Thursday, 20 October 2016

Vikings on History: Ragnar/Travis Fimmel and Athelstan/George Blagden

Travis assaults George
Their interchange is the affectionate push and pull of an excitable, irrepressible, slightly rough puppy (Travis) with his favourite, long-suffering chew-toy (George), who is alternately hugged, kissed, and hit, gripped, pinched, abused but all with a proprietary kind of devotion. He just can't let him alone. And George submits good-naturedly, patiently to this harsh handling, barely complaining except for an occasional ‘Ow!’ when his nipples are tweaked, and even then he's so well-mannered, he apologises to the interviewer, smiling throughout. It seems to me that this playful and immediate intimacy is perhaps unwarranted, unasked for but not unwelcome – like, when a child you barely know unexpectedly takes your hand as you’re walking, almost a benediction, an acceptance, a symbol of trust you don’t yet deserve but will work hard to justify. Here, just to be the focus of the puppy’s attention, when little else will hold it, and certainly not the seriousness of your fellow interviewees, that he feels this irresistible urge to touch you, jostle you, acknowledge you, makes you feel chosen, special.

A hand on his shoulder
Curiously, it's almost an echo of the relationship between Ragnar and Athelstan. From different worlds but with an affinity that belies it, a natural understanding, a mutual indulgence. I won't say savagery versus civilisation, primitive versus cultured but perhaps physical versus not so much spiritual as simply rather less physical. The wild, laidback, expansive Aussie and the quietly spoken, self-contained Englishman. Google images of Ragnar and Athelstan and you will find it's usually Ragnar laying hands on Athelstan, whether it's a hand on his shoulder or gripping his knee. Watch this superb YT tribute, brilliantly videochoreographed to Hozier's 'Take Me to Church', which captures the essence of this special relationship.

Athelstan asserts his independence
Travis/Ragnar is extremely tactile he tends to communicate more through touch or expression than by speech, talks with his hands, his eyes, his body. A nod, a smile, a sideways glance. George/Athelstan's British reserve is eroded by the extreme physicality of Travis/Ragnar. In a way, touch is more honest than anything that can be said. It's a shorthand for how the character feels. Travis himself has an innate understanding of this: 'Those silent moments can have such meaning. Too much dialogue can leave the viewer with nothing.' It takes something momentous, the fear of losing him, before Ragnar tells Athelstan 'You cannot leave' then 'You cannot leave me' and eventually 'I love you.' Travis has said that it's his favourite relationship on the show and it's easy to see why. It's a beautiful friendship with a frisson of homoeroticism (helped by the palpable chemistry between them), played up in the many excellent YT tributes and by Travis himself. Twice here, when Athelstan's role is discussed, Travis naughtily murmurs 'Sex slave'. Even when affirming that free lunches are still his favourite thing on set, he adds 'And you, monk'.

Then, in other interviews, Travis mischievously maintains the mystique. Asked, of Lagertha and Auslag: 'Who's a better kisser?', he replies: 'Athelstan.' Of the occasion when Ragnar and Lagertha importuned Athelstan to come to bed with them, the 'Come and join us, monk?' line, he jokes, 'The offer's still on the table.' Asked (of Athelstan),  'How much is he worth?', he answers: 'I don't know. I haven't slept with him yet.' Of the threesome suggestion, he says 'You don't know if we were messing with him. ... I was serious ... test your relationships out a bit and see what you can get'.

Interestingly elsewhere, it's Travis who seems to shy away from physical contact with other cast members, just as George here once shifts slightly away from Travis, as if asserting his own position, albeit briefly. Perhaps he should be wary of this easy familiarity but it's given so frankly and with such charm, it would be churlish not to submit. George is comfortable enough in his own skin to accept these rough overtures in the spirit in which they're offered, as a gift of trust.

'I ache from your loss'
There's a certain casual intensity in Travis's performance that I'm not sure I've seen anywhere else. It's instinctual, natural. A force of nature. There's an essential truth to his portrayal of Ragnar, as if he were born to play this role. The series' creator, Michael Hirst, in audio commentary on the first episode, has said how the camera loves him. Indeed, it's hard to take your eyes off him, even when here he, a little endearingly, seems to zone out at times when the others are speaking, fidgets, plays with his nails and waits for a chance to act rather than talk, another opportunity to assault George. He acts as if George were actually his possession. He's prompted to tell a hilarious story about a lady giving him a dollar as he sat outside a bank, waiting for a friend. She thought he was homeless and panhandling. He's not embarrassed. He kept the dollar but says, 'Don't tell my manager and that, I'll end up with 25 cents'.

This very playfulness, the roughhousing, the affection, on and off screen, and the tendency to value action over words, makes everything he does say seem more significant so that when you hear the lines 'There is nothing that can console me now' and 'I ache from your loss', you really believe them.

One day, they'll be reunited

Sunday, 26 July 2015

john malkovich as the 'unfathomable' gilbert osmond in 'the portrait of a lady'

malkovich makes me
mix my metaphors

basilisk stare
rock steady
grey slate eyes
say nothing
and everything
over and over
insistence in
bloodless lids

crocodile calm

trapped in his weblike traces
clingy tendrils
make you quiet
submit to his will
passion is petrified
a cobra
coiled for the kill
seduces with stillness
seduces you still

the voice
a whisper, a promise, a threat
a soft chill
it slides like a slug across the nape of your neck
and bites

something scary
something sexy
something in control

makes you lose control

To check out my reviews on Amazon, follow this link.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Doll by Doll - I Never Saw the Movie More Than Twice

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
Robert Browning, Home Thoughts, From Abroad

It's Jackie’s birthday and it seems like a good time to post a piece on this great Doll by Doll tune from their second album, Doll by Doll.

You hear a song like this again, or it comes into your head and everything you were when you first heard it comes back to you. Songs have such power to evoke a mood, an era, in this case, youth and possibility. You realise that it’s in you, has infiltrated your blood, your consciousness, has got under your skin, is imbued in your very sinews. You played it so much, taped from someone’s vinyl, loved it so much, that you will never forget it. The song’s soul is part of your soul.

Doll by Doll, more so than Jackie Leven solo, make me want to use words like glory and majesty. They make me go all Biblical. I can only express myself in superlatives, in hyperbole, absolutes because Doll by Doll dealt in nothing else. They did nothing by halves.

There’s a palpable joy when Jackie launches into 'She asked me/Would I like to see her again/Forget that bedroom/I just want to be friends/She once told me something/I was not to repeat/And I know she was right/But I feel like making love tonight', a rush like a jet taking off. It comes crashing along, with so much vitality and hope, like the wave of the century and you’re carried on the momentum to a place where all love is eternal (as if there were any other kind of love with Doll by Doll), swept up in the slipstream. Simply hearing those lines today, sung with Jackie’s inimitable intensity, I feel the same surge of emotion I did then.

Now the almost tangible elation that resounds through that stanza and that I feel when I hear it, is interlaced with sorrow that Jackie is gone and will be forever missed and my life is no longer fresh and new and maybe my dreams never amounted to much but I know that I once rode the crest of the perfect wave with Doll by Doll and  shared it with people I really cared about.

There are many Leven fans who only know Jackie’s solo material. I didn’t know about Doll by Doll until some time in the 80s when they were no longer together but my belated immersion in their sonic grandeur meant that years later, when I saw Jackie’s name in a gig list in 1994, I was there, so excited: to be able to hear him sing, perform live, to think he was still making music, music that I could buy. It was like a reprieve from a sentence I didn’t know I was serving.

And now, despite the sadness, we still have songs like this and the moments we shared with friends at the 12 Bar or in some civic hall in Bromley or a crypt in Clerkenwell. I’ll quote Abba here: 'And I've often wondered, how did it all start?/Who found out that nothing can capture a heart/Like a melody can?/Well, whoever it was, I'm a fan.'

So thank you Doll by Doll and thank you Jackie. Gone but not forgotten.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

helmut berger as konrad in visconti's 'conversation piece'

your bondage at last, is broken
free of weakness
free of shame
you breathe
you rise again

your body
like smoke
each move
in the darkness
flickers with light
each shudder of flesh
communes with the night
and unsoiled

there is peace
in understanding
he is gone
in his pale, wrecked face
but you
an old man
must live
and in his bloodless pain, his lifeless hands
what ... grace
and know
in an unshattered morning
there is nothing he can forgive.

Helmut Berger is mentioned in another blog of mine, here.

To check out my reviews on Amazon, follow this link.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

gordon gano - (im)pure charisma

he pleads
he needs
he’s on his knees
he pants
he purrs
he prays

he lies
he pacifies

he’s free
he sells
he pays

part-serpent in the garden
part-jesus on the cross
he slithers and he suffers
for everything we’ve lost

only listen

so intense
he’s so insistent
this eternal adolescent
in the picture in my head
i never was a follower
but by him i could be led

leans in close to whisper
stammers to a sigh
sinks to quiet menace
and meets the camera’s eye
at once he’s kind of innocent
twice he’s sort of sly

a warning and a siren
leads you down
and leads you on
with a shout, he is triumphant
he can trump you
with a song

mutters and he stutters
mumble rises to a scream
so affected
so affecting
this breathless sexy teen

[whispers and he wonders
accuses and condemns
but merciful and mischievous
he saves you yet again

roars and rises from the ashes
phoenix soaring from the flame
he would be your gordon gano
and you would be born again]

Monday, 21 April 2014

i’m on fire – shakey graves

stripped down to this …
creepy lo-fi intensity

a dirty phonecall
to the babysitter
in a horror sequel
not a promise, more a threat

from springsteen’s strong arms
to shakey’s sweaty palms
all wet

something far less straight-
than love or lust
more crooked,
moves back-
off the beaten track
crab-scuttles sideways
a cockroach down a crack

his insistence sinister
background vocals
and insinuate

bruce’s pure passion perverted
dragged off the main drag
this sidles down a seedy sidestreet
shadowy, illicit
before you know it
it’s too late

Check out my other Shakey blog Are You Trick or Are You Treat?