Saturday, September 28, 2013

Kelly and Victor

The novels of Niall Griffiths are among the most raw and savage of contemporary narratives. His better known titles include Sheepshagger, Runt and Wreckage. In reading his books, you’re made intimate with an underworld of drugs, sex and violence…

And never more so than his 2002 novel, Kelly and Victor – mention of which induces a sharp whistle from those who had the stomach to finish it.  The story is so intensely disturbing that of all Griffiths’ books, it’s the one I’d have thought least likely to be made into a film.

Which just goes to show how much I know.

This week Kelly and Victor opened at independent cinemas across the UK.  Its portrayal of the protagonists’ destructive love affair is as eye-wateringly graphic, as deeply perturbing – and as tender and empathetic - as is the book.

Kelly and Victor is the story of two young people, swimming in a whirlpool of abuse.  The psychological damage they have suffered takes its physical form in their lovemaking – the intensity of which momentarily releases them from the vicious spiral.  But in so doing, stirs an equally addictive, and ultimately tragic, compulsion.

Directed by Kieran Evans, the film stars Antonia Campbell Hughes and Julian Morris. It is beautifully photographed and carefully paced to maintain the tension; it does the book justice without being a slavish copy. And at ninety minutes, it’s thankfully not too long – something that’s the curse of so many mainstream movies.

Campbell Hughes is an especially inspired casting; her portrayal of the frail and elfin Kelly is both believable and entirely absent of sentimentality – for me, she was the standout of the film.  The soundtrack would be my second choice: wonderfully evocative of the mixed up, fucked up, under-world inhabited by the characters. A close third: the cinematic treatment of the urban landscapes, reminiscent of the original Get Carter.

Actually, that film isn’t an unfair comparison as a whole. Because, as with Get Carter, behind the superficial brutality lies a deeper compassion. The genius of Kelly and Victor is not that it is unflinchingly profane – but that despite this, you care about the characters. And the reason is that in being so flawed, they are also deeply human.

The British Film Institute has chosen Kelly and Victor as their pick of the week.  There are plenty of detailed reviews on the intranet and frankly, there’s not much I can add here.

Except, as I came out of the arts centre, I was struck by how intense the experience had been – how much I’d enjoyed it; how engaged with the film I’d been.  In recent years I’ve come to loathe contemporary cinema – the predictability of yet another Spielberg inspired white-knuckle opening scene, literally sends me to sleep.

This was different – it was cinema as it should be; real drama – and it takes its cue from an almost lost heritage of great British cinema. We need more films like Kelly and Victor.  But for that to happen I guess we need more people to make the effort. 

Go see for yourself.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

French reflections

After forty years of cycling I can confidently assert there are only two ways of riding a bike: in the company of friends, or solo.

The former is more popular, and rightly so – for riding with companions provides encouragement, support, a touch of good-natured competition – it’s what the old cycling journals used to call ‘fellowship’. For the vast majority of riding, and unless you’re an anti-socialite,  it's the best option.

So with typical perversity, on my holiday this summer I chose the second option: in part from necessity (no one else would contemplate peddling in 30 degree heat), but also because I wanted to ride alone.

A few days after arriving in the Alps I climbed the Col de Joux-Verte, riding from St Jean d’Aulps.  The road reaches 1760 meters - every one of them in shrivelling heat; every one an effort of will.  On the steeper sections, I was down to 4 miles an hour – and for the first time I can remember, I didn’t overtake a single rider. I lost count of those who left me in their wake.

It didn’t matter.

Some say the pleasure in riding solo is that it takes the pressure off – there’s no need to set a pace or keep up with the group.  Others like the flexibility – with no fixed schedule, you can stop and deviate at your whim.

There's truth in both these perspectives – but to me the attraction of riding alone is more cerebral than physical.  For in a lifetime of outdoor activities, I have found no better way to access to the introspective pleasure of self-reflection, primed by a landscape that requires physical effort.   

To cycle the high cols requires that you are either super-fit (and there’s plenty of testosterone on two wheels to remind you of what’s possible) - or stoic to a level which embraces the difficulty, less as physical challenge, and more as philosophic opportunity.

I tend to the latter approach!

Which is just as well, because the truth is, riding the cols hurts – a lot.  

And yet the odd thing is, I remember those few hours on the bike more than any other on our holiday:  the pull on my calves as the road steepened; the smell of the pines and the cool of their shade; the lake at Montriond and the speedometer hitting 40 mph.  It’s not pain that I remember – it’s delight.  And when it was all over, I remember yearning for more.

Tomorrow I'm off on another challenge - travelling to Paris then peddling back home. It’s the third year I’ve ridden for charity, and this time I’ve again raised money for the National Autism Society.  I’ll not be alone though – I’m riding with twenty colleagues who’ve also supported good causes. In three years we’ve raised over £100,000, so the pain seems worth it.  

I have no doubt it will hurt again – frankly, I’m out of shape and practice. But I know I'll get through. And if I drop off the back and find myself alone… well, that’s almost a bonus. I've promised to write the blog of the trip - and who knows, if I spend enough time thinking, I might even write a little more on here, when I get back.

Wish me luck.