daughter, the sudden rise to fame and notoriety, a UK and European tour, the stress of interviews - were taking. His epilepsy and fear of fits only increased the strain with Deborah apparently viewing it as an "abnormality" and doctors prescribing excessive medication and poorly monitoring his treatment.

Deborah seems almost blithe about the ascent of the black dog in Curtis's life - "Perhaps I wasn't giving Ian the attention he required at home. Who knows?" - and indeed much of her commentary on him tends towards the superficial. But it is precisely that which gives us insight into Curtis's environment: Surrounded by diverse sources of pressure without anyone truly understanding the precariousness of his mental state and not being able to communicate it more clearly to those around him, Curtis's decision to kill himself seems more of an extremely desperate attempt to escape a situation that had become intolerable and is likely to have been more spontaneous than the romantic mythology of the doomed artist allows.

In his obituary in Melody Maker Jon Savage lamented that "Now no one will remember what his work with Joy Division was like when he was alive; it will be perceived as tragic rather than courageous." Fans of Curtis will no doubt hope that through the semi-fog of biopics, biographies and memoirs, his achievement can be remembered and celebrated.


Nick Drake: The Biography
Nick Drake: The Biography
by Patrick Humphries
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The silent man who had a lot to say, 8 Sept. 2009
There are many ironies in the Nick Drake 'story', some sad and some funny. The greatest irony is that his posthumous fame was secured by the use of his music - much of which represents a rejection of the material world and a dedication to the experiences of emotion, the senses and imagination - in a Volkswagen commercial. Another irony is that Melody Maker famously brushed Drake's music off in the early 1970s as "coffee'n'chat music" and his songs are now, almost forty years later following a phenomenal rise to fame, played in Starbucks across the globe (as John Cale has recently complained in jest). Predictably, increased interest in Drake's music has been accompanied by widespread romanticisation of him as irrevocably bleak and humourless, but - a further irony - his lyrics can be surprisingly funny (e.g."You'll find sheds are nicer than you thought" in Man in A Shed), his relaxed laughter can be heard on Family Tree when he forgets the words to a song, and his band in school was called, with typical adolescent humour, The Perfumed Gardeners.

One final irony was that someone as verbose and fond of purple prose as Patrick Humphries seems to be, became the first biographer of a man who has a reputation for having been almost intractably silent in person and whose lyrics comprise sparse and unusually mature poetry. Bizarrely, his account of Drake's life begins (as others have noted) with a recap of the sinking of the Titanic and the funeral of Edward VII. Describing the arrival of a new year, Humphries' prose cannot resist a flourish: "The end of the first year of a new decade lay bitten and spat out, like an old cigar". Straining to describe the spirit of Drake's second album Bryter Layter, Humphries gets carried away: "The atmophere is dense, suggesting silver moons sailing on a raven-black sea, wind lightly ruffling the hair of the treetops..." (you start to understand why Zappa was fond of deriding music journalism).

Humphries is also surprisingly non-plussed about Drake's music in places. For example, he writes: "On their own merits, the songs of Nick Drake are not particularly strong". This seems like a very flippant claim in the light of the precocious maturity of his lyrics (most of which were written before Nick turned 24), his innovative open and loose tunings and his extraordinarily rhythmic finger-picking (I mean he first learnt to play the guitar in 1965 and was already sitting in Joe Boyd's office in 1967!). Humphries offers a shaky, contradictory analysis of Five Leaves Left: on one page he writes "the arrangements are a tad lash" and "the language is ornate, self-conscious even" (he can talk!) and on the next page tells us it is "a remarkable debut".

Readers could have also profited from more emotional engagement with his subject. While the many recollections of Drake's friends and acquaintances are undoubtedly interesting to read, there is little analysis that burrows into his inner life, musical objectives and lyrics. More often than not Humphries' account is tainted by regurgitating the mythologisation of Drake as an artist doomed from the start. We are left with many open questions, especially: How and why was it that with a deep-seated sense of helplessness seemingly ingrained in his psyche which hindered him in many areas of his life - helplessness on stage, in interviews, in social situations, this never-ending silence with which he is associated - Drake became such a precociously great and confident communicator through the medium of music?

Recommended>
* A Skin Too Few - documentary on Drake collected in the Fruit Tree box set, its release as a stand-alone DVD is also planned
* Ian MacDonald's essay 'Exiled from Heaven: The Unheard Message of Nick Drake' (collected in The People's Music in 2003, but also available online)
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2011 3:14 AM GMT


Maximum Nick Drake
Maximum Nick Drake
Price: £7.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy & clumsy, this audio biography is for completists only, 6 Sept. 2009
This review is from: Maximum Nick Drake (Audio CD)
Presumably keen to capitalise on the phenomenal rise in popularity that Nick Drake's music has experienced in recent years, this CD is - as it calls itself - the "first audio biography" of the precociously talented musician who died in 1974. Unauthorised by the Drake Estate and Island Records, it contains none of his music, reproducing instead only (part of) the bootleg recording of Nick talking of driving home on the wrong side of the road after a party.

Written by Keith Rodway and narrated by Sian Jones, key events in Drake's life and brief recording career are recalled over 51 minutes. But when Jones starts quoting the opening lines to a Philip Larkin poem - "They f!?$ you up your mum and dad / They may not mean to but they do" - and bubbily remarks "Sad to say, Nick Drake was to all intents and purposes f!?$ed up. But can the blame rest with his parents?", you sense that you are not in good hands. Other corkers include:

- Repeated reference is made to Drake being "a rock musician" (ridiculously, given the fragile, otherworldly spirit of his music).
- The myth of the troubled artist doomed to an early, self-destructive death is well fed here by comments such as "Perhaps he was trying to wake sleeping demons. He did not succeed" and "Nick knew where he wanted to go. Whether he knew where it would take him is another matter".
- It is advertised as providing "the full story with interviews", but the 'interviews' are comments quoted by Sian Jones (rather than said by Joe Boyd, Robert Kirby, etc.) and are of course already in the public domain.
- Anodyne, irrelevant comments such as "claiming that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol is not the same as saying that it is harmless" have not been edited out.

I could go on, but I think you get the gist!

If you're new to Nick Drake, I'd recommend reading either of the biographies published so far: Patrick Humphries's Nick Drake: The Biography or Trevor Dann's Darker Than the Deepest Sea (the latter is marred at the end by unfounded speculation on Drake having been abused as a child).

If you haven't read it already, I also heartily recommend checking out Ian MacDonald's erudite essay on Drake's legacy called 'Exiled from Heaven' (collected in The People's Music in 2003, but also found in an unedited version online).


King Of Cards
King Of Cards
Price: £8.59

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Potential gone astray, 5 Sept. 2009
This review is from: King Of Cards (Audio CD)
There was quite a lot of hype around Tom McRae when he first formally appeared on the music scene in 2000 and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. He always sounded like the sort of singer-songwriter whose music I might become attached to. The adjectives "angsty", "bitter" and "individual" swarmed around him in those days; the black shroudy cover of his eponymous album, on which McRae's face could only half be seen and whose eyes were concealed from view, seemed to promise something more reflective and emotionally nuanced than what the mainstream of things was offering.

But the contours and content of McRae's music seem clearer now, four albums down the line. His sophomore effort, which takes it title Just Like Blood from a poem by Simon Armitage (not a good sign, some might say), was released to lukewarm reviews and frustration amongst a few who, whilst glad to see him back, felt that he was attempting to hit it big by staying on the radio-friendly side of things. Then McRae left his girlfriend Rachael Yamagata who released an album detailing her heartbreak "to try and make him feel guilty about it" as she said; live, she openly trashed him. There were hopes that McRae would return the favour on his next album - All Maps Welcome which came out in 2005 - but it turned out to be a string of uncontroversial songs, which seemingly repressed the fact that any sort of break-up had occured. It was brushed off by The Guardian as "classy coffee-table music".

McRae's two key weaknesses as a songwriter were becoming more visible. As the clouds of hype dispersed, a lack of authentic emotional depth and specificity in his music remained, along with an over-reliance on common tropes (cards, rain, light, fire) which are barely developed. Take, for example, McRae's incessant references to rain in his songs. Using rain as a metaphor isn't in itself a bad thing - rain is, after all, a key word in the music of Nick Drake, a songwriter to whom McRae is often compared. In Drake's 'River Man', rain has the power to transform - since it leads to growth and change - but it is essentially tragic (as Ian MacDonald has argued) because it is a source of impermanence and suffering, grounding people in an unending cycle of seasons. In one single song Drake takes up and intertwines these branches of meaning, singing them with a lightness of touch that is somehow strong enough to carry his depth of meaning. By contrast, McRae simplifies the potential connotations of rain across his catalogue of songs, limply leaving it as a sign of supposedly intractable melancholy: "Still chasing the rain / Still chasing the rain / Here comes the rain" (Deliver Me), "It's Christmas Day, Brooklyn in the rain" (Got a Suitcase, Got Regrets), "Shelter me from this sky / Sao Paolo Rain" (Sao Paulo Rain). In case we weren't sure of the one-dimensionality of this symbolism, McRae tells us of it on 'Can't Find You': "Sometimes rain is just rain" (this song, which he has sung live for a while, is likely to be included on his next album).

In spite of all of this, McRae has remained popular live where a lot of the anecdotes he tells centre on his 'poor boy failure' to achieve the huge mainstream success he wanted ("The Sun accused me of selling out, how low can you go?"). When I saw him supporting Kathryn Williams in 2008, he sat alone in the bushes afterwards, seemingly keen to work on his reputation as a brooding lone wolf, a drifting troubadour with only a suitcase for company. Earlier fans of his music will be hoping, when his fifth album is released at the beginning of next year, for a return to form.

Better tracks: Got a Suitcase, Got Regrets; The Ballad of Amelia Earhart; Deliver Me


Nick Drake: Complete Guide to His Music
Nick Drake: Complete Guide to His Music
by Peter K. Hogan
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid, level-headed account of Drake's music, but it's not really "a complete guide", 3 Sept. 2009
The last two years have seen the appearance of two new books on Nick Drake and his music: Amanda Petrusich's Pink Moon which appeared as part of the 33 1/3 series in 2007 and Peter Hogan's Nick Drake: A Complete Guide to his Music in 2009. Petrusich's small, short book is fundamentally flawed and in desperate need of an editor: she gives far too much space to what advertising execs at Volkswagen have to say about the album (little of interest) and her own narcissistic wanderings. Hogan's book, which purportedly provides an analysis of Drake's entire recording legacy, is more serious-minded and even-handed.

Typical of Hogan's level-headed approach in this 105-page book is his summary of Drake's debut album: "There are many who think of Five Leaves Left as a sad record. It's certainly wistfully romantic [...]. But it would be unfair to call it adolescent, as some critics have done, since many of the songs here display a remarkable maturity". There follows a (literally) down-to-earth discussion of one of Drake's most popular songs 'River Man'. Hogan suggests - as Patrick Humphries did in his 1997 biography - that the river imagery might have more to do with the time Drake spent crossing over rivers in Cambridge (more banally, you could in fact go even further and argue that the title rhymes with the River Cam - the river which flows through the university town).

We also get a detailed list of artists and philosophers who might have influenced or been an inspiration to Drake, such as French authors Camus, Sartre and Baudelaire; the English poets William Blake and Wilfred Owen (author of the poem 'Strange Meeting'); and musicians John Coltrane, Zoot Money, and Graham Bond (whose suicide in May 1974 had depressed Nick). But Hogan can be moody when discussing how others have found references in Drake's songs which don't correlate with his own interpretations, particularly those relating to drug use: Of Trevor Dann's reading of the Hazey Jane songs, he writes, "If this is actually about heroin, I just can't see it").

That a track-by-track commentary is provided is a pleasure to see - so often Drake's music is overshadowed by discussion of his enigmatic character and premature death at 26. Yet certain songs deserve a more in-depth analysis than Hogan is prepared to give: the great 'Northern Sky' gets short shrift (a mere seven lines) and the instrumental 'Bryter Layter' is described as "sound[ing] like a TV theme", which seems somehow inappropriate in the light of Drake's disinterest in material possessions and the elegance of his instrumentals (the use of his songs in adverts and films is entirely a posthumous phenomenon). Another case in point is the demo version of 'Fly', which Hogan describes as "mildly interesting" and leaves it at that. Expressing criticism of Drake's music isn't a problem, but it's better when it's backed up with a more substantial explanation or reasoning, otherwise it comes across as excessively subjective and a little bit random.

But in spite of these gripes I'd still recommend this short book to Drake fans and neophytes alike.

Also recommended>
* Ian MacDonald's brilliant essay 'Exiled from Heaven: The Unheard Message of Nick Drake' collected in The People's Music (2003)
* Patrick Humphries' Nick Drake: The Biography (1997) and Trevor Dann's Darker Than the Deepest Sea (2005) - the two biographies
* "Nick Drake: A Skin Too Few" and Nick Drake - Under Review (2007) - two documentaries
* Family Tree CD (2007) - a CD including demos as well as a composition by his mother and a song sung by Drake and his sister


The Brian Epstein Story
The Brian Epstein Story
by Debbie Geller
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Coleman's biography is better, but this oral biography is worth a read, 1 Sept. 2009
The lovely Brian Samuel Epstein (1934-1967) - the charismatic, flamboyant, troubled and suave manager of The Beatles - would have been touched that, over forty years after his sudden death at the age of 32, people are still interested in him and the phenomenal success he experienced in his lifetime. Each year a steady trickle of devoted fans - who are usually also dedicated fans of The Beatles, too - make the pilgrimage to his grave in the Jewish Cemetery in the Fazakerley area of Liverpool (in unglamorous suroundings opposite a factory in the heart of a huge industrial estate).

Epstein was perhaps not only a victim of his own "incautious self-overdose" (as the coroner recorded at his inquest), but also of his time: The number of people dying from fatal accidents caused by overdoses of barbiturates - often mixed with alcohol - rose from 49 in England and Wales in 1945 to more than 800 in 1962 (according to The London Observer at the time). Part of the sadness of his death in the late summer of 1967 is that he did not live to experience the post-Stonewall era, during which it became possible to live out homosexuality more openly and with less danger or threat of recrimination.

Geller's book - which is actually a series of transcripts from interviews used in the BBC documentary of the same name which aired in 1998 - benefits from access to Epstein's unpublished diaries and correspondence. She has also interviewed Paul McCartney on Epstein ("There was no question in our minds that if we were to be managed by anyone it would be by Brian") as well as Lonnie Trimble, his home-help ("People couldn't really get close to Brian, because he didn't let them"), and the New York attorney Nat Weiss, Epstein's best friend (who is open about Epstein's dependency on uppers and downers). All of these commentators have interesting things to say about the man.

Further commentary is provided by, amongst others, Marianne Faithfull ("I flirted with Brian, but I like to flirt with people"), his assistant Joanne Petersen (at whom, in one of his temporary fits of temper, he threw a teapot), his chauffeur Bryan Barrett ("That's what he hated I think: the loneliness") and Beatles' producer Sir George Martin.

I think the two key aspects of Epstein's life that come out of this series of recollections are Epstein's private sadness and his caring, emotional character. Now that both Deborah Geller and Ray Coleman have died, it will be down to the next generation of Beatles addicts and Epstein enthusiasts to keep his spirit and memory alive.

Also recommended>
1. Ray Coleman, Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles (1989) - biography
2. Brian Epstein, A Cellarful of Noise (1964) - his autobiography
3. The Hours And Times (1991) - a film which gives a fictionalised account of the Lennon-Epstein holiday of 1963 in Spain


Nick Drake's 'Pink Moon' (33 1/3)
Nick Drake's 'Pink Moon' (33 1/3)
by Amanda Petrusich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Always interesting to read about Nick Drake, but this is sloppily written and half-baked, 1 Sept. 2009
Nick Drake (1948-1974) has a devoted following nowadays and, as so often in such cases, there are people who feel proprietorial about his music and feverishly protective of his reputation. Expectations run high when - it happens relatively rarely - a CD with new or remastered tracks comes out or, as is the case here, a new book is published.

In such situations it is all the more important for a new author wanting to publish on the subject to research well and report on their thoughts or findings with sensitivity and care. Being an admirer of Drake's brilliantly individual, poetic music and his ability to use a deep-seated sensitivity to creative ends, I always enjoy reading about him. However, this time that pleasure was tempered by five key gripes:

1) I consider myself a relatively patient reader who is willing to overlook turgid writing if a subject is interesting. But Petrusich really takes the biscuit with her sloppy, narcissistic prose: We don't need a three-page oratory on her trip to work and the enlightening fact that sometimes when listening to Pink Moon, she - I kid you not - "think[s] about maybe making a peanut butter sandwich". The album itself is described as "so perfect, it makes my teeth hurt, my face crumple, my toes curl" - a description that would be more at home in a gushy, prep-school magazine than here.

2) Petrusich endorses a rather lazy mythologisation of Drake as a brooding romantic. Having begun with an intimate recounting of his death at 26 - and why begin with the presumed suicide? Why can't we begin with the music, which is after all why we are here, reading about Nick Drake? - she imagines her Byronic hero "haunting the doorways of Far Leys, sad and wispy, maybe holding a candle, or a half-smoked joint, or a battered brown notebook...".

3) She regurgitates the much-quoted notion that Drake was "asexual" when there are other possibilities that could be exlored: The line from Northern Sky "come blow your horn on high" and the fact that his band in school was called The Perfumed Gardeners suggest in their sexual overtones that he did in fact have a sexual consciousness and curiosity.

4) The ethics of selling music to corporations for use in advertising is an interesting topic, but instead of really going into it, Petrusich gives over a third of the book (as others have noted) to an advertising exec at some pretentious automobile corporation who used the album's title track in a commercial in 2000. Without irony, she calls this "groundbreaking advertising" and faithfully records the advertising exec's inspiring and heartwarming words on the sales of Nick Drake's music ("It went from zero to a s!?$load").

5) Finally, Bert Jansch's name is misspelt repeatedly throughout the book (as "Burt"). Jansch is a well-known musician and in the age of the internet, where verification can be accessed in a nanosecond, it is almost inexcusable for such a mistake to have gone unnoticed and unchecked (this 118-page volume wasn't proofread, it seems).

Instead of this book, I'd recommend trying any of the following if you haven't already>
* Ian MacDonald's fascinating essay 'Exiled from Heaven' collected in The People's Music (2003)
* Patrick Humphries' Nick Drake: The Biography (1997) and Trevor Dann's Darker Than the Deepest Sea: The Search for Nick Drake (2005) - the two biographies
* 'A Skin Too Few' and 'Nick Drake: Under Review' - two documentaries on the man and his music
* Family Tree - CD including earlier songs as well as a composition by his mother and a song sung by Drake and his sister
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 16, 2012 2:15 PM BST


Two Lovers [DVD]
Two Lovers [DVD]
Dvd ~ Joaquin Phoenix
Offered by FREETIME
Price: £3.97

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great performance from Joaquin Phoenix makes for discomforting viewing, 31 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Two Lovers [DVD] (DVD)
Two Lovers (what a banal title by the way) is about a love triangle in which both females do not know of their "rival". So the film concentrates on Leonard's relationship with these two women and his emotional negotiation of the two poles of reality that they represent. There's been criticism that women such as the glamorous Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) and the kindhearted homebody Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) would not fall for a manic depressive like Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) who is apparently stuck in a state of arrested development, still living at home with his conservative Jewish parents. But that's rubbish: nowhere is the moth-to-the-flame and lamb-to-the-slaughter dynamic stronger than in the field of love. Both men and women - often irrespective of upbringing, age, intelligence, and background, but not emotional stability - can crash into the arms of people who seem and perhaps are wholly inappropriate. Not just a few tears but months and years can be wasted on dysfunctional attempts for the relationship to fulfil an ideal, a projection or a longing that it simply cannot fulfil.

And so it is with Leonard: Thanks to Phoenix's brilliantly instinctual portrayal, you really feel for Leonard when he fidgets with shame and insecurity as he's trying to impress and get close to Michelle. Her long glossy blonde locks, her partying, her encouragement of his creative pursuits and her own mysterious job (Leonard watches as she steps into a black, chauffeur-driven Mercedes): Michelle is a woman from another world, who represents escapism and freedom for Leonard from his dreary work in the family business, the claustrophobia of living with his parents and uncomfortable recognition of his own unfulfilled potential. Sandra offers him the opposite: comfort, security, reliability and a steady, stable love - all values that keep him inside the family dynamic in which he has grown up. Leonard's journey is an internal one: What are his values? What and who does he love? And to what extent is he prepared for a conflict to arise between his love for (or rather projection on) a woman and his role and feelings of responsibility within his family? In tune with his skittish, unsettled personality and psychological problems, Leonard experiences these questions on a deep emotional level.

Ultimately, this well acted and directed film is not about love itself, but rather psychological projection and the role our environment plays in choosing the ones we love - or the ones with whom we choose to settle down. If there are faults, I'd say that they are small ones:
- Michelle's father, who is never seen, is barely mentioned again after Leonard meets Michelle in the hallway, which seems dramatically unconvincing. It's a little too obvious that her father is used as a catalyst/dramatic device for her and Leonard to meet in the first place.
- It feels a bit unlikely that Leonard would be the son of such parents, although this may have to do with Phoenix being so famous that it takes an extra dose of imagination on the viewer's part to wrench him from his position in celebrity culture and re-position him in this role as son in this family environment (not a fault of his acting).
- James Gray speaks on the director's commentary about trying to reach a "poetic truth" by using thunder and wind as pathetic fallacy. These are stock tropes for conveying the idea of conflict and disruption (e.g. Emily Brontė's Wuthering Heights); it would have been interesting to explore new ways of demonstrating something unsettling without the usual sudden arrival of poor weather.
- I'd say Gray overdoes the glove symbolism at the end.

But this is compelling stuff, especially from Phoenix. (4.5 stars)

Also recommended>
* The Beautiful Person - directed by Christophe Honoré and starring Louis Garrel
* Anna M (DVD) - directed by Michel Spinosa and starring Isabelle Carre
* Gisela (DVD) - directed by Isabelle Stever and starring Carlo Ljubek
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 1, 2014 9:56 AM BST


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