Monday, 16 September 2013

The Lone Ranger

Panned by many critics, I decided to see this film for myself. Fond memories of the stirring William Tell Overture from the 1950's American TV series, repeated throughout my childhood on British television, drew me into the cinema.

I found an adventure film that was clunky in places but pretty entertaining overall, in a Pirates of the Carribean sort of way (after all, it was directed by Gore Verbinski). In other words, a film destined for repeat TV broadcasts on Boxing Day afternoons for semi-desperate families in search of distraction. And given the reputed $150 million loss on the film that the studio is said to be facing, there would need to be plenty of repeats.

Johnny Depp plays Tonto. With grey and black facepaint rather than Jack Sparrow eyeliner, he is a wily Commanche with a raven on his head and the witty narrator of the story. What unfolds is a myth of origin in which John Reid, a somewhat inept Texas lawyer, becomes transformed into the Lone Ranger after an ambush by outlaws that almost kills him. In the same ambush, his brother, a Texas Ranger, and five deputies are killed. Tonto rescues this gravely wounded tenderfoot and helps him to become the the legendary defender of justice who will right the wrongs perpetrated by the lawless on the frontier.

The film stays faithful to the original features of the Lone Ranger story, played out over 3000 American radio shows in the 1930's and 1940's, but at the same time cutely sends them up. This creates a tension which at times is funny and at others is rather grating.

Furthermore, the wrongs that the Lone Ranger now has to right have become much greater and include: gangster capitalism, the extermination of Native-Americans and the subversion of the military. This makes the film overlong and somewhat indigestible in places.

Yet there is great cinematography, the frontier West has rarely looked more starkly beautiful, and some dramatic action sequences. Overall I'd give it three stars.

Switch on Rossini and pass the Christmas cake. High-ho Silver, away!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Writers Group and Seamus Heaney

A workshop group for writers was begun in Belfast by Philip Hobsbaum in 1962. It was based at Queen's University and attracted young writers such as Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Stewart Parker, Bernard MacLaverty and Seamus Heaney.  

The writers group met weekly to share and discuss work in progress. In the early days, it also hosted an annual dinner and writing competition, as the pictures below show, with young Heaney and Longley to the fore. In 1966 Philip Hobsbaum left Belfast for Glasgow and Seamus Heaney became chair of the group.

This writers group has continued to meet ever since. Its membership list would almost read as a veritable roll-call of writers in Northern Ireland of the past 50 years. For example, the group has included Paul Muldoon, Medbh McGuckian, Ciaran Carson and Sinead Morrissey, to mention but a few of the many writers that have brought drafts of their work for fellow writers to read and comment on.

This is a very important and developmental process for any writer. I have been part of the writers group for the past 12 years and in that time the group has been led by Colin Teevan, Daragh Carville, Sinead Morrissey, Ian Sansom and Ciaran Carson who have helped a new generation of writers to come to the fore.

The writers group is holding its own tribute to Seamus Heaney on Weds 11 September. Please bring one poem of his to read that has a special meaning to you. We meet as usual in the Heaney Centre of Queen's University from 4-6 pm. All are welcome.