Archive for the ‘Fawlty Towers’ Category

[LISTENED TO: March 2013] Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang

chittyI knew of this movie (although I haven’t seen it in decades) but I didn’t know it was based on a book.  And I had no idea the book was by Ian Fleming!  The creator of James Bond!  Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang is his only children’s novel and it was released posthumous;y (he died a few months before it came out).  I’ve never read any James Bond and I don’t love the films all that much so I can’t really compare this to his more famous works.  But it seemed like it was written by a guy who knew from spies and scary villains (I actually guessed that he had written this before the Bond books and it was a kind of lead in).

So the story starts off simply enough.  We meet the Pott family: Caractacus, the father, a former Navy commander and now an inventory of slightly wacky things–known in town as Crack Pott (ha); Mimsie, the mom, sweet and good natured and up for adventure, and the eight year old twins: Jeremy and Jemima.  Most of Crack Pott’s inventions aren’t very good but he eventually makes up a candy that is also a whistle and sells them to Lord Skrumshus and his candy company for a tidy sum (and Fleming goes into the details of the money saying how it’s a small sum up front but since Lord Skrumshus sells billions of candies it’s  good deal–Fleming is full of grown up ideas like that in the book and is clearly trying to impart some wisdom to his audience).

Since they live near the motorway, they decide to buy a car.  But they don’t want one of those black beetles that you see everywhere.  He wrote this book in 1961 so I’m not entirely sure about what kind of car he was talking about there.  The family decides to buy a one of a kind old car from an old man in a garage.  The man raves about the car and wishes he could keep her, but he has to sell it for scrap.  Pott offers him a few quid (everyone loves the car and its license plate read GEN 11 (like Genii)) to have the car delivered to his garage.  He spends the next several months fixing her up.  And when she starts, the noises she makes gives her the name Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Their first test drive is a marvel and they get her up to 100 miles per hour!

WHAT??  100MPH?  In Rural England??  Wow.  And who knew they used miles and not kilometers (it’s pointed out much later in the book that they use kilometers on the continent) in the 60s?  (It became mandatory there in 1978).  The car is  marvel!  She even has all kinds of buttons that Pott hadn’t figured out what they do yet.  And on their next venture they decide to go to the seaside on a warm day.  But so do 20,000 other cars, so there is a massive traffic jam.  Chitty Chitty shows what she can do and takes over the controls–she grows wings and a propeller (which all come naturally from the car parts) and she flies over the traffic!

When they fly to the beach it is crowded so Chitty flies the to an island in the middle of the English Channel.  And they have a lovely picnic together and take a nap.  Until the tide starts to come in.  Chitty escapes and they take off.  But they head away from London and towards France!

And here’s where the story turns into a wild Bondian adventure rather than a cute family story about a magical car.

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TNY 12.22&29.08 cvr.inddSOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS–Peace! Songs for Christmas Vol. V (2006).

peaceThis EP comes very close to being my favorite; it may even beat vol 3.  In part because the disc is 35 minutes long (still short for Sufjan Stevens but longer than some bands’ full lengths).

Four songs are sort of repeated from other discs.  “Once in Royal David’s City,” “Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming,” (a pretty piano version) “Jingle Bells” (a bouncy piano version) and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (a slow piano version) are short instrumental reprises and act as nice segues between the more meaty songs.

“Get Behind Me, Santa!” is something of a Santa bashing song, but it’s still pretty fun (with some great prog rock synth sounds).  But it is nowhere near as delightful as “Christmas in July,” another original that is totally Sufjan, from start to finish.  It’s a great song regardless of the season.  The pair of “Jupiter Winter” and “Sister Winter” are two originals: one mellow, the other less so.  While I don’t love “Jupiter,” “Sister” is fantastic.

“Star of Wonder” is not the part from “We three Kings” but an original song full of Sufjan’s orchestration.  It is mesmerizing. “Holy, Holy, Holy” is another beautiful rendition of a classic Christmas song (the delicate harmonies are really affecting).  And finally, “The Winter Solstice” sounds just like its title: chilly and spare.

And that completes the box set, one of my favorite Christmas collections.

[READ: January 4, 2009] “Dead Man Laughing”

I have only read On Beauty (and a piece in The Believer to be reviewed later) by Zadie Smith and yet I feel that she has rapidly eclipsed many of my favorite writers.  There is something about her style that is just beautiful to me.  She writes deliberately and powerfully without overembellishing or resorting to anything beneath her.  People often say that they could listen to so and so sing or recite the phone book, their voice is so good (I feel that way about Patrick Stewart).  Well whatever the equivalent for a writer is, that hows I feel about Zadie Smith. (more…)

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I’ve been a fan of British entertainment, especially comedy, since I was a little kid. The first time I saw Benny Hill on Channel 9 at a past-my-bedtime hour, I knew it was something special. Not because it was particularly funny (which at the time I thought it was), but because it was unlike anything that the U.S. was making. Then I discovered Paul Hogan (true, an Aussie, but still under the UK banner). Then came the Comedy Holy Grail of Monty Python’s Flying Circus . I couldn’t get enough of Monty Python and of course, Fawlty Towers. This led to more contemporary works like The Young Ones and Black Adder and Red Dwarf, and I’m still hooked.

One thing that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time is the Brits’ constant use of World War II in their entertainment. Comedians, writers and musicians of a certain age tend to use WWII as a component of their work. This came up again in Bruce Robinson’s book. It is a constant in Richard Thompson’s work. It is essential to latter Roger Waters work, both in and out of Pink Floyd. Monty Python plays around with it, and many other comedians do too.

I think Americans lazily think of the British as pretty much like us. And this has been even more prevalent with the recent Bush/Blair relationship. And despite my love of British entertainment, I am guilty of imagining the Brits to have similar shared experiences (common language can do that I suppose). So, it made me wonder why we in the U.S. don’t seem to have WWII so ingrained in our cultural entertainment. Sure, we have our swing bands, and the iconic photographs and even Saving Private Ryan. But it seems like we have a “Mission Accomplished (for Real)” checkmark next to it, and we’re happy it’s over and that’s that.  Even in my family, my dad was in WWII, and yet it wasn’t really a big deal when I was growing up, or even in his personal history.  Weird.

It was then that my wife reminded me that the British were bombed in the war, that it really hit home for them in a way that it never did here. Even though Pearl Harbor was American soil, and we did experience air raid drills and blackouts, we didn’t have the impending threat and fear as directly as the British did. All of this is of course common knowledge, and I feel foolish for not thinking about it before. And yet, somehow I never put these pieces together. Of course, British artists were impacted by WWII because it directly impacted their lives, their towns, their families.

There really isn’t a point to any of this other than to stop wondering how come there’s another British song/story/joke about WWII. I’ll just go back to enjoying it.

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