Lost Spirits and Formal Sporrans: The Angels' Share (AFF)

And the Atlantic Film Festival begins, with this frolic of a fairy tale about whisky and redemption, a sort of SIDEWAYS that, in place of neurotic, pretentious, SoCal yuppie wine geeks, gives us scarred, working-class, Glaswegian ex-cons. Which, to me, makes it about a million times more charming.

It's not a deep film, and it's a resolutely sentimental one, but it left me in an awfully good mood.  Ken Loach draws his main characters with his wonted decency and detail, although tangential characters sometimes descend into the sort of caricature that left me with the uneasy feeling that if the film had been set in London instead of Glasgow, it might have starred Hugh Grant.  (One character is so profoundly foolish that even his companions can't quite believe it.)  A large portion of the film dances at the edge of neorealist inaudibility, or perhaps muttered incomprehensibility, and to be honest these were my favorite sections: this film could do with a bit more muddiness, a bit more obscurity in its moral message.  I loved The Angels' Share best when it seemed not to care what we thought, or whether we were even keeping up.

What saves it from utter didacticism as a tale of the last big score that allows a fundamentally decent man to escape the trap of criminality and violence is the performance of Paul Brannigan as handsome, scarred Robbie (and, needless to say, the way Loach patiently frames that performance).  Robbie's just been told by a judge that he's had his last chance, and only gotten it because of the stabilizing influence of a girlfriend who's just about to make him a father for the first time: when next he finds himself in trouble, he's going to prison, and probably for some time.  Brannigan's Robbie is fiercely smart and mutely shameful; he discovers an unusual perceptiveness to the nuances of whiskey, a drink he never cared for before, but despairs of ever getting a legitimate job when the violence of his past is written in sharp cuts on his face.  In every scene, his eyes show his ambition warring with his despair and regret, like a doppler map of coming weather.  I was half in love with him myself by the film's end.  (Wait, am I not supposed to admit that?)

The film's title, like everything else about it, is both squirmingly earnest and defiantly evocative.  The angels' share is the percentage of spirit that evaporates every year from the stored whiskey: it represents what is lost, but also what is offered up.  It is the spirit of generosity and the poetics of pragmatism, and it emerges as a social metaphor for those who've been written off.  I found myself warming to the title the more I thought about it, even in its final, most literal invocation.

"Everything about this film screams Nova Scotia," said the festival programmer to us as we took our seats, "It's set in Glasgow; it's about people turning their lives around; and, you know, stealing booze."

Sure enough, when our Dogsberrying group of misfits make their way to the Highlands in kilts, and "I'm gonna be (500 miles)" started up, a not insignificant portion of the audience (including me, and not just because I was expecting the Doctor to show up) sang along in clear, broad Scottish accents.

On the other hand, this is the sort of film which rousingly plays the Proclaimers as kilted Glaswegians seek out legendary whiskey in the Highlands. You've been forewarned.

 The Angels' Share
dir. Ken Loach (2012)


Here, share in my good mood:

And now, a personal tangent:

At the film, I had a revelation. When D  moves to Nova Scotia, I'm getting him a kilt to celebrate. My mom and I agree that he will rock it. (And the best part: it will be a major victory in his ongoing war on pants.) Now I just had to find out what my mother's family tartan is.

There followed this series of manic midnight messages to D in Hawai'i, who was having an unusually frantic day on set and probably did not appreciate a thousand questions about how he would look in a skirt: 

"Ugh: apparently we are lumped in with the MacLennans, a clan with a singularly hideous tartan (What's that whirring, thumping sound? Is it my ancestors spinning in their collective Presbyterian graves in Glasgow and Northern Ireland?)."

["Hmmm," wrote my sister-in-law after examining the MacLennan tartan, "not sure who decided that green, teal and red should all go together."

"Ancient clan warriors," I replied, "who'd been up all night drinking and painting themselves with woad. Never trust the color-sense of a woad-covered man."

"I'm tied down to it," I went on to the unresponsive D, "but I don't think you should be. I think instead I'm going to get you a plaid from one of the clans represented by characters in the Scottish play. Unless you indicate a favorite, I'm leaning towards MacDuff. (Although I really think you would look best in MacDonald. But we can't totally throw signification and association out the window and declare your allegiance to a Haligonian bridge, for God's sake. That way lies madness.)"


"Do you prefer your sporran in muskrat, badger, or leather? Or shall we go the full Canadian with beaver? Too on the nose (so to speak) for a crotch accessory?"
[No answer from D.  Odd. Clearly he needs some local context.]
"This wins the prize for Canadian non-story of the summer. It honestly reads like an Onion article:

The Halifax artist donned a kilt last October and has since decided that he prefers it over pants.

“You don’t feel so confined or something,” says King, 40.

Pants for men in the Western world seem to be pretty much the norm in modern times, but for most of history, it wasn’t. Even Romans thought pants were for barbarians.... He wants to wear the kilt “because it is a more authentic type of clothing or something and has a history to it.”"


"Do I detect an ominous silence from D?" my mother interjects, "I mean, you can lead a man to a kilt, but ..."

And he doesn't even know yet that this kilt (even without the [everyday] sporran, the socks, the matching tartan things that hold up your socks, the dress sporran, the ceremonial knife, and the Jacobite jacket) is going to cost as much as a mortgage payment. Shhh. No one tell him.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sunday Salon: The Cut Direct and the Puff Oblique

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Internal June, External January

It's snowing again in Nova Scotia.  Having done my dutiful and invigorating round of civically-minded shoveling, I'm burrowing in for a day of reading and course prep.  It's going to be a week of Ibsen and Chekhov and Shaw (leavened by an exploration of the Icarus myth across the ages that I'll link to  a lecture on intertextuality and plagiarism that somehow heavily features the Beyoncé video for "Single Ladies").   My neighbors just rang the doorbell to give me cinnamon rolls as a thank you for shoveling the walkway. Life could definitely be a lot worse.

[There was a moment earlier in the week when the specter of a less than Little Women-worthy society crossed my neighborhood. Leaving the house, I encountered my neighbor on the other side, hanging up her laundry in the freezing air.  I greeted her in jolly tones.  And she gave me the cut direct.   I felt ready to succumb to a fit of the vapors.  This was very un-Nova Scotian.

A friend quickly sent me to this definition of the verb "to cut" from The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), a book I heartily wish to absorb in its entirety into my everyday usage:
To renounce acquaintance with any one is to cut him. There are several species of the cut. Such as the cut direct, the cut indirect, the cut sublime, the cut infernal, &c. The cut direct, is to start across the street, at the approach of the obnoxious person in order to avoid him. The cut indirect, is to look another way, and pass without appearing to observe him. The cut sublime, is to admire the top of King’s College Chapel, or the beauty of the passing clouds, till he is out of sight. The cut infernal, is to analyze the arrangement of your shoe-strings, for the same purpose.
Ok, I replied, to be honest it might have been the cut indirect.  She didn't cut across the alley to avoid me.  But she was hanging up laundry at the time, and that sort of tied her down.  I would have preferred either the cut infernal or the cut sublime.  (I'll have to start practicing those.)  If she was looking at her clothesline when I said "hello" from five feet away, does that make it a cut sublime?  I certainly hope so.

My mother (who birthday it is today - Happy Birthday!) joined the debate: "This reminds me," she said, "of the description of various forms of PR in Sheridan's The Critic, as expounded by the expert, Mr. Puff: 'puffing is of various sorts: the principal are the puff direct, the puff preliminary, the puff collateral, the puff collusive, and the puff oblique, or puff by implication.'  Maybe you could use one of these on your neighbor to improve relations."

My friend S, a scholar of the Renaissance, brought her expertise to bear with some sobering words: "Better than the lie direct -- that would have led irretrievably to a duel, unless you had thought of an 'if'."

Happily, it didn't come to that.  I don't have it in me to get up at dawn again this week.

In fact, I saw my neighbor hanging laundry again two days ago.  She smiled broadly at me: "Hallo."  "Hallo," I replied, much relieved.  It turns out that there is a very fine line between stone-cold and stone-deaf.)

There's been a lot more activity at Sycorax Pine lately, due in part to my new policy of attempting at least "Lightning Reviews" of a few lines for everything I watch and read.  I'm a few behind right now, but feeling good - come by and take a look around to see the changes.

So, if I have time to venture beyond work today, what will I be doing?  Finishing Betina Krahn's The Husband Test (my first of Krahn's, and a fun gambol). Starting Lady Audley's Secret, which promises to be no less scandalous, and possibly considerably more so. Watching the end of Secretary (I've been on a bit of a Maggie Gyllenhaal streak lately, and I'm not enjoying it at all).  Tuning in for the next installment of Downton Abbey, which I'm really lapping up.  As I said in the comments at Read React Review,
There have been some moments that twinged my anachronism radar, but I really appreciate the multi-level (and relatively unsentimental) treatment of how class functioned in complex and codependent ways in a country house setting. The key moment for me was when the new middle-class heir (who until then I had assumed the modern spectator was meant to identify with) sweeps into town and tells his valet that he has a “silly job for a grown man.” Brilliantly rendered by both actors and the director.
Trying to finish up Geraldine Brooks's March, which hasn't (at the halfway point) impressed me to the extent that it did my book club mates.  I am assured that at some point in the next twenty pages, however, it will become unputdownable.  I do want to forge ahead to the point where Marmee's voice enters the narrative.  Oh, and listening to Nina Simone.  I'll leave you with the lady herself on this fine Sunday:

Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Lightning Review: Film)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Workers and watchers wander, ghostly, 'round a dilapidated cinema, crowding each other in tight hallways, pressing close in the empty theatre, always choosing the adjacent urinal in depressing bathrooms.  The first words are spoken more than halfway through the film, when one character tells another that the theatre is haunted.  But it turns out that the other man doesn't understand him - he's a Japanese tourist who has come to the theatre in search of {awkward cough} connection.  A film about nostalgia and haunting and the inability to let go.  Nothing wrong with it, but I found it all too easy to let go: I don't have sufficient meditative capacity for these long-developing shots that don't, in the end, develop into much beyond silence and endless waiting.  The fact that that's the point didn't, for me, make it an interesting point.

Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Dir. Ming-liang Tsai
(Taiwan, 2003)
Watched Jan 14.