Monday, January 30, 2006

it's all greek to me

Have you watched Troy? Troy 2004? If you put off watching it because you were told it's bad, you were lied to! If you have and didn’t like it, watch it again. I did. Four times. I have watched Alexander too and Troy is better. Alexander is a more fascinating film like a posthumous Ernest Hemingway work with bits of brilliance and puzzling patches but Troy, Troy is so much more interesting!

First I watched Troy because everybody said Alexander totally sucked and when I accidentally watched Alexander on a drizzly Saturday afternoon with nothing better to do, I found Alexander not to be as bad as the scathing reviews had led me to believe. Tedious in some parts (have you watched Apocalypse Now? Now THAT’S tedious!!) but in others completely riveting. Alexander got me to start watching Collin Farrell after my initial queasiness from all the discussions about how big his penis was and what he did to his wife in a sex video and I found Farrell in The Phone Booth, The Recruit and especially Tigerland to be a better actor than I had hoped.

You're mine.

Troy has brought me back to Brad Pitt. I had forgotten it was Brad I watched Seven for, gave the light of day to Fight Club because Pitt was in it and then I happened to watch Seven Years in Tibet. Oh woe was me! Fall from grace! That was beginning of the end of our acquaintance. Shacking up with Jennifer Anniston, lousy actress from a lousier TV series Friends was definitely it for me with Pitt. Not even Mr. and Mrs.Smith could help us. I thought I would never watch another Brad Pitt movie again. I watched Troy totally unaware Brad Pitt was in it (it’s true!). I wanted a fuss over, I think I have begun another instead.

Some years from now, people will watch Troy and realise Achilles was probably Brad Pitt’s best role. Pitt makes Troy. If Pitt can make such a comeback maybe all the old guards like Val Kilmer ( Tombstone(1993), this guy should have acted Arthur Rimbaud) can make one more comeback and maybe, just maybe, hopefully Macy Gray can release another album as hot as On How Life Is all these years later still is.

And for people always crapping about how movies truncate classic books in the translation to the screen, Troy is one of the rarer movies that stuck more closely to Homer's Iliad on which Troy is based than most. And yes, I know Troy dumped the bickering gods from the plot but even in the Iliad, I found them boring and unnecessary. Usually skipped those parts.

But perhaps the best thing about Troy was how slyly the director retained actually word for word what the characters say in the Iliad and had many film critics making an ass of themselves condemning Troy as a badly written film! Every major character has quotables but Achilles is my favourite with droppers like, “I'll tell you a secret. Something they don't teach
you in your temple. The Gods envy us. They envy us because we're mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again,” proving to Briseis (Rose Byrne)that he is no “dumb bird” right before one of the most discreet and sweet love scenes you’ll see at the movies.

Then there are the fights. Achilles in battle... Brad Pitt as Achilles in battle is a beautiful merciless blond god of war with a terrifying bloodlust. The surprise and delight is to find none of this glossed over and how closely the Iliad was followed. Like in the Iliad, Achilles fighting Hector, this is how it goes,

“So he mused and stood his ground, while Achilles drew near; the armour upon him shone like flaming fire. Hector trembled to see him. He could stand no longer but took flight, and Peleides was upon him with a leap: Hector fled swiftly under the walls of Troy and Peleides flew after him furiously. They passed the look-out and the wind-beaten fig tree, keeping ever away from the wall along the cartroad, until they reached the two fountains. One is a spring of hot water, one even in summer is cold as hail or snow.

So far they came in their race, fleeing and pursuing, a strong man fleeing and a far stronger man in pursuit: they ran hard, for Hector’s life was the prize of this race, not such prizes as men run for, a beast or an ox-hide shield. Thrice round the city of Priam they ran. All the gods were watching.

Achilles was now following at full speed and gave Hector no chance. If Hector going by the road made a dash at the city gates, hoping his friends might help him with a volley from the walls above, Achilles would cut in before him, turning him back towards the open ground. It was like some race in a dream, where once chases another, and he cannot catch or the other escape.

He drew the sword that hung by his side, gathered himself and sprang. Achilles moved to meet him, covering his chest with the resplendent shield while the thick golden plumes nodded upon his helmet. His right hand held poised the great spear; he scanned Hector with ruthless heart, to see where the white flesh gave the best opening for a blow. Hector was well covered, but an opening showed where the collar bones join the neck to the shoulder, the gullet. There Achilles aimed, and the point went
through the soft neck; but it did not cut the windpipe, and Hector could still speak.” But he spoke no more much longer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

brief encounters

Eric Hobsbawm wrote a book called Interesting Times over which Hipflask swinger (find him, he’s worth the search) and I are always arguing about what precisely Hobsbawm meant by interesting. (Note: we are not drunk when we are raising a ruckus over this word). But even Hipflask swinger will have to agree that my Thursday to Sunday was packed full of so many interesting happenings that not only is that the word that covers it but the test of those times is in the fact I needed a Monday of supine solitude just to be able to stand on my two feet and a drowsy Tuesday to collect my thoughts and today to make sense of it all.

Thursday 19th January. DVD home theatre dreams shattered by Mark announcing his leg brace is off, he still clearly remembers my ATM pin code, should he withdraw for himself or am I coming down to Ntinda town centre to do it myself and congratulate him properly? Get there and Mark already congratulating himself with three chips-and-chicken-girls and of course Ntinda will not be world enough. Rocks, DV.8, Club Rouge later, he knows a quiet spot made specifically for us all just before Namugoona and the Special Hire Taxis are cheap. "Commuter taxis, are you mad, Iwaya?!?" "Yes, I'm, about my money." SMS on my second line cools me: Sam.

please buy

Friday 20th January. In the house of Sam with lovers living happily in sin. In a style of life many Ugandans are still too poor mentally and materially to live. To see with curiosity men kiss and discover I did not disapprove nor am i disgusted. To see Sam in love and happy at the same time for the first time and still joyously unable to believe this is happening to him. I remember something Sam said before he knew me well enough to wake me one night weeping a confession, saying, “I want to be in love with a girl, a girl with a laughing face.” M has a laughing face. Eyes that sparkle as he is thinking of a joke he is going to tell and gleam with pleasure when the telling was successful. M is that girl.

With a Remy-Martin between us I wondered why I had waited this long and decided that non drinking vow would have to wait a little longer, undecided which was more beautiful, the dainty encrusted glass of Remy, the startling huge yellow moon discreetly peering at us through the leaves of an aged tree, the drink on my tongue, the creaking white garden chair I was in, or M’s hilariously accurate mimicry of Ugandan journalists puzzled at a gallery opening, Owino Market women quarrelling, a taxi conductor flattering a radio call wielding policeman and me when I try not to look bored.

Saturday 21st January. Sat down to work and in ten minutes couldn’t bear it anymore. Hipflask swinger not helping matters by idly wondering about a jaunt to Resort Beach in Entebbe on such a good weather day that the sky was blue. That was it! I'm not spending another Saturday in the office! What happens? Afternoon tea on Undo’s office porch in non- biscuit silence so calming, Kampala on a Saturday afternoon is my new interest, beer in the evening in a Wandegeya a little different yet still the same passionately arguing about what exactly I can’t remember, then two hours later with a glass of liquor in one hand somehow me crazily wandering around on the rooftop of Undo’s house, Undo to say the least talking me down with his three pound cat. A sulkier cat I have never seen.

Sunday 22nd January. Open my front door and instantly stop despising distressed damsels in Victorian novels because I swoon at sight of Bruce before me, Bruce on whose funeral I made oratorical flourishes in the pulpit, Bruce dead at 21 in the forests of Congo probably eaten where he was on the run from the law and a one armed vengeful husband whose other arm Bruce had hacked off in self defence after being apprehended en flagrant de lit. Bruce, browner than ever, taller than I remember, brawnier, he was without the scent of dead decaying flesh about him and was very much alive and at my door demanding lunch is on me but he is paying. What the hell, nobody has to pay because we are going to eat at his restaurant. He owns a restaurant! Eight hours later these brilliant deductions are all I could summon from unbelievable tales of murders, kindnesses of strangers, gullibility of the wily in love, double crossing government agents, movement of spirits in thunder:

Bell Beer: water

Pilsner Beer: water with salt

Club Beer: dog’s piss

Ndume: slow effective poison

Royal Vodka, Liberty: assassin’s kiss.

Remy-Martin: morgue material

we're just getting started with a Bell! er...this by the way is Bebe Cool. big time in Uganda. we'll get back to him some time. he's moslem.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

invitation to dance

your hand, please.

One, two, three...

I blame The Red Shoes for the person I’m today. Film crazy, spending more money borrowing films in a week than any person I know. Beauty mad. No child should be allowed to watch The Red Shoes. And I was a child even at twelve until that Saturday afternoon when I first watched The Red Shoes in an apartment on Martin Road in Old Kampala alone in that flat, a fan whirling in the back.

The video lib I borrowed The Red Shoes still exists on Martin Road, the same video lib I was introduced to Jim Morrison and Oliver Stone on Monday evening after school through The Doors, a video lib directly opposite Shell Petrol station facing the white flats in which on the Saturday I watched The Red Shoes I came out of to cross the road and meet my fate with The Red Shoes.

The apartment was Ronnie’s, he was in Entebbe for the day. The idea was she would come over, we would go for a walk and I’d buy the beers we would take back. Two hours after midday I was tired and angry from waiting and stalked out to drink alone. But Singh was going into the lib and I went with him.

I did not feel the afternoon turning into evening, I did not hear the soft honking of evening traffic down below all night, did not remember the warm delicious chapatti’s Ronnie’s mother had made for us to eat, did not call home to tell them I was alright, glued on that brown sofa black in the night entranced by Michael Powell’s film.

If you watch The Red Shoes, Sin City won’t amaze you so much. I remember the terrible red of Moira’s dancing shoes, I remember the manic tap tap of her shoes dancing on even when her body was exhausted beyond all human endurance her spirit dancing on because this is what happens when an obsession possesses you. I remember the chill that went through me as Moira pleaded for a dancing part by right of her talent hers before fools who could never be able to dance like she could sensing somehow at only twelve that this is how the world is run, divided between the powerful and the powerless. I remember a scenic vista from a castle on clear day, sun in the sky, that unlocked memories of Kigezi hills I had been routed from five years earlier and in a remarkable trick of the subconscious forgot the language, forgot the people I knew, forgot I had ever been there at all all rushing back into me that evening in Ronnie’s flat on Saturday night waking to myself to be startled that it was nearly eleven at night. I remember the music, my God that music!

Michael Powell, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, names that would quickly become familiar to Ugandans to stayed up late in the night watching as in the first flush of an orgy of quality the new TV stations that opening up in Uganda carelessly strew their classic movies all day and all night in their schedules with no order.

I did not sleep until after three on Sunday morning committing The Red Shoes to memory. I’m quite sure it is the only time on record a girl didn’t keep a date and was aggrieved the guy did not remember she had not kept the date.

Fame came to Ugandans via the generosity of the Kattos through their Sanyu TV. Or was that Cablesat Television? It must have been Cablesat Television because I remember I watched Fame in black and white. The original 1980 Fame. When we still only owned a black and white TV.

The Red Shoes made me want to dance, I bought a pair of tight blue jeans to wear to dance in and there problems began. Fame made me pause. The Red Shoes was about the beauty of dancing after the training is done, Fame was about the everyday sweat in the dance studio belly empty and hungry waiting for a chance nothing has given you any hope to wait for and surviving, surviving all through that time. Fame was about life, The Red Shoes was about an idea and to see Fame was to be scared because Fame showed you life did not recognise fair and unfair.

I wanted to be like Gene Anthony Ray animal magnetic but I was not sure I wanted to be like him completely though Faulkner a few years later assured me a Keats ode is worth any number of old ladies and Graham Greene reassured me a real artist must have ice in his heart.

Until I met Magoba Brian in his new incarnation as a dancer, I could not believe another profession could contain as much heartbreak and little reward as I was discovering writing to be and as Fame showed regardless of the endless hours of brow scrunched up perfecting practice and talent. Fame was about an aspiring artist’s worst fears and a thorough preparation for the artistic life if you still wanted it after that.

I watched Save The Last Dance because I was a big Julia Stiles fan and I was in furious pursuit of anything Stiles was in after Ten Things I Hate About You. The KC and Jojo song had not turned me onto Julia Stiles, had intrigued me, but had not turned me on. Ten Things I Hate About You had put me on fire for Julia Stiles, funny because I had watched Ten Things as a chore, to have something to talk about with a girl who was always talking about Ten Things I Hate About You.

I stumbled upon Save the Last Dance while I was looking for Ten Things which to tell you the truth I wouldn’t have watched were Julia Stiles not in it. I have owned a copy of Save the Last Dance for three years now and in those three years I have probably watched Dance again four times only yet I would never give away my copy because Stiles turned me onto Lathan (Roy the librarian made the introductions) and Lathan in Mutaasa Kafeero led me to Ten Things I Hate About You. But not before she found a way of worming her way despite all my protestations into my heart.

Lathan is not even a superb actress but she has something all the talent in the world can never pretend to own: charm. When she is acting she has a charming awkwardness, like the shy girl at the back of the class suddenly the centre of attention. I thought it was a one time thing, great acting shining out for one moment, in Disappearing Acts when Wesley Snipes corners her against the fridge and seducing her draws away after he has pulled off her top to briefly ogle her breasts. Standing there being assessed, I have never seen any actress who showed more movingly the terror many women feel the first time they are naked before a man who to her is more than a one night stand. Lathan makes you feel that if Snipes had walked away from her there and said he didn’t feel like it anymore, she might not have died but it would have taken months before she ever allowed herself again to be in the same position with another man but going by character in this movie it would even have been years. But that was before I watched Love and Basketball (best losing virginity scene ever when all the swagger falls away and queenly prancing falters), Brown Sugar, and with Disappearing Acts learned it might be her trademark. I have loved Sanaa since Love and Basketball, loved her more after watching Disppearing Acts over again appreciating her talent. There’s no hypocrisy of impartiality here. Loved Sanaa because she is like someone I knew once.

But it was Julia Stiles who was like someone I was once. I was a kid like that once for a spell who chose not to fit in because to fit in would have been a betrayal of myself and a scared silent minority I knew that the onrush of years makes me look back to not in embarrassment but regretfully that that kid knew a secret I have forgotten. He could not write better but he could write more. Like 'Kat' Stratford one way or another he could get that guitar, he would not go to the University his father wanted him to but to the one that was right for him, take the toad cutting freak to his school prom, unlike Kat smoke because to miss one experience is criminal, love because loving is the most courageous act of all. Ten Things I Hate About You was the way we lived when we were young and Julia Stiles acted Kat like she knew me. This is why I think Save the Last Dance may have been the last great film of her youth until at last another ten years have passed. She had had her whole childhood and early teens to live the roles she acted in Ten Things I Hate About You to Save the Last Dance, it would be too much I suspect to expect her to play a mature woman before she has lived through the experience. I’ll tolerate the fillers in interim because in 10 years time my Stiles cabinet will be bulging with new Stiles treasures.


Monday, January 09, 2006

a walk on the wild side

I know you know Best Buys. You gotta know Best Buys. Come on!!! On Pilkington Road. Not exactly in a building opposite Worker’s House. But you get the general part of town where that is at, don’t you? I was there, Tuesday. Evening. Boy, was I there!

Now you know many people say when they are happy, in the moment, most people do not know, ‘this is happiness. This is me happy, I’m happy right now.’ But not me. Me, I usually know when I’m happy, even in the moment. But not this Tuesday. This Tuesday was a gift, from heaven and from Kaiza. Kaiza and Kasaija.

I did not want to go to Best Buys. I did not want to go to Aristoc Booklex. I wanted to go home and watch Usher Raymond in In the Mix (horror! Horror!), I wanted to go home (although I did not know it yet) and be blown away by Undiscovered. I wanted to sit in that Ntinda-bound taxi with EB’s walkman on for the last time and listen to Joanita Kawalya’s heart breaking on those early Afrigo albums. I wanted to go home. But with Kaiza there’s always somewhere better to go and with Kasaija, you’re not going home at five. I’m glad I went.

Now I have a hope again that somewhere in Kampala somehow there’s a copy of A Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert. Because in Best Buys on Pilkington Road on Tuesday I found a Nelson Algren. The Man with the Golden Arm. This is why I read every page twice:

“She grew tense to see how the nameless people were bound, as they went, to the streets as the streets seemed bound to the night and the night to the nameless day. And all the days to a nameless remorse.

No one moved easily, freely and unafraid any longer, all hurried worriedly to work and anxiously by night returned; waited despairingly for traffic lights to change, forever fearing that the green light might change soon and, when that warning yellow flashed, stormed through to beat the deadly red. Was there no time left for easy passages and casual pleasures down tree-lined boulevards? Her hours, that had begun so pleasantly, borne on a lake wind by morning and so certain then to blow off the lake every morning forever, now passed in a cold draft from a half-lit hall, rattling a loosened latch.

For since that night everyone had become afraid of closing time everywhere, of having the lights go out in the middle of the dance while the chimes of the churches mourned: a requiem for everyone trapped beneath the copper—colored sky of noon or the night-lit tiles of the El.

“God has forgotten us all,” Sophie told herself quietly.’”

Thank you, Corgi.