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Black Jack [DVD] [1979]
Black Jack [DVD] [1979]
Dvd ~ Jean Franval
Price: £6.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A great book destroyed, 11 Oct. 2015
This review is from: Black Jack [DVD] [1979] (DVD)
If you like Ken Loach, you'll probably enjoy this, and you have my sympathy. If you like Leon Garfield, on the other hand, you'll almost certainly regard it as a tragically missed opportunity.
Garfield's book is a brutal, intensely human and completely absorbing novel of cruelty, love, madness and redemption with all the power of Dickens but without Dickens' sentimentality, one of those books which can genuinely be described as unputdownable. What are often misdescribed as children's stories are filled with drama, erudition, wisdom and emotional and moral complexities lacking in many a novel for so-called adults. I cannot find words to praise him enough. Loach's film admittedly cannot hope to match Black Jack's scope, its sweep and scale - transposing the action from bustling London to smaller, more affordable Yorkshire - and it's perhaps unsurprising that the narratorial voice which plays such a powerful role in the book (Garfield is the best describer of London life I've ever read, from any period, bar none) can't be reproduced other than by a stilted voiceover setting the scene at the start, something which in any other film would be explained through direction, acting and dialogue: but therein lies the problem with those three key elements. They aren't there - and as the song says, you don't know what you've got till it's gone. To create a sort of faux-documentary viewpoint the camera views the action, what there is of it, at such a distance that the viewer remains completely remote and unengaged. Dramatic incidents from the book are reproduced as distant tableaux happening somewhere over there; the idea of a close-up or a two-shot seems anathema. Thus essential passages of dialogue drift vaguely out in empty rooms, swallowed up in their own echoes, or are drowned out by birdsong. Moments of intense passion and danger - a fight between two boys in which one produces a knife with murderous intent: the committal of an innocent girl to a madhouse by her father - are lifeless, stagey and lacking in any human emotion (not assisted by the fact that the acting is generally, and one presumes deliberately, of a community centre panto standard, though without the laughs). Perhaps we are witnessing some sort of experiment in Brechtian alienation; if so, it seems a pity Loach couldn't find a more disposable book to practise his theories on. As someone with experience of historical re-enactment (and little of it pleasant), many key scenes reminded me painfully of well-meaning amateurs plonked down in hired finery in English Heritage houses lamely impersonating key figures from history for the benefit of uncomprehending tourists.
The central figure, Black Jack himself, in Garfield's story a gigantic multiple murder who deserves his nickname ten times over - and whose redemption through witnessing Belle and Tolly's love is the central theme of the book - becomes an unfortunate French sailor (why French, as if his mumbled, ambiently recorded dialogue wasn't incomprehensible enough already? Perhaps Jean Franval was the largest actor - if he was an actor - available in the York area at the time) sentenced to hang for a merely accidental killing, who radiates not a palpable sense of evil but a vague air of not quite knowing what's going to happen next. The children are the stars of Black Jack, insofar as such a dogmatically demotic production might be permitted to have stars, but even they never made me believe I was doing anything other than watching actors performing, if you can call it that, for the camera in a story they didn't really understand or sympathise with.
My great fear is that people may watch this film, one of relatively few works by the prolific Leon Garfield to have made it to the screen (which I've never understood, especially having seen the Harry Potter films) and assume its faults are his. I can only advise - no, urge - them to go away and read some of his books, and learn (which they emphatically will not from this film) what a wonderful story in the hands of a great artist is really capable of achieving.


Rotosound Silver Wound Violin Economy Set
Rotosound Silver Wound Violin Economy Set
Price: £6.95

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Chopped-off old-stock guitar strings sold as something they aren't, 25 Mar. 2015
Utter rubbish. I've been playing violin for 20 years and I've never, ever seen strings that didn't have coloured silk windings on the ends. These are roundwound and completely plain; I genuinely believe they're old guitar strings chopped off short. The tension is all wrong and they sound dreadful: scratchy and with hopeless intonation. It's almost impossible to play in tune on them. Avoid at all costs. You can get Astreas for less than this which are actual violin strings; dirt cheap, but a hundred times better than these. You have to play these to realise how awful they are, and by then of course it's too late.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2016 6:18 AM GMT


Songs of the Spanish Civil War
Songs of the Spanish Civil War
Offered by Disco100
Price: £18.68

1.0 out of 5 stars It shall not pass, 30 Sept. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
These might once have been recognisable as songs of the Spanish Civil War but have undergone a hideous transformation into toneless avant-garde screeching in which any hint of a tune or lyrics is practically undetectable. Embarrassingly, I bought this as a present for a student of the period thinking the title was an accurate description of the contents and had never actually heard it until Amazon sent me a free download, which after 35 seconds went straight in the recycling bin. I had to ring the recipient to apologise. Awful almost beyond words: the reference won't mean much to most people these days, but Henry Reed's "Hilda Tablet" is the pithiest evocation I can summon up.


The Small Hand: A Ghost Story (The Susan Hill Collection)
The Small Hand: A Ghost Story (The Susan Hill Collection)
by Susan Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ladies and gentlemen, a small hand for Susan Hill, 15 Feb. 2013
If there is any supernatural mystery about The Small Hand (the only reason I didn't guess the ending was because I'd long since given up caring what happened in the end, and made it to the final page only from grim determination to justify the 40p library fine incurred for keeping it so long while I struggled through it) it's how Susan Hill managed to stretch what ought more properly to have been a 20-page short story, probably written in the 1930s by an inept imitator of Algernon Blackwood, into a novella. Almost every supposedly significant plot point - the journey to France in search of a First Folio, the appearance of the old lady at the deserted house, the 'spectral' photograph - is actually completely superfluous (though they do fill up the pages, don't they?): yet when something worth mentioning does happen, such as the narrator actually seeing the ghostly child, the absence of detail for such a supposedly pivotal experience is almost laughable, were it not for the choking sense of disappointment that the author of The Woman In Black is now churning out this sort of overwrought, pretentious potboiler. I can cope with the complete absence of any sense of fear; that might almost be novel and intriguing if the story possessed the slightest suspense or drama, but every twist announces its presence a mile off and none of the characters is drawn with sufficient detail or accuracy to make them sympathetic or even vaguely human. Written to an appropriate length, and by someone you've never heard of, it might just about have merited inclusion in one of that seemingly endless series of Pan Books of Ghost Stories that came out in the Seventies and Eighties, usually with a lurid picture of a skeleton in evening dress on the cover; as it is, eight times as long as it should be and by a writer with Susan Hill's pedigree, it's embarrassing, frankly.


Suffering from Cheerfulness: Poems and Parodies from "The Wipers Times"
Suffering from Cheerfulness: Poems and Parodies from "The Wipers Times"
by Malcolm Brown
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How the Upper Sixth thrashed the Kaiser, 7 April 2012
Despite the blurb and the name of Ian Hislop prominent on the cover, don't expect a barrel of laughs: not because there was nothing to raise a smile in the trenches, but largely because the Wipers Times, and its various alter egos as the front shifted about, clearly suffered from a dearth of genuinely humorous material, as the editor's frequent pleas for copy make clear. I heartily endorsed his request - evidently ignored - for less poetry; with the exception of a couple of clever pieces by Gilbert Frankau and a heartbreakingly human and brilliant poem by an unnamed medical officer in which the shell-torn poplars lining the roads of Flanders stand as metaphors for the broken bodies he tends, there is a hell of a lot of mawkish and "comic" doggerel which even the original readers must have struggled to enjoy, especially at a franc a copy. Understandably, there are a lot of in-jokes, which might have been amusing had the compiler of this collection bothered to explain the obscure military acronyms on which the witticism hinges: no such luck. The bits which made me laugh out loud, and there weren't many, sad to say, had no connection with the war at all; those perennial favourites, the spoof adverts, in some cases clearly inspired by nothing more than a rummage through the selection of blocks acquired with a salvaged printing press - two bulls (brothers, no less), representing bitterly rivalrous brands of beef essence: bundles of some commodity being offered at a bargain price because the vendor doesn't know whether they're cigars or asparagus. What stays with me from this book, however, is the overwhelming impression it gives that the British Army of 1914-18 consisted almost entirely of people with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and above. There is almost no mention of the rank and file in these pages and, while the old sweats who enthusiastically marched towards the sound of the guns of August probably weren't remarkable for their literary talent, the conscripts who all too soon were dragged in from all walks of life to sort out the mess the regulars had made of it might well have furnished ample copy of the sort the editor required, had he not directed his requests exclusively at the officer class. The Wipers Times' version of the war is largely one of agreeable drinking parties in each others' dugouts, with whisky and wine in quantities the PBI could only dream of; frequent home leave; flirtations with bewitching local mam'selles; and a hatred of socialism and pacifism almost as intense as that directed towards the beastly Hun. Wilfred Owen said the poetry of war was in the pity. The Wipers Times, and those who wrote and read it, clearly had a bit too much of the former and not enough of the latter.


Suffering from Cheerfulness. The Best Bits from The Wipers Times
Suffering from Cheerfulness. The Best Bits from The Wipers Times
by Ian Hislop
Edition: Paperback

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How the Upper Sixth thrashed the Kaiser, 13 Jan. 2012
Despite the blurb and the name of Ian Hislop prominent on the cover, don't expect a barrel of laughs: not because there was nothing to raise a smile in the trenches, but largely because the Wipers Times, and its various alter egos as the front shifted about, clearly suffered from a dearth of genuinely humorous material, as the editor's frequent pleas for copy make clear. I heartily endorsed his request - evidently ignored - for less poetry; with the exception of a couple of clever pieces by Gilbert Frankau and a heartbreakingly human and brilliant poem by an unnamed medical officer in which the shell-torn poplars lining the roads of Flanders stand as metaphors for the broken bodies he tends, there is a hell of a lot of mawkish and "comic" doggerel which even the original readers must have struggled to enjoy, especially at a franc a copy. Understandably, there are a lot of in-jokes, which might have been amusing had the compiler of this collection bothered to explain the obscure military acronyms on which the witticism hinges: no such luck. The bits which made me laugh out loud, and there weren't many, sad to say, had no connection with the war at all; those perennial favourites, the spoof adverts, in some cases clearly inspired by nothing more than a rummage through the selection of blocks acquired with a salvaged printing press - two bulls (brothers, no less), representing bitterly rivalrous brands of beef essence: bundles of some commodity being offered at a bargain price because the vendor doesn't know whether they're cigars or asparagus. What stays with me from this book, however, is the overwhelming impression it gives that the British Army of 1914-18 consisted almost entirely of people with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and above. There is almost no mention of the rank and file in these pages and, while the old sweats who enthusiastically marched towards the sound of the guns of August probably weren't remarkable for their literary talent, the conscripts who all too soon were dragged in from all walks of life to sort out the mess the regulars had made of it might well have furnished ample copy of the sort the editor required, had he not directed his requests exclusively at the officer class. The Wipers Times' version of the war is largely one of agreeable drinking parties in each others' dugouts, with whisky and wine in quantities the PBI could only dream of; frequent home leave; flirtations with bewitching local mam'selles; and a hatred of socialism and pacifism almost as intense as that directed towards the beastly Hun. Wilfred Owen said the poetry of war was in the pity. The Wipers Times, and those who wrote and read it, clearly had a bit too much of the former and not enough of the latter.


Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature
Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature
by Richard Mabey
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A ripping read, but evidently not aimed at the expert, 4 Aug. 2011
I didn't particularly expect to enjoy this book - my father-in-law, who's a keen gardener, absolutely hated it, which was the main reason I picked up his copy: to see if it was quite as bad as he said it was - and to my surprise found it completely fascinating. That may, however, be because though I have a garden, I wouldn't describe myself as a gardener, so the mistakes spotted by other reviewers went straight over my head. I do happen to know a bit about the Civil War, though, and though Mabey may perhaps be excused for thinking, perhaps due to his title, that the Earl of Essex was a Royalist commander, when in fact he was a Parliamentarian, which makes the anecdote in which he appears fairly meaningless, a decent editor or proofreader really ought to have picked it up. That was the most obvious non-horticultural solecism, so the comments elsewhere about accuracy are probably pretty close to the mark. I can well understand, therefore, that an expert would find this book infuriating, but as a layman it had me gripped. Whether saying that a book's appeal is to to the ignorant really counts as a recommendation, I'm not sure, but as a gardening dunce I'd give it a hearty 9 out of 10.


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