A Film For October: Sunset Boulevard

Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a struggling screen writer fleeing from the insurance men who want to re posses his car. He reaches a seemingly derelict mansion and hides his car in the garage. Of course he gets out to have a snoop around and is met by the butler who takes him inside. The house is owned by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) a forgotten silent-screen star, now almost a recluse, hiding herself away except for the odd game of bridge with a group of other ‘waxworks‘!

Once Norma realises she has a screenwriter in the house she asks Joe to read the script she’s been writing for a potential film about Salome – a film in which she’ll star, and see her triumphal return to the screen. Needing the money Joe agrees, but once he’s moved in, the full extent of her demented fantasy world becomes clear.

Written and directed by Billy Wilder in 1950, this was utterly gripping right from the start. Narrated by Joe as a flashback to six months earlier this was thrilling and intense, ghoulish and at times bitterly funny as it dramatises the rejection by tinseltown of its once brightest star.

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A Film For September: La Ciénaga

If I was asked to sum this film up in a sentence it would be that this is the kind of film where the loo seat is always left up.

In the opening scene of La Ciénaga (The Swamp) a group of adults are drinking around the swimming pool of their summer house, the camera swoops in and around them focusing on separate body parts as if it’s another character. Mecha (Graciela Borges) collects some glasses but falls drunkenly. None of the adults come to help or even seem to realise what’s happened, it’s the children watching through a window that pull the glass out of her chest and take her to the hospital.

Mecha’s friend, possibly her cousin, Tali (Mercedes Morán) comes to stay with her own children. There’s now quite a crowd in the stifling heat. Ages range from middle age to young adult to teenager and child. The house is shabbily decadent; the maids are Collas, Indians and accused of stealing; the pool is always filthy; there’s a festering quality to the sunbathing on rusty metal chairs. In the sticky, uncomfortable heat no one wears many clothes and they all sprawl around in each others beds doing nothing for a lot of the time.

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Wheels within Wheels

Beginning on her birth day November 28th, 1931 this wonderful memoir covers the first 30 years of Dervla Murphy’s unusual life. Her parents Fergus and Kathleen Murphy had arrived in Lismore, County Waterford on their wedding day with all their possessions and a golden haired collie called Kevin in the cab of a lorry. They rented half a decaying mini-mansion and Fergus became the county librarian. As Dubliners the locals were already suspicious, that they were penniless and displayed eccentric bourgeois tastes the reception was hostile and resentful. But that doesn’t seem to have mattered a jot, Fergus and Kathleen travelled together around the county setting up branch libraries, sleeping in the small mobile library van to save money needed to buy more books. When the Doctor arrives at the library to tell Fergus he has a baby daughter, Fergus wraps up the 9 records of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and walks 4 miles to the hospital in Cappoquin, where with a borrowed gramophone they start family life.

The essence of this memoir is answering the question ‘who makes us what we are?’ what is the series of intricately connected events, plots and circumstances that influence each other and decide who we become? The countryside around her, her insatiable love of books, her richly unconventional home and her republican relations, all gather in her determined, strong-willed self.

For my tenth birthday my parents gave me a second-hand bicycle and Pappa sent me a second-hand atlas. Already I was an enthusiastic cyclist, though I had never before owned a bicycle, and soon after my birthday I resolved to cycle to India one day. I have never forgotten the exact spot, on a steep hill near Lismore, where this decision was made. Half-way up I rather proudly looked at my legs, slowly pushing the pedals round, and the thought came -If I went on doing this for long enough I could get to India.’ The simplicity of the idea enchanted me. I had been pouring over my new atlas every evening travelling in fancy. Now I saw how I could travel in reality – alone, independent and needing very little money.

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