littlesmackerel

Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

Category: Comments on Concerts, Plays, Films, etc

Watershed: The Death of Dr Duncan

I admit that I can remember when, 50 years ago, a homosexual university lecturer drowned when thrown into the River Torrens. No one has been convicted of this crime. It was whispered that he was on a notorious gay beat – I’m not even sure that we used the word ‘gay’ then. Now there is an oratorio commemorating this event. The music is by Australian composer Joe Twist and the libretto by Alana Valentine and Christos Tsiolkas.

An oratorio rather than an opera is appropriate (quite apart from requiring less stage space). It provides a certain reverence and restraint – there’s some action, but also the Adelaide Chamber Singers who, in a subdued choir-like way sing: ‘The night’s offerings are of sweat and spit and cum’. In those days gay sex was illegal, all very hush hush. Dr Ian Duncan (he used the name Ian, not George) was a quiet, studious loner who had recently taken up a post at the Law School of the University of Adelaide. The curtain rises to an ingenious set with a foreground of water and a screen onto which are projected appropriate images – photographs of the scene and newspaper accounts. A Jesus-like man descends on a cable – crucified, I wonder?

Back in the 1970s, even the New Scotland Yard Report describes the incident as a ‘frolic’ gone wrong. And there’s some lyrics about whether or not ‘faggots’ can float. There seems to be absolutely no respect for queer love.

I left the Dunstan Theatre thinking, on the one hand, of how far we have come from those days of clandestine whisperings: Gay Pride, Gay Marriage, etc… and that Dr Duncan’s death – the death of an academic – at least motivated these developments. But then I was absolutely gutted to think of all those young men who drowned in the river in complete anonymity. As the lyrics say, only the river remembers their names.

My only reservation about this oratorio is that it is very localised. It has a message that is pretty much universal, but would it work in Melbourne or Sydney, let alone New York or London?

Leopoldstadt: A National Theatre film of the play by Tom Stoppard

Leopoldstadt is about a Jewish family in Vienna across six decades, it has been filmed live on stage in London’s West End.

Although he had always known he was Jewish, Stoppard found out only in the 1990s that he was ‘fully Jewish’ and that many of his Czech family had died in Nazi concentration camps. The play is not directly based on Stoppard’s family, but he says it’s his most personal play. In an interview with the director, Patrick Marber, Stoppard says that it felt like ‘unfinished business’.

https://www.onthetown.net.au/national-theatre-lives-interview-with-top-stoppard-about-leopoldstadt/

Tom Stoppard

Stoppard’s mother died in 1996. The family had not talked about their history and Tom didn’t know what had happened to the family left behind in Czechoslovakia. In the early 1990s, with the fall of communism, he found out that all four of his grandparents had been Jewish and had died in TerezinAuschwitz and other concentration camps, along with three of his mother’s sisters.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Leopoldstadt was the old, crowded Jewish quarter of Vienna. But Hermann Merz, a factory owner and baptised Jew now married to a Catholic, has moved up in the world. In the play we see how history impacts on identity, from institutionalised antisemitism (professorships are slow to be awarded to Jews, those of Jewish origins cannot join the jockey club) to the outright terror of the Holocaust.

1938

Rather than a play with a plot, this is a narrative of a Jewish family group in Vienna over the period 1900 to 1955. The main set is the drawing room of a well-to-do family. There are five acts, occurring in the years 1899, 1900, 1925, 1938 and 1955.

  • 1899 This is the family Christmas (complete with Christmas tree).
  • 1900 One of women takes an unrequited fancy to a cavalry officer whom she meets at tea with a family member. And that family member succeeds (secretly) in having an affair with the officer, subsequently producing a son.
  • 1925 Post-war conversations and circumcision celebrations (the mother vacillating between whether or not her infant son should be put through this rite – ultimately it is carried out).
  • 1938 The year of the Anschluss. The family’s home is requisitioned by the Nazis and the family must leave to be transported the following day, taking limited possessions.
  • 1955 Post war gathering, with a diminished cast, many having died in The Holocaust.
1955

I had been unsure of how I would cope with this film of a play, having been put off by early (1950s) films of Shakespearean plays and films of opera where the camera is aimed fairly statically to the centre of the stage. A movie of The Magic Flute where these constraints are thrown aside (I think it was the one directed by Ingmar Bergman) proved to be an exception. For some reason that I find hard to articulate (Stoppard’s brilliance, probably) I feel that the filming of this play was superb. To have conceived this as a film where we might see the family in all appropriate contemporary trappings moving through the first half of the twentieth century would have had far less impact. We are with the (changing) family in their living room for over two hours, from the children’s excited preparations for Christmas in 1899 (the family’s liberal blending of Judaism and Christianity conveyed brilliantly when a young child places a star of David at the top of the Christmas tree), to the diminished gathering in 1955. When necessary we are reminded of significant events such as Kristallnacht with sound effects.

According to Stoppard the play ‘took a year to write, but the gestation was much longer. Quite a lot of it is personal to me, but I made it about a Viennese family so that it wouldn’t seem to be about me.’

Quo Vadis Aida?

I write this on the second day of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russians, described as potentially the worst European conflict since World War II. Quo Vadis Aida? dramatises the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, the genocidal  killing of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys in and around the town of Srebrenica, during the Bosnian War.

I must confess that my knowledge of the Bosnian-Serbian conflict in the mid-1990s is shamefully limited. Shamefully, now that I have seen the movie Quo Vadis Aida?, (brilliantly directed by Jasmila Žbanić ) and realise what horrendous slaughter was taking place then under labels such as ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Prior to the massacre, the United Nations had declared the enclave of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, a ‘safe area’ under UN protection. However, the UN failed to demilitarise the Bosnia-Herzegovinian Army within Srebrenica and were unable to prevent the town’s capture and the subsequent massacre. In the movie, the UN personnel are shown to be inadequate and powerless – some of them very young men in short trousers.

Aida is a Bosnian Muslim former school teacher, working as a translator for the Dutch-run peacekeeping mission in Srebrenica. The Muslim majority town is soon overrun by the Bosnian Serb army and people flee desperately to the UN safe zone – but there are scant resources and there isn’t room for everyone. Aida desperately tries to save her husband and sons who have not made it to safety. The UN facility is grossly under-resourced and the UN soldiers resorted, pathetically it seemed, to procedure. The Bosnian general (Ratko Mladić, later convicted of war crimes) demanded that the Srebenicans be bussed to ‘safety’: the men and women were separated, and my stomach churned as I was immediately taken back to WWII movies I’d seen of Jewish people being marched onto trains destined for concentration camps. In this case, the women survived but the men were shot and buried in unmarked graves – so reminiscent of the Nazi brutality.

At the end of the movie we see that, some years later, the Srebenican women were able to return to identify the bones of their loved ones. And, amazingly, Aida, having lost all of her family, returns to teaching and to the apartment where they lived – the wall clock still ticking as it had all those years ago.

Aida in her apartment

Millions were killed in the holocaust. Over 8,000 were killed in the Srebrenica massacre. Eight thousand too many. And as I write, there is war in Ukraine.

Seeing Earth: a Concert!

It’s really going to happen. After waiting almost two years because of Pandemic lockdowns, Stuart Greenbaum’s piece Seeing Earth, written for Ensemble Francaix — and commissioned by me — is to receive its world premiere performance tomorrow evening. The ‘live’ performance will take place in Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre but, if it’s too hard to get there (eg if you live in England) you can tune in through the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall: https://watch.melbournedigitalconcerthall.com/?fbclid=IwAR1JG_fdwIau07P5YTn6EaNutLTl3AwtNC7ZfaiC5F6cWGLNj2L5rjqUWlc#/item/79044

I have mentioned Ensemble Francaix elsewhere on this blog: a fine Melbourne-based chamber trio: Emmanuel Cassimatis – Oboe, Matthew Kneale – Bassoon and Nicholas Young – Piano.

A couple of years ago I decided it was time for me to stop playing oboe. I had two fine instruments, which I would sell. But I wanted the money from the sale to go towards something musical — in a sense, for me, something in memory of my oboes. I love the combination of oboe, bassoon and piano and indeed I had enjoyed playing some of the limited number of compositions for this ensemble — notably by the composer Francaix and also Poulenc. How exciting it would be to add to this repertoire. I approached Ensemble Francaix and they suggested that we ask Stuart Greenbaum whether he would be interested writing a piece for the trio.

The result is Seeing Earth. Stuart Greenbaum is professor of music composition at the University of Melbourne and currently the Head of Composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. His work has been performed by both the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He has written opera and choral music as well as instrumental. Some of his works suggest a fascination with space and the future. For example, his work 90 Minutes Circling the Earth was named Orchestral Work of the Year at the 2008 Classical Music Awards. Another work, The Year Without a Summer was toured nationally and internationally at the City of London Festival (2011).

The concert includes another world premiere performance: Panvino’s Gluttony for Solo Bassoon. Other works will be Borodin, arranged by Davies – In the Central Steppes of Asia, Britten, Pan from the Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for Solo Oboe and Johann Sebastian Bach – Allemande, Courante, Sarabande & Gigue from French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816 (1725) — I assume this will be played by Nicholas on piano.

Do tune in to Melbourne Digital Concert Hall if you possibly can. They are fine players. It will be a great concert.

And here is a review of the concert: https://www.classicmelbourne.com.au/ensemble-francaix-seeing-earth/

Virginia Gay’s Cyrano

There have been many adaptations of the late 19th century play, Cyrano de Bergerac, including opera and many film versions But Virginia Gay has done something special.

In case, like me, you haven’t read the original play, here is a summary adapted from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrano_de_Bergerac_(play)

This is a very cut-down account of Cyrano de Bergerac, the original play written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand. There was a real Cyrano de Bergerac, and the play is a fictionalisation following the broad outlines of his life. The play has been translated and performed many times, and it is responsible for introducing the word “panache” into the English language. Cyrano (the character) is in fact famed for his panache, and he himself makes reference to “my panache” in the play. Hercule Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, a cadet (nobleman serving as a soldier) in the French Army, is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents. In addition to being a remarkable duelist, he is a gifted, joyful poet and is also a musical artist. However, he has an obnoxiously large nose, which causes him to doubt himself. This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his distant cousin, the beautiful and intellectual Roxane, as he believes that his ugliness would prevent him the “dream of being loved by even an ugly woman.”

One day Roxane and Cyrano have the opportunity to talk privately as she bandages his hand (injured from a fracas at the Port de Nesle); she talks about a man with whom she has fallen in love. Cyrano thinks that she is talking about him at first, and is ecstatic, but Roxane describes her beloved as “handsome,” and tells him that she is in love with Christian de Neuvillette. Roxane fears for Christian’s safety so she asks Cyrano to befriend and protect him. This he agrees to do, which gives Christian the opportunity to confess to Cyrano his love for Roxane but his inability to woo because of his lack of intellect and wit. When Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane expects a letter from him, Christian is despondent, having no eloquence in such matters. Cyrano then offers his services, including his own unsigned letter to Roxane. Later, when Roxane and Cyrano meet up again, Roxane says that Christian’s letters have been breathtaking—he is more intellectual than even Cyrano, she declares. She also says that she loves Christian.

Later, during a meeting with Roxane, Christian makes a fool of himself trying to speak seductively to her. Roxane storms into her house, confused and angry. Thinking quickly, Cyrano makes Christian stand in front of Roxane’s balcony and speak to her while Cyrano stands under the balcony whispering to Christian what to say. Eventually, Cyrano shoves Christian aside and, under cover of darkness, pretends to be Christian, wooing Roxane himself. In the process, he wins a kiss for Christian.

Roxane tells Christian that, because of the letters, she has grown to love him for his soul alone, and would still love him even if he were ugly. Christian tells this to Cyrano, and then persuades Cyrano to tell Roxane the truth about the letters, saying he has to be loved for “the fool that he is” to be truly loved at all. But, before Cyrano can tell Roxane the truth, Christian is brought back to the camp, having been fatally shot.

Fifteen years later Roxane resides at a convent outside Paris, eternally mourning her beloved Christian. Roxane expects Cyrano to come by as he always has with news of the outside world. On this day, however, Cyrano has been mortally wounded by someone who dropped a huge log on his head from a tall building. Upon arriving to deliver his “gazette” to Roxane, knowing it will be his last, he asks Roxane if he can read “Christian’s” farewell letter. She gives it to him, and he reads it aloud as it grows dark. Listening to his voice, she realizes that it is Cyrano who was the author of all the letters, but Cyrano denies this to his death. While Cyrano grows delirious, his friends weep and Roxane tells him that she loves him. He combats various foes, half imaginary and half symbolic, conceding that he has lost all but one important thing – his panache – as he dies in his friends’ arms.

Gay wrote her Cyrano while suffering from COVID-19. She says, ‘It felt like somebody was trying to press my brain and eyes out of the front of my skull’. https://www.theage.com.au/culture/theatre/hellish-covid-19-and-a-broken-heart-fuel-virginia-gay-s-new-look-cyrano-20210719-p58az3.html

I saw one of the few performances at the Melbourne Theatre Company before Melbourne went into the current lockdown. Because of the previous lockdown, rehearsals had been mainly by Zoom. There had been one dress rehearsal held the afternoon before we saw it and Gay, who, as well as having written the piece plays the role of Cyrano, warned us that things might go wrong. So far as I could tell, they didn’t.

Virginia Gay

The big difference in Gay’s adaptation of Cyrano is that in her piece, Cyrano is a woman. And the outstanding quality is that, as in the original, Cyrano is a wordsmith. In fact, although this was an acted, almost cabaret-like play, it was the words I wanted to see: the deft use of late Victorian poetry, reference to the near impossibility of trying to resolve the politics of the Middle East — I know that I missed a lot. In the original play there is mention of Roxane’s balcony. (I am spelling her name ‘Roxane’, as in the original play, although I think Gay may use ‘Roxanne’ — there was no program, so I couldn’t confirm.) I was drawn to thinking of Romeo and Juliet as the balcony was central to much of Gay’s Cyrano. The main reason I’d like to read the script is that I think I probably missed a lot of good things.

I guess that when you change the gender of a major character in a play there is a risk of being a bit precious about it. This was not the case. Changing the gender and also not having a false ugly nose (although reference is made to Cyrano’s large nose) meant that there could be more emphasis on Cyrano’s not feeling worthy of love. This came out clearly as what the play is about — not feeling worthy of being loved by anyone, which is apparently how a young gay person can feel growing up in a heterosexual world. Another important difference from the original Cyrano is that Roxane is much stronger and far more independent than her 19th century version — Gay’s Roxane is a woman of colour (Tuuli Narkle who plays Roxane is of Aboriginal descent) and university educated — she is an intellectual match to Cyrano.

Gay gives her play a happy ending — a ‘joy bomb’ — Cyrano and Roxane make love in a (quickly dragged onto the stage and unfolded) leafy bower. While Cyrano’s panache may have faltered while Roxane was in the arms of Yan (the equivalent of Christian), it has certainly returned by the end of the play.

I want to see this play again, but I realise that with lockdowns, I’m privileged to have seen it at all!

My Name is Gulpilil

This documentary of actor David Gulpilil is not so much about him; it is him. He narrates it and, one feels, is totally in control of it. The director, Molly Reynolds, has worked closely with him in a number of his movies. The career of this revered Indigenous Yolŋu actor spans 50 years and the story moves gently between present and past, the past being deftly inserted clips from Gulpilil’s many movie performances. Although he seems a fish out of water when he had to go to London (he’d barely been to Adelaide) after the success of Walkabout (1971) – he can joke about having to eat with a knife and fork.

Gulpilil’s present existence is that of a 60-something-year-old cancer sufferer and we see him having chemo (with Mary his friend and carer close by) and having radiotherapy. We see what an effort it is for him to walk to the post box each morning. I was interested at how this movie managed to show a kind of blending of Western medicine and Indigenous – to me, some of the diagrams of lungs shown were reminiscent of Indigenous paintings. But, as Gulpilil says, there is a difference – a difference which he manifests: Western medicine tries to beat the disease, but the Indigenous approach is one of acceptance and Gulpilil is going ‘back to country on a one-way ticket’.

Clearly, his days are numbered and I couldn’t help thinking that it is the Western lifestyle of movie-making that made him the drug addict and alcoholic that he admits to being. In a shot described by the Guardian reviewer as ‘Buñuelian’, Gulpilil is filmed from overhead, lying in a coffin with spools of film all around him as though they are sprouting from him – this is David Gulpilil.

Supernova

So far the movies I’ve seen this year have all been about death and/ or dementia. This hasn’t been a deliberate choice, although obviously something attracts me to them. From my perspective, with each movie, there has been an even better more beautiful dimension offered.

Tusker, a writer, played by Stanley Tucci, sits outside one evening with his partner’s niece (who is perhaps in her early teens) looking at the evening sky — showing her how you can see the Milky Way but also talking about infinity: the unimaginable vastness of space. She doesn’t quite understand. Who does? And maybe Tusker, who has early onset dementia is soothed by contemplating this unknown. He knows, but can’t admit, that he is now unable to write and won’t be able to complete his novel.

Tusker and his long-time partner Sam (played by Colin Firth), try to confront this illness by going on a road trip up north to the Lake District — brilliant incidental humour, they think that the Sat Nav lady sounds like Margaret Thatcher. They have the shared jokes and irritations of a typical longterm couple, as the Guardian review says, they have ‘a sweet and gentle chemistry’

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/sep/22/supernova-review-colin-firth-stanley-tucci-toronto.

But of course underlying (or indeed dominating) all of this is Tusker’s illness. Tusker is getting worse — they both know this. One time when Sam stops the van to get provisions, Tusker wanders off and gets lost. At a family gathering (everyone silently acknowledges that it’s a kind of farewell celebration) Tusker is unable to read a speech and Sam has to take over. Inevitably, when rummaging through Tusker’s things, Sam finds a tape to be played post mortem and suicide medication.

Throughout the movie we see in Sam’s expressive face — particularly Colin Firth’s eyes — the incredible toll this is for Sam. Firstly, he wants to prevent Tusker from carrying out his plans, then he ultimately comes around to seeing that the most loving thing to do is to be there to help him.

More than any of the other movies I’ve seen about euthanasia, Supernova takes us to the impact on the partner. As the illness progresses, the natural thing to do is to do more for the partner. But that isn’t what the partner wants — in this movie we see how very much Tusker needs to be in control — this need is paramount.

The success of this movie hinges on the fine acting of Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci and the direction of Harry Macqueen (who also wrote the script). At the very end, after the screen has been grey for a few seconds, it is Colin Firth himself who sits at a grand piano and plays Elgar’s Salut d’Amour — a favourite piece of Tusker’s. Sam is now alone.

The Father: an experience of dementia

In a review in The Guardian, Benjamin Lee describes this movie as showing ‘the bone-chilling horror of living with dementia’:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/jan/27/the-father-review-anthony-hopkins-olivia-colman .

Up to the time of seeing this movie I had imagined that the experience of dementia might be worse for the loved-ones, family close to the dementia sufferer. I now feel differently.

Florian Zeller, the writer-director of this movie first wrote a play, drawing on the experience of being very close to his grandmother who started to experience dementia when he was fifteen. Zeller said, ‘we go through that labyrinth… without being absolutely aware of where we are going’ — life is a puzzle and a piece is always missing.

The brilliance of this movie (and presumably the play, which I haven’t seen) is that we, the audience, get some insight by experiencing that labyrinth. For the first few minutes the movie seems to convey a dutiful daughter (Anne, played by Olivia Colman) visiting her father (Anthony, played by Anthony Hopkins) in a well-to-do flat in London — we assume it is his flat. He is listening to a counter tenor solo from Purcell’s King Arthur — an educated gentlemanly person. But then, we the audience, start to become confused. Is it his flat?

Both Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman are superb — sustaining this horror of confusion. Anthony in his early eighties, is still quite agile — he does crossword puzzles, can make a cup of tea, when the CD sticks he takes it out and cleans it — quite self sufficient in many ways. But who are these people coming into his flat? Intruders? Does Anne have a husband? Why doesn’t his younger daughter ever visit? (The audience finds out that she died in an accident some years ago — for a short time Anthony thinks that one of the carers reminds him of her — why does her painting sometimes vanish from its place over the mantlepiece?) And although the movie mainly shows life from Anthony’s perspective, there are glimpses of the tension caused by the distruption to Anne’s life. Sometimes Anthony says things that are hurtful — she is not the favourite daughter — Anne gives a momentary wince and then her attention returns to his needs.

Anthony constantly mislays his watch — is sometimes obsessive about the time (although it doesn’t really matter) — he has a ‘safe’ place, where his watch can usually be found by Anne. One time there is a fork there too. Is Anne going to live in France — abandoning him? He repeats the phrase that his daughter wouldn’t go to Paris because the French don’t speak English. But for much of the time he seems to be a fairly agile, well-dressed elderly man.

By the end of the movie the audience knows that Anne did go and live in France, but she visits her father frequently. He did have to go into a nursing home — something that, earlier in the movie, he said he would refuse to do. And his dementia has progressed — he seems to be completely lost, crying, and wanting his mother. The nurse looking after him tries to comfort him — a treat would be a walk in the park. What a hauntingly terrible life.

An Opera with No Singing!

This is my kind of opera. I have to confess that I don’t like ‘Grand Opera’. It’s mainly because of the style of singing — so thick, so much vibrato that it’s sometimes hard to know exactly where the note is. Thinking of all of the effort and skill that the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa and Plácido Domingo have put into their work, I know that this is a sacreligious thing to say — I just can’t appreciate it. I like a pure singing voice; a soaring counter tenor or the bell-like quality of a boy soprano.

On Tuesday 30th March, a wind ensemble of the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) under the direction of Nick Deutsch (former artistic director) put on a one hour performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. This mode of production of the music would have been familiar to Mozart — in his day, with no means of recording for radio or disc, people were familiarised with the latest music of his operas by wind ensembles (harmoniemusik), who presumably performed in public places.

In this case the ensemble was two oboes (including the leader, Nick Deutsch), two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and one non wind instrument, a double bass, which provided, I thought, a necessary string texture that helped to blend the melodic lines.

Nick Deutsch

The program notes (written by Phil Lambert, ANAM Librarian) gave us a synopsis of the story, which even an opera philistine like me is familiar with.

The action unforlds at the palace of Count Almaviva in Seville. It is the wedding day of Figaro, valet to the Count, and Susanna, maid to the Countess. The Count has had his eye on Susanna for some time, and hopes furtively to invoke the ancient privilege of ‘droit de seigneur’ on her wedding night. Further obstacles in the young couple’s path include middle-aged Marcellina, who claims a legal hold over Figaro, and Cherubino, the horny page-boy whose sudden explosion into puberty has thrown the household into mayhem. The last piece in the puzzle is the young Countess Rosina, sadly aware of her husband’s infidelities but powerless to stop loving him. She and Susanna realise they must join forces to bring the Count to account.

When I looked at the program I assumed that a narrator would recount the story while excerpts of music were played. Little did I realise that actor/ writer Bethany Simons was waiting in the wings. Bethany acted out and narrated her version of the story — covering all of those characters with gentle reference to the present day — particularly the practice of misogyny. It worked really well. Marcellina was distinguished by a slight American accent and (miming of) smoking and Cherubino was very much the cool (or maybe ‘sick’) adolescent. And there were just enough amusing asides, such as asking the wind ensemble when the Susanna character prepares for her wedding — hey, are you guys available for weddings?

Bethany’s acting and writing was brilliant, as was the playing of the wind ensemble who took the overture at a rattling good pace with lots of clean double-tonguing and then played the tunes of well-known arias with silky smoothness.

Blackbird: a movie about euthanasia

From my limited experience I’ve found that people are often critical of fictional accounts of euthanasia — it is such a delicate topic. It delves into religious beliefs, our own fears of death and particularly the question: is a life ever not worth living?

The movie Blackbird, directed by Roger Michell, is based on an earlier Danish film (2014), Silent Death. I haven’t seen that movie. In this film we are in an environment of privilege where an upper middle class family comes together in The Hamptons, New York State. Lily (played by Susan Sarandon) has a degenerative terminal disease. Her husband (played by Sam Neill) is a doctor. He has been able to procure appropriate drugs for Lily to take to end her life — euthanasia is illegal. Lily has decided that her time has come and she wants to die before she becomes further disabled.

The family comes together: two daughters, one is extremely uptight, the other seems very unstable and has been the ‘black sheep’ of the family — their partners, a son, and Lily’s old friend who has been a part of the family for many years. They know that the purpose of the gathering is to farewell Lily.

the daughters

But of course family members react in different ways. This must be the case in so many such highly-fraught situations. For a while it seems that one of the children will report her father. I was so worried that the loving Sam Neill character would end up before the courts. One of the daughters sees the father kissing Lily’s old friend in a more than friendly manner. She thinks this is unforgivable. But Lily knows about this. The two have had an affair and Lily seems contented to know that they will have each other for support after she has gone. Lily’s final wish is to celebrate with a Christmas dinner, even though it isn’t Christmas time. Ultimately everything is resolved and we know that Lily will go peacefully to sleep in the arms of her daughters.

Benjamin Lee, reviewing the movie at the time of the 2019 Toronoto Film Festival, finds the movie uninspiring and ‘boringly reheated’ — by this he suggests that there are excellent actors, somewhat miscast, working on a plot that we’ve all seen before. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/sep/07/blackbird-review-sarandon-and-winslets-lifeless-death-drama I disagree. I think that the question of euthanasia is of immense importance and possibly the most heart-wrenching decision some of us will ever have to make. To look at it from various perspectives and to revisit it seems worthwhile. I am in favour absolutely, in theory — but when confronted by a particular case — is this person’s life worth living? — the question is by no means straighforward, no matter how firmly one may hold one’s theoretical views. It is therefore interesting to have set this story in the heart of a privileged family — their wealth does not provide extra resources to bring to bear on an agonising situation.

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

Barry Lee Thompson

writing short fiction

a rambling collective

Short Fiction by Nicola Humphreys

SHINE OF A LUCID BEING

Astral Lucid Music - Philosophy On Life, The Universe And Everything...

Los Angeles feedback film festival

A monthly event... LAFeedbackFilmFestival.com

Elwood Writers

Every second Tuesday since 2007

unbolt me

the literary asylum

littlesmackerel

Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

jottings and journeys

writing, walking and wondering