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5 minutes: "Concrete" is so obviously code for "cocaine."

10 minutes: This kid actor is a bit much, they really need to get him off and put Ruth Wilson on.

15 minutes: Oh Christ not Andrew Scott.

22 minutes: Wait, he's actually talking about concrete.

27 minutes: These calls are coming pretty fast but I can't really see how they can maintain the tension. In Phonebooth at least a dude was shooting at Colin Farrell.

34 minutes: he's gonna have to crash or something to give this an actual endpoint.

40 minutes: Look at him chugging cough medicine. that's how it'll happen.


53 minutes: Scott's loyalty and ordinariness is really quite sweet.

62 minutes: has he been driving the speed limit this whole time????

65 minutes: there is literally no other substance on earth more appropriate to this man's personality than concrete. He's if like Mr Stevens out of Remains of the Day got to keep all of Sonny Wortzik's promises about taking care of everything.

70 minutes: I think....the dude...just has...a cold...

76 minutes: I'm just so happy about the way this thing with Scott and Hardy ended I want to die.

83 minutes: how is it possible that Tom Hardy listening to his kid's voicemail about a football game is the climax of the movie and it works.

Camerawork too floaty and dependent on reflections, fuzzy lights. Editing too excitable. But a marvel of structure and screenwriting and performance and what the DoP misses in lighting the world he makes up for in his subtle and non-subtle lighting of Hardy's face. The play between minor victories and major roadblocks is impressive and involving. Viewer expectations are managed perfectly. And it is so rare for stories to rely wholly on the tensions of decency and competence; for a plot to hinge on a person's personality and identity and not be a revenge or crusade flick. For that reason alone it's worth a look.
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We went west, camping. This was the second time. The first time we went east, down the Great Ocean Road, up into the highlands, out into the hay plains. We were in the middle of breaking up. She was very sad, and I was very remote.

This time was a couple of years later. We were back together. She was still sad; or sad again. Newly, desperately sad, starting after we'd made the plans. She didn't want to go. I drove us out of town with a decided optimism as firm-set and grasped-at as the road.

Our first night was in Port Augusta, only three and a half hours from home. We had forgotten how to raise a tent. There was no grass, just hard red rocky dirt. We argued, frustrated and feeling foolish, bending the tent pegs, groundsheet flapping. It was the windiest night in years, they said. The sky was black.

We had brought a laptop and paid extra for power, because not to have access to some of our rituals and routines of comfort would have been a dealbreaker, but in the end she didn't want to watch anything. The tent was rattling and it was cold. Her brain was too loud. She put her headphones on. It was still early. I thought that tomorrow she would ask to go home.

I put on Bill Cunningham New York with an optimism shading more into the desperate and foreboding. After a few minutes, she took off her headphones, and I started it again.

She likes gentle people. She likes people who endure, and smile, and be themselves, and have love to spare. People who care for others, who are creative in a way that doesn't register to her as pretentious. Anyone over the age of seventy-five melts her. She swooned for Bill Cunningham.

Bill Cunningham revolutionised celebrity photography and fashion photography, sharp and focussed as a laser when it came to capturing how the people of New York wore and lived their clothes. He was an eccentric who lived with eccentrics, if by eccentric you mean someone who does not follow the typical patterns and aesthetics of modern life. He had no partner. He was a mystery even to colleagues and friends who had known him for decades. He was small, and by the time of the documentary gaining a geriatric bend and weariness and medical regime, but he was still quick-witted and surprisingly agile when his photography called for it. He wore the same clothes every day. He rode his bicycle (make that bicycles: they had been stolen by the dozens) everywhere he needed to go. He had a boyhood and a past he didn't like to talk about. He didn't like to talk about himself, or even really his driving purpose in life. He wanted to hold the camera, and point it out, towards the thousands of people he saw daily, in the offices of the New York Times, in the ballroom parties and galas of the elite, in the crowds on the street.

In Bill Cunningham New York he is obviously uncomfortable being inside the frame instead of outside of it, except for those times when he forgets himself in his work, running out into the road to capture a pattern or shape or texture as it strolls past. But he smiles and jokes and puts up with the reversal, maintaining scepticism that he himself and his approach to his calling could be of interest, could speak as loudly about humanity as the photographs he took.

He thought himself boring, and he wasn't interested in boring people, people who wore the right clothes the right way, the most expensive dress. He was interested in people who were being themselves, who brought their personality to bear on their material lives, whose eyes could transform the ordinary, who appeared to show us that just being alive and being creatively yourself was the first and most fundamental step.

This was, of course, a quaint and terrifically endearing blind spot. We were both in love with him by the five-minute-mark, blown far away from the wind and the worry and the sadness. I've always been grateful to him for that. It turned out to be a good holiday.

Last month, we happened to watch the documentary Iris, about another New York fashion eccentric Iris Apfel, also up there in age. Bill appeared, inevitably, in this documentary too; and so afterwards we rewatched Bill Cunningham New York (realising at that point that Iris Apfel also featured in this film), and were gladdened and warmed by his quick quiet spirit all over again.

He passed away yesterday at the age of 87.

"Who will we dress for now?" ask the fashionistas and moguls of New York: being snapped by Bill at a party was never guaranteed or to be taken for granted, and to impress him was often the goal. He did not want to sit in the front rows of the fashion shows, preferring to hear the unguarded chatter of those relegated to the back. His days mostly were spent in the streets, looking for people, for art.

To have an eye that judges without being judgemental; to be gentle; to be honest; to be loyal; to be unimpressed by status; to work hard; to know truthfully one's own talent, and passion, and to pursue it with a firm hand but no overriding ego; to refuse money for money's sake; to be alive to the world; to have a sense of history; to value the unconventional; to know there is difficulty and sorrow and still search for beauty; to be generous with smiles and genuine with praise. In Bill Cunningham New York he seems to touch the lives of everyone in the city, just by being there to witness them. It's a sorrow to lose a person like that.

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Tolstoy on power, logic, and pathological self-belief, 100 years ago:

But, even though he was convinced that he had acted as he ought, he was left with some sort of unpleasant aftertaste, and, to stifle that feeling, he began thinking about something that always soothed him: what a great man he was.


Despite the fact that the plan of a slow movement into enemy territory by means of cutting down the forests and destroying provisions was the plan of Ermolov and Velyaminov, and the complete opposite of Nicholas's plan, according to which it was necessary to take over Shamil's residence at once and devastate that nest of robbers, and according to which the Dargo expedition of 1845 had been undertaken, at the cost of so many human lives -- despite that, Nicholas also ascribed to himself the plan of slow movement, the progressive cutting down of forests, and the destruction of provisions. It would seem that, in order to believe the plan of slow movement, the cutting down of forests and the destruction of provisions was his plan, it would be necessary to conceal the fact that he had precisely insisted on the completely opposite military undertaking of the year forty-five. But he did not conceal it and was proud of both his plan of the expedition of the year forty-five and of the plan of slow movement forward, despite the fact that these two plans obviously contradicted each other. The constant, obvious flattery, contrary to all evidence, of the people around him had brought him to the point that he no longer saw his contradictions, no longer conformed his actions and words to reality, logic, or even simple common sense, but was fully convinced that all his orders, however senseless unjust, and inconsistent with each other, became sensible, just, and consistent with each other only because he gave them.

Hadji Murat, 1912
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Captive Prince V3 came out last month -- long-awaited and very enjoyable and satisfying. Satisfying, however, in a significantly different manner to the first two books, and in a manner that pushes my buttons a little less. What I miss in it most is the sense, pervasive in the first two books, of an organising mind -- Laurent's mind, and the author's. Pacat was tremendously skillful in developing a narrator that is not so much unreliable as unknowledgeable. That would be the point of view character, Damen, who is plunged deep into the deadly political intrigue of a rival foreign country, and spends the first two books in desperate catch-up mode.

During those books it becomes apparent that initial antagonist Laurent's story is buried inside the tight perspective Damon's own story. It exists in observations that Damen or can't fully understand, or wilfully misunderstands; in events that colour past words or actions retrospectively; in surprises and slow puzzlings out of character deed and motivation. Every time Damen turns a corner on his understanding of Laurent and his environment, the foundations of our assumptions and prejudices crumble a little more, and we get a marginally clearer glimpse of the long game that Laurent is, and has always been, playing.

One of the cleverest things Pacat manages to do -- genius-level stuff -- is to run Damen's and the reader's levels of knowledge at different speeds. The reader -- cued by genre clues, mostly -- is running a few steps ahead of Damen at most points. And yet we still can only know what Damen knows, and seemingly inconsequential moments like the reveal of an earring as a disguise come as momentous, emotional, characterful shocks. Pacat manages that trickiest of things -- to have a Laurent's tremendous intelligence and competence actually feel like a living, realistic intelligence, organising the narrative behind the scenes without trickery or crutch, and she keeps it so, even on reread. This was, honestly, a revelatory pleasure for me.

By V3 most of the tension created by an unknowledgeable narrator has been settled: reader and Damen has much better handle on Laurent and the true antagonists. The reveals of V3 are correspondingly smaller and less undermining; it contains a narrative "cheat" POV switch; Laurent's interim plans reach fruition; romantic desire has been satisfied, although there is still a good level of tension; and, perhaps most crucially, the two major secrets that continue to underpin the emotional stakes are essentially resolved in the reader's mind, and are unavailable for the same kind of destabilising shock.

Laurent is still, of course, a genius, and legitimately reads so, but the third novel is organised around Damen's ascendency and power, and his is a much more straightforward, A-to-B, enduring kind of power, and the texture of the narrative follows accordingly. The plot(s) and characters remain twisty and complicated, but Damen is the one in the know now, and while it is immensely satisfying to see him and Laurent renegotiate their relationship and kick ass, that "uncharted territory" pleasure is missing, that feeling of you and Damen matching your wits against Pacat and Laurent both.

All three books are an incredible achievement, and Pacat is very generous about passing on some of the lessons she's learned. I've reread the first two several times and look forward to going over the third again to marvel at just how she does what she does. I've been thinking a lot about unreliable narrators lately, and the way she manipulates information, context and assumption just blows me away. Do check her out.


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