An update: November 2015

So, a lot has changed since my October update so I felt I should write another update, rather than trying to write many blog posts that turn into rambling nonsense. Here is a further snapshot of my activities since mid-October:

  • My degree – In the last week or so I have submitted 4 essays of around 2,500 words each, because the department have decided we should give in all our assessed work within the same week (and they are doing the same in the last week of term!). The courses are good though, and travelling into London is not too hard – this week I registered to use LSE archives and then went shopping in Covent Garden, and in other weeks we have had trips to the British Museum and multiple cafes.
  • Insanity Radio – Not only am I now preparing my 8th live show on Insanity, I’ve been reading the news every week on Tuesdays at 12. Ironically Insanity has probably stopped me from going mad, but more on that below. The people are all lovely and I do tend to get stuck in the Media Suite when I go in. Today, however, I did not and chose to go to the library and update my Mixcloud, which you can listen to below!
  • The Orbital Magazine – I would say that this caused a minor breakdown, but certain people might say I was being over-dramatic. The short story is that I no longer have a board position. I don’t think I cried as much as I did that week since my operation was imminent, which shows how much being Comment Editor meant to me, and the worst thing is that somehow I did not manage to convey this passion in my speech. I actually ran for two other positions after losing the editorial position we all thought I had in the bag, and also did not get those. Because of our electoral process, I have no idea what the other candidates promised or said to make people vote for them, but maybe it was partly to do with there being more first years than older years, and so no-one who really knew how much work I put into my role. Everyone I spoke to about it afterwards was incredibly supportive and sympathetic, and in fact the weekend during which I would have been editing was the weekend before my deadlines so I probably would have had a breakdown even if I had kept my role.
  • Royal Holloway Symphony Orchestra – We are building up to our first concert of the year and I am enjoying my position as a first violin, even if the music is a bit modern for me. The concert is on 2nd December and it is free for Royal Holloway students and alumni!
  • Work – I am still employed in my two jobs, but now the Rugby World Cup is over I don’t have quite as much work as before, and it’s super helpful to have the extra money.
  • Christian Union – Coming back from London makes CU a bit of a struggle some weeks, but I still go when I can and am on the snacks rota and hopefully getting back into Club Mission when I’m not working Saturdays.
  • Church – I’m loving St John’s and Student Life Group and spending time with the other students and wider church family. I’m also starting on operating the projector on Sunday, which is exciting.

So, basically things have changed and things have stayed the same. It has been for the best, but here’s hoping I will have a more settled month this month!


Entertaining History – Thanksgiving and Doctor Who Special by Beth Carr on Mixcloud


Into Film Project: 13 – Life of Pi (sort of…)

Today is the beginning of Interfaith Week and I therefore sat down to watch Life of Pi as suggested by my wall calendar. Unfortunately it failed to stream properly and I have had to give up after half an hour. However, from that half an hour, the film looked more promising than some of the opinion I have heard about it being a bit of a boring and pointless film.

From the opening it seems to be a man describing his life to another man – I didn’t manage to figure out the relationship between them, but upon reading the synopsis of the scenes I watched, the other man is actually the author, Yann Martel. I don’t believe this is the angle of the book (a work I have not yet read) but it is an incredibly clever device to put into the film, and makes me want to read the book more, as it suggests it will be written in the first person. Pi’s name is also explored in a fantastic way and the whole idea of his name and the shortening and how he gains kudos in his school is excellent.

What made me want to keep watching past the first ad break was actually the religious perspective, which is not surprising for a film related to Interfaith Week. One of Yann’s first comments was “He said you had a story that would make me believe in God”. Of course I did not get to watch the whole story, but that line is very intriguing. The next question is which god does it lead to belief in, because we soon find out that Pi follows 3 religions, at least in his early life. The scene I enjoyed the most was where he enters the church for a bet and instead becomes fascinated with Christianity. The priest’s simple response about God loving us when Pi asks about the crucifixion is just the Christian faith in one sentence. God loves us.

A promising film that I hope to revisit, Life of Pi looks at religion and survival in a visual manner with an engaging narrator. Three stars.


Into Film Project: 12 – Under Milk Wood

The next film (albeit out of order) in my Into Film Project is Under Milk Wood for Dylan Thomas’ birthday on 27th October. As he died on 9th November 1953, it seems fitting to post this review now. I watched the recent BBC adaptation, originally aired on 26th October 2014 to celebrate the centenary of Thomas’ birth.

The format of the production was unexpected, although understandable considering its description as a ‘play for voices’. You probably need to pay much more attention to it than I did to really understand the plot, as I certainly did not have a clue what was going on. However, for anyone who is prepared to give the hour long programme their full attention, particularly those interested in literature, I would definitely recommend it.

The casting in the film was truly fantastic. A who’s who of Welsh stars, it showcased the talents of the likes of Tom Jones, Eve Myles and Michael Sheen, along with many many others. Each scene brought me many gasps at the new stars involved and the vocal talents of Katherine Jenkins were also much welcomed.

The other aspect of the adaptation I loved was the subtle modernisation of the play. Technology was abundant yet it did not overshadow the power of Thomas’ words and was mingled seemlessly into the story, with video calling taking a key role: not surprising when the film consists of separate shots of individuals cut together to form a coherent story.

A superb cast bring Dylan Thomas’ literary work to life in an up to date fashion, but concentration is needed to truly appreciate the production. Two stars.


Into Film Project: 11 – Fantasia

Today is Bonfire Night and the suggestion was Fantasia, the Disney animation from 1940. This is a film that I have seen many times before, particularly as a child and more recently during my recovery from my operation (so actually more than three years ago, gosh!), but decided it was worth watching again as it is entirely based around music and therefore good to have in the background to essay research.

The soundtrack to Fantasia was expertly chosen and contains the perfect mix of calm and exciting music to listen to as well as watch the beautiful animations that accompany it. I often think of it as the first introduction some children will have to classical music and the combination of works such as Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue, Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert gives a small snapshot of the breadth of classical music out there for us to enjoy. Personally I enjoy the first two works the most and find The Sorcerer’s Apprentice quite annoying with it being the section that the film is most known for – and my dislike for Mickey Mouse and his stupidity in the story does not help matters either!

Anyone who has focused on listening to music will know that you create pictures in your mind upon listening, and Fantasia does a fantastic job of animating one such interpretation of what the pieces represent. Some of their stories verge on the absurd, such as the depiction of centaur family life to the sound of Beethoven, but the mystical world is brought to life none the less. However, the first piece (Tocatta and Fugue) does what I feel is the best job of depicting real orchestral music in action, incorporating aspects of the instruments into the animation and really drawing the viewer into the story and those to follow.

I was utterly captivated by both Fantasia and its sequel, Fantasia 2000, as a child, and although it has lost some of its charm as I have grown older, the original holds a special place in my heart, as well as obviously influencing the production of Fantasia 2000 which has only risen in my opinions due to the amazing music it contains and the familiarity I feel with pieces that I have now performed or heard performed.

An brilliant introduction to classical music with a creativity that only Disney could pull off, this is an almost unique musical production that should be experienced at least once by all. 3 stars.


Into Film Project: 10 – Dear White People

Yesterday marked the end of Black History Month and today I finally got around to watching Dear White People, only a month late! I have to be honest that I didn’t really understand what was going on, although the beginning of the film was very well designed and made me want to keep watching.

The film follows a group of black students at Winchester University in the USA where they are far outnumbered by white people. One student, Samantha White, is particularly outraged at the inequality between black and white people and uses her radio show, entitled ‘Dear White People’, to voice her criticisms of the white students. The film follows her winning the role of Head of House for the all-black house on campus and the tensions that ensue, as well as documenting the inequality both through Sam’s eyes and from a wider perspective.

Not greatly understanding the film, I cannot comment on the interactions between characters, but one thing that was very clear to me was the amount that they were regarded as second-class citizens and looked down on by the white students. This is particularly explored at the end of the film and through White’s venomous attacks on white behaviour. The response to this from fellow student Coco is also of great interest, as she sees Sam as more popular to everyone due to her bi-racial position (and therefore lighter skin colour). This emphasises the variations in treatment that black people receive in society – dual racism in a sense.

The one thing that bothered me in the film was the intense focus on black lives. In one sense, with the satirical element and subject matter of the film, this makes complete sense. It is a film about the black experience from the perspective of the people who are experiencing that. I am pretty sure it also passes the racial version of the Bechdel test (where there are two or more black characters who talk to each other about something other that race). However, it almost certainly doesn’t pass the reverse racial Bechdel test – there are multiple white characters who talk to each other, but all the conversations I can remember involved them talking about race. I would have liked to see further exploration of the white people who weren’t out to get them, but then Sam’s vitriolic treatment of and alienation from the white community doesn’t lend itself to that. If the film wasn’t satirical this would have annoyed me far more than it has, and in fact the black focus is even alluded to within the film, where Sam discusses how a black person can’t be racist. Personally I feel that is a view which is inherently racist when you think about what racism really means: discrimination or mistreatment on the basis of someone’s racial background.

A well presented look at continuing inequality of race, albeit one that requires concentration to follow properly. Two stars.


Into Film Project: 9 – Wall-E

Today I watched Wall-E for World Food Day, which was last Friday. I have seen it before but it is one of those films where I frequently forget what happens. This doesn’t mean that it is a forgettable film, but I think I first watched it at a time when I was just too old for Pixar’s target market but still felt it was a film I should watch, meaning I did not pay enough attention.

On a second watch it is slightly more captivating, although a film that for the most part consists of about 2 words of dialogue repeated by the two protagonists can be quite hard to concentrate on. It is a slow start but gives a fantastic comment on the direction in which modern society is heading, and the future seems pretty bleak. Of course, it is given the Disney treatment so that the subject matter is palatable for the young audience, but as my housemate said “It is another example of Disney tackling complex issues within children’s films”. I’m not going to argue with that, the evolution of technology we see in the film and its consequences is something that could easily happen in centuries time.

It is not the best Pixar film, as you may have gathered from my previous comments, but the character of Wall-E cannot be described as anything less than lovable. His naivety and different outlook is refreshing in a world that follows the crowd and follows orders rather than thinking independently, and his kind nature is heartwarming.

Spoilers begin now. Why the film was chosen for World Food Day is slightly more cryptic. It centres around a rubbish clearing robot and the food based theme only really appears around the middle of the film. It’s not a theme that automatically springs to mind whilst watching, but once you think about it, there’s a lot of sense in linking Wall-E with food. The main problem addressed in the film is that of obesity, with the characters living off processed food in a cup. The whole idea of growing their own plants is completely foreign to everyone, and the captain has almost childlike joy at finding that a seed can grow into all types of food (although pizza trees are not a thing, sorry Captain!) In a small way this film shows the importance of providing the means to grow food to every person on the planet and the massive benefits a seed can bring.

The other predominant theme in the film is the reliance on technology. The residents of the spaceship no longer interact physically with each other, choosing to talk with friends via video calling. They do not walk because they can travel by hoverchair. They have all their food and needs provided by robots. Even the ship is controlled by an auto-pilot, with near catastrophic results when the pilot chooses a different path. John and Mary are the characters that bring the most hope for technology not being the be-all and end-all and their promising romance is a reminder that we need to get away from technology for a bit and really live in the world. I definitely don’t do this enough!

Childlike but not childish, Wall-E tackles serious issues in an understandable way, with a robot protagonist that will steal your heart. Three stars.

The next film is 12 Years A Slave for Anti-Slavery Day today (18th October) but I don’t have it so stay tuned for the next review!


Into Film Project: 8 – Wadjda

Last night I watched Wadjda, Into Film’s suggestion for International Day of the Girl on 11th October. I was apprehensive at first but it was actually a greatly informative film and really emphasised the role of women and girls in Muslim society. Spoilers are included in this review, but it is as much a comment on reality as it is a film.

Firstly I did not realise that this film was in a foreign language. But seeing as it is set in Saudi Arabia this was fitting and the subtitles were easy to follow. It was a slow story but it did not need much background to understand the cultural context: Wadjda is a young girl struggling with growing up in a world where being female makes you a second class citizen.

“Here girls don’t ride bikes. If you ride a bike you can’t have children”

The film focuses on Wadjda’s desire to buy a bike, not particularly because this is of great interest but because it shows the inequality that exists in Muslim countries. As a child, Wadjda has more freedom than her mother but many of her activities remain frowned upon: fraternising with a male friend alone, not wearing her headscarf and, of course, riding a bike. Her life is dictated in part by the wishes of her father, mother and school, and deviation from the norm is highly discouraged.

The seemingly backwards ideals of Arabian life are what predominantly shines through this film. Women are wives, mothers and teachers but outside of these roles they are pushed aside, ignored and unwelcome. They aren’t recognised in a family tree and accept harsh treatment from men. Wadjda’s mother’s acceptance of her husband finding a second wife is particularly poignant – she is utterly defeated but accepts it, a similar response to when she loses her driver and cannot go to work. Marriage is something that is touched upon among Wadjda’s peers as well: one quote from the film is “Salma just got married and brought pictures of her wedding.” The teacher’s main issue with this statement is that pictures are forbidden in school, but for Western society it is the fact that a 12 year old girl is being married off to a 20 year old husband and the girls do not bat an eyelid.

Upon reading more about the film, I was surprised at how many boundaries it breaks. It was the first feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the director, Haifaa al-Mansour, is the first female Saudi director of a feature film. Her experience is descriptive of the segregation of the conservative Islamic kingdom – for some scenes she had to direct from inside a van and use a walkie-talkie to communicate with her team because of not being able to mix with the male crew members in public.

Despite the slow start, I was gripped by the ending of the film. On the surface we see a change in Wadjda as she heads towards the Koran competition that will win her the money to buy her bike, but there is a small twist that shocks both the viewer and Wadjda’s peers within the film. Her mother’s quote “If you set your mind to something no one can stop you” is something that emphasises her mother’s love above all else, and the ending of the film left me hopeful for the fortunes of Saudi women.

Whether you are immersed in Muslim culture or know nothing about it, Wadjda gives a wide overview of the inequality of women through a lovable little girl and is well worth a watch. Four stars.

This article was greatly informative about the film making process and well worth a read: http://www.timeslive.co.za/entertainment/movies/2012/09/03/saudi-s-first-female-director-seeks-to-break-gender-taboos

The next post for my Into Film Project will be Wall-E on Friday (16th October) for World Food Day.