Monday, 19 January 2009

A happy Billy (or two)

There are two things I've watched lately that I'd like to mention to those of you who pass by this way. Maybe you've seen the things I'm talking about, maybe you haven't but I hope so because, as always, I'm interested in your contribution. So! Notebooks at the ready – let's discuss (sorry, been reading 'Harriet the Spy' with Small Girl – in full notebook mode...).

First off is the film 'Happiness' (1998 dir. Todd Solondz) – not one to watch with small girls or indeed small boys...or indeed anyone of a delicate constitution or high level of prudishness. I watched it last week when Mark was away because I always have a whole pile of 'miserable arty films' stacked up on the freeview hard drive recorder thingamabob (they must come up with a catchy name for those machines...I call ours the 'magic box'...) and I thought it was a good chance to clear a couple from the languishing 'library'. Mark does watch these films with me now and again (and sometimes even enjoys them) but he can only take so many and you know what...sometimes after I've watched a particularly harrowing or upsetting one I catch myself wondering why I watch films like this too! Misery, cruelty, boredom, families who torture each other, people who rape children...remind me, why am I watching this again? Aren't there some reruns of 'Q.I' on the Dave channel or something?

But I watched it...because that's what I let's continue. I must have noted something about 'Happiness' back when it came out but, as I've mentioned before, I rarely get to cinemas never mind arthouse ones so I am years behind with movies. This one was on TV ages ago (maybe even as far back as last Xmas) and, since I recorded it, it has just sat on our library page...and sat...and sat...because when exactly are you in the mood for a movie about a paedophile? Not often really is it?

Of course this film is about lots of other things. It's one of those all-encompassing just-about-life movies and it really is very good – great acting, great actors, beautiful colours, clever dialogue, interesting music, interesting use of unusual music in unusual places, even an amusing and really annoying pretentious poet character who's 'living in a state of irony' (New Jersey). Have any of you seen it? What did you make of it? It really is unusual, I'd give it that much. It's stayed with me (as some films do) and I am aware of it seeping into my mind in all kinds of funny places. There are a lot of American films that do that kooky look at life (suburban or urban...this one does both in fact) but 'Happiness' takes several steps further into...kookiness...and then it really goes beyond that and into...quite a different place. Every now and again I had to stop myself - did I really watch fantastic actor Philip Seymour Hoffman ejaculating at a wall? I believe I did (or at least I watched him grimacing and then a cutaway to what definitely looked like... the product of masturbation on a wall). Philip Seymour Hoffman does not play the paedophile, by the way, he is Billy - more your run-of-the-mill stalker/crank caller. It's one of those films where you find yourself thinking the strangest things like 'is it someone's job to make the fake semen and shoot it out somehow' (at least I'm assuming it's fake semen...maybe it isn't) or did he make his own? I'm sure there's a website somewhere that could tell me the answer if I really want to know (and I don't – some mysteries are better left untouched...). His is not the only semen shot in the film either and at times it feels a bit like a very polite American 'Shameless'...with gentler music. At one point I'm sure I heard Barry Manilow's 'Mandy'...

The other thing I wanted to mention was a programme I watched before Xmas. It was the 'Shrink Rap' where Dr Pamela Connolly ('clinical psychologist') interviews her husband, the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly (I'm not going to link to his wikipedia page – who the hell doesn't know who Billy Connolly is!). I watched a lot of the last 'Shrink Rap' series and I found some of it really interesting. Sure, you could say it all feeds the obsession with celebrity, she's only interviewing famous people, it's only one step up from trashy magazines...except I think she makes a better job of it than that. I liked Dr P back when she was Pamela Stephenson in 'Not the Nine O'Clock News' and so I am well disposed towards her. Plus some of her subjects have been very interesting people (famous or not) - the Robin Williams interview/session was good and she made Salman Rushdie seem really fairly human. So when I saw she was talking to husband Billy Connolly (whose biography she has already written...twice) I couldn't resist having a wee look, now could I? It was the holidays after all.

I'm not a huge fan of Connolly's humour (I'm neither for nor against...I'm just not particularly tickled by what he does) but I do like him. I like the way he talks, the way he lives, the way he bounces through life like a great big Glaswegian rubber ball. There were some great sections in the interview/session/chat and I laughed quite a bit watching it (and I think I lost a tear or two as well). Connolly cried a little on-screen too – mostly remembering the life-changing experience of hearing Pete Seeger sing Dylan's 'Hard Rain' in Glasgow in the early 1960s. “I became another guy,” he said of the concert, “it changed me forever. I could see the tunnel...I knew light had was over and no-one was going to take advantage of me any more.”

I could quote the programme over and over (and in fact most of it is on YouTube – cut into smaller chunks - if you want to see it). He talked about his work and how he doesn't plan his comedy ideas - “they come...when I'm on there (stage). It's constantly very frightening and so my life is kind of frightening cos I really don't know...the code, you see...I don't know the pin's not till I'm challenged that I get the idea.”

One of my favourite bits, however, is about taste and you could apply what he says to art or poetry or comedy or...anything really. Here's some of it:

“As I get older I'm beginning to realise – and I wish more people would – that there are things you just don't get and you never will. Like Brussel sprouts – I don't get it that someone can actually pass them through their mouth and into their stomach. To me they are repulsive, dreadful things. And you can apply that to Picasso – some people think it's astounding and other people think it's a scribble...or Stockhausen or Mozart or Beethoven or the Rolling Stones. They say 'that's crap!' It isn't crap – you just don't get it and you never will. It's like Brussel sprouts – it just isn't for you...your chemical, emotional make-up. There isn't good and bad – there's stuff you don't get and it took me all this length of time to get there. I wish I'd known it in the first place!”

Also, as the interview progressed, it was just enjoyable to see how happy they were together, how obviously fond Mr and Mrs Connolly are of each other (unlike so many famous couples where you can just see the complete lack of any kind of bond between them). These two have been together for years and there were real smiles for each other (and not just for the was as if the camera was hardly there). There was real adult affection and genuine consideration for each other and their children and, you know, I like to see happiness – real happiness – because, my goodness, you can't watch miserable arthouse films every night now can you?

To finish this post here's a bit of 'Not the Nine O'Clock News' (featuring Pamela Stephenson, as she was then, with Mel Smith and Rowan Atkinson in a rather nasty gorilla suit). I remember this sketch very well because it was on the vinyl LP of the show that I got for Xmas one year and used to play over and over and over. The show was on BBC TV from 1979 to 1981 (I was just in high school, just old enough to really enjoy some of the smut!) and the man behind it was John Lloyd (now the man behind 'Q.I.'). Was it that long ago? Oh yes, it was...


Unknown said...

I wish I'd seen that Billy Connolly interview now; it sounds like I'd have enjoyed it. I must look out for it being repeated - you never know what you've been watching :)

Rachel Fox said...

It was on one of the Channel 4 offshoots here - More 4 I think. They do tend to repeat them. It is on YouTube too, as I say...cut into a few pieces...but it's an hour show (45 mins I suppose without the ads) so that's not the ideal place to watch it really.

Anonymous said...

I like Billy a lot - I think he is a great story-teller. Missed that interview, doubtless it will be repeated and I'd like to see it.

American Friends use the generic TIVO for that yolk you were talking about, it's as good a name as any.

Oh I haven't seen the movie either but I did hear it was very good. Check the credits at the end for semen-wrangler, I'm sure he's there. (he?) :)

Rachel Fox said...

'Happiness' is a good film, Ken, really good. Some really ambitious writing. I think. I'd be interested in your thoughts when you see it.

I'd never heard of TIVO...though I'm sure my technical advisor has. As a family we call it 'the box' (I'm the only one who adds 'magic') which is what people used to call the TV, isn't it. I suppose its name will come over time (if it isn't out of date by then!).

As for BC, yes a story teller is exactly what he is (more than a comedian really). You could even say 'raconteur' if you wanted to be posh (and I think he would like that). Him putting on a 'posh accent' always makes me laugh anyway!

And don't forget the...


Jim said...

As a Yank, I haven't seen much of Billy Connolly, but I have enjoyed what I've seen of him. That bit from 'Not the Nine O'Clock News' was fun; I'll have to poke around YouTube for more now!
Oh, and those programme-recording-thingamabobs are mostly called DVR's any more in the States. (digital video recorders) ;)


that video had me rolling! and it is so sweet to hear of real love, as it appears that billy and pamela share.

Rachel Fox said...

Hi Jim and Susan
Glad you both enjoyed the NTNON clip. It doesn't have the reputation of some of the other British comedy shows but it had some great moments.

And DVR...yes, I have seen that name for the boxes. I've never heard anyone say it here...but then a lot of my friends are even less up-with-the-technology than I am. Some of them still use VCR...some don't even have TV...and what's that fire stuff? How does that work again?


Jim Murdoch said...

I've been a fan of Billy Connolly since I was at school and everyone was talking about 'The Crucifiction' and I had to play the album quiet so my parents wouldn't know what I was listening too. My wife actually found me a tape of his album Raw Meat for the Balcony which never made it to CD. I bought the LP when I was 19 but it got lost along the way.

His point about sprouts is well taken. But I didn't like them as a kid and now I love them. You can grow into things. I don't like it when other people get stuff and I don't. That's why I want people to explain more about their poetry that they might really want to. I want to know the mindset I need to have to read their stuff. I'm not saying explain everything just enough so I can have a go myself.

Rachel Fox said...

I remember you writing about BC before Jim (M...two's getting confusing...). It's true his sprouts point is not completely the end of the story...a person can change their tastes over time (and should probably - who wants to stay the same forever?). Dr P does point out in the interview too that Billy and 'Brussel sprouts have a history' (he was forced to eat them by the fairly stern aunts who brought him up). However I still agree with him that there are some things that each of us will probably never like or understand but that that doesn't necessarily make those things crap or inferior. You are not a person who goes around saying things are crap or inferior so in some ways you have already learned that lesson (or never needed too) but that isn't the case for everybody.

The Solitary Walker said...

Re sprouts: when I was young my sister and I were forced to sit at the Sunday dinner table in front of overcooked meat & veg in a stiflingly repressive Victorian-style atmosphere with instructions to "be seen and not heard".

Perhaps not surprsingly I couldn't eat a thing - so had to endure the meal just sitting there in silence (more or less) and developing a hatred of vegetables, fat-rimmed beef on the bone - and many other perfectly innocuous foodstuffs.

I'm glad to say I did grow up and in my adolescence met up with normality outside the home - mates and girlfriends and travel and other life stuff - and soon began to positively love greens (sprouts, yum!), even beetroot and liver and other such unpopular things. To be honest, I can now eat practically anything (except undercooked tripe - as per my previous comment a while ago!)

I'm meandering here, and going completely off the point, but what I'd really like to say is:

Sprouts are great!

Keep up the great posts.

Rachel Fox said...

And you didn't even mention the Dylan bit, SW. I put it in partly for you (and Ken...and all the other Bobettes).

Maybe next time a big photo of a sprout! I can eat them but don't really like them and wouldn't choose them...such a liberal! Had them once in Spain fried with bacon once and that was long as you're not a vegetarian obviously.

Love the picture of your Victorian childhood. I didn't realise you were so old.

The Solitary Walker said...

Misread "old" for "odd" there for a moment. Not sure I like either! (I said Victorian-STYLE. Cheeky)

"We're idiots. babe
It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves"
BOB DYLAN Idiot Wind

Rachel Fox said...

A Dylan quote for every occasion!

Rachel Cotterill said...

I love Billy Connolly now - when I was a lot younger I found it hard to watch because of all the swearing. My favourites, though, are the series where he goes round the world on his motortrike - odd clips from his shows along the way, but mostly it's just him, exploring. I will look out for that interview :)

Rachel Fox said...

Hi Rachel
I see you are a rambler too! I like your site - I think apart from the name and rambling we are direct opposites in some ways (I got stuck on the self-indulgent poetry...some of the time...and I don't travel much and I think I am losing skills rather than collecting them...).

I liked that Billy travelling series too though. I don't watch many 'famous people travelling' programmes but I have caught that one a few times and really enjoyed it.