The Sublime Landscape of JRR Tolkien and His Creative Vision – in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

I saw the last Hobbit film two days ago: The Battle of the Five Armies.

The Hobbit 1st published 1937 and its author JRR Tolkien
The Hobbit 1st published 1937 and its author JRR Tolkien

And as I watched it I had a strong feeling of Peter Jackson making the most of his final cinematic visit to Middle-earth. Everything was exploited to its fullest extent, the brutality of battle, the sublimity and peril of the landscape, the tragedy of a hero lost in his lust for gold, the goodness and simplicity and down-to-earth appeal of Bilbo, the ugliness and brutishness of the orcs, the grandeur and regality of the elves, the mystical presence of Galadriel.

As a lover of JRR Tolkien and the fantasy world he created, I  first read The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the Silmarillion while I was at university. When I read the Hobbit I remember loving it even more, if that were possible, than The Lord of the Rings. I felt it contained all that the longer book contained, but within a smaller, more compact package. I don’t think it’s possible to think this about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films! Even so, I felt in this final trip to Middle-earth Peter Jackson excelled himself in terms of long scenes of extended hazard, in archetypal themes of love and compassion versus cruelty, brutality, and the lust for gold. How glad I was when the Lady Galadriel appeared in the dark, craggy, landscape in her shining white robes. And when Bilbo finally said he was off home, I thought, Cue for the eagles to fly in and give him a ride back to The Shire. But no. He had to walk. I loved the way the landscape grew greener and more warm and welcoming as he approached closer to Hobbiton.

Considering the very unassuming and childlike way in which the original novel The Hobbit begins, who could ever have guessed it would lead on to such heights of creative imagination. And in the world he created, JRR Tolkien gave us many poignant and ominous reflections upon our own world, on the nature of life, and the human condition, as well as the spiritual purpose and destiny of the human race.

Brilliant Short Documentary Made by Abigail Robinson: Claiming the Spotlight

 

Claiming the Spotlight documentary by Abigail Robinson
Claiming the Spotlight documentary by Abigail Robinson

My film-maker daughter Abigail Robinson has recently created a short documentary for a college assignment as part of the second year of her HND in Creative Media. It’s about young actors trying to get into the acting profession. Called “Claiming the Spotlight” the documentary centres upon Playbox Theatre at the Dream Factory in Warwick, where Founder and Executive Director Mary King first began offering young people a unique creative experience 28 years ago.

For the documentary Abigail interviewed a selection of individuals who have all experienced the reality for young actors, and each is coming from a different angle, but essentially giving the same compelling message.

The editing is excellent, the interviews very engaging, and above all it is impossible not to be touched and moved by the reality behind the glamour of the acting world. I cannot help but see the similarities between the interviewees’ experience and that of anyone involved in creative endeavour, whether that be as a writer, an actor, a musician or an artist.

Do view the documentary here and like and comment!

“The Imitation Game” Film Starring Benedict Cumberbatch – Moving and Powerful

I was very moved by the film “The Imitation Game” which I saw the other day.

The Imitation Game poster
The Imitation Game poster

It tells the story of Alan Turing who led the team which cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park during World War II.

Benedict Cumberbatch opened up for us a picture of a hero who was never rewarded and acknowledged, and in fact eventually met with the condemnation of an ignorant and intolerant society. The film reminded me that  in the 2nd World War there were heroes whose contributions were visible, acknowledged and celebrated. But Alan Turing was one of the heroes whose genius and dedication would remain a secret for many years.

I applaud the gifts of a great actor like Benedict Cumberbatch who can bring such forgotten heroes alive for us in a new way.

 

People of Inspiration: the Much-Loved Pythons We’ve Followed Through the Years

Last night I watched the final live Monty Python show broadcast from the O2 arena and delighted once again in those famous sketches, performed by the original Pythons, less of course, Graham Chapman.

I recalled one night at university when I sat on a bed with a group of fellow-students, and one got hold of my copy of Monty Python’s Big Red Book. He then read the book aloud to us, word by word, for the next several hours, and we spent most of the night laughing hysterically.

Monty Pythons Big Red Book Cover
Monty Pythons Big Red Book Cover

In fact I believe the Python humour translates to the printed page even better than to TV. That event is probably why certain images and phrases remain in my mind, like the address Behind the Hot Water Pipes, Third Washroom Along, Victoria Station; and why I remember the Whizzo Speed chocolate assortment, and Doug and Dinsdale Piranha, (who I have occasionally wished I could put into a novel but realised it would be plagiarism), and also Miss Gloria Pules, who when interviewed about the Piranha Brothers, said they were wont to introduce one to eminent celebrities.

At the 02 Arena, the Dead Parrot Sketch and the Argument sketch were to my mind as good as the originals.  The Spanish Inquisition sketch didn’t have, for me, quite the same impact when the comfy chair was threatened. And a bit was missing out of Postal Blackmail.

Nevertheless it was wonderful to see Eric Idle, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam on stage acting the classic sketches.

Monty Python has infused everything each has done subsequently. I have followed and enjoyed their creative work over the years, and loved them because they were Pythons; I’ve watched the films and the TV programmes, read the books, listened to the songs. I queued up outside Waterstone’s in Kensington High Street, London, to buy a copy of Terry Jones’s Fairy Tales and have it signed by the author and illustrator.

In all they have done, the Pythonesque secret language has been there somewhere, that anarchic, surreal element, the parody of a parody of our British society, that we, embedded in that society, all innately recognise and understand, to such an extent that it can be instantly recalled with the words: This is an ex-parrot or Is this the right room for an argument? or Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition.

I was also thrilled to discover that John Cleese, like myself, loves Roget’s Thesaurus; which played a large part in creating the most memorable lines in the Dead Parrot sketch.

Do you too love the Pythons? do share what the Pythons mean to you, by commenting on this post!

The Fault in Our Stars and Poignant Reminders of Short Lives on Milverton Hill

Recently I went to see the film The Fault in Our Stars with my two teenage children. Based upon the book of the same name by John Green it was about two teenagers both diagnosed with terminal cancer, who form a relationship at a cancer support group, try to avoid falling in love because of their life-limiting illnesses, and then do fall in love, before one of them dies.

Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)
Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)
Abigail with Jeni the dog near Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)
Abigail with Jeni the dog near Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)

 

 

Along the way, many wise observations are made about life and death and mortality, and the way we handle death in this society, and our failure to speak the truth or be “real” in the presence of life-limiting illness.

This was such a poignant film, especially the scene in Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where both are brought face to face with another teenager whose life was also cut short – for a very different reason.

Ruby Johnson's memorial plaque at Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)
Ruby Johnson’s memorial plaque at Old Milverton Churchyard 27 June 2014 (photo taken by SC Skillman)

With this film in my mind, we recently made a walk up Milverton Hill to Old Milverton Church, near my home in Warwick, where there is a memorial plaque to Ruby Johnson (one of my daughter’s former fellow-pupils at school) who died of leukaemia in 2009 age 13.

Walking up this hill to Old Milverton Church is always poignant for me, because I now associate the summit of that hill, and that quiet churchyard, with Ruby’s lovely and touching memorial.

 

 

Loyalty, Hope and Keeping Faith, in the Greatest Film I’ve Ever Seen: The Shawshank Redemption

We love listing “The 50 Top … Films, Books, Magic Tricks, Comedians”, etc. etc.

Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne and Morgan Freeman as  Ellis (Red) Redding in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne and Morgan Freeman as Ellis (Red) Redding in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

And a list of the top films will always change from year to year. But to my mind, The Shawshank Redemption makes the top of the list. And I saw it again very recently on TV.

I watched it for the first time several months ago when I borrowed it from LoveFilm. Having visited Aberystwyth University Film Studies Department with my daughter during an Open Day in 2012, I heard the Film Studies lecturer list those films which are considered  “the best ever made” or absolute must-see films for those who are serious about film.

So I dutifully added those films to my LoveFilm list.

And that’s how I came upon The Shawshank Redemption.

And this is why I consider it justly deserving of the title ‘best movie ever made.’

Bob Gunton as Warden Samuel Norton in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Bob Gunton as Warden Samuel Norton in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Its themes are of profound relevance to our lives:

The importance of:

keeping faith; having patience; strategic long term planning; a long term plan of action; perseverance; loyalty; hope; persistence; calm forbearance under ill treatment and suffering.

I believe we can find in The Shawshank Redemption a metaphor for all that’s truly important in this life.

I suggest, too, that it’s no accident that I, as a writer, should relate closely to these themes in my own life. For the film is based upon Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption; and Stephen King, besides all his other books, is the author of the best book for writers I have ever read: On Writing. I’ve heard many other writers give this the highest praise too. I imagine that something of his own understanding of life as a writer may have been uppermost in Stephen King’s mind when he created the story upon which The Shawshank Redemption is based.

Sometimes, struggling through many years without recognition or success, can be like serving 10,20,30 years in Shawshank State Prison. Although the act of creating fiction is in a sense its own reward, and always will be, the fact remains that rewriting drafts and revising a novel line by line over the course of years without any immediate material reward in view, is like chipping away, digging that hole in the wall, the hole which opens the tunnel to freedom, hidden behind a deceptive cover, over years, of slow, patient work.

Keeping faith is the phrase that returns to me again and again, along with patience, perseverance, forbearance, strategic long term planning, and a long term course of action.

And I’m sure you, in whatever circumstances life has thrown at you, can also find parallels here to some aspect of your own experience.

The epiphany at the end of the film has a luminous, spiritual quality to it. To me it is more truly ‘religious’ than anything the Warden Samuel Nortons of this world might delude themselves with.

Watch the film if you haven’t seen it. But if you have – share your feelings about the message of this film.