Monday, 23 February 2009

"...And The Oscar Goes To..."

The Holy Trinity: Kate Winslet, Sean Penn and Penélope Cruz

As was expected, I was pretty right about some of my predictions, pretty wrong about others, and pretty "what?!" about the rest...

Best Picture
I hoped: Milk
I said: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Slumdog Millionaire
I was: WRONG - Kind of... Slumdog Millionaire

WOW! The one I thought the academy would snub was the well-deserved winner! Of course, it would have been nice to see Milk take it away, but I'd pretty much given up all hope of that.

Best Director
I hoped: Gus Van Sant - Milk
I said: David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
I was: WRONG - ditto the above...

Slumdog Millionaire in fact turned out to be the biggest winner, this year, bagging eight awards. Good on them, I say.

Best Actor
I hoped: Sean Penn - Milk or Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
I said: Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
I was: WRONG

Sean Penn! Wonderful, caring, talented, intelligent Sean Penn. Once Madonna's husband, but we're all allowed to make mistakes. Most who saw him play Harvey Milk will agree with me when I say that his portrayal left the audience all warm and fuzzy, and indignant over the cruel taking of the real man after only a few months as the first openly gay elected politician in US history. To further increase the pleasure, Dustin Lance Black, the writer of the film's screenplay won in that category, too, and he is openly gay, so it seems its alright to "do gay" in Hollywood after all. As long as it isn't a cynical cash-in, (cough cough "Brokeback Mountain...)

Best Actress
I hoped: Kate Winslet - The Reader
I said: Kate Winslet - The Reader
I was: RIGHT!

YES! About bloody time, too! Nominated five times over eleven years, this poor woman has waited so long to be recognised officially by the Hollywood élite it even became a running joke among the British media. No longer: well done, Kate! Although, I have to say, some of us have not let the irony of your win being linked to "another" Holocaust film...

Best Supporting Actor
I didn't bother hoping.
I said: Heath Ledger - The Dark Night
I was: RIGHT

What a surprise... At least it was kind-of deserved, this time. His performance was very good - better than the "you made me this way, and I hate you for it" Brokeback character - but I do feel sorry for the other guys...

Best Supporting Actress
I didn't much care, since I saw this one coming, too.
I said: Penélope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I was: RIGHT

Rather appropriate, considering that today most of the main news sites and papers have gone into overdrive on her win. Being the first Spanish actress to win an oscar means she'll never have to worry about working again, both at home and abroad. Further, judging by the fawning praise of El País (articles in Spanish only), she'll soon take over from SM Queen Sofia as the new monarch...

Ah well, wasn't that all good cynical fun?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Sweets for my Sweet(s)

Apparently, I'm an inspiration....

My friend - both in virtual and real space - has sung the praises of my madness and stupid, egotistical bravado in his own blog, and he isn't the only one to have done so...

Next time I do something like this, I ought to put a discalimer in: "DON'T do this at home!"

That said, thanks to those of you who did think it was worth doing. Your appreciation is noted and returned.

"Honey, Get the car! Oscar's Here!"

"And for a small fee and a certain amount of ass-licking, you too can have this nifty little gold statuette..."

So, it's that time again; when the great, the good and the god-awful come together for a truly overly-hyped five hours of self-appreciation. Tonight is Oscar Night!

Of course, some genuinely amazingly talented people are occasionally nominated, as is the case, this year; but let's be honest with ourselves, only a few of those actually ever recieve their dues. In my opinion, the ratio of talent and accolade was only most accurately matched last year, and that was only due to the Writers' Strike.

This year, I'm pretty certain it'll be business as usual, and in typical hype spirit, I have compiled my own list of predictions. Enjoy...


Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

In an ideal world, something like Milk would win , but then it isn't Brokeback Mountain, so people probably won't give a shit when it doesn't. Yes, the gay dies at the end (spoiler), but he's mourned by others, who hope for a better future. I doubt that would do for the academy. I reckon Benjamin Button will win, what with it being a lesson in American History; or maybe even the second outsider, Slumdog Millionaire, for being a good film. It is set in India, though...

Best Director
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant - Milk
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire

For similar reasons, mentioned above, Fincher will probably get it, although it would be nice to see an English director praised for good work. Van Sant is too fringe, unfortunately; and he's gay. It's bad enough the film is about the gays, but the director should be straight just to reassure the public (yes, I'm looking at you, Ang Lee).

Best Actor
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Rumours are circulating that Rourke will snatch it from the preened and pristine hands of Brad Pitt, though the likelyhood is questionable. Penn has a history of being an "outsider", but he was very good. I would love to see Langella get it, too, since he's been good for decades - interestingly, it would also make him the second winner to have been placed alongside future winner Michael Sheen (Sheen played a scarily good Tony Blair opposite Helen Mirren's ERII in The Queen and appeared in Frost/Nixon as the former of the two titular roles).

Best Actress
Kate Winslet - The Reader
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt

Oh, Kate Kate Kate: this is your chance! How many times has this fantastic actress been ignored, or even snubbed (I'm not counting Titanic)? All fingers point to her winning, and it would be so nice to walk down an english street and see that statue sitting on the mantelpiece...

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Night
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

Well, this is pretty much a given. The others might as well only turn up to clap and cry over the "huge loss to the film inustry" blah blah blah. Incidentally, why was Downey Jr. in blackface? WHY?!

Best Supporting Actress
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Penélope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Amy Adams - Doubt
Viola Davis - Doubt
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler

Again, there is consensus on all sides that either Henson or Cruz will win. My money's on the latter, despite the fairly ordinary role, film, and - it has to be said - acting. She's better in Spanish.

Soon enough, we'll find out how right I am/was.

Until next year...

Get Those Juices Flowing...

Final Destination: The Royal National Theatre

Deep in the recesses of my memory, there is a song which begins with the words "oh, whatever happened to you? Whatever happened to me?" If anyone can find out what that song is, I'd be very grateful. The reason I say this is going to sound very clichéd: I've begun to pine after "my first love", the theatre.

I used to go to the theatre at least once a month. I remember, at the age of fifteen, habitually getting up at 6am on a thursday morning to go and queue for a 10 quid front-row ticket for whatever tickled my fancy at the National Theatre, bunking PE and frequently getting into detention for it. Boy, was it worth it, though!

When I moved away to go to University, I joined the Drama Society, and had been involved in a production every term. I've acted in five plays, produced one and directed another, as well as performing in a few bits and bobs in between all of that. Performance Drama was my mainextra-curricular activity, and without wanting to put too fine a point on it, I had built up quite a base back in my second home.

Since I arrived in Madrid, I've been to the theatre once, and performed in all of zero productions. Several excuses can be found: adjusting to my new life, change of scenery and rhythm, not knowing where to look, and not having enough money. Unfortunately, those are only excuses: there are eight publicly-funded and several private theatres in the city; I know my way around very well, now; and I'm making enough money as a private English tutor to survive and enjoy myself a little. I have been invited to join one performance group (though it clashes somewhat with my timetable, timetables can be rearranged), and I know of at least four student and amateur groups for which I could pay a small admission fee. So why, oh why am I still unable to move myself? Apathy? Fear? Both?

Memo to Self: Get your arse in gear...

Back in The FUCM...

Not my actual Faculty building, but this looks more impressive...

So, after the weekend-long break my university thought was long enough to recover from self-esteem-destroying exams, I was back in early at 10am for my first class of the new semester. Thanks...

I have learnt my lessons from last semester, though. NOTHING with the word "Comentario" or taught by Consolación Baranda Leturio should EVER be studied by a foreigner. Avoid novel courses (although one does require I read five: but that's for the sake of analysing the film adaptations). Finally decide if I can a) understand; b) hear; and c) like the teacher before submitting any forms: I have a month.

Considering this, it's been quite easy deciding which courses I'll be studying, this time around. On Mondays and Tuesdays I'm on campus for eight hours studying everything about the Latin American short story and theatre of the twentieth century; delving into the theatre of the Spanish Golden Age; and browsing the world of Women's Literature withing the wider Spanish spectrum. As for Thursdays and Fridays, life is a litte easier, with Spanish Literature and Film, and the Latin American Essay being studied. It seems my main interests are Theatre (no surprise there, then), and Latin American literature.

One of my own students (how else do you think I can afford all those high-class gigolos?) told me he's not surprised I've been slightly turned off from Spanish literature. He's of the opinion that what is currently in vogue among the academic elite is, frankly, dull. Of course, there are some writers who are considered Gods among men: Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Jorge Luis Borges and Horacio Quiroga are never far away; but there is already a lot said about them. Even considering these men, plenty can be inferred about the state of current academic literary pursuit in this country: Quiroga was born in Uruguay, Borges in Agrentina, and all of them are long dead.

The truth of Spanish literature is that what is considered "good" among the professors is boring, hard to read, or overly-meticulous. There is in fact a word used to sum this up perfectly: pesado (unbearably heavy). This isn't my opinion, but that of my Spanish classmates. The other day, I was chatting with a group of them, and it turns out most of them had read more English and American literature than I or most of us English students probably have. Isn't that so sad? I personally think there are plenty of good Spanish writers past and present: Carmen Martín Gaite, Ana María Matute, Miguel Unamuno, Miguel Mihura, José Luis Alonso de Santos, Alejandro Casona, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, and everyone's favourite Federico García Lorca. But where are they in the syllabi (or syllabuses: either is acceptable, according to Oxford)?

There is currently a crisis in Spanish Education, in part due to the Bologna Process, but also with regard to students' choices of degrees. My advice to the teachers is to re-think their curricula: good can also be interesting and even popular, you know...

Everybody's Favourite: Federico García Lorca, 1898-1936

Monday, 16 February 2009

¡Qué fantástica esa fiesta!

Now, isn't this just one of the gayest things you've ever seen? And why is she wearing a wig?

Two nights out on the town, barely any sleep, and a lot of money spent. What fun!

At 10am, though, the torture begins anew. Wish me luck...

Saturday, 14 February 2009

It's Over!

It's a Bra being burned, in case you were wondering: symbolism, people!

This weekend, just as the last vestiges of my patience and sanity were stripped away, I was freed from the terrible burden of exams. Woop de doo...

Problem is I have to start all over again, as of Monday. Some call it "hardcore"; I call it "fucking mean".

Whine whine whine.

No, seriously, where is the wine...?

This is more like it...

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Day He Finally Flipped

"I Just Can't Take it Any More!", said Sanya

On Thursday the 12th of February 2009, at around 11:30am, it happened. A mixture of hoplessness, desperation and sleep-deprivation caused me to do the previously fantasised-about, but ultimately unthinkable.

Before I continue, you must understand a few things. First, this really was unplanned, but sometimes spontaneity can truly insipire. Secondly, this teacher knows me: she had me for two distinct groups, during the semester, and I truly tried in her other exam, for which I recieved a big fat FAIL. I don't mind that, I definitely deserved it, even more so for the exam I was about to take; but I felt that if I were to fail, I would do it in style and with a measure of eloquence. You know, just to prove the point that I may not be intelligent, but I sure as hell ain't stupid.

Therefore, as I sat down for the second time, and heard this woman's voice, I thought to myself: "you know what? No more!" I had already tried to prove to her that I wasn't just a dumb foreigner, and she wouldn't have it. Maybe I needed to try a different tack...

(NB: Bear in mind I ORIGINALLY wrote this in pretty clear, understandable Spanish)


As I can safely assume that I have already failed this course - I barely turned up to any classes; I did no work; and, despite having read the text [given out at the beginning of the exam], I know you don't even like my writing style - I say to you that you are entirely correct to fail me and that I don't even deserve a mark. Because of this, I've decided to turn up, hope the exam isn't a disaster, and try to compensate for the stupid mistakes I have made over the past four months. However, the reality of life is much more cruel, and my pragmatism simply will not allow me to go ahead and waste neither my time nor that of the reader who will doubtlessly be left furious, indifferent, or maybe even amused by the following proclamation, as arrogant as it is honest.

I have already noted that I have made several mistakes since the beginning of the semester. One of the biggest mistakes has been choosing to study your course: yes, that's correct, I had the choice of dozens of courses and I actually chose this one. As a student, I like to have some kind of working relationship with my teachers and tutors; but sometimes, just as in a friendship or a romantic relationship, it ends up being just being very superficial or even nominal and nothing more. Simply put, you and I are not compatible: you like certain texts which to me have seemed bad, dull or to too liguistically complicated for my ability; you like to analyse a text in a way which to me has seemed laborious to the point of being on the margins of tedium; you like to require a participation from your students which to me has seemed either false or not suficiently encouraged or sustained. And, of course, I hold most of the blame for our incompatibility: I am lazy, and I only like to read texts which interest me (that does not mean I don't give everything a chance, though, especially those imposed upon me by my teachers); I jump too quickly to wrong conclusions, but because I have been blessed with a certain turn of phrase, my methods and arguments are often more interesting than the conclusions themselves; and, related to this, I judge everything after a few hours of fairly hard thought and with objectivity. Furthermore, I am a talker, and I genuinely love literature and sharing thoughts on it, but if I feel that my opinions and my efforts are not worth anything - or if it is too late to start - then what difference do my thoughts, my energy, my presence or any other aspect of my being make? If you will allow me to return to the relationship analogy and summarise "ours" with two clichés, I can safely say "it's not you, it's me", for not dropping the class while I still had the chance, and with respect to the mark and the class in general: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn". Because compatibility cannot be created or generated - it's either there or it isn't; between us, it was never there.

Before leaving, I will say a few things more. Firstly, don't think I am a bad student; well, I am, but not always: in another course [this semester] I have behaved very well, and recived an appropriately good mark. Secondly, please don't be angry with me - if, indeed, you feel anything for me - but have pity for this poor idiot with delusions of grandeur. Finally, I am truly sorry: as much for you for having to put up with me, as for myself for having made such a terrible mistake. The only thing I hope is that one learns, improves, and doesn't experience the same nightmare of the past four months [in the original, the subjunctive form allows for more ambiguity: it's not so clear if I'm referring to myself or to her in this sentence].

So, in conclusion, and with the last vestiges of my writing energy, I thank you for the learning curve, and wish you the best for the future.

Yours sincerely,

Sanya John-Adegbola

After writing this, and copying it out into a neat form so that I would have a copy for myself, I walked up to the teacher, handed in the paper, smiled, and said: "Muchas gracias".

And then I walked out...

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Adios, libertad...

Some Contemporary Students, Yesterday
For my first month into the "New Year", shall we see how far I've gone with my Resolutions?

I shall refer my dear reader to Resolutions 1, 3 and 6. Despite no real attempt to live up to these, I have managed to progress quite a distance in theese fields. The reason, I hear you not give a damn about? Exams, friends.

That's right, the totally horrifying experience with no redeeming features but it's eventual cessation has reared its ugly head, yet again. Now, as most of my dear readers are probably students, I can already imagine how many of you are thinking: "So what? I'm writing dissertations" (yes, ka-os, you can laugh at how much of a great time you had at my age, by bypassing all of this). Except for two things: 1) You're probably not writing them, are you? I know how it works: pissing about for a term, then shitting yourself and not sleeping from Easter until the end of the year. Further, 2) You're in the UK, your home country; you know, the place you've grown up and learnt the system, and probably have a good grasp of exam technique.

For some unfathomable reason, a Spanish university student's Christmas isn't spent getting over the inundation of work heaped upon you over three months from October; rather, it's a time to stop for religious/hedonistic reasons, before returning for three more weeks of tired, uninspiring classes before three more weeks of cramming for anything beteween five and seven one-after-the-other exams. That's not counting written coursework essays and (in one case of mine) writing, filming, editing and premiering a short film. I have no problem with assessment - how else are we to prove we are clever and deserve a piece of paper hung on the wall saying so? The problem I do have, however, is with the idea that remembering a series of facts, and making a solid written argument off the cuff in the space of an hour is an appropriate method of assessment. Especially considering that certain geniuses (a demographic which I humbly distinguish from that to which I belong: I'm just good at bullshitting - take this blog, for instance) aren't actually very good at expressing themselves under pressure. Furthermore, we have developed other methods, such as the aforementioned, which do so very well at measuring our level of learnt skills - which is, some would argue the whole point of education. Take this quote from La magia de escribir (The Magic of Writing), a book specifically about the beauty of understanding the written arts and using them as inspiration for one's own efforts: -

Hemos confundido ciencia con educación. Hemos convertido el libro de texto, especialmente los de secundaria, en pequeñas introducciones a la lingüística y a los estudios literarios. Toda la magia del lenguaje se pierde al intentar describir las piezas de su mecanismo. El profesor se convierte en un taxidermista del lenguaje.

We have confused science with education. We have converted the textbook, especially that of the secondary school, into short introductions to linguistics and literary study. All the magic of language is lost by trying to describe the components of the mechanism. The teacher becomes a taxidermist of language.

Now, though this refers specifically to philological and literary study, and the fact that I don't entirely agree with the statement, the essence of the argument rings very true to me: the meaning of education - to amaze, encourage appreciation, and inspire - has been replaced in favour of a "learn the rules and repeat them parrot fashion" attitude. Exams, thus, have become tests (a different thing), and so one no longer feels that one can dare to express a doubt or new vision of something, since it may be a dangerous tack. That ain't the way I roll, and I have been rewarded by my teachers more often than not. Having said that, I have still had to learn what is the standard practice before breaking it,and there have been times when I have been punished for it (yes, I'm talking about you, A-level Drama Written Exam Marker; lucky for you, your details are kept classified).

Of course, exams will never go away, and we will always be subjected to them in one way or another; and I am also a lazy son-of-a-bitch who hates having to revise anything (I'm fond of the "read it, talk about it, remember it and the chat, and move on" approach to a text), so the point of my rant is only really good for one thing: to tell you I bloody hate exams!

What does this have to do with my Resolutions, then? I'll tell you. I live a much healthier lifestyle, since I now no longer have time to eat; I'm spending a LOT more time on my studies, because I'nm terrified of failing my exams; and I'm writing about Spain, since it's Spain's fault I have to do exams right now!

I can't really complain, too much, what with me not living in Gaza or Sudan; but at least they have an excuse. What will I tell myself when I see my marks? "Ah, I wish I hadn't spent so long eating, dinking, making merry and writing blogs, and had dedicated more time to study..."?

Chance would be a fine thing...

Some Handy Advice From An Insightful Person, Somewhere