Vague ramblings

Brightwing: as childhood slips away

Posted in Life, Music, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 25 May, 2016

It was, pretty much, an impulse purchase.

Since somebody had gone to all the trouble of sorting out absurdly complex music rights, it seemed downright rude not to take the opportunity to wallow in a bit of nostalgia for lazy Sunday mornings watching Channel 4’s diet of comfort telly.

A bunch of graduates and postgraduate students, more or less hungover, in the back end of the 80s easing themselves into the day. The Waltons (entire, in the correct order) and a rotation of The Fugitive, Bonanza or The Invaders – all terrifically atmospheric. But teeing it all up, The Wonder Years.

It is a show that succeeds for a variety of reasons – music from when blues-based rock and pop was in its pomp, tight scripts and stories rooted in truth. Mostly I think the key is that it was never afraid to let central character Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) be a total dickhead. Despite entirely American cultural references, the suburb could have been anywhere on in the industrialised World where people had no choice but to work hard for a living and, even then,  earned barely enough to get by – something the kids didn’t quite get.

So I settled in for a wallow. It it was fun, rediscovering how it knew when to prick the humour with pathos and vice versa, and exactly why it got us out of bed of a Sunday morning. I remember Karl and Gus and Alex and Maria  and, of course, Kath, from Rowfant Road with whatever the inner equivalent of a dopey grin is.

And then the last 5 episodes of Season 2 happened. They are an extraordinary essay on the pain of childhood loss – of the brother killed in Vietnam, of childhood starting to slip away and for a society showing the first signs of the fragmenting that would shape the World ever since.

And it began with Brightwing, which centred not on the three main characters, but on Kevin’s big sister, Karen (Olivia d’Abo). She induces Kevin to help her bunk off school, and lures him into her rebellious hippy world – blind that he is desperate to rekindle their earlier childhood bond. But she is trying to get out of the suburbs and, despite a promise to Kevin, jumps in a car with friends and tries to run away to San Fransisco. I doubt that Donovan’s Catch The Wind has ever been used to greater emotional effect.

There’s a lot of literature about brotherly love, about sisterly strength, about the pain of parents letting go and children moving on. There is much about father and daughter, mother and son, mother and daughter, father and son.

But this story understands the brother-sister bond, and that seems to be a very rare thing indeed.

It is a bond that cannot be broken, whether you like it or not. It can be stretched until it is a filament, no thicker than a molecule of DNA. It can rip at your heart, or ignite you rage.

But it doesn’t break.

When rain has hung the leaves with tears” it will still glisten in the morning mist.

A little light for the blind and invisible monster

Posted in Life, Personal by Ian Cundell on 27 November, 2010

It was rather nice, last week, to see that Vincent and the Doctor, an episode from this year’s series of Doctor Who was short-listed for the MIND Mental Health Media Awards in the drama category. Unsurprisingly it lost out to the outstanding Karen storyline fromShameless, but I really was pleased that Vincent got noticed.

It was a wonderful (if that is the word) look at depression, with powerful performances from Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy) and Tony Curran (Vincent). It didn’t chicken out, with Gillan’s portrayal of heartache outstanding, as Amy realises that her efforts to save Vincent from despair have failed, will always fail.

I can only assume that Richard Curtis, who wrote the script, has up-close and personal experience of depression, because even the most throw-away elements of the story felt written from truth.

It wasn’t remotely maudlin, and was wholly appropriate for the young audience Doctor Who serves, and if only a few of them come to appreciate what the monster of the week represented, then the story will have served Who‘s fans well.

Because the blind and invisible monster doesn’t care how well-off you are, how brilliant you are or how great your achievements are. When it comes after you, there is nothing more terrifying or indifferent to your pain.

Knowing why we cry

Posted in Fiction by Ian Cundell on 3 July, 2010

I have been thinking about last week’s finale of Dr Who (or rather the last two weeks, it was a two parter). I know what you’re thinking: a) you sad git and b) what’s that got to do with crying?

Trust me. I am not a doctor.

The show has probably gone from iPlayer now, so if you still have not seen it then treat yourselves to the DVDs when they come out, because the last two episodes in particular are a story telling masterclass. “What?” I hear you cry, “SciFi giving a masterclass inanything. Don’t be an ass.” Let me explain. Hear be spoilers.

The crux of the story is that, for reasons too involved to get into here, The Doctor has been erased from history. His survival depends on feisty assistant Amy Pond being able to remember him at her wedding (The Doctor had already floated the notion that nothing istruly forgotten and that if you can remember someone you can bring them back). Let’s focus in three nifty elements of storytelling.

1. Near the end of each of the pair of episodes, Amy cries without comprehension, the first time because she is happy (her lost love is back, but she hasn’t quite worked it out yet) and the second because she is sad (someone is missing from her wedding). Framing and call-back.

2. As she cries, found-love Rory refers to “that old wedding saying”. Earlier, as the Doctor confronts his impending erasure, he tells the sleeping child Amy that when she wakes she will have parents (they too had been erased) and will remember him only as a story (“That’s OK, we’re all stories in the end.”). He says she will dream of the silly man who stole the magic box (“well, borrowed it really”), the box that is both big and small (a nice diversion, something every Who fan knows about the Tardis), that it is both ancient and modern and the most amazing blue.

At the wedding, as Amy’s memory begins to needle her she remembers, stands and yells  that The Doctor is late for her wedding (a nice callback to a running joke from the first episode of the season). The Tardis begins to materialise and Rory asks “What’s that?”. Cue the old wedding saying (with belting delivery from Karen Gillan), and the Doctor is back (if you haven’t worked it out, I can’t help you).

Think about the sheer craft that went into setting up that one line. And there was nothing in the last 15 minutes of the series that had not been properly set up in Stephen Moffat’s storytelling (in sharp contrast to Russell T Davies’s somewhat ‘woo something out of the air’ approach to problem solving). Set-up and craft.

3. The trouble with SciFi fans is that they have a terrible habit of focussing on the Sci at the expense of the Fi, in practical terms meaning an over-obsession with plotting and puzzle solving at the expense of character and theme. The thing is that this episode (and indeed the whole season) wasn’t really about the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, although that was a hoot. It was about people and what we mean to each other,  the ties that bind, what it is to miss somebody dreadfully, what it feels to have them back and how bloody marvellous it is when we absolutely refuse to give up on those we care about.

And then it ended with a wedding.

A storytelling masterclass.

But if you want further evidence that a vaguely daft kid-oriented SciFi show can explore deep things, then seek out Vincent and the Doctor (written by Richard Curtis) from earlier in the season. I challenge you to find a more sensitive, candid and exposition-free look at the absolute bastard that is depression in any genre, anywhere (with a a truly marvellous cameo by Bill Nighy). That it was also wholly appropriate for a young audience, once again shows the sheer craft of the story-telling.

I know writers who say they don’t like science fiction  – and so don’t read it (or don’t like poetry, or Shakespeare…or whatever – not just SciFi). To me this is beyond comprehension. If you are serious about writing, want to understand it and get better at it, if you wish to understand why we cry, then you simply cannot afford to make casual assumptions about where you might not find inspiration.

Sad git out.

I’m very, very not not bothered

Posted in Musing by Ian Cundell on 17 September, 2006

The one that common sense lost was when a bunch of Oxbridge knobs decided that common folk from various locales needed a lesson in logic. They declared the exclamation: “I ain’t got no bleedin’ money” a logical statement.

It wasn’t of course – nobody who hears such an outburst would take as a claim to great riches, or even modest means – but it is the battle lost. The double negative is declared bad grammar and that is that.

Curiously, its opposite – the double positive – is simply declared a matter of bad style. Nobody would mistake “I’m very, very happy” as anything other than a little hyperbole. Structurally, syntactically and in terms of meaning it is no different from its Cockney cousin, yet the good working class usage gets condemned.

Of course, neither has much use in business writing, so your exercise for today is to consider the many different way to give emphasis and their strengths and weaknesses.

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