Appreciation of the Craft of Acting

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We take it for granted that the actors we like, the ones that really draw us into cinemas for every new release that has their name on it, are in fact good actors. And I’m not saying otherwise – only that we take it for granted.

Ten years ago I lived in an international youth hostel, not the tourist/backpacker type, and I made friends from many different parts of the world. Occasionally we would watch films together, and as I was the minority in these groups the films were rarely in English. Though my friends were kind enough to make sure that English subtitles were available. My favourites at the time were the Bollywood films, they were so colourful and dramatic.

It’s been ten years since I lived with these people who broadened my horizons. I still have a fondness for films I will inevitably have to read to understand. But this has given me a new appreciation for the actors. Subtitles can be excellent, good, or mediocre; and I will usually figure out what they are trying to say. But it means that I rely on the actors as much as the subtitles, they really have to sell it. If there is danger, I need to look at that screen and see the fear in their eyes, I need to hear it in their voice, not just read it in the line. Films in Spanish are the easiest for me, because although I speak very little, I am familiar with it – and who doesn’t love their drama?

There are times when watch films because of one of the actors. I recently watched a small handful of French films starring Vincent Cassel, who appears in a few American productions as well. Some of these films had excellent subtitles, and others very mediocre – but between the subtitles and the truly excellent performance of the cast, I was never lost, or confused, or left feeling like I should really stick to English.

Peach and I went to see a German film at the local screening for the International Film Festival last year, and it was beautiful. As English speakers, we often joke that German is a harsh and guttural language, and it certainly feels that way in the mouth when you are learning to speak it (which is the full extent of what I remember from my year 9 German classes); but when spoken by a native-speaker, it can be soft and gentle, lilting, and indeed harsh as the situation requires… just like any other language. But again, my familiarity, the excellent subtitles, and a truly fantastic cast meant that I had no trouble following.

Today I watched a Russian film, Flight Crew. Russian is a language with which I have no familiarity, I was reliant entirely on some subtitles that were a little more bad than mediocre and the cast’s performance. It was absolutely worth it. When the characters were scared, I was scared. When the characters were happy, I was happy. When they were focused absolutely on surviving, I was right there with them. And all of this is on the actors. It was a truly exceptional piece of work.
I live in New Zealand, at the end of the world you might say. So far from everywhere that, although we are known for our friendliness, we can often make assumptions about other countries based on what we see in American films. I have learned that these assumptions are often wrong. Or at least badly out of date. I can happily say that I look forward to visiting Russia in the future.

The actors in these films really are very, very good. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy them the same way. This is what makes me realise that we take actors for granted, especially when the film is in a language that we speak. I can only hope that the films in English that I enjoy are as enjoyable to people who don’t speak English, who have to rely on the subtitles and the cast’s performance to understand.

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Investment

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As a reader one of the things that I look for the most, before a book is considered sufficiently worthy to be added to the corporeal bookshelf, is characters who I invest in – whether they resemble me or not. My investment in the characters is most obvious in a series, where at the end of a book I say ‘I have to know what’s going to happen to them!’ and rush out to the library or to Amazon to find a copy of the next book as soon as is humanly possible.

Just recently I found a series like this. In fact I’m so invested in these characters that I have re-read all six books… I will point out now that I’ve only had them for maybe three weeks, and then only just. I’m actually talking myself out of re-reading them again! There is something about these characters that has allowed them to move into my head and make themselves right at home. Especially the male main character… who is of course right up my alley… and fictional…
Even so, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I’m supposed to have my head full of my own investment inducing characters so that I can write my epic re-write into what should have been a masterpiece. Well… at least compared to how it started life.

Because the other thing here is that’s exactly what I want to do with my own characters. I want my readers to completely invest in my star-crossed lovers.* And writing starts in a mere twelve days.

As much as I would love to give you a comprehensive review of the series that has just rocked my world – I need some space first, some distance from the overwhelming emotional response. Watch this space… but no promises, NaNoWriMo is 12 days away and then it’s 30 days of writing madness. No one comes out the way they went in.

*This was an epic exaggeration, or at least it should have been… hence the re-write.

Sea Change

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People ask me when I started writing. And I tell them that it was 2011, as part of a women’s group. It was.

It was when I started writing fiction, stories.

I have a writer friend, through NaNoWriMo, who in the off-season (as it were) writes poetry. I’m not a huge fan of poetry, but I try to read each piece that she publishes. And recently it has got me thinking about poetry. Poetry that I could maybe write. Poetry that during my teen years I used to write – always metaphorical ‘ode to my beloved’ type stuff. Very hormonal teen, emotion dumping on the page, etc.

But here’s the thing about poetry, it’s a glimpse of the soul, sometimes yours, sometimes the author’s… you get the picture. So for me, writing poetry is like pulling an infinitely faceted gem out of my chest, finding a facet that I like; shaving a layer of the facet away, grinding it into a paste and flicking it at the page like a Jackson Pollock painting.

A Moral Dilemma

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You might not realise this, but I don’t have moral dilemmas very often.

The situation is thus:
I have a spectacular piece of writing that I have been sitting on for weeks. I have shared it with a friend (Peach), because it’s a letter that I wanted her opinion on before I sent it off. With her guidance I realised that, while well put together, it would do no good – having more to do with the recipient than the writing.

I want to share this letter with you, in all it’s glorious snarkiness, but I’m not so sure as to whether that would really be an acceptable thing to do. Even if I changed or deleted names, is that really something I want to put out into the world? And yet, it’s still spectacular.

Something to ponder.

Meanwhile the letter of snark remains locked away in the vault.

 

Literary Foods: Tres Leches Cake

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So I’m reading a new series, loving it by the way (if I remember – and that’s unfortunately unlikely – I’ll review the series as a whole when I finish it), and right there, in the middle of book 6, is this mention of Tres Leches Cake. Now my Spanish, although rudimentary, is sufficient enough for that to send me over to visit our good friend, Google. Because who doesn’t find the sound of Three Milk Cake intriguing?

Well, Google (as per usual) passed me along to Wikipedia, who explained that in essence it is sponge cake, soaked in a mixture of condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream. So I thought, yeah, let’s give that a go.

Then my birthday jumped up, out of nowhere I swear! I couldn’t help but find that a bit convenient, thus the Tres Leches birthday cake. I’m sorry there are no pictures, I was so busy getting everything together for my party, and then of course we opened the wine… then the cake was gone. Just Gone I tell you! But it went in the most delicious way.

In the end it was more of a pudding than a cake, but that could be because I used an egg-free sponge, to avoid poisoning one of my guests. It’s very important that one not poison the guests. Which meant that the ‘sponge’ wasn’t exactly sponge like. Who knows how it would have turned out if I had made it with real sponge, which it turns out I probably could have, because I may have fudged the details just a tiny bit. No one ate the cake at my birthday, they were too busy groaning and holding their sides, and very possibly accusing me of over feeding them…

But I assure you, Bug and I have enjoyed every bite.

Compare and Contrast

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You know I see a lot of complaints about Fifty Shades of Grey. Often in reference to how it’s start in life was as a Twilight fan-fiction. But I gotta tell you, I’m watching The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) and you would not believe the cut and paste references in Fifty Shades. It’s been a great many of the 18 years since it’s release since I watched good old Thomas Crown, but I always wondered why even the brightest of 22 year old literature students (and I know a few) would use the term “foregone conclusion”, or why the imagery of the glider was so much clearer to me than it ought to be, even with the description James gives us. It’s not like I’ve seen one up close and personal. The perfectly sized wardrobe when they have a post-gliding getaway. Even the way they fight is reflected in Ana and Christian.

So I get that the movie is nearly 20 years old, but how is it that NO ONE has ever noticed this tie-in before? This little, though fairly significant, influence.
Thank goodness for Netflix or I may not have noticed, as all of our VHS tapes have gone the way of the dodo.

Intertextuality, it’s out there folks.

Birthday Sale!

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So my birthday is rapidly approaching, and I desire to share the gifts with all of my wonderful readers and followers.

If you have ever wanted to read my books, now is your chance. They are on sale 50% off (also known as $1.50US) over on Smashwords.com

I Trust You has the coupon code KK57S (not case sensitive).
From the Ground Up has the coupon code DZ79S (also not case sensitive).

Nearly FUBAR’d

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I’m exaggerating of course, but I very nearly posted a double up, or repeat, of a post that I have already written.

I was going through the list of recipes that I want to try for Literary Foods, so they definitely have a book (although some have tv shows… which is not strictly speaking, literary) listed with them. And there was the beef and barley soup, looking at me accusingly, with no blue notation to tell me what my test subjects thought of it. But I remember it, how absolutely delicious it was. How my mother complained about the price of the oxtails, apparently they are cheap… well, maybe they are cheap, in the part of the US where the recipe writer lives. Here, at the end of the world, they are (according to my mother) one of the more expensive cuts of beef – which is interesting considering how little meat is both on the oxtails and how much less meat can physically be retrieved from the bone.

I’m not exactly organised, and things sometimes go missing… or rather get waylaid. But, at least I managed to write the post the first time, even if I did forget to make note that I had even made it, let alone written the post.

Literary Food – Amish Friendship Bread

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As usual, I’m late. By nearly a month – which may, or may not, be a new record.

I read Friendship Bread by Darien Gee, and as you may have guessed friendship bread has been through my test kitchen. It’s quite a process, and it’s a little bit of a misnomer, as the first recipe you use makes a loaf style cake – like banana loaf, but not.

You may be sitting there, reading this, and wondering what in all that is tasty is ‘Friendship Bread’? In the book, it’s like a chain letter with no consequences for not sharing… and community encompassing consequences if you do – and that’s as much of a spoiler as you are getting out of me; you’ll have to read it if you want to know more.
As for what it really is… It’s a starter that you feed, and grow, and share, and – of course – bake with. It’s a little like a sourdough starter, except that it’s very sweet, not sour at all. It’s basic contents are flour, sugar, and milk; these are the things that you will need to have in large supply if you are going to take on the task of keeping an AFB starter.

I’m told that the best way to get started with making Amish Friendship Bread is to receive your starter from someone else, because then it carries a little bit of love from someone else’s kitchen to yours.
We all know that I live at the end of the world, (aka New Zealand) so I had to make my starter from scratch, and then nurse it through it’s 10 day cycle.

The instructions that you share with the eager recipients of starter are:

Day 1: Do nothing.

Day 2: Mash the bag.

Day 3: Mash the bag.

Day 4: Mash the bag.

Day 5: Mash the bag.

Day 6: Add 1 cup each of flour, sugar, and milk.

Day 7: Mash the bag.

Day 8: Mash the bag.

Day 9: Mash the bag.

Day 10: Add 1 cup each of flour, sugar, and milk. Divide into 1 cup portions to bake with, share, and cultivate.

It’s fairly low maintenance, and Bug (age 8) made the starter from scratch himself, with only supervision. And he has taken an active roll in looking after our little monster since then. Each cup of starter bakes two loaves, and they are really tasty.

I haven’t had much luck in giving away starters, but I have no trouble giving away baking. Bug has muffins in his lunch, so instead of making two loaves I make one loaf and one tray of muffins. We either eat the loaf or give it away, but the muffins go in the freezer and he can just lift one out and tuck it in his lunch box. My sister-in-law is also happy to take bags of muffins to tuck in her freezer to pack in her lunch box too.

The other thing to know is that there is a website which has endless recipes, and variations on the basic cinnamon cake. There are biscuits (American and British), cakes, breads, donuts, pancakes and waffles, and many more. Chances are if you can think of something that needs any leavening there is a recipe for it on the webpage.

Today I made the first variation, banana loaf. But we have also made biscuits, of both American and British. In so far as Snickadoodles are British (which they aren’t as far as I’m aware, but they are biscuits in the British fashion).

I have got to say, that the Snickadoodles were a total fail. But some of the problem was the limitation of my kitchen. I only have one oven tray, and the recipe makes 60 (yes, that many). But some of it was to do with not making American cookie/biscuit recipes. When I make a standard choc chip biscuit, I use the Edmonds recipe, which requires pressing on the tray. They don’t melt down from balls into biscuits, like the Snickadoodles. One tray full burned, because they set out of the oven and I didn’t know that at the time. And the second tray stuck to the baking paper, at which point we called it a fail.

If you’re wondering why it’s called Amish Friendship Bread, the answer is simply that Amish communities share a great deal. And the spirit of sharing is what it’s really all about. Especially as one of the key ingredients is instant pudding mix – for which there is a recipe on the website.

I had intended to use pictures, but the baking keeps getting eaten… So, for the most part it has been an ongoing win.

Literary Food Blog… How it Happens.

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You’ve probably never once wondered how the literary food blog comes to be. But I’m going to tell you anyway, you’ll see why further down the page.

  • So, I read a book.It mentions a food I’ve never had (or sometimes never heard of).
  • I Google it.
  • If if sounds good, I make it (or add it to the long list of books and dishes that are still waiting – often because they have an obscure or expensive ingredient. Sometimes though, I just forget).
  • I feed it to as many unwary people as I can con into my house (sometimes a full dinner party, sometimes just me and Bug).
  • We discuss it’s merits.
  • I write about it.
  • If it’s good I keep the recipe.

The_Scream_1893

This time though, I may have made a bit of a tactical booboo; for three reasons:

  1. It’s fun and simple, let’s make it with Bug.
  2. It’s alive.
  3. …The song that never ends…

Watch this space next weekend to find out what monster I’ve created.