Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Savage culture

The sign "Savage culture" hangs above a shop in that extraordinary Cantabrian town Santillana del Mar: it's an oxymoron that came to mind during Inside Llewyn Davis this evening, and in reflecting about last night's film too.

The latest Coen Brothers offering, beautifully set in the early '60s, pivots round a young, gentle-till-provoked hobo, a talented New York guitarist and song-writer. Through many difficult and some violent relationships, not least with ginger cats, we watch his life slowly disintegrating, as his lyrical ballads are ruthlessly dismissed as noncommercial. Ulysses turns out to be the name of the no. 1 cat, but Llewyn Davis' Odyssey has no such happy ending. Why did he fail when Bob Dylan succeeded? we ask. Coming away, Caroline and I agreed: there but for the grace of God goes one of ours (similarly hirsute and entangled with cats).

Inside Llewyn Davis is an extremely funny, very sad film, a description applying equally to Dans la maison, François Ozon's brilliant second-to-last feature from 2012: our Film Society showed it last night. This centres on another male character encumbered by a busted flush of a father, but this time manipulating those around him, as opposed to being manipulated. Claude, aged 16, wreaks havoc within his bourgeois community, sending his literary Maestro mad as fantasy conflicts with reality. Culture, once again a double-edged sword.

I took the photograph in Elmley Castle. Four of us reached there starting from Ashton-under-Hill, happily a dry walk this morning, with fine, long views: the rain has come back since.  It was mostly firm underfoot across Bredon Hill, but horribly muddy on the long descent. (We trudged back the long way, around the road.)

In St Mary's Church, you can't fail to see and wonder at two extraordinary tombs. On one, dating from c1700, the first Earl of Coventry lounges nonchalantly in full wig, one hand reaching out to pick up his coronet. The other - 25 years, but what seems like a whole world earlier - depicts members of the Savage family. Three lie as if asleep, the lady holding her baby daughter; while four other children kneel attentively at their feet. And between them, the head of a stag, with golden locks and one remaining but wondrous ear: its neck is pierced with an arrow. Savage culture once more.

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