Archive for The Great McGonagall

Kirby Dies Again

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2016 by dcairns

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Filmhouse is showing George Cukor’s film of Garon Kanin & Ruth Gordon’s A DOUBLE LIFE, and I jumped the gun by watching my ancient off-air recording. Hadn’t seen this movie since I was a kid. (spoilers)

Not anybody’s strongest work, but it brings out an expressionist side in Cukor that he’s not supposed to have and which he basically denied having (“I’m interested in the actor’s faces.”) Some of that stuff is really interesting.

Ronald Colman plays a Broadway star who gets too wrapped up in his roles. When he stars in Othello he goes full deadly Moor and smothers a waitress. This is Shelley Winters, who is more used to watery death (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, A PLACE IN THE SUN, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, even LOLITA in a way), but it turns out any form of suffocation is OK with Shelley.

MGM films are nearly always based on offensive assumptions, and in this case Shelley’s demise is merely a sideshow in the tragic fall of Colman’s English ham. Signe Hasso plays his Swedish wife, and I wondered if the role was intended for Ingrid Bergman. This made me glom onto the idea of the film as a remake of the same studio’s DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE (itself a remake of Paramount’s superior version). Both movies feature a hero with a double life and a woman in each. The poor working girl is a disposable unit who can be sacrificed allowing the posh bird to be spared.

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Colman does do a fine death, letting the life fade from his face like Kevin Spacey in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL — subtractive acting at its best. Before he shuffles off, he monologues about an old ham who used to overdo his death scenes to the point where the audience would call for encores, and he’d rise from the dead and give them an action replay. Colman attributes this to a fictional old stager called Kirby, but the idea is pinched from Scotland’s own William McGonagall, poet and tragedian, whose repeat expiration was recreated in Joe McGrath and Spike Milligan’s film, THE GREAT MCGONAGALL ~

The Great Edinburgh Trams Disaster

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2013 by dcairns

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WC Fields as “The Great McGonigle” in THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY.

I like trams. I like riding on them, and seeing them in movies. I was a little perplexed when Edinburgh decided to get a tram system of its own, since we already have a very good bus service. Advertisements for the imminent new transport system couldn’t quite explain what it was going to bring to the table. Maybe it would be more environmentally friendly? Unfortunately, the unexpected amount of time the project has taken to be completed means it’ll be all but impossible to offset the carbon footprint of five years worth of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction. And nothing can offset the damage done to businesses by closed roads, and to quality of life by all the roadworks.

I attended Marvelous Mary’s annual William McGonagall Dinner, in celebration of the world’s worst poet (a Scotsman, naturally), and was asked to write something about the trams, on the grounds that McGonagall always liked to get his teeth into a good rail disaster. So I did. If you survive to the end, the last word will give you a free lesson in Scottish slang, which may come in useful someday, who knows?

THE GREAT EDINBURGH TRAMS DISASTER

(after William McGonagall)

Though the people of Edinburgh had their qualms

It was decided that they should ride about in tralms

Which would convey them about the town

With half going up and the rest of them going down

From the airport to the town beneath

All the way down to the Port of Leith

So the roadworks began and ripped up the roads

While the people were disturbed by the sound of drilling outside their abodes

And this went on for years and years

But still, the people said, “No tram appears!”

Just perpetual inconvenience and obstruction

Caused by all the digging and construction

Accompanied by runaway expense

That made the costs become truly immense

So that finally, to save some loot

The council decided to shorten the route

So it led from the airport to the centre of town

Which left those in Leith feeling rather let down

But no inquiry could place the blame

For what became known as Edinburgh’s Shame

And still there is no sign of trams

Because Edinburgh Town Council are a load of bams.

GLOSSARY

Bams = idiots

Praise the Titanic

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on April 3, 2012 by dcairns

Peter Sellers as Queen Victoria and Spike Milligan as McGonagall in Joe McGrath’s THE GREAT MCGONAGALL, filmed in Glorious Brownoscope.

Marvelous Mary had her annual William Topaz McGonagall anniversary dinner, in honour of Scotland’s great contribution to literature, the world’s worst poet.

That dynamo of dourness, John Laurie, reads a McGonagall “classic”.

For the first time I heard the theory that the Great McGonagall might have suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, which I guess would explain why he never quite took in the fact that his poetry wasn’t greatly respected, nor any good. An artist like Modigliani could continue in the face of universal indifference driven by the fact he knew his work was great. The only difference with McGonagall is that his unshakeable self-belief was entirely misplaced. He should have had unshakeable self-disbelief. The only difference between William McGonagall and a genius, in other words, is that William McGonagall was not a genius.

Last year I composed a couplet in the McGonagall style (no scansion or rhythm, with a contrived rhyme at the end) to widespread acclaim at the dinner table. It was on the theme of the sinking of the Titanic, since McGonagall loved to versify about great disasters such as the collapse of the Tay Bridge. This year, since it’s the anniversary of the sinking, it was required of me to write the whole poem, despite the fact that nobody, especially me, could remember the original couplet. This is what I scrawled at dinner, based on the McGonagall principles of humorlessness, lachrymose bathos, fractured sing-song beats, and clunking repetitions —

ODE ON THE SINKING OF THE SHIP “TITANIC”

It was in the year of nineteen hundred and twelve

That the Titanic into the ocean did delve.

She sank like a stone, though of steel she was made

And the passengers on deck were extremely dismayed.

When she set sail from Liverpool dock

The crowds at the harbour did clamour and flock

For none did suspect that this unsinkable boat

Could ever do anything other than float.

But midway across the Atlantic came a voice full of dread

From a desperate lookout who cried “Iceberg! Dead ahead!”

The the ship turned to starboard to avoid the collision

The Fates did not smile but just laughed with derision

And the vessel was ruptured, its hull torn

And started to sink, which the captain did mourn.

To the lifeboats the passengers hurried at speed

But could not all fit in, so some ended up deid.

Including one passenger from the fair town of Dundee

Who could not find a seat and was thus lost at sea.

And many other casualties were the people in steerage.

They would not have been there had they been in Burke’s Peerage

And had the White Star Line sufficient lifeboats provided

All those souls would not have perished when the ship and iceberg collided.

A word of advice — if you have the option, skip the 3D conversion job of James Cameron’s “timeless classic” and see the newly restored A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, scripted by Eric Ambler and directed by Roy Ward Baker, both at the top of their game.

“I’ll see you your Leo DiCaprio, Mr Cameron, and raise you one David McCallum.”